Monday, December 12, 2016


Written a few years back (after our last cold winter in the UK) but still seems to hang together...


There is no global warming – we’ve no reason to think twice:
Last winter all our city streets were paved in gleaming ice.
You tell us that’s just ‘weather’ – a claim we find surprising:
Should summers not be long and hot, if temperatures are rising?

We’re in denial, we’re in denial – let’s get this off our chest
And cherry pick the evidence to suit our thinking best.
We’re in denial, we’re in denial – we’ll be the loudest criers…
You ‘experts’ think you know it all, you ‘experts’ are all liars.

There is no global warming – so let’s run each last appliance.
If power goes short they’ll find us more, for that’s the role of science.
The world’s so vast we’ll find the oil – our enterprise just thrives –
‘Neath Arctic ice or locked in shale, to fuel our four-wheel drives.

We’re in denial, we’re in denial – there’s still so many trees…
‘Deforestation’s one more of those ‘Green’ conspiracies.
We’re in denial, yes, in denial – we think this fear is forced:
Biodiversity’s just fine; there’ll be no holocaust!

There is no global warming – it’s investment policies
That underpin earth’s status quo, not people hugging trees!
You say we need to change our ways, conserve this world’s resources…
But you’re just out to snatch our wealth and disrupt our market forces.

We’re in denial, still in denial – can’t stop consuming now
We’re doing what we’ve always done and milking our cash cow.
We’re in denial, yes, in denial – this planet’s life support
Can take care of itself, you’ll see, exactly as it ought.

There is no global warming, we think the idea’s crazy.
It’s all built up on ‘if’s and ‘but’s, and frankly rather hazy.
You can’t decide amongst yourselves on ‘safe’ amounts of CO2,
So why should we take notice when you tell us what to do?

We’re in denial, oh, in denial… Don’t buy this climate gloom!
We think it paranoia, when you predict our doom.
We’re in denial, we’re in denial – your logic we’ll deride.
You must concede our point of view,

     for God is on our side!

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Martin Stone - A Friend I Knew But Never Saw

Martin Stone – an appreciation.

It’s been a rough year in too many ways.  In the world of popular music, household names have been dropping like ninepins, bookended by Messrs Bowie and Cohen.  At round about the time the latter left the planet, Martin Stone succumbed to cancer and made his own quiet exit.  I only picked up this event a few days ago.  Even amidst the buzz and chatter of online news there isn’t much to be read about it.  Wikipedia still has him in the present tense.

Whatever his other talents may have been, Martin Stone excelled in two fields.  He was a superb guitar player, a contemporary to and – to me and many others – an equal of Clapton, Beck and Page.  Then at some point in the 1970s he turned his back on rock’n’roll to become a book dealer.  Or perhaps to be more precise a ‘freelance book scout’.  In that arcane field he earned an extraordinary reputation also – celebrated by litterateurs such as Iain Sinclair and John Baxter.  It is said that he had an ability, that some found near uncanny, to locate rare first editions of often extraordinary works.  Google his name and you’ll find this legend embellished by a good many folk who’ve had dealings with rare books.

But it’s for the former artistry I shall chiefly treasure Martin Stone.  I first heard him play guitar on the debut album by the band Mighty Baby, with its vivid Martin Sharp sleeve design.  At that stage the band combined a hard rock sound, influenced – I would think – both by Cream and West Coast American psychedelic music, with unusually philosophical lyrics that seemed to indicate a deep and serious search for meaning in life.  Some of the titles give you the flavour: ‘A Friend You Know But Never See’ or ‘House Without Windows’.  They played around with allegory and paradox. I know a lot more about the band now than I did then, and amongst the facts I’ve read that Stone himself was the lyricist.  In part, I’m sure, directed by extensive experience with LSD, he’d become immersed in the writing of G.I. Gurdgieff, an influential early 20th-century mystic, philosopher, spiritual teacher, and composer.  This led Stone, and subsequently all bar one of the band to Sufism and, as he put it, ‘we all turned muslim’.

 The influence of Sufism was deeply entrenched in the band’s second album ‘A Jug of Love’, with the musicians – increasingly bearded and dressed in ethnic togs – posing on Arabic rugs on the front cover and a quote from Jalāl ad-Dīn Rūmī on the back.  It was the first Mighty Baby album I owned and after a few plays I fell in love with it and have remained so ever since.  It’s a mellower listen than the first album, new influences such as The Band filtering into the mix, but explores and lingers amongst a variety of sonic textures.  That said, it’s not without its flaws as various band members themselves have admitted.  The vocals have charm but are not what you’d call powerful, the songs tend to ramble a bit and mostly lack much in the way of hooks.  It’s the atmosphere it generates that sucks you in, that and the constantly inventive ripple of Stone’s ever-fluid guitar work, weaving in and around the music.

Not long after that album’s release, Mighty Baby disbanded, and apart from a reunion gig or two around 2005/6 (recordings of which I’d love to hear), have not played together since.  Stone, with old friend Phil ‘Snakefinger’ Lithman, then found his way into country rock and western swing band Chilli Willi and the Red Hot Peppers – who were stalwarts of the mid 70s ‘pub rock’ scene.  Actually, the Willis played quite a variety of styles, including some hard grinding blues tunes.  This, I found out as I researched Stone’s pre Mighty Baby career, was very much at the roots of his style.  He’d been a member of the Savoy Brown Blues Band, playing on their first album, and had had his own band, Stone’s Masonry, who played in a similar vein.  He’d also been a session musician on recordings by visiting black bluesman Walter ‘Shakey’ Horton.  Such was his reputation in the blues field that he was on the list of Alexis Korner’s recommendations for a guitarist to replace Brian Jones in the Rolling Stones.

The full band Willis can be heard on the very fine ‘Bongos Over Balham’ album and live on the Zigzag Magazine 5th Anniversary Concert box set (available by mail order from RGF records).  Stone’s guitar is less prominent in the mix, but now and again he steps forward and shines brightly.  They were managed by Jake Riviera, who went on to be a founder of Stiff Records, and after the band called it a day, Stone became associated with that label.  For a while he joined anarcho-rockers the Pink Fairies (‘I was so pleased to don the black leather jacket and shades’), releasing a single on Stiff.  He also, I think, reformed Stone’s Masonry for a track on a Stiff sampler.  And then played with Joe Strummer in the 101ers towards the end of their run.  Thereafter, he disappeared off my radar for a good many years.

It was only when I was re-introduced to the work of Iain Sinclair, whose poetry I had encountered in the mid 70s, and read ‘White Chappell – Scarlet Tracings’, that I discovered Stone’s subsequent career (if that’s the appropriate word) as a book scout had commenced.  The book begins with a graphic description of Stone (as ‘Nicholas Lane’) vomiting copiously in a state of extreme bad health.  I doubted then that he had long to live, but survive he did to reappear in subsequent Sinclair books.  Sinclair even has him, in ‘Landor’s Tower’ playing a gig in a waterfront bar in Port Talbot to an audience including several local gangsters.  If that account is true, I wish I’d been there, as I lived nearby at the time.  Stone as a books man also featured in Sinclair and Chris Petit’s ‘The Cardinal and the Corpse’ film and added some fine rootsy acoustic guitar picking to the soundtrack.

He’d relocated to Paris around that time and had been drawn back into making music, playing in a band with Wreckless Eric (another émigré) and forming a couple of bands of his own – Almost Presley and the Tallahassie Rent Boys.  Best of all, from my point of view, he recorded again – as Les Homewreckers, with French colleague Laurence Bama and with older friends appearing on some of the tracks.  It’s a long way from Mighty Baby, that album, taking its cue I think from ‘Beggars Banquet’ era Rolling Stones and maybe Iggy Pop and James Williamson’s ‘Kill City’.  The songs – all written by Stone apart from a tidy cover of Donovan’s ‘Hey Gyp’ – no longer feature enigmatic aphorisms but tend to be downbeat reflections on matters of the heart.  But the guitar fills and solos are as immaculate as ever.  It’s a bit of a rarity now but can still be tracked down on Casino Music.

I know from Googling that, thereafter, Stone occasionally played gigs in London with surviving colleagues from various points in his career and presumably continued to play live in France, but I largely lost track of him again until hearing of his demise.  As mentioned, there’s not much in the way of news about it – though I trust Mojo and Uncut will be giving him obits in their upcoming issues.  There’s a couple of online obits that are worth reading on:
with some heartfelt comments by those who knew him as to his personal charm, wit and generosity.  Myself, I’m writing as a fan, so from a greater distance than those people, but the love is shared.

(Info sources include Brian Hinton’s extensive 1995 Ptolemaic Terrascope interview, Mighty Baby and Chilli Willi CD reissue sleeve notes and the work of writers and obituarists referred to above.)

Monday, November 14, 2016

Mail Order Fun


Thanks for your order with CD Baby!

PLEASE NOTE: For domestic parcels: Your tracking number, whether UPS or USPS, can be tracked through Your package will have tracking information within 24-48 hours.

For international parcels: USPS International Air Mail tracking numbers only confirm receipt of the parcel and no further updates are available. Your order should arrive between 1-4 weeks. UPS and DHL provide comprehensive tracking numbers.

(1) David Nelson Band: Once in a Blue Moon

Your CD has been gently taken from our CD Baby shelves with sterilized contamination-free gloves and placed onto a satin pillow.

A team of 50 employees inspected your CD and polished it to make sure it was in the best possible condition before mailing. Our world-renowned packing specialist lit a local artisan candle and a hush fell over the crowd as he put your CD into the finest gold-lined box that money can buy.

We all had a wonderful celebration afterwards and the whole party marched down the street to the post office where the entire town of Portland waved "Bon Voyage!" to your package, on its way to you, in our private CD Baby jet on this day, December 9, 2014.

We hope you had a wonderful time shopping at CD Baby. In commemoration, we have placed your picture on our wall as "Customer of the Year." We're all exhausted but can't wait for you to come back to CDBABY.COM!!

Thank you, thank you, thank you!

We miss you already. We'll be right here at, patiently awaiting your return.


Thank you for your message.

A second satin pillow will be placed beneath my front door letterbox to soften the landing of my CD upon its arrival.  The package will then be reverentially lifted and placed on a sheet of purple velvet, surrounded by scented candles and gently burning incense, on my dining room table.

I have notified my neighbours of its impending arrival and they will be summoned to gather therein and witness the opening of the package, which will be accomplished by the deft use of my finest gold-plated scissors.

We will then pass on a group message of solidarity and gratitude to the people of Portland, which will be carried across the Atlantic and most of the American continent by a relay team of carrier pigeons (though, for health and safety reasons, I would suggest that no one holds their breath whilst awaiting this).

I and my neighbours will don white cotton gloves, and pass the CD with absolute care from hand to hand so that each of us, in our own way and according to our religious beliefs, can worship and adore this sublime artifact prior to its placement on the newly cleaned CD tray of my state of the art stereophonic system, perfectly confident that - such is the care with which CD Baby employees have inspected, polished and packaged it - the CD will play from beginning to end, without skips or distortion of any kind.

We will boogie long into the night and finally retire to our beds, each of us culturally enriched and grateful for the cordial entente that exists between the peoples of the UK and the USA.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, indeed!


Best bit of mail order correspondence I ever had.  Eat your heart out Amazon!

great album, too, by the way

Monday, October 31, 2016

Treat... Or Trick?

“I hear your Oliver’s off school again this week.”

Alice Potter leaned on the front fence and Julia found herself wondering if it would support the weight.  She’d been hoping to get down to the village shop and back without encountering anyone she knew.  Oliver’s condition still seemed so utterly improbable that it was a source of deep embarrassment to her.  Not to mention her anxiety regarding some of her ten-year-old son’s proclivities since his unfortunate affliction had become manifest.  “Yes, Doctor Goody has contacted the Head.  It’s all in hand.  I’m sure they’ll be able to do something about it quite soon, and then he’ll be right as rain in no time.”

Alice gave her a somewhat hard stare.  “That’s as may be, but I’ve been hearing one or two rumours lately and it all sounds a bit…  you know…”

Julia glanced nervously back at the newly constructed shutters that blocked off all daylight from little Oliver’s bedroom.  “I…  I’m not sure I know what you mean, Alice.”

“Well,” said Alice, delighting in Julia’s discomfort.  “I don’t want to mention bats, but…  there’s been some quite peculiar sightings in the village these last few nights…”

Julia straightened her back and, posture adjusted, spoke as assertively as she was able.  “Alice Potter, that is utterly ridiculous, if you don’t mind my saying.  It is true that we were completely unable to remove the costume after Trick or Treat night, but we are firmly of the belief that a simple surgical procedure will entirely eliminate the problem.”

“I’m only saying.  I just hope you’re right, Julia.  We don’t want anyone else complaining about bite marks on their necks, do we?”

Julia hastened to the village shop, her mind in turmoil.  It was her husband Adam’s fault.  He’d insisted they buy the costume.  “Now that is serious value for money,” he’d said, but she’d felt from the start that such an elaborate costume should have gone for a much higher price.  Oliver had been thrilled when he’d put it on.  It was only when he’d started speaking in a strong Transylvanian accent that they’d suspected anything was amiss.

The ‘bite marks’ to which Alice had referred had indeed been inflicted by their son, on at least two villagers who had refused him the requisite treats.  He’d made surprisingly quick use of the rather fearsome set of fangs that came with the costume.  At this point Adam and Julia had stepped in quite firmly and informed him that Hallowe’en was at an end as far as he was concerned.  They’d tried to get him to apologise, but all he’d done was hiss loudly at his victims.  It had all been quite disconcerting.

More so when they found that the costume, along with the fangs and the black and white body paint, appeared to have fused to his body.  They’d had to put him to bed, dressed as he was.  Then, next morning, they’d had to search for him when they found the bedroom empty.  He’d eventually been located cowering timidly in a large trunk down in the cellar.  He seemed to be under the impression that, exposed to any form of sunlight, he would be reduced to dust particles.  It was at that point that they called for the services of Doctor Goody.

Julia was conscious of suspicious eyes watching her as she purchased a litre of milk and a few pounds of frozen beefsteak for Oliver to suck at as it defrosted.  No doubt the likes of Alice Potter had been spreading unpleasant and malicious rumours.  The sooner Oliver could undergo the required medical procedures and have himself extricated from that shroud of obscene cloth and shiny plastic, the better.  Then and only then would the whole business blow over.  At least, she reflected as she left the shop, it was a blessing that they hadn’t gone for the werewolf costume.  All that matted, blood stained fur.  Very unhygeinic.

As for ‘Vlad’s Morphsuits’, they’d be hearing from Adam’s solicitors in due course.

Meanwhile, at the rear of the The Bullshitter’s Arms, there appeared to be something of a carpentry and outdoor crafts workshop under way, as two burly men took turns to carve a piece of four by four into a large and very sharp stake.  A number of the remaining gentlemen were preparing burning torches to ignite, as dusk came to an end.  Whilst indoors several women distributed crucifixes and garlic.

It was distinctly possible that Julia’s blithe optimism was built on somewhat shaky foundations.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Dodgy Reg

Dodgy Reg

“I think this room is bugged,” says dodgy Reg, scratching his unruly beard before returning to the construction of a twig thin Old Holburn roll-up.  This doesn’t surprise me.  Reg is obsessed with conspiracies.  There is no doubt in his mind that it was the CIA who assassinated John F Kennedy, that the moonwalk was a Hollywood fake and that a small cadre of mega rich people known as the Illuminati control every political decision made across the entire world.

“Oh give it a rest, man.  Why on earth would anyone want to bug my living room?”

“On earth?”  He lights up with a battered old Ronson.  I get a brief whiff of lighter fuel, before he breathes out a pungent cloud of rolly smoke.  “You’re not thinking outside the box, my friend.  E.T.s may well walk amongst us, Richard, and if they do they’ll have connections in the highest of places.  Mark my words.”

I throw up my hands.  “Reg, I’m not even going to dignify that with a response.  Let’s just stick with you explaining to me why on-  Why anyone would go to all the effort of bugging my living room.  I mean, what would be the point?”.

“You’ve been on marches.  You’ve associated yourself with one or two radical causes in your time.  You’re on the records.  GCHQ, they’ve got your name, your details, your photo…”  He gestures with the roll-up throughout this speech, rhythmically prodding the air as if running through bullet points in a presentation.

I recline in my armchair, feeling somewhat smug.  I’ve heard this sort of guff from Reg on more occasions than I can remember.  He’s a sweet enough guy, in many ways, providing you can get him off this topic.  “That was years ago.  I had hair then.  There’s no resemblance to the bald old git I am now.”

He leans towards me.  His stare is intense.  I’m already starting to think that a brief ‘let’s not go there, eh, Reg?’ would have been my best response.  I’ve probably only got myself to blame for this onslaught.  “But you are on the internet.  Photos on Facebook, yeah?  They can update, no problem.  And you use a mobile.  Weren’t you listening when Edward Snowden told us all what was going on?”

“Okay.  Take your point.  But I don’t have any ‘extremist’ connections.  Don’t think I ever have had.  So why should they have any interest in me whatsoever?”

He’s tapping ash into his empty coffee mug.  I realise I’ve neglected to provide an ashtray.  Oh well.  It’ll rinse.  He’s wearing a thick, lined check shirt and ridiculously skin tight jeans – and there’s not a lot of hygeine goes on below those clothes.  One of the laces on his trainers is rainbow coloured, the other black.  “I’m not saying you’re top priority, Rich,” he says.  “I’m not saying there’s a guy somewhere with a pair of earphones listening in right at this moment.  What they have is algorithms.  That’s how they do this stuff en masse.  All you have to do is use a few key words, in an email, or a phone call, or even sitting here in this room, and your rating goes up a notch.  Few more.  A notch or two more.  Eventually, yeah, someone’s listening.”

“Alright – the network stuff, I can see that.  But how do they get a bug into my living room?”

“Didn’t you tell me you had BT Connect in a few weeks back?  Were you watching the engineer every minute?  Did you know exactly what he was doing?"

“Actually, Reg, her name’s Heather, and she was a real sweetheart, if a bit over-chatty.”

“She might not even know she’s doing it.  But that’s just one way.  You leave your windows open in summer when it’s hot?”  I nod.  “Right.  So you’re not in the room.  Drone flies in through your window, pops a little device under your coffee table.  Flies out.  Job done.”

“That, mate, is pure and utter paranoia.”

I get the intense stare again.  “Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.”

Eventually I nudge him off-topic.  A mutual pal we’re both concerned about.  Some dubious dealings by the local council.  I enjoy talking with him about stuff like that.  He’s knowledgeable.  He’s a friend.  Another coffee, another roll-up and he’s on his way.  I open the window to clear the whiff of Old Holborn, muttering to myself in the process.  “Drones.  Bloody hell!  What next?”

I get to thinking about a film - 'The Conversation' - I saw, years ago, in which Gene Hackman plays a bugging device technician.  They have conventions, these buggers, displaying and selling the latest devices, seminars on technique, all the business.  Hackman gets involved in some complex plot threads, conscience tweaked, concerned that his own work will result in a murder.  At some point he realises that he himself is being bugged.  The film ends with him demolishing his own apartment in a desperate search for the device.

I remove the pile of books, magazines and the empty cups from the coffee table.  When it’s cleared, I pick it up, turn it over and have a careful look.

Just in case…

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

3.14159… The Transcendental Periphery

3.14159…  The Transcendental Periphery

In our time, the term ‘awesome’ is over-used and trivialised.  It has become at its crudest a mere term of approval.  Much of the reality in which we generally agree we are living remains, however, truly awesome.  Sheer physical scale can overwhelm us.  On Earth we have the Grand Canyon, the Himalayas and the Aurora Borealis; we have earthquakes, tsunamis and hurricanes – sights or events whose magnitude reduces us to a sense of insignificance.  Look beyond our world, to the massive star which gives us energy and enables life to exist, yet which would incinerate any form of life which so much as approaches it and will eventually do the same to much of our solar system.  Look at the vastness of the distance between that star and its nearest neighbour, and then at the uncountable multiplicity of stars beyond.  That sense of insignificance blends with sheer incomprehension.

And yet ‘awesome’ can be found within us.  The human brain with its approximately one hundred trillion synapse connections.  The fact that our fragile bodies are constructed from atoms which, if split, could unleash the power of nuclear weapons.  The complexity of coding in our DNA which patterns us - and all living things – to be what we are.

In fact, ‘awesome’ lurks in every direction.  Including mathematics.  Back in the 1980s I was introduced to a book by Douglas R. Hofstadter titled ‘Godel, Escher, Bach’, in which the author looked at the paradoxes explored by those three and others in what he called ‘strange loops’.  These he found in the self-referential.  Think of the words: ‘this statement is false’ – which can neither be true nor untrue.  Hofstadter, in his 725 page ‘mental gymnasium’ (as the New Statesman reviewer described it) traces these loops through Godel’s ‘Incompleteness Theorem’, Escher’s impossible graphics and Bach’s extraordinary canons.  It was a book that enhanced my sense of the conceptual wonder to be found in the mathematical frameworks that appear (albeit incompletely?) to underlie all of existence.

Pi, it seems to me, stands as an epitome.  It is the ratio of the length of a circle’s circumference to that of its diameter.  That part is reasonably comprehensible, even to a non-mathematician such as myself.  It doesn’t matter what size the circle may be, the ratio is constant.  The name ‘Pi’, after the Greek letter, was coined by an English mathematician, William Jones, in 1706 and was probably meant to stand for the word ‘periphery’.  Pi is often inaccurately represented as 22 over 7, or 3 and one seventh, but when attempts are made to capture it with greater precision, the wonder begins…

The figure 3.14159, quoted in my heading, is more accurate, but in truth the decimal points continue, ever diminishing, and seemingly have no end.  Computing has vastly improved our ability to calculate it.  The record in 2015 ran to 13.3 trillion digits, and still no finality in sight.  This apparent infinitude results in Pi’s identification as an ‘irrational number’.  But the irrationality also extends to the nature of these digits, which never once repeat periodically.  Though they cannot be described as truly random, say the mathematicians, there are no appreciable patterns or sequences of repetition as the digits unfold.

Pi is also described as ‘transcendental’, which – in a mathematical sense – means that it exists but cannot be expressed in any finite series of either arithmetical or algebraic operations.  So, if you try to express Pi as the solution to an equation, the equation – like the decimal – goes on forever.  It transcends the power of algebra to display it in its totality.  That is awesome.

But there’s more.  There’s a mystery, in fact.  Pi doesn’t in any way actually need to have these apparently infinite extensions.  It has been calculated that an expansion of Pi to a mere 47 decimal places would be sufficiently precise to inscribe a circle around the visible universe that doesn’t deviate from perfect circularity by more than the width of a single proton (ie: less than an atom).  Now remember: it has been calculated to 13.3 trillion decimal places!  So why?  Why is this seemingly simple ratio of such an apparently infinite nature at all?  Perhaps if we ever understand that, we’ll understand a lot of things a lot better.

Because Pi is everywhere.  Any natural circle you see, for example.  The discs (to us) of the moon and sun.  The head of a sunflower.  The pupils of our eyes.  In ripples, waves and spectra.  The rainbow.  Anything with circularity involved: the double helix of DNA for example.  Weather patterns, hurricanes, whirlwinds…Mathematicians calculate formulae for all sorts of natural phenomena, and so very often Pi is part of the notation – but at this point I begin struggling to grasp, and have to take things on faith.

No wonder the circle is the core motif of mandalas.  If infinity is bound into its make-up, what better shape to contemplate in states of meditation?  The Sanskrit word ‘mandala’ itself can be interpreted as meaning ‘circle’.  So once again we find, although we must always be wary of jumping to conclusions, that our ancient philosophies seem to touch on concepts which we think we are only now discovering.  Yes: here we go again – re-inventing the wheel.

It is said that the universe itself is circular in its nature.  I cannot claim to understand this idea with my intellect, but it appeals to me greatly.  If you were somehow able to travel far enough so that you crossed the entire universe, you would end up back at the place where you began.  What a trip!

And perhaps still those decimal points would be continuing, trillions and trillions more of them.  And those formulae that never end, because they can never quite get to the bottom of Pi.

Think about it.



Sand mandala of Chenrezig, Buddha of Compassion, created by monks of  Tashi Lhunpo monastery on a visit to Shaftesbury, summer 2016.  Photo by RF.

Monday, October 3, 2016

Forgotten Things

Forgotten Things

I want to celebrate the tiny forgotten things…
The coin in the pocket that slips through the hole
Nestles in the fabric of a jacket for years
Noticed perhaps as a momentary lump of discomfort

The tickets to concerts that couldn’t quite be thrown away
Set aside by some loving impulse in a tin, a box or an envelope
The location of which cannot now be recalled…

I hesitate to mention these things…
By drawing attention to them, I change their nature
& I do not want them celebrated in the light of such exposure
I want them celebrated
In corners, in the dirt at the back of drawers
In dust and in shrouds of cobweb
Not thought of
But there
Holding some aspect of reality together

I want to celebrate them, then…
The scraps of paper with their notes, their lists their doodles…
The pen that doesn’t work, languishing in detritus at the bottom of a bag…
The dry corpses of woodlice beneath the bed…
The tiny empty bottles that still contain the ghost of a scent…
The old jacks & wires that had some function in a sound system somewhere back in some bejewelled day…

Long may they languish
&, like these rare words of mine,
May they be unearthed
Not in a bright blaze, not with any fanfare
But in moments of contemplation
Of divine idleness

When we see between the lines…

Monday, September 26, 2016

Three Strong Handshakes

Three Strong Handshakes

Though I am perfectly happy to sign copies of ‘Wilful Misunderstandings’ on request (you too can get a signed copy by going to and shelling out the requisite spondulicks), I don’t go in for acquiring signed copies of books, CDs or works of art to any great extent myself.  The artefact itself is perfectly satisfactory in my estimation.  As a person who supplements his living by selling items on eBay I may possibly be shooting myself in the foot here, but it would seem pretty crass to me, getting a creator to sign his/her work simply to get a bigger return when I sell it on.

Now and again I end up with a signed copy, one way or another: work produced by friends of mine; items that arrive by mail order ready signed – that sort of thing.  Once, recently, I bought a CD after a show by a singer songwriter who I admire.  The sales person passed it on immediately to the artist to sign and I felt that if then asked him not to bother, I might just cause offence.

But instead, over the last couple of decades, I have become at least sporadically a collector of handshakes.  I thought this week I’d write a few words about three of the prize items in my collection.

The first took place in 1999..  Since I came across them back in the 1970s I have been passionately fond of the music of The Holy Modal Rounders.  Their acid culture soaked take on the songs they and many others first found in Harry Smith’s 1952 ‘Anthology of American Folk Music’ reached me slowly, via the ‘Bird Song’ on the ‘Easy Rider’ soundtrack, and finally blowing me away with the wonderful ‘Alleged in Their Own Time’ album.  Rough edged and perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea, that 1974 recording fills me with utter joi-de-vivre every time I hear it.

Sadly, I’ve never seen them perform live and probably never will since founder members Steve Weber and Peter Stampfel no longer work together (long story!).  Of the two, it was Stampfel who interested me the most.  Scratchy as sandpaper, coarse as a dog fight, his unique vocals, fiddle and banjo playing never failed to delight me.  That he turned out to be a witty, erudite man, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of music just confirmed my admiration.
In 1999, at a venue in Bristol, I got a chance to see him at last.  He had formed a short lived duo, the Du-Tels, with former Magic Band guitarist Gary Lucas and I guess they were loosely promoting their one and only album.  The show was no disappointment.  Between songs, Stampfel was affable and informative.  Performing, he frequently appeared utterly deranged – swinging his white fiddle about between bouts of playing with such abandon that at one point Lucas had to duck mid-solo.  It was nearing Christmas, and his (spontaneous?) near demented version of ‘God Rest You Merry Gentlemen’ will live with me until death or brain decay take their toll.  Readers, you should have been there too.

Before the gig I’d already seen him talking cheerfully with fans in the hall, so confirmed that he was not a man with any airs and graces.  Post gig I approached him for a brief chat myself, and he was lovely – genuinely pleased, I think, to be appreciated.  I commiserated with him about the difficulty he was having at the time in finding a release for a third album by one of his bands – the Bottlecaps – and he told me the story at length.  But others were waiting to speak to him and it was time to move on.  He put out his hand and… so began my collection.  Bless you, Peter.

Next one to ‘put it there’ probably needs less by way of introduction.  I’m guessing that anyone who chooses to read this blog will likely be familiar with The Incredible String Band.  I never got to see them in concert until quite late in their career – the mid seventies, when they had all or mostly become somewhat steeped in Scientology.  Too far back for me to remember for sure, but I think the gig was pretty good.  Post show they made themselves available and I got an opportunity to talk with founder member Robin Williamson.  I asked him about Scientology and he subsequently wrote me a letter about it.  But I had recently read Cyril Vosper’s ‘The Mind Benders’ exposing the exploitative nature of the organisation.  I felt that Robin and the ISB were proselytising, and my interest in them waned as a result.

But sometime in the 80s, I think, Robin began to re-invent himself and I saw him do a solo gig at the College of Storytellers in London.  He told such wonderful tales, accompanying them with his harp playing and occasional songs, and all with such charm that I fell in love with him as a performer all over again.  I’ve seen him a good few times since, but one of the last occasions was in South Wales at the Pontardawe Arts Centre – a venue I often frequented.  They’d set up the night as a sort of mock medieval feast, with a group of young female harpists, a stew and dark bread meal at long tables, and Robin as the post-prandial bardic entertainer.  It was a good night and he excelled – his repertoire by then ranging widely from his own material, old and new, to blues and rock covers he’d appropriated and adapted.  At the end of the evening I felt a strong urge to say thank-you.  We spoke briefly (I didn’t ask him about Scientology this time) and closed with a hand shake.  Number two in my selection.

Number three took place just three days ago.  Me and the light of my life drove from my current home in Shaftesbury to Bridgewater for a performance by Peggy Seeger.  I’ve known of her, of course, for many, many years and knew she was worthy of respect, but had heard very little of her music beyond a few of her most well-known songs.  My good companion is more familiar with her work than I am.

So I wasn’t sure what to anticipate.  Peggy is 81 now, and like some older performers I’ve seen in recent years, I half expected her to be frail, wavery, and reliant on a supporting of a band of musicians for a short, safe set of songs.  How wrong I was.  From the moment she appeared on stage she was authoritative, yet warm and friendly.  She got the audience loving her, if they hadn't been that way inclined already, and doing whatever she wanted them to in the way of chorus singalongs, and ensuring there were no empty seats in the front rows.

I daresay she has her share of the problems which come with her years, but she seemed sprightly, dressed elegantly, and introduced her songs with measured commentary, crafted anecdotes, wry wit and warm humour.  She skilfully played a variety of instruments, guitar and piano mostly, but also button accordion (I think!), autoharp and an unusual looking banjo with a long neck.  Her singing was spot on, melodic and affecting with barely a trace of age in her voice.  She performed alone mostly, with occasional accompaniment by her support act – a young Virginian musician who complemented her pretty well.

Unfamiliar as I am with it, I’d guess she played selections from across her entire career.  Plenty of traditional material, including one fine unaccompanied song and one or two she learned from brother Pete, but also her own songs in various idioms.  Her politics were clearly expressed in a song aimed at climate change deniers and another based on the words of a character she encountered while participating at the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp, back in the 1980s.  A couple of songs were drawn from her long commitment to feminism, the second an interestingly nuanced take – concerning as it did a man who disagrees strongly with her views but remains a good friend.  She also read at intervals from a large folder of writings and clippings, containing a good deal of wisdom and insight.

Highlights for me were her banjo playing on a song which I think I recall she introduced simply as ‘Folk Blues’ (speedy, rippling runs, bar after bar, in the style you might hear on a record by Hobart Smith); a moving rendition of Ewan MacColl’s song ‘The First Time I Ever Saw Your Face’; and towards the end, back on that banjo, but with guitar accompaniment, a fine version of one of my favourite folk songs ‘The Cuckoo’.  At times she was playing, eyes closed, clearly in a sort of rapture.  So were we.

I bought myself a copy of her interesting new CD and intend fully to dip into her back catalogue when I can.  In the foyer, awaiting my companion who was making a necessary visit before our lengthy journey home, I saw Peggy sat at a table waiting to sign CDs.  There was, I guess, but a brief hiatus when no one was approaching her.  She sat, poised and ready to facilitate – though probably weary.  I took the opportunity to step over and thank her for a wonderful evening.  It wasn’t a conversation – she just thanked me as performers do for positive feedback – then put out her hand and gave me a firm handshake.  A handshake I’ll treasure.

As I do all three.  Hugs are great, of course.  But those handshakes, they mean a lot to me.

Monday, September 19, 2016

Tricks of Confidence

Tricks of Confidence

Confidence is an unreliable beast.  Sometimes you might feel like you’re brimming with it – you’re a cool operator, you’ll deliver the goods – no problem.  Sometimes, just when you think you could do with a boost, it’s gone – with not so much as a vapour trail in its wake.  Just what was it that made you have the temerity to think that you were a contender?  Wake up, sniff that java, you’re crap and don’t you just know it.

In the business of writing – and I’m talking stories, poems, whatever here though it could apply in any context I guess – the reliability wears particularly thin.  Or so I find.  Of writers I’ve met, there isn’t a single decent one who doesn’t at least occasionally question the validity or effectiveness of their own work.  Most go further, trudging the length of this cul-de-sac to its bitter end with alarming regularity.  Some even give up entirely.  And I know that feeling pretty well.  I did so myself, except that several years later I decided to have another go.

In the last month or so, I’ve come across this problem affecting a couple of writers with whom I’m acquainted.  One was a young woman, an active and enthusiastic member of one of the writing groups I attend.  We had set up a public reading event, meeting up beforehand to read our work to one another and shape it into a programme as best we could.  All set, I thought, we’ve got a tidy package here (‘though I wish I’d come up with something even better myself.)

A few days before the event, she emails apologetically.  She’s decided her piece doesn’t match the quality of everyone else’s and she wants to withdraw.  Fortunately I manage to convince her that she’s wrong and she agrees to my request to participate.  She reads at the event, and her voice sounds firm and confident – whatever trepidation she’s felt in the build-up.  Her piece goes down well with the audience, and I even find myself appreciating qualities in it that I hadn’t noticed before.  Qualities that come out in the rhythm of reading it aloud.

Just this last weekend I’ve been attending a two day poetry event, with some excellent guest readers (who might just pop up in a future blog) but also an open-floor spot at which most of us took advantage of the offer of a 5 minute spot to read our own poems.  Among those who didn’t, was an older woman whose work I’ve really admired since I joined the writing group she usually attends.  To my mind, she writes with clarity, sensitivity, a fine grasp of language and with some very worthwhile and pertinent observations to make.  I have mentally compared my own writing to hers (as you do), and felt that I fall far short of her abilities.  On top of this, she is a woman of great poise, charm and elegance.

In one of the breaks after the open-floor readings were done, I told her I was sorry not to have heard her read.  She started out by saying she’d just been too busy to prepare anything – which I should think is true, as she’s involved in some other time-consuming projects and is the mother of two young children besides.  But then I was shocked as she went on to tell me that she’d been thinking lately that her work just wasn’t up to the standards of everyone else in the writing group and that she didn’t feel enough confidence to get up and read it.  I did my best to make my own positive feelings about her work known to her and also to say a word or two about this whole confidence thing, and how the lack of it was, in my view, somehow part of the territory in the business of creative writing.

And I’ve been thinking about it some more since then.

Amongst my oldest and dearest friends is a guy who for the last 30 years or so has been afflicted by what is generally termed ‘bi-polar disorder’.  He takes medication to keep himself functioning and has the advantage of clear insight into his condition.  When he is in a down phase, it can be overwhelmingly bleak but he knows that if he (metaphorically) grits his teeth and sees it through it will pass.  When he hears voices he knows they are the product of something going on in his own brain.  I jokingly tell him he’s the sanest madman I’ve ever known.

I wonder if we writers can take something from him.  When the ‘voice’ in our heads pops up, telling us we’re crap and that our works are folly, can we not recognise it for what it is – a mental process that is triggered within us and not necessarily to be taken at face value?  If we can do this, we can maybe also accept that even when it goes away and we are back to enthusing about what we’re doing, it will return – this feeling – and get ready to face it when it does.

And it’s not like it’s completely negative, anyway.  I made a point of saying in the second paragraph, that I could not think of a single decent writer who escapes this feeling entirely.  There are useful aspects to it.  We ought to be able to recognise our limitations and very importantly when we need to go the extra mile (or get help) to make a piece of writing better.  That negative voice can also be the useful and important voice of self-criticism.  Without it, we could easily end up being crap and not realising it at all.

A conversation on this topic during an interruption to my writing here has added a further positive aspect.  The idea that being in this intensely self critical state of mind can actually inform our writing.  Because the feeling is pretty much universal, at least among those who have some degree of sensitivity and discernment.  By allowing it to play its part in our nature, there will be something in what we write that speaks to those who feel it too.  It’s a part of our fellowship as human beings.

But then, what do I know, eh?  I really should be writing a decent blog instead of all this rubbish.  Yeah.  I’ve really fucked up today.  I’m not sure I’m gonna post this one at all.  It’s been a complete waste of time, it has.  Nobody will want to read it. Will they?

Monday, September 12, 2016

I Hope to Write a Garden

I Hope to Write a Garden.

I hope to write a garden.  I hope to know its secrets – its rough, intriguing stonework features that hide in clustered grasses; its shrouded walls where dense ivy gives way to clambering clematis and honeysuckle hoards; its winding footways, its nooks and crescents, its shadows and sunlight rippled clearings.  I hope to roam into its depths, where purple cones of bright buddleia are cocked on twigs; crimson and many toned azaleas dazzle the eye; and sunflowers – proud of their packed bulk – stand tall above all.  I hope to write gazebos, elegantly latticed; enclosed sculptures of wild green men and weathered, sessile buddhas; sudden fountains of clear, cold water.

I hope to write my way into this peace and seclusion, this haven of mild breezes, buzzing bees, and darting damselflies.  I hope to write its subtle scents, vying in the warm air for contact with the cilia and damp, inner skin of my nostrils.  That jasmine tinge, that florid efflux with its shifts and tints that overwhelm and disappear as if at whim.  I hope to write sparrows, thrushes and linnets, warblers and finches, all flitting through my bright, bushy maze, with their songs of cadenced chirrup, jabber and high pitched rill.  To see them flash from cover, gather in groups, peck, preen and suddenly scatter as if by an unseen signal.

To plant for my pleasure with no wish to reap, simply to sow and watch as seedling stretches to stem and branch, to leaf and flower and fruit; as seasons work their passage and weather takes its many turns.  To watch from unseen vantage, as yellow caterpillar squirms, green shield bug struts and striated snail slowly slides to extend its glistening trail.

I hope to write all this and more, as I stare from my window at a small rectangle of patchy lawn and a straight stretch of stone paving with a scattering of scrawny weeds that grow through the cracks.  I look down at the unforgiving fencing that encloses this arid scrap from the rectangles of my neighbours’ gardens.  At the over-sized plastic waste bins that I have nowhere else to store.  At the bin bags of clippings that I have yet to take to the dump; the corner bed where I do my best to preserve what’s left of some other gardener’s plantings or what the wind blows in to grow.  And as I look my vision fades, my words become meaningless marks on the page.

I hope to write a garden, to type its mass of species, to dig beds and seed them with but a biro in my hands.  To make terraces of A4 reams, raised beds of notebooks, dictionaries and volumes of reference.  To make archways of essays, pillars of poems, ponds of prose and the twisting footpaths of storylines.

I hope to write a garden.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Cambodian Psychedelia

Cambodian Psychedelia

I am a non-musician but a serious fan of a wide range of music from a wide range of cultures and traditions.  That said, I don’t get as much time as I once did for listening.  Nevertheless, I retain a seemingly unending curiosity about and desire to hear music and set aside what time I can to do so.

Thus, last night I began a serious listen to a compilation in the esteemed and generally excellent Rough Guide series that goes out under the heading: ‘Psychedelic Cambodia’.  I’d bought it in part because a friend of mine had played me an album by Dengue Fever and it had produced quite a high reading on the old thrillometer.

Dengue Fever, a mixed race, USA based band, have made something of a name for themselves in the last few years.  I hope to find time to hear more of their work, but know that it is based in part on a relatively short lived interlude in the musical history of Cambodia which occurred between the Khmer independence from the French and the arrival of the Khmer Rouge.  This was in the late 1960s and early 1970s.  And that music is mainly what is featured on this compilation.

Psychedelia?  I can’t say for sure.

If you’ve read the ‘Ptoof!’ piece on my website about Western psychedelic music and culture, you’ll know something of the style of music to which I consider the term is genuinely applicable.  Whilst it is not necessary to be on or even to have experienced the effects of psychedelic drugs to play it, it is music which is produced with a layering and attention to detail that – when listened to in a psychedelically enhanced or even a simply mindful state of reception – becomes evident and apparent.  Psychedelic music works like those ‘Magic Eye’ 3D pictures that on first appearance is but a pattern or random visual ‘noise’ on the page.  You hold one close to your eyes, gradually move it away and at a certain distance, with the right degree of concentration, you find yourself looking at a 3D image, previously unseen.  Sometimes in the music those ‘hidden’ elements are tricks of the mix, sound effects or vocal elements picked up only if you are paying close attention, sometimes they are contained in the weave of improvising instruments.

This compilation contains a dozen songs from the original era of this music, and three by modern bands, recreating and developing the style.  The older songs (several tracks by key singers Ros Seresyothea and Pan Ron, plus a couple more) may or may not have been intentionally psychedelic.  In the words of compiler Sean Hocking, they blend ‘elements of traditional Khmer music with the sounds of rhythm-and-blues and rock-and-roll’.  They do so with a quality of exotic beauty, combining often-female vocals, delicate and winsome, with a mixture of traditional and rock/pop instrumentation.  I’d say that what largely earns the ‘psychedelic’ tag are the instrumental breaks, featuring guitarists who play in a style that clearly resembles that of, say, Barry Melton of Country Joe and the Fish, or keyboard breaks reminiscent of the Doors’ Ray Manzarek.

Well, there I am listening to these songs and thinking: ‘Wow!  This really is great stuff.’  It veers between a charmingly dated 60s kitsch pop feel, the purity and ‘folk’ feel of the Cambodian instrumentation, and these wonderful, wild instrumental breaks.  Intentional or not, it satisfies many of my psychedelic criteria.  Particularly with the strange dreamlike feeling engendered by well known western song tunes that have been co-opted into this music (such as Pan Ron’s ‘Kom Veacha Tha Sneha Knom’ which is credited as traditional but is clearly the tune of ‘Bang Bang’ – as sung in the west by both Cher and Terry Reid).  But there’s something that bothers me too.  Something that stops being able to enjoy it fully.

I don’t have the same problem with the work of the modern bands – the aforementioned Dengue Fever or the trancey tracks by Cambodian Space Project and the Terence McKenna sampling Dub Addiction.  That material all swoops and swerves into my ears delightfully, with the full benefit of modern production techniques.

No, the problem with the original stuff is not its sound but the story that goes with it.  The majority of these musicians were to become victims of Pol Pot’s genocide regime.  They were executed by the Khmer Rouge.  I cannot get this fact out of my mind as I listen.  It brings a dark edge to work whose main attribute is a quality of light grace and delightful celebration.  A taint I am unable to ignore.

I will continue to listen to it.  Maybe that feeling will pass.  I hope so.  Those musicians would have wanted their music to be heard after their deaths, I’m sure.  As did, according to Sean Hocking, ‘the Khmer people themselves who hid records or took them overseas and kept them as treasures of a lost past’.  My gratitude is to all of them, those who died perhaps purely for the sake of this music, and those who took risks to preserve the recordings.

As for Dengue Fever et al – looks like I’m going to need more room on my shelves.

Toodle pip to one and all.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Just Checkin'

Just Checkin’…

This here blog began in January and has meandered on ever since.  In what I hope is a relatively bullshit free manner, I followed the hand-me-down advice that having a regular blog would help to establish my presence on the web (which, until this year, was not something I had actively pursued) and that this would help me to sell copies of my book.  There is an awful lot of hand-me-down advice just a Google search away, and I’m not sure that any of it is particularly trustworthy, or even that coherent at times.  But some things just have to be tried.

At first there were not a lot of ‘hits’ – still less than 200 when Wilful Misunderstandings got published on April 1st.  Recently there have been a lot more and now it’s well over 1000.  Still not a deluge.  And of course, amongst those there will be many who linger for a few seconds and move on.  Nor can I distinguish which of them are return visits and which first timers.  Google+ provides me with some statistics, but they tend not to tell me stuff I’d most like to know.

I know a couple of people who have been kind enough to tell me that they read this blog on a regular or semi-regular basis.  That’s the limit of the feedback I’ve had so far.

Apparently I should be building up my ‘followers’ – but that implies that I’m attempting to lead them somewhere, and frankly I don’t fancy leading anyone anywhere.  What would I do with them when we got there?  So, readers, rest assured that I shall make no attempt to recruit you in any way.  Okay, I shall attempt to gently cajole anyone who hasn’t yet done so into buying a copy of Wilful Misunderstandings (because, let’s face it, your life is incomplete without it), but that’s as far as it goes.

What I would enjoy greatly would be to hear from anyone who does read this blog.  It would be really interesting to know whether the content I put into it (often rather randomly) is proving entertaining and/or at least occasionally thought provoking.  Is the mix of content about right, or would readers like to see more or less of certain things?  What have been the highlights so far?  And, dare I ask, the lowlights?

There appears to be a box at the end of each entry where you can post comments.  Do feel free to use it, or if you’d prefer send me a message through G+.  It would be lovely to hear from you.  Opinions, if they emerge, my well conflict, of course.  But all suggestions will be considered and some of them will be acted upon.

Over to you.

In the meantime, here’s a pretty picture.

Toodle pip

Monday, August 22, 2016



I wanted to hang the moon and its glow
up from my ceiling to brighten my nights
they said I was foolish and I should know
that I had no claim to purloin satellites
(was I not content with electric lights?)
I told them my plans could still reach fruition
and they were the ones who lacked ambition

I required a mountain in my back yard
complete with eagles, snow, crags and a peak
they said the logistics were far too hard
that my neighbours’ views would be much too bleak
(a small rockery is what I should seek)
I told them they showed no true intuition
and mountains came to those with ambition

sure my attic could hold a universe
one hatchway to some endless diversion
they said: ‘you’re deluded or maybe worse
no house could contain such an incursion’
(could I not accept a loft conversion?)
I told them they had no sense of vision
infinite’s the limit of my ambition

And speaking of ambition, here's one more from th' Tube:

Toodle pip.

Monday, August 15, 2016

YouTube? Blimey! What next?

“So ‘e’s on YouTube, now, is ‘e?”

“Yeah, well, makes a nice change from ‘Keeping Up With the Kardashians’.”

“Come on, there’s no way ‘e’s going to out-viral all them cats playing pianos, surely.”

“’Course not.  Going for a niche market, in’t ‘e?  A balding old hippie reading stories from this book he’s trying to flog – I mean, it’s not exactly cute or sexy.  But, you know…  Takes all types, dunnit?”

“Well, what’s ‘e like?”

“Put it this way.  George Clooney and Leonardo DiCaprio won’t be losing any sleep.  ‘E does his best, you know…  You don’t see a lot of the audience, but they seem to be enjoying themselves by and large.  ‘E gets a few laughs, and some of them look like they’re actually where ‘e intended them to be.”

“Really.  So these stories ‘e’s reading, what are they about?”

“Oh, I dunno…  I wasn’t paying that much attention.  They don’t make a lot of sense, but ‘e tries to make it sound as if they do.”

“You mean like politicians?”

“I s’pose.  Not so scary, though.  In fact ‘e’s quite affable, really.  An’ he bobs around a bit, does a few funny voices…  Like I said, he does his best, bless ‘im.”

“Oh, there we are then.  I might get round to watching one of ‘em, if I’ve got nothing better to do.”

“Wait a minute!  Forget about ‘im.  ‘Ave a look at this one!”

“What’s that?”

“It’s a cocker spaniel… an’ ‘e’s playing the violin.”

“Oh yeah!  Aww, look at ‘is little paws…  That is so cute.  And that’s a Stradivarius ‘e’s playin’, too.”

“You reckon?  I thought it was one of the Brandenburg Concertos, myself.”


The Cult Book of 2016 continues to pick up steam!
Don’t be the last one to know – get it now!

Comments are coming in from readers of Wilful Misunderstandings, and so far they've been well positive.  Here's a sample:

Just to say I'm so enjoying your book. I've just finished 'Moon Bar Night'. It's mind expanding. How did you come up with that? Amazing. Loved the language, characters, everything about it. Your stories are like dreams half remembered, tapping into a seam (or seeming) of the unconscious mind.  (TJ Alderson - novelist)

I'm really enjoying reading Wilful Misunderstandings!  I love the feeling throughout the stories of shifting, malleable realities, it is so much fun and encourages thinking in new ways about the world. Love it! (Emily Hinshelwood - poet, climate change activist)

Wilful Misunderstandings.... The book is bloody brilliant. I read it in nearly one sitting. It totally messed with my head. So much so that now I'm going to read it all over again!  (Jo Freeman - teaching assistant)

Quite fascinating reading.  I'm sure Alan Moore fans will enjoy his stories. (Flavio Pessanha - Alan Moore scholar)

And speaking of Alan Moore, if you've missed it so far, here's what he had to say about Wilful Misunderstandings:

With an unusual oulipo toolkit and a feigned bewilderment at the English language, Richard Foreman strikes a previously undiscovered seam of literary inspiration in this oddly charming compilation of deliberately misconstrued everyday phraseology. Words are the essential wallpaper of our lives and our reality, and when even the word ‘wallpaper’ can suddenly become a thing of eerie, alien beauty we are made uncomfortably aware of the peculiar worlds of possibility that lurk beneath the skin of our vocabulary. A passport to a parallel planet where nothing means quite what you thought it did, this book offers an excursion to a strangely familiar place that you have never previously dreamed of. Get your shots and book your ticket today.

So there we are.  Click on this link to Lepus Books (or go to Amazon etc. if you need to economise) and buy it.  You won't have any regrets.

Monday, August 8, 2016

An Oulipian Fragment

An Oulipian Fragment

I've been thinking since I reproduced the piece on the Oulipo for this blog, that I ought to dip into their 'constraints' once more and see where I got to when I went there.  Okay, I said to myself, let's write a prose piece of around 500 words, under one such constraint.  Here goes...

I look at hills.  Jaggy or round in form.  Across my horizon and all in a row.  Woodland on a small quantity, individual growths on an additional amount. Clouds scud by as a backdrop - hint of indigo, part pink, as sun sinks.

I look at hills.  Hills look back.  Down on towns in which humans mark land with foundations, buildings, roads and paving.  Hills watch us all with profound absorption. A watch lasting as long as humans trod this land, if not for a duration way back past that shaky start.  Thinking Gaia’s thoughts of sustainability, I ask?

Hills stay with us.  Cliff facings, cascading liquid falls, random rock formations all abound – both at first scan, and also in our minds. Flora and fauna, climbs and slips, arduous trips and languorous strolls, wild winds and slow draughts; all within and without our own banks of thought.

Not simply mounds, big or small, hills stand with dips and undulations.  Fractal by way of formation, you can multiply all that hills contain and find infinity, insofar as find it you can with all your mind’s limits in play.  Think of hills as worlds if you will, or go as far as you can, anyway, on this thought-form path you follow.  Think through hills, into hills.  Go down to low strata, and pick up this story of how hills found form.  Find hills’ part in an unfolding saga of ground and its contours.

Hills do not show fright - proud to stand, stalwart, without complaint or any form of misgiving.  Up on a hill, you look afar and in all ways that your compass can point.  Up on a hill, you find a unitary spot at which to join that high continuity, and absorb all that is shown to you.  Raptor birds swoop in salutation, bug and dragonfly buzz and flit in comity with your far sight and smooth focus.  That’s what a hill can hand to you.

On a good day.

But on a bad and blowy day, as high winds push and drag your body, rain on a slant soaks to your skin and hail hits you hard, it may not turn out that this location suits you so happily.  Such days hills wish to hold apart, for a solitary form of inclination that no human can form a party to.  And on such days, if you go, you will stand on your own and probably find you will soon turn gladly to part company with all that turmoil that is raging about you.  Such days stay days in which to find walls and a roof to hold guard on your body.  Hills own rights to that which you do not.

So I look at hills to pick up any sign that I am fit to pass days amidst an availability of drama and on which this insight I always sought will possibly find its way to my mind.  I look at hills and know that I may find what I want to find - or just as much of what I’d not truly wish for.

Well, my respect for Georges Perec has just gone through the roof.  500 words without an 'e' and I've only just managed to keep it all making sense (more or less).  He wrote an entire novel under that same constraint.  And someone else translated it without 'e's too.  Hats off!

At first, I thought: 'this is silly, it's gonna take me all day to do the goddamn blog at this rate (it nearly did) and what's the point of that?'  After a bit I thought: 'hmm, this is interesting.  It's forcing me to find ways to get ideas across without falling back on the obvious words I might have used to convey them.  It's steering me away from writing patterns I often fall into, and from cliches.  Some of it may be rather inelegantly expressed, but here and there I've come up with some phrases I rather like and might not have found otherwise.'  Just writing whilst denied access to words like 'the' is quite enlightening.  Amazing too how often I did throw in a word containing an 'e' without noticing until I used the 'find' tool to highlight them.  We can write words and be blind to them - that's why proofreaders are worth their weight.

It's good this Oulipo stuff.

In small doses.

Toodle pip

Monday, August 1, 2016

Used Planet For Sale

Originally published in 'And This Global Warming' anthology,
Roynetree Press, 2012
(& proud I am that it was)

Monday, July 18, 2016



I am drawn to the shore, but it seems I cannot reach it.  Sometimes I am so close I can hear the ever alternating ebb and crash, the crack of shoved, impacting pebbles, the hiss, the fizz…  It’s just over this ridge, through this last field where sheep or cattle graze, beyond those thorny, scrawny, wind disfigured trees, that patch of tangled bramble or yellow blooming gorse.  I only have to find a path. I only have to reach the edge of cliffs and find some track-way down.

I yearn to remove my shoes and socks, tread the slightly yielding sands and place my feet in the path of some cold, incoming surge of froth and water.  I long to dance and splash and play the fool, there where land meets sea.  To stride out ever deeper, throw my body forward and in that moment of immersion propel myself to swim.

I climb, I descend, I stride a line or zigzag through rougher terrain.  I can hear the gulls, their sharp peals seem to echo around me as they circle and swoop above.  I can smell the fresh, salty odour of the ocean that awaits me beyond these tangles and slopes that hinder my advance.  Oh but the wind that blows it to me, it too pushes me back, making a labour of simple footsteps.

I keep pushing on.  The sun, at its highest, seems to scorch my scalp.  I am sweating, footsore, my muscles ache with effort.  I have nothing to sustain me but the will to reach that ever-moving body of water, whose presence I desire.  Surely I will see it soon, I only have find some gap or gate in this stark fence of barbed wire that stands before me now.

There must have been a path.  That must be where I started.  Others have reached the sea and returned to tell tales of clear waters, sheltered coves, bright and fascinating rock-pools, the passing of pleasurable hours.  But, if path there was, it has disappeared, or I have turned away from it in some moment of careless distraction.  The fence stretches either way, as far as I can see, the barbed wire new and too taut to manipulate a gap through which I could clamber.  And then it turns a corner and I am forced to retreat from my destination.  I have no memory of the gate or means by which I entered this enclosure, but if this impedance continues, I will find myself back at that point.

At least then I might find some other route, or perhaps the path I guess I lost - this time to lead me with greater certainty.  But the sound I heard so seeming close is fading.  The gulls too keep distant, circle higher, their cries drifting out of range.  It is blackbird and song-thrush I’m hearing now, in the woodland from which the fence now divides me.  Another corner and surely soon I will find the gateway out.

My weariness is now bone deep, each lift of a leg an effort.  My spine is a long, dull ache; my stomach a void; my throat coarse with thirst.  I don’t know how long I’ve been walking for, pressing myself on in isolation, but I know that soon I can walk no more.  Perhaps the way back to wherever I came from will be easier.  Perhaps there will be food and shelter there, someone to advise me, to show me the way.

Rest and a good night’s sleep are what I need.

Tomorrow I will surely find the shore.

Won't be blogging next week, away from home.  Check me out again start of August.  

Monday, July 11, 2016

Working for the DC Dollar - Part 6: A Twisted Season

Working for the DC Dollar
Part 6: A Twisted Season

Last time, editor Lou Stathis and I, having found at least a few things in common, were starting to look at how we could turn 'Black Orchid' into the kind of comic that both of us wanted it to be.  Our cogitations led us back to 'Suzy', the orchidette, and her possible role in what was to come.

We’d put Suzy largely on the back boiler again, but had not forgotten or ignored her.  Indeed, at least one of the complete one-issue stories featured her exclusively.  A plan was hatching.  I can’t remember how much of this was my idea, how much was Lou’s, or whether some of it came from the other folk who were still giving me generous advice and assistance when they could, but whatever… it required us to embark on another multi-parter.  In this one Black Orchid would go off the rails, and the story would climax with her complete destruction.  Somewhere along the line, Lou and I had agreed that having two Orchid characters was a bit of a pain, and that reducing them to one – Suzy – would make a lot of sense.  ‘A Twisted Season’ was the running title we went with.

The fairly apocalyptic nature of the upset would enable us to then revamp the series into a new and different style.  I think, even as we embarked on the creation of this six parter, we were already beginning to discuss the intriguing directions in which the title might strike, once we had upset the apple cart.

However, this footnote in comics history is drawing to a close.  Whatever it was that we were planning, it was not destined to emerge.  The comics boom was turning into something of a slump as the 90s progressed.  I’m sure there were some notable exceptions amongst the elite (and deservedly so in some cases), but for those of us who had not set the world alight, sales figures were dropping inexorably, month by month.  One by one those Vertigo titles, that had been the great hope of a year or two before, were beginning to wink out of existence, like stars being erased by some cosmic super-villain.  (I’m sorry.  I’ve been writing about comics for several hours now.  It gets under the skin.)

I can’t remember the exact order in which they went, but for a while it seemed the dust was being bitten on a regular basis by ‘Kid Eternity’, ‘Doom Patrol’, ‘Sandman Mystery Theatre’, ‘Books of Magic’ and more.  Lou and I hung on in the hope that our slightly better sales count would keep us above the cut-off line (which, I was told, is decided entirely by DC’s accountancy department).  If we could make it good enough, the post-Twisted-Season revamp might just have reversed the trend.

In retrospect, I don’t think we really had a hope.  Such gloss and glitter as the series had at its inception had long since been sanded off.  Where once we had received a fair amount of admiring mail for the letters column, towards the end I’m not sure we had any letters at all.  (Mind you, I think I recollect that Lou was not that keen on letter columns, so conceivably he just stashed the last few letters in a filing cabinet and I never got to see them.)

The final issue and last of those lush
McKean covers...

Inevitably the day came when I received the worst phone call of the lot.  We were below the line.  We would be given the grace to complete our final storyline, but the Orchid’s demise would be the entire series’ end.  Strange, it’s only in the course of writing this that I’ve noticed that I began my DC tenure with a story called ‘The Growing Season’ and ended with ‘A Twisted Season’.  But let’s not read too much into that.  Maybe I was already starting to run out of ideas and was just repeating myself.

I’ll say this for Lou Stathis, once you’d gained his trust he was loyal and supportive.  I met some very nice editors during my time at DC.  Tom I’ve mentioned, but I have fond memories of Stuart Moore and Art Young amongst others.  Youthful (then), interesting guys with a real zest for what they felt comics could be, a distinctly un-nerdy sophistication and a good sense of humour.  But with Lou, I genuinely think it went deeper.  For all his objections to what had been done with it before his editorship, he was – as far as I could tell – upset about the way Black Orchid ended.  And though he might understandably have dropped me at that point, like the proverbial ton of bricks, this did not prove the case.  He’d sussed, I’m sure, that I was no genius, no future Alan Moore (there never will be), but he knew that I worked hard, met my deadlines, took criticism – and that kind of stuff he valued.  We moved on to discussing ideas for what I would do next.  We both favoured the idea of the ‘mini-series’, stories that would be told over the course of two to six monthly comics and that were not part of any DC ‘continuity'.  After one or two duds, I came up with something he could see potential in and we began to work on the synopsis.

And then something awful happened.

The phone calls stopped.  I checked in with someone else at DC and discovered that Lou was off sick.  He’d begun to suffer severe, debilitating headaches and they appeared to be getting worse and more frequent.  In time I heard the reason why.  He had developed an inoperable brain tumour.  Within a few months, he was dead.  RIP Lou Stathis.

To speak of the negative impact of this event upon me seems entirely self-indulgent.  It should be pretty obvious how the land then lay and I don’t want to go there.  The fact is that, over twenty years later, here I am still alive, still relatively healthy and enjoying it.  This option was not on offer to Lou.  He was 45 years old when he died.  That’s way too fucking young to go.

I daresay there was a bit more toing and froing ‘twixt me and DC after that, but essentially it was over.  And those years of immersion in the world of comics had done something a bit funny to my head.  Comics weren’t the pleasure they once were.  With the exception of the very best, even reading them was beginning to feel like a bit of a chore.  

And I felt – wrongly or rightly – like I’d failed.  Okay, in my account I’ve presented some of the decisions made that appeared to be outside my control.  It’s conceivable that things might have turned out healthier for me if those decisions had not been made.  But I can’t be sure of that.  The fact is that I made a lot of wrong decisions myself.  And there is no doubt that the writing I did at that stage of my life could and should have been better.  End of story.  

All of a sudden I felt like it was time to move on.  Pastures new and all that.

I wrote a novel.  ‘On Earth, As It Is’ started life as a comic strip for a small press publication called Blaam!.  Only two episodes appeared, drawn by the estimable and charming John McCrea, before Blaam! winked out of existence (that villain again, I think he was called Doctor Lowsales).  But I’d always liked the story and had quietly developed it over the years as I felt it should be continued.  So I wrote it as a prose novel, on the old Amstrad word processor I used throughout my time writing comics.  I sent it to a bunch of publishers and now and again got some good and encouraging feedback.  Editors wrote back to say they’d enjoyed it but couldn’t see its place in the market.  Editors don’t have to say things like that.  They don’t have to say anything at all, beyond the standard rejection slip.  So I took it that there was some quality in my writing.

Then a film came out.  I forget the title but it starred Kevin Spacey as a man who could be from another planet, stranded on Earth, or who could be a human being with a powerful delusion.  Pretty much like the central character of ‘On Earth, As It Is’.  I think it was quite a good movie.  

It was time to move on even further.  I had a life.  There was a new relationship that had come into it, and that was full of promise.  My dearly beloved partner had a yen to move to South Wales, just as soon as she’d taken early retirement from a demanding job as a special needs teacher.  All of which takes us on to, as they say, ‘another story’.  A good one too – I wouldn’t have missed those years in Wales and still feel a strong connection with ‘Twin Town’ Swansea, the Gower and the Brecon Beacons.  

I pretty much stopped writing for a while, for a slew of reasons that I won’t bore you with here.  But the bug was dormant and had no intention of leaving me for good.  An encouraging prod from the direction of Northampton got me thinking about what I might offer to the newly launched ‘Dodgem Logic’ magazine.  Although what I was to contribute to that publication turned out to be something else entirely, it was that very prod that also kick-started ‘Wilful Misunderstandings’.  (For anyone new to this blog, ‘Wilful Misunderstandings’ is a book that you really ought to have bought by now.  It’s ever so good, and you can find out how to get it in the ‘Brexit Blues’ post)

As for comics…  A few years back, as you do, I decided to Google myself and see what presence I had on the internet.  What little came up concerning me - rather than namesakes - led me to a comics review site.  I forget what it was called and have no idea whether the posting remains, but there was a bunch of reviews of my early ‘Black Orchids’.  I think they gave the benefit of the doubt to the first 1 or 2 issues, thereafter it made for some pretty excoriating reading.  Ouch!  Well fair enough – I’m not here to argue with the opinions expressed and even agreed with much of what was written (though the reviewer did make some seriously off-beam guesses about me personally, which was kind of fascinating).  I think it was about then that I came up with my ‘footnote in the history of comics’ epithet.

Well, thanks for reading.  You have reached the end of the footnote!