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December

The posts have dried up of late, I know. And this will be the last of the year. A slightly more prolific version of regular service should resume come January. It is, you see, December. And making my living as I do by cooking stuff for people pretty much rules me out of anything resembling a normal existence once the festive season starts to bite (and also rules me out in November, on account of I’m trying to get ready for it).
It is impossible to describe what December is like in a kitchen*. Any accurate description would seem absurdly hyperbolic, so I’m not even going to try. All I will say is that it doesn’t stop. At any point. If you’re not cooking service you’re trying to plug the gaps in your prep list,. Should by some miracle you find the time to do that then hey, there’s a catering job just come in and you need to pony up food for a hundred in a couple of days because who plans ahead? But mostly it’s the deep prep. The basic jobs that are the backbone of a professional kitche…

Missing the point.

With her tweeted photo of a house, a white van and England flags Emily Thornberry has managed to blow any political capital that Ed Miliband may have been able to make from the Tories capitulation to UKIP in Rochester and Strood. She’s also exposed, at a stroke, one of the problems that Labour needs to address if it’s to be considered a credible political party.

The Labour party’s big problem, post-Blair, is that it doesn’t seem to remember what it stands for (hint: the clue’s in the name). There is a chasm between traditional working class Labour and the Blairish metropolitan elite, of which Thornberry’s tweet was a particularly sneery, unlovable example. It seems to have forgotten the working class, and if you neglect your traditional voter base,, you’re going to struggle.

What seems particularly odd is that the photo was of a white van. The shorthand is simple. White van = tradesman = works with hands = working class. This is the equation which should have been running through Tho…

Heart of Darkness

As even a cursory glance at the news informs you, the world can be a dark and unpleasant place. Innumerable horrors and degradations are inflicted upon people worldwide, grotesque acts committed as a matter of course. We tut, express disapproval, and go about our days.

Set against the global backdrop of general nastiness, it can be easy to overlook acts closer to home. Take, for example, the disturbing case of a bird sanctuary just up the road from where your correspondent types this. This place, manned and run by volunteers takes in injured birds and nurses them back to health. Harmless enough, who could possibly object to that?

Well, someone in Mawdesley does, as a sequence of attacks by night on the place have left hundreds of birds killed and maimed, bones broken, attacked by dogs. It’s the sort of action which causes as much confusion as it does distaste. Why on earth would you want to? The sane response is bafflement.

This sort of petty, small-village malice is a world away fr…

Singles Day

Living as we do in a world of shopping, where even your email tries to sell you yoghurt, where adblock is as essential to the online experience as a healthy sense of scepticism, and facing as we are the looming commercial behemoth that is the festive season, when would you imagine the world’s busiest online shopping day to be? Sometime soon, certainly, as people start to think about beating the annual December postal snarl-up. Something similar to the fabled Black Friday, when the US loses its collective mind in tsunami of credit card abuse.

So it comes as a mild surprise (not to mention a gentle reproof for being surprised, big wide world out there, don’t forget) to discover that it was yesterday. Nov 11th. Busiest online shopping day of the year. And the reason is the Chinese observation of Single’s Day. Essentially Valentine’s day for single people, single people buy themselves gifts, eat fried dough sticks (to signify the numerals of 11.11) and generally have a high old time of …

One job after the other

When my alarm went off this morning, I lay in the dark and thought about lists. The first thoughts upon waking (apart from the standard existential angst and dread) we as follows: Burgers, spare soup, fish pie, potatoes, millionaire shortbread, tarts, lemon drizzle cake. The prep list, written up on my whiteboard at work, waiting for me, the shape of my morning.

I am a chef, an occupation which requires order and discipline to work effectively. I am also, by nature, disorganised and somewhat messy. This clash is (in part) resolved by lists. Your prep list and your order list are your sun and your moon, imposing order on a situation which could all too easily spiral out of control*, one missed job, or ingredient unbought can spark a catastrophic chain of events. No jam? Can’t make Bakewell tart, no tart? Other desserts get hammered, the prep list grows, priorities change, other jobs get missed, maybe a regular doesn’t get the dish they want.

The approach has bled through to my non-kitc…

Postcards

(further to the last piece, it may be worthwhile pointing out that not EVERYTHING I read was ancient*)

I managed a single new poem at last week’s reading, or rather twenty odd very short new poems plucked from one longer work which is currently being tinkered with. In the finest traditions of my magpie poetics, the idea was “inspired by” (read: ripped off wholesale from) the sainted and discussed elsewhere in these pages Georges Perec.
Reading his collected short pieces Species of Spaces (take the exhortation to buy and read as read)

I was struck by a piece called Two Hundred and Forty three postcards in Real Colour (dedicated to his friend and other hero of mine, Italo Calvino). Simply put the text is the standard matter of postcards, weather, food, scenery, but the overall effect is hypnotic in its banality (and in the knowledge that, this being Perec, there’s something else entirely whirring away in the background). This evolved into 99 Postcards for Georges Perec. Me being me I …

Performance

Performance

(The dust has settled and back I slink like a penitent drunk, birthdays and tasting nights having kept me away. Also a reading, the main inspiration behind this piece).
Last Wednesday I stood up in front of a roomful of people and read poems that I’d written for twenty minutes or so. Not in itself an unusual occurrence for me, though far enough out of the ordinary to cause me a couple of nights of broken sleep wondering what on earth I was going to do.

I felt a fraud, to be honest. My writing habits are slow, and over twenty years I’ve managed to amass a grand total of two chapbooks. The upshot of this being that, when reading from my “latest” book, I may be reading a piece that’s up to sixteen years old. Fair enough, the audience may not have heard it before, but it still feels slightly like one of those sad eighties revivals tours, with multiple acts coming on, doing the hit, and fucking off. It reminds me of how little I have actually got done, thus far. But, with such …

The date as catalyst

Sometimes it is the simplest thing that causes everything to swim into focus. Life has been a confusing welter for the last couple of weeks, as work commitments have spiralled to an unprecedented degree, and everything else has withered in the face of them. It’s hard to think when there’s a lot to think about, the brain cries out for breathing space. At its worst, the sensation causes a disproportionate sense of angst. Replying to an email becomes a Herculean task, doing laundry or washing up delivers a sense of guilt and resentment, surely there’s other stuff I need to be getting on with. The paperwork, the writing, the inbox, these essays, the running; all sit and glare at me as I get up later than intended, don’t find time, watch in horror as the half hour I set aside disappears in two or three chunks of something other than what I intended.

Mentally, it’s not an ideal space to be in. Particularly when I’ve a sizeable poetry reading in Manchester this evening, and until a few sca…

It’s in the edit

It’s true I missed a couple of days, but I’m keeping the self-imposition going in other ways. Yesterday I posted the first of what will be a series of rewrites of old short stories over on Medium, and it got me thinking about editing, rewriting, and how we change over time.

The story’s not a million miles from the original. The plot (such as it is) stays the same, the characters, large parts of the text. It must be a good ten years old though, and reading it I could tell. It was an accurate reflection of my character at the time, the newer version, clearly, is closer to the current version of me, and the older me is more restrained, which is only to be expected.

The question is, which is the better? Is it truer to leave well alone? Well, no, clearly. The whole thing reads better now, it’s tighter, makes a little more sense, and has trimmed away a couple of the twentysomething approaches which now read as gauche. “Kill your darlings” as Stephen King said, and he was right, I remember…

Score one for the weird names

To general astonishment, Hamilton Academical ended a winless run of 76 years versus Celtic this very afternoon. Noteworthy in itself, but I mention this mostly because of their magnificent name.

As a long-suffering fan of Tottenham Hotspur, I’ve always had a soft spot for teams with slightly unusual names. In the westcountry of my childhood, I’d keep an eye on Plymouth Argyle’s results. I was always intrigued by Sheffield Wednesday (originally a cricket club who played all their games on that day). In these days of ever more rampant corporate branding, and proud and ancient stadiums being renamed after retailers of cheap trainers or ethically dubious airlines, the slightly odder names are a reminder of football’s more ramshackle past. Hamilton are named Academical, for example, because they were originally a school football team. Aston Villa derive their name from the Church team they once were.

My own beloved Spurs (also originally a cricket club) are named after Sir Henry Percy, …

The Madeleine moment.

You know the concept. In Marcel Proust’s Du cote de chez Swann the narrator dips a madeleine into a cup of tea. This simple act unlocks a host of memories of childhood, he hasn’t done this in years, it takes him right back.

I’m not going to pretend I’ve read the book. I will confess I tried, but wandered off after a while to play computer games instead. This is because I’m an intellectual pygmy with the attention span of a stunned duckling. But the point, largely, is that Proust has managed to sneak a phrase into the popular consciousness which is apposite and precise; we all know what a Madeleine moment is, and a crisp fiver here states that we’ve all had one.
One occurred this morning (hence the post, there’s not a great deal of forethought with these things on my part). For years beyond remembering I have been accustomed to opening he fridge to see milk in plastic one or two litre containers, it’s not something I’ve ever given a great deal of consideration to. Why would you?

Yet t…

Silent mornings

In heaven it is always Autumn – John Donne

I wrote some time ago of the pleasure of running without any of the technological encumbrances with which some runners habitually festoon themselves, of the way the brain begins to tick over under its own steam, and of the way in which the unencumbered runner notices more of the world around them.

And now it’s autumn, and this week marked the first of my morning runs conducted entirely in darkness. It’s been trailed over the preceding weeks, with sunrise arriving later and further into the run and now the months of running in complete darkness lie ahead. With nothing to look at, the mind closes in further, it really is just you, the road and your thoughts.

During the back end of summer there’s always a part of me with one eye on the arrival of autumn, Camus’ “second spring”. The thought of the light receding is what bothers me, the encroaching dark mornings, the loss of the evening light as if it’s easier to mourn something whilst you still…

The distant sound of money.

At the Conservative Party conference a policy is announced. It is duly parroted by media outlets. An important question is left unasked.

But first, the policy: tax relief on inherited pensions, previously tacked at 55% and now to move into line with income tax. It’s an inoffensive enough policy, as Conservative policies go, not one of the more odious ones specifically designed to help out rich people ones (though, be under no illusions, it most definitely will help out a bunch of rich people), a few will benefit. It also has the handy characteristic of being easily labelled by tabloids as “Death Tax” as in “Osborne scraps Death Tax”. Which is point two, the due parroting: tabloids say Death Tax, BBC report tabloids saying Death Tax, people think whew, glad we’ve got rid of that Death Tax, good times all round. It’s a more of a mouthful to say “Osborne unpins fixed rate of 55% on inherited pensions to normalise them with income tax”. No, Death tax it is.

And now we come to the unaske…

The convenience of war

The Prime Minister must be thanking his lucky stars that IS exist. So, for that matter, will the Cleggster and possibly even Milibot (though maybe to a lesser extent). All quietly breathing sighs of relief and raising a glass to those wacky murderers Islamic State.
You will recall that, not so long ago, there was a referendum for independence in Scotland, which was pulled out of the bag for the status quo by a little bit of last minute panicking and bandying of promises.

I, too, have been known to make promises I can’t keep for the sake of keeping the peace, so I know whereof I speak. They’ll have woken up the morning after and thought “I said I’d do WHAT?” Predictably, depressingly, with a crushing ineivitability, bickering ensued. The whole wearying roundelay of jockeying for position and clambering for advantage creaked along and nobody but nobody said anything concrete about how they were going to y’know, do the things they’d said they’d do. It was looking a touch awkward. There w…

For want of a mouse

My mouse retired last week. For years it had faithfully tracked, pointed and clicked its way around various monitors without a squeak of complaint. Then, silently, it just started to slip away. Intermittently the left click began to fail, before packing in entirely. I was left with half a mouse, prodding lumpenly at the screen like early man. That right click still worked was a minor torture of sorts, I could do half a job, but couldn’t satisfyingly seal the deal with a left click.

I pottered along with keyboard shortcuts and Mouse Keys for a bit, but it wasn’t the same. The computer seemed suddenly alien to me, with a vague feeling of unease I left it alone until such time as I could get a new mouse (which, clearly, has happened, and very nice it is too, a zippier, smaller, younger model, I eye the old mouse, wrapped in its cord and tucked away on the desk, like a penitent adulterer).

Strange to have a part of your life excised by something as simple as a left click button. No comp…

Protest howls and Bono’s yowls.

I note from social media that it’s quite the thing to complain bitterly about the U2/Apple publicity stunt of foisting their new album upon iTunes subscribers. People didn’t want it, they didn’t ask for it, they are only dimly aware of the concept of “deleting” things. It’s easy to mock, so I shall.

But this kerfuffle has worrying implications. This is the mediated internet writ large. It’s only a short conceptual leap from this to Apple deciding everything you listen to.
Now, it is easy to argue that this is what music labels have always done. Some bands have had careers sat on, been ignored, had albums shelved, the corporations have decided what will be released, what you’ll hear, and against all this the indie (as in independent, not purely as in jangly guitars) subculture has railed.

When the internet became a thing, a fact of everyone’s lives, it looked as though the playing field had been levelled. Fans and artists could interact directly, artists could showcase their music dir…

Poll Geek

Due to the pressing constraints of history, this is of necessity the last referendum related essay. Only tangentially but hey, I’m at a computer, I’ve promised myself I’m bloody well going to write something and I’m receiving tetchy signals about how soon I need to get done and go and be sociable, so:

The Scottish independence referendum has highlighted the unimportance of polls, by simultaneously highlighting their importance. Bear with me.

You know how no-one south of the border was overly engaged until one poll, one single poll out of (at current count 1200) put the Yes campaign ahead by a single percentage point. And then they all went nuts. Uh-huh, we all recall the nuts-going, and a deeply unedifying spectacle it was. So, the importance of polls is this, they supply numerical totals by which people can keep score, they are an easy way to keep track. Once a Yes win became a microbial possibility everyone in Westminster lost, as they say in Scotland, the heid.

And now the unimpor…

Blurb: a brief diversion

One of the more fraught aspects of doing a spot of writing is occasionally you will be called upon to provide a potted biography. Maybe some writers approach this joyously, for me it’s a horrible chance to look like a prize knob.

Who wants to read author blurbs? Nobody, that’s who. Or rather, people will glance over other publications, maybe take note of a website address. The rest comes off as so much self aggrandising nonsense. Who cares what else I do? Yet the terrible urge is to try to write something different from the norm, something witty, something interesting. Which is, of course, ludicrous. Clearly people are already interested, otherwise they wouldn’t be reading your blurb, because who wants to read author blurbs (refrain, repeat to fade)

In his wonderful book “Invisible Forms”. Kevin Jackson takes a chapter to have a look at this strange extrusion on the body of writing, and skewers its various incarnations. The depressing truth is that the laconic, jokey, offhand blurb…

Godwin’s Law

You know Godwin’s law, the most famous of internet axioms: "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches 1." It’s one of those eye-rolling tactical gambits. The Nazis? Really? You want to bring them into it? It’s tacitly understood that, once you invoke the Third Reich in an attempt to prove your point, you’ve lost.

This is borne out by frothing right-wing commentators and their talk of “Feminazis” and “The Fascist left”. Those incapable of framing a rational argument resort to Hitler, and the sane chuckle indulgently and go and talk to a grown up instead, because there’s just no dealing with them.

So it’s disappointing beyond belief that when, in an interview about the Scottish referendum, Gordon Brown clumsily compared the hypothetical condition of the Scottish economy to that of the Weimar Republic, the BBC reporter followed this by saying “which led to the rise of Hitler”. That’s right, a BBC reporter drew a d…

Don’t read the comments

There’s a twitter account you can follow called “Don’t read the comments”. Every once in a while a different tweet will appear in your feed saying simply that, in a variety of ways. It’s salient advice.

It’s been said many times, by many people that the impersonality of the internet brings out the worst in people, allowing them to vent spleen and prejudice in a way unthinkable in the normal course of human interaction, to this oft-repeated opinion I would add: particularly in comments threads. I attempt not to, really I do, but occasionally I get sucked back in.
The big problem is the urge to answer back, it’s human nature, you see a massively wrongheaded opinion and the urge to correct them, or to call them out on whatever blind prejudice they’re displaying is almost overwhelming. It occurred to me the other day, I was reading a review of Owen Jones’ new book, but said review was on a fairly liberal website, so, in the interests of balance, I wandered over to a right-wing one, just t…

Stories of the past

One of the things about parenthood is how it yields its secrets on a drip, you find yourself doing things you didn’t anticipate, which looking back seem blindingly obvious. It is, of course, now perfectly clear to me that I was ALWAYS going to wind up reading the Narnia books I adored so much as a child to my eldest though it hadn’t occurred to me until he asked about them.

So we’ve been reading them (currently up to Voyage of the Dawn Treader), and he’s been loving it. I’ll confess to less enthusiasm. You’re familiar with Hartley’s line about the past being a foreign country. Well revisiting Narnia has suggested that the past is a fantasy. Read as a child, unencumbered by societal preconceptions, they’re wonderful. Read as an adult and the sensation that you’re being preached at is inescapable, character traits which once seemed absolute and just now leave you feeling the subject has been shabbily treated by the author (poor Eustace, for example, is clearly unhappy, and don’t get me…

The rest is silence.

Recently I took a step which for many runners would be baffling, for some revolutionary, for more, downright heretical. For me it was the logical next step in falling back in love with the simple act of putting one foot in front of another I ditched the mp3 player. After years of skipping impatiently through random play, or sitting at the computer compiling running playlists, it’s gone. And I couldn’t be happier.

It occurred to me that having music on was simply a way of trying to kid yourself that you weren’t out running, a way of trying to do something else. That music (or that horrible multitasking phenomenon “catching up on podcasts”) was getting in the way. What I love about running is its simplicity. Open the door and go. So I simplified it further.

It’s better just being out in the world, after the initial horrible quarter of a mile (which music would get you through easily) the limbs remember what they’re supposed to be doing, you get into rhythm and after a while the brain s…

When stuck, return to Georges

I’ve recently been re-reading Georges Perec’s Life: a user’s manual. Not surprising news in and of itself. But it does offer some clues to the turn Coastalblog’s taken of late.

Perec’s masterpiece is a snapshot in time of a Paris apartment block, his stroke of genius being to examine the lives of everyone contained therein, rather than a handful of protagonists. There is a plot of sorts, but due to the novel’s systematic progress (imagine a cross-section as a chessboard, the novel follows a knight’s passage around the board, an alinear approach which disrupts conventional narrative) the book becomes more about the individual stories (which is, in essence its point, explained by the title). It’s a humane work, allocating chapters to everyone in the building, interested in everything.

I’ll not go into detail (do read it, though), as it’s not the book itself that’s the point of this piece, more Perec’s working method, and how it has come to pass that I’m daily writing these small essays…

Scots Wahey

As polls tentatively suggest that Scotland might vote Yes at the referendum, an outcome seemingly unthinkable only a few weeks ago, a bout of panic and bluster begins at Westminster. Which made me think, possibly this is why it’s happening.

Months ago the No campaign was strongly ahead. There’s not enough space in this piece to discuss the pros and cons of Scottish independence, but what I would point out is that it was all going pretty well if you’re pro-union roughly until David Cameron opened his gob, and it’s been getting worse for them ever since. His tone has been condescending, a groovy teacher telling the kids what they need to do, yeah. And in his wake patronising posh bloke after patronising posh bloke has been queuing up to tell the bally Jocks to stop all this nonsense and simmer down.

There have been threats about currency union, threats about Europe, copious hot air and finger-jabbing, ill thought out remarks about border guards, the Union (by which we can reasonably re…

Stuck in my ways

This little series of short essays was started with a simple intention. To force myself to sit at a computer and write. My reasoning being: the daily discipline would reconnect me with the idea of writing regularly as part of my life, one which has slipped a little in the last few years. The other, more nebulous idea was that the regularity would force me to write about a variety of subjects, broadening my outlook and giving my brain a bit of a workout, it’s always a good idea to move out of your comfort zone, I figured. The brevity of the pieces would be a necessary constraint, promoting succinctness (and also meaning it wasn’t too daunting a task).

I was aware that it was unlikely I’d manage one every day, but if you aim high and fall a bit short, then you’ve still got more done than usual. All of which is a long winded way of saying, so far in its short existence I’m happy with what this sequence has achieved. This is the seventh, a weeks worth, which is more than I’d managed in …

The swifts of summer

Out on a run yesterday I was passed by a solitary swift, one of the few left in this part of the world. It described a tight arc in the air and I was struck, as I am every time I see one by the curve and grace of its flight, the elegant lines of its wings, in Edward Thomas’ words “as if the bow had taken off with the arrow”.

There was a tinge of sadness, a couple of weeks ago the swift would have had a dozen or more companions, but slowly they disappear. Like the last Test match of summer, there’s an air of melancholy attached to the last swifts of the year. Each spring I look forward to their piercing, shrill shrieks (so at odds with the beauty of their movement) as a harbinger of longer days and softer air and, bang on cue, as they start to leave the wind starts to get up, the showers grow slightly more chill, the air becomes fresh. You can watch the seasons roll in and out behind their tail-feathers. Time was it was a pleasant surprise, these days I can track their progress up the…

After the flood

Today is August 16th, the anniversary of the fatal flood at Lynmouth, Devon in 1952. A cold front collided with a thunderstorm, and the two slid down the sides of an already-sodden Exmoor. The waters scooping up boulders, debris and fallen trees which dammed the Lyn river. When the dam broke a huge surge of water and debris destroyed 100 buildings, 34 people were killed.

It’s also the anniversary of the non-fatal, but also massively destructive flooding of my home village of Boscastle, in Cornwall when a one in 1300 incidence of heavy rain overwhelmed the rivers Jordan and Valency. You may remember the pictures, overturned cars swirling through grey waters, past pretty cottages, the water’s power terrifying but also somehow unlikely, faintly absurd. This sort of destruction in a place of ice cream and gift shops.

I’d long since moved away, and was actually on holiday in Harrogate when the story broke, I only found out because my phone started going with various people checking I was …

Loose chains of interest

I ended yesterday’s piece by saying I shouldn’t be so ready to slate facebook (fun though that is). After all the quote for yesterday’s title came to me via fb (a link to a Buzzfeed list, so that’s yesterday’s other throwaway target exonerated). It’s a quote from the graphic artist Lucy Belwood, which came via a link provided by the graphic artist Matt Madden, who is a facebook friend.

It’s taken me a while to get my head round the concept of fb friends, I think it’s the emotive word “friend”, once you scrub that mentally and add a more neutral word (say “contact”) the whole point of social media swims into focus. It’s handy for keeping up with family and irl friends, true, but also for roaming the wider shores of your interests (which is where the “curiosity” and “pleasure” parts come in). I’m “friends” with a bunch of interesting people who expose me to things I otherwise wouldn’t encounter, which in turn informs my writing and practices.

Which is the other reason behind this serie…

Curiosity, pleasure and time

As I’ve time, I’ve been thinking about time. I have time as a few days break from my (otherwise all-consuming) day job has given me some. Not a lot, as there are other selves, husband, father, which need to be addressed first, all of which takes time.

Writing these pieces takes a bit, too, necessarily. But here’s the point of time, it needs to be used. This use might involve nothing of immediate consequence (a snatched half-hour zoning out in bed to clear your head), or something of more obvious value (building a lego castle)with your son. On the first morning of these holidays, I abused time horribly, suddenly realising that half an hour had disappeared as I aimlessly wandered through buzzfeed lists and scrolled through status updates of people I barely know, it was then I conceived the idea of this essay series, to give myself some time to write.

Time grows from loci, if you set yourself tasks you have more time, not less. When I finish this short piece and upload it I’ll look at t…

The democracy of grief

The death of Robin Williams has made me look at myself. I’m aware this sounds like the gross self-absorption which typifies the egomaniac’s interaction with the internet, the sort of solipsism which only the monstrous self-importance of the blogger (what I have to say is IMPORTANT dammit) can generate but it genuinely has. Williams’ sad end was for me the culmination of a process which was started in my brain many years ago by facebook, of all things.

My time-line was full, of RIPS and “devastateds”, more than I was expecting. I didn’t feel the need to post anything myself (liked some stuff, disliked other stuff), and it got me thinking. One of my problems with social media is the occasional outbreak of homogenous response, and big outbreaks of grief like this only serve to highlight it. The temptation is to react, to post some snark, burst a few bubbles “Hey, he did Patch Adams, he probably had it coming”, because there’s nothing so tempting as the sight of a load of people saying o…

The drama of intervention

(Caveat: this may seem a little odd and jarring in tone. Apologies, but do bear with me, I’m working towards something, I think).

We wring our hands at the situation, and rightly so. The image is a strong one, people trapped on top of a mountain, their enemies encircling them. The terrain is bare an inhospitable, they have no means of defence. The news story appeals at the same time as it appals due to its high drama.

And as with any good drama, we have stark sides. The black-flagged Islamic state fighters , the flag handily doing the work of a black hat in a Western, the defenceless Yazidis. And we have the deus ex machine, the airstrikes both humanitarian and militaristic. The cavalry arriving from over the horizon. It’s small wonder the story’s gripped as much as it has.

The question can be begged, should the cavalry actually be coming? Should they not, in fact, be minding their own business? It’s a valid one. It seems morally clear that in this case, yes, Western intervention is …

The house is sleeping

An early night after a bone-shattering couple of days in work and so I find myself up early on a Sunday morning with the rest of the household asleep. I'm quite partial to an early morning, increasingly so as I get older, I find.

Possibly it's something to do with kids. As they enter your life you become conditioned to wake up earlier and then, when they start actually sleeping it's harder to shake the habit. I think it would be more accurate though to say I've not tried to shake the habit. To be up, early on my own is a treat for me, it's a rare chance to sit and well, do this sort of thing. Did a spot of writing a few minutes ago. Don't do that enough.

Yes, I suspect that's it. It's about the need to carve out a little bit of time for yourself. Full disclosure, it's my turn for the lie-in today, I have actively chosen to get out of bed and potter, how times change. My job is extremely time consuming, and I don't make enough time for family, so…

Unsubstantiated opinion for fun and profit.

CAVEAT EMPTOR y'know, I really am not a journalist. I do occasionally do the odd bit of research for these sporadic outbursts but nowhere near enough to factually cover my arse (which level I suspect puts me on a par with some journalists, but not enough for me to claim any oracular tendency to you, dear reader), it's just opinion. Unsubstantiated opinion, prejudice and gut feeling.

And my unsubstantiated opinion, prejudice and gut feeling is making me exceedingly nervous at the moment. You see, whilst I'm too lazy to do much in the way of research what I do possess is a memory, and a capacity to occasionally read a book; as such a couple of things have me worried.

As you're doubtless aware, the US pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, those lovely folks who convinced a generation of men that they needed Viagra rather than foreplay has launched an aggressive takeover bid for the UK firm AstraZeneca. Now, it ill behooves us to second guess their intentions, but Pfizer has a trac…

Wotcher

Thought I'd swing by to say hello. Now I do know that I hinted that these parts would see a little more activity as part of my ongoing drive to get more writing done, and I felt I ought to point out that I have, actually. Just not here. Not anything that's ever likely to see the light of day, to be honest, but I've long since discarded that as being the point of the exercise anyway. I nearly launched a frenetic and full scale rant about the response to Farage's decision not to stand in Newark, but that boiled down merely to a splenetic facebook status update which said pretty much all I wanted to say on the matter (concise version: less than happy with political name-calling). I almost wrote a post about how aimless walking seems to be having a bit of a moment, what with various books on the subject coming out and even the Beeb sticking its oar in with an article or two, and as a man who's a fan of a spot of aimless wandering I thought that might be worth a post. B…

What? WHAT? Oh for fuck's sake

Argh. Just, argh.

What? Why argh?

Well, it's fairly straightforward. I'm a citizen of a country which labours under the apprehension that it's a functioning democracy. As most students of the political process will be aware a democracy can be defined as a governmental system consisting of opposing parties, voted for by the population at large. The party of government is the party in power, the party not in power (generally known as "the opposition") is a vital counterweight to the government, acting as it does as a check and a balance to the party in power. The fundamental idea, the driving principle behind this system is that it is for the people, that a government has a strong and effective opposition. That, in effect, nobody gets a bit carried away (or "a bit Lenin" as it could be known, add or delete dictator of you choice here, I'm aware it's a lazy analogy, stick whoever you like in, I don't fucking care. "A bit Clegg" might …

Smog? Really (Checks calendar, checks atlas)?

Living as I do in the drizzly north west of this sceptred isle, the recent bout of air pollution hasn't directly affected me, at least, not in the lung-burning, stroke-inducing, A&E admission rapidly rising sense. It has, however caused me no end of head scratching.

You see, the thing I can't get over is that heavy air pollution, of the put-people-in-hospital type is being reported as though it were just one of those things. Best to stop indoors chaps, air quality's lousy. Saharan dust eh? Nowhere have I seen anyone going "hang on. Air pollution? Are you having a fucking giraffe? I just checked a calendar, it's not the 1950s, I just checked an atlas, it's not one of those bits of Russia that they leave blank so the capital imperialist running dogs don't know that's where all the refineries and petrochemical plants are. Air pollution? Who fucked up?"

Where's the sense of outrage? The air is literally not fit to breathe. Whose fault is this?…

A conscious mangling of language

Thos of you who come to Coastalblog as your go-to source of celebrity news (lets face it, I'm ALL about the celebrity news) will doubtless be as shocked and saddened as I am by the news of the split of her out of the Royal Tenenbaums and him out of Coldplay. Likewise bemused that it's taken her a whole eleven years to realise that Coldplay are fucking terrible (I envisage a sudden moment of clarity visiting itself upon Ms Paltrow like lightning from a clear summer sky, maybe out shopping somewhere and hearing some of that maudlin warbling nonsense dribbling out of the stereo in some glossy shop, dropping her bags and clapping her hands to her mouth, a shocked look on her face, before rapidly grabbing her phone and ringing her lawyer).

Now regardless of your opinion of their respective canons (and mine's not high, to be fair), it ill behooves us to intrude upon people's private misery, so I'm not going to speculate further, plus, y'know, there's kids involve…

Keeping my gob shut

Hello-o-o-o-o (echoing silence)

As has been noted in these pages on more than one occasion my posting habits over the last few years have been. Well, shall we say sporadic? Patchy, maybe. Fair enough, I'll go with that. Patchy it is. Now, there are a variety of reasons for this. Opening a business at the same time as starting a family wiped all my free time out at a stroke, it also meant that after the initial furore had died down there was very little else for me to think about (once I had regained the capacity for cognitive thought). Out of respect for my business partner and co-workers I'm unlikely to post anything work-related (except in the broadest terms), also because hey, not in work, don't want to talk about it; and my wife's relationship with the internet could best be described as "uneasy", so posting anything about family is right out the window. And that's all I've thought about for a long while. Sure there's been the odd eruption on …

Oh, Ed

So the Guardian's published the full report on voting irregularities in Falkirk. And an exciting romp of a read it is too, particularly at six in the morning in between breaking off to play dinosaurs with an excitable toddler. But to sum up: yup, there is evidence of irregularity in recruiting voters, evidence that some pressure was applied by Unite. Basically it's a big fat Tory bonanza (which rather gives the lie to the Grauniad's alleged labour bias).

The thing is, something like this which, whilst not dynamite (Cambo's already got plenty of mileage out of the kerfuffle, possibly too mild a word for a situation which has forced Miliband to redefine Labour's relationship with the Unnions) is still damaging if brought out not on your own terms. Which begs the question, what on earth was Miliband thinking by refusing to publish? Now, I know that the party line was "to protect the anonymity of the claimants". But I hate to break it to you Ed, Falkirk? not …

Dear 2014

Hello the New Year.

I trust the transition to January has been relatively painless for you. Now the dust's settled I thought I'd drop you a line, with a few thoughts. Not for me personally you understand, that's all down to me, but a couple of ways which we can improve on the year just gone. Get you remembered a bit more fondly than 2013.

There's going to be a lot of noise and heat generated around various issues and, as is ever the case they tend to get in the way of the issue itself. Take immigration, for example. A lot of rhetoric, a lot of emotion, very little borne out by the actual facts. That economic migrants are of net gain to the economy is drowned out by the more gut-level fear of strangers. It's exploited for cheap points by lazy politicians. This is not to say there aren't issues. Genuine fears need to be addressed, but not patronisingly. Grant our elected representatives the gift of actually being able to hear what people are saying, and the wisd…