Wednesday, 31 August 2011

On being flat

Like the 12,000-year old planet Earth, I am currently as flat as a pancake. Yesterday I finished a painting I've been working on for the whole summer, more or less. Whilst there are always decisions to make with a painting, there does come a point where it's more like process than creation. So finishing it, I thought, could prove to be a liberating experience. I can start to create something new again!

Of course, now I can't, because the old black dog was sneaking up behind me even as I finished the last few brush strokes. It's been brought on by any number of little niggling thoughts, upsetting things and worries, whipped up by a (really very mild, actually) head cold. I suppose this is what sea trawler fishermen would call the perfect storm. Sea trawler fishermen with clinical depression, anyway. I am unsure if that would be a particularly beneficial combination, but who knows? Perhaps Captain Birdseye was laughing to hide the tears.

I have any number of new things I want to do, but it's as much as I'm able to do at the moment than to scratch away forlornly at pieces of paper in hope rather than expectation. Of course, when these turn out to be rubbish - and they almost always do, an inevitable consequence of the combination of a sad drawing arm and a hyper critical, self-loathing, perception filter - it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The frustration and panic bubbles up further, completing the circle.

The only person putting this sort of pressure on me at the moment is me, but I am a particularly intransigent taskmaster. I keep remembering my friend's words to me, be good to yourself. It's not a particularly complex mantra, but it's one that I am glad has seeped into my thought processes nonetheless. However, doing anything much starts to seem elusive at moments like this. Depression is a funny thing. Ha ha. No, what I mean is, it manifests itself in any number of physical symptoms, because the brain controls the body. The most common effect I feel is this great force pressing down, down, down on me. Flat as a pancake.

Art

I think I should post more of my art on this blog. It will make it more varied and interesting, rather than just you reading lists of songs or partially-considered essays about my ongoing mental disintegration every single day. It should also make it more fun. Not that those last two things aren't fun.

I'm going to start with this one, for all kinds of good reasons.

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

On John Lennon

John Lennon is one of my heroes. He died in the year I was born, which in some ways was lucky because you should never meet your heroes. It was not lucky for him. But like another one of my heroes, Ayrton Senna, you just can't imagine him getting old, deteriorating.

Some people can acquire heroic status by simply dying young. John Lennon does not occupy such a position, although he was sickeningly young when he was taken away. John Lennon is my hero because of what he did and, moreover, the way he did it.

Paul McCartney - Sir Paul McCartney - is a quite brilliant man, a creative force like few other people in the history of the human race. In the centuries to come people will look back at our generations, aghast at the shoddy treatment and lack of respect he has often received. But he's too perfect to be a hero. John Lennon was the sound of a man tearing himself apart.

I am, in my own very small way, also a creative person. Everything I hear, see and learn of John Lennon rings true with the way I experience the creative process. A simmering, sometimes boiling, dismissive hatred of your own work, coupled with a contrasting need to get it out of you regardless and generous praise of stuff you see around you. I particularly admire the way Lennon was able to turn these fits of self-destruction into something so compelling.

Indeed, many people are not Beatles fans, thinking they're so clean cut and neat. That's not what I hear with Lennon. I hear desperation, sneering, mockery - both of the self and of others - love and hate, wit and wisdom, ignorance and fear.

I sometimes wonder if maybe some people who know me the best might see some of the turbulence which characterises my own person lurking behind the nice, cutesy façade my artwork presents. Maybe it's not there at all. It's difficult to know. The things you create develop something of a life of their own and will be what they are, you can't force them to be angsty or angry or bilious.

John Lennon did what he did and it's credit to the size of his gift that it can still be so elusive after over 30 years of being picked apart. The fact that I have little doubt that many people who read this will disagree with me only adds extra layers to his appeal. I think he is one of the most significant artists who has ever lived.

Fake Monday link festival

I don't feel particularly brilliant at the moment in any sense of the word. Whether anyone else whose mental health is - let's say, slightly variable - finds what I do, but the first thing that having a bit of a cold tends to do to me is send me into a crashing spiral of defeatism, depression and cruelty. I have come to accept the first two things are likely to always be dogging my footsteps, but I really, really, hate the last one. It's not who I am at all.

So I am going to attempt to rage against it by doing one of my occasional linky posts and share the pretty things of the shop with all of you. I hope you will enjoy them. They are brilliant.

Vicky is one of those people who makes the world a better place. I've not met her in person and yet I feel happier just for knowing her. It's rare to find someone who radiates such goodness, and just as rare to find someone who is so adept at capturing it in other people. Which as you may have guessed, she also does as you can discover here. Her portrait photography in particular, I think, has a beauty to it which defies words. It is magical.

I am starting to feel like I'm finding my feet on Twitter. It's only taken me 4½ years and over 20,000 aphoristic bursts of self-loathing to do it. But here I am. Skulls and Ponies is a blog about art, craft and life written by a friend of a friend I made through that site. I only discovered it quite recently, and I think it's marvellous. In many ways, it deals with a number of the themes I do, only with a lighter touch and less jokes about knackers. It also features loads of pictures of arty, crafty projects, another bonus.

For anyone worrying that the previous two links were a little out of character with my famously macho personality, I've got one here about football, mud, deep heat and Bovril. You probably know that this is a blog written by an old friend of mine, but I don't really feel the need to declare an interest because its sheer quality is self-evident to anyone who reads it. One day I hope to get some of my mojo back and start to contribute again. Until that point, however, you can enjoy the golden age of the best football website in existence.

The America project - Kentucky

Kentucky (KY) size 40,409 sq.m population 4.3 million


Bordering states Tennessee, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Virginia (7)
State capital Frankfort
Most populous city Louisville
Other notable places Lexington, Owensboro, Cowington, London
Notable landmarks and natural features The Cumberland Gap, The Jackson Purchase, The East Kentucky Coal Field

Statehood 1st June 1792 (15th)

Ten famous Kentuckians
Muhammad Ali (boxer; born Louisville, 1942 -)
Tod Browning (film director; born Louisville, 1882-1962)
George Clooney (actor; born Lexington, 1961 -)
Johnny Depp (actor and musician; born Owensboro, 1963 -)
Tyson Gay (athlete; born Lexington, 1982 -)
D.W. Griffith (actor, director and Hollywood pioneer; born Crestwood, 1875-1948)
Nicky Hayden (motorcycle racer; born Owensboro, 1981 -)
Abraham Lincoln (politician, 16th President of the United States; born Hardin County, 1809-1865)
Loretta Lynn (singer; born Ashland, 1932 -)
Hunter S. Thompson (author and journalist; born Louisville, 1937-2005)

Three important events

1. The New Madrid Earthquakes (1811-1812)
In mid-December 1811, Kentucky experienced the first of a series of 4 powerful and hugely wide-ranging earthquakes, over a period of two-and-a-half months. Each quake measured between 7 and 8 on the Richter Scale, and represent the most powerful earthquakes ever to hit the eastern continental United States. Tremors were felt as far away as Pennsylvania and Virginia, with the overall effects of the disaster spread over an enormous 50,000 square mile area. The force of the quakes actually diverted the course of the Mississippi River, creating an area known as the Kentucky Bend.

2. Assassination of William Goebel (January 30th 1900)
Northern Kentucky saw a great increase in its immigrant German population around the turn of the 20th century. William Goebel (1856-1900) was one of their foremost civic leaders, becoming a State Senator in 1887 and assuming control of the Kentucky Democratic Party a few years later. In 1895, Goebel took vote counting powers away local officials for future elections and gave them to officials of the Democrat-controlled Assembly. The Republican Party countered by raising an army, and Kentucky started to slide towards civil war. Goebel was shot by a sniper on his way to his Gubernatorial inauguration on January 30th 1900, and although he was successfully sworn in the following day he was mortally wounded and died 4 days later.

3. Ohio River Flood (1937)
Following hot on the heels of the dustbowl and the Great Depression came a huge flood, which eventually affected 4 States. Heavy rainfall and snow in January 1937 saw the Ohio River break its banks in Ohio and Indiana. By January 27th, the devastation had reached Kentucky. Many businesses in Louisville were destroyed, with 70% of the city under waters as high as 57 feet. A few days later the flood waters reached 60 feet at Paducah. The waters didn't start to recede until February 5th, after almost three weeks of continuous flooding in many places. It remains the worst flood in Kentucky's history, causing a combined total of $20 million damage.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Ten songs

I am an enormous control freak. But it's OK, I like it, don't worry about it. Some people have bafflingly liberal ways of dealing with important things like iPod playlists, though, don't they? They'll have their entire music library, tens or maybe even hundreds of thousands of tracks, all in iTunes and will tell their device to just fill space randomly. I could not live that way. I have to know where stuff is when I am going to need it.

My iPod currently contains 1230 songs. The fact that this number ends in either a 0 or a 5 will, of course, come as no surprise to you. I think the most I've ever had on it is 1300 and the least something like 1150. The longest one of these tracks (excluding podcasts and the like) is In A Silent Way/It's About That Time by Miles Davis at 19m57, the shortest is currently Round Up The Usual Suspects by Barry Adamson at 43 seconds.

When adding new stuff as a control freak, of course, one has to be mindful of both disc space and frivolous numerological issues. In putting some things on, some things will have to come off to make space but equally, some will have to come off to make the overall number of tracks one which is acceptable to me.

Choosing which ones will go is something of an artform. There are 173 stand-alone artists in that 1230 song list, that is, people with only one appearance. These are the ones who you'd think would be the first to suffer. But they are not. They are often sacrosanct. The precise reason they only have one song is because it's so perfect or has sufficient meaning for me to disregard all its brethren. The usual victims of my culls, then, are the Beatles (currently 125 songs) and Bob Dylan (102). I'm sure their huge financial security offers either act a crumb of comfort in this difficult time.

Today, a list of ten of the artists who only have one song in my 29.8.2011 vintage iPod playlist.

Alice Cooper - I'm Eighteen
This is a brilliant, defiant and fragile rock and roll classic. It was a favourite of Malcolm McLaren and the song which John Lydon did his audition for the Sex Pistols for, singing along to the jukebox in McLaren's Kings Road shop.

Belle & Sebastian - Wrapped Up In Books
Belle & Sebastian were one of those acts that people slightly more trendy than me were all over when I was a student. Listen to Belle & Sebastian, they all told me. Of course, telling me something like that was simply bound to end in my not doing it as I am awfully stubborn. However, I chanced upon this song about 10 years ago whilst channel-hopping around during the Glastonbury Festival. I loved it and still love it. Oddly, though, I've never wanted to hear anything else of Belle & Sebastian. Maybe because of it. I am worried they'll not live up to the perfection of this.

DB Boulevard - Point of View
I am a sucker for electro, pop music, Italian disco music and old episodes of Sex and The City. This song ticks all of those boxes. One of the most lovely, sunny, electro pop songs I know.

Donna Summer - I Feel Love
Donna Summer, disco queen and soul music legend. Ideal credentials for me to have loads of her work. But again, this is too perfect to take the risk. The most perfect single ever released, and that's simply the end of that.

Louis Armstrong - Wonderful World
Jazz singing is something which either engages me or makes me want to pull teeth. At its very best, though - and this IS its very best - it is delightful. This should be the national anthem of every country on Earth.

Rob 'n' Raz featuring Leila K - Got to Get
Remember how I'm a sucker for electro, pop and Euro Dance? This one fulfills all those criteria once again. I don't even know if anyone involved in this record ever made anything else and nor do I care. It's also fused in my mind with certain times, places and people, so its awesome hold over me grows ever stronger. I am simply unable to hear this song - or even just see it in the playlist - without smiling.

Simple Minds - Don't You (Forget About Me)
Because it's the greatest song-film tie-in of all time and because I increasingly base all my fashion decisions on Ally Sheedy.

George McCrae - Rock Your Baby
Another for the "did they do anything else? don't care" list. A proto-disco/soul classic. I get the feeling this song is achingly uncool and simply don't care about that, either.

Sugarcubes - Hit
I remember hearing this when it first came out and thinking it was a bit exciting, a bit left-field, whilst still being accessible. Of course, this later became Björk's USP. A perfect pop record, with just the right amount of silly.

White Town - Abort, Retry, Fail (Your Woman)
WHO REMEMBERS THIS ONE? I suppose White Town was the prototype modern-day MySpace pop star, really. At the time, though, he was just a weirdo in his student digs with a brilliant, brilliant pop song. I believe that everything else he made was rubbish, which of course makes little difference here. I was ill for all of January 1997 - two ghastly internal infections and then influenza. Listening to this on the radio remains a strong memory.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

On being a chef

I've had a lovely weekend so far, and there's technically still two days of it to go even if I now only have enough voice to last for an hour or two. Old friends and new friends have combined to make me feel like a very lucky man.

Today I want to consider THE CULINARY ARTS. I love to cook and I have to say that I'm pretty bloody good at it. But cooking is as far as it goes. I'm always fascinated by Masterchef's annual slew of contestants, swivel-eyed maniacs with no fingernails or eyebrows and a celeriac ricer in their hand luggage at all times. Cooking is THEIR PASSION. It's ALL THEY EVER THINK ABOUT. It's WHAT THEY WANT TO DO.

I understand most of that. Food is my passion. Eating is all I ever think about. Cooking became a necessary adjunct to that, and one which I found I had a natural flair for. In time it's become something from which I derive a great deal of pleasure as an activity in itself, particularly cooking for loved ones and watching them shovel it down and burp proudly at the end.

Why would anyone who feels that way want to muddy all that by trying to make a living out of it? The stress, the shouting, the heat? Where's the pleasure in anything you have to do at a certain time every day whether you feel like it or not? Even the most adept and exciting home cook sometimes just wants to watch ITV2 all night with a 6 pack of Wotsits and a bottle of Fanta.

So when people - usually family members - ask me if I'd ever considered becoming a chef, I can always tell them that yes I have and that's precisely why I don't try and do it. Because "being a chef" is a dream, not a reality. It's cookery shows and travel and book deals and celebrity friends. Its your own range of cookwear and a Bentley and a brassy wife. What people never mean are the people who work their way up through catering school and then spend a lifetime in hot kitchens being shouted at by gouty men who get all the credit for your hard work, before trying to open your own restaurant at age 38, bankruptcy, alcoholism, death.

Sometimes the hardest thing in life can be to just enjoy the simple things for what they are, and not try to embellish them at all. That's what I've been trying to master this weekend*.

* My book and accompanying 6-part BBC series about how I did it - set in my achingly trendy studio flat in Muswell Hill with an old record player in it and fashionably distressed walls - begins this autumn and is entitled, simply, "Shite".

Thursday, 25 August 2011

On having one of those names

My mother was reminiscing yesterday about her childhood and the people who lived in the other houses in the cul-de-sac where she grew up. It was only a matter of time before she mentioned Sid Nutt.

Sid Nutt is One Of Those Names. Just calling him Sid, or Mr. Nutt, would be insufficient. Sid Nutt is a name of such magnificent perfection that you have to say the whole thing, every time. Sid Nutt. Sid Nutt. Alright Sid Nutt?

It's not just punchy names that fall into this category either. Although I went to school with a Matt Gunn - another perfect example of one of those names being short and monosyllabic - I have also been lucky enough to meet Geoff Parrott. Geoff Parrott is a name which just keeps giving. You can't help but smile. And actually, that's the sort of person that Geoff Parrott is as well.

My mother was telling me that Sid Nutt, too, was an extraordinary character. Tall and thin with a big baggy suit for his successful legal career. Full of quips and eccentricities. She need not have bothered telling me this. There's no way that a man called Sid Nutt would -or could - be anything other than completely exceptional. His name is Sid Nutt!

My pet theory on names runs that the name you are given has a great bearing on the person you become. My name is Edward, and I simply could not occupy any other title. My circle of friends includes a baffling array of Edwards. They are all very Edwardy, too, but of course, something had to be done to avoid confusion. One of my friends started calling me Edmund, which stuck. And I like it. I love it. It's personal to me and the people that I care about, and has many fond memories attached. But if anyone from outside of that group calls me it I dislike it enormously. It feels like a violation. Because, above all else, I'd not be the same person that I am had I actually been called Edmund. I truly believe that.

When I see some of the daft made-up names children are given now I worry. They are an unknown. You know where you are with a Gary or a Derek or a Tabitha. What sort of person will a Jayden grow to become? I can only imagine they'll be like a character from Mortal Kombat.

When I am king, my first order of business will be to establish firm policies on responsible naming for children. Giving a fellow human being a stupid name is wrong wrong wrong. That is what dogs and cats are for.

(Mind you, there's nothing which delights me more than a dog or cat with a very, very, human name. The best name I've ever heard suggested for a cat: John.)

Rear window

My new Big Picture project received an early boost this morning when I noticed these two neighbouring couples, both sick of the bloody sight of one another. It's Edward Hopper again - this time Room in New York and the people in the next room were provided by one of my favourite painters, W.R. Sickert's Ennui.



As you've probably already noticed, these rooms are all clearly adjoining the one by the sea in Hopper's Rooms by the Sea.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

On the big picture

Today's blog post comes courtesy of my friend Alice. You would like Alice.

Anyway, on Twitter last night, Alice noted that her favourite painting by Edward Hopper was the above, which is called Rooms by the Sea. Something immediately struck me about it. It reminded me of one of my favourite paintings, David Hockney's A Bigger Splash. In fact, it could almost be that Hopper was busy painting his scene inside the building whilst Hockney stood outside painting his.

This is when I realised that it would be brilliant if all art could knit together into an entire patchwork quilt of alternate reality. Where one painting leaves off, another fills in the gaps, and so on until you have built yourself a whole universe.

I am aware that my America Project, which I've not updated in a week or so, I KNOW, is still ongoing. However, I'm a modern man. I can have more than one stupid project at any one time. From now on, all further discoveries I make in my attempt to fit every painting ever done together into one, seamless, world will be labelled "The Big Picture project" in the sidebar, for handy reference.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Competition time

I've been obsessed with rabies since I was old enough to read, but not fully understand, the rabies poster in Woodingdean Library when I was a child. Rabies was a big deal in southern England at that time. The Channel Tunnel was in its last planning stages and some were worried it was going to prove little more than a superhighway for rabies, immigrants and rabid immigrants.

Since the decline of the Empire, Britain has struggled to find things to be really proud of. It's easy to see why - the rapacious, brutal subjugation of hundreds of millions of fellow human beings because they come from another country is pretty hard to top. However, one such boast we Brits still enjoy is that we remain one of a handful of countries to not have any rabies.

This has been bad news for the rabies poster industry. In the rest of the world, the rabies poster industry is among the top five in terms of annual turnover.

In Colorado, schoolchildren have got into the act. But whilst their efforts are undeniably suffused with the heartfelt desire that less people get the rabies, this poster leaves something to be desired in terms of spelling and grammar. Careless spelling and grammar can cost lives, especially if you're so busy looking up the word "dont" in the dictionary that a mad raccoon sneaks up behind you.

The poster which so affected me is one I have been unable to find online. I wish I had stolen it from the library now, although this would have been unwise from the point of view of how terrifying I found it. But it had lettering like the one pictured here, albeit illustrated with rather less sanguine and rather more rabid animals.

I have decided to try and revive the great art of the rabies poster. I thought the best way to do this is to hold a competition. All you have to do to WIN TOP PRIZES* is draw an eye-catching and thought-provoking rabies poster for a new generation of Brits, a generation who've never even been tempted to give a badger the old stink eye. Size is very much up to you, the only stipulation is that they are all in portrait orientation, please.

Closing date is the suitably spooky October 31st 2011. This is also the closing date for your paper tax returns. Extra credit will be given to someone who draws a rabies poster on their tax return. Please email your efforts to the address in the sidebar to the right of this.

* I'll probably draw a picture of some animals who can get rabies or something.

Sunday, 21 August 2011

On weekends off

I woke up this morning with a familiar Sunday feeling. A bit headachey. Unrested. But by god, it was actually just sinusy fun and games! Not my brain and liver being reduced to the SIZE OF ACTUAL RAISINS at all! "I might as well have gone out drinking my life away", thought I in my very best Eeyorish way, "given the fact that I felt hungover without even the benefit of having enjoyed the evening before" (I did, actually, but in a different way - I drew some owls and then went to bed at 9.40 p.m. to play Virtual City until my eyes bled).

However, this afternoon I'm beginning to see that a bit of the old sinus pain is in fact far preferable. I remain clear of thought and full of energy for monkeyshines. My Who's Who entry will list monkeyshines as my hobby.

My monkeyshine of choice recently has been sending messages. Google+, Twitter, email, instant messenger, Flickr mail, the actual post. All are fair game. I'm enjoying it. It allows me to be creative. Make pictures, if you will, without having to actually draw anything. What I am also enjoying is that other people seem to be enjoying it, too. Either that or I've discovered the most white-knuckle way possible to find out whether or not my friends are patient and tolerant people.

They are, of course. For much of the time they have to be. However, I still always hope that people would just be honest if I was annoying them. Obviously, it would make me a little bit sad. But you're always better off knowing in these cases. It allows you to modify your behaviour before you do any lasting damage. To paraphrase the episode of Peep Show where Jeremy's manager teaches Mark how to do the sex properly, I'd rather be told that I was incredibly annoying and deal with that fact than blithely continue to be annoying in a way that I wasn't even conscious of.

I like the way that even when I'm having a nice, quiet weekend, amusing myself and engaged in my beloved monkeyshines, I still have the mental capacity to berate myself internally for my myriad failings. It's what makes me a balanced, if potentially intolerable, human being.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

On qualifications

It's A Level results day. If you are getting yours and are anxious, let's face it, exams are so easy now you all got 3 A grades. Well done.

I got my A Level results 13 years ago this week. I also got 3 A grades. However, I was one of only about three or four people at my college to do so. I always hated those people who said exams are getting easier when I was taking exams. However, a decade watching my own academic achievements being dwarfed by a bunch of spotty Herberts who just turned up and wrote their own name starts to stick in your craw. I guess it's one of the most inevitable features of getting older, like nasal hair or prostate cancer.

On the first day of my A level courses, one of my teachers explained that an A level was one part what you are taught but, equally, one part stuff you have to research and discover off your own back. Even as a 16-year old who thought they knew everything but actually knew nothing, I suspected that this was a lie. And so it proved to be. I tried it out once. A scientific test. I spent days in libraries researching my first Sociology essay, which proved to be so exceptional I got a letter of commendation from the Head. Fuck all that. Especially when it turned out that I could get grades just as good writing essays on the floor in front of CBBC.

I increasingly wonder, though, if there was something in that initial claim. It's just that the things you ought to discover aren't in books. They are friends, drink, drugs, fun, life. Doing the bare minimum to get through at an acceptable level is all very well and good. But for someone like me it also meant shutting off entirely when everything you needed to do was done.

They say you shouldn't have regrets. But I do. I didn't really start to find out who I was or who I could be until I was 24 years old. Up until that point I was (by my own choice and actions alone, mind you) insular, shy and friendless. The potential was all in there. People don't change - witness the fact I still had those results in the photograph, from the day itself, to hand. In the end, I got 3 A grades and all I ended up with was this lousy missed opportunity.

You can't go back. Ultimately, it was for the best, because without things turning out the way they did I'd not be so lucky as I am now, to have nice friends and a nice life. But things could have been nice then, too. The most important thing I should have learnt at college was the only thing they don't teach you.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Let's not be reductive

I don't know if it's the same for you, but there's a great temptation for me to try and compartmentalise different elements of my person, as if they are somehow not related to one another. I suppose it's because there are bits of everyone which are so diametrically opposed that it's hard to reconcile them as belonging to the same package.

However, unless you have some pretty severe psychological multi-personality disorders, it's very unlikely to be the case. In fact, it's precisely because you have done this or that that you will also think and react in certain ways. I'm a tapestry of all of my thoughts, actions and experiences. There's no such thing as "happy me" or "sad me".

The trouble is that, as I well know, there's a thing about art. A person who made a tapestry is likely to have very different feelings towards the end result than the viewer. They've seen all the mistakes, they've seen the raw materials; they know which bits caused them problems, which bits were easy and which bits needed to be unpicked and redone again and again.

I now realise that the tapestry that people see with me is, generally speaking, pleasing to them. Which makes me happy. But today has been one of those picking, picking, picking days where I wonder if it's been worth it. Whether or not you should just stick it all in the fucking bin.

My GP told me a story about one of his old patients, an artist. She would never sell a painting until she'd hung it on the wall of her house for a few months, lived with it herself. If it passed muster with her then it was up to standard. There's a lot of truth in that. You can't ever expect to be doing things for other people and expect it to make you happy. If you're not happy with it, you will forever be miserable.

In the past my self-loathing was poisonous. It infected me to the very core. That those days are starting to look like something of a memory is a great relief. But in a way I still kind of miss it. Because now I'm in an interim period, still feeling agitated and desperate and lonely. The problem I have now is that I don't understand why. Even faulty reasoning has the advantage of giving you reasons for things.

What I need to do is remember that no part of me exists independently of any of the others, that you can't change one thing without repercussions or unexpected consequences. It's hard sometimes, though, to keep the faith with what you know is a good thing on the bad days. Days like today.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Memory 1

Saturday March 19th 2011 was Supermoon night in the UK. The moon that night was fearsomely large and the weather was lovely and clear. I was going into Brighton but got off at Portslade to walk down Portland Road and look to see if I could see the moon. Could I ever. I copped an eyeful of the most astonishing moonrise you could ever wish to see. Clair de Lune by Debussy came onto my iPod quite by chance. It was one of those perfect moments.

I was going to see my friends. We had a very pleasant and quiet night. I met a pub cat. But my key memory will always be that walk, that moon and the things I was thinking about, which in a first for this blog, I'd rather not share. I will never, ever, forget that day.

On Van Morrison

I love Van Morrison, me. I love the earthiness of his music, stripped of the electric instruments which had become de rigueur to all popular music by the mid-1960s. I love the way it is nevertheless never lacking in any fullness or depth. I love the way that he will write a song about flighty metaphysical concepts and then floor you with a disarmingly basic lyric about the simple beauty of nature and life. The fact that he is perhaps rock 'n' roll's most notable curmudgeon is, for a big grumpypants such as myself, just the cherry on the cake.

I first would have heard Van Morrison on Southern Sound radio, growing up in Brighton. Southern Sound was a classic hits station, back in the days when classic hits meant Wilson Pickett, rather than Gareth Gates. I think they had two Van Morrison songs on their playlist: Brown-Eyed Girl and Bright Side of the Road. Naturally, I retain a certain sentimental fondness for those two records, but it wasn't until I was 18 that I discovered that there was a lot more to Van Morrison than that. Yes! He'd recorded more than two songs! Here are five of my favourites (no particular order, because I only like lists the normal amount).

1. Gloria
Now a bona fide rock music standard, Van Morrison wrote and recorded Gloria aged 19 with his band Them. It wasn't even released as the A side of their single, instead it came out on the reverse. For all its nuts and bolts simplicity, it has a rawness and excitement about it that few records before or since have been able to match.

2. Sweet Thing
Sweet Thing is the third track on Van Morrison's most feted album, Astral Weeks. It is as good an example of all the things which I most admire about his songwriting listed at the head of this post combined into a single four minutes. I think it's one of the most beautiful songs ever recorded.

3. Moondance
Pulsing, rhythmic, soulful and romantic.

4. Everyone
Another song from the Moondance album, I first really fell for Everyone after it was used in Wes Anderson's Marmite masterpiece film The Royal Tenenbaums. It's another example of how Van Morrison can use simplicity to his advantage.

5. Comfort You
Comfort You is a most remarkable love song. I have written on here before about the vagueness of the English word 'love'. Comfort You's greatest trick is that it covers absolutely all bases. It can be a love song for partners, platonic friends or family members. Very few classic love songs are able to boast such scope.

The 42 Club

It is 34 years to the day that Elvis Presley crimped and heaved his way off of this mortal coil with a bomb bay full of crappins. Last night, when I was thinking about this, I was amazed to note that I seemingly knew how old he was when he died. As if my brain retaining such a detail was going to be much use. (I should point out to anyone who doesn't know that I have a better-than-average capacity to retain dates, but ages are normally therefore left down to arithmetic. I'm horrible at remembering names, but that's another post entirely).

Thanks to my brain and the warming confirmation that only Wikipedia (why would it lie?) can provide, I am able to tell everyone that The King was 42 years old. This is no age. I have just realised that I know people who are 42 years old and would be frankly very surprised and devastated if they went off for a poo but ended up meeting their maker. It's just not something you even consider to be within the realms of possibility.

However, in the spirit of the late Amy Winehouse's recent canonisation to the dubious honour of being in the 27 Club, I decided to take a look at some of the people who will be partying down with Elvis in the beyond, as his peer group.

Ted Bundy (Serial murderer; born Vermont, USA 24.11.1946; died Florida, USA 24.1.1989. Cause of death: State execution)

Ted Bundy is my all-time second favourite serial killer (no-one can ever replace Saucy Jack in my affections). For sheer, brutal, shark-eyed psychopathy, Bundy is without parallel in the modern world. He raped, murdered (and then usually raped again and again, necrophilia fans) approximately 35 women (including at least one minor) in a four year spell in the mid-1970s, roaming across the continental United States under a series of aliases and disguises, and twice escaping from prison. His execution, by electric chair, was pretty much the first order of business of the George H.W. Bush administration.

F. W. Murnau (Expressionist film maker; born 28.12.1888, Bielefeld, Germany; died 11.3.1931, California, USA. Cause of death: accident)

A remarkable man in any number of ways, Murnau was 6'11" tall and openly homosexual at a time when the majority of people were neither. He is also responsible for some of the most striking and important films of the silent era: Nosferatu, a Symphony of Horror in 1922 and 1927's Sunrise. Murnau's career began in Germany but in 1926 he moved to Hollywood to much success and acclaim. He died in a car crash shortly before the premiere of his final film, Tabu.

Albert DeSalvo (Convicted serial killer; born 3.9.1931, Massachusetts, USA; died 25.11.1973, Massachusetts, USA. Cause of death: murder)

A controversial figure in American crime, DeSalvo was the handyman convicted as being the infamous Boston Strangler, who raped and murdered 13 women between 1962 and 1964. However, contemporary expert evaluations and subsequent investigations may reveal a different picture. Some have argued that the killings bore the hallmark of several different hands, whilst one psychological analysis suggested that DeSalvo's pathological need to be important saw him turn himself in. DeSalvo was stabbed to death in prison, where he was serving a life sentence.

Prince Albert (Royal consort; born 26.8.1819, Coburg, Germany; died 14.12.1861, Windsor, UK. Cause of death: Typhoid fever (disputed))

The husband of Queen Victoria and the scourge of erections everywhere, Prince Albert's effects on his adoptive country were far-reaching indeed. As well as enormous impact on the life of its Sovereign, and his zeal for social and technological reform, he was also the father of Edward VII and the current British royal family still carry his name - Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. He died of typhoid fever after a prolonged spell of illness.

Robert Kennedy (Politician; born 20.11.1925, Massachusetts, USA; died 6.6.1968, California, USA. Cause of death: assassination)

The upstart member of America's most famous political dynasty. Kennedy was just 35 when his brother appointed him Attorney General in his administration. There, Kennedy did battle with Unions and organised crime, earning himself some influential enemies. After the assassination of his brother, Kennedy moved away from politics - not least due to his famously tempestuous relationship with his brother's Vice-President, Lyndon Johnson - until he returned to be elected as the Senator for New York in 1965. He was running for the Democratic Presidential nomination, for which he was the favourite, in California when he was gunned down by a pro-Palestine Jordanian, Sirhan Sirhan, in the Palace Ballroom Hotel, LA.

Queen Mary I (English Monarch; born 18.2.1516, Greenwich, UK; died 17.11.1558, Westminster, UK. Cause of death: cancer)

Britain's last Roman Catholic monarch cut such a swathe of destruction and vengeance through England during her five-year tenure that she is now better known as Bloody Mary. With great religious zeal, Mary tried to undo all of the damage to Catholic Britain that had been caused by her father Henry VIII's Reformation and continued under the reign of the similarly militant, but defiantly Protestant Edward VI. Her efforts to produce a child to rebuild a Catholic dynasty with her Spanish husband Philip II, however, ended in a series of phantom pregnancies, the last caused by the the uterine cancer which killed her.

Monday, 15 August 2011

Pink Riot

A lovely weekend. The sort of weekend that doesn't just make you feel glad to be alive, but that everyone else is also alive to share in its magnificence. It could only be Pride day in Brighton.

If you've never witnessed Brighton Pride (and Pride is the perfect title for what is on display), then the best description I can offer is to find some footage of the Rio Carnival and watch that. The whole town is completely subsumed with giddiness, excitement and love.

It was lost on no-one who'd seen any news in the last week, the enormous contrast with the riots in London and elsewhere. Here the streets were thronged. Tens of thousands of people, all smiling, all happy, all ages, cultures and creeds. The only police I saw the whole time were walking down to head off a group of Christian protestors - Christians are always the last people, in my experience, that one should expect to embrace Christian values - and the representatives of the gay police of Brighton and Hove in the parade, who as ever got one of the biggest cheers of the day.

It's hard to write about Pride without coming over all peace and love. But it's hard to experience it without that happening, too, even for the most hardened misanthrope (hello). It's a day of high emotion, but every single emotion is a positive one.

It was an emotional day. My friend is looking to move to the US to begin an exciting and richly-deserved new life. It was via her recommendation that I first got into the Pride experience. I found how much the whole parade touched her particularly moving, a reminder for me that she's not leaving to get away from us - from all this - but instead to add something extra. A reminder that it's things like this which stay with you always, inform the person you are.

When someone moves away - especially if they are a special friend or important person to you - there's always a contrast of emotions. In this particular case, I feel a great deal of happiness and excitement, but of course there is also a sadness. I'm increasingly aware as I walk around town how many places remind me of her, of my friends and the times as lovely, funny and joyful as this weekend that we have spent together. I'm aware that in time, these will become rather painful memories as I adjust to having to cross an ocean in order to add another caper to our shared experience rather than just picking up the phone. I'm also aware, though, that with a little more time these will be places that I treasure for their power to remind me of good things, of the things which have made me a better person. It's an awareness that I hope will allow me to recognise and grasp moments like this as they happen, to make the most of what is truly special to me.

It's these contrasts which are so important, so important to embrace where you can. Keep hold of the good because there will be bad. Things will always change, but that's no reason to forget the times in the past which meant - and mean - so much because you're fixated on an uncertain or a different future. When I look back at Pride 2011, it will hopefully always be in context. They were turbulent times, a time of upheaval both for me personally and for society at large. The fact that it was so wonderful was not in spite of this, but rather because of it. This weekend everything came together in one perfect crystallising moment. I'm writing this now because I never want to forget it.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Walkies

Every evening this week I've had a walk along the seafront. This is because I leave by the sea. It would be a potentially risky venture to try and have an evening walk by the seafront if you did not. But luckily for me, I do. Already I'd dodged a bullet.

As regular readers of this blog will know, in addition to the true meaning of the phrase "crushing disappointment", I've been in something of a fug this week. "Something of a fug" is mum speak for "depressive episode". I find walking along the seafront helps. Plus it's more healthy for me than the other thing that helps: massive consumption of carbohydrates. As a bonus, there's a little nature reserve near the beach, too, where I can look at little egrets, my favourite bird.

It's normally fairly uneventful. A near miss with an arsehole cyclist here, a jogger who looks like they are suicidally depressed wheezing past there. Today, though, there was a dog.

Dogs, as you might expect, are not a rare sight. They are normally, though, accompanied by an owner. Today's dog was, too. Kind of. The owner slumped down on a park bench, stared at the dog for a while and then just left it to bugger off. It buggered off into the nature reserve, it buggered off into people's gardens, it buggered off onto the beach. Mostly, however, it buggered off in the same direction as me.

It's fairly grey and windy this evening, so there weren't many people around. If anyone had seen me, though, they'd probably have reckoned from my proximity to the dog that it was my dog. What I want to know is, what's the etiquette here? The owner was rapidly diminishing from view. My new pet dog, Rover, excitedly ran a few yards ahead of me. He looked excited. Or excitable. What would I do if he bit someone? What if he did a poo? Can I be held legally responsible for the actions of a dog if I'm the absolute nearest person to that dog?

The other thing was that Rover looked a little bit like a smaller version of the dog in Ghostbusters. The one that chased after Rick Moranis. And I'll be honest, it was starting to freak me out a bit. You go out for a walk to raise your spirits and end up raising Gozer. That would be just typical of my luck.

Luckily for me Rover did not bite anyone, or do a poo. He had a bit of a sniff of the crotch of a shuffly man before legging it back towards the park bench where his owner had probably now forgotten that he even had a dog in the first place. It was exciting to own a dog, but also a bit nerve-wracking. I think I will stick to enjoying other people's dogs.

Near home, some men and a woman were raising a beach hut. They were not Amish.

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Sometimes I almost feel just like a human being

Do I feel like a human being? No, not really. Never have.

There's little doubt that I am one. There's little doubt that I'm quite a nice one, too, from what I can gather. I even feel nice at times. Good. But mostly I just feel nothing at all. Lost, really. And completely on my own.

I sort of wish I did. I have a suspicion that this wall of numbness is what separates me from others. Not elevates, separates. Insulates. I feel it would be easier if I didn't have to do anything for myself. Not in terms of getting dressed, but in terms of lavishing the kind of care and attention that I enjoy giving to my friends.

My empathy is a curious instrument. Finely honed in some regards and utterly blunt in all other directions. It's developed to the point where I can empathise on a theoretical level, a necessity when my own personal feelings are so preposterously stunted. I really couldn't care at all what happens to me, as long as it doesn't negatively impact on the people that I love.

For everything else, nothing. Suffering. War. Poverty. Starvation. All of it barely registers. It's a monstrous streak of obliviousness, unfeeling and selfish. If I think about it I feel complete disgust at myself, at my amorality. But of course this is soon replaced by the same old familiar void. The only thing that punctures this void are spikes of extreme energy, and only the ones which are directed outwards do me any good at all. But lasting good? I don't know. I feel as much like a robot being put back in his box ready for next time as anything. You know the way cats stare into space, waiting for something to move? That.

In a way I wish I felt more. Or felt at all, sometimes. My fear - a fear which strikes me cold and rigid - is that in Icarus style I would lose everything I had in reaching for something more. Because I love the things I have. That's where I'm alive, vital, human. Sat here on my own, I doubt I even have a heartbeat.

The America project - Kansas

Kansas (KS) size 82,277 sq.m population 2.9 million


Bordering states Oklahoma, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri (5)
State capital Topeka
Most populous city Wichita
Other notable places Kansas City, Olathe, Lawrence
Notable landmarks and natural features Kansas River; Pony Express Trail; The World's Largest Ball of Twine (disputed), Cawker City

Statehood 29th January 1861 (34th)

Ten famous Kansans
Roscoe Arbuckle (actor; born Smith Center, 1887-1933)
Erin Brockovich (environmental campaigner; born Lawrence, 1960 -)
Bob Dole (politician; born Russell, 1923 -)
Amelia Earhart (aviator; born Atchinson, 1897-1937)
Dwight Eisenhower (army general and politician, 34th President of the USA; born Denison, Texas (raised in Abilene), 1890-1969)
Maurice Greene (athlete; born Kansas City, 1974 -)
Dennis Hopper (actor and artist; born Dodge City, 1936-2010)
Buster Keaton (actor and filmmaker; born Piqua, 1895-1966)
Charlie Parker (musician; born Kansas City, 1920-1955)
Jess Willard (boxer; born Pottowatomie County, 1881-1968)

Three important events

1. Prohibition (19th February 1881)
The Temperance Movement held great sway in the United States during the late 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries, culminating of course in nationwide Prohibition of alchol between 1920 and 1933. Kansas was the State that led the way, outlawing the hooch on February 19th 1881. The key character to come out of this was Carrie Nation, a fanatical Temperance Movement follower and devoted Christian. She would enforce the newly-passed law by lomping her 6 foot frame from bar to bar, Bible in one hand and a hatchet for destroying beer barrels in the other.

2. The Great Flood (July 1951)
Heavy summer rains in 1951 saw the Kansas River burst its banks at numerous points. The ensuing flood was of Biblical proportions. 17 people died, whilst over half a million were made homeless. At times the flood waters inland reached 8 feet, whilst some rivers saw peak crests almost 3 metres higher than their previous records. To prevent a repeat, Kansas added 15 extra dams to the length of the Kansas River.

3. Brown vs. Board of Education of Topeka (May 17th 1954)
A landmark legal decision in the United States, ruling that having seperate schools for black and white students was unconstitutional. The knock-on effect of this ruling - brought by 13 parents from Topeka, led by Oliver L.Brown - was that racial segregation in itself had been deemed illegal in a court of law. The Brown vs The Board of Education of Topeka case is one of the most often-cited in the whole history of the Civil Rights movement.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

On chicks

Chicks dig scars. This means that were it not for my odious personality, I'd be completely snowed under. My head looks like a dog's had a go at Kryten from Red Dwarf.

Obviously, I've been through the majority of the reasons for this here before. However, I just looked at the date when I was struck with the dazzling realisation that! It's been 5 years to the day since I had the operation to screw my neck back together.

Five years of being bionic, almost to the hour that I'm writing this. They've been exciting times. Actually, they haven't really. But considering the exciting times that led me into that situation that's probably for the best.

It was an exciting operation, mind you. It lasted about 3 or 4 hours, I think. Two neurosurgeons went in through the front of my neck and screwed my spine back together (for those experts amongst you, it was my odontoid process, I had a type 2 fracture of C2). All the while I was being CT scanned, so a live-action 3D model of my head and neck was available to make sure they didn't do anything really daft, like accidentally drive the screw into the bottom of my brain. I blanche to think how expensive this must have all been. All hail Great Britain! A country where, at the moment at least, you can really seriously injure yourself without financial ruin!

The mark of a good surgeon, the saying goes, is that they leave no mark. And so it proved to be. The sum total of the outward physical evidence of what I sincerely hope is the coolest operation I will ever have: a 2½-inch long scar, almost invisible to the naked eye. Perhaps this is why chicks don't dig me so much. Perhaps chicks should carry portable x-ray machines and metal detectors.

The good people responsible were Hurstwood Park Neurosciences Centre in Haywards Heath. A magnificent bunch. Such was their efficiency that, having checked in to the hospital on the 9th and been operated on on the 10th, by teatime on Saturday 12th I was at home again. I can't recommend them highly enough. I would also recommend you do your best to avoid having to use their services in the first place, mind you.

I am cool.

No Elvis, Beatles or the Rolling Stones

A tragic, maddening and gormless interview on Radio 4's Today programme this morning. Paul - they should have gotten his full name, Paul is exactly the kind of brass necked idiot stupid enough to give it to them - a 16-year old looter in Manchester was asked about his choice of evening activities.

Why not do it?, he argued. No-one is being arrested and you can get all kinds of cool stuff which would under normal circumstances cost a lot of money. If he did get caught "it'd only be my first offence. The prisons are all overcrowded anyway, what are they going to do, give me an ASBO?"

You don't know whether to laugh, cry or punch him in the face. David Cameron's hopes for The Big Society are going to run aground spectacularly if Paul is anything to go by. He should be one of its building blocks, but instead he's dazzlingly unsocialised and lacking any empathy. His view of law and order is one of expediency, rather than respect. It would only be his first offence. His total fear of fucking up his future stems from the fact that he has no future. The flowers in our dustbin, indeed.

This country is failing, and it's failing because it's failing people like Paul. I'm not going to jump on the hell-in-a-handbasket bandwagon. For every Paul there are ten, twenty, a hundred more fine, upstanding 16-year old children with dreams, ambitions and a healthy level of disgust for what we're seeing in our cities. However, it doesn't take many. Paul is a black hole of a human being, and as black holes are wont he will gladly suck all the goodness out of the world around him until there is nothing left.

I'm not a politician, or even politically minded. I have no answers to how we can help save Pauls and prevent the formation of new Pauls, each more Pauly than the Pauls before them. With qualifications like that, maybe I should be a politician, . But at least when British society collapsed in the late 1970s and early 1980s, we got some good music out of it. And that's only a semi-jocular point. My biggest concern for the future of Britain is that creativity seems to have abandoned its disaffected youth, leaving only anger, desolation and destruction behind.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

On hairlines

I am pretty lucky in the hair department. Any number of my fellow men would like to have as much hair as I do. It is thick, too. And a colour which I have heard described to me as "intellectual blond".

I have a bald spot on the top of my head, which is caused by scar tissue from where I split my head open five years ago and the incompetent buffoon doctors at the Royal Free Hospital, Hampstead left a piece of gauze in. When I finally removed it, after two weeks of things unsurprisingly enough not healing properly, it was an item which could have been used in public health advertisments to discourage anyone from doing absolutely anything. Needless to say, it was grotesque: saturated with blood, pus and plasma from where my skin had tried to establish a medium to regrow skin.

It's this unsightly dent which makes me very self-conscious about the scourge of men everywhere: male pattern baldness. This isn't vanity about hairlessness, but the shame and embarrassment of a revolting reminder of the stupidest thing I ever did being visible to the world. I am sure I could cope with the former. The latter would probably drive me to go and live in a cave and subsist on a diet of foraged roots and berries.

Baldness isn't actually too much of a concern for me in terms of genetics. For countless generations on either side of my family there are impressively hirsute men, even into their dotage. So, it was the cause of some disquiet when my brother asked me last Friday afternoon if my hairline was receding. In the galling way that these things do, someone put a very similar question to me out of the blue on Saturday evening.

It's a pretty silly question to ask. How should I know? If I am it's at such a glacial level that I shouldn't risk showing the world my cratered head until I'm at least 175-years old. The only solution to this problem is to approach it in the same way parents approach the issue of the growth of their children. The time has come for men everywhere to get the leading edge of their hairline tattooed as a thin black line once a year. This will answer all questions that anyone may have, as long as people remember to carry a ruler with them at all times.

Monday, 8 August 2011

A riot... is an ugly thing

British people do not know how to riot. We are not natural rioters. To be natural rioters you need to be belligerent, motivated and susceptible to the persuasive powers of ideology. British people are introverted, houseproud and mostly Church of England. British people throw flour and eggs and pies at people. British people elected John Major to be their Prime Minister without much of a hint of irony.

The current London riots are stupid. Riots are almost always ultimately counterproductive for everyone, for starters. But they are so inescapably British that their aching pointlessness must be striking a total blank around Europe. In France or Spain, people will happily occupy a square for a week, chain their dog to an armoured car and throw darts at a police horse. In Britain, people have a riot on the hoof after a Saturday night in the pub, take Sunday OFF and then resume rioting AFTER WORK on Monday. The surefire way to stop these riots would actually be to make it rain of an evening.

I don't really know the ins and outs of what caused the London riots, it's something to do with the police shooting a man suspected of packing heat dead last week, I think. My patchy knowledge, however, would probably be sufficient to make me a commander in my own riot sub-squadron. I have no doubt that there are some people involved here with an intimate knowledge of the issues and an axe to grind. To those people I would politely suggest there's probably more constructive outlets. Outside of that half-dozen, though, it's just a load of people who are seeing other people throwing bricks at police cars and thinking, "I'm going to do that as well".

They should set up cordens and turnstiles at riots. No-one gets in to riot unless they are able to correctly answer 75% of any questions regarding what the riot is about. Some dickheads burning down Lidl and stealing a telly because they saw some other people doing it too does not an ideological army make.

I imagine that people will soon start to liken 2011 to thirty years ago, in 1981. Civil unrest. Inner-city rioting. Recession. Unemployment. Royal Wedding. Maybe Ghost Town by The Specials will make it to number 1. I'm not sure quite what will happen before all of this dies down and what the government will do to resolve tensions, but if I lived on the Falkland Islands I'd be making sure my insurance was fully comp.

On Mungo

Mungo - or Shit Shot Mungo, in a preposterously transparent homage to the character on which he was based, Hot Shot Hamish, has been part of my life for over 5 years. He sat in a sketch book waiting to be turned into a comic strip since the summer of 2006, when my spine was in still compromised. Then one day in January 2009, alcohol made us - Ian, the man who created and runs Twohundredpercent and me - resurrect the idea. Mungo is as old, almost, as the Twohundredpercent website itself. However, like his creator, he is also a lot flakier than the rock-solid website he's graced for the past 2½ years.

Thanks must also go to Lewes FC, whose staggeringly inept and boring 1-0 defeat to Mansfield Town in the Conference at The Dripping Pan that day helped keep our focus on inventing stupid names for players and teams. The first Mungo strip - which was shoddily-drawn rubbish - appeared on February 6th 2009. Since then there have been 96 further editions as well as countless (i.e. I can't be bothered to count them) close-season specials. The ones of the second full season - episodes 59-97 - were actually really quite good. The praise, often inordinate amounts of praise, that was heaped on the earlier editions can only be attributed to alcohol intake at least as high as that which eased the strip's birth.

People with functioning eyes will be relieved to hear that, with the exception of the sale of one strip's original artwork, I never made any money from Mungo. Like the rest of the Twohundredpercent site, it's a labour of love rather than a quest for profit. People who think that people write football blogs as a shop window for themselves are idiots. Anyone like that would be weeded out easily - they'd stick out a mile, plus anyone with such a brass neck is likely to be the exact sort of person who lacks the self-awareness to realise that they are dreadful.

Mungo (he was only Shit Shot Mungo for the first 17 editions) is not a labour of love any more. He's just become labour. Unpaid labour, at that. You know how people say, "I'd not do that if you paid me"? Well, I would do Mungo if you paid me. However, that's now the limit of my interest in him. Every week between August and May had become a battle of motivation and my strong completist instincts versus a growing resentment. I'd spend a day (at least) every week doing something for which I received nothing. I knew going in that I'd not get any financial reward. The same can't be said for feedback, however. I have no idea how many people are interested in this post, because I have no idea if anyone liked Mungo. I increasingly felt like my little oddball corner was at odds with, and on the margins of, a site which otherwise created fierce and ongoing debate.

The thing that tipped the balance has been football. Life goes on and changes all the time, but mine is developing faster around me than at any time before. Football's importance to me has diminished when compared to issues of family and of friends. At the start of last season I became aware that the shrieking, mindless, insistent, blanket coverage of the sport and the lives of its asinine stars had begun to grate. By New Year I honestly couldn't have cared less. At the moment, football bores me. Football in theory still interests me. Football in my memory still interests me. But whenever I see football, I'm increasingly conscious that I'd rather be doing anything else.

My plan and my hope is that I will continue to do stuff for Twohundredpercent, but in a libero role - a picture here, an illustration there, maybe a strip or two. Whatever little area of interest in the game I can exploit. But the days of forcing myself to do a weekly strip based on the same thing are gone. It was making me miserable.

Mungo is not dead. It's not time for his helicopter crash yet, he has years of not scoring goals ahead of him. I'm never saying never. I can readily envisage myself getting an itch to get back into drawing Mungo and being full of ideas. However, for the time being I want to step away. I have offered the strip to another artist, who is fantastic, and we may yet even see some Mungo strips this season. Maybe nine months of being a Mungo reader is what I need to recharge my batteries and rekindle my enthusiasm.

The America project - Iowa

Iowa (IA) size 56,272 sq.m population 3 million


Bordering states Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois (6)
State capital & Most populous city Des Moines
Other notable places Cedar Rapids, Sioux City, Davenport
Notable landmarks and natural features George M. Verity Towboat, Keokuk; Herbert Hoover National Historic Site, West Branch; Effigy Mounds; Terrace Hill, Des Moines

Statehood 28th December 1846 (29th)

Ten famous Iowans
Cap Anson (baseball player; born Marshalltown, 1852-1922)
Johnny Carson (comedian and television presenter; born Corning, 1925-2005)
"Buffalo" Bill Cody (soldier and hunter; born LeClaire, 1846-1917)
Hill Harper (actor; born Iowa City, 1966 -)
Herbert Hoover (politician, 31st President of the USA; born West Branch, 1874-1964)
Ashton Kutcher (actor; born Cedar Rapids, 1978 -)
Glen Miller (musician and band leader; born Clarinda, 1905-1944)
Kate Mulgrew (actress; born Dubuque, 1955 -)
Conrad Nagel (actor; born Keokuk, 1897-1970)
John Wayne (actor; born Winterset, 1907-1979)

Three important events

1. The New Deal (1933)
The Iowan economy has been largely based on agriculture throughout the State's existence. However, following the Great War, Federal subisides for farmers were withdrawn, causing serious economic problems in a State which was seeing a rapidly increasing immigrant population. As part of President Roosevelt's New Deal, an Iowan called Henry Wallace served as the Secretary for Agriculture and was instrumental in setting up the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which controlled the amount and type of agriculural production in order to increase prosperity. By the 1940s, Norman Borlaug had won a Nobel Prize for his work on plant genomics, developing new strains of rice at the Iowa State University.

2. Mother Mosque (1934)
Iowa is the home to the longest-standing Mosque in the United States. Built in 1934, the Moslem Temple, Cedar Rapids, was the United States' second Mosque, although the first - in Ross, North Dakota - was torn down in the 1970s. In 1996 it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

3. The Day the Music Died (3rd February 1959)
The Winter Dance Party series of pioneering rock 'n' roll shows wound a punishingly relentless route all through the midwestern United States in early 1959. The tour bus' heater broke in freezing conditions, even causing the band's drummer to be hospitalised with frostbitten feet in Duluth, Minnesota. The star of the touring party, Buddy Holly, decided after more logistical headaches at the Clear Lake, Iowa show to travel to the next gig - in Moorhead, Minnesota - by chartered light aircraft. Taking off at 12.55 a.m., the plane was last seen descending from view 5 minutes later and was never heard from again. The crash, just outside Clear Lake, took the lives of the 21-year old pilot Roger Peterson, as well as Holly (22), The Big Bopper (28) and 17-year old Richie Valens.

Sunday, 7 August 2011

On chemistry and rubbishness

I was rubbish last night.

Last night two friends were in town, having made what tends to be a yearly foray from the grim north. They seemed to be enjoying it. I hope they are, and do. But it won't be on my account. I was sat right there but I was miles and miles away.

It always interests and amuses me, when someone sings the praises of a friend of theirs. You know that the line "you'd like them" is never far away. Friendships are so organic and based on chemistry that, however well-meaning the human impulse to try and share the good things with each other is, in this instance it just can't always work that way. Everyone is different, and needs different things. The kind of confidant I need may set your teeth on edge. The people I think are funny may bore you. It's inconceivable to me how you could think that way, of course. Just as it would be if the roles were reversed.

One of the key factors in this is it assumes that people's moods are constant. As I loll about on great tides of variability, I always imagine that I'd find everyone I know to be pretty much as I expect them to be. I never factor in that they might be sad, or angry, or stressed, or excited, or whatever. Which is absurd. I wonder if other people think that way and if they do, if it serves some sort of useful evolutionary purpose - rather than just contributing to an ongoing Cartesian existential nightmare.

The person I am, of course, remains a constant. But as I tend to lurch from despondency to hyperactivity most of the time, it's difficult to know what you're going to get. Beyond that, I'm also terribly shy with new people. Even with people I know, at times.

Yesterday I was fairly happy within myself, but that was as far as my ambition went. I imagine I radiated nothingness, to the point of invisibility. I was sat there kind of hoping no-one would talk to me, because I was surrounded by people who I properly love and would never dream of ignoring. But at the same time I could feel that even getting words out could prove to be a Herculean effort. Believe it or not, this actually represents something of a step up for me. In the past to catch me on a downward curve could have seen me like a black hole of self-loathing, hell bent on actively sucking all the joy out of the room. Misery really does love company.

What I'm about to say may sound a little big-headed, but false modesty was very last year and anyway, I do actually have a big fat head. I am a very entertaining person. Whilst I'm unlikely to be physically dominating any situation, when I'm at my best I can be at the very centre of affairs. I'm funny, imaginative and outspoken. Charming. Interesting. Sweet. Controversial. I'm as excited as anyone is when that person turns up, believe me. But that is the person that someone would tell people about. The other one - the anonymous one - can do all of the same things but has no desire or need to. They'll just sit in the corner and hope no-one notices them.

Of course, people do notice them. I am lucky - very lucky - in that my friends understand that the sparky and brilliant dotmund won't always turn up and are all perfectly content with just your entry-level dotmund, the tortoise without the shell. The footballer's wife without the vajazzle. But I can still sometimes feel the disappointment when just the very basic package turns up as it did last night. And it is disappointment, rather than frustration. Very lucky, you see. Indeed, the disappointment may actually just be concern onto which I am projecting my own feelings of disappointment at, and in, myself. This would be very like my friends, who are a genuinely good bunch. They have to be, let's face it.

Yesterday night continued into the early hours. There was a spirited debate going on, encompassing personal, interpersonal, social and political topics. It was pretty interesting and strident stuff, delivered at all times with a smile and a wink. A delightfully good-natured and stimulating affair. I just sat in the corner drawing. And the pictures I was drawing weren't even very good, to top it all off. To everyone's credit, I was left to my own devices whilst always being welcome to join in should I want to. I wish I could have done. If someone had tried to convince a stranger they'd like to meet me, by this point they'd have called a cab.

I'm disappointed today. However, I'm a wiser person these days than in the past, so I'm disappointed for me, not at me. It's a pity that my friends from afar won't be able to return with any great tales of dotmund whimsy. Hopefully next time.

Next time someone is telling you that you'd like their friends, I think the best answer could just be to say that you sincerely hope that their friends are as good to - and for - them as your own are to and for you. Unless you feel you've tethered yourself to a real wagonload of losers. In which case, someone may have just offered you a ticket to the promised land!

Friday, 5 August 2011

On remembrance

Nan's funeral was held today, three weeks after her death. An oddly long gap, but then after her three year battle with the brainwiping animal of dementia, it didn't really seem like such a wait. As funerals go, it was fairly textbook. And that's the problem.

My dad, a vicar, was officiating at the ceremony. My mum had felt that the clergyman at her dad's funeral had done a very poor job at capturing his essence as a man, as a life. My dad did a very nice job... although he encountered some small problems here and there. As he told me later, he often finds that people who were actually close to the deceased are more appreciative of any personal touches than the friendly acquaintances, who tend to shuffle in their seats and look affronted. Humour? A funeral? This is grotesquely disrespectful!

My difficulty didn't come from the personalised bits, but from the set text of the funeral service. A line in the committal said that at baptism, my nan was adopted by god. In communion, she was sustained by the body of Christ. I don't think I'd have minded if it had been Father O'Random of the Holy Church Church saying it. But it was my dad saying it. He'd known my nan for 35 years. He knew it wasn't true as well as I did.

My nan went to church, but then most people of her generation did. It was part of their weekly social routine. The tribute at the service even acknowledged the fact that her "faith", such as it was, was a belief in good friends, company and a natter. Nan had no great belief in the beyond. She once told me that it would be a comfort to think there was a God and a heaven and that one day she'd be reunited with her husband, but she really didn't think that there was.

This is not one of those great internet anti-Christian, anti-faith rants. Come the day of my mother's funeral, for example, I will gladly go along with the whole thing since it is what she profoundly believes. Of course, today too falls under that category. I am sure it has provided her with closure she desired. But it was also a day for her twin brother, a man who shares none of her religious beliefs. What's in it for him? This template being used for absolutely all and sundry isn't what life is about, not who people are.

It's hard to know exactly what I feel about funerals. They are not a time for stridency or selfishness, nor for any great sweeping statements of this and that. But they are a time for remembrance. I felt that my nan was forgotten today. My sister-in-law asked me to tell her some stories about my nan at the wake, which I found rather telling. Surely if a funeral should be for anything, it should be for that? There should be room for everything. Religion plays such a part in so many lives that it deserves its place at such an occasion. But so did my nan, who was there today in body rather than in spirit. Which is such a shame.

I found writing my own little tribute to the person I remembered on this blog to be a very emotional experience, surprisingly so, in fact. I hope that it will be that day, 15th July 2011, that comes back to me when I think of nan's passing and not the perfunctory events of today. When Oliver Hardy died, Stan Laurel didn't attend the funeral. His explanation was, "Olly would understand". I'm sure he would have. I certainly do.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

On being the best

This is a post representing years of thought on the subject. As such it's likely to be hugely garbled, but I'll try and keep some kind of thread running through it. I almost did it the other day, but couldn't get started. Luckily this morning I read this and it gave me an in. Please don't blame her. Blame me.

I think the English language is lacking some words. Descriptive words. Words for the most important things of all. One of the most often repeated facts you're likely to hear is that the Eskimo people have x number of words for snow. What this fact does not impart is the brilliance of this, its usefulness. If you live in the frozen Arctic Tundra, it's no good telling someone that it snowed. Of course it snowed. What kind is it? That's what you really need to know. You don't want to be wearing the snowshoe for fluffy snow only to find that it's that gritty, powdery stuff. Things like that could easily save your life, even, if you find yourself getting chased by a polar bear or a walrus.

I think English doesn't have enough words for love. Before you go all Roget on me, I am fully aware that it has plenty of synonyms for love. But what kind of love? I've heard it said that the vagueness and ambiguity of the English language is what gives British people their famous sense of humour. And this is undeniably the case, when you have to use the same word to express love for: a life partner, a best friend, a pet, a sister, a parent. Yes, that's right. You want to have sex with your cat. A ha ha ha.

In recent times I'd thought that the same thing applied to the word "best", in context of "best friend". That piece I linked to at the start brings it into sharp focus. It is, of course, possible to have more than one best friend. It is possible, too, for one individual to be many people's best friend. Someone could be no-one's best friend, but still a much loved individual to many people. The word "best" is misleading in this case.

However, I now think that this is an incidence where ambiguity is a good and necessary thing. To call anything "best" implies that all other things are left wanting. How can you make such a distinction when you are dealing with such a subjective, organic and emotive subject?

Television lies to us. On television, best friends come in distinct, reciprocal, pairs. Such perfect units do of course exist in real life. I know of one very good example off hand, where each has known the other for pretty much their entire lives. However, this isn't the norm. If you asked me to name the best friends of my friends, I reckon I might be able to take an educated guess in about 50% of the cases. Television would baulk at such grim odds. How would anyone know who to root for?

I probably have half a dozen or more people that I could, without fear of contradiction and with no implicit criticism of any of the others, happily describe as my best friend. I imagine that they all know who they are. Some of them I have told, which would make knowing who they are an easier piece of deduction. I don't know if anyone considers me to be their "best" friend, in the Hollywood sense. I suspect the answer is as delightfully vague as life and language themselves: sometimes yes, sometimes no. This isn't some sort of needy plea for attention, nor is it something which keeps me awake at night. I feel lucky and honoured to have the friends that I do. Semantics doesn't come into it.

Life is complicated, fraught and beautiful. It goes without saying that language is the same.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

On having a pretend wife

Last night I decided I was going to have a pretend Twitter wife. She could share my adventures, assist with my schemes and help inform my decisions whilst remaining completely hidden from view. Like Mrs. Columbo.

This was all going very well for several seconds, until I realised that as a very visual person, I was probably going to need at least a basic mental image of my pretend Twitter wife. People reading about her exploits in 140-character increments would surely start to get a mental picture of her, so the least I could do was to have one myself from the start of the project. After all, I owe her that much. After all, she is my pretend wife.

I decided that I can imagine myself with two different types of wife. One is a dreadful old harridan, like Flo Capp - all hair rollers, fag and rolling pin - who runs the rule over my every waking moment. The other is a woman who, when people saw me with her, would rail at the injustice of how such a plain, dumpy man could get such a beautiful wife. This wife is way out of my league, but finds me fascinating and charming enough that she puts up with my foibles with amused interest.

My initial thought - and this is probably very telling from the point of view of my still-fragile self esteem - is that I'd have an awful old fishwife of a wife. But that's when the trouble started. Because I had by this point also imagined the way-out-of-your-league wife and I was smitten. She was lovely. Kind, motherly, protective. Indulgent of my whimsy. I was in love.

Alas, I'd gone and married this bloody awful harridan. Even in my own imagination, I was Howard from Last of the Summer Wine. What could I do? I felt it was probably too early in my pretend marriage to have an affair, but at the same time here I was on Twitter. I could maybe have a little play? It's only a bit of harmless fun.

At this point - this is now probably only a couple or three minutes after my original decision to have a pretend Twitter wife - the whole thing was doing my head in. I was trapped in a loveless but demonstrably fake marriage and about to ask the actual Lauren Laverne if she would show me her pants. It was time to abort.

But like Mr. Bernstein in Citizen Kane - and the woman he saw alighting the ferry with the little white parasol for no more than a second - I still think about that brief glimpse of my pretend Twitter wife who was way, way, out of my league. I will always love her.

Tuesday, 2 August 2011

The America project - Indiana

Indiana (IN) size 36,418 sq.m population 6.5 million


Bordering states Illinois, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky (4)
State capital & Most populous city Indianapolis
Other notable places Fort Wayne, Evansville, South Bend, Gary
Notable landmarks and natural features Wabash River, Tippicanoe Lake, Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Statehood 11th December 1816 (19th)

Ten famous Hoosiers
James Dean (actor; born Marion, 1931-1955)
Michael Jackson (musician and singer; born Gary, 1958-2009)
David Letterman (comedian and television presenter; born Indianapolis, 1947 -)
Shelley Long (actress; born Fort Wayne, 1949 -)
Steve McQueen (actor; born Beech Grove, 1930-1980)
Cole Porter (songwriter and composer; born Peru, 1891-1964)
Dan Quayle (politician, 44th Vice-President of the USA; born Indianapolis, 1947 -)
Tony Stewart (racing driver; born Columbus, 1971 -)
Kurt Vonnegut (writer; born Indianapolis, 1922-2007)
Wilbur Wright (inventor and aviation pioneer; born Millville, 1867-1912)

Three important events

1. Polly v. Lasselle (1820)
A landmark legal case in America. In 1819 two notable Abolitionists, Osborn and Kinney, decided to have a test case to bring maximum attention to their cause. They chose a slave called Polly, owned by Hyacinthe Lasselle of Vincennes. Polly was purchased before the establishment of the Northwest Territory, and her emancipation meant that under Indiana law, all other slaves had to be freed. The 1820 census revealed 190 slaves in Indiana, with the majority of the 1200 free blacks being as a result of the court case. By the 1830 census, only 3 slaves remained.

2. Indy 500 (30th May 1911)
Indianapolis is perhaps most famous around the world for its annual motor race, the Indy 500, a 500 mile race around the 2.5 mile four-corner oval circuit built by C.G. Fisher in 1909. The original track was paved entirely with bricks. These remained, in whole or in part until the 1961 500, after which the entire course - barring a yard-long strip of the original bricks on the start-finish line - was asphalted. The inaugural race was won by Ray Harroun in a Marmon-Nordyke "Wasp" in 6 hours 42 minutes, an average speed of 74.602 mph, in front of a crowd of 80,000. For comparison, the Centenary Indy 500 in May of 2011 - the 95th running of the race - was won by Briton Dan Wheldon in a Honda-powered Dallara car in 2 hours 56 minutes, an average speed of 170.265mph, before a crowd of over 300,000. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has gone on to also host the NASCAR Brickyard 400, as well as the Formula 1 and MotoGP US Grands Prix on its infield circuit.

3. Indianapolis Streetcar Strike (31st October - 7th November 1913)
On Halloween night 1913, the workers union of the Indianapolis Traction and Terminal Company went out on strike. It precipitated 8 days of mutiny and riots in the city. With elections to be held the following week, the local government clamped down hard on the strikers. The first riots began as strikebreakers attempted to restart the streetcar services and with the police unable to control the situation, by November 5th Indianapolis had been placed under martial law. The following day, Governer Samuel Ralston acceeded to the demands of the strikers. Within a month, minimum wage laws had been passed and the slum dwellings of Indianapolis had begun to be improved. In all, 6 people lost their lives during the disturbance.

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