Sunday 14 October 2018

Weaponised Nostalgia – Or how my grandmother's toast may lead to Armageddon

There was something magical about my grandmother's toast. I'm not sure quite what benevolent spells she weaved over what was – to all intents and purposes – just a slice of burned flour and water smeared in congealed cow's milk, but it worked. She would hand slice some fresh white bread, toast it under her eye level grill, then – and I think this may have been where the magic happened – hit the crunchy top with the back of the knife to make little dents all the way around the edge. This meant that the real, thick, creamy butter that she then spread over it would ooze inside the crunchy exterior – creating the most delicious bread and butter experience in the known universe.

I have tried to recreate it myself, but to no avail. I am now the proud owner of those butter knives – handed over to me when I left home in a hailstorm of helpful kitchen items – and I can confirm that there is no magic in them. Bread is just bread, butter is just butter, a grill is just a source of heat. Maybe I need to eat it in the dining room of an unremarkable semi-detached house in walking distance of Guildford station with a glass of warm Ribena, preferably on a crisp late October morning at the beginning of half-term with a bald, cynical old man telling me the story of Sweeney Todd as he plays tug of war with his beloved Labrador?

Maybe it's not the toast.

Nostalgia is a powerful weapon, the right smell, a certain song, an old TV show, a glimpse of a childhood toy, these things all create certain chemical reactions in the brain. Happy fuzzy memories of a happier time, before jobs, mortgages, children, Brexit, Trump and the ever-present threat of apocalypse. I don't think I ever felt safer than on those childhood holidays to my grandparents' houses. Either to Devon – where you could be forgiven for thinking you were in a hotel as the toast came on a toast-rack and the butter was often in sachets (my grandmother was a thrifty woman who presented me with a margarine tub filled with sachets of vinegar, mustard, ketchup and tartar sauce she had 'saved' from the Wrey Arms on our many visits there), the Ribena was substituted for Lemon Barley Water, and the old man had all his hair – with barely a touch of grey – and told you golfing stories while he watched snooker. Different, but every bit as magical, or Guildford – depending on which bit of the country we were living in at the time. Either way, Mum and Dad knew how to get themselves a bit of quality child-free time.

Any excuse to post this - occasionally referred to as
the best song of all time by me - John Mellencamp classic

I come from a generation for which the most powerful of memories tend to be triggered by the TV. I recently questioned the fact that some of my most emotional reactions are for American small towns – despite having grown up in the bleak grey landscape of 1980s Guildford, and the rural idylls of Devon (if you have ever visited Bideford, you will know how much I am stretching the definition of rural idyll) either way, neither of those places bear even a passing resemblance to Kingston Falls, or Hill Valley (same town, different names fact-spotters). As the massive success of Ready Player One confirms, the films we watch as kids have a powerful place in our hearts.

Not just films but all pop culture, who among us doesn't occasionally reread a favourite book, or listen to a favourite album in the hope of glimpsing our younger selves smiling back at us? I am still so in love with the Shire that I can reread just the opening chapters of Lord of the Rings without needing to finish the book. It is like a brief weekend back in a home town that never really existed. I can be lost in happy memories of the corridors of Galactica and the rocky outcroppings of Eternia every bit as much as I can by strolling through Victoria or Stoke Parks on a sunny afternoon – more so, because they remain unchanged.

I say they have remained unchanged, but that's not entirely true. If you have ever been hit with a powerful enough nostalgia wave to watch old episodes of Thundercats, Transformers, Mask etc. etc. on Youtube, then you, like me, have probably been shocked to discover that what you remember as a perfectly crafted fantasy world of good vs evil, powerful characters and dizzying special effects (the effects have not aged well, especially not in one of my personal childhood favourites, The Box of Delights, though it has only added to its charm and I still rewatch it every Christmas) is, in fact, a thinly veiled advert for easily broken toys.

I still have no happier memory than the unbridled joy
I experienced at watching the first episode of Thundercats.

And they have stayed that way. If you spend any time at all on social media these days, you are almost certainly going to see at least one 'Like and Share if you remember this,' meme every day. They are harmless fun, images of Speak and Spells, Worzel Gummidge, Donkey Kong and Stretch Armstrong, reminding you of a simpler time. Why not like them, share them, and bring a bit of joy to your contemporaries?

Well, why not indeed. It depends entirely on how you feel about data-mining and targeted advertising, or building up fake ratings for pages that can be sold on to the highest bidder (usually some demented racist hategroup or another). If, for example, you continually like clips of 80s cartoons, arcade games, BMX bikes and Garbage Pail Kids, then it can be reasonably assumed you are somewhere in your forties, and a bit of a geek. Or, if you like pictures of sit-up-and-beg racing bikes, stuff-of-nightmares china dolls and teddy bears and Muffin the Mule then you are either racing towards your three quarters of a century, or a fucking hipster. Either way, this helps the corporations bombard you with adverts for whatever they think you should buy, and find the right cartoon to put in that advert to gently nudge you into it. No Top Cat, I don't want another mortgage you sell out bastard, and fuck you Fred Flintstone, you corporate shill. Emotional manipulation via your happiest childhood memories can never be a good thing.

This can only get worse. I confidently predict a Philip K. Dick style future in which we all access the internet directly from inside our brains via a chip – for convenience's sake. A chip which will have incorporated a feedback loop capable of accessing our fondest memories and utilising them to sell us things. A happy world where our heart's desires are transmitted straight to the people able to make them happen, where you only have to think of a thing you want and it can be yours.

A world where they can use the smell of my grandmother's toast to make me believe I want to buy a handgun and vote for a despot.

Not long to go now...

Sunday 16 September 2018

What The Fuck is a Blog Tour anyway?

If you follow me on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram etc. etc. then you can't have failed to notice that for the last ten days my book, The Craft Room, has been on a blog tour.

What the fuck is a blog tour? I hear you all shouting.

Well, it does exactly what it says on the tin. The book visits a whole load of book blogs and gets reviews, or promotional posts, depending on what each individual blogger wants to do. They don't get paid to review, so it's entirely up to them and impartial. I'm almost as new to this as those of you still wondering what the hell a blog tour is and this marks yet another stage on my (oh for fuck's sake I'm going to have to use the word journey here – kill me now, Billy) journey as a writer.

When I published The Craft Room in August 2017, I had no idea how to market it. Weekend Rockstars the year before had been easy, there's a very specific niche market of middle-aged part-time musicians with a huge online community that I am already part of. Job done, it sold well, and still does. I worried that because of its broader appeal, I would not be able to market The Craft Room as an indie author with no agent/publishers to back it for me. I was right to, it sells, but not to the same extent as Rockstars has, and I had begun to doubt if it was actually any good.

I made new covers for them a couple of months ago, in the hopes it would encourage sales.
Guess what? It didn't, but they do look prettier.

My third novel should have been ready to publish in June, but my favourite editor pointed out I had included an accidental Deus Ex Machina near the end (the result of its ever-changing plot line) and it would be better if I were to change it completely and force the characters to work out their differences, rather than just killing one off. This has led to an awful lot of rewriting and it only now being ready to send out on query.

Unfortunately, having just finished those rewrites, my synopsis now looks incredibly dull. The Deus Ex Machina sounded quite exciting, and, while the new version is infinitely more satisfying in full, as a brief outline it looks a bit shit, and could instigate the following hypothetical conversation.

'So how do your protagonists resolve their differences now Dave?'

'Well, they sit down together, at a table, have a drink and talk about their feelings.'

'Really? Nobody gets killed?'


'No alien invasion, shoot-out in the woods, eldritch demons dragging people down to hell, massive fight?'


'That's not like you.'

'I suppose not, but it's much more interesting than it sounds, they've both just separately left the same party that they thought was a bit shit, and ended up in the same remote pub after a walk in the dark, so they realise they have more in common than the thing that's been driving them apart. Being forced together by circumstance makes them have to talk it all through and gives a more satisfying conclusion.'

'Yeah, but the last version had a really icky, grisly death, shinbones going through eye-sockets and everything, and their relationship only held together by keeping up a lie for the rest of their lives.'

'I know, I liked it too, but it wasn't right. Trust me, read it, you'll agree. This is how people should deal with their problems in real life, art needs to reflect real life, encourage us to be better people, push us gently into doing the right thing.'

'I can't be arsed to read it all you stupid fucking hippy, get out.'

Obviously my imaginary conversation with an imaginary publisher will never happen, because now it looks so dull in brief that no agent will ever touch it with a bargepole. Nevertheless, it will go out on query before I give in and do it all myself again.

(If you're an agent/publisher reading this, can I grab your attention with the headline: It's a coming of age story about a young man who goes to live with his estranged father and the difficulty with reconnecting after a decade apart when the girl you love is in love with your dad. Thanks for your time – email me, we'll do lunch, or drinks.)

All this means that there will be no new book til at least Christmas (hopefully even longer if the industry pick it up) so I thought I'd try and drum up some publicity for The Craft Room instead. But how to do that (bearing in mind I really am as lazy as I say, it's not just for comic effect).

Then Twitter came to the rescue, I started following Chris Mcrudden simply because he posts some really funny stuff. Then he turned out to be in publishing, and from his mentions and retweets I ended up following a whole bunch of other publishing types. That was when I discovered that blog tours were a thing. I had long wondered how you go about getting reviews and am much too lazy to spend hours contacting individual book bloggers and begging them to read my book. And then I found out there were blog tour operators, who do all the hard work so I don't have to.

On the recommendations of Lucy V Hay and Sam Missingham, I contacted Rachel Gilbey of Rachel's Random Resources and, for a very reasonable fee, she set up the tour. I got the schedule and the dates through back in July and spent the summer nervously awaiting my fate. Remember the bloggers don't get paid, they can be as mean as they like about my work.

And then it began, and the reviews have been uniformly good. Most of them great, they love my book. For the last year, I have worried that its slow sales have been because it is not good enough, but people who read hundreds of books a year have said it is very much good enough. Here's a selection of quotes that are currently making me very happy.

'light hearted, witty, full of chaos, it's dramatic, yet addictive!.. The plot is crazy, pacy and cleverly written.'

'I ended up finishing this book in one evening as I became quite attached to both the characters and the story!
If you enjoy a story that is a little quirky with humour slightly on the darker side then I'm sure you will enjoy The Craft Room!'

'The Craft Room is a completely original and addictive read that I fell in love with. I raced through this book as I couldn’t wait to find out what the hell was going on in it. I laughed my way through and I gasped in shock and delight as events unfolded.'

'Dave Holwill has put together a fabulous cast of characters, an increasingly wild plot and some laugh out loud one-liners to create a very entertaining, you-didn’t-know-you-needed-it-until-it-was-here, combination of Serial Mom, Rambo and Blue Peter'

'A brilliantly engaging read from start to finish which I found difficult to put down... This is a dark comedy which had me smiling right to the end.'

'It’s a breath of fresh air, and quickly added itself to my list of favorite reads this year.'

'This is a story that is dark, funny and completely unexpected – four stars from me – a very enjoyable story – highly recommended!'

'I was so glad I had given this book a chance, it truly was hard to put down… A little naughty, a little inappropriate, and a whole lotta fun!'

'Dave Holwill manages to combine Hyacinth Bucket with The Purge in The Craft Room, which is a chillingly funny look at a post mid-life crisis from a woman who has a lifetime’s worth of suppressed anger to take out on everyone around her.'

'Anyone who enjoys the comedy of the likes of The League of Gentleman will be in sync with this book. Those of a squeamish or prudish nature should probably give it a pass, but they will be missing a treat of a read...'

'I really, really loved this book. It completely appealed to my macabre sense of humour and my delight in any book that goes off at a bit of a tangent from well-worn literary tropes.'

Being new to this, I have retweeted and shared every single post, retweeted link and shared promo. I have no idea of the etiquette for this, but it seems polite to make sure the bloggers get publicity for their blogs as much as I get it for my book, even if it looks like endless self-promotion and narcissistic back-slapping. I got so excited I put The Craft Room on a free ebook amazon promotion. I suddenly felt validated, and that the last four years of constantly writing, rewriting, editing, formatting and cover designing (along with the endless self-promotion online) has been worth it. Before this I had almost hit a point of wanting to stop and get my spare time back again.

As it is, I will carry on. Book number three is done, ready to be rejected by the industry and thrown into the world anyway. I will launch it with a blog tour, and this time I will prepare more content, interviews, promotional materials etc. to make sure the promo posts are more than just blurb and bio. I've learned a few things from this experience. Book number four is a jumble of about 100,000 words ready to edit down to something comprehensible and readable, and I am about to spend the next month and a bit knocking out the rough draft of book number five (which a lot of you will be pleased to know is a sequel to Weekend Rockstars set ten years later).

I am resigned to the fact that writing is unlikely to ever fulfil me financially, but this acceptance from the blogging community means that my soul overfloweth with joy. I shall continue, and sacrifice whatever spare time I once had to the Gods of words. I have no idea if it has had any significant effect on sales or not yet (the free promotion at the same time kind of skews all the figures for the last week) but I feel that sales are not as important as my self-esteem, on which the effects have been very significant. My heartfelt thanks go out to all those who participated, particularly Rachel for organising the whole thing, and who I will now happily recommend to anybody wanting to do similar.

Here's the full list of stops on the blog tour, in case you wanted to read the reviews in full.



Thursday 2 August 2018

What I Go To Pride For

What I Go To Pride For

A lot of my life these days involves trying very hard to be a decent person in the wake of a very expensive education that taught me to be an entitled prick. Mostly. I still vividly remember the assembly during my first year of school, where a visiting priest told us about the magical lake that God created to reward people for being good. Its waters gave them beautiful pale, white, skin. But the lazy people, the layabouts who got there last, only managed to get the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet in, hence the dark skin on the rest of their bodies. Because they were lazy. I was taught this at five, in a Church of England Infant School in Surrey in 1982.

I found this image on a US website helping LGBTQI christians to find acceptance in the Church
I like to think that means the world is a little less shitty then it was in 1982

I had shit like this drip-fed to me daily throughout my education, rarely as blatant as that, but it was there, that vague undercurrent that different means bad, that people 'like us' were inherently better. That femininity is something to be ashamed of, that various things that all people do, whether male, female or something inbetween are feminine (therefore bad), and weak – like crying, or being kind to strangers (you know, like Jesus did). Above all, that men are supposed to act in a certain way, no deviation, no deviants. Well fuck that, if there's one thing you can call me that I will always agree with, it's a deviant. Since a fair chunk of this education was given to me by the generation that gave you thalidomide and eugenics, I am happy to disregard all the many distasteful bits.

I realise that this is also the generation that fought and died for us in at least one World War (two in a lot of cases) but it's worth remembering that some of them must have been responsible for all of that being necessary by starting the fucking things.

For the sake of clarity, let me say here that I am a man, always have been male, very happy to be male, and a heterosexual man to boot. A man who fancies women (well, just the one woman, my wife.) So, a white, cishet, monogamous, public-school educated man. You can refer to me as him and he and I won't bat an eyelid. Nicely privileged, thank you very much world, I do not need to make any effort and everything is tilted in my favour.

That's becoming an easy thing to forget in a world of shrinking wages and spam-faced propaganda ranting that it is all being taken away from my kind. Difficult to remember that 'my kind' are still very heavily in control of pretty much everything, we're just having to share now, like the angry red-faced boy from my class back at Cranleigh First School who would punch you to the stony ground before letting you have a go on one of his many Yo-Yos. I expect he writes angry letters to the Daily Mail now about not wanting to share his universal health care.

Oh my god, I found this picture and it's a real thing and not ironic and of course it's American
What the fuck?

Toxic Masculinity is a phrase being thrown about a lot at the moment. And it's a good thing it's finally being talked about. One day, we will all just be allowed to be referred to as 'people' without any need for labels, worried questions or fear of accidentally fancying the 'wrong' gender. And on that day I will finally stop using the phrase 'Gender as a social construct,' in nearly every argument I have with a bigot in the pub. That day is not today however.

Take, for instance, the simple phrase, 'Get Fucked.' Why on earth is this used as an insult? Surely the one thing most of us are trying to do all the time in our day to day lives is to get fucked? What better prize than consensual intercourse with some other willing human being? To be honest, my current reply of 'Thank you, you too,' has not caught on yet, but I'm hoping it does soon, and that 'Get Fucked,' will replace 'Have a Nice Day,' as the pleasantry of choice.

We are hung up on the idea that having something enter you (a cock usually) is an act of submission, that it implies the cock-wielder has some power over you.

I would suggest, that allowing somebody else to entirely engulf one of the most sensitive parts of your anatomy is a little more submissive. We need to change the narrative. Using two people having sex as a punchline is ludicrous, particularly when we always, but always, portray the fuckee as having been beaten by the fucker. The recent Putin/Trump/Piers Morgan gay jokes are but the tip of the iceberg in dehumanising 'humour' that leaves many of your fellow humans very much unamused.

Justin Myers (author of the utterly brilliant Last Romeo) had this to say about it on Twitter the other day.

'When so-called “woke” people give homophobia a free pass because the effect on the target is more valuable than the effect on LITERALLY EVERY OTHER LGBTQ PERSON I want to take a bath with my toaster.
When I see things like this, it reminds me – like I‘d ever forget – that my status as a citizen can be downgraded or revoked at any time if the use of my sexuality as a punchline requires it. If you’re LGBTQ and don’t see the issue, jam your eyes open with matches and look again.'
I heartily endorse this, and would add, if you're not a total bellend and can't see the issue, do likewise.

I recently spent a day in a hot sweaty car with some proper blokey blokes, and had to make small talk about sport and cars. I can just about blag it now, but I'd rather not, and there's always that look they get that I am not a proper bloke because I don't want to talk about that, or laugh along at their snide jokes about women and gays not being able to drive.

I am by no means a manly man, I never have been. I've always been a bit of an outsider, I liked playing with dolls (managed to bypass the worst of that by using Action Force, Mask and Transformers, but I also had a big thing for Wuzzles, and a brief obsession with Care Bears) and cared not one jot for sport in any way. Still don't. On the first day of school, any school (I went to quite a few different ones), I would always be asked what football team I supported, eventually I learned not to say, 'I don't like football' as it would be met with incomprehension and banishment. I remembered that my father and brother are avid Chelsea supporters, and proudly said 'I support Chelsea,' and subsequently spent four years of school banished by a class full of Manchester United supporters.
I really can't get a fucking break. There's a reason a lot of my best friends at school were girls. I was not just trying to get into their pants.

Seriously, I loved these, I had an Eleroo, and finished the Panini sticker album
despite nobody else at school having any swaps.

I did spend a few years faking it to get acceptance, I like pubs, I like drinking, and I like camaraderie and shouting. I went to watch football in the pub (it was a good way to spend time with my dad) until I could take it no more. If the game went the wrong way, nobody wanted to stay out drinking, or if they did they were miserable as sin. I can't live like that, my happiness is dependent on things I have done, not 11 strangers in their underwear. I even spent four years watching cricket, out of a vague intellectual interest. It took me that long to figure out the rules, at which point I was bored of that too. I do like the idea of a game that lasts so long you won't miss much if you nip to the shops for an hour or two though.

But I like LGBTQI Pride events. I like hanging out with people who feel that outside otherness on a completely different level. I'm often dismissed as a bit weird, but I don't get abuse thrown at me on a regular basis that makes me feel less than human. These people do, from people like me, yet if I come down to party with them they accept me – a straight white male – and it's all good. I am not in any way claiming that my struggle as a long-haired, flamboyant dresser with a new-found penchant for nail varnish equates with theirs – I don't want a letter added to the end or my own stripe on the flag. I have it pretty damn good thanks, remember I'm male, stale and pale baby.

But it is a safe space for me, so my reasons for attending are not entirely altruistic.

Safe spaces are getting a bad rap these days, from people who like to call everybody snowflakes. These are the same people who burst every cholesterol-engorged blood vessel in their body if you don't wear a poppy, or if a chocolate egg doesn't have the word Easter on it, or if a brown person wins a TV talent show. People so threatened by having to share that they will almost certainly punch you to the gravelly ground, where you will cut your knee and have to endure the agony of having iodine poured over it by your mum, before letting you have a go on their Yo-Yo. Even though they have a massive box full of Yo-Yos at home, and the means to get as many more as they like.

There are people who are scared that a man might hit on them if they go to a gay club. But to them I say, what do you do when a woman you don't fancy hits on you in a nightclub? Take it as the compliment it is, say 'Sorry, no thanks,' and carry on dancing – easy. If you're worried that he's bigger than you and you might get attacked, then congratulations, you just learned a little bit of what it's like for actual women EVERY FUCKING TIME THEY GO OUT.

I admit, when I first started going to LGBTQI events, I clung to my wife, terrified people might think I was gay.
Before I realised how dumb that was.
It doesn't matter.
I used to say 'Sorry, I'm straight,' to turn down prospective suitors – in case it wasn't obvious, but now I just wave my wedding ring, and say, 'Sorry, I'm taken,' because my sexuality is not an issue. My monogamy is.

Masculinity is a long complex, thing with no rules, no conditions that need to be met in order to be allowed in the man club. If you aren't secure enough in your own to go to an awesome parade and march with your fellow human beings to help ensure they feel validated for once then piss off home snowflake*.

I shall be being fabulous at Brighton Pride this weekend if anyone is about and fancies a good time (in the non-sexy version of the phrase) see you there.

*I do not for one minute endorse the use of the term snowflake, although being told that you are a special, unique, beautiful construct with an incredibly finite lifetime in an increasingly dangerous universe is, of course, quite the compliment. Remember that next time a large joint of meat refers to you as such.

Saturday 23 June 2018

Funerals, Friendship, Death and Birthdays

I recently spent my 41st birthday at the funeral of a very dear friend, it got me thinking, how good does a friend have to be to make you change your planned pulled-the-day-off-work-for-my-birthday activities of lying about in the garden drinking cider and reading old Peanuts cartoons? Friendship is a difficult thing to measure at the best of times, and I think those who try to measure it, and gauge which friends are better than other friends can probably all fuck off.

I am now convinced that the people who post all those, 'Get rid of all the negative needy, selfish people around you, shake them off, you are a beautiful butterfly,' memes on facebook are almost certainly the very selfish, needy, fuckawful dickheads they are talking about. On the other hand, many of them are my friends, and I would most certainly go to their funerals over my own selfish drunken plans.

This chap comes to us all eventually, don't miss the party

A person who will remain anonymous was perplexed that I would willingly choose to spend my birthday at a funeral, saying it wouldn't be much fun. Now, there are two very important points here, one, my friend will only ever have one funeral – I should have plenty more birthdays, I get one a year after all (not like that birthday hoarding, two a year selfish monarch of ours, does that make her 157 now?) and I've already had about fifteen more than I planned on. And secondly, I put the fun in funerals. Seriously, I've never been to one I haven't enjoyed (apart from that one where the wake only had tea and cake, what is wrong with you? Who doesn't have booze at a funeral? Note to all my relatives, there must be a bar at mine.)

My anonymous acquaintance also claims to share my legendary misanthropy. The difference being that I hate people in general – the abstract concept of having to share my space with others – but I very rarely meet any specific people I don't like. My acquaintance, on the other hand, has trouble being alone, and wants to be around other people, but finds the actual, specific people problematic and not quite malleable enough for their needs. I have had 'oh but you like everybody!' thrown at me as if it's an insult before. Frankly, I'm pretty proud of it, I do like everybody I meet. It takes a good deal of effort to make me not like you, so if you've managed it, well done, that's quite the achievement.

Anyway, I was sitting in the funeral parlour, contemplating my own mortality, as you do at a funeral, and suddenly the voice of the deceased came into my head. I quite distinctly heard him chuckling 'Fuck's sake Dave, it's my funeral, you could at least have worn shoes!' Which would have been fair. His son, who contacted me about it, told me we had to go for bright colours. I had forgotten the unwritten rule about the 'celebration of life, bright colours' funerals that states you must still wear a suit, shirt and tie, nothing stronger than a pale blue and still mainly black, and rolled up in my multi-coloured patchwork shirt, purple Prince trousers and that hat. And I don't wear shoes between May and September usually, so sandals it was. I could hear him laughing all the way to his coffin, he'd have loved it.

This hat here – which has become much too regular a feature of this blog

It was a good funeral, I saw some very dear people that I have all but lost contact with over the last few years that I was very glad to see again. You could tell it would be fun when the first thing the grieving widow did on seeing me was grab me and whisper, 'I'm free and single now Dave,' in my ear with a raucous laugh. It continued, with this singular family who I used to see so much of all heckling each other's eulogies, clapping the readings and talking over the contemplative music. I have not cry-laughed so much since This is Us finished.

I do draw the line at talking over the music though. When I finally pop off you're going to have to listen. I've been working on the funeral setlist for years, I would like some well-meaning member of my family to turn to the crowd and say 'shut the fuck up and listen to the song, this bit's really good', as we near the 28 minute mark of 'Thick as a Brick'. Heckling is fine, and to be encouraged, indeed, please shout 'Stop making me listen to Jethro fucking Tull again you dead bastard!' rather than muttering amongst yourselves guiltily.

I do advise everyone to sort out your funeral songs, if you're not careful somebody else will pick them, and they'll get them wrong. You don't want to end up with people sitting in quiet reminiscence of you to the St Winifred's School Choir. This is your chance to get your own back, as my friend did by making me listen to Don fucking Mclean for one last time. Bastard, well played.

Things go wrong in planning, I remember another funeral for another friend a long time ago where the order of service was to have guitars on it, as he was a guitarist. This friend had, in our last conversation about a month before he died – a conversation that at that point I had no inkling would be our last – royally ripped the piss out of me for gigging exclusively on bass, saying I was a guitar player, not a shitty bassist. I had to stifle a laugh as I entered the service and found his grieving relatives had accidentally put two Fender Jazz Basses on the front. I could hear his voice shouting 'Fuck's sake Dave, I'm a guitar player, not a bassist! What are they doing to me?'

Tell people what you want, I'm not revealing my set list here, but my wife and a couple of back up friends have it for when the inevitable happens. It's good, and I might add a few more for the service. The wake will be even better, you're all invited, it shall be a rave in a field, you can pick the tunes for that, as you'll want to be dancing – in my fevered imagination I see people begging to have my songs played as loud as possible, in reality I am still very much aware of how bad they are, and you really can't dance to them. I will be there in spirit, as I have ordered an effigy of me dressed in my finery be burned atop a huge fire – like an old school Guy Fawkes night – to keep the revellers warm.

It's going to be fun, and well worth missing a boring old normal 41st Birthday for. You'll see a load of people you haven't for years, make a few new friends and remember someone you (hopefully) liked.

Here's an artist's impression of what my funeral might look like
Obviously that guy in the hat will be a model on the fire

and only dancing in spirit

Friday 8 June 2018

I'm terrified the new Doctor Who is going to be shit

I have honestly not been as nervous for a new series of Dr Who since the announcement it was coming back ten years ago.

Last year I was utterly overjoyed to hear Jodie Whittaker was going to be the next Doctor, a woman. Not just a woman, but one who I'd been watching in some drama where she was pretending to be a doctor, and she was good. She's got chops, I've seen her doing all the emotions. I've heard her being really funny and entertaining on the Shaun Keaveny Breakfast show on 6 music and couldn't be more pleased. The best person got the gig, there can be no complaints.

I'm still a bit scared though.

Especially after her first appearance on the Christmas special.

Don't misunderstand me. It's not because of her, and it's not because she's a woman.

It's because of the (still overwhelmingly male) writing team that chose to lead with a woman driver gag which I pray will prove to be a knowing nod and an excellent set-up to a proper good first story arc.

Except that I've been watching Doctor Who for long enough (very nearly 41 years and counting) to know that the first story line for any Doctor always gets chucked under the bus so as to weather the inevitable onslaught of vitriol given to anyone brave/stupid enough to take the role on. Peter Capaldi spent most of his career as the Doctor acting his very arse off in the face of utterly dire plots and cock-awful scripts until they finally worked out how to write for him in his last series (even if it did all turn to shit at the end there).

I'm not normally the type of drooling fanboy to get nervous about something as unimportant as a TV show (Star Trek: Enterprise kicked that out of me a long time ago) but I have spent the last three and a half Doctors in defensive mode – half the time not even believing my own bullshit – and am painfully aware that I am in for even more of it this time around. Capaldi, Matt Smith, and even the sainted David Tennent got short thrift from my family in their first few shows (pretty much all of Smith and Capaldi's runs got a good deal of – admittedly quite deserved – snark) as both wife and children declared how much they missed the sainted Tennent and untouchable Ecclestone: who got a free pass just for there being a Doctor again after so long. I still say Paul McGann deserved a better, bigger shot at it. If you haven't seen his USA TV movie, it is fucking brilliant.

Expectations for this series are weighted like never before. On one side are a swathe of people expecting unreasonably good things from a slightly tired TV franchise. Excited feminists who have never bothered watching will be turned off by its intrinsic daftness. Dyed in the wool Whovians will endlessly whosplain to each other why she can/can't possibly do the job (I expect they already are, I've stayed out of it).

To pull this off, she needs to be exceptional. As so many women do when thrust into jobs that a man like myself would be perfectly able to get away with doing half-arsedly (see Colin Baker for more on this). It's a sad truth of modern life that we claim to be thoroughly open-minded and equal, but if an aesthetically unpleasing female gets a traditional male role she can not be any good. If she is anything less than exceptional it proves (to some) that women can't do it. This means in the boardrooms, in legal chambers, gaming, music, comedy, every single job you can think of. She also needs to be able to do it while answering questions about what it's like to do this job as a woman, and how her children are coping without her. A question I don't think Tom Baker ever had to contend with.

I like to think I'm above all that but there's an inbuilt and conditioned discrimination that sits inside me from my privileged position as middle-class, middle-aged, privately educated white man. I'm bright enough to know it's there, but plenty aren't. Every time I see a literature award/prize/bursary aimed at minorities/women (honestly if you think women are a minority you need to learn maths (ok, yes China, but that's not here)) my inner gammon screams that I am not being given the chance for that big break I so desperately deserve. Luckily the rest of me, which is not a total bellend, reminds me that I am statistically more likely to make it in literary circles (any circles frankly) anyway due to my background. Unfortunately, my (un)professional background is mostly in drinking and fucking about with guitars rather than publishing/journalism/hereditary peerage. Also Devon not London (do see my last ramblings about why I'm also not a rockstar).

The conditioning is the hardest thing to break, it's a theme I've become increasingly aware of over the last few years and have tried to raise in my third novel (which I currently hate the title of, and it's getting a bit close to being finished for me to be wanking about with the title now). I am still always surprised when I see a woman being good on guitar/bass/drums and very nearly say something dumb like 'wow, she's good for a girl!' and then want to punch myself in the dick because I know that I shouldn't be surprised – in the same way as nobody should have been surprised by Susan Boyle's voice, it isn't just the really really good looking people that get talent. I hang around on a lot of musician forums where the 'good for a girl' thing comes up a lot. Along with 'and she's pretty hot too, I would' or something equally delightful.
There are a lot more male musicians on shockingly misogynist forums, it might colour your views slightly.

This very strong contender wasn't even shortlisted

Interestingly, I personally know at least two people who I am sure are only homosexual because they hate women so much they don't think they can even do sex right. No names here, but if you're reading this and think it might be you, it is. Hi, we'll talk about it later.

My inner Guardian reader knows full well that abstract women are intrinsically competent and as good as men at everything. But the second I see a real one being competent I am conditioned to be as surprised as the next pork-faced fuckwit. Being a do-gooding, leftie, pinko Nancy I at least have the manners to try and stop myself. Plenty of others aren't, and don't get me started on the LGBTQRSTUV community (it's alright, I checked this joke with a couple of them and it's okay. Unless throwing this much diversity into one category is a bad idea that might end with outraged Transphobic Lesbians being stuck in a meeting with their phobias?) Again, in theory I'm good, in practice, yes I stare a bit and ask the wrong questions, and probably call the wrong people mate/sweetheart/darling.

I'm trying, the world has changed since I first got called Shirley for having impeccable dress sense. See also being a bit deaf and having trouble understanding foreign accents (Devon not London is relevant again here). For some reason I have never been surprised by BAME men being competent/better than me in my chosen fields, but then I work in entertainment/IT and thus expect to be out-minstreled by the black community and my IT skills can never live up to those of Asian stereotypes. (These are jokes, please don't get outraged because I mentioned minstrels).

I do, however, fully expect women to be better writers – not just good, better.
Probably because of my childhood Enid Blyton addiction.
Equality is not preprogrammed in you, you need to work at it.

To get back to my original point, the huge well of hatred ready to be thrown at Jodie Whittaker as she sets forth to play the most anticipated Doctor since the impeccable Ecclestone doesn't need any help from weak plotting, identikit supporting cast or 'having to bring in the fucking Daleks again'. The full-misogynist contingent won't be swayed even if she stars in the greatest thing since Tom Baker didn't finish off Davros.

I sincerely hope that the well of hope and anticipation that has been building in my chest since last year (honestly, she looked so good in that teaser, and not in a oh-look-a-pretty-girl-on-a-tv-show-I-love way, in an I-Love-Doctor-Who-and-this-is-genuinely-exciting way) won't end in a damp squib of meandering subplot and knowingly-ironic-chauvinist jokes that go so far round and up their own arse that the irony it is cloaked in ends up just being awful and sexist anyway.

I'm depressingly prepared for the usual shitty first season, probably containing a load of in-jokes. Suggestions from me include the male companion mansplaining stuff, a completely meta character who has been a fan (there's precedent) telling her she can't be the Doctor because she's a woman, plenty of makeup/boob/menstrual cycle gags and a multi-tasking one-liner at the TARDIS console.

Cue sudden uproar and the producers getting scared enough to end the experiment and just cast Toby Bloody Jones or Rory Kinnear as the Doctor to keep the fuckwits happy.

But for gods sake prove me wrong, and be the brilliant, clever, inclusive spectacular of my dreams. I don't want the whole world to keep going backwards.

Thursday 24 May 2018

My increasingly uneasy relationship with music (and other reasons I am not a Rock Star)

I’ve been writing about music a lot lately (in case you hadn’t noticed) which isn’t really surprising since I occasionally describe myself as a failed musician. The truth is I never really tried to make it. I’m not sure if it was fear of failure, crippling self-doubt or that my father was right when he called me ‘bone idle’, but I never actually dragged myself away from my beloved Devon and seriously tried to make a career of fucking about with guitars.

Me at sixteen, still pretty sure I was going to make a living from that guitar
(the same one I still play every weekend)

Sometimes I regret this - but that’s the nature of mid-life crisis (or ongoing personal emergency as Tim Dowling calls it). In the wake of last week’s mental health awareness week I found myself wondering whether that bone-idleness wasn’t in fact a debilitating mental illness? (It's okay, I've been reading a lot of Matt Haig recently and have self-diagnosed as lazy shit with a side order of grumpy twat.) I certainly spent most of my teenage years self-medicating for one. In my forties I am still too scared it might be true to go and do anything about it, and last weekend’s cider-based self-medication in the sunshine was much too enjoyable not to continue with.

My ongoing personal emergency should probably involve my giving up playing music I don’t like to people I don’t respect every weekend. Every cover-band poster I see of grizzled ‘mature’ musicians gurning against a brick wall in ill-fitting jeans and unfunny t-shirts kicks my self-loathing into over drive and my heart yearns to sell all my instruments and just stop. I probably look no better. The audience don’t know I’ve been doing this since I first put on a cassock and joined a choir, and my arthritic fingers ensure I play just as badly as the guys who just took it up at forty. I should stick to the writing.

Seriously, if we look anything like this tell me and you can have all my guitars
Apologies if this is your band, I'm sure you're great

Music still has an indefinable magic however. Its ability to conjure memories long forgotten, its inextricable link with the past, unlocking all the best and worst parts of your youth. It is a common complaint among people of my age that there is nothing new anymore, all the good music's been done, etc. etc. To an extent this is true, but it always has been. There is only so much you can do with 11 notes and the odd micro-tonal aberration. The difference is that you can only hear that descending I-V-IV chord sequence at the beginning of The Who's 'Baba O'Riley' for the first time once. I first heard it on Aerosmith's 'Angel' but the effect was the same. It's a pretty common chord sequence, but 'Baba O'Riley' seems to execute it best. If I could wipe anything from my mind it would be that intro, just so I could experience those crashing piano chords effortlessly making sense of the trance-like synth loops for the first time again. It is indelibly linked in my head with a sunny afternoon in June 1992 when I first played it from a Best of the Who album I had been bought for my 15th birthday.

Songs do that, they remind you of a time. I cannot hear anything from the first two Oasis albums without being transported back to the All Seasons in Bideford in the mid 90s. The specifics of that time are blurred with alcohol and class As, but that feeling of being young, able to do anything and having plenty of time ahead to do it swells up with every boring, whiny, nasal verse. I am not a fan of the music, but I cannot help but smile as I turn the fucking radio off.

A brief refrain of long-forgotten Europop will flicker by as you trudge through the shops, the Vengaboys assuring you that they like to party, they like, they like to party. Despite the utter pointlessness of this song, the fact that it is without substance, unable to produce genuine emotions on its own merit is of no matter. It could make you smile at the memory of a shared eye-roll. Joy at a meeting, a spark kindled, an awkward first dance in a shit-awful night club. Not the endless drag of the painful breakup, the price they extracted from your soul over your time together. That all came later, the music only recalls that first burst of excitement.

Any overheard melody, drifting from a window on a summer's night can leave you with a sense of indefinable contentment. It may just sound a bit like something else you can't remember, it might be a song you once knew and have long forgotten. You may not consciously be able to place the reason, but your medulla oblongata knows. It remembers, it transmits serotonin in reaction.

This was what I was going to do, provide a brief moment of joy at a memory inextricably caught up in something I wrote. It took me a very long time to realise that I write terrible lyrics, and am a mediocre singer at best. I can do the odd killer riff, and had my ego allowed me to collaborate with somebody else, and the music industry been willing to centre itself in rural North Devon it might have worked out. Who knows, maybe one day somebody will be reminded of 'Fuck Me Gently With A Chainsaw' and be lost in happy reminiscence.

I was good with these guys – because Maz wrote all the songs (I know this one's a cover)

There is still no better feeling than jamming a plectrum into a set of steel strings and hearing the screaming beast it unleashes from the overdriven amplifier at the other end. I am as excited by it now as I was when I first sellotaped a microphone to my dad's acoustic guitar and cranked the volume. But with mid-life comes self-awareness (mostly out of fear that the crisis will make you do something really stupid) and while, when I was a kid, I never understood why my father wasn't that bothered about the whereabouts of tapes featuring his own adolescent foray into being a musician, now, I find I have no idea where all the tapes of my own awful teenage angst-ridden ballads are.

I understand his ambivalence. My new greatest fear is finding them and having to listen.

I did manage these 27 minutes of music which I am unjustifiably proud of in my long musical lack-of-career

I always used to blame the decisions (many, various and too boring to go in to here) that led to my never making a go of it on the women in my life at the time I made them. I have finally grown up enough to realise that they didn't force me into anything – didn't even ask me not to, it was just that I was making huge, life-changing decisions with an organ that I can no longer rely on to tell me if I need a piss.

I have long since admitted that the greatest love affair of my life is with the county I was brought up in and have lived in since I was five years old. Devon. The reason for not giving it all up for music and a free electric band (other than the usual fear of failure and galloping anxiety) was my unwillingness to leave this place, with its hills, its moors, its coastline, its well-meaning-despite-the-casual-racism indigenous population. Sitting in my garden now, writing this while looking over the fence at Dartmoor, lazily dominating the horizon as it does from pretty much anywhere inside a twenty mile radius I regret nothing.

Had I made any of at least five key decisions differently my life would undoubtedly have wandered off down another leg of the trousers of time. I might have gone on to have a proper musical career (and no doubt be dead of a drug overdose by now) or done what so many others of my generation have, gone and had a proper career up in 'that London' then come back to breed with a nice middle-class girl named after some obscure plant that sounds like a venereal disease who can do her made-up and unimportant job (this is not rampant sexism, my own job is made-up and unimportant, as I have no doubt the proper career in 'that London' would have been) from home now.

What definitely wouldn't have happened would have been the many coincidences, drunken decisions, and stupid ideas that have led to this exact point in my life. I would probably never have met my wife, or her kids. Would not have spent time with the many pets I have gone through in the last twenty years. Would not live in this insane little town I love in a house I adore. Probably wouldn't be as happy.