05/12/2009

Lasting winter blues

Okay, four months is a long time. Although, maybe it isn't that long, hence why I haven't actually had time to even look at this.

So, obviously I'm in Stage 2 now of the degree. Whenever people warned me that the workload increased in the second year (as well as the fact that it all actually counts from now on in), they weren't exaggerating. The reading has been hardcore, and the essays have been tough. But I seem to be doing okay, a little behind compared to last year, but okay. My first essay was only 40%, which was a shock. I talked it through with my tutor, which shone some light on it, but I still couldn't fully explain myself. I'll just call that one a blip.

The house we're living in is great. We all get on so well as a household, and I've said it before but I'll say it again, these are the only people I wanted to live with this year, and I got them, and I am extremely grateful to have them and this to come back to on these long winter nights.

Before I came to university, I went to Brussels and Amsterdam with some friends. Although it was an interesting excursion and the company was great, I was out of sorts, so I ruined it for myself. The reasons for which will probably stick with me for some time and are too long and protracted to explain here, right now. Maybe another time. Anyway, here are some pictures from the trip:



You know, when I look at the group shot below, it makes me stop and think. I haven't actually looked at these photos until last week when I finally took them off my camera. This was, quite obviously, a staged photo; just for the sake of us all being together, just one holiday snap. And it comes off so well, and I didn't see it before. You've got Kurt, with his inappropriate amount of black clothing for the sun and his positive kilograms of camera gear (which Justin was always 'borrowing', never letting Kurt get much a look in with the pictures). You've got Duncan, the giant of a man, holding for dear life onto that tiny child's park toy. Becky's there, draped unselfconsciously over Duncan. Ayumi's there, self consciously not approving of her face having to be on a photo. There's Hayley, leaning round the back, adding more than a little Ally Sheedy/Breakfast Club feel to the whole thing. And then there's me; a beanied, grinning, sentimental spaz, getting everyone to submit to the indignity of the picture in the first place. But it's the joy that's here in the picture, that's what threw me. I didn't see it whilst I was in it, but there was joy here. There was calm, and there was nodding and listening, and there was laughter. And I need to be forgiven, and I need everyone to know that I know we had a good time. And it will be, here, forever more, only that:

..and then I look at the picture below and it gives a good impression of what I thought Amsterdam thought of me, all those milena ago:


I managed to get a job as a projectionist at the Gulbenkian cinema on campus, just four shifts every two weeks, which is fine. Getting back into that type of work has been great, and leaves me plenty of time for studies (especially on shift).

One of my modules is called Science Fictions - A Comparative Approach. I'm doing a presentation on Solaris next week, and it has gotten under my skin. Stanislaw Lem's 1961 novel concerns a psychologist travelling to the space station orbiting the ocean planet of Solaris, to investigate the strange reports and actions of the small team of researchers on board. Once there, the protaginist realises that Solaris has a very strange effect on the human mind, especially where guilt and memory is concerned. I've found the book distressing, and it can make shadows appear, especially at night. I have so much to say about it, and maybe I'll put something up here once the presentation is done.

That's it for now. Rushed, I know, but I'm still holding tight until this all slows down.

*Some names and events over the last few months have been changed/left out to protect the innocent.


Matt Slater, Wolverhampton


Vanessa Craig, Brisbane


Jenna Bartlett, Nebraska


Tim Conway, Aberdeen

Paul Edgars, Toronto

Sally Gittins, Co. Antrim

22/08/2009

Teetering over the precipice of foolishness


I'd like to begin today's sermon by talking about the comedian Stephen Carlin. For anyone who doesn't know his stuff, follow that there link to some of his stand up videos on YouTube. Now, the reason why I feel the need to talk about him is to do with peoples' opinions of him - or, more specifically, one person's opinion of him, and how I reacted to it.

If you follow the aforementioned link, you can see full well what I think of one particular individual's opinion of him and how I responded to it, firstly out of feeling the need to stick my tuppence worth's in, and also as a way of combating the manner by which the Internet is overflowing with forced, inarticulate opinions over pretty much anything. Reading the comments/reviews people have left on the Internet can be at once an entertaining and also deeply frustrating thing. Sites such as Amazon pathed the way for (partially) democratic public recommendation of everything they sell. In theory, this should be a good thing: who are you going to trust more over the quality of a movie you have yet to see? A member of the public, perhaps from basically the same demographic as you who has something they feel the need to say about the film yet who has no financial gain to be made from voicing their recommendation, or an advert for the film produced by the studio who first and foremost want your money?

As a result (and I can clarify this from personal experience), for any item on sale, there are usually one or two reviews that are articulate, objective and help to swing a decision. However, these reviews are often beset on either side by an absolute mire of brainless, misspelled and reactionary opinions, which often miss the point of whatever they're mouthing-off about. Cynical-C blog has collated a brilliant list called One-Star Reviews, which catalogues some of the most thick-skulled reviews that have been published on Amazon (I recommend a look, but you might put your fist through your screen..)

Of course, there's nothing wrong with people being allowed to voice their opinion over things - in that way, the Internet is strangely much, much more democratic than in real life. Let's face it, one of the reasons why people like to sit down and write that they "know it will be shit" about a comedian's performance is in the vain, fantastical hope that the comedian in question will find this video, and be offended by it. If, in real life, the same individual was to go up to the same comedian and say "I know you'll be shit tonight", he may well be met with hostility - and why? Because it's a hostile action. To just flippantly review or criticise something or someone as shit is not a review, it's an inarticulate attack. But to cower behind the Internet and just spout abuse like some snotty little conjecture-sniper is pathetic, and has brought out the absolute worst in too many people.

You could say it was childish for me to even reply to this person's comment, let alone lampoon it. But, something in me couldn't bare the fact that I'd been hoping to find some Stephen Carlin material on the Internet for ages, and the first time I find some, it's already been publicly dismissed by some flippant, frustrated idiot. Also, the categorical, faceted statement of their disdain for his comedy (I actually like the way this person's opinion is been broken down into declarative statement, sub clause with retrospective examples, and ending with a conclusion dependent on former appraisal) felt ripe for lampooning, and I'm just the right kind of pedant to do it. As it happens, I'd seen Stephen Carlin twice also, and my experiences happened to be the exact opposite of the first reviewer's. I had somehow concluded in my head that my review was not only a decent piss-take of the other, but that it also brought some balance to what was being said about this video.

Then the reviewer posted this response to my review: YOUR WRONGGGG

Where to begin with this?

Firstly, I know what you're thinking; I shouldn't be beginning at all. I should just be leaving it alone, and not heed to the desperate attention-seeking devices of the lonely and YouTube-browsing. But this is my blog, and if you don't like it, you can go away and gloss over your life a bit more on Facebook.

Now, what's interesting about this person's reaction is that it's clearly initially a response to my, let's say, attack of their first review - therefore, it's nothing to do with Stephen Carlin anymore. This is where anybody being allowed to have their opinion on the Internet gets a bit dicey. There is obviously venom behind their reaction (everyone knows that excessive capital letter usage means the author wants to convey themselves as heated, or just simply shouting) and they've stopped using the basic grammatical principles by which the initial review was written (i.e, there is no full stop, let alone multiple exclamation marks - a missed opportunity for extra melodramatic pique, if ever I saw it) and instead, for some strange reason, they have gone for multiple 'G's as emphasis of just how wrong I am.

Take a moment here; if there's no one in your immediate vicinity who may be potentially alarmed by what you are about to do, just try shouting YOUR WRONG-G-G-G aloud. It is.. well.. it is a bit scary, granted. But the repetition of 'G' sounds very odd, and soon diminishes the threat. If, instead, the author had written WROOOONG, that might have been closer to phonetic pronunciation of an extended and dramatic wrong (however, they possibly considered WROOONG as looking too silly on the page - which it does - and instead opted for a word which still contains an unaltered wrong, at least up until the first and only required 'G').

Another, and some might argue, churlish, point to be made is the reviewer's use of possessive 'Your' - but this doesn't require anymore attention being brought to it than is already rigidly obvious, and any further attention may simply emphasise my aforementioned pedantry to the point of making you, dear reader, begin to soon lose not only interest, but faith in direction and objective pursuit, in this latest post.

I mean, to make a point about the slow, catastrophic,deterioration of the English language due to the widespread and continual abbreviation, bastardisation and unfounded, throwaway, even bizarre etymology by uncaring, and downright lazy (there is no proof these people are uneducated) individuals on the Internet, as well as mobile phones, internal business emails, and quite frighteningly in exam halls across the land, would be redundant and perhaps betray a certain propriety I clearly stand by. And if, for further example, I were to perpetuate this laboured (and no-longer entertaining) point further, by asking what's wrong with expecting standards, or even a level of excellence from individuals - people lucky enough to be bestowed with the gift of reading, writing and confidently and articulately conversing with others around them - and why should it be accepted that text-speak and frugal, unintelligent statement be the language of the net-browsing world?

LOL I CAN C YOUR BORED OV ME! LMAO ;)

SOZ :(


Accidentally pushed my car into a stream the other day. Not drove, pushed. Four other men, plus me, accidentally pushed my car into a stream.

So, Ted, Ben and I went camping on Wednesday to Asher's Hollow, just outside of Church Stretton. After we'd pitched the tents and all that, we took a bit of a trek along the stream (quite exciting and tricky at times. Ted slipped and cut his hand at one point), then we climbed up to the top of the Longmynd, and then we headed back down the valley around the other side. Good, getting back to nature kind of thing.

When we got back to the camp, we just decided to sit round the tents drinking coffee until we fell asleep. I had the genius idea of using my car as a stereo. Hour and a half later, the battery died. Ben, being the bottomless source of common sense which he is, said not to worry, and that we'd push-start it in the morning.

So, the morning came, and we packed the tents and got ready to push the car. As we began pushing, two other guys came along to help us; the four guys were now at the back, but I was stood outside the driver's door, also pushing, and not in the car anywhere near enough to leap in and apply the hand break when, after we'd pushed it over a small incline at the entrance to the campsite, the car started rolling towards the stream. Ben was shouting "Rich! Handbrake!", but a combination of fear (of having my legs pulled from under me if I changed position), panic and just general uselessness instead made me turn all my energies towards shouting "Fuck" really loud and for an inordinate amount of time, with children and families all around, and watch my car helplessly crash into the stream and its bumper hit the farmer's fence over the other side.

The camp site owner and wife came out and were very understanding. They towed the car out, and jumped it for us, and we were away, with just a bit of damage to the driver's side grill. It wasn't that bad an experience, really, but judging from my reaction at the time, you would have thought that I'd sent it into a full-flowing river, after first ripping down a few tents and slaughtering a handful of disabled orphans. And scratching the body work to shit.



05/08/2009

There was a lurking devil in his deep blue eye

If I was the sort of person who took advantage of their spare time wisely, utilising every microbe as if it were the very last drop of their own precious life, uncontrollably and invisibly dripping away, never to be retrieved, regained or properly appreciated, I probably would have taken some time in the last twenty-seven days to have discussed, at varying degrees of length, embellishment, emotional intensity, sarcasm, cryptic intonation, with a southern Irish slant, whilst sat on the toilet, confidentially, with mine own unfathomable propensity that:

1. I was thinking at one point of actually calling the blog either Feargal, You Prick!, or This Palpably Gay Internet, or even What's Not To Love?

2. I'm left feeling somewhat sad that the passing of a family member seems to take up less space in one of these here posts than Flossy did (and she was just an old cat). Suffice to say, Rodney was a popular and loved man, and people from all over the globe came to pay their respects, including his son and daughter (who were in Burkina Faso, Africa and New York respectively), several European countries and Japan; yes, Sonoko came all the way from Kyoto to say goodbye to the man.

She stayed with us for the time she was here, so it was great that we got to see each other again even if the circumstances were so sad.



3. I got pig flu for a bit (as in forty-eight hours to be exact) and it went like this:

sore throat...

bad night's sleep full of trepidation regarding the impending illness (and continuing sore throat)...

day of wanting to die due to feeling like limbs were full of mashed-up cake, near throw-up-in-my-own-car experience on the way to the shops, back to bed until 8pm...

drag myself into the spare room to hopefully have a sound night's sleep (sore throat persists, the bastard)...

following day slightly better, enhanced by notion of buying a new double bed (sore throat makes way for annoying cold)...

first night in new bed spoilt by cold and slowly dwindling illness affecting my dreams, making me first believe that a friend and I are solely responsible for the traffic flow up and down the Longmynd, even though the traffic consists of mental pensioners driving 4x4s at 80mph, which are the size of shoe boxes, then making me believe that I was in a haunted house...

4. I saw
Brüno
twice, because it was very good. Here's the times to watch it in Falkirk this week.

5. Ayumi and I went to the Lake District, and camped for three nights at Great Langdale. Below are some pictures of the event.

Special mention must go the woman in the local shop/cafe in Chapel Stile (where I stopped and asked for directions) for bringing me down a peg or two by countering my point about not finding our way to the camp site because the roads tend to "Meander a bit" by unstintingly pointing out that "You're in the countryside now, not in the town anymore" (ie, piss off back to your murder and All Bran and rape).

And rightly so, as I was wearing sunglasses indoors (although in my defence they were prescription).






These pictures were taken around Blea Tarn, which was a good couple of hours trekking or more from the campsite and back down again. Ayumi took the pictures with me in, I took the ones with her in. She took the one with sheep.

Ayumi also showed me how to make a proper campfire from scratch. The townie I am, the expert on impromptu barbecues I am not.

10/07/2009

A perfect metaphor for anything you want it to be for

So, so, yeah.

So, yeah.
So..

Shropshire's a nice place, can't deny that. Fantastic place for walking, and checking out all things 'quaint'. Probably the kind of place that people say Oh, yes, I could raise a family here, or Very good for children, excellent schools, or, I think I'd like to grow old here. But I know a large number of people my age who had previously moved away from Shropshire like they couldn't get out of the place fast enough - and where are they now? They're all back here, licking their London wounds and playing with their big city scabs.

I'm one to talk, obviously. It's taken my probably about eight years too long to make the leap and move away, and I've only done it for a certain number of years anyway by going to university; there's no proof yet that I'll not come back to The Shire after university. In fact, unless I land some great job pretty soon after my education ends, I most definitely will have to come back home. And that will feel rubbish, I know it will. It currently has its moments of not being very good anyway; I'm jobless with very little chance of anything turning up any time soon, and this leaves me with too much time to dwell on what I'm doing with myself, my future and my money.

I know that the harshest judge how I conduct myself during this unbelievably precious and rare period of absolute free time is me. I often fear that it could be my parents, or the more judgemental of my piercingly non-judgemental friends, but no - it's me. So, in order to keep myself occupied, I've been trying to be creative, and stop my brain cells turning to shitty blancmange.

Below are some picture I took at Mitchell's Fold, a stone circle where last year some friends and I burned the wicker man we built the summer before. This place is a good indication of the sort of magic Shropshire often surprises me with:









I like how in the final picture, the larger stone to the left almost looks like a figure creeping towards the camera. Or maybe that's just me..

What I have also found myself doing to make the days pass in a worthwhile manner is make sure that each day there's something to look forward to. I'm pretty sure that for a long time before I came to Canterbury, my days were not filled with at least one pleasurable event. Work had fiercely dried up and was dull, and everything else was profoundly repetitive. I am in fear that, if I don't stay positive here, the same will happen again.. and yet, it couldn't really, because even if I do absolutely nothing with my summer here, at least I have Canterbury to look forward to going back to. Ah, Canterbury, thou golden chalice of learning and student discount.

Here's some stuff happening soon to stop me from banging on like this: Ayumi is coming tomorrow, and next week we're going camping in the Lake District. I've never been there, but it all looks very nice and well lakey. Ayumi wants to check out the Beatrix Potter attractions whilst we're there, so we'll do that also. I also joined the National Trust (showing my age) so I intend to take day excursions out to different places with that, especially the supposedly haunted ones. Or the ones with the best cafes.

Been doing a fair bit of running recently. I am continuing to use the track around, then up, Earls Hill, but I've also made evening use of the running field next to Mary Webb school over the road. Using a track is functional and not particularly scenic, but that's fine sometimes. As long as I have music, it's alright.

I've also been attempting to read regularly. Re-read The Great Gatsby (1925) the other day. Such a completely perfect and incredibly book. I think because of my first year at Kent, I've also gained a hunger for finding out more about the back stories behind novels, so I greatly enjoyed reading the somewhat lengthy introduction to the edition I have as well.

I think one of the reasons the book is still so good is the way that it analyses America still resonates strongly. In recent times, I have noticed an obsession with America (equally from both Americans and non-Americans) that is cosmetic and absolute. I don't just mean obvious things like fashion or music or cinema, but just an air of how cool is America? and an endless stream of people doing American accents or immitating Americans (as if there is just one American way of speaking). To me, the USA seems to be the epitome of the grass is greener to a lot of people. People are placing a lot of desire and admiration on a place that is just a place, and not even basing that admiration on any kind of truth; Yeah, but America's got better weather/cars/houses/laws/taxes/schools and all those tired excuses for people not actually focusing on what they really need in life, or what can be found around them wherever they happen to live. There is a sheen to America that catches many a foreign eye. America, the product, is incredibly well designed and knows how to speak to the customer. Don't get me wrong, I'm no patriot - I'm not pro-any specific country - but I'm also not dazzled by one place just because it's not where I was born or where I live.

A few too many dreary summers, or bad relationships, or school yard-induced bitterness, or job dissatisfaction, or alienation from family and friends has made many a person mindlessly idealistic when it comes to America. The place we see utterly dominating the airwaves, and the magazines, and the cinema and the coffee table talk. And now, this completely empty symbol of.. of.. whatever it is (MTV cool? Hollywood socialising? Great sex? Acceptance no matter what you look like (yeah, right)) has made people forget how to make themselves happy.

But as the owl-eyed man in the library challenges Nick Carraway, when he discovers that Gatsby's socialite facade goes as far as stocking his library with hundreds of real, actual books..

What do you want?

What do you expect?

15/06/2009

I press out days in perfect carbon copy

It's either because I've come back early (comparatively speaking) or because I've come back early and I am jobless, but I feel somewhat inactive. I have stuff to do, mind - I have money to make; for example I intend to begin selling all of my CD collection. I have had some attempts to dissuade me from this; but that's a lifetime's worth of music there! Having lots of CDs is brilliant and makes you look cool and knowledgeable when it come to music! I never thought I'd see the day when you, Rich Fox, would sell- and all that nonsense. I came back from university with no CDs and a handful of DVDs that I'd taken with me, and that's how I like it now. My room in my dad's place feels claustrophobic; racks of CDs collecting dust, let along books and DVDs (although I currently have no intention of selling either of the last two collections, essentially because they have not yet become available in any satisfactory digital version).

Yes, one of the reasons I have completely succumbed to the Great Digital Revolution is because of the convenience of it all. Many Luddites out there claim that you don't get the sound quality of CDs with mp3/mp4, but that's simply not true; if your songs are 256kbit or above, that is standard CD quality (and in fact Digital Audio Broadcasts around the 128kbit region). I download at 320kbit if that's an option. Another argument against a digital music collection is the risk of losing it all one go - to which I reply are CDs not flammable? Are they impermiable to flood or sewerage? Where, pray tell, do you keep your back-up CD collection? It's not hard to make multiple copies of MP3s, in fact for this very reason it's better than CD.

I've sold may, many CDs over the years, yet always kept certain ones behind for mainly sentimental reasons - but not now. It'll probably take ages to sell them (no doubt some will never sell) but they're the kind of thing that I don't think I'll enjoy lugging to my next home after university, wherever that may be. I'm also going to sell my vinyl as well. I don't have many LPs and 7"s, but again, they just collect dust..

My plan of action (at least whilst I'm jobless) is to keep active mentally, physically and financially, in any order. Physically, I'm finding then absence of a swimming pool in walking distance from my house hard to deal with. I really got into the swing of swimming back in Canterbury, which included the 60 minute total walking time to and from. I also miss the ability to find someone to play Aerobie with at the drop of a hat. As a result, I do go swimming here at home, but my physical exertion is greatly reduced. Pontesbury is not the kind of village one can jog/run around, and the best option is Pontesford Hill; a fair rocky clamber which takes around one hour to transcend then decline and be home in time for sherry. I'm going to try to climb it several times a week (I said to myself I'd climb it daily, but that isn't going to happen. I'm not disciplined enough). Mentally, I've been reading the books on my bedroom shelves. I'm currently completing Empire of the Sun (1984). J G Ballard died in April, so I've been meaning to have a Ballard renaissance ever since. It's hard to believe that this is the same author who wrote dystopian nightmarish satires like The Atrocity Exhibition (1970) and Super Cannes (2000). Such a vast change in style. There is rumoured to be a book published soon of conversations between Ballard and his oncologist during his cancer treatment, which will no doubt be a deep philosophical tract.

I'm also going to take up drawing as well. Recently I discovered some old pen drawings I did when I was 16. Very fine, dot-shaded drawings of Kurt Cobain, Henry Rollins,
Björk, and other musicians. The one of
Björk I gave to my friend Jo, who turned 30 the other day. The drawing was in perfect condition, and I knew she's a fan. Below is the original Kurt Cobain drawing I did which I think started my interest in technique at the time:

This was done the summer before I went to college. All through school, and up until I was at college, I always wanted to do something to do with art. By the time college was over and I had started my first semester at Wolverhampton University, I really was not into studying art any longer and had no idea what I wanted to do.. except perhaps make it in a band. But in the summer of 1994, I really enjoyed drawing, and I never really kept it up. I think that this piece in particular is something I still get great pleasure from looking at, mainly because of the simplicity of it - I find it hard to believe I stopped where I did with it, and I know it's finished because I'd signed it. I don't believe it looks exactly like Cobain, but I think it conveys his iconic haircut and slouch, which is enough. At the time, through sheer will power, I finished it with it looking like this. No need to add extra to the left-hand black sleeve, no need for any more guitar neck. Done. This is a restraint I think I show very little of in many ways (creatively or otherwise) and it has inspired me to get drawing again this summer.

A combination of mental and physical activity has also become manifest after I took up more physical exercise from reading What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (2008) by Haruki Murakami. This is a memoir of sorts on Murakami literally explaining why he started running thirty years ago and why he still continues to do it to this day, along with being a novelist. It's short and reads almost like one of his novels (I'm guessing this is his style) and although I wouldn't say I've specifically come away from the book feeling totally inspired to take up running, it has made me want to take up some form of regular exercise, for the discipline and for the positive results. Murakami, in the book, discusses the kind of music he likes to listen to whilst running; something that really keeps him motivated. This has inspired me to choose some music to exercise to (maybe not swimming, though).

Today I hastily clambered up Pontesford Hill to Join Us (1998)by Bluetip. Because of this choice of music, I can say that what with my first year at UKC ending, my return home, and my original intentions for this blog, everything has come full circle. I'm sure that I've bored half my music-appreciating friends to death with this, but once more, for the cheap seats, this is the greatest album I have ever heard in my life.

I first got the CD around 2000/2001, when I was very much into Fugazi and the whole Washington DC/post-rock scene. After years of straight-up hardcore, post-rock seemed like the natural progression (it is for many a generic rock fan such as yours truly). Once I discovered the cheap-priced records from the Dischord Records website (owing to Ian MacKaye et al's decent business ethics) I bought a load of albums by bands either through recommendation or just because they had a cool name. Bluetip came from neither, but I bought it anyway. I won't deny that after the first few spins, Join Us hadn't cut it. In fact, for a while I preferred Polymer (2000), and it wasn't until I began to listen to the lyrics of Join Us that I slowly began to become aware of its brilliance; first the lyrics, then the music followed.

Front man/guitarist Jason Farrell is a man not afraid to bare his soul, but in more than just a godawful, mawkish, syrupy manner - Join Us is harsh, cynical, poetic and continuously funny. The album haemorrages great lines like "Stamps make shitty Band Aids / Letters come back stamped with Fuck The Sender" (Cheap Rip; about the ordeal of writing a love letter), "Mean, sweet and empty, my teeth are singing 'Sugar, come back to the cavity'" (Bad Flat; the woes of being on the road), "The word 'bitch' makes its appearance / You can hear men's thoughts click to fighting / So they take to kissing each other with their fists" (Jersey Blessed; no doubt Farrell's heartfelt interpretation of the place), "I want to piss on every continent / Treat my body like a suitcase, pack the scars / In case I catch myself forgetting" (Slovakian; final track, and a heartfelt cry to the pleasures of being on tour, regardless of the hell also). As a matter of fact, the title of this post, and also the Soft Reminder quote at the top of this blog, are also lifted from the lyrics on this album. To say Join Us has been an influence on me would be an understatement.

Aside from the lyrics, the music here is also the best guitar-driven rock I've ever heard. The production is phenomenal (J Robbins, of course) and I realised after this became more in my favour than Polymer that Dave Stern may have been the musical driving force behind the band here, with Farrell being the front man. There are some timeless riffs on this album, and a sound I have heard few replicate well (if at all, nobody's heard the damn thing!) The final riff of I Even Drive Like A Jerk is something I savour repeat after repeat (is that a xylophone..?)

Absurdist Media gave a fine and comprehensive estimation of Join Us back in early 2007. I just came upon this by chance after a particularly feverish attempt to find guitar tabs. The post comments on how the lyrics can be relatable to a certain kind of guy in a particular period of his life, which I found an intelligent and interesting observation. There is undoubtedly a specific belligerence and ability to self-deprecate here that a lot of people (guys?) seem to drop in later years for wont of seeming to become more settled and mature. However, regardless of whether I still relate immediately with Join Us, it still stirs me like nothing else I've ever heard.

It doesn't matter what has come since, even from Jason Farrell or Dischord Records. It doesn't matter what bands influenced Bluetip at the time (which are hard to spot anyway given how original and fresh this album is). This is it, the best record ever recorded. One of the best pieces of art ever produced, full stop.

Another reason I say things have come full circle now is because I am here, with too much free time, too much thinking time, and I can feel Old Rich sneaking back in; the Rich I seemed to put partially on hold whilst at UKC. The Rich who gets depressed for no good reason and thinks everything is worthless. The Rich who is paranoid when his friends don't return calls right away, the Rich who thinks his university friends will have ditched him by next September, and that everything is awful and we're all going to die. Well, Join Us helps tame Old Rich, and it also does nothing but encourage New Rich (if there is such a thing beyond the degree) -the more nocturnally social, reasonable, and 'slightly' less stressed-out Rich.

A lot of people are not frank on their blogs about their mental deficiencies, their concerns or weaknesses. They tend to write about how awesome their day has been and how worldly they are at times; this goes back to my original disdain towards Facebook and Twitter and all that diabolical nonsense, how easy it is to edit or gloss-over frightening facts about ones existence. But I've always planned to keeping it real with my blog, even if means banging on like this, but stick to it I shall.

05/06/2009

Take veil for sex noises

"What you need to do is carefully remove the turf, and put it to one side. Then you dig the hole", my dad instructed me before he went to Mallorca. "Get someone to help you, if you need. But bury her just here.. this corner of the garden."
Floss is most definitely on her way out. After twenty-three years on this earth (yes, twenty-three years) the old white, fluffy mog is on her last legs and the end is nigh.

Floss has been with us for two years. Before that, she was with my auntie Charlotte, and before that she was with nan. She has survived several of her litter, and if it wasn't for her obviously now very weak condition, she'd probably have outlived Earl just by default. But she won't. She's eating very little, her internal organs are one at a time saying right, that's enough. I've been in this game too long, and she only gets any kind of pleasure when she's out in the sunshine. In fact, today she was out in the sun for half an hour, looking very peaceful. I stood at the backdoor just watching her, wondering if this would be the moment went she finally gave in. But she didn't. She came back in, looked at her food like it was complicated and disturbing, and tried to lie comfortably in her basket. I rang dad, left a message saying I think it's time, and am just waiting for the go. I've never dug a grave before. I'll light a candle afterwards.

So, I'm back home now anyway. Year one completed. I absolutely cannot believe that I'm one third of the way through my degree. The last few weeks have flown by and have been busy (hence my lack of posts) but I'll try to put in this post as much as I can about how it's all gone down. Please feel free to take a toilet/tea/coffee/cigarette/sex break anytime you need to:

I got 80% in my final essay for the Tacking Text: Explaining Style module - this is my best essay result of the year. Funnily enough, I didn't think I'd do that well. See, I started the essay at 10:30pm (not the night before the deadline, though. Just late at night) and attempted to replicate the conditions by which I did an essay the month before and got 75% for; I closed my door and curtains, dimmed the lights (i.e. pushed my lamp against the wall to create a dark, lava-like glow in the room), stuck on some classical music (James Newton Howard that night) and gave myself til 01:30am to do as much as I could. After the three hours I'd written it, and was happy with it, but felt like it was a bit too easy - a bit too pleasurable. I left it til the morning, re-read it, but found that I really couldn't say anything more, so I just handed it in and hoped for the best. Then I got the 80% mark. I did genuinely love writing the essay though (my notes took much longer than the type-up) and found the book to be incredible.

The text was Kazuo Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day (1989) which was the novel we read for the module (we also studied one play and one poem). Everyone's probably familiar with the film adaptation with Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson (not a bad version I suppose) but the book was just staggering. It's all told through the narrative of Stevens - head butler at Darlington Hall - who is attempting to win back a previous housekeeper he is obviously in love with, but who is also living vividly in the past. His narration is unreliable, and his solid professionalism is heartbreaking as it reveals his missed opportunities. Partially set against the backdrop of WWII, it feels highly authentic. It is also very funny at times. I recommend it highly.

My other essays marks were also not bad, but I think I'll need to do extremely well in The Tale exam to get a first this year. Oh well. I've enjoyed it all anyway, and next year I'll know what to expect a bit more. After The Tale exam on Tuesday, my dad and uncle John (from Canada) were waiting at the house to load up the car to bring me home - firstly, though, I showed them both round the campus and gave John a guided of Canterbury (but let him make his own pilgrimage round the cathedral). Ayumi came along and met my dad. Dad was his old self, inadvertently utilising cultural hypercorrection when confronted with a foreign person; firstly he bowed to Ayumi when he met her (much to his own horror after he did it) and then went on to imitate a couple of her utterances in a distinctly exaggerated Japanese accent. I wanted the ground to swallow me up, and I fear for when she comes over in July.

On the final Saturday before I left, I organised a curry for a few of us, and Dan Parker managed to come down for the night. Dan was his usual, interrogative self towards new people - particularly those of my friends who are not British - by asking them what their national flower, animal or dish were. Sophie (Luxembourg), Fran and Chiara (Italy) and obviously Ayumi (Japan) all acted with an initial air of affrontedness when Dan first got going, but soon realised that this is just Dan, and I think the night went well. The food was amazing, and really good service considering there was quite a few of us there (Blaine, Emily, Charlotte, Nick and Julia also attended). I really felt like it had been a good year, having so many good people there that night. Others couldn't make it, but there's always next year. Here is a particularly good picture with Sophie, Fran and Chiara heading home:


Dan seemed very happy with fatherhood. This was the first time I'd seen him since the arrival of baby Mary. It was genuinely great to have at least one friend from back home down to see my first year living arrangements, even if it was the last forty-eight hours of it.

Started a couple of Salsa teaching training classes - this was always going to be daunting. There were very few of us available to start the training, seeing as how everyone has exams. On Sunday, it was just Yiota, Lefki, Ben, Toby and I, but we did go over one simple move again and again to potentially show beginners. What is also intimidating is that for the first few weeks, we're going to have 200+ beginners, all wanting to learn Salsa. We've also lost Rutherford dining hall next year, so we've got to cram people into Missing Link hall (less than half the size). It's going to be interesting, but I think we're up for it. Well, we have to be now.

Things I will miss about living in Parkwood:

The air at 6:45am as I left the house to go swimming (never has getting up that early on a regular basis been so appealing). The campus is so peaceful and quiet at that time of day, full of more potential than I could ever imagine.

The 9 minute 35 second walk from my front door to the library cafe. The faces on the way, and the green along the path.

Chris and Maureen, obviously (although there is also a couple of ducks near me here now, so that should help).

Having the friends close by that I had, and also the playing field so close. I only utilised this in the last few weeks, but it was perfect.

It has come and gone, I have had something taken away from me just as I was feeling completely at ease with it all, but that's okay. That's how all things should be. We should never get used to something for too long, never take the sheen off anything. Get rid of it before you get complacent, or let something else take it away for you (like time). We lose weeks like buttons, like pencils. Everything ought to feel like first kiss electricity, even a year in a town that isn't home. Roll on the homework.

I have been listening to a great deal of music whilst revising and preparing to return home.

The first album that I wish to talk about is Souls At Zero (1992) by Neurosis. This was one of those albums that lays the cards on the table for the fans, separating the dedicated from the transient. Many were quite happy with the whiplash hardcore of their debut, and were more than a little taken aback by SAZ, with its sonic landscapes, its dark folk influence and its genuine epic menace. But for others, this is where Neurosis really began to make their mark, something they continued through with such acclaimed releases as Enemey Of The Sun (1993), The Eye of Every Storm (2004), and of course, Through Silver In Blood (1996). But for me, SAZ is where its at, and I don't just mean Neurosis - I mean extreme music full stop. Never before or since has such genius been extracted from blackness. This has got to be in the top three albums I have ever heard in my sorry life. It is just pure pleasure and fear as one - good production, unintrusive, poignant samples, and Steve Von Till's (et al) vocals are just mind blowing. Von Till has developed a voice now which has to be the best in alternative music, but here it is just harrowing and poetic at the same time. As a listener for 10+ years now of this band, I still have difficulty explaining what they address - but I guess the cover to SAZ sums it up quite well. A homemade wicker man (built by the band themselves) emphasises the pagan, sun-worshiping content of their philosophical lyrics. The universe and the world are things that can take as they will, hammering home the futility of everything, especially our own genius for self-destruction. Beyond brilliant.

I first took an interest in Undertones after I heard My Perfect Cousin in an episode of Our Friends in the North, back in 1996. I remember thinking then that they were a solid punk band. But hearing a really good collection such as True Confessions (Singles = A's & B's) (2008) its easy to see that they are much more than just another punk product of the seventies. Undertones are a great and diverse band - you have the loud and angsty post-crooners of Teenage Kicks, True Confessions or Get Over You (all dealing with the paralysing frustration of being a teenager brilliantly), but then you also have a band that lend their edgy playing to more humorous levels with tracks such as Mars Bar and Jimmy Jimmy. Feargal Sharkey never dropped his Derry accent, and this places the band firmly on the ground. No rock and roll idiocy here. If only boiling diarrhea acts like U2 could have stuck closer to reality.

A very distracting album to listen to after you've just been swimming for an hour is Eyes On Green: Live at Tokyo Inkstick 1988 by Syzygys. This sounds so contemporary, and because I only heard them within the last twelve months, I just assumed this was a recent recording - but no, it's 21 years old. Remarkable. But this stuff really is timeless; you have your spiralling, crazy accordion-based instrumentals, racing along like warped computer game music, and then you have the singing, which is instantly recognisable as being Japanese but feels dated compared to the music. A brilliant combination. The complete studio efforts are out there to get also, but this is the best thing they ever released, I reckon.

Finally, I found this taped to the wall in Missing Link before we had Salsa on Sunday. I wondered what the hell it meant until I found out it was a cue used by my housemate Max during the play he was in (I still don't feel any the wiser for knowing this, though):


23/05/2009

The Middle Parts of Fortune

If there's one part of the library I find most interesting, it's the Recently Returned shelves. It's all just a random collection of homeless books. This I consider the best circumstances to come across an unexpected nonpareil. So, the other day I discovered Frederic Manning's The Middle Parts of Fortune (1929). Bourne is a private serving in the trenches, and is in many ways emotionally detached from both his superiors and the men around him. The book begins with Bourne clambering through the remains of a recent shelling, and the writing instantly begins with the gruesome, frank style of portrayal of war that made it initially shocking and successful; "Death, of course, like chastity, admits no degree: a man is dead or not dead, and a man is just as dead by one means as by another; but it is infinitely more horrible and revolting to see a man shattered and eviscerated, than to see him shot." (p.11)

Bourne is known as being a loner within the troops. Each man claims to have woken in the middle of the night to find him already awake, silently smoking a cigarette. But Bourne commands respect also from his superiors and fellows; he can always mysteriously rustle-up extra food rations, or a bottle of whiskey. Bourne is also a genuine gentleman, and although he doesn't wish to, accepts a commission. The tragedy of the book's nightmarish finale are always waiting to be read, with the spectre of death ever present in both the narrator's splenetic portrayal of warfare, but also in the somewhat still shocking to this day use of bad, cynical language between the soldiers. In several scenes of emotional intimacy, Bourne finds himself tenderly conversing with French mademoiselles (details of which are never translated or summed-up, meaning that unless you speak French, Bourne is granted some moments of privacy - a rarity in trench-life) but his fellows coarsely claim he is "cunt-struck" rather than in love.

Manning was encouraged to write the book (based very closely on his own wartime experiences) at a time when few fictional novels on The Great War had been published. The book was initially published anonymously, and also under the original title of Her Privates We; both titles allude to a scene in Hamlet where Guildenstern, Rozencrantz and Hamlet contemplate on which part of Fortune's physique man lays. Her Privates We was also an obvious double-entendre. The Middle Parts of Fortune has been considered by many other authors to be the definitive portrayal of man and war.

I was drawn to the book initially due to the harrowing Frank Hurley photograph on the front cover. Several of his pictures from World War I can be found below, including the original used for the book;











This was the first chance I'd had in ages to read a novel. Aside from ones for the course, I haven't really sat down and read a book for some time.There's just something energetically great about reading a good book. I also think that I've developed an interest in World War I now (which possibly stemmed back some time ago from watching Blackadder Goes Forth, now I come to think about it..)

22/05/2009

Rugby-tackling an old person

According to my indisputably canny friend Lizzie, it's perfectly acceptable within the confines of the law to rugby-tackle an old person to the ground; it just depends on the circumstances.

When I go swimming, the way that I walk to the leisure centre goes over a railway crossing, and each time I come to it I find myself hurrying slightly to get across, just in case the barriers should come down whilst I was halfway. The thing is, those barriers come down pretty fast, and I'm not convinced that I could actually dash across in time, which means that essentially I would have to flatten myself along the fence or the barriers until the train had gone past, and I don't know which of these two subsequent eventualities would be worse; the mortally close tendrils of wind whooshing past my face as the train speeds by, giving me a solemn glimpse of what the impact would feel like, or the icy, condescending stare of the train driver as they eye me, thinking is he going to kill himself using the big metal front of my train, or is he just being a daring twat?

One more scenario that is even more worrying is the idea of an old person doddering across and them getting trapped by the swiftly closing barriers, like some form of symbolic, clattering guillotine, portent to the imminent and bloody death of an octogenarian. I brought up my concerns of happening to be around if this were to happen, and Lizzie said that she would rugby-tackle the old person out of the way. I suggested that, if she injured them, they could sue her, but Lizzie said that's not very likely, and also, because of the Good Samaritan Act (1996), it would be thrown out of court. The Good Samaritan Act (as the name suggests) recognises an individual's conscious attempt to save another person's life in extreme circumstances should that attempt fail. Even if the old person dies as a result of Lizzie's massive tackle, chances are she would still walk away - it's a case of accidental death as apposed to certain and abattoir-drainage-system-that's-flooded-over-esque death.

Although Lizzie's sweet-tasting factoid did give me a modicum of hope not only in the legal system but also in the sheer power of reason and common sense, it did also bring forth a few shitnuggets of doubt. For example, supposing a person were to rugby-tackle and old person, then take the Good Samaritan Act, but in actual fact just use it to cover up the fact that they simply wanted to rugby-tackle an old person; a Good Samaritan Act act you might say. Or supposing, out of sheer force of prudery, a person opted for the Good Samaritan Act act to make it look as if they simply wanted to rugby-tackle an old person out of sheer ageist spite, but in actual fact they wanted to save said old person's life (to whit, the Good Samaritan Act act act)? Act infinitum.




How a conversation would go between Charlie Kaufman and I would go should I ever get to speak to him about Synecdoche, New York (2008):

Fox - So.

Kaufman - So.

Fox - I saw Synecdoche, New York the other night.

Kaufman - Yeah?

Fox - Yep. Thought it was good.

Kaufman - Oh, good. Thank you.

Fox - Yeah. Lot going on.

Kaufman - Yeah, I guess so.

Fox - I mean, don't get me wrong. I liked the fact there was a lot going on. Kept my attention. Made me feel..

Kaufman - Intrigued?

Fox - Don't put words into my mouth.

Kaufman - Ok. Sorry.

Fox - Made me feel.. intrigued.

Kaufman - Ok. Good. Well, I guess every film maker wants their audience to be intrigued.

Fox - Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn't look anything like you.

Kaufman - What?

Fox - Philip Seymour Hoffman doesn't look anything like you.

Kaufman - Who.. said he was supposed to look like me?

Fox - Well, I just assumed you'd pick someone that looked a bit like you.

Kaufman - Why?

Fox - I mean, Nicolas Cage kind of had your hair in Adaptation.

Kaufman - Yes.. but he was playing a character called 'Charlie Kaufman'.

Fox - Oh, hang on.. yeah, I see now. Sorry. I assumed Philip Seymour Hoffman's character was supposed to be you.

Kaufman - Why would you assume that?

Fox - Because.. I don't know, actually. But, hang on, everyone assumes it's meant to be you.

Kaufman - Do they?

Fox - Well, yeah. I think so. It's something people expect from your films. I think people tried to look for you in John Cusack in Being John Malkovich, in Jim Carey in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind..

Kaufman - Well, good luck to them. But only Adaptation. had a character called 'Charlie Kaufman'.

Fox - Yeah, yeah. I know. But, you know, people were looking for something a bit more subtle with the other films. Aspects of you rather than actually you.

Kaufman - Nicolas cage isn't actually me.

Fox - True..

Kaufman - Anything else you want to say about Synecdoche, New York? I mean, it's your dime..

Fox - You know the bit where Hazel's sitting on the bench with Caden? Where they kind of go on the lunch date?

Kaufman - Yes..

Fox - ..and Hazel says she's been reading The Trial?

Kaufman - Yep.

Fox - Well, is that inclusion of a reference to Kafka anything to do with people labelling a certain supposed genre of recent Hollywood films as being Kaufmanesque, and you've reacted to it by highlighting the label Kafkaesque, as if to draw some ironic comparison towards yourself and Kafka - but not in an egotistical manner, instead just as a tongue in cheek nod towards the similarity between the two phrases and the comparisons that certain people will no doubt draw between them?

Kaufman - Got it in one.

Fox - Really?

Kaufman - No.

Fox - If I made a film where the main character bared similarities to me.. with me? With me or to me?

Kaufman - To you. You're still assuming Caden Cotard is based on me.

Fox - Yeah, whatever. If I made a film where the main character bared similarities to me, and he wanted to employ someone to act out himself on stage, I'd chose Brian Cox. Ha!

Kaufman - I see what you did there. Very clever.

Fox - Yeah, and, right, if I needed another actor to play a version of Brian Cox's character who's playing me on stage, I'd choose Anthony Hopkins. Ha ha!!

Kaufman - Mm. Good one.

Fox - I like the fact that Emily Watson got her boobs out, though. They were quite..

Kaufman - Hang on, that's wrong.

Fox - What's wrong?

Kaufman - What you just said. About Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins.

Fox - How's it wrong? They both played Hannibal Lecter.

Kaufman - Yes, I know. But Tom Noonan didn't play Hannibal Lecter. He played Francis Dolarhyde, aka The Tooth Fairy, in Manhunter. As dis Ralph Fiennes in Red Dragon. So what you should have said is you would chose Ralph Fiennes to play you, and then get another actor to play the actor playing the actor playing you.

Fox - Like who?

Kaufman - Do you like Frank Zappa?

If there's one thing that initially draws people to Frank Zappa & The Mother of Invention's Weasels Ripped My Flesh (1970), it's the cover. This is surely one of the most provocative and strange album covers in rock, if not all music ever created by people who create the magic what is music. The entire album is an astonishing journey into rock, jazz, fusion, and avant garde noise. Most of the album was recorded live (either at shows or in the studio), which is indicated at the end of several tracks with Zappa thanking the audience for seeing the show.

Certain tracks (like opener Didja Get Any Onya and Weasels Ripped My Flesh) are dark, abyssal experiments with feedback, irregular time patterns and atmosphere. It is easy to spot the influence of this kind of noise on John Zorn, and again Mike Patton. Others display the keen blues and rock musicianship of the band (Zappa's guitar work notwithstanding) as well as guest musician "Sugarcane" Harris's incredibly emotive singing voice; Directly From My Heart To You is a stunning bluegrass track, and includes a virtuoso violin performance from the man. Get A Little and Oh No are also great vocal-driven tracks, and perhaps a good place to start to ease yourself into the world of Zappa.

Note: I'm not sure why I'm writing about films and movies on my blog. They're not supposed to be reviews as such, more an indication of how things excite me as I watch, hear, catch or smell them. I'm not sure if what I write is supposed to be going anywhere.

But clearly it is.