Posted in Books, entertainment, Review

Two book reviews

Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This Nebula award winning novel was published in 2015 and has the benefit of being (so far at least) a standalone book and not part of a series. I’m on record as not being the biggest fan of the fantasy genre, though I clearly like it more than, say, someone who never reads any. But I picked this up because it won the award an I’m glad I did.

I wasn’t keen on the cover on the edition I had. Of the three above, I think I prefer the one on the left. What I mean by this is that I wouldn’t have even picked this up or shown any interest in it if I hadn’t heard it mentioned on The Incomparable. Which means this book had to overcome a lot of prejudice to win me over.

It achieved this fairly quickly. If I had to blurb this, I’d say it starts out a bit like Beauty and the Beast meets The Sorcerer’s Apprentice and a little bit of A Wizard of Earthsea. Which means it involves a young girl dragged from the bosom of her family/village to serve a monstrous local wizard (known as The Dragon) who then learns just enough magic to get her into trouble. It moves on from there, though, and the pacy story takes you into a fully realised world in which a malevolent entity in a forest wages war on human settlements.

I’ve seen a few online complaints from people who “don’t get it” and object to it winning the Nebula. I guess some of these people simply object to the female author and female protagonist. In another sense, you could say that this is a fairly standard fantasy with no surprises, but I think that would be to miss the point about what this book brings to the genre. It’s fresh, lively, well-paced, and although it’s a mashup of various fantasy and fairy story ingredients, it takes enough unexpected turns to keep you interested. The writing is excellent, too, and as someone who doesn’t enjoy most fantasy, I welcomed the skilled handling of the story elements.

alex-marshall-a-crown-for-cold-silver-193x300A Crown for Cold Silver by Alex Marshall

In terms of writing style, I’ve complained before about George R R Martin’s writing in A Song of Ice and Fire because I find it lacking in terms of authorial voice. The books in that series read to me as if they’re written by a machine or a committee. And just as Naomi Novik brings a much fresher voice to her work, Alex Marshall (pseudonym of Jesse Bullington) brings a lively style to this first in a Game of Thrones-like series.

The comparison is apt for several reasons. The first is that Crown is set in a fantasy world and there’s (of course) a map of the star-shaped continent upon which the action takes place. The second is that there is and has been a competition between different claimants to be ruler of an empire. The third is that there is an extremist religious group that tries to act as the power behind the throne. The fourth is that the narrative has multiple points of view.

I could go on, but the point is that this is a fantasy novel along very similar lines to A Song of Ice and Fire. The key difference, of course, is in the telling, and I found this to be enjoyable, funny, human, and (crucially) far less prone to the longeurs of ASoIaF (which we need to distinguish from the far better TV adaptation). Pacy seems to be my word of the day. This tale fairly motors along – at least until all our characters meet up for the decisive battle.

Another key difference between this and ASoIaF is in the sexual politics, and the reason A Crown for Cold Silver was honoured by the Tiptree Award committee. We have several female protagonists (of various ages, including the normally invisible ones); we have women and men fighting, drinking and adventuring alongside each other; we have gay marriage; we have people sexually attracted to each other regardless of gender. And all of this is mere backdrop to the story, deftly handled and sustained, without feeling forced, awkward, or artificial. It’s so normal that it makes all those other books, including the ones in  which feisty female protagonists fight to be taken seriously as warriors, or magicians, or healers, seem silly. And, you know, there are no rape scenes.

Your heart sinks after 700 pages of anything and the knowledge that there’s a sequel, which of course there is. But, aside from that, this is a confident, entertaining, stonking good read.

Posted in bastards, musings

If you have to light a fire, is summer over?

painting - 1

Years ago, before the kids, B and I drove from round here to the South for a week or so, sleeping on the sofa bed in one of her great aunts’ houses. Conventional wisdom had it that you drove overnight, so we set off at 10 pm and, to begin with, stayed on the Route Nationale. After a couple of hours, we stopped for a rest and, standing at the side of the road somewhere around Lons-le-Saunier, were treated to the most spectacular meteor shower I’ve ever seen.

Yes, it was the Perseids, so it must have been this time of year. A clear, warm, August night. Last night, when I stepped out of the house around midnight to see if there were any meteors, I was wearing a jumper and all I could see were grey clouds.

Yesterday was cold. So much so, that B decided to light a fire. I objected, not because I too wasn’t cold, but because it seemed too much a reminder that September, and work, is looming.

Spending the six weeks* of summer here over the past 10 years means that this place feels like home, and I don’t hanker for England at all. The fact that the job has become horrible and the country not much better means that I’m ever more reluctant to set out for the channel tunnel and its irritations (security theatre). Melancholy descends, and it’s hard to enjoy these August days.

There’s something in the quality of August light. The sun is just that little bit lower in the sky than it is in July, and the shadows stretch slightly further, and the leaves catch the light at an angle that is both beautiful and a reminder that Autumn is getting close. And then I think to myself, I’ve never seen this place in September, and the reality of being a wage slave comes crashing down. Just the idea that one day I might see these trees start to turn and the September shadows in the garden keeps me going, I suppose.

*This summer holiday (for teachers) is a total swizz: barely six weeks. We’re back on Sept 1, which is just fucking malicious. At least the kids get an extra weekend.

Posted in bastards, musings

Will I miss it?

Inspired by Twitter’s top philosopher (or top Twitter philosopher) @guylongworth, this post is.

MarmiteA few years ago, I used to think about retiring to France and worried about missing a few things from the UK. Over time, that list of things-I’d-miss has grown shorter and shorter. Packing for our summer visits would often involve compensating for those items in various ways, but things have changed.

Let’s arbitrarily say, fifteen years ago my list of missable concerns (when based in France) would be as follows:

  • The BBC
  • British television in general
  • Decent tea
  • Fish and chips
  • Cosmopolitan cuisine
  • The internet
  • Not having to kiss people to say hello and goodbye

I used to consider the BBC a great jewel in the UK’s crown. French television was and remains more or less terrible, and I’d compensate for our absence by programming my PVR to record a shit-load of stuff every time we were away. Our visits, 15 years ago, were usually about two weeks, and our PVR allowed programming up to 14 days in advance.

How have things changed? I barely watch anything on the BBC now – not only that, but I’ve been sickened by its toadying to the current and previous governments, its infiltration by Agents of Murdoch, and its chronic bias towards a right-wing news agenda. As to my TV watching: it’s all on-demand, streaming, virtually none of it live. I barely use my Freeview PVR when I’m in the country and never bother to programme it when I go away. I’ve grown used to the idea that, should I move here permanently, I’d be able to find various ways of compensating (pointing a satellite dish at the right place in the sky; subscribing to Netflix/Amazon Prime; or just hitting the Fnac and buying a boxed set). So the first two items have been crossed off my list.

A decent cup of tea is still an issue. For our now 6-week summer and other visits, we pack a lot of Yorkshire Tea. French supermarkets serve us poorly (fucking Liptons), so future me would still need the odd tea-based care package or dash across the channel to Kent Sainsbury’s. It’s no wonder tea isn’t popular when you can’t buy the proper stuff and the supermarket shelves are groaning with yucky fruit teas and insipid Liptons.

Fish and chips is also still an issue, but it’s just as big an issue in the UK, where the corporate interests have been allowed to dictate fishing policy over decades, meaning that most fish stocks are unsustainable. Of all the things the EU might have achieved on our behalf, controlling over-fishing was crucial. And of course, every attempt was met with a UK media narrative about interference and rights and freedoms, all based on the short-term economic interests of the profit takers and not the people who pay the tax. Still, it remains the case that if you want decent fish and chips in France, you have to roll your own. I’m unlikely to bother much, and I’ve resigned myself to giving it up like the bad habit it is, or eating friture de (farmed) carpe and liking it.

Cosmopolitan cuisine. An odd thing to say about France, but their strong gastronomic tradition means that, beyond (usually poor) Italian food, you can’t really get international foods here – certainly not a good curry or other Asian food. Maybe in Paris, but we’re a long way from there. Considering the French history in Vietnam, I’m especially surprised that there aren’t Vietnamese restaurants on every hight street. You can, in the bigger cities, find North African and sometimes Spanish food, but France is quite unlike Germany, the Netherlands, and other European centres. I don’t particularly like the French style of food (summed up as: fatty meat with a fancy sauce), so I do miss the options. I’m so often disappointed in the French take on pizza that I’m better off making my own. I think jars of curry paste and other oriental ingredients would have to go on the care package list, along with tea.

The next item on my old list, the internet, has been less of an issue since the Three network introduced their Feel at Home scheme, which gives you your UK contract even while roaming, in selected countries – including France. The speeds are throttled, but it’s okay for Twitter and (usually) Instagram. This summer, I’ve gone even further and (expensively) hired a home wifi dongle that allows you to share a 3G+ (or 4G) connection amongst up to 10 devices. This gives us the level of 3G we’d get if we had bought French sims, as we did for a couple of years. It’s only 3GB a day (so-called “unlimited”) before it gets throttled, but the speed is okay. And when I move here, I guess we’ll get an actual hard-wired internet connection.

Over the years, the list of food items I find it hard to do without has grown. English cheddar cheese is hard to find in France (so much for the single fucking market) and irreplaceable for certain things. The French make a lot of cheese, but they do nothing to match the sharp tangy taste and meltability of cheddar. French sausages tend to be too salty and nowhere near as tasty as the best British sausages. And good bacon is similarly hard to find. All of these things get added to the care package/cross channel Saino’s list. Actually, there’s a small business there: the potential to disrupt the high prices charged by supermarkets for the likes of Marmite and baked beans.

Mainly, these days, when we spend 6 weeks in France, I miss having a useable oven in my kitchen. I do most things on the barbecue and the stove top, but if/when I retire here, I’ll have to get a proper, modern oven to replace this propane-fuelled piece of shit that tends to leave things raw on top and burnt on the bottom.

Culturally, the biggest problem I have over here is that you can’t just say hello to people: you have to kiss-kiss or shake hands both to say hello and goodbye, even when on a short visit. It’s lucky I’m not a germophobe, but it’s enough to turn you into one. At the wedding last week, I was forced to kiss-kiss and shake hands with an astonishing number of people I’d never met (and will never meet again), and leaving a social occasion can take half an hour, depending on the number involved. Just once, I’d like to be able to enter a room, wave my hand, and be done.

As to the rest of British culture: the small (island)-mindedness; the celebration of ignorance; the dominance of the right wing press; the monarchy; the dominance of media and arts by public school educated Oxford/Cambridge graduates; the arrogance; the sense of entitlement; the delusions of grandeur; I’ll miss none of it.

Posted in bastards, Publishing

The Guardian Problem

Screen Shot 2016-07-31 at 15.51.55So the Guardian lost £69 million, wiping a huge chunk of its Scott Trust cash cushion in the process. Print ad revenue is down, and so is online ad revenue. The whole enterprise seems to be circling the drain, and would have disappeared but for its £800m nest egg.

It’s a shame, because the UK media needs a voice independent of corporate/billionaire interests – one that’s stronger than the mealy-mouthed BBC – which doesn’t provide in-depth analysis and doesn’t prioritise the truth in the same way that the Guardian could.

But the Guardian doesn’t really act as an independent voice, and that’s its problem. Ideally, it would make enough money to cover its running costs and not have to dip into its capital funds; ideally, it would be supported by people like me, who would happily pay £5 a month to maintain its autonomy. But I won’t, because it isn’t.

Strike one: of course, its trust fund is invested in the money markets and depends on the continuing survival of the current economic model to maintain its value. So it would be against the Guardian’s own interests to argue for anything other than the survival of the current economic model.

Strike two: the whole point of the Trust is the keep the Guardian running along the ‘the same lines and in the same spirit as heretofore.’ In other words, meaningful change is not in the Guardian’s DNA. A lot of Guardian readers mistakenly think that it is a left-wing newspaper, but it’s not. It’s a Liberal newspaper, and socialist ideas generally give it the heebs.

Strike three: strikes one and two are never more starkly illustrated than in the Guardian’s lack of support for Jeremy Corbyn. In fact, in not supporting Corbyn, the Guardian aligns itself with The Dalies Mail, Telegraph, Express, Times, and Sun etc. Why would I, with my vaguely socialist beliefs and natural inclination to support Corbyn’s ideas about workers’ rights and economic reform, want to pay £5 a month to support a newspaper that followed the same line as all the other newspapers? Where is the meaningful difference here?

Strike four: talking of meaningful difference, let’s turn to the rest of its content. In its attempt to maintain its free, ad-supported digital model, the Guardian has gone down the route of publishing articles that attract social media links and clicks. This means that it tends to devolve to the same crap that all the other media outlets publish. This means endless recaps/blogs about trendy television programmes; articles with clickbait-style headlines (key phrases like “How [whatever] is [whatever]” or headlines that ask questions or [x] Reasons [x] will [x]). It also means too many columnists adopting contrarian opinions, providing the kind of ‘hot take’ that gives the internet a bad name. And having seen the damage created by contrarian journalists-turned-politicians (Johnson and Gove), I think, frankly, that this country has had enough of contrarian journalists.

There’s way too much content on the Guardian web site, and most of it is the same old shite you find everywhere else. It was a mistake for any newspaper to give away its content for free, a decision driven by Fear of Missing Out and misplaced concerns about the BBC. By all means, make AP-style news reports free, but keep all the analysis and opinion for the print edition, or stick it behind a members-only paywall. Also, charge memberships for people who want to post comments on articles. Another idea: update the home page just once a day for non-paying visitors, and keep all the breaking and rolling news and regular updates for paying customers only. Any article in any section of the web site leaves you in a grumpy mood as soon as you accidentally read just one of the comments beneath it. And that’s a problem because, man, do I not want to belong to that particular club. Guardian readers appear to be the nastiest people in the world. Why would I pay £5 a month to be lumped in with that lot?

Whatever: without providing a real alternative to the so-called mainstream, without giving me the alternative voice I crave, there’s no point to the Guardian.

Posted in entertainment, film, movies, Review

Ghostbusters

ghostbusters_cI queued up around the block to watch the original Ghostbusters in the winter of 1984. Those were the days, eh? I think in my life there have been no more than five occasions when the queue for the cinema tailed down the street and around the corner. If you’re somewhere near the back, you’d be thinking, no way we’re getting in, but you would persevere and be surprised. Cinema auditoria were big in those days.

I remain convinced that the version of Ghostbusters I saw back then was different to the version that has survived to this day. I’m convinced it was a 15 certificate at first but was then cut down to a PG version due to its popularity. And then the 15 version was lost forever. See, when I watched it again, later, it seemed to me that the comic timing was off, that the film was less coherent, that this artefact that had lost its power to move me had been bowdlerised.

Anyway, I’m probably delusional. Probably the film wasn’t that great after all, and I was just caught up in the excitement and atmosphere generated by queueing around the block.

Which brings us to Ghostbusters, the reboot, or 2016 version. As to the manufactured controversy about the casting: not going to dignify it with any more comment than this: the Saturday Night Live school of comedy produces comedians of a very similar bent. Doesn’t matter if they’re male or female, they’re all pretty much the same. I think the SNL comedy style is a bit laboured, a bit forced – the kind of thing that’s funnier in the telling than it is in the watching. Tina Fey excepted.

I saw it at the still-new Odeon at Milton Keynes Stadium. This place never seems that busy. It was a Wednesday, I was in the 2D screening, it was quiet. Which is disappointing, because at least it would be something if people were queuing around the block. I genuinely think a lot of people aren’t aware of the new Odeon. The facilities aren’t bad. The place is clean, and doesn’t smell of rancid fat like the one in the Xscape in MK.

The film was OK. Moderately entertaining, one good jump scare. A couple of laugh-out-loud lines, some winning performances. But as a film, kind of instantly forgettable. Some new twists on the theme, but it’s basically Ghostbusters, so a recycled story from our zombie culture, our stuck culture, as Adam Curtis puts it.

I thought it was too loud, and I felt our seats were slightly too close to the screen. The Odeon chooses to charge extra for the plum (“Premium”) seats. Very few people occupy them. It’s a terrible waste, but fuck ’em.

The other technical issue I have is with digital projection and jitter. Static shots are fine, but as soon as the camera moves, especially if people are moving, it just jitters. With film, of course, you get analogue blurring, which is fine. But digital jitter gets on my nerves. And once I see it, I can’t stop seeing it.

So: an entertaining popcorn distraction, instantly forgettable, but enjoyable (technical issues aside) for the most part. That feels like three stars to me.

 

Here’s the thing

vote-labour-key-posterThe last thing the world needs right now is another column inch about Corbyn, so here are several.

I’m no psephologist but I know what one is, and I know they’ve all done the maths, concluding that Labour under Corbyn will not be able to persuade those I’m-all-right-Jacks in the Southeast of Englandland to vote for him.

So the whole idea behind the Labour Party parliamentary putsch has been to restore the idea of a Labour Party that can win some marginal seats in Southern Britain. Because they’re right, aren’t they? No way the former Mondeo Man, now the BWM 3-series Man, or Audi Q5 Woman, are going to vote against their own self interests. They never have. People vote for the party they think will make them richer.

The “miracle” Blair achieved was to create a Labour Party so right wing that people in the marginals actually voted for it. So now the Received Wisdom forever more will be that for Labour to win an election, they have to be exactly the same as the Tories on almost every issue, even as far as agreeing spending plans and welfare cuts.

Meanwhile, large swathes of Britain were taken for granted or forgotten. And into that vacuum of giving a shit stepped the nationalist parties, the SNP and UKiP. And there went Labour’s core support. Which means that Received Wisdom in the right wing of the Labour Party is that they have to also make the same noises about immigration as the UKiP as well as agreeing to punish the poor for being poor.

And here’s the thing. Once you’ve gone that far, once you’ve lost Scotland and your more racist former supporters are voting UKiP, and all the noises you’re making are exactly the same noises as the Nasty Party, well who gives a shit about you any more?

Which is where Corbyn fits. We need, so desperately, a mass movement of Labour similar to that of the 19th and early 20th centuries. Because out here in the real world, things are pretty fucking horrible. We’ve got a new generation of robber barons bleeding us dry; obscene levels of inequality; the steady erosion of hard-won rights; and a Parliamentary Labour Party (mostly lawyers) that votes, over and over, against the interests of working people. So when a new mass movement elects Corbyn as Labour leader, it’s not about winning elections. If the cost of winning elections is to be a a slightly pinker version of the Tory Party, what’s the point? Labour lost the right to rule when Gordon Brown bailed out the banks and then allowed the narrative of the financial crash to get out of his control.

All of the anti-Corbyn arguments are about winning elections, but those are the wrong arguments. It’s the differend, people. We’re arguing about different things. Winning elections really isn’t the point, unless is means higher taxes for the rich; the private corporations out of the NHS; and end of free schools, academies and grammar schools; a living wage; a ban on zero hours contracts; and a new programme of public spending (who pays? you do). We don’t need a Labour Party in power who just apes the Tories. What we need is a Labour movement designed to raise the consciousness of a new generation and agitate for progressive social change. We need a movement that’s fit for purpose and for the long term benefit of working people. And if that means a few empty Labour suits lose their comfortable seats in Westminster over the short term, well, good.

Posted in Books, entertainment, Review

The Golem and the Djinni by Helene Wecker

0007480172.02.LZZZZZZZThis was recommended on one of the Incomparable podcasts, I think. I picked it up after giving up on radiance by Catherynne M. Valente. It has taken me a long time to read, but not because I haven’t been enjoying it.

The premise is fascinating: what if two mythical creatures from two middle-eastern traditions should meet? Where would such a meeting take place? Why, of course, in the melting pot of New York City in the late 19th Century.

So here we have a story of immigration and assimilation, and the curious melding of cultures that took place at the height of mass migration. One by one, our characters make their way to New York. The djinni, naturally, arrives in a brass vessel in need of some repair. The golem is created on behalf of a man who wants a good wife to take with him to the New World. Impatient (and sick), he speaks the spell to wake her on the voyage over and then promptly dies, leaving her without a master. (A great metaphor for how some people come unstuck from their traditions in the transformation from one national identity to another.)

The djinni is trapped in human form; the golem does not sleep. Both have to adapt to a new way of life; both feel restless and hungry for something more. Inevitably, they meet. In seeking solutions for their various problems, they both create greater challenges and events spin out of their control. There are many intertwined sub-plots based around other characters who have in some way crossed paths with these magical entities. As such, the main plot moves slowly at times, and – considered on its own – is relatively slight. If there’s a fault here it’s that an awful lot of back story gets delivered by telling rather than showing, as information dumps – though these aren’t all at the beginning, at least. Still, it’s a shame that some plot mysteries are delivered in this way rather than being revealed by action.

Worth a read, though, and a fascinating and original premise.

Posted in entertainment, gigs, music, Review

12 Downloads for this summer

cover400x400Ahead of the epic car journeys of the summer, I like to stock up on new music. For recommendations, I turn to the Rolling Stone Country account and their regular lists of artists to check out.

That’s not the only way I find new music, but it’s a fairly reliable barometer in the absence of the UK iTunes store doing anything to update itself. Anyway, here are my recent adds.

  1. Donovan Woods – Hard Settle, Ain’t Troubled. Got this because of his song “Portland, Maine”, covered by Tim McGraw. He’s a great songwriter with a voice that doesn’t match his face. Sounds are Americana-standard, acoustic in the main.
  2. Amanda Shires – Carrying Lightning. Discovering new music on iTunes is hard, partly because of the problem of categories. They have a Country section (not regularly updated) and a Singer/Songwriter section, but there is no Americana (or alt-country) and no Folk or Folk-Rock. There is plenty of music that would fit in either of these categories. Anyway, Amanda Shires Isbell (married to the similarly hard-to-discover Jason Isbell) kind of sways between Country-Americana and Singer-Songwriter. Pretty good.
  3. Keith Urban – Ripcord. Keith Urban has  made a reappearance on UK iTunes after a gap where several albums weren’t even given a UK release. This one is fairly standard: rock-pop/country with some decent guitar. His voice is limited: with the right song, it’s perfectly fine, but when he strains for those emotions he sometimes seems, well, strained. The standout track on this is “John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16” which is a hooky little number on which Urban plays lead bass.* I can’t stop playing it
  4. William Bell – This is Where I Live. This was a Twitter recommendation. A radio producer I follow got an early listen of this (it’s not properly out yet) and named it the album of the year. You can get three tracks now, and the rest should drop by the end of the week. It’s a soul record in the classic style, a throwback to 60s song values with 2016 production values. This is the one I’d be slipping into playlists and mixtapes if I still did that sort of thing, ahem.
  5. Brandy Clark – Big Day in a Small Town. The best songwriter of the “class of 2013”, Brandy Clark’s follow up to 12 Stories is bigger in every way. This new outing features some powerful songs, including the jaw-dropping “Daughter”, which basically wishes a daughter upon a cheating, lying male in the name of karma: so he can watch her get her heart broken by men like him. You think you’ve heard it all, and then this. Essential listening.
  6. Imogen Clark – Love and Lovely Lies. Another hard-to-discover artist. This one I came across when she guested on a podcast (My Favourite Album). At just 8 tracks and 35 minutes, this album is a proper throwback to the golden age of albums, when they were almost all about this long. Another artist with a strong voice and punch-packing songs, don’t be fooled by her appearance into thinking this is going to be some kind of folky background muzak.
  7. Larkin Poe – Reskinned. The Lovell sisters seem determined to leave their folk-country roots behind them. So much so, that they’ve remixed and revamped their album Kin, changing some of the tracks and giving the whole thing a harder, rock-stomping edge. If you follow them on Twitter or Facebook you’ll know that they’re both shredding like mad these days and Rebecca has started playing a Strat through a Big Muff distortion pedal. Talk about trying to reposition yourself in the market: unfortunately, these brilliant 20-something musicians will still find themselves staring at an audience of grizzled, balding 50-somethings, because those are the people who go to (non-festival/arena) gigs.
  8. Frankie Ballard – El Rio. Frankie Ballard’s latest is a real step up in quality from his previous release (2014’s Sunshine and Whiskey). The songwriting is better, and his gravelly but versatile voice is the one Keith Urban wishes he had. You can hear the influence of Bob Seger on the whole record (plus there’s a cover of “You’ll Accompn’y Me”). This is a really enjoyable album packed full of decent songs, like “El Camino”, “L.A. Woman” and “It All Started With a Beer”. Great for a road trip.
  9. Smithfield – Smithfield. This is on Rolling Stone’s July list. Another 8-tracker, these guys are like the new Sugarland or something, which, in the absence of Sugarland, will do.
  10. Anthony D’Amato – Cold Snap. Another one from the RS list, I’ve only played this through once but like it a lot. (Almost) like Frankie Ballard, this is country rock via the Jersey Shore. Where Ballard takes his influence from Detroit (Seger), you can hear Springsteen here, but also Ryan Adams, and Tom Petty references, if you like that sort of thing – and who doesn’t?
  11. Sarah Shook and the Disarmers – Sidelong. Another RS recommendation, this feels more like a punt for me. I’m thinking this is cowpunk, in the vein of Lone Justice. With songs titled “Dwight Yoakam” and “Fuck Up,” this can’t be wrong, can it?
  12. Lucie Silvas – Letters to Ghosts. Finally, this is a British-born, New Zealand-raised country artist who has (for whatever reason) waited years between album releases. Again, I’ve barely listened to this, but the title track is excellent, and it finishes with a spooky cover of Roy Orbison’s “You Got It”, which shows good taste, if nothing else.

*For non-religionists, like me, I looked it up. This verse is the one that basically summarises the new testament in a line: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

 

Posted in bastards

43-year itch

maxresdefaultI went to bed on Thursday night complacently believing that the British people would have voted decisively to remain in the European Union. In fact, during the day itself, I began to believe that the result wouldn’t even be close. As I read the bedtime YouGov poll, showing Remain on 52%, I even said to myself, it’ll be more like 55-45 in the end, a 10-point margin.

Which is why, on Friday morning, I had the odd experience of literally not believing my eyes when I picked up my phone and viewed the result. It didn’t help that the Guardian had chosen a pale yellow colour for the Remain side, so I couldn’t quite read what was on my screen. But, yes, I actually rubbed my eyes, convinced they were lying to me through the bleary insomniac dawn.

Part of me, not a small part, is enjoying the resulting chaos. I currently owe more on my mortgage than I’ve ever saved in my pension. My take home pay and my pension have been steadily eroded over the past 10 years, and my future prospects were already bleak. So what if the currency crashes, if there’s inflation? I already live beyond my means. A little inflation would help reduce the relative value of my mortgage debt, and if some of the pain of the austerity years could be visited – finally – upon those responsible, I’m up for that.

To see the hated Cameron depart, to see the foaming, flaming Tories tearing each other apart: this is high-quality spectator sport.

I’m not surprised at the outcome. And I’m not surprised at the general fallout. In or out, makes no difference to most people; to those of us living with frozen pay, venal managers, looming threats over job security; or living in the zero hours land of the living dead; who fucking cares, stick it to the man, burn the whole shit house down.

42 years ago, in The Towering Inferno, Steve McQueen is told he’s going to have to go into the building to blow the tanks on the roof to put the fire out. When he realises he stands very little chance of getting out alive, he just says, “Shit,” and goes in.

That’s where a lot of us live. We’ve already, years ago, looked at our future prospects and said, simply, shit. And we carry on.

Because there’s very little chance we’ll come out of this well, is there? You know how I know? Because here, now, is the moment for a strong and principled opposition to step forward and – as a first order of business – bring the government down. Force a general election, pull something out of their asses like Harold Wilson in ’64 and ’74. Kick the Tories while they’re down and keep kicking until they stop twitching. But instead of doing that, they (the Parliamentary Labour Party) saw an opportunity to replace Corbyn. And they’re doing it, not just because they really hate Corbyn, but because they can see a scenario in which he could win a general election and prove them all wrong. And they can’t have that. A Labour victory now would expose them as the morally bankrupt careerists they are. They’d rather keep losing. They have to destroy the village in order to save it. And the most astonishing thing is, it was obviously planned that this would happen now. All the tin soldiers were in place, waiting for the moment.

Like the MI6 and the KGB during the Cold War, there’s a moral equivalency between the Tories and the majority of the PLP. They all voted to cut welfare. They all voted for the Iraq war. They’re all conniving careerist cunts.

Burn the whole shit house down.

Posted in musings

Half a Life

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So I had been taking the Sertraline for about three weeks when I noticed how itchy I was getting. It had started before I noticed, but it was only when I consciously took stock that I started to wonder.

Extremities were effected first. Bottom of my legs, around the ankles. But only, really, my right leg. Then I got a severe itch around my collarbone. It was like an insect bite, but there was no identifiable bite. I’m used to suffering from insects. Then the general itch spread around my neck, which (again) was not unusual given that I often get shaving rash on my neck. Ankles, collarbone, neck. And then the blisters started appearing on my fingers. Tiny lumps which I at first thought might be warts (the horror!), but which are actually fluid-filled blisters which itch like crazy.

Then at the top of my leg on the left side of my groin, more itching. So now it feels like I’m itching all over. And itching begets itching, doesn’t it. Once skin is irritated, it’s irritated. You scratch, it begins to heal, it itches.

And then I thought, what if it’s the pills?

To be honest, I hadn’t really felt much in the way of side effects – or any effects, for that matter. That strange dizziness on day one, but by day two, I couldn’t really feel I was taking to drugs at all. After two weeks (probably already itching, but not making a connection), I spoke to the doctor, said I still wasn’t sleeping well, and wasn’t feeling any benefit – didn’t feel any different. She said give it longer. I’d been warned of all kinds of effects of these pills, by those with some experience. But I wasn’t feeling any different.

Except for the itching, which continued and finally came to my notice a week or so later.

After thirty doses, I realised I was going to have to stop taking them. Again: warnings. Feelings of anxiety, withdrawal symptoms. But given that I hadn’t been feeling anything much except itchy, I stopped the pills. Then wondered how long it would take for them to leave my system. They have a 24-hour half-life, apparently.

One spreadsheet later, I have worked out that it should take more or less a whole week for the sertraline to leave my system completely. As of today, I’ve probably got a 25mg dose inside me still. And I’m still itching. It was interesting to realise that a daily top-up of 50mg means you have a steady 100mg of the drug in your system after about a week of taking them. Which is why, I guess, they tell you it doesn’t start working properly for a couple of weeks: because you then need another week of being permanently at 100mg for the effects to be felt. In my case: itching.