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The old school

I am doing something I have not done for a bit.

This is not to imply something racy or transgressive, more a confluence of events that have lead, in their inscrutable way, to me doing this, that is to say, being sat up pottering about with coastalblog, as opposed to being in bed.

Normally, yes, I'd be well away by now. This is one of the more surprising turns of life, over the last few years, I have become a morning person. After a good whack of time of being a night person, this came as something of a shock. But hey, business, kids, all of that, I became at first inured to, and then accustomed to, and then addicted to, early starts. Concomitantly, early finishes, obv. The fallout, the, uh, collateral damage, to borrow a phrase from our various glorious leaders' various disastrous misadventures was stuff like this, the late night blogging ramble. But, as it happens, this evening I had a private party in at work after hours. I cooked for them, they left full and happy. I got ho…

Cyclical, innit?

Whilst I would prefer to imagine that I'm the captain of my destiny and all such other affirmatory guff. I'm amused to note that this morning I did something nigh on ten years ago. That is to say, realised I needed an onlione place purely for the writing dtuff so I csan leavE Coastalblog free to roam wheresoe'er my pointless brain will take it. Which is, often, nowehere. Luckily this time I already had one up and running. And so the armschair dissident is, as of this morning, once more a going concern. As, hopefully, is the writing. And who knows? Hopefully, freed from the indecision of wondering what a blog's actually for, I may got back on here a bit more, you never know your luck.

Books I singularly failed to write 1: The Oulipian novel.

I alluded to this before, so to prove that for one sunlit second I wasn't actually talking out of my arse..

In the sunlit days of the turn of the millennium a young man was mulling over the idea of doing an MA in Creative Writing. That’s the sort of thing people did back then. Everyone told this young man what a talent he was, and how he was going places, he believed them, he had no reason not to.

As he mulled, and mulled some more (though fairly certain that it was a done deal, and that said MA was naturally the gateway to bigger and better things, a large advance for a novel before his second year was out seemed probable, might have to wait a few years before he landed one of the bigger prizes) he wandered down a library corridor and, entirely by chance pulled down a book, large letters down the spine named it “OULIPO COMPENDIEUM”.

Dear reader, that young man was me. And that tortuous opening, and my usage of the address “Dear reader” may have (correctly) informed the more ast…

I'm not liking that.

I turned 38 yesterday. In the grand scheme of things this, of course, matters not one jot. It doesn't end in a 5 or a 0, the arbitrary benchmarks we set for ourselves. But the one thing I always find about birthdays (and new year) is they do cause you to have a bit of a think. It's ludicrous I know, there is no pressing reason to be like this any more than on any other given day, but it's as though the brain goes "Right, birthday, stock-take time" and before you know it you're going all ruminative.

And one of the things I got ruminative about was the nature of birthday greetings on t'internet. Now it's a grand thing to receive cards, and I got a pretty good haul (some of them very pretty indeed, top work from both parents on card-picking) but, realistically it's far easier to pop something on facebook. I'm not decrying that at all. I wouldn't expect to receive a card from any of the people on there, in fact i think it's one of the nice…

That speech in full

In which your correspondent writes a fully-annotated hard-hitting analysis of Jeremy Corbyn’s speech to conference...
Well, no, I’m not. I’ve got the kids’ tea to cook and a pile of work-related paperwork to do, so I’ve frankly not the time. What I would say I took from it was rather what I take from Corbyn itself. I’m slightly unconvinced but it makes a refreshing change. It had compassion and emotion, and in that it differed from pretty much all other Leader’s speeches since I started taking an interest *coughcough* years ago. It was refreshing to hear the word “kindness” being used. I struggle to imagine Cambo using it. The delivery was a pleasant change also, halting and unpolished, it convinced. It seemed genuine. One of the biggest mistakes Ed Miliband made was trying to be smooth and polished when it seems likelier that he’s a bit of a berk. Cambo CAN do smooth and polished, but it comes off as oily and smug. So hats off to Jez for apparently shunning any sort of image coachi…

Failure Mining.

Oh I talk a good game, sure. But as to actually getting anything done? Weeeell, not so much. In my entire time writing I’ve managed a couple of chapbooks of poetry. The odd story or poem here and there and, famously, the drnken zombie haiku incident. It’s a fairly paltry return from eighteen years of thinking yourself a writer. There is, of course, dear old Coastalblog, which pretty much sums the whole thing up. Random, slapdash, and prone to go quiet for months at a time.

However one of the interesting side-effects of viewing oneself as a writer, despite never actually getting any writing done, is that you have a whole bunch of half-baked ideas knocking around the place, some of them quite fleshed out, some even half-written, most just a single line like “fat bloke goes running”. And I’ve got a LOT. I mean, I’ve written nigh on constantly for eighteen years, without ever actually finishing a thing. So I’m doing something with them. Not actually finishing them, god no, that would re…

It is writing

Too complex a subject for a quick blog post, but bear with me. Writing breeds writing, a subject which I’ve discussed in these electronic pages before now. And this knowledge is what lay behind my ultimately doomed attempt to blog more regularly last year (yes, I know, didn’t work out too well). I say doomed, but, brief though it was, it reinforced a personal belief which is: writing begets writing.

The process of sitting down to actually put pen to paper kicks things off, it’s important to actually engage with the act, even if what you’re coming out with is utter garbage. You never know what may come from it. One of my mini-essays from last year found new life in a poem by the excellent Andrew Taylor. I’ve parlayed my various abandoned ideas of the past into a new and potentially interesting project. I’ve attempted this year to keep a diary (I say attempted, succeeded, there is an entry of sorts for each day thus far), though, in the interests of full disclosure, I feel it incumbent…

No Corbyns allowed.

As the labour leadership contest winds (thankfully) towards its conclusion, it is reasonably safe to say that you’d have had long odds on a Corbyn win at the start (They were 200-1 to be precise, fact fans). I mention the odds as some bookies have already started paying out. The Cooper and Burnham camps are privately conceding defeat. The Kendall camp freely admits they never had a cat in hell’s chance in the first place, and Jez glides serenely on. All of which begs the question, if this is goignto be such a landslide, if this is overwhelmingly the voice of the labour membership, why is it as disastrous as all the commentariat make out?

You have to go a long way to find a pro-Corbyn media voice (with the exception of Owen Jones). Now, in the interests of full disclosure, I should point out that I don’t count myself a Corbynista. I like quite a lot of what he has to say, but I find a lot infuriatingly vague. That said, I certainly don’t endorse the witch-hunt, even the usually ratio…

When the trivial becomes overwhelming. And the overwhelming becomes trivial

The problem, for me, with news on the internet is one of mirroring, of repetition. It manifests in a couple of ways. Firstly, there is the serious story which, as a result of its analysis from every conceivable angle from every site one can accidentally click on a link to quickly loses all meaning. The brain stats to fixate onthe reporting of the event, rather than the event in and of itself.

For example, the media clusterfuck des nos jours is, natch, the whole Ted Heath imbroglio. Now here’s a perfect media shitstorm, right here, because hey, it’s a bit similar to a whole bunch of other cases of recent memory so yes, we have a toolkit to respond to this, and, woohoo, bonus points, there’s shagging. We can all get behind that (that’s what HE said, fnarr, fnarr), plus it’s all a bit vague so there’s some glorious grey areas in which theories can put down some roots and turn their pretty faces to the nourishing who cares about facts sun. Glorious. The column inches will pour forth. B…

i.m Lee Harwood.

I was sorry to hear of death of Lee Harwood, one of the country’s finest poets. A copy of his collected is never far from my bedside table, and it is a joy to revel in the light, space and air of his poems. Their warmth, their wit, their deceptive simplicity, their intelligence lightly worn. He’s one of the many poets for whom I owe my MA a debt of gratitude, would probably have found him in the end, but it saved a lot of time to be shoved in the right direction. Robert Sheppard’s description of his writing as “at once distanced and intimate” is a better summation than I can manage

I often dislike to read tributes to poets by poets. So often an egotistical tone creeps in: “here’s how he influenced me” as if the tributee existed purely to provide grist to the poet’s mill. I’d be lying of I said he didn’t, but it seems unbecoming to bang on about it, so I’ll just let Lee speak for himself. RIP

Brooklyn

Lee Harwood

The city isn’t necessary to our elegance
It’s not a matter of going ba…

The vexed issue of trolls.

I’ve been giving a bit of thought to trolls of late. Luckily for me, I’m not a celebrity. And nor am I prone to sweeping public statements which I can’t actually back up with facts, furthermore I make a point of staying the hell away from comments threads on newspaper stories. I am disinclined to engage with idiots and long ago realised that the net is a prism for all that is grubby and disagreeable in the human psyche, so my limits of internet disagreement are defined by arguing with Australians on cricinfo comments threads, and most of them are fairly reasonable. So when I see vile comments and slurs thrown around on twitter or wherever I shake my head sadly for the vapidity of man and go about my day. I long since ceased wondering why people feel the need.

But feel the need they do, and it really is time something was done about it. Because whilst it’s easy for me to say, I’m not a celebrity. More pertinently I’m not female, or homosexual. Unlike, for example, the marvellous Jack …

Reynard the Scot

If you’d asked me a couple of weeks ago what the focus of the Westminster media would have been now, I’d have had to run through a lengthy list of possibilities before I wound up at fox-hunting.

Likewise, if you’d asked me immediately after the election what one of the incoming majority governments first actions would be, I’d have run through an even longer list before I wound up at fox-hunting.

I mean fox-hunting? Really? This is a hot button issue for you? Have you not noticed anything, um, else? Like, oh, I dunno, the potential destruction of the EU? Or the economy running out of steam? Or people getting shot by terrorists? Really? Huntin’, shootin’ and fishin’? Really? It’s almost as if the Tories, shocked at their sudden elevation to single party government have cast about floundering for something to do before gushing, with sudden relief “Foxes! That’ll do! Legalise ripping the blighters up again!” It’s an odd choice of policy to hang your hat on, at best. At worst, it’s a timel…

I...I...just need some space, okay? Or, it's not you, facebook, it's me

I took a decision on Friday which may well have some profound implications (tonue on half in cheek as I type). I chose to take a step back, draw a deep breath and...not go on facebook.

I know, I know, I have effectively cut myself off from the wellspring of the digital age. I have also severed the only half-arsed connection I have with the vast majority of people in my life. It’s not a permanent thing, it’s just that me and facebook, well, we just need some space, okay?

Well, to be more precise it’s more that I dimly realised that the time I was supposed to be spending writing was being spent aimlessly clicking through links which started off interesting, but quickly became black holes of nonsense.

This is not the fault of my various facebook friends. I’m too old to have random ‘friends’ to whom I have no connection. There are either actual friends, family or connected in some way to one of my interests. As a result when I see news stories or links posted up, there’s often interest…

The Nation’s favourite bird.

The results are in, and the Nation has voted. And our favourite bird (and now our national one) is, apparently, the Robin. Now, I’ve nothing against Robins. Enterprising, entertaining bird, and I suspect its fearlessness and tolerance of humans close proximity is the clincher in its victory. It’s a bird most people will see, and in this Springwatch era of anthropomorphization it does have personality. It’s an easy bird to construct a narrative around. It’s also a chippy, aggressive and highly territorial bastard, so in that sense it chimes perfectly with the national psyche. Of the shortlist provided I went for Blackbird, in honour of the pair who are resident in my garden. Plus gratitude for their song.

The temptation of course is to go for something majestic and rare, golden eagle or osprey (neither of which made the shortlist). Somewhat surprisingly Hen Harrier and Red Kite did quite well. But the robin is probably a more apt choice. There’s something too cool about apex predators,…

Enough already.

Enough with the moping. I’ve not blogged post election, which is just as well, really. It was all getting a bit much, and once the Great British Public (TM) turned in their frankly mystifying result I felt, after the shock had subsided, and the futile rage had washed from my system, an odd sense of relief. The other shoe had dropped. The worst had happened, and now I might as well just get on with it.

Which is what I’ve been doing. I’ve just not been telling the internet about it, but the last month has seen a variety of grips being got on various aspects of my existence which are all far too mundane to go into here. Suffice it to say that when the fundamentals are going well everything else clicks into place (hence finding the time for this post, which, now I read it back, seems infuriatingly cryptic, but frankly, you’re just going to have to get over it).

So chin up, so there’s five more years of the rapacious money-grubbing bastards to cope with, that’s no reason to go and hide in …

A add9, C maj7, Em7, E7sus4

(self indulgence ahoy, but hey, at least it’s not politics)

Many years ago, when I took the fateful step of opening my own business, it’s reasonable to say that I didn’t fully appreciate how all-consuming it would be come. I also, in a stroke of world-class boneheadedness timed it to coincide with the birth of my first child (I had a better idea how all-consuming that would be). Between these twin responsibilities there was nothing. One by one the various interests and elements that had characterised my hitherto fairly careless existence got squeezed out.

I’ve written about this before, in relation to the return of a few of them. Gradually I found time to run again, even more gradually I found time to write again, two of my holy trinity had been returned to me (admittedly by the slightly unappetising solution of forcing myself out of bed at an ungodly hour every morning). This became a virtuous circle, the act of running, much like the act of writing, is a calming and organising in…

Election fatigue.

As the day draws nearer a feeling of ennui descends over Coastalblog towers. The ineivitable consequence of a five year fixed term parliament. Too much foreplay and eventually you start wondering what’s on telly.

The problem for me is the politics of repetition. The same lines, the same messages, banged out again and again. I don’t doubt that it’s done as all sides consider it the most effective strategy, but it’s tedious in the extreme. But (sigh) it works.

Consider the Tory lie that the financial crisis was a result of labour overspending. If you can cast your mind back a few years to the heady days of 2007/8 you will no doubt be able to recall that it was nothing of the sort. You will recall a global financial crisis caused by the greed and criminality of a banking elite and the foment and fervour of an overheated housing market. You will further recall George Osborne being opposed to the actions taken by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling which, as it turned out, stopped the whole…

Ed Balls and the strange case of minor hysteria.

So, this morning, the boy Miliband advanced a fairly modest policy to normalise tax regulation for those classed as non-domiciled in the UK. It’s pretty small beer, more of a token gesture. Non-doms make up 0.4% of the overall tax base, but in terms of fairness, it’s reasonable enough. A bit of a win-win for Ed, puts him on the populist side of a debate, doesn’t actually amount to any real difference in the grand scheme of things. A bit like announcing a manifesto promise to not punch any ponies in the face.

Then? Oooh, turned out Ed Balls had said that this may not necessarily be such a good idea, in a somewhat equivocal interview a few months ago. That it might cost money, as the rich fucked off in a sulk, but it was something that needed looking at.

Cue an Olympic standard display of synchronised squawking from Tory High Command. “A shambles, chaos” said Cambo “ A shambles, chaos” said Osborne, only in a slightly more strangled voice. “Chaos, a shambles” said Gove, ever the icono…

Happy Pensions day!

I’m trying to be fair, really I am. I’m attempting to consider the government line – that the change in pension flexibility, coming in today, which allows those over 55 to withdraw money from their pension pot as and when they see fit is a sensible policy, designed to help trustworthy consumers take charge of their own finances. That’s what Osborne says it is. And if you squint hard enough, it can indeed look like that.

And yet, and yet...we are told we are in the midst of an economic recovery, and certainly GDP growth seems to reflect that (the heady heights of 2%, people). However, the rebalancing of the economy which was trumpeted by Gorgeous George was predicated ion the idea of growing the manufacturing base, ramping up exports, making us a nation of makers, in his phrase. Get the British making stuff, sell it to other people, take their money. That’s how the recovery was supposed to work.
Except exports have, in fact, fallen. And whilst manufacturing has increased slightly, cap…

Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps, Ladies and Gentlemen. Grant Shapps. Graaaaaant Shaaaaaapps. Drink him in. Revel in his presence. Grant Shapps. Grant fucking Shapps.

As I have, at times, attempted to point out, my politics are largely of the left. This does not, however, preclude me from liking the odd Tory on a case by case basis. I have reasonably sane friends who are conservative. We can disagree wildly, but we’ll rub along.
However. Grant Shapps. Graaaaant Shaaaapps. The Shappinator, the Shappmeister. Cap’n Shapps. No, no, I don’t see he and I getting along. There are people who are conservative because they’re traditionalist, there are people who are conservative because they’re already quite wealthy and they’d quite like to stay that way, thanks. There are people who are conservative because they live in a jolly nice town and everyone else in their jolly nice town is. There are people who are conservative because well, that’s just what one’s family does, in the same vague, unthinking British way…

Here come the bribes

With the mother of all messy elections now a mere two months away it’s the time to sit back and take stock. Really think about the options presented to us as voters, weigh up what the parties stand for, how it chimes with our beliefs, or not, as the case may be.

Or, alternatively, now is the time to tot up which party is offering us the heftiest bribes, and vote accordingly.

We’ve come a long way since the wild west days of parliament’s infancy. Back then, bribery for votes, a practice known as “treating”, was commonplace. None of that sort thing now, of course. Shabby, demeaning and corrupt. Wouldn’t want anything like that damaging the good name of parliament (stop laughing at the back). However, whilst bunging an individual a quid for their vote is strictly verboten, attempting to do the same thing to entire demographics is de rigeur. How else to explain the boy Miliband’s promise to knock large swathes of squids off the cost of tuition fees? Is it done from political conviction,…

Where to start?

Oh I dunno, you turn your back for a few weeks getting your arse handed to you by the lunch-hungry public and the world and his civil partner fall over themselves to ladle blogworthy soup into my news-hungry bowl (that image worked better in my head than on the page, I realise). Should I have posted about Cambo deflecting attention from his mates at HSBC enabling fraud by pointing the finger at fat people? Possibly. A despairing state of the nation address about the England cricket teams almost heroic cock-ups in the World Cup? Perhaps. I should certainly have written something about the Telegraph’s disgraceful attempt to use the suicides of News UK employees to distract from its own appalling kowtowing to aforementioned fraud-enablers HSBC. Yes, should definitely have done that.

I could have written about the first signs of spring in the garden, the rhubarb shyly poking its pinks spears up. I could have written about how I’m rereading Gravity’s Rainbow, and loving every syllable. P…

Groaning, head in hands

So this is heading to be the messiest election in history, and, in sympathy, the media coverage has been the messiest in history. Whilst by no means a Labour tribalist, it’s been dismaying to me to see the news outlets falling over each other in their eagerness to give Ed Miliband a kicking. Rofl he can’t eat a bacon sandwich, lol what a weirdo etc. And the more this sort of thing occurs the more it makes me wonder why the coverage has been so shrill, so personal, so unpleasant.

They don’t think he’ll actually win? Do they? Because it certainly seems like it. There’s been very little in the media about dissection of Labour policies, all the talk is of party rifts, of the Greens nicking votes in England, the SNP wiping them out in Scotland and yet, stubbornly, the polling puts Labour slightly, ever so slightly, ahead.

So the old ways crank back into action, Osborne chucks pensioners a bribe in the shape of a bond, because he knows they’ll vote, the Tories' donors sigh, reach thei…

Bringing it home

When Tesco announced a while back that it was closing a bunch of stores I’m sure many people felt, as I did, an obscure sort of hubristic satisfaction. Even if you don’t pay much attention to their more unappealing habits, there is a vague sort of sense that companies like Tesco are the enemy. If pressed, one might wave one’s arms vaguely and mutter something about forcing suppliers prices down, or express doubt about the ethical quality of their supply chain. Also Tesco= supermarket, and supermarket = death of high st, and probably that nice little specialist food shop you like, but only go in once a year. Because you’re in Tesco.

So their increasing travails have been a low level of background mirth in my world over the last year or so. Tesco suffering? Ha, and furthermore, ha. Ohh, share price tumbling? Poor lambs. So it came as, if not a jolt, then at least something to pull one up short when I read the list of stores to be closed and discovered that the Ormskirk one sat nestled …

Je suis Charlie

It’s impossible to let it pass without comment. You know what happened. Gunmen entered the offices of Parisian satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo and killed twelve people. There’s no point piling up the adjectives. You know what an horrific act this was. Me saying so on the internet isn’t going to make a blind bit of difference. You know that the perpetrators are murderers, who bear as much relation to their religion as the Crusaders do to a vicarage tea party.

The usual condemnations pile up. The worn-out rhetoric of outrage, only so shopworn because we’ve had too much cause to use it the last fifteen years. This isn’t going to be a long piece, there’s no point in it being so, mais de tout couer avec Charlie Hebdo. Je suis Charlie.

In defence of anonymity, and the lack of it.

I have a large degree of sympathy for Mark Pritchard, the MP who has today been informed that the rape inquiry hanging over his head has been dropped due to a lack of evidence. To be accused of such an appalling and stigmatising crime would be a blot of anyone’s reputation (apart from Ched Evans, it would seem). Depressingly, the court of human nature tends to return a verdict of no smoke without fire (along similar lines, it’s interesting to see how many people are absolutely ready to believe the allegations laid at Prince Andrew’s door. Not that I’m saying it didn’t happen, and his taste in friends is clearly beyond questionable, but they are, as yet, merely allegations), so to be accused of rape, however falsely, is a lifelong burden.

However, it was depressing to see the rapidity with which he started banging the drum for altering the anonymous status of the accusers and accused. I can understand his position, in his place I’d feel something similar. I can’t imagine what it must …

What I think about when I think about Haruki Murakami*

Some years ago I went through what’s best decribed as a Haruki Murakami phase. My reading habits are normally varied, but every once in a while I’ll binge on a particular author, and at that precise point he spoke to me deeply. The seeming detachment of his protagonists spoke to my own level of engagement with the world, their surrounding themselves with their interests seemed to me to be the way I lived. Even the fantastical elements chimed perfectly with how I was seeing the world at that point, dystopian, seemingly aimless on the surface but intimating that there was far more to discover. In essence each book seemed to be a pretty cool guy versus the world, both this one and, occasionally others.

This is a horribly reductive view of it, of course, and barely scratches the s of the word “surface”. This is why I don’t write literary criticism. Suffice to say I read him voraciously for a few years and then stopped. Whether it was the similarity of the protagonists, whether the otherwo…

My pied wagtail

I alluded to this in my first post of the year, only half-jokingly. I do have a profound fondness for Pied Wagtails, you know the ones, jaunty black and white , their gait described (quite accurately) by John Clare thus:
• Little trotty wagtail, he went in the rain,
• And tittering, tottering sideways he near got straight again.

Anyway, part of the reason for my wagtailophilia is proximity, there’s a cock whose hunting ground is the flat roof at the back of Source, so adjacent to my kitchen, and every time I have to peel myself away from the stove for one reason or another, I’m sure to see him bobbing about hunting (pied wagtails are insectivorous). To my mild amusement he quite often pecks merrily away at the window which lines the stairs, to percussive effect. Anyway, I like him, I like them. Pied wagtails, as my nearest available bird are a daily reminder for me, when it all gets a bit grindy, of the world outside. That there are things other than the stove, the prep list, and t…

The thorniest of issues, well, no, not really.

Convicted rapist Ched Evans has been offered a job by the current league leaders in Malta , Hibernians (on no account to be confused with Scottish side Hibernian, who have not offered convicted rapist, Ched Evans, a contract). Now, there has been some controversy as to whether or not convicted rapist, Ched, Evans, should be offered a position playing for a football team, as that is what he does for a living. The rape’s more of a sideline. Some argument s have been made along the lines of time has been done, debt to society paid, what have you. I have some sympathy with these arguments. The whole idea of our justice system is, in theory, based upon redemption and rehabilitation (stop laughing at the back).

Other arguments, (including those advanced by convicted rapist, Ched Evans), I have less sympathy with. You know the ones, at the least repulsive they start with “who hasn’t had sex with a girl who was too drunk” (Um, me. Most people. You see, if she was too drunk to say no then I w…

And we're back in the room

To general surprise, expressed, I note, in a tsunami of shocked tweets and facebook stasuses, the year 2014 has been followed in numerical order by the year 2015. Whilst this is noteworthy in and of itself (possibly a jump to 2036 was expected, or maybe a hop back to the heady days of 1878) it is not, on its own, much cause for a blog post, the first back after the horrors of December, but by way of easing myself back in gently, I suppose it’ll have to do.

I was, I confess, half tempted to just start again without any reference to the date whatsoever. It all seems a little pat, starting off the New Year with a post about the New Year. Maybe an essay about my fondness for Pied Wagtails, or a brief discussion of the poetry of Lee Harwood. Maybe something rude about George Osborne. Still, too late now. The New Year it is, so we’ll have to just plough on regardless. So welcome to 2015, the one after 2014 and presumably, immediately prior to 2016. As 2015 is a different number from 2014 t…