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Fri, Mar. 10th, 2017, 09:20 am
In other places

I largely direct this blog at, well, me. I'm aware a couple of people read it but really it's more a diary I don't mind being public. Somewhere to put down the random thoughts which would otherwise clog up my brain. Also lists of books and gigs. None of this is very well thought out.

For, again, no particularly good reasons, I also have other blogs:

http://secretgoldenkeys.blogspot.co.uk/ Is brand new and shiny and will be used for wittering on about movies (and possibly also books).
http://lovelinessunfathomable.blogspot.co.uk/ Is the place where I witter on about programming. Possibly also other stuff but so far just programming.
http://captainmcdan.tumblr.com/ Is just pictures of street art I like.

Small prize* for anybody who can spot the common theme.

*so small you won't even know it's there in fact

Mon, Mar. 6th, 2017, 11:05 pm
Some Ramblinbg Thoughts On Logan

I have some small issues with Logan: that the genetically modified super-children are a somewhat tired trope, that the evil-Wolverine never really works very well, that the seemingly endless reams of burly men with guns are nothing but anonymous claw-fodder, that the adamantium bullet is a clunky plot device you can see coming a mile away. I think the last three could have been solved together without too much difficulty and a better movie made as a result. The first would be much harder to deal with and would necessitate the film becoming something else, not a superhero movie.

And there-in is the point, that all my issues are with it are with its superheroyness, the necessarily silly fantasy elements that drive the plot, give Wolverine something to fight for, a lot of someones to fight, and a final someone you don't see how he can beat, and a way to beat him that has hung on the mantelpiece from the first act; but the rest of the film is so good, so not silly, so not comic-booky, that they stand out.

And it is very good, from the opening scene where we not only see Wolverine reluctant to fight and then explode in berserker rage with brutal results, but also see one of his claws fail to extend - a beautiful visual metaphor that tells you exactly where you are with the character; to the penultimate shot of a boy clutching a Wolverine toy having just buried his hero, having learned that hero was all too human, but then learned that he was still a hero after all.

Seriously, just because I am still a bit excited, here are some other very good bits in no particular order:

- At the end of the first act the Mexican lady precisely explains how the third act twist is going to work, but even while you are feeling clever for having spotted the bullet you don't spot that.

- In his short time with her, professor Xavier expertly teaches Laura everything she will need in life. Firstly in the conversation about the lioness, which is not even addressed to her, where he simply says: we know you are a killer and we accept you and value you for it. Secondly in watching Shane with her, saying: this is the moral code you will need. Finally in showing her a family, saying: this is what you are fighting for.

- The high camera angle when evil-Wolverine enters Xavier's bedroom, alerting you that something is up.

- The fundamental power fantasy of superheros writ large in the final child fight.

- Wolverine can't remember if he killed Richard E. Grant's father or not.

- It has the balls to kill off two major franchise characters.

- The mutants are not supermen. Caliban describes himself as a glorified bloodhound. Wolverine is checked by just a handful of well trained burly men. Professor X's very powerful brain fails him and becomes a danger to those he cares about. The children at the end are still just children, maybe lethal, but easy to overpower.

- Genuine throat-slashing, skull-skewering, limb-chopping violence.

- Every scene with Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart. Literally every one.

X-Men has always ladled on the internal tensions: Rogue's inability to touch another person, Cyclops' inability to look anyone in the eye, Professor X's inability to use his powers without violating his own moral code, Mystique's inability to settle on a form that does not disgust the world, Magneto's inability to reconcile his fight for survival with his friendship with Charles. These are Alan Moore's 'superhero but with a bad leg' 2-dimensional characters to be sure, but this is comic books and they work.

In this light it is a surprise that Wolverine, who is on the face of it quite a weak character (kills people but then feels a bit bad about it), has proved so strong. I think the secret is his effective immortality and his lack of memory. It makes Wolverine a character disassociated from the world. He lives entirely in the present with no investment in the future. His tensions is his inability to reconcile his morality with his nihilism. He can protect but cannot belong. Only his anger makes him fight.

You also can't downplay the role of Hugh Jackman who has always been the chief source of humour and charm in all the (generally strong) X-Men casts, only Patrick Stewart's chummy sparring with Ian Mckellen has been more fun to watch.

An old and fading Wolverine makes perfect sense then. He's always been old so the only place for the character to go is to finally die. To truly be in the world he has to leave it. When he know's he's going to die he worries about those he'll leave behind.

X-Men has always worked well because the mutants are an all purpose metaphor for oppression, racial when they can't pass - homophobic when they can, and the argument about how to fight it (Martin Luther King vs Malcolm X in a transposition of the role and the initial).

This one is obviously meant to be viewed through the lens of immigration, the border with Mexico is a prominent background feature, Laura is fleeing toward asylum in Canada, but it's a theme not the plot. There are no excitable fox-news style cutaways vilifying mutants, there is no sense of the general public being afraid of them (quite the opposite in fact). The movie avoids politics and focuses on the characters, which is what makes it feel like something more than a comic-book movie, which is why the comic-book aspects of it (far better than robot samurai or any of Magneto's silly macguffins though they may be) grate a little.

Could Laura had been, say, Logan's daughter from just a fling, not a genetic experiment? Could it be, say, the police pursuing her rather than a shadowy force of cyborg soldiers? Maybe because of something as prosaic as a murder? Or simply because she's only a child and her legal guardians want her back? The situation escalating because of her and Wolverine's tendency to solve problems by slicing throats. Could the final bad guy have been not yet another mutant but, say, a swat team and Wolverine's own weakened state?

The best bits would still be there, Logan and Charles would still swear at each other in a filling-station toilet. Daddy and daughter would still team up to stab people at the end. They would still watch Shane in a casino hotel room. But would it still have been an X-Men movie? I guess not. And maybe if the rest of it became more serious then it would be the silliness of Wolverine and the Professor that grated.

And so it has it's own tension; its inability to be as good as it could without becoming something else entirely. But maybe that's actually what makes it so strong.

Tue, Feb. 28th, 2017, 01:27 pm
Books #152 - #158

#152 Name Of The Rose - Umberto Eco

I'd been put off this years and years ago (about when I saw the film) because somebody said it was very heavy going with loads of untranslated Latin and so-forth. It does have little fragments of Latin, and I have little idea what any of them meant, but that did not bother me because it's such a rich enthralling murder mystery. Loved it.

#153 One Wild Song - Paul Heiney

In which a father who's son committed suicide sails to Cape Horn and back in his memory, or something, with many ocean legs sailed solo. It seems churlish to be mean about this when the author has been so generous as to put out such a personal account, but the quality here is variable and the lack of any real aim to the journey robs the book of any real force. Pretty much only of interest for sailing people.

#154 Hawksmoor - Peter Ackroyd

Deeply weird and deeply creepy tale of 18th century satanism and it's echos in the 1980s. Not a page turner, but impressive.

#155 Brexit, what the hell happens now - Iain Dunt

Far, far scarier than the scariest bits of Hawksmoor.

#156 The Default Line - Faisal Islam

Been dipping into this for a long time now and finally completed it. Excellent account of the financial crash, the reasons behind it, and some of its repercussions.

#157 A Dance With Dragons - George RR Martin

More Game Of Thrones. Now I am waiting for him to write more like everybody else. Not as good as the previous one's maybe but still cracked along painlessly.

#158 English Passengers - Matthew Kneale

Funny and occasionally horrifying book about Manx smugglers forced to take a vicar on a ludicrous expedition to Tasmania in 1857, and the slow slaughter of the aboriginal population there. Angry in that way that only comedy can convey.

Sun, Jan. 1st, 2017, 09:33 am
Gigs #55 - #60

#55 False Lights @ Water Rats 11/10/2016

False Lights doing their thing again, more or less the same as when we saw them last time and more or less as good.

Support by Said The Maiden, who we liked a lot.

#56 Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker @ Shoreditch Town Hall 26/10/2016

First time seeing Josie and Ben and first time at Shoreditch Town Hall which is way fancier on the inside than on the outside. They do a sort of chamber music/folk thing with a large band and in the second of two halves play the entirety of their new album with no chat (even though the first-half chat was great) and occasional poetic interludes.

No support (that I can remember).

#57 Jon Boden @ Union Chapel 11/11/2016

There was about three different gigs we could have gone to that week but the promise of a Friday night seeing Jon Boden at Union Chapel was too good, so the Oyster Band, the Oyster Three, and maybe somebody else all got passed up. Jon was great as always, though doing a one man show with no backup whatsoever, I felt he struggled a little in a large venue. It was also the week that Trump was elected and that Leonard Cohen died. 'I only know one Leonard Cohen song,' said john, 'but it's the one everybody knows so maybe you'll join in.' He did a delicate unamplified version of Hallelujah on an acoustic guitar, but it was the crowd singing the chorus, quietly and desperately fragile, allowing the church acoustics to do the work, that nearly brought me to tears.

Support was by Blair Dunlop, who we have seen before and is good.

#58 Nerina Pallot @ The Tabernacle, Notting Hill 10/12/2016

Someone Lily likes who I didn't know from a hole in the ground. This is apparently her regular Christmas show in Notting Hill and the audience is overwhelmingly middle-aged and middle-classed (think tall yoga-honed women in knee-high boots with identical small daughters), the venue is much the same, an arts center selling Caribbean food and home-made cake and bearing no resemblance on the inside to the church it used to be. Nerina Pallot is dead good though, and very funny when chatting between songs. She apparently always shows a Christmas movie on the screen behind the stage and this year it was Muppets Christmas Tale, the best Christmas movie.

Support was by Two Cities, all the right notes in all the right places but not a lot else going on.

#59 Josienne Clarke & Ben Walker @ The Courtyard Theatre, Shoreditch 17/12/2016

Basement theatre would be more accurate, I saw no evidence of a courtyard.

A second chance to see Josie and Ben on a Saturday night in Shoreditch. This is an event called Folkroom's Blue Christmas and also features Jack Harris, an earnest young man with an acoustic guitar who is comically bleak and really very good; and the great John Spiers, once of Bellowhead, playing squeezy things.

Unlike the Town Hall gig down the road Josie and Ben are just a duo here (although even that was in doubt for a while as Ben was rushing there from a delayed flight into Gatwick and only just made it) and the set is much folkier. They get the two support acts onstage a regular intervals to do Christmas songs and it's all very merry.

#60 Belshazzar's Feast @ The Oval, Croydon 21/12/2016

An identical gig (same gags and everything) to the one we went to last year, although this time Lily is working in Croydon so the logistics are a lot easier. Belshazzar's Feast are brilliant as always, mixing musical virtuosity with humour like a pair of Les Dawsons. It is one of the cheeriest gigs I know.

Mon, Nov. 21st, 2016, 11:15 am
Brexit: The Board Game

I present Brexit: The Board Game. A fun game for 28 players.

In Brexit: The Board Game one player nominates himself as the Brexiteer. He is then dealt a hand of cards detailing which prizes he must secure.


The prizes are then distributed randomly among the other 27 players. The Brexiteer has until the timer runs out to persuade the other players to give him the prizes listed on his cards WITHOUT REVEALING WHAT HIS CARDS ARE.

If the Brexiteer persuades the other players to give him the prizes listed on his cards he wins the game. If, after the timer has expired, he does not have all the prizes listed on his cards, he loses.


Play continues until nobody wants to be the Brexiteer anymore or everybody gets bored and dissolves the European Union.

Fri, Nov. 18th, 2016, 03:52 pm
Big Thinks on Trump

When I predicted the UK would vote to remain in the EU it was because I thought I had some great understanding of the national mentality (that we were fundamentally cautious) and losing was doubly hurtful because I had to accept I was wrong. When I predicted Hillary Clinton would win the US election I had no such delusions, I just trusted the experts (my chosen experts were FiveThiryEight, who gave Trump something like a 30% change of winning). Consequently I was not that shocked when he won, and have not been as distressed by it. It's very not good, but it didn't really shake my view of humanity.

I don't just want to celebrate my mental well-being though, I want to rail uselessly against the cottage industry of articles explaining how Trump won. How Trump won is a fundamentally useless question because he quite patently fluked it. Electoral colleges tend to flatter winners so it is important to remember Trump lost the popular vote and won only the thinnest majority in the swing states.

Here are two far more interesting questions.

1. How come he was competitive at all?

He polled somewhere down near Corbyn levels on questions of competence, must surely have turned off the family values brigade (which we're told is big over there), had a walk-in gold-painted closet full of skeletons the size of most New-Yorkers' apartments, and... My! God! He was just awful. It's hardly rocket science that he won a big swing from the working-class white vote after he batted for it so very very hard, but how did he not lose everyone else along the way?

The answer, it turns out, is simple. He won because he was a Republican. He didn't win huge swings from unusual places, he didn't turn out non-voters in unprecedented numbers, he mostly just got the same bunch of rubes who voted for Romney four years ago.

2. How come the vote was so close?

People sometimes talk about a Beige dictatorship, or if they're more up on their political theory, Hotelling's Law; the way in which, in a democracy, the two main party's will draw so close together as to be indistinguishable, both attempting to occupy the sweet spot in the centre ground that will win them all their side's natural constituency and a sliver of the other side's.

I've said before that this is bollocks (by which I mean, the parties might try it, but it doesn't work), and Trump vs Clinton surely blows it out of the water. Never has there been two such vastly different candidates. The supposedly right wing guy was advocating a debt led stimulus, the supposedly left wing woman was the experienced serious candidate, plus one of them spouted racist slogans and was a serial sex-pest. It defies belief that they pushed the vote so close to 50/50 by chance. Something else was going on.

I think the answer to question two is the same as question one. Nobody, at least nobody who voted Trump, and nobody who voted Obama but stayed at home this time around, gave a flying fuck for the serious business of competence or policy. America, remember, is the country where you register as one side or the other which would already make the vote a bit sticky (it being human nature to double down on your earlier stupid opinion rather than risk the embarrassment of publicly changing it) but this was like Gorilla Glue. The whole country got vigorously shaken and hardly anybody budged an inch.

My guess: nobody voted for Trump or against Clinton, they voted with the 50% of the population they feel they belong to and against the 50% of the population they feel they don't. They don't divide ideologically but culturally, and they self-organise based on who they do and don't want to be with.

Brexit, because of course

The Trump vote looked a lot like the Brexit vote in that it showed a willingness to take a really stupid risk with the country, and featured a marked display of cross-cultural anger, and a nasty racism.

The first of these, the willingness to gamble with the future, is often put down to nearly a decade now of slow growth and stagnant wages. The 'unhealed scar of 2008' as Ken Clarke & Nick Clegg put it in a recent talk, but two groups most hurt by this, blacks in the US and young people in the UK, voted for Hillary and Remain - so it's not that good an explanation (although the UK young, we're told, will gamble everything on Corbyn, so the desire for stupid risks is there, just not any old stupid risks).

The second, the venom of both campaigns, does perhaps have a good explanation. The last couple of decades have seen a lot of what you might call cultural progress on both sides of the Atlantic. Gay marriage is the most marked but there are other things: increased European migration over here, liberalisation of drugs over there, a black president, the Black Lives Matter campaign, the huge popularity of the Paralympics, women 'leaning in' (whatever that means), white kids liking hip-hop, a tendency for the protagonists of TV shows, movies, and computer games to look a lot more like the population as a whole and lot less like straight white blokes.

However a lot of people have been left behind, dragged into a brave new world they did not want. If you had a referendum in this country gay marriage would be annulled, hanging would be brought back, and we'd close the border with Northern Ireland, let alone the rest of Europe. They are the bigots, the nationalists, and the grumpy authoritarians (I like to call them The Coalition of Arseholes). They are a majority but they are a shrinking majority, and up till this year they were consistently losing their battles.

It's probably worth pointing out why they were losing when they were a majority. The answer is simple: the people in charge of the country, and in charge of the culture, were not them. One similarity between the Trump demographic and the Brexit demographic is that both divide markedly on education. Put simply, going to university cures bigotry (it genuinely seems to, it's amazing!), and movies and laws are all made by people who went to University. But now they've realised they're losing, and are aligning themselves politically to fight back. This is typical of a losing groups backed into a corner, and they are dangerous (as they have shown), but the demographics are against them and they are dying off. Culture wars are fought in the culture not the ballot box, and in the culture we are still winning.

The interesting difference is that while Brexit is a political realignment (and how much of it will remain come a general election is the scary thing), in the US politics already separated along this divide and has done since it shifted massively in the wake of the Civil Rights movement (when the south went from strongly Democrat to strongly Republican). This is why it was possible for Trump to rise up in an existing political party and get elected as President whereas Nigel Farage had to form his own and consistently failed to get elected as an MP. The US system was ripe for takeover by Aresholes, the UK system (not the referendum) has so-far proved more resilient.

Tue, Nov. 15th, 2016, 01:22 pm
Books #145 - #151

Racing through books again now I'm back commuting by train.

#145 The Bull From The Sea - Mary Renault
The sequel to The King Must Die, not quite as good perhaps, but still very good.

#146 The Sick Bag Song - Nick Cave
The poetry collection/tour memoir Cave bought out last year. I avoided it then because the stupid presentational box was too damn expensive. Now it's just a paperback book it makes much more sense, and the release of the new album & film inspired me to finally pick it up. It really is exceptionally good.

#147 Wings On My Sleeve - Captain Eric 'Winkle' Brown
I got turned on to Eric 'Winkle' Brown when I got linked to this marvelous talk by him a couple of years ago. Lily picked up this book for me and it is marvelous. A well-written generous-hearted autobiography of a truly amazing man.

#148 The Sympathizer - Viet Thanh Nguyen
I book I picked up simply because I thought it looked good. It was.

#149 Silk - Alessandro Baricco
A tiny book I picked up at a second hand sale because it was so small. It's a rather heavily stylised, mannered thing which is structured more as a long short story than a short novel. It didn't outstay it's welcome though and was very good. Genuinely sexy as well.

#150 Lily Poole - Jack O'Donnell
A book by an ABCTales person which I helped crowdfund. There's a very good novel struggling to get out of it I think, a genuinely different take on a ghost story that mixes in a realistic account of mental illness so that the reader never quite knows what to believe; but the writing, enjoyably rich for a large part, lapses into opacity far too often, making it often difficult to follow. It is plagued by the sort of errors which a good editor would probably have fixed: occasionally dialogue leaps out of register, for about a hundred pages in the middle nothing seems to happen at all, and seemingly huge moments have a habit of passing almost without comment (a character admits to a recurring nightmare of raping his young sister in a matter-of-fact way the first time he talks to his therapist, the death of a father is harrowing but the subsequent disappearance of a small daughter feels almost like a normal event, no more than an annoyance to the remaining family). The ending made no damn sense either, but I suspect that was because I missed something.

#151 The Island of Dr Moreau - HG Wells
Picked up because it was small enough to fit in my pocket when I was going out one evening. Cracking stuff.

Sat, Nov. 12th, 2016, 04:30 pm
Gigs #40 - #54 Folk East

#40 John Spiers & Peter Knight @ Broad Roots Stage, Folk East 19/8/16
Having missed John Spiers last year we were determined to leave in good time to make this, his first team up with Peter Knight. Unfortunately a puncture on the A14 scuppered that and we ended up only catching the last fifteen minutes. Still very good though.

#41 Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band @ Sunset Stage, Folk East 19/8/16
Eliza Carthy's latest venture, a big rowdy band perhaps looking to fill the space left by Bellowhead. Eliza Carthy is always good, but this was particularly welcome on a wet evening.

#42 Chad Mason @ Soap Box Stage, Folk East 20/8/16

#43 Unknown Session Band @ The Hop Inn, Folk East 20/8/16

Can't remember who these guys were but they were good and won extra points for matching tweed.

#44 Gilmore & Roberts @ Sunset Stage, Folk East 20/8/16
At least I think this is who we saw, my memory is hazy.

#45 Dan Walsh @ Broad Roots Stage, Folk East 20/8/16
The lovely Dan Walsh, Britain's best clawhammer banjo player and a Folk East regular it seems.

#46 Sam Carter @ Sunset Stage, Folk East 20/8/16
Another folk east regular, and another favourite of ours.

#47 RURA @ Sunset Stage, Folk East 20/8/16
Stonkingly good Irish group.

#48 The Roaring Towmen @ Broad Roots Stage, Folk East 21/8/16
Entertaining male vocal trio.

#49 The Georgia Shackleton Trio @ Sunset Stage, Folk East 21/8/16
Little bit of Americana as we laze in the sun.

#50 Open Mic @ Soapbox Stage, Folk East 21/8/16
Lots of lovely people, including one called Lily.

#51 The Larks @ Broad Roots Club, Folk East 221/8/16

#52 O'Hooley & Tidow @ Sunset Stage, Folk East 21/8/16
Good female duo, but a bit lost on the big stage.

#53 Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys @ Sunset Stage, Folk East 21/8/16
I think he might be off x-factor or something like that, anyway, he's good.

#54 Usher's Island @ Sunset Stage, Folk East 21/8/16
Irish super group, and genuinely super.

Thu, Sep. 29th, 2016, 02:57 pm
Books #141 - #144

As ever, not much reading done over summer because I was cycling into work rather than taking the train.

#141 Ship Of Magic - Robin Hobb
A silly fantasy novel that Amazon gave me free for the kindle. Plain bad to the point of irritation in places but still quite a lot of fun. I may yet read the sequels.

#142 Octavia, Daughter of God: The Story of a Female Messiah and Her Followers, by Jane Shaw
Ever since I chanced on a review of this book and discovered Bedford had its own cult I've been wanting to read it. They were a fascinating bunch, issuing religious edicts on how to hold a garden party and how much fruit to put in a cake, and to this day (although there are few left) holding a flat ready for the return of Jesus with the existing tenants on a short notice period. They had their dark side, but not much of one, mostly they were just adorable and strange.

#143 The Perfect Storm- Sebastian Junger
Picked up at a free book exchange by Lily who thought (correctly) that I would be interested. Best bit is when he describes at length the incredibly tough training of USAF Pararescuers: how 80% of them don't make the grade and the ones who do are known as supermen, only to have them peer through the windows of their helicopter at a yacht in trouble and go (I paraphrase) 'don't fancy that much.' Scary stuff.

#144 The King Must Die - Mary Renault
One of Lily's. I randomly picked the sequel to this off the shelf because I wanted a book small enough to fit in my pocket when I was going out on a warm night. After discovering there was a prequel I decided to read that first. It's a great read. Not entirely unlike the John Carter of Mars books in that the attraction is all about following a proud, honourable, highly sexed hero who enjoys fighting. Basically a trashy adventure yarn but better written than the average.

Fri, Sep. 16th, 2016, 03:25 pm
Gigs #38 - #39

(just wrapping up a couple of stragglers before doing folkeast)

#38 The Proclaimers @ Fairfield Halls, Croydon 26/6/16

We saw The Proclaimers once at a Big Session festival (back when it was in Leicester) and really enjoyed it. Consequently a Saturday finds us hurrying back from a family party in Beford, not stopping at home (which is good because the train doesn't), and heading straight for Croydon. As remembered they are loud and rousing and great fun. I have never really listened to a great deal of their recorded output but the big takeaway from this gig was the stuff from their musical Sunshine On Leith. We rent the film a few weeks later and it is great.

Support (the internet tell me) was by Will Varley, an earnest young man with an acoustic guitar who foolishly mentioned the referendum. He is proud of his generation for voting in he tells us, but we voted out shouts a woman from the back, the audience divides into those who boo and those who cheer. Will wisely forgets the subject and moves straight on to the next song.

#39 Hunter and The Bear @ The Underbelly, Hoxton 7/7/16

A rather fun little venue off Hoxton Square. We manage to nab a pair of (stylishly distressed, natch) armchairs overlooking the stage and feel like king and queen of the gig. Hunter and the Bear are excellent as ever but only half the audience really seem to be into it. The venue is a little small for their sound perhaps.

Support was by Twinnie, a british Nashville-style country/pop/rock singer and drop dead gorgeous to boot. Felt like seeing an early Taylor Swift gig.

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