Has it really come to this? Black Mirror 4

Is this the bright shining light of sardonic, future-safe English screen-writing? Not content with simply selling out to Netflix, does Charlie Brooker really want to prove to us, once and for all, what many of us know already – that he is no good at writing actual stories. Ideas – not bad. Sweary dialogue with an interesting polemical and/or metaphorical turn of phrase– pretty ok. Stories with heart, soul and rounded characters he does not do at all. Which brings me on to my favourite blog topic – in fact the only topic that I seem to blog about with any feeling – the new series of Black Mirror, Brooker nay Netflix’s anthology sci-fi Twilight Zone rip-off future gadget freak show WITH A TWIST. Literally mirroring the effect Disney is having on the Star Wars franchise (effectively sodomising Yoda with a porg), the new series has a real committee feel to it – despite the notional assurances that Brooker has his ‘complete creative control’- a director with Jodie Foster’s star power and clout makes me think otherwise – and yes I am right: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2017/dec/10/jodie-foster-i-make-movies-to-figure-out-who-i-am

Any student of basic literary theory could tell you there is no such thing as complete creative control, and yet Brooker is still cast as some kind of doomsayer overlord genius holding sway over the whole lamentable, expensive debacle. And yet, all that said there are compelling moments and things to admire during the 6 episodes, but such moments are fleeting or even unintentional. It is mostly just navel-gazy pie, obsessed with its own sense of being dark – what US producers would call ‘edgy’- and how damn clever and subversive it is. And yet all of its intelligence and subversiveness have gone – with Trump and Brexit and climate change and Google and Amazon dominance reality has caught up with Black Mirror – and frankly it is more quirky, strange and scary than any of the futureshocks Brooker lays down.

Episode one is the overblown, overlong and overly American USS Callister. It starts promisingly enough with a decent Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace style pastiche of the original series of Star Trek – which suggested all kinds of possibilities for the development of an episode, and a brief look at the plotlines of Star Trek episodes would have provided Brooker with any number of elements to explore in the future/present dystopian environment that Black Mirror often inhabits. It could have gone really far out. Instead we are brought back to earth with a bump. The initially likable nerdy main character Robert Daly inhabits an unfriendly, toxic workplace – and seems to strike up a friendship with a new staff member. This environment is also promising, as we are rooting for Daly to breakout of his nerdiness and become a hero in the real world – as a master coder he effectively already is. And we also suspect his fantasy VR experience of being a Space Fleet captain is a response to his feelings of social inadequacy – but we sincerely hope there is more to his character than that – it is implied that there is. And then we discover during the long, boring, drawn out and implausible episode that no. He is a totally one dimensional character on every level – in reality, in the VR Kirk pretend hero mode, and in VR dorky bad guy mode. He has somehow developed a way of mapping a person’s DNA into MMORPG characters in a VR environment – and these characters inexplicably have the same consciousness, even memories (huh?) of their real life counterparts. So the plausibility alarm bells are well and truly ringing here – and without the intelligence or soul of a Philip K Dick story there is very little left, apart from residual Star Trek fandom, to pull any audience member along for the all too obvious stab yourself in the eyes with irritation conclusion. The stupid VR effect conceit of white contact lenses and a ‘pebble’ glued to the temple is repeated – I think it started in season 2- and here it is again- YAWN. In the future I guarantee this will not be the way people use VR. Contact lenses are too big a pain in the ass. I really thought Brooker was going to channel some of Rob Sterling’s superb Twilight Zone  episode “Nightmare at 20,000 feet”, which so effectively uses William Shatner’s overacting style to give his character an arc from sympathy to insanity. Daly could and should have been developed as a more sympathetic character – involved in this complex VR revenge and retribution for very real psychological reasons – and yet he seems to be a real prig about it all – he shows no mercy to his sentient characters, and is a one dimensional total dick (like a Marvel MCU villain) – so the conclusion, where he is trapped forever in his dead ship in his VR universe, is totally ineffective – we are happy he got what he deserved for being a one dimensional nerdy, pizza eating, game obsessed coder genius. Where was this guy’s family? A call from his mom would have given him more dimensionality and made him more sympathetic…and most gamers have an online gamer collective presence – I do not for one second believe he is not part of some virtual online collective – after all he is shown to be a successful, wealthy coder genius. No – this does not add up. So when the virtual consciousness’s fuck off into the ‘the cloud’ (give me a break) I had fucked off myself some time prior…virtually. Conclusion: Like stabbing yourself in the eyes repeatedly with an old VHS copy of The Search For Spock.

Second episode “Arkangel” – and yes I have no clue of the significance of the title – seems a biblical reference to Noah’s ark and Archangel Gabriel but I cannot be fucked to waste any time trying to work it out as the episode is simply THE JODIE FOSTER SHOW incarnate. What the very living fuck was Brooker thinking letting this talented actress ANY WAY NEAR the director’s chair for a sci-fi show – HAS HE NOT SEEN CONTACT! The women should not be allowed within 15 parsecs of science fiction. And again, letter her near the director’s chair was also a supreme act of insanity, Brooker must have, surely he checked out her work, so DID HE NOT SEE THE BEAVER. THE FUCKING BEAVER. So “Arkangel” then. We all know this premise – that parents can already track their children’s smartphones is not new news. “Arkangel” just takes that premise further – by having a neural implant so the parent can see through the child’s eyes – and can add a filter to screen anything distressing. This latter made no sense to me at all- as distress is entirely subjective – what kind of crazy algorithm could even hope to be able to achieve such a feat – and they give this tech to this mother FOR FREE? So…slaps forehead…A mom has a scare by losing her young child briefly and so gets this implant fitted – then the kid grows up – maladjusted due to the filter. (Hits head repeatedly against the wall) Inexplicably it is still working, (without updates, upgrades or even a replacement ipad!) in an environment where hi-tech is not everywhere – this is not futureworld in any sense. Inevitably the mother witnesses her daughter losing her virginity from her POV, and then catches her trying drugs. This leads to inevitable falling out – maladjusted daughter has a violence problem and whacks mom with the ipad – terrified mom calls after her daughter, frantically trying to get the now broken ipad to work…. my God you could not make this stuff up – well actually you could, the plot was so annoyingly predictable that it was like watching something you had already seen. Character motivations were totally implausible – mom has no moral problem with the tech, the daughter does not ask for it to be removed. A barking dog lives and is inexplicably angry for an inordinately long time before becoming inexplicably friendly. Daughter is never concerned that her mom might be snooping on her consciousness or irritated by the fact she has a weird implant in her head (again – no complications AT ALL? Come on! Windows update, bugs etc). Was no one worried about the implant being hacked – after all camera hacking was the plot of one of the Season 3 episodes. No. And ending with daughter hitching a ride in a truck – seriously, after being brought up by paranoid mom how safety averse is this kid? Weak…I dearly wish I had a filter for this kind of garbage.

3rd episode is obviously Brooker’s birthday present to his wife, Connie Huq, who, it can be assumed, loves Scandi-noir. So that is what we have here. The techno gadget is a memory reader – an implausibly effective reader of memories that only needs a small trigger (the smell of beer apparently) to reproduce vivid colour images of a person’s memory of a specific event. I don’t know about you but I remember in black & white. Without even getting on to eyewitness testimony issues and how memory works this seems a hugely powerful and sensitive piece of tech to give to an insurance agent – and surely would be highly sought after by gangs etc.. And certainly people would fucking know all about it, rather than be unaware of its power, such as the murderer herself! Ok, I liked the drone pizza machine running a guy over, but seriously – I did not for a minute buy the idea of this successful waif of a woman being able to mercilessly kill so many people – and if the police have access to fucking memory machines how did she EVER hope to get away with it. Dumb, dumb, dumb…pretty landscapes….dumb…

And so, Ep.4 is literally Lobster. It is the plot of Lobster. Without the charm or strangeness of LobsterLobster. Fucking Lobster. The tech is a shit smartphone thing and there is a program where dating partners are assigned by an app – and you are given an assigned amount of time to be with each. Hiding under all poorly thought through crap there is an actually a quite cute love story – but there is way too much bad sex filler – and weak bad sex jokes – clearly aimed at a youth audience. In fact the basis of compatibility appears to be entirely sexual – this seems a world where there is absolutely nothing fun to do at all, and virtually all the people are irritating beyond belief – surely compatibility should be based on actual, real life interactions – dealing with compatibility with a partner’s family and friends – comping with changes in circumstances and crises – not of this seems important. However, the final twist/conceit (thereby explaining the shitness of this universe) is that the reality of the episode was entirely virtual – a weird simulation that works out compatibility on a Tinder like app – literally pure bollocks. The twist is such a fuck you to the viewer, who invested time in characters and an environment that is strange, but real, deserved more than just a break down of a virtual environment. Could an app in the future hold a perfect version of you, and use it to run a complex and realistic simulation of dating and sex to discover your perfect partner. No. I sincerely doubt it- and anyway, there would be simpler ways to do that. And it almost misses the point that relationships are formed by infinite tiny changes in circumstance and setting – contingencies that can occur outside the app… Not the worst episode, but yet again, like the first episode there is an incongruous happy ending. Grr.

Ep. 5 Metalhead is either the best or worst of the bunch. No, actually the worst.  But it is The Terminator. It is literally the plot of the first Terminator without the time travel bollocks. The fucking Terminator. Instead of Arnie we have a kind of Big Trak with legs and a gadgety gun. It is supposed to highlight the problems of AI and drones – that in the future they could malfunction and take over. Fine, I get it. But do we really need Maxine Peake swearing around the 28 Days Later set running away from a ruthlessly efficient Chris Cunningham style robodog, which is weirdly unable to communicate with the other, numerous robodogs, and seems to have no actual function other than to gorily kill people for tiny misdemeanours. Surely the future of killing would be cleaner and more efficient – some kind of sonic heart stopper – does it need to blow peoples heads off? Arg! It does not make any sense! So we have uber-robodogs protecting toy warehouses, but are still driving around in petrol Range Rovers (that don’t start) and vans, and using walkie-talkies…come on, lets have some plausibility. I like the lack of explanation in the episode, but the attempts to make Peake’s character rounded roundly failed – and the teddy box was just laughable. At one point that kind of Brooker conceit would be cute – now he is just out of ideas and scraping the barrel. And if the character knew how tough the robodogs are, why didn’t she just kill herself earlier? Come on Brooker, if you are going to do a Ben Wheatley style experiment at least have conceits which make sense…He should have done what he originally intended, and produced an episode with no dialogue…it would have further underlined the infinite laziness and vacuum of ideas on offer here…

Final episode is an anthology episode – ffs, what is this, Creepshow (1982)? – is that really how low we have sunk. Ideas too flimsy to even stretch to a full episode. So here the conceit is a girl visiting the States who comes across a weird museum in the desert. The weird proprietor shows her the weird artefacts and narrates stories about them. So this breaks into 2 main stories, first about a doctor who gets an implant so he can feel other people’s physical sensations – this allows Brooker to explore the male fantasy of experiencing female orgasm (yawn) – and the furthest extent of masochism – now, as this story was written originally by Penn Jilette it is actually not bad, but the Dr can only be very thinly sketched so we don’t really give a shit about him. The second story is about having another person’s consciousness implanted into your brain – so they can see and feel what you do. The idea is slightly interesting – and in the realms of head transplant sci-fi – but the delivery is poor: A mans wife in a vegetative state – experimental procedure. Husband has her put into his brain – where she is represented as sitting in a chair looking at a massive screen (in the days of CG is this really the best way of representing a disembodied consciousness!)- Inevitably the husband finds another partner and the wife’s consciousness is trapped in a furry monkey that can only say two phrases. Given that in the “Black Museum” universe they have the ability to transplant consciousnesses, and we can even see that later a consciousness is transplanted into a hologram it is stupid that this woman is trapped in a monkey that says 2 phrases. It is supposed to be funny – but just isn’t. On any level. And what about the child’s grandparents – the woman’s siblings, friends – there is no reference. She is as socially disembodied as her consciousness in the big room. Seriously, if she only had her son and that dickhead of a husband in her life then being stuck in a furry monkey does not sound so bad… The monkey is then discarded by the child and the adults do not care. There is a dubious race issue underlying this episode too. More later. Neither story is particularly interesting, amusing or distracting. The final story is about a sentient hologram of a death row victim visitors can electrocute by electric chair. The girl turns out to be his daughter and she gets revenge on the proprietor by killing him a trapping a sentient hologram of him being electrocuted. It is then revealed that the girl also has her mother’s consciousness inside her own. Ok back to the race issue. The girl is black, the evil proprietor is white. The Husband is black, the comatose wife is white. The Husband’s new girlfriend is black. The prisoner on death row is black. Now it looks like there was going to be a slightly pro-Black Lives Matter argument in here somewhere, but the various plots became so convoluted that that was totally lost, except to say, roughly – Powerful white guy = evil – everyone else = good. What a convoluted mess of chaff. It must have taken ages to write, and yet it is still such utter meaningless bollocks. The self-referential ‘Easter eggs’ are a further sign of the utter creative bankruptcy of Brooker and this show, and Netflix as a creative platform.

On Channel 4 Black Mirror had an anti-establishment edge. It was still bollocks from a sci-fi perspective – but it had targets, such as the banality of government broadcasts, the immorality of tv talent shows. And Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone -the purported basis for Black Mirror was sharply satirical and had liberal tendencies. But this series, utterly in thrall to LA and the US establishment – hence the involvement of Jilette and Foster, among others – has lost even that. It is unconcerned with identity politics, the rise of White Supremacy, Black Lives Matter, the anti-gay movements in Russia and Africa. Society it seems, in Black Mirror (with the exception of “Metalhead” – although even that is safely set in the wasteland of the North of England – not the safe, stable US or London), is still functioning, progressive, liberal leaning. It shows mild concern with future technologies – but not the companies behind them – it points to mad geniuses, morally corrupt managers, and emotionless technicians, but it does not attack the capitalist system or governments that will allow such technologies to subjugate humans. Amazon, Google, Apply already own us. They are more powerful than most countries – they are the power behind the technology. They own us. There is only one thing more terrifying than that – climate change – which is a result of what is driving those companies – capitalism. With his newfound wealth, famous friends and high esteem – Brooker doesn’t give a fuck.

Advertisements

Some 2016 Stuff (+some overspill)

(a good year for) music:

Tortoise – The Catastrophist

Cavern of Anti-Matter – Void Beats/Trex Invocation

Autechre – Elseq 1-5

Aphex Twin – Cheetah

Nitkowski – Effortless Charm

Led Zeppelin – Presence (Deluxe Edition)

Papa M – Highway Songs

落差草原 WWWW / Prairie WWWW – 霧海 / Wu-Hai

Invisible Things – Time As One Axis

Deerhoof – The Magic

David Grubbs – Prismrose

William Tyler – Modern Country

Music of Morocco – Recorded by Paul Bowles

Rangda – The Heretic’s Bargain

Clark – The Last Panthers

MY DISCO – Severe

Doomsday Student – A Self-Help Tragedy

Lovely Little Girls – Glistening Vivid Splash

Octagrape – Aura Obelisk

(a weak year for) movies:

Hard To Be A God

Uncle Howard

Patterson

Doctor Strange

Deadpool

The Assassin

Rogue One

Room 237

Concerning Violence

Tale of Tales

(Neon Demon, High Rise, Jungle Book, Anomalisa, Hateful Eight)

Turkeys: Nocturnal Animals, X-Men Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, Star Trek Beyond, Hail,Caesar!

Books:

Brion Gysin Let The Mice In – Burroughs et al.

Candy – Mian Mian

Playing For Thrills – Wang Shuo

No Sweetness Here – Ama Ata Aidoo

Red Dust – Ma Jian

American Smoke – Iain Sinclair

Nobody Home – Gary Snyder and Julia Martin

Virtual Americas – Paul Giles

Sour Sweet – Timothy Mo

Tripmaster Monkey – Maxine Hong Kingston

TV etc:

15 Storeys High

Man in the High Castle (season 2 – not great)

Moonlight on the Highway/Shaggy Dog/Lay Down Your Arms (Dennis Potter)

Apps:

Roli – Noise

Roli – Seaboard 5D

Santa Ragioni – Fotonica

Simogo – Device 6


Black Mirror Series 3

And so my love of sci-fi and Charlie Brooker’s occasionally genius turn of phrase have led me to check out the third season of his Black Mirror anthology series. The shift to Netflix has led to a definite change in many aspects of the show. Most notable is an absence of a coherent feel or style to the series as a whole, as first episode “Nosedive” has HBO level production values (a bright, pastel colour palette), haunting score and a Hollywood A-lister in Bryce Dallas Howard, while “Shut-up and Dance” features that muted, washed-out, Scandi-noir colour palette, gritty UK setting, and UK Z-lister Jerome Flynn (no disrespect, Flynn’s performance is a highlight of the series). This makes it seem like the increased budget was spent in a scattershot way, rather than spread evenly over the series. The other change is the introduction of a more positive, hopeful or vindicating ending to each episode , and certainly less ambiguity, which seems to be an attempt to pander to a wider American audience, making the series feel less like a Black Mirror, and more like a Grey Mirror, or even just Mirror…. This is particularly apt given that some, nay all of the material for this series is drawn from recent actual events and (actual and potential) technological developments, from people rating app ‘peeple’, blackmailing emails, Pokémon Go, the migrant ‘crisis’, Bee extinction, drones, brain computer implants and mind uploading. So no really interesting sci-fi projection in there really, and the sense of obviousness that pervades much of the series is a serious flaw: In “Nosedive,” because the opening of the episode is about the numbers game it is clear that Lacie’s are going to nosedive. In “Playtest” – the test is obviously going to go wrong. There is no way the blackmailers are going to let anyone off the hook in “Shut-up and Dance”. The ‘roaches’ are obviously thinly veiled representations of our current media castigation of Syrian refugees and ‘migrants’, likely a response to Katie Hopkins’ appalling article on the subject,. The inevitable failure of the inept police team in the interminable 90(endless)minute Scandi-noir aping episode “Hated in the Nation” is obvious from the needlessly intercut inquiry scenes.

Brooker’s trademark inventive profanity is notably and sadly lacking, with the exception of Flynn’s character’s pre-robbery rant and the Lacie’s cathartic exchange at the end of “Nosedive”. Plot-holes are also rampant: how does Lacie manage to convince the quad-bike rider to part with his bike?, how many irritating false-endings does “Playtest” really need, particularly after the interminably dull first half-hour?, why does the cop in “Hated in the Nation” tweet the DeathTo hashtag at the perpetrator, an action of unbelievable stupidity?, similarly in the bathroom scene why does it take the cops so long to consider the bathroom fan as a point of ingress? , how does the roaches’ technology manage to disrupt the MASS in such a precise way that it is both not spotted by the diagnostic software but is also just disruptive enough to stop the augmented reality elements, while whoever the ‘genius’ roach who developed it at great risk is unsure whether A. it will work, B.  the soldier will be found to have faulty MASS or, C. the soldier will die from the effect on their combat ability. The prolonged ending of “Hated in the Nation” is also deeply annoying, while also failing to make the case for why Blue has managed to find the perpetrator by herself, despite him not using the internet, or why she texts DCI Parke the message ‘I’ve got him’ despite only having found him, while how she intends to kill/capture him remaining unclear. Also why did she not get the support of a special forces unit to find this genocidal maniac. Finally the biggest flaw has to be the drone bees. Why would a company/government mass produce drone bees capable of killing a human being? Millions of years of evolution have not produced an insect that can kill as efficiently as the drone bees…particularly as they were designed to simply spread pollen, not burrow into human flesh. Also large magnets used near to the hives would have been a simple way to stop them – did no-one think of this after the MRI scene? Ok, I know, suspend disbelief. But there were so many of these…don’t even get me started on the apparent death hallucinations of “Playtest”…

Negatives aside there are positives, particularly the injection of superior production values, slicker filming, editing, score (though the use of the Pixies ‘Something Against You’ for an S&M club scene in “San Junipero” is particularly ill chosen – Throbbing Gristle or Ministry would have made more sense). Acting is in places excellent too – Bryce Howard is fantastic, as are Alex Lawther, Flynn, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Mackenzie Davis and the always dependable Benedict Wong. Sadly the rest are immediately forgettable and often poor, with Kelly Macdonald standing out as particularly wooden. This issue is possibly due to the scattershot approach to selecting director, with Hollywood alumni Joe Wright (Atonement), James Watkins (The Woman in Black) and Dan Trachtenberg’s (10 Cloverfield Lane) work generally eclipsing that by the other, forgettable TV trained directors.
The best episode is definitely “Shut-up and Dance,” despite the irritating child-abuse twist. We root for main character Kenny, believing his crime was only jerking off to porn, only later do we discover he was viewing child porn. I find this irritating as it is a common ‘creative writing’ trope to use child abuse to add a moral quandary to a piece, and it smacks of lazy writing, despite being a rare moment of surprise. “Nosedive” and “San Junipero” are equal second due to the excellent production and superior acting talents of their main players – the writing of these episodes also contains the best dialogue. “Playtest” is irritating, though looks good, with decent SFX, it is just the main players don’t seem that taken with the material. “Men Against Fire” has its moments but is on the whole both disappointing and flat after its main premise is made so obvious, while “Hated in the Nation” is stultifying, like an episode of A Touch of Cloth without the (supposed) comedy elements (a show I found, to my great disappointment, deeply unfunny).

All things considered a watchable series full of missed opportunities, studio compromises, and a lack of consistency. Let’s hope the next 6 fix those problems, but I have a cemented sense that Brooker is just not the great TV show writer he seems to think he is, with the best episodes of this season being co-written. Perhaps he should get on the phone to Chris Morris and Jesse Armstrong again. A collaboration with Armando Iannucci could be good too… Going cinematic is a nice move, but at its core the series is and should be the blackest comedy, along the lines of Brazil, with the moral, human core of Cold Lazarus. Black Mirror is now not only taking itself too seriously, losing the satirical edge of episodes like “The Waldo Moment”,  but it has also lost the sense of the sublime inducing black ending, rendering it an American series like any other, while lacking the recurrent characters and story arc that keeps viewers and make it binge-watching box-set fare…let’s see if it suffers as a result…

see also: http://ben-heal.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/building-healthcare-black-mirror-and.html


ATP cancelling Drive Like Jehu Weekend

Couple of comments about ATP. The wheels started to come off in 2004 when they decided to expand to 2 then 3 festivals a year, run a record label and continue London based gig promoting. Overstretch. Now I’m not an expert in music but when a coked up member of ATP staff tries to convince you that ATP recording’s Sleepy Sun just played an ‘amazing set’ that you just witnessed be anything but, you have to wonder if judgement is also an issue. Timing is an issue too – a reformed Slint in 2005 sold out. If they did it again next year would it sell out? The law of diminishing returns plays out. If Hogan cites poor sales for the Matt Groening fest, and the MBV US ATP it shows poor judgement and an inability to learn from mistakes. The Simpsons are popular, but why would the ATP regulars be wowed by such a festival? MBV are great, but are they a massive draw in the US? I would have loved to see Drive Like Jehu but on paper it just doesn’t look in any way financially viable to do this in the UK. Shame.


Some 2015 Stuff

movies:
Best of Enemies
It Follows
Slow West
Dance of Reality
The Backwater (2013)
Stray Dogs (2013)
The End of the Tour
Love & Mercy
(Whiplash, Inherent Vice, Nova Express)

Music:
Ahleuchatistas: Arrebato
AFX: Orphaned Deejay Selek
Sun City Girls: Torch of the Mystics reissue
燥眠夜 第一百场留念
Chui Wan ST
Octagrape: Major Mayor Maxion Marble
Cove: The Thing
Flying Saucer Attack: Instrumentals
Jim O’Rourke: Simple Songs
Golden: Oldies
Hedgehog: Neurons
Yang Fan: What Happened After 1,001 Nights?
(Battles La di da di, Lightning Bolt: Fantasy Empire, Housewives: Work, Skip Skip Ben Ben: Mirror in Mirror)

Books:
Cixin Liu – The Three Body Problem
David Ohle – Age of Sinatra
A. Robert Lee – America
David Foster Wallace – Infinite Jest
William Burroughs – Nova Trilogy (new editions), Naked Lunch (Chinese)
James Leo Herlihy – All Fall Down, Season of the Witch & Midnight Cowboy
John Barth – The Sot-Weed Factor
Paul Auster – New York Trilogy


James Patrick Blackden Marriott

It has been two years. Impossible to write something near the time that could represent the schism left in the souls of so many by the loss of a free spirit so natural, so enlightened, so learned and so effortlessly cool. So now I’ll try but will inevitably fail, but somehow that failure matters less now. James could hold and develop a conversation on any subject, however arcane, so when “working” in the library I would often approach him with a subject that had come up in the writing of my thesis, or in checking out some obscure band to check his take on it. Without fail he would either have already heard of the band (and hold a rare vinyl edition of their best record) or have an expanded or alternative view on the subject. For example I was investigating yage and William Burroughs’ voice-over work, and mentioning this to James he tells me 1. He is planning a trip to actually take the substance, and 2. he is going to lend me a DVD of Burroughs narrating a documentary ‘Shamans of the Blind Country’. He told me all about Hakim Bey/Peter Lamborn Wilson, introduced me to Nurse With Wound, John Fahey and Loren Connors, and passed on his story about meeting his hero, J.G. Ballard, in a state so drunk that he made a complete fool of himself, and as an experience for him it “couldn’t have been any worse”. Shards and fragments of meaningful knowledge just gushed out of James, along with a truly genuine human kindness, and his inimitable laugh, part sneer, part body laugh, part guffaw, a laugh that crossed both class and regional boundaries, high and low culture, was particularly infectious and summed up so much about what James was all about. The last time we spoke we discussed pursuing our music project, but he also discussed the drug related incident that was effectively a near death experience that had occurred while I was away. It clearly affected him, and he was certainly a little more distant as a result, and sporting the wizened beard of a wise old man of the mountain. Not more than a week later strange circumstances robbed the world of a man, had he concentrated on fiction, I considered a future literary giant, and an open minded, anarchistic band mate who would have helped take a music project in new and bizarre directions. I also lost a great friend. I miss you James. Your legacy and inspiration will continue.

The music project James initiated was released today on Cruel Nature Recordings:

band page


Transition: Bristol – Cork=Frying Pan – Fire?

So I moved from Bristol to Cork in January 2013, after a 6 month layover in Bristol to complete the formalities for my Library job. Switching back to life in Bristol after Switzerland was strange and difficult enough, given how great I found life in Schwiess, but this was compounded by the death of a close friend shortly after my return, and the departure of my daughter and her mother to Ireland three months before I could join them. I found myself lost, confused, alone and in Bristol I found other people to be feeling much the same, looking for connections with people, but unable to commit, express themselves honestly or let themselves go. I met some absolute diamonds there but the place itself, like the UK as a whole (check here first) is far too full of its own importance and ‘coolness’. It has lost all of the self-effacing, self-critical modesty that gave it its charm in the 60s and 70s,  add in a complete sense of nihilism and hopelessness in the face of the impossibility of being able to change a system that is out of control and appears to be spiraling towards an appalling aristocratic surveillance police state. I keep half expecting a major revolt, while knowing it will never happen. Historically rebellions have been quashed all to easily by a powerful state: I am from Somerset, the site of the quashing of the last popular rebellion that happened in 1685. Given that everything from power, railways, healthcare, airports, education and supermarkets have gone SO wrong I am amazed anyone would want to live there, let alone move there. So moving to a country that has good reason to hate the British seemed to be a good fit for a deeply disillusioned idealist like myself. True, there is a sense of friendliness espoused by many Irish people you meet in Cork, and it often appears genuine, though this is countered by many of the same problems as the UK, such as huge wealth disparity creating ghetto-like areas of working class ‘skangers‘ who mostly fit the stereotype of tracksuit wearing, attack dog owning, smoking, drinking, swearing, anti-social and uneducated people that of course exist almost everywhere in the world, but they are conspicuous in some areas of Ireland, where rural areas experience terrible unemployment and poverty issues. See THIS. Despite this there also seems to be a remarkable similarity between the UK that now fails to draw attention to its own shortcomings and the Ireland that papers over the cracks of its problems, the worst of which are the Governmental and institutional issues that caused the banking crisis and disastrous recession. The people of Ireland have had to bail out the state through direct tax levies on their pay, and the banks through massive increases on banking charges, to a massive extent, without much dissent about it: the attitude appears to be to moan a little about the obviously corrupt system, shrugging, then doing nothing except giving that money away. The level of apathy is staggering. This is possibly due to the Catholic nature of the country, where a sense of guilt (washing away sins) is assuaged by charity giving (which is big business here) or will be paid for in the afterlife. Problems such as historical child abuse by priests, nuns disposing of dead children in septic tanks are glossed over, they are seemingly too painful to face up to, so they are simply not looked at, or decried as a hoax. Abortion seems to be a more emotive issue, though that seems led by American lobby groups that poured huge amounts into a campaign to prevent the law on legal abortion to be changed so the procedure could be carried out when there is a considerable risk of the death of the mother. Graphic posters were EVERYWHERE. Marches occurred with kids, too young to understand the real issues, holding emotive placards. A strange and perverse state of affairs. Thankfully good sense prevailed and the rich pro-life lobbyists failed, but the situation underlined the real problem of wealth, power and religion here. It really is a beautiful country too, though this remains an untapped resource due to a lack of solid infrastructure, not enough rail links, poorly maintained and inadequate roads, that leads to many visitors going home unimpressed. Certain friends of mine have variously referred to Cork as a ‘shithole’, and saying that their trip to Ireland was marred by constant rain and boredom. Given the relative wealth and GDP per capita of the country these problems should be solved. Another case in point is dogs. Not only are there many strays around, a problem exacerbated by the illegal trade in dogs with the UK, but there is dog poo EVERYWHERE. My partner and I have become quite distressed about the problem because it is particularly shocking when coming from the UK, where the problem has been, on the whole, reigned in by successful campaigns, the toxocariasis issue, fencing of children’s play areas, dog bins, dog wardens, and information films. It is common to see people picking up after their dog in the UK and it is culturally unacceptable to let your dog poop where-ever. The opposite is true in Ireland, and as it is a more rural country dog ownership is high. Dog bins and children’s play area fencing are rare. There are streets on the way to the University where it is clear students have stood in crap, not realised (or cared?) and walked on regardless, with others walking in the smears, so it is impossible to walk on the pavement without stepping in something. Writing to local councils and even the President has proved ineffective. Cork council said it did not have resources to do more – it puts up flimsy signs saying ‘dog mess is litter too and subject to a fine’, and can only afford one warden (ONE! For a city of 200,000 people! – see 2013 spreadsheet here). I regularly see poo under those signs. The issue hit the news recently as police in Wales called an anti-dog fouling operation ‘Operation Irish’. Youghal (a nice coastal resort) is a place popular with dog walkers, so has a particularly acute problem. The councilor who responded to our letter was as irritated and exasperated with the problem as we were, but said it was impossible to get the council to agree to any action as they fail to see the seriousness of the issue and don’t have funds to pay for additional bins/wardens. Surely that can’t cost much, and the post bail-out government can now afford actions that will aid tourist revenue? The point is that shit breeds contempt in your population and from visitors in particular – a beautiful landmark is instantly marred by one large turd – what are you going to remember? Then you begin to think ‘what kind of country is this? Friendly people who happily wallow in shit? What do you think of when you look at a pint of Guinness? My friend was right, it literally is a ‘shithole’. ‘No wonder Beckett and Joyce left.'(Though, to be fair even Paris does have a similar poo problem, albeit with a much larger population...)