Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Wither ambition, turn the pages. Libraries give us power.

A book that might be available at a library.

I'm a serial misanthrope. A hypocrite of gargantuan proportions. Too cowardly to 'drop out' and live a genuine revolution of the self, too many excuses for myself. I sit, on the sidelines and snipe at meaningless targets and align myself with mediocre causes. I trundle along in the middle lane doing a half decent job of a half decent job and live a half decent life when I remember to be happy.

Remembering to be happy isn't easy. Maybe happy isn't the right word. To be content, to be calm, to be present now, not hypothesising about the future and the terrible things that will happen. Not opening the door on the stomach churn, the stab of glass, the discordant high pitched whine.

In my mind, all too often I'm the centre of my own storm. The swirling vortex around me, out of control and me at its axis. This isn't how it is. I'm nothing, I'm just dust, I'm just an insignificant thing, doing what it takes to survive. I'm a flea, a slug, a bowel dwelling parasite, a tiny fly hovering around a fetid puddle. I think therefore I am does not mean I think therefore I am important.

It's the thinking I matter that brings the rotting doubt, the crippling nausea of circumspection and self analysis. It's thinking I've got 'something to say,' 'something to achieve,' 'life goals' and all that that brings with it all the competing mania and stasis. I truly begin to believe that I'm happiest (again, same caveat about the meaning of the word) in a kind of pseudo animal state, rest after exercise, living on my wits, using my senses, seeing what's round the corner. Trudging, feeding, sleeping. Repeating. Not thinking.

I am aware however that this isn't a healthy place to be, at least not all the time. To deny the intellectual, to be totally self absorbed (or totally vacant perhaps), to live life just as a process seems to be somehow a waste of the body and mind. It seems dangerously wrong, to apply this sort of unthinking en masse.

It brings me to the crux of the matter. I need to think, but I need to think about things other than me. I need to think and I need to forget. I need to be and to be able disappear. I need to hide from myself. I need to be able to destroy my own illusion of self importance without destroying my ability to think. I need to go places in my mind, to travel the roads, to visit the clouds and the stars.

As much as I tell myself I am nothing, I am not. I am unimportant, but I am not simple. The older I get, the more I am aware of this, the more my head yearns for experiences, the more denying myself what I need seems to have an impact. The older I become, at times it seems the less certain I am in my convictions about what I want, the less I understand myself.

With every passing day, the more I am aware that life isn't, contrary to what I believe I would see if I ever bothered to put the TV on, a multicoloured multi-lane highway of opportunity with an infinite number of exits to possibility, every drink a tropical explosion of sand and sun, every decision a chance to define yourself in a way that makes others envious and aspire to be a little bit more like you, every purchase a definite statement of self.

The more I become aware that life is a narrow, single lane highway bordered by grey concrete and that the only way to escape this is to stop, pull over and scrabble up the banking. The exits, the opportunities are an illusion, a mirage, forever in the distance.

I'm tired of pursuing distant shimmering mirages. Lets make our own escape.

Turn the pages of a book. Absorb yourself in the life of someone else. Absorb yourself in the sounds, the sights, the smells of the far away, the exotic, the past, the present, the future. Let yourself be taken from here to there.

Civilisation has many drawbacks. The mucky mess of unregulated greed we swim through at the moment has more than its fair share of things which make you wonder if really, we'd have been better staying in the caves and fighting with sabre toothed tigers and scrawling on walls instead of creating the kind of precarious torture, the dentists chair nightmare that modern life can be. But it has libraries. They might have vaulted rooms, they might be glazed red brick, they might be pebble-dashed concrete and polystyrene ceiling tiles, but they have books, ordered, arranged and labelled.

and free.

Free for anyone to take, free for anyone to run with, to climb into the nearest tree, hidden by the shade of the leaves and bury themselves in. Free to be carried in handbag or backpack and read on the journey, free to be placed beside the sofa for the moment at the end of the night when you phlumppp and exhale, at last free from the duties of life, free to be read whilst eating, before sleeping, to be held precariously above you in the bath, or to make the inevitable expelling of bodily waste into a time of rare joy.

Free. Really free, without adverts compelling you to sign up for the premium service, without messages from our sponsors, without coupons and tokens and boasting claims of 'the best in town' or 'award winning.' Without guilt inducing requests for support or small print reminders that you will be charged £x.xx per month if you don't cancel before the end of the trial period.

Free.

You just take it back when you've done with it. No questions. No means testing, no sign up fee, no subscription or credit check.

Books with long, beautiful intelligent argument, coherent and thoughtful explorations and explanations. Books that bare the soul, labours of love. Books that push the edges of what a book can be, books that comfort, books that teach. Books that scare, books that reach inside you and make you see things you never realised about yourself, books that leave you stunned and confused. Books that make you yearn for people and things that don't even exist.

The end of libraries is the end of civilisation.

I don't believe it's possible to live a life that reflects the kind of manic happiness that is represented all around us, I don't believe we can exist on the cusp of material actualisation, quasi psychedelic joy or vain-glorious basking in our own perfection. This is the happiness of diminishing returns. This is the happiness of caffeine and though it is energising, though it is addictive, it will leave us hollowed out and empty.

The joy of the book, the commitment of time, the ideas, the flow, the poetry, the sheer fucking amazement of the moments where somehow you connect with someone who wrote a thing once somewhere in a room, some complete fucking stranger you never even met when, man, for fucks sake you can't even connect with people you've known all your life half the fucking time is worth everything. Everything.

I want to live in a world where to think matters. Where to think is more important than to own and it is stunning to notice, there, in plain sight, there hiding amongst the space colonised by zombie half shops that resell things unwanted or sold in desperation, chainstore coffee shops retailing lifestyle drinks, endless variants on exactly the same vaping craze or mobile phone accessories, cardboard signs declaring 'we sell fidget spinners' in the most bizarre locations and the few slick, beautifully lit emporiums of taste which offer a better label or the same shit in classier packaging, is a temple of thought. A library. It's jaw dropping. It's like something from a different world. It's like discovering a steam train still working on the mainline that somehow got forgotten about, like finding that actually the dodo isn't extinct.

Think about all that has been lost as we march relentlessly on to the drum of the free market. Think and wonder again that the library still exists. That the books are still free. To take and return. Free. That somehow we still do this. We're still allowed to do this.

Take your nearest item of clothing, take a permanent marker pen and write "Read Library Books: Be Happy" on it in big bold letters. Wear it as a statement.

There are times when I feel manic, when I want to change the world, when I think I matter or at least when I think I could matter, but right now, I think all I could ever want is the time to slowly browse the shelves of a quiet space, the soft hum of voices, the essentially municipal air warmed by a shaft of sunlight from a high window casting a slanting oblong of light across the floor and up the shelves. Choosing, thinking, taking and returning.

I can't think of anything to persuade me that wouldn't be a life well lived.

The above was written in the knowledge that in many places the library doesn't exist anymore and with the acknowledgement that I am insanely lucky to live in a place where I can walk to a library that isn't to my knowledge under immediate threat of closure. Many local councils are placed in an invidious position by being forced to bear the brunt for central government cuts and it is tragic that local libraries are not seen as essential but also understandable that councils when faced with cutting provision for the elderly or youth work may choose the library. It is my humble opinion that it is a very deliberate, very transparent and very disingenuous strategy by the Conservative party to deflect blame for the decimation of services as a result of their miserable and wrong-headed austerity policies on to local councils. 

http://www.voicesforthelibrary.org.uk/

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Stile.

With stillness comes life
Fluttering, hovering or swimming
Alien black
In peat water or stiff reedy grass
Flitting and flirting and landing
The summer is short
The summer is grey, ink blot blue.
Banked up layers of dark heavy clouds
Drift across sudden, soaking, sucking bog
Soft smells like childhood linen

Sunday, 6 August 2017

Suffocating, smothering and synthetic. A long read.

The election is well and truly over and I think I've finally recovered from the lifting the heavy weight of changing the world via social media, making sure people I largely imagine already agree with me know exactly what I think about things at least three times a day. It takes it out of you.

In such times, it's important to use the internet for what it was made for, which is bluntly and rudely stating your views with no thought, curiosity or consideration for anyone else. This means it is important to share as many knee jerk headlines as possible to badly written clickbait articles

'NOW Theresa May is vaporised by the large Hadron Collider of Public Opinion' which, when clicked, consist of a clip that will stutter as it plays and a 6 paragraph description of how someone shouted something like 'oi Theresa, I'd like to Brexit you you daft mare!' from a distance whilst she ignores it and 5 people cheer. Sometimes you read the description first, sometimes you watch the juddery video but each time you thrill to the beat of democracy as you share it with all your hundreds of actual loyal real friends all of whom would be there for you in an hour of need at a heartbeat's notice. Such is connectedness in the white heat of electoral excitement.

Now you can look back on that time with a glow of satisfaction, knowing you played your part in the glorious June revolution of 2017 where the people's party stormed the barracades of power* and the people's emperor sit's proudly and wisely atop a throne of public love**

*didn't get beaten quite as badly as people expected.
** garnered quite a few likes for his witty 'fields of wheat' act and other madbantz.

Anyhow, this sarcastic act of Stalinist self critique will end end soon and I'll be turning my ire on to a target more evil than Tories. What I'm going to write about is controversial and we'll not be diverting from the main line of 'strong opinion' or stopping at the station of 'seeing other people's point of view parkway'

Consider that your trigger warning snowflakes and run for your padded safe space bunker if you like. There's a nuke coming, a white hot flash of views.

But first, I'm going to contextualise how strongly I feel about what I'm going to write about.

I'm going to take on a target worse than the insidious attack on the self that is the brain eating virus we call 'neo liberalism.' I could write at length about Donald Trump and the deeply disturbing threat to world security posed by the puppet clown of the oil industry. I could look at way the government has run roughshod over local politics and opinion and is trying to enforce fracking on the Lancashire countryside by fair means or foul.

I could write about the impact of global climate change and the sure fire twin impact of sea level rises and mass climate driven immigration creating a problem which makes the idea of procreation look bad in both hindsight and foresight.  I could attempt to rally you with a cry of anger and hope, to urge you to look at the wider world and realise that we have only a short window of opportunity, a tiny chance to change our society for the better, to totally rearrange the system for the benefit of the vast majority of all life on the planet. I could say something snarky about how that rearrangement might require some self sacrifice and deluded you are with your ecover washing up liquid, Nissan Leaf people mover, vegan multigender awareness initiatives and all the other pathetic liberal cliche's that amount to essentially pissing in the face of the coldest, bleakest wind you can imagine.

I could try to write an intelligent and fair minded piece that undoes the panic room rhetoric above, about how I admire the principled stand you take but that how anything you buy that presents itself as 'a revolution' probably isn't and how we need to understand how to draw together multiple threads of argument instead of endless self promotion of our own discreet viewpoints and causes. I could write about how whatever we do, however ethical we are we are human and ultimately, humans are cunts and really a mass extinction is the best thing that could happen and how possibly that's reflected in the prevalence of apocalyptic representations in TV and cinema.

I could then deconstruct my own argument as cowardly and self defeating and blame the 60s for destroying any notion of collective responsibilty and allowing actual thought to disapear into a smoky haze of groovy love and consumerism that still underpins the most insidious of our current ideological self deceptions. Namely the idea that consuming stuff that we don't need is 'cool' and 'arty' and part of 'actualising' our 'inner selves' or some kind of inalienable right which defines the free world we keep on rockin' in. Get to fuck the sixties. Get to fuck in a big leaky boat and sink in the sea choking on the plastic crap you begat as your bastard Thatcherite offspring grab a water anytime on their way to some kind of bullshit culturally appropriated enlightenment class.

I could try to link the 'bullshit enlightenment' movement to the very real and endemic invisible mental health crisis and come back to neo liberalism again, pointing out how it's grip on our physical and therefore mental space is almost total, how the twin opposing forces of performance based precariousness and endless consumer temptation are evil, and I mean, evil. Like the worst torture devices imaginable. Like ISIS evil. Like, responsible for death and pain and shit evil.

Whilst I'm there I'd point out that I don't really think 'enlightenment' is possible. Just a state in which you feel calm. Perhaps contentment. That enlightenment is the religious equivalent of capitalism's better tomorrow. An idea that keeps you buying into the faith, an idea that keeps you buying into the dream, fiddling with the rosary beads, paying for the guru, buying the crystals, filling the collection plate, splurging on the designer lifestyle choices. There is no enlightenment. There is only death and blackness and loss and you are getting older all the time.

Anyway, all of the above and that, but that little lot pales in significance in comparison to what I actually want to address.

I want to discuss the deeply troubling concept of the funkily named astroturf. The phenonoma of artificial grass. 

I think I first noticed this when (driving to work in my environment destroying car to do my oft pointless job in order to buy things I don't need) I spotted a white van, parked up next to the road at a jaunty angle, displaying a roll of lurid green fake turf on its roof. Driving to work generally creates a sense of bitterness and questioning of meaning, so I think it was repeatedly seeing this van day after day that helped to foster the feelings of bile. I started to shudder when people said 'we're getting astroturf,' to sigh involuntarily when passing houses with it installed.

So, I started thinking about it.

Why have I so little tolerance for this little fad?

1) Is it is a signifier that the end of the world is coming?

It's really popular in places where the climate makes grass difficult to maintain. Could it be that astroturf induces a sense of existential paranoia whenever I see it? Is it a trigger for a vision of a scorched earth where everything is dead and the only food and water is synthetically produced and rationed by an evil mega corporation who force the world's population to live in the arid wastelands whilst themselves dwelling in a heavily fortified biodome heaven on earth?

2) Is it a conspicuous sign of the thoughtless environmental damage we all inflict by not living in a tree in the wilderness at one with nature, walking in the snow and not leaving a footprint? 

I'm not an expert on the dying bees, but y'know, if the grass is plastic then there's less little flowers for the bees to pollinate and all that. What about the worms? Here's an article that discusses the environmental impact. You should read it, because it makes the argument I want to make and also because I'm going to use a quote from it below, that won't make any sense if you don't.
"Robert Redcliffe, managing director of Nam Grass.... has some sympathy for the environmental case. “I would agree them; it’s not for everyone, and it’s not for every bit of the garden. Half my garden is artificial grass, where the children’s play area is, but the rest is natural lawn with lots of shrubs and plants. I spend all my time trying to make the lawn look as good as the artificial one.”
There's the rub my friends. He has 'sympathy' for the worms, but unfortunately their habitat doesn't 'look as good.' That's the human race there. Well done, we are brilliant. Turning our mind to the problems of the world and coming up with innovative solutions all the time.


Here's an image from the 'Nam Grass' brochure. Now imagine the dog eating the kid in a desperate attempt to survive a dying world. You did that Robert Redcliffe. You. With your big plastic garden. Maybe the kid and the dog are robotic simulations Robert Redcliffe has had created within his biodome in order to have everything just as he likes it?

'I've got two kids, one of them is a robot and the other one is real, and I spend all my time trying to get the real one to gaze lovingly at the dog like the robot one does, because the robot kid is better, you should kill your kids and get robots instead'

3: Is it about control? 

I alluded in my introduction to the idea of control of our own minds and the prevalence of 'wellbeing' events as a means of surviving the mentally toxic environment we live in. Naturally (or, rather, unnaturally) we see people trying to control their physical selves and their physical surroundings and is artificial grass a signifier of this?

That somehow, ridding the world of blemishes and bumps, of weeds and bees and worms is akin to the desire to do the same to our bodies. To defy age and reality, creating new and false ideas about what is aesthetically pleasing and thus new norms for people to live up to. We can see in the body fascism of everyday attitudes that a leads to b to c to d and so on and so astroturf is the start of a slippery slope. People will be having entirely synthetic gardens installed, covering their 'outdoor' space in a thin transparent membrane and having purified, perfume tinted air piped in before we know it. You are warned.

4: Soil is dirty? 

It isn't.

5: It's fake. 

Lets return to the idea that Robert Redcliffe mentioned above; that his fake grass 'looks' better. It's a weird statement. I think I must have a different aesthetic sensibility than Robert Redcliffe. On the wall of my yard little weeds grow. These have the most exquisite tiny blue flowers. The other day I was sat at the railway station admiring the tangled avalanche of brambles and flowers tumbling down the bank.

Everything is fake, of course. My wall, the railway embankments aren't 'real' in any deeper timeless wilderness sense, but the plants that thrive there speak of the impermanence of humans, of the ability of the trees and plants to overwhelm, they remind us that life is a constant struggle against being overwhelmed and eventually we will lose that battle. I don't find that depressing or want to fight against it. I like the life that is around me. To be amongst life, flower, insects, animals reminds me that beyond the gnawing doubts and self loathing that life is quite interesting. That right now, worms are burrowing, things growing, fruiting, falling from branches, taking root is fascinating. That birds will dig in soil for grubs, that thrive in a bacteria ridden moisture feeding on the rotting mulch of fallen leaves that in turn nourish the plants that grow to carry on the cycle. I'm not some unreconstructed eco-warrier, I don't do that much to aid this process, but I can't understand wanting to impede it for purely aesthetic convenience

I don't understand how Robert Redcliffe doesn't find this fascinating. I don't understand why he wants to smother it in plastic and wants other people to do so. Most of all, I don't understand how he can see the plastic as somehow 'better' than the extraordinary biodiversity of the living environment. Like, yeah, your actual grass isn't as uniform but when did sterility and uniformity become the definitions of beauty?

6: If I'm honest I don't have a lot of time for actual lawns. 

A bit of grass is fine, I don't mind a bit of grass. What I don't understand is the desire to cover every inch of the space available to you with grass. For most of my adult life I've lived in houses without gardens. I deeply envy the houses near me that back down on to the canal. They have beautiful undulating gardens that get loads of sun and sweep down to the water side. They are idyllic locations. As near to heaven on earth as it gets in a northern ex industrial town.

There is one particular house that each time I pass it, makes me feel as if I must be a slightly different variation of the human species than the owner. There is a large old tree in the garden, A lovely mature curving angular gnarled graceful gentle beast. There is grass. And nothing else. Literally nothing. No shrubs, no flower beds, no water feature, no herbs, no exotic grasses, no alpines, no little conifers, no roses, honeysuckle, ivy. Definitely no weeds.

The thing is, I love a bit a bit of minimalism. I'm all for the empty room but outside, it feels like the space is a shared one and keeping the place so utterly bare seems somehow selfish. I don't want to get all new age and patchouli but the thought of the retired colonel of my imagination who lives there (I've never seen anyone in the house or garden) angrily pouring some kind of chemical compound on the daisies and dandelions, poking furiously at the nests of swallows and swifts with a long stick and stabbing at mole hills with a fork in the hope of skewering one makes me get visions of karmic retribution. I fantasise about what sort of mind set is happy, only when the outdoors is free of any signs of life and the land is tamed into neat stripes by the regimental rider mower.

Where this digression is going is to signal my pre-existing discomfort with the lawn as a concept. In fact, back in 2004, I was invited to take part in a poetry day. I did so and I read a poem, long since lost on the hard disks of time, about my disdain for lawns in general. I can't really remember the details of it, but it was along the lines outlined below in terms of content, but worked into an actual rhyming structure with several stanzas.
people with neat lawns are insufferable smug cunts who look down upon people who have wild and untamed gardens but I wonder if they realise that I look down upon them because I can't imagine anything more dull than spending your life looking after a lawn like it was some kind of work of art when actually a wildflower is a thing of beauty. 
So, given the above, you can imagine how the idea of people who want a fake lawn makes me feel.

7: The advertising makes me queezy. It's part of a self delusion we are performing that 'everything is normal' HAVE YOU NOT SEEN WALL-E FFS? 

I'm going to let up on Robert Redcliffe for a moment. In my research for this article (don't laugh) I looked at the google search 'environmental impact of astroturf' and came across quite a lot of statements like

- it doesn't need watering
- it doesn't need chemicals

The first two are countered by the fact it's big fucking lump of plastic. It'll still be there in a thousand years. Your house will have crumbled and your neighbour's lawn will be a beautiful meadow with buzzing insects flitting in and out, undisturbed by your extinct species but your plastic lawn will still be there. Perhaps ripped by the thrusting trunks of trees and shredded by the claws of who knows what emerges from the post extinction ecosystem but it'll be there. Perhaps that's what astroturfers want.

8 It gets advertised as 'a time saving trick' 

When are we collectively going to get our heads round this one. When are we going to understand that most of the time we are saving is pointless? In the unlikely event that anyone is still reading I've penned a short play below to illustrate the point I want to make. It will mention astroturf.

A: Hey, I'm not sure about your plastic garden. It looks a bit weird.
B: Fuck you buddy, I'm one of life's WINNERS, I don't have time to do the garden. I've had my intestines hooked and bladder up to this bag and trained a chimp to run alongside me while I'm busily doing IMPORTANT STUFF, unhooking the bag and fitting a new one. Hell yeah.

I think it's a culturally aloof perspective to assume that the only people short of time have delusions about being 'succeeders' -  the garish advertisement of the time saving benefits of a synthetic outdoors is a metaphor for something or other. I'm not quite sure what meaning I would pin on it.

- The need for instant gratification
- Something to do with homogeneity
- People increasingly seeing or being forced to see leisure as a time they can't afford.

It evokes faux utopia, beautiful dystopian visions of workers toiling away, visiting a 'leisure zone' and listening to piped birdsong and walking on treadmills facing a cgi representation of countryside. Under their feet, synthetic grass.

Perhaps these workers are employed by the biodome dwelling overlords and shuttle between their work duties and their sleeping chambers without ever seeing the outside world. Sealed off from the plastic ridden dust filled wasteland of storms and heatwaves. Maybe they're satisfied. Maybe it's the inevitable march of progress.

Maybe I shouldn't think so deeply about astroturf.




























Tuesday, 1 August 2017

Partially complete music



A work in progress. Needs a bit more body in the opening drone and then something to underpin the guitar work

Monday, 31 July 2017

Water bottle.

Incinerated plastic.
Fumes.
You are too lazy to cover your mouth.
Take a deep breath and suck it in.
an acrid lung full.
Take it deep and hold it there.
Punishing headache.
Screw your eyes tight.
Press the palms of your hands against your eyelid until you see shapes.
See the leftovers of ragged nests of ragged carrion birds in dark winter trees.
See the broken walls of buildings.
See the moon through a broken window.
The tide which poisons the shore.
The rhythmic step of clockwork soldiers.
Spider's thin legs. Fragile, vulnerable.
Mould on the inside of the window.
Don't turn your back.
Stay alert.
Don't turn your back.
See the fading, bleaching sun destroying colour.
Drop a stone in a well.
Hear the wet echo and feel the cold of the earth.
Here is burning plastic.
Black smoke choking.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Cross country.

Who are we?
The land we no longer work?
The things we no longer make?

The shadows of buildings decaying or destroyed?
The people we don't speak too?
The songs we no longer sing?

Are we the corrugated box people?
Are we multiplex man?
Are we one?

Are we one and the same?

Monday, 3 July 2017

Over.

The weight is gone.
Surface tension disapated
A punctured balloon
A windless sail
A flag without a country
A soldier without a war.
Drilled to walk, up the parade ground, down the parade ground.
About turn and again.