Provincial Letters

Far from the mad crowds of the city, Blaise Pascal passed comment on the strange behaviour of this urban contemporaries in his Provincial Letters. The connection between them and this blog is somewhat tenuous.

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Location: Grimsby, N E Lincolnshire, United Kingdom

My star sign in Superstition. And I didn't believe in reincarnation last time, either. The only thing I can't tolerate is intolerance. I am a fanatical ant-fanaticist. I am bigotted only where bigots are concerned. I am a fundamentalist atheist. I'm proud to be a product of evolution; I know it in my genes.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Posted @ 02:27The Further Adventures of Keats & Chapman IV

Before we start, I wish to note that the Keats & Chapman thing is obsessive and there are several examples out there on the net of people carrying on Flann O'Brien's tradition. Having said that, it must be recorded that O'Brien himself stressed that the cleverness (or otherwise) of the pun is not the point: the monotonous inevitability of the surrounding extraneous detail is the one and only pleasure.

So, before we move on to the main course, peruse and compare the following (I know which I prefer):

Essays should be submitted on one side of the paper only with all references cited and only blue ink used. Marks will be deducted for uses of inappropriate language.

Leading a Horse To Slaughter

Finding themselves back in London once more, Keats and Chapman took up lodgings at the Marylebone Station end of Baker Street at number 223 ("A home away from Holmes," commented Keats to the utter indifference of Chapman). Chapman, a scholar to the core, took himself off to the British Museum in search of enlightenment and entertainment; Keats, being more of a man about town, began to frequent, once again, the more exclusive of the capital's gentlemen's clubs.

Keats, rather to Chapman's chagrin and embarrassment, managed to make small fortune investing in the trade of prostitution which attracted so many of the the members of these clubs. However — being always somewhat of a romantic — Keats squandered this ill-found wealth attempting to reform a dissolute nephew. The nephew was persuaded to spend his time raising seafood for the restaurant market rather than in the self-indulgent enjoyment of the fleshpots of the city and made quite a go of it until a fungus wiped out all the crustaceans on his Devon sea-farm (a case of throwing lewd money after crab, it has been said by those who know no better).

Chapman, in that inter-temporal inexactitude, the meanwhile, became enamoured of the then nascent Marxist movement having bumped into Marx and read early drafts of Das Kapital and The Communist Manifesto in the reading room of the British Museum. Chapman was rather in awe of Marx and his friends, Friedrich Engels and Mikhail Bakunin (who was often visiting). Although Chapman's grasp of German remained naive and childlike he managed to form a small group of Marxist supporters and friends who met regularly to discuss this new development in political thought.

One evening, late in the summer of 1864, Keats announced that he was off to the races. There was, he said, an evening meeting at Epsom and one of his friends (Sir Thomas Barclay, a distant and not altogether well-regarded member of the banking family) had a filly running in the seven o'clock race. Chapman, despite enjoying the spectacle of racing, had already arranged to meet his Marxist friends for an early dinner at the Ritz. Keats, keen to recover his money and sure that his friend's horse would win, took himself off south of the Thames to watch the horses perform.

Around ten o'clock that evening, Chapman returned to their Baker Street apartments to discover Keats sitting in front of a roaring fire, wrapped in towels and drying his hair, despite the warmth of the August evening. A little surprised by this but ever conscious of proper decorum, Chapman smiled and said, simply, "Good evening?".

"Not so good, really, how was yours?" said Keats, rubbing the towels across his young, fit body (in order to give some of my readers a little pleasure).

"Not bad, rather good really. We met at the Ritz and guess who came in: Karl and Jenny, Friedrich and Mikhail," said Chapman, attempting informality.

"Did you speak?" asked Keats.

"No, I was, if I may say so, a little over-awed to see them," answered Chapman, "And your evening? Did you win a lot of money?"

"Alas," said Keats, "the weather rather took care of that."

"The weather?" said Chapman, perplexed, "It was a fine night here in town."

"Well, on Epsom Downs it was far from fine. Sir Thomas' filly likes the going firm and all looked good when they were placed under starter's orders just on seven. As they went off, the heavens opened and there was a startlingly violent thunderstorm accompanied by hailstones and sheets of driving rain. The course was waterlogged and our horse got bogged down in the mire and came in last of eight. An absolute disaster. I lost £200."

"Oh dear," said Chapman, "You mean while I watched Engels dining at the Ritz, lighting and hale slung down on Barclay's mare."

It was time for supper.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Posted @ 04:34The Further Adventures of Keats & Chapman III

I've written of Keats & Chapman before on these pages, but not for two years. See "Some Observations" [April 2005] and "The Further Adventures of Keats & Chapman II" [May 2005] if you want to put the following into context.

The Roof Of The World

During the era of the British Raj, Keats and Chapman took themselves off to the Indian subcontinent in search of that other elusive partnership, Fame and Fortune. The tried various schemes which brought them little in the way of fame, nothing in the way of fortune and some slight embarrassment with local law enforcement authorities in the case of the scheme that was more of a scam (over which we shall draw that diaphanous but modest item of apparel, a discrete veil). Being either possessed of an indomitable spirit or totally blind to their lack of success, they refused to give up. Eventually they journeyed north to the Himalayas and found themselves (an extraordinary feat considering that they never lost themselves in anything other than books) in Nepal where they set themselves up as architects despite the lack of any experience or training in that discipline.

Keats, as was his wont, manned the office and did all the necessary back-room chores whilst Chapman, ever eager, cast himself as the enterprise's sales force and attempted to drum up business. Chapman, however, was exceedingly profligate with their remaining, somewhat meagre, funds and they were soon rendered penniless by his insistence on attempting to find business in the most expensive clubs and hotels. Chapman was — he claimed — selfless in this area and only partook of the large meals and endless rounds of drinks in order to ingratiate himself with potential clients. If Keats made any comment on this thin justification, it is not recorded, but it is known that he offered to be as selfless as Chapman and partake of these banquets as well. It took all Chapman's powers of persuasion to convince Keats that his presence and his somewhat cynical, acerbic tongue were not conducive to a successful business lunch.

Keats demurred and took himself off into the mountains where he composed several unremarkable sonnets on the subject of gluttony. The two friends became estranged and ceased speaking to one another except when absolutely necessary.

Finally rendered almost bankrupt with no further finance available from the banks to which they were already heavily in debt, Keats took to wandering the streets shouting "Get your buildings designed here! Roll-up, roll-up, British architects for hire!" and wearing a sandwich board. Chapman sulked in the office and doodled.

Imagine Chapman's surprise when, one winter morning, a senior member of the armed forces entered their little premises and enquired if they would be available to design and build a new Officer's Mess for his regiment. Chapman, sucking on a pebble to ward off hunger, readily agreed and ran out into the streets to find his friend and tell him the good news.

He found Keats scratching an ode into a recent dusting of snow.

"How much does it pay?" asked Keats, suspecting that Chapman had neglected, in his enthusiasm, to ascertain this small but important detail of the contract.

"Oodles," replied Chapman unconvincingly, confirming Keats' suspicion.

"Did you manage to get any money up front?" said Keats, "we'll need it to get started with materials and the like since no bank or trader will advance us a single rupee of credit."

"Well…" began Chapman, a little embarrassed.

"Come on, man," said Keats, "spit it out. Tell me the bad news."

"Well," said Chapman, "I didn't get any money but there is no problem with getting the materials we need: our Army friend has promised to provide me with signed authorisations to requisition anything we need from the Quartermaster at the barracks."

"Have you got them?" enquired Keats.

"Not as such," replied the ever-optimistic Chapman, "but I was assured that the requisitions exist and that we will be in possession of them very, very soon. But we have to hurry, he told me he'd be back with them in 45 minutes."

"Ahh," said Keats, drawing in a deep breath and exhaling it as a deep fog in the chill November air, "those would be the elusive coupons of mess construction."

Chapman coughed and counted the mountains.


When Keats returned to London following his abortive attempt to cross the Sahara dessert on a raft made of sea-shells in order to prove some minor point of comparative anthropology over which he had loudly fallen out with Charles Darwin, his first port-of-call was his old friend Chapman.

During Keats' absence, Chapman had become enamoured of the Arts & Crafts movement (or, possibly, had conceived a passion for Christiana Rossetti which necessitated his adoption of the movement's principles). This conceit had led him to attempt to produce fabrics in the style or, at least, the manner of William Morris. To this end, he had converted a good proportion of the lower floors of his house into a small factory and design studio. It was here, amongst drawings and wooden blocks that Keats found him, comparing test swatches of his latest creations.

Keats, whilst admiring the simple aesthetic professed and the noble aims aspired to, couldn't help but comment that the whole enterprise was a little too much like manufacturing and a not enough like true art.

"Arts and Crafts," stressed Chapman, "It is the way forward. Combine the best possible design with the best possible materials and everyone will be able to enjoy the best if soft furnishings."

"Everyone who can afford it," commented the sarcastic Keats in a quiet voice.

Chapman either did not hear or chose to ignore the remark and continued to enthuse about his new calling.

"So," asked Keats, "how is it going? Have you achieved the magnificence of design you hoped for?"

"My dear Keats," said Chapman, "this will not happen overnight. I need to experiment and study. Most of all I need to study the techniques of the best of the contemporaries and antecedents. Until I can understand how to duplicate their achievements, I shall not be ready to emulate or exceed them."

It was at that moment that a telegram arrived for Keats — he used Chapman's house as his London base when in town — from Queen Victoria begging him to pop up to Balmoral for a few days of haggis, bagpipes and whisky. Unable to refuse the polite request of his monarch, Keats thus had the perfect opportunity and excuse to leave his friend to his studies and researches.

Returning later in the week, Keats found Chapman in a state of despair, in a room full of garish, ugly examples of the draper's art.

"What is wrong?" Keats enquired of his friend.

"It would be easier to answer the opposite question," said Chapman, "What is right? Absolutely nothing is right. It's all gone horribly, horribly wrong. And I can't understand why. I've read every single book in the British Museum on the design and manufacture of cloth from ancient times to the present day. I've scoured bookshops for pamphlets and manuals in dozens of languages and enlisted all the experts in the land to translate them for me. I've read everything I can on the science of cloth-making. But it's all coming out wrong. Look at this mess."

Chapman swept his arms around the room and the monstrosities his researches had produced and then fell, sobbing to his desk, his head buried in is hands.

"There, there," consoled the ever-considerate Keats, "it's just a simple case of too many books spoiling the cloth."

Chapman immediately remembered an appointment with his tailor to be fitted for his habit before entering a monastery.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Posted @ 03:00Live Music and related issues

Some time ago (February 2006, to be precise) I wrote about music in pubs and, in particular, the attitude of the ACPO (Association of Chief Police Officers — towards live music. At the time I e-mailed the ACPO asking them for clarification and evidence of their attitude, the reply I received was notable only by its complete non-existence. This post is a follow-up…

Myths, Lies & Confusion

Either from wanton ignorance, wilful neglect or wicked indifference, there has been over the past few years some execrable reporting on the subject of the provisions of the 2003 Licensing Act (which was implemented in 2005). Unlike a lot of people, I suspect, I've actually bothered to read the text of the Act, which is available on-line and have discovered that quite a lot of the screaming by musicians, publicans and newspaper reporters is just plain wrong. Sometimes it has the appearance of mere misunderstanding and, if I were being generous and non-cynical about the political bias of our press, I would put it down to accident. There does, however, seem to be a proclivity these days for wildly exaggerating issues with either small-minded (mis-)interpretation or simple lying. The people who do this get away with it because they neither expect or encourage their readers to look at original documents.

Typical of this is the following from the MySpace site of US radio station K94 Rocks:

"UK passed laws to suppress live music and dance. Very important for UK music fans and musicians! The Government have recently passed laws in the UK (applicable to England and Wales) to try and suppress live music and dance. Pubs which could previously offer work to solo singers or duos now have to pay for a special licence and can only have 12 of these per year. Even school Xmas concerts need to be licensed."

The sensationalism of this is truly astounding, but not as astounding as the total lack of foundation for the claims. As I say, I've actually bothered to read the Act, and can state with some conviction that the above claims are as wrong as they are colourful. The above quote continues with an appeal to sign a petition (which was sent to the Prime Minter's office in June; which I signed) which they claim has to do with these issues. That petition was important: there is scope in the act for the bureaucracy and local provisions attached to the regulations to become a burden and hindrance to live music. For more information, read the petition and the response. I'm not happy with the waffle in the response, but this does not support the stupid and ignorant claims in the statement above.

Prior to the 2003 Act, the music licensing provisions of pubs meant that they could only offer work to solo artists and duos: a full music license was difficult and expensive to obtain and rarely granted to pubs. The new act gets rid of all the different categories of license which used to exist and allows the licensee to apply for the PEL (Public Entertainment License) along with the drinks license (it is not compulsory and does cost extra). The PEL places no restriction on the size of the groups that can perform (this is restricted by the size of the venue). The cost of the PEL depends on the size and nature of the venue.

If a pub, club or other venue chooses not to apply for a PEL they can now (and they couldn't have done this before the 2003 Act) apply for a TEN (Temporary Event Notice). This allows any premises to be used for the live performance of music (subject to fire and safety considerations, of course). Any single venue is restricted to 12 TENs in a year — the logic being that if you have more than one event per month, you perhaps need to consider a PEL. The cost of a TEN? £21. And, by the way, Christmas Concerts, being of a religious nature ("associated with a religious event") are specifically excluded from the provisions of the act.

Now can you see how it is so easy to be led astray by wild, speculative, unsupported claims?


In researching this post, I read some of the report and recommendations by the government's Live Music Forum. In addition to debunking some of the myths that have become attached to the Act, and some of the myths promulgated by puritan opponents of live music in general, they also tackled the statement made by the ACPO which was quoted in by earlier post. The results are most interesting.

I cannot do justice to the report by quoting from it other than at length and I don't want to do that here as it would make an already extensive post inordinately long. Please read the relevant section of the relevant document starting on page 36. Actually, read the whole damn document.

I will summarise the report by saying that the ACPO basically retracted its claim that all live music was associated with crime and disorder but continued to state that it could be a magnet for them. The report found that, in general, live music events engendered less trouble and crime than other public events.

In Conclusion…

The use of myths, lies and deniable mis-reading by opponents of anything in our society has been so prevalent that one wonders what to do about it. I know the answer: just read more and don't trust anything or anybody not to be giving a biased explanation when they don't refer you to the original sources. The opponents of the Euro have used these techniques with so great effect that, sometimes, you'd think that it was all the work of some devil. Please, remember you know how to read and question.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Posted @ 14:39There are not two 23rds August this year

This a copy of a post to my MySpace blog; for which fact I make no apology whatsoever.

It has long been a tradition in my family that certain years possess two 23rds August. And I was certain that 2007 was one of them. It was written in the cards, the stars, my palms and the entrails of an earwig I found on the back doorstep (my family has never used anything larger than a spiders for haruspicy). It was foretold by daphnomancy1, halomancy2  and myomancy3. It was even written in the arrangement of objects that cannot be named for legal reasons4. The tradition of two 23rds August stretches back to time immemorial: i.e., I can't remember when I first got the idea into to my head.

The sheer convenience of having two 23rds August in a year — especially this one — cannot be over-estimated. For a start there's the 24-hour delay in encountering that next birthday which makes you realise just how old you're getting (with the consequent onset of the loss of mental facility which causes confusion concerning calendrical calculation and consequent atypical alliteration). There's also the advantage of having two Thursdays, this year, in a week. I sometimes think there are not enough Thursdays in a week — usually after having too much to drink on a Wednesday night. The final, and over-riding, advantage is, of course, that you can both go and see the inestimable Merlin's Keep plus the wonderful Driftnet Poets at Millfields and attend the new Open Mic at the Imperial where you've promised to help the web-and-sound wizard with the PA because Trev's on holiday.

It was, therefore, something of a shock to bump into Jim White yesterday and discover that there are not, it seems, two 23rds August this year5. To say that I was gutted is to underestimate the force with which a fish-filleter carries our their profession. I was so much beside myself that I let my other self pay for the groceries (quite a smart move that, I thought, until I got home and discovered that he'd used my money). I was so overwhelmed with regret that I failed to find a third spurious metaphor6.

I blame the government. It's a conspiracy of some sort to deprive my family and I of the right to enjoy two 23rds August7 in the years of our choosing. So, here I am, not looking forward to missing MK & Driftnet but otherwise anticipating with pleasure the night at the Imperial. My apologies to the wonderful people in MK & Driftnet for my non-attendance. It was not for want of trying. You can blame the government, too.

UPDATE @ 16:26

I have just been informed by the web-and-sound wizard that the Imperial Open Mic Night has been abducted by aliens and written into the sub-plot of Coronation Street involving the return of Elsie Tanner (or something like that, I may have mis-read the reason). That means that there are two 23rds August this year, it's just that one of them is on 13th September. See you at Millfields, people.

1 Divination by burning laurel leaves.

2 Divination by salt.

3 Divination by watching the movements of mice.

4 A method of divination unaccountably omitted from the otherwise excellent list at but for which I coin the term cryptoresomancy (lit. "hidden thing divination").

5 The shock was not that of bumping into Jim but that of discovering the singular lack of a second (and necessary) 23rd August this year. Bumping into Jim is never a shock unless he's carrying a long spear or one of those electric immobiliser thingies.

6 And, believe me, I tried. For minutes.

7 It must be understood that the extra 23rds August can only be enjoyed by myself and my immediate family. The rest of you must develop your own unfathomable delusions.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Posted @ 00:27Well...

It's been months since I posted anything here. This hasn't been for want of anything to say nor a want of incident; more an excess of irritations from the world around me that would have turned into rants rather than reasoned writing and incident that is either too personal or too boring to put in context. If I've been missed, here I am again (and damn the sensibilities, I'll probably have a rant anyway).


The whole debate about "terrorist suspects" and their detention has got me rather confused, particularly the term "terrorist suspect" itself. Now, to my simple mind, a "murder suspect" is someone who is suspected of having committed murder, a "robbery suspect" is someone who is suspected of having committed robbery and a "fraud suspect" is someone who is suspected of having committed fraud. It seems, however, that "terrorist suspects" are mostly people who might commit acts of terrorism. Successful suicide bombers are hardly suspects; failed bombers caught with explosives and other means of committing terrorist acts hardly require months of evidence gathering to establish that they are doing something illegal. So we're left with the hangers on (and the supporters and the planners) and the potential terrorists. It's this last group which appear to be the subject of the demands for long periods of detention whilst evidence is gathered.

Why should terrorism be unique in this respect: why shouldn't the same logic be applied to murder, robbery, fraud, speeding and littering? Why shouldn't the police be able to detain someone for as long as it takes to prove that they intended to commit these crimes or were capable of committing these crimes. Since it is extraordinarily difficult to prove intent, we are left with capability or action. Anyone who owns a car is capable of committing a speeding offence; anyone eating an ice-lolly in the street is capable of littering; anyone who has access to a knife is capable of committing murder.

There is an argument that terrorism is somehow different since it involves a belief that the acts will bring about political change, somewhere, somehow. And there are those who will find my argument trivial and pointless (and who will, no doubt, accuse me of supporting terrorism). But, anyway, that's not my main problem with all these anti-terrorism initiatives…

Now, class, what's the point of terrorism? Well done, Jane, exactly: to inspire terror in a population by the threat of indiscriminate violence. And the point of inspiring terror? Yes, John, too true: to cause that population to accept and support changes to their society which make it more controlled, conditioned and conservative; make it more intolerant of difference and diversity. And, of course, that its designed to produce eventual dissatisfaction with the society so that the terrorists' political world-view becomes justified and the society eventually becomes the monster that the terrorists have always said it was. This, of course, neglects the fact that there are terrorists without political ambition who merely enjoy the destabilising effects of their actions.

Well done, class.

Now, ask yourself, how much of the recent response to terrorism falls into the category of more draconian law-making which could, in itself, destabilise society? That's your homework.


During the 1980s, I accompanied a group of teenagers on an outward bound course on the Yorkshire Moors. One of the exercises involved using their map-reading skills to find their way from one location to another using only a compass and some simple directions. Since I and another tutor were to go with them, we were given a much more detailed description of the route in the interests of safety. We also carried a first-aid kit and some other essentials since the students were told to select what they wanted to take with them and they were bound to forget something important.

The trek proceeded without serious incident except for one lad getting stuck in some mud from which I had to pull him.

It was following this that another student said: "Anyway, we don't have to worry, do we. If anything goes wrong you can sort it out. You've got a radio or something haven't you and can call in a rescue team." This was the mid-1980s, remember: mobile phones were not ubiquitous. The student did not believe that I really did not have a radio and that any extreme emergency would have meant one of the tutors making a rapid hike to the destination and a car-trip to a phone box in order to summon help.

By now you're wondering what all this has to do with floods.

If you are not aware, the UK has suffered some extremely heavy rainfall over the past couple of months and it has dominated the news (and we might come back to that another day).

What has struck me about people's response to the floods is that their attitude is exactly like that student's: they expect magic from the emergency services; they expect planning for every eventuality and that there will always be sufficient resources to cope with any emergency, no matter how large. In particular, I remember one Oxfordshire resident complaining that the emergency services hadn't been able to get through to her. Her locality was cut-off both by the floods and by abandoned vehicles on the roads. Of course, the emergency services have an infinite number of helicopters…


there's lots of other stuff. But we'll leave it for another time, shall we?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Posted @ 13:00One of those moments

They happen now and again: if they were not so rare they wouldn't be so special. But, just once in a while, there are moments, induced by some book, film, play or music, which move you to tears or some equally deep emotional response. It's happened to me; I've seen it happen to others.

You know the sort of thing: you see a film for the first time and it captures, beyond expectation, the circumstances of your life; you hear a song which excites and amazes; you read a passage in a book which sums up everything that's important at the time or simply moves you. It is sometimes a particular moment or phrase; at other times it is the tone and manner of the entire experience (often intimately entwined with the company in which you share the experience).

For me, such moments forever engrained in my memory and are shining gems in the otherwise dark caverns of my life. There are songs: Sam Cooke's Darling You Send Me, Shanghai's Solaris (from the Fallen Heroes album; particularly that "I don't know yet…"), Bruce Springtsteen's Jungleland (from the Born To Run album; particularly Clem Clemen's saxophone solo) and The Incredible String Band's Big Huge album. There's Molly Bloom breathing "Yes" and Rick & Elsa parting on the airport tarmac. There's Ophelia bidding "Goodnight, sweet ladies, goodnight" before she vanishes forever. There's Eliot's "Oh you who turn the wheel and look to windward; Consider Phlebus, who was once as tall and as beautiful as you". There's The Big Lebowski and Brother, Where Art Thou?. And Apocalypse Now and Fat City. There's an enamelled purse lid discovered at Sutton Hoo and now resident in the British Museum. There's the Dali's Gospel According To St. John. And Gieger's house in Gruyère. There's waking and seeing Les Dents De Midi at Evian from my bedroom window. There's watching the smiles and sheer talent of all those once hesitant, but now confident, performers who have appeared at the Tap & Spile. I could go on, but won't — I had prepared a long list but omitted the rest because they were too excessive or too personal.

You've all got your own examples: rare, beautiful, precious and unique. But, usually, these little epiphanies of ours happen at a great distance in time and space from the creators of the object or experience.

I, however, have been granted the rare privilege — not often experienced by the creators of such artefacts — of seeing someone so moved by something I did; and I was moved as well. To know that you've moved someone so directly and significantly is directly and significantly moving. My friend had "one of those moments" (soppy beggar was moved to tears) and it has also become one of my moments. I am humble and honoured to have had such an effect. I'm also amazed and shocked that I am capable of such things: cynical old bastard that I am, I presumed myself possessed of an immunity to causing such responses (I found ET manipulative, messianic and moronic; I can't watch the damn thing, I think it so poor and so blundering in its desire to evoke an emotional response). But, this little incident has made up for the hundreds of times I've played songs and felt that no-one was listening, or cared.

The identity of the "soppy beggar" and the song in question are a closely guarded secret, so don't ask.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Posted @ 11:57RSRLS

Deftly — and quietly — avoiding any explanation for the month-long gap in the mind-expanding content presented here…

I have mentioned the existence of RSRLS before (and elsewhere), but I feel it necessary to amplify [pun? — I think not] my thoughts and experience of this distressing — and common — condition.

What is RSRLS?

The condition known as RSRLS (Recording Studio Red Light Syndrome) afflicts normally competent musical performers when they are placed in a enclosed space near any form of recording equipment and the "record" button is pressed. Usually this entails the illumination of a special light (usually red) indicating that recording is taking place. In such circumstances the musical performer manifests symptoms of extreme incompetence and loses all abilities to operate their chosen musical instrument and string a coherent sentence together. It matters little that the performer is usually comfortable (or, at least, not too uncomfortable) exercising their skill in public, in front of several (or, even, tens of several) people — sometimes, even in front of strangers. It also matters little that the recording environment is opperated solely by themselves or only by friends and supporters. Immediately that light goes on (and, experiments have shown, the light doesn't even have to be visible — or even exist — to the performer for the syndrome to manifest) the performer turns into a lump of gibbering jelly.

What are the symptoms?

The primary symptom of RSRLS is an immediate loss of all the learnt motor skills associated with operating one's chosen musical instrument: a guitar becomes a plank of wood with jangly bits of metal attached; a piano becomes a box filled with strangely shaped wooden effigies; accordions become leather bags attached to screaming insects; and banjos become, well, banjos.

Normally simple actions involving the instrument (such as knowing what it's actually for and knowing how to hold it) become almost impossible, whilst all memory of the tune or song to be recorded flees, seemingly forever, from the performer's mind. If required to sing, the performer will instantly be transformed into a native speaker of gibberish with an incomprehensible regional accent. The performer will, however, be able to play the piece perfectly, once the recording light goes off.

Is there a cure?

The simple answer is "No". The more complicated answer is also nearly "No": "No, but…"; as in "No, but drinking beer whislt recording makes you feel better, even though the end result is still the same". The most complicated answer to this question involves differential equations, quantum mechanics and the vaguely illegal consumption of mind-altering substances, but essentially boils down to "No".

What can you do?

If you want to help RSRLS sufferers, the best thing you can do is buy them a drink in the pub and ask them to talk about something else, because listening to stories about RSRLS can be very, very, very boring.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Posted @ 17:30Friday Night

and Friday night took me out to Holton-le-moor for the Acoustic Troubadours night…

How it all began…

The other week at the Tap & Spile's Open Mic, Trev C says to me: "Is Rob coming down tonight?". I replied in the negative, having spent the previous couple of hours with the aforementioned Scottish person. But I proceeded to ask why. Trev explained that Rob was due to perform at a fund-raising gig in Holton-le-moor on Friday 23rd March and Trev wanted to check the details. Now I happened to know that Rob had a gig with his band (The Honey Badgersnot the ones you'll find by a Google search, but that's another story) on that particular evening. Trev muttered words of frustration and said, "I don't suppose you could do it instead?". Pleased to be asked, I affirmed my availability (my other option for that evening being going to The Honey Badgers at The Spider's Web) and a deal was struck.

During the following week, Trev confirmed the arrangement and he was to pick me up on Friday afternoon and take me out to Caistor (where he lives) and thence to the gig and thence to stay the night so we "could have a little drink".

And so…

And so, Friday rolled around and Trev arrived to pick me up at 15:50, dead on time. Pausing in Grimsby to drop off some CDs of Rob performing live at The Spider's Web (part of the "get a new guitar for Rob campaign" — yes, it's that Rob), we headed for Caistor.

The first job was to take Pebbles for a walk; Pebbles being Trev & Angie's collie. The woods around Nettleton were lovely in the late afternoon; it was dry, a little cold, but the skies were clear and blue and not a breath of wind. Pebbles ran and sniffed and generally had a good time; Trev and I walked and nattered, just enjoying the day.

Then back to Trev's and the packing of the car and the getting ready (and the cheese sandwiches).

Angie was now home and there was some small time for catching up, but not a lot. The PA and headline act — Chris Treebeard and Paul Pearson — were coming across from Sheffield and we had to meet up with them at 18:30 to guide them the last half-a-mile or so. All was fine, and we met in the car park of the Salutation Inn at Netteleton as arranged. Then on to the Moot Hall at Holton-le-moor.

The Moot Hall was built around 1910 and is a lovely example of late-Edwardian English rural architecture: predominantly symmetrical without but delightfully idiosyncratic within; mock-Tudor both inside and out, built of brick and wood and possessing a truly wonderful, large open fire. This latter proved to be a focal point on such a cold evening.

The PA was erected and connected with minimum fuss and efficiency (Chris T making the whole process look so easy and uncomplicated that there was no necessity for assistance; indeed if anyone had insisted on lending a hand, it would have slowed the process). The other performers arrived: Jonathan & Phil Norman (young but dangerously talented); Steve Jackson (veteran local performer and music buff); and local hero Donna (great voice). Chris & Paul did their soundcheck and by 20:00 we were all set up and ready to go… …just waiting for the punters to arrive.

I won't review the performances (let alone my own); suffice it to say that it all went off very well and everyone was well received and there were no technical hitches. The mass jam at the end was very enjoyable, for the performers at least. Trev C was there with nearly all the acts, hitting congas, scraping washboards and doing his very best as compère and host; adding sparkle and humour to the evening.

And so to bed…

And then it was all over and we were all tired and emotional (OK, a little inebriated) and full of food. But it was a grand night and I wouldn't have missed it for the world. Thanks Trev (and Argie).

If you get the chance to see Chris Treebeard (either solo, in a duo with Paul or in one of his many bands), grab it with open arms: he is a musician of extreme talent, great humour and makes for a wonderful evening.

Posted @ 17:00Announcement - Update

The fireball xl flynn stuff has all been deleted. Thanks for all the kind messages of support and the attempts to change my mind. This thing needed doing — for my own sanity — and that's it.

If anyone is still desperate for a copy of the songs that were on those sites, please e-mail me (the address is at the top of this page) and I'll send you them.


Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Posted @ 20:20Announcement


My fireball xl flynn MySpace page will be deleted on Sunday 25th March 2007. At the same time the fireball xl flynn music sites at Beta Records and Showcase Your Music will also be deleted. The music on those sites will be available for download and listening until then — after Sunday, they will no longer be available.

I am taking some time to rethink all the music I make and perform and I no longer think it appropriate to have these sites in existence. Thanks to everyone who has listened to and enjoyed my music and been kind enough to support and encourage me.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Posted @ 02:00An Audience With Audiences

The following interviews have been conducted over a number of years by listening to other people's conversations, observing their behaviour and hearing second-hand reports. The actual words are made up.


What do you think of live music in pubs?
Don't mind it, so long as they don't expect me to change my normal habits and be quiet and listen or anything. After all it's my local and I can shout at my mates if I want.

But don't the performers find that distracting?
They should learn to ignore it. Or turn the PA up. But not so loud I can't hear my mates.


Do you listen to the performers?
Not really. They don't play any songs that I know. And if they do they don't play them like the records. Except my mate, he's good. I always listen to him and tell everyone else to shut up and listen. Couldn't give a shit about anyone else.

Why not?
I don't know them. And they're boring. If they were any good they wouldn't be playing in this pub, they'd have a record deal and be playing big stadiums. Or on telly.

But doesn't everyone have to start somewhere?
Yeah, I suppose so. But they're boring. Not like my mate, he does Keane and Cold Play and Oasis and stuff. He sounds great with backing tapes. He should be on X-Factor, he should.


Do you think the audience should be courteous to performers?
What do you mean?

Well, allow them to perform without deliberately trying to distract them, for example
Oh, you mean, like not walking in front of them while they're playing and stuff. That's just a bit of fun. If they can't take it, they shouldn't be doing it.

Do you like live music in pubs?
Yeah, so long as it's just in the background and I can talk about football while it's on. And they let us watch football. And stop the music when the football's on.


What would you say to someone who got upset with the behaviour of an audience?
I tell the to shut the fuck up, it's a public place and I can do what I like.

Do you always behave like that in the pub?
Yeah, when there's people playing music I do.

An why do you do that?
'Cos it winds up the prats who are performing.


Why do you have such loud conversations when other people are performing?
I'm only interested in doing my bit and drinking.

Do you like any of the other performers?
Yeah, some of them. I listen to them, sometimes. And shout jokes at them. It's all part of the fun. The others are just idiots or pretentious prats who don't do stuff I like.

The above are based on real events. I've only added words to make my point. I make no other comment.

Friday, March 09, 2007

Posted @ 02:59Rotten Apples

I've never really taken much notice of the damn silly "Operating System Wars" that plague computer journalism (and various other areas of the media): it's always seemed very pointless and a waste of time, effort and trees. There are Apple zealots, Linux zealots and Windows zealots who all behave like religious terrorists on acid. But one curious fact has always struck me…

It's been a truth since the mid-80s that Apple were never going to become the desktop of choice in most major businesses since their developed software base has always been oriented toward the media sector; remember that Adobe began its life as a provider of solely Mac software. And, having seen and used — particularly in the late 1980s and early 1990s — the image-editing and publishing software available on the Mac, I can personally vouch for its superiority to the Windows offerings (things have changed somewhat, but it's still reasonably true).

What has always struck me, however, is that Apple have always been on the receiving end of generally very good press coverage, with little criticism and overwhelmingly favourable comment (violently contrasted with the general treatment of Microsoft). I'd always assumed this was a result of the predominance of Apple products in the industry and the consequent familiarity of journalists with these pieces of software rather than those used in other business sectors.

For example, I have seen only one article critical of the extraordinarily short warranty on the iPod and the various problems which people have had with the battery life and general reliability of the product. Even that report was, overall, supportive of Apple's apparent efforts to correct the problem and slightly dismissive of any criticism of what is portrayed in the media as an innovative and forward looking company which has its customers' desires, wishes and satisfaction at its heart. I've had my suspicions that perhaps they are just another large company who can sway the press somehow, but I've never had anything to pin it on; the reports are that Steve Jobs is a nice guy who just wants to make good products and, in the process, make a dollar or two (yes, they're often flimsy, announced too early and don't work quite as expected initially; but, what the hell, they're nice products).

Now I've discovered a little reported fact…

The fact is that members of the National Union of Journalists get 20% discount on Apple products, and have done for years. If our press was as unbiased as it claims to be and wished us to believe this, I would have thought… …but, of course, I'm expecting too much as usual.

Insider dealing is everywhere and the intricate, soul-destroying, mind-upsetting political games of Elsinore seem positively aromatic in comparison to the behaviour of the fourth estate…

By the way, I get no discount from any software or hardware supplier; I'm not sponsored by anyone. However… I'm always open to large (or, failing that, very large) offers of cash — so long as you don't mind me mentioning the fact in the resulting blog posts.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Posted @ 23:17Letter II

2nd March, 2007

Dear J,

Another month has come and the world doesn't get any saner. Not that I really expected it — not that anyone should seriously expect it. It's probably not less sane, but that's debatable; we'll just have to all struggle on and hope we all get through the experience without too many bruises and as few broken parts as possible. With so many events in the last couple of weeks it's difficult to stay away from commenting on particular events rather than sticking — as I intend — to more general considerations. Please excuse any of my lapses in this regard, sometimes the events of the day do get under my skin.

So, what is it, outside the contents of the news reports, that has got under this bee's bonnet just recently? It would be nice to tie my subject to some, singular object or happening. But this can't always be, so we'll dive right in.

But, perhaps, let's start from the news that the couple who were charged with poisoning their foster-child with salt have had their convictions overturned. One phrase in particular has stuck in my mind from the reports, the wife's comment that "the case will be decided by 12 people who don't really know us". Her point seemed to be that, if the jury really knew them, then all this evidence stuff would be unnecessary; that facts were far less important than the personality of the people involved. Such attitudes appear to be more and more common these days: that guilt or innocence could be more swiftly determined by simply knowing the people concerned better; that people who are "nice" don't commit crimes, only "nasty" people do.

I've found this attitude in many guises. One of the favourite protestations against the being prosecuted for exceeding the speed limit is that the police should be "catching real criminals". A further manifestation is the idea that the police always know who committed a given crime but are prevented by manipulative, greedy and immoral defence lawyers. And, there's the idea that I've heard expressed that the police should "have let me off, because it's not as if I do it all the time".

I'm very, very worried about the growth of this idea. Justice is seen as simply a matter of catching — and punishing — all the bad guys, no matter what, It doesn't matter how you get them, so long as you get them. But, on the other side of the coin, people seem to expect the police to accept a smile and a "nice" demeanour as sufficient evidence against their involvement. It seems to me that there is a widespread belief that spotting the guilty is blindingly obvious and we shouldn't have to prove it particularly rigorously — but that doesn't apply to me, of course, because I'm a generally nice person.

We may be moving into an age where the process of justice is no longer a matter of proof but one of vague supposition; where the very fact that you are the sort of person who might have committed the crime is enough to get you imprisoned for it. And lawyers: all they're good for is corporate, business law.

I suppose it's a matter of debate whether the world wants to be like this. It's probably also not for me to stop it if that's the way it wants to go. But such resignation to the inevitability of the rise of the selfish state, doesn't — and can't — make me like it.

Take care, love,


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Posted @ 21:33Rob L's Guitar - Follow Up

There's a project afoot to raise money to help Rob L get a new guitar. Rather than repeat all the details here, go to RoadCrew PA Hire or Provincial Music for more information.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Posted @ 01:25Just another day...

To Tina's last evening, invited to join Rob L in having a threesome sing-a-long. Just an evening of song and chat — et le chat est Lily (sort of translinguistic pun there, folks). Tina's had a cold — bad one — for a while and hasn't done any singing. I haven't been round for a while, haven't seen Rob, either.

It's a cold night when I venture out, some wind but dry. The sky looks like the threat of a storm without any vicious intent: a sort of fluffy-pillow Hannibal Lecture who works for Shelter. It's nice to be going out, visiting someone, being part of something.

I arrive first — a-ah — and catch up on news with Tina until the Scottish one appears. We haggle about who is going out for the beer and Rob looses and volunteers. There also happens to be a bottle of Pimm's No1 premixed with lemonade — left over from Burn's Night when Tina's sister brought it round — which Tina and I tuck into whilst Rob is engaged in beer procurement. Yes, it's a summer drink and this is a cold February evening, but it's refreshing and available.

We drink the Pimm's with ice, naturally. It tastes like a slightly bitter lemonade, belying the 5.4% alcohol content. Anyway, at a stretch, it's a fruit based drink and can be regarded as healthy — one of our "five-a-day", perhaps. Rob returns and we all light up a cigarette (terrible habit, but someone's got to do it). On the stereo we have Buffy Saint Marie, Helian Keys and Lily Allen over the evening. On guitars, me and Rob; on voice, all three of us.

The songs range over our own stuff, Tom Paxton, The Kinks, etc., etc. and we have a good time. I know I've moaned (on and on) on my MySpace Blog about how badly I've been performing recently, but I surprise myself by being quite reasonable this evening. Perhaps it's something to do with the beer; perhaps it's because tonight was impromptu, arranged at the last minute. Who knows?

We drink beer, we sing songs, we tell bad jokes and laugh at them. We have a convivial and social evening. We relax. All those silly cares about the pressures of life are far away. Rob plays some lovely lead guitar on Parrish Counsel (the one about my dad, for those who've heard it) — feel a bit more part of the world for that.

Eventually, the evening wraps itself away in our mutual tiredness and Rob and I take our leave to walk to our respective beds through a chill, slicing, icy rain. I don't envy Rob his much longer journey. Sometimes, the world can be a lovely place.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Posted @ 20:48Letter I

14th February, 2007

Dear J,

Well, the year is already a month-and-a-half old and I haven't written for quite a while. I thought it was time I gave you some more of my usual advice — as usual, it's just me trying to pass on some of the things that I think I've learnt in the half-a-century I've been on this planet; take it or leave it, it's up to you. I'm not here to tell you what to think, just to warn you about the strange ways of some of the other inhabitants of the Earth; most of them aren't bad people but they can get caught up in some weird and wacky behaviour.

You might have seen the recent advertisements on TV encouraging you to "talk to Frank" about drugs; in particular the one about the brain shop and the effects of stronger strains of marijuana on that part of the body. What I want to talk to you about is something else which is coming in stronger strains and can affect you brain in a subtly destructive manner. It is everywhere and it is quite legally delivered to children from the earliest age. It is even widely distributed in schools with the explicit financial support of the government. The pushers of this product are welcomed by all levels of society and are encouraged to carry out their indoctrination of minors into the use of this product not only without criticism but with active consent. The pushers prey upon the most defenceless in our society: children; the emotionally scarred; the poor and the weak.

There are some people who would claim that this product is neither harmful nor pernicious; that it is beneficial — and necessary — to a healthy and fulfilling human life. However, this product is behind much of the violence and intolerance inherent in modern society. It supports the exclusion of non-participants and attempts to impose its will on all levels through legislation, political influence and emotional blackmail and bribery. If teachers were found to be promoting specific political ideologies with the same force and support with which they deliver this product, there would be uproar and they would be sacked on the spot. If casinos were to be opened in schools, the country would revolt. If marijuana was forced upon children in the same manner as this product, the promoters would be arrested and pilloried. And yet, if one portrays this product in anything other than a reverent manner one risks censorship, at best, and prosecution, at worst. Making jokes about it is, of course, thoroughly reprehensible; especially if you do not subscribe to the product itself. One is forced to tolerate it, even though it, in itself, is intolerant.

What, I can hear you asking, is this appalling product which is so available and approved within our so-called caring society? What is this thing that is so dangerous and yet so approved of? What could be so harmful and yet so adored that it is considered not only safe but also desirable to be inflicted upon children.

Quite simply, my dear, it is religion. It is illegal to teach a particular set of political beliefs to school children and yet we have schools that are allowed — nay, encouraged — to teach a single religious belief. And this belief is allowed to encourage intolerance and discrimination, divisive manipulation of adherents and promises of reward without quoting the odds. The promoters of religion are allowed to use techniques of persuasion which would be pounced upon by the media if they were used by business; they are legally immune from sane, rational or logical appraisal and can claim special status in the hearts and minds of legislators and administrators; they can question the evidence of science without the necessity of argument but are free to campaign against science using supposed evidence which they refuse to allow to be questioned.

I wouldn't want you to mistake religion for faith. Faith is, quite simply — to quote a source I have been unable to locate — a belief in something you haven't seen yet. My faith in the existence of the Great Pyramid at Giza is like that: one day I'll see it, probably; and there is plenty of non-circumstantial evidence which has no recourse to singular, unverifiable sources that my faith is justified. I can't see any problem, either, in a personal faith in some sort of supreme being. But the sheer audacity, pomposity and arrogance of insisting that this faith is required by anyone else — and inflicted on those without the capacity to assess the evidence — I find as reprehensible and disgusting as the selling of hallucinogenic drugs to minors.

The scariest thing is, of course, that most of the people attempting to deliver religion to the masses think they are doing the right and proper thing and that they are, aside from this flaw, quite nice and decent people. They're not driven by any evil intent but simply seem to have had their brains fried by this strong and dangerous drug. Beware their plausibility and directness, their apparent honesty and certain sincerity — they are out to get you hooked as well.

The world is complex and beautiful enough to excite the mind and the passions without introducing an unprovable mythology to explain it. Your journey through it will be a thrilling roller-coaster without the necessity of the artificial stimulation of religion. Avoid this addiction at all costs.

When you friends and mentors speak glowingly of religion, question it. It is not a path you want to follow; you will become a vegetable spouting the words and messages of others, driven by and ever greater need to fulfil the craving for the righteous way. Don't shout; don't proclaim; don't hate; but do reject.

So, that's my advice for now. Whenever you see those anti-drug advertisements on TV, remember that the same warnings apply to religion, too. And when you've learnt a little more about life and the human body, you'll find that drugs have not inflicted as much pain, suffering and death as religion and they are relatively harmless in comparison.

Take care, love,


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Posted @ 22:49Hi China

One of the many widgets I have attached to this blog not only counts the number of visitors it has but also where they come from. Last week Provincial Letters had a sudden influx of visitors from China — on 6th/7th February there were 19 visitors from Chinese servers. It not only happened to me, Beth's Blog has noticed the same phenomenon.

Now, the Chinese government are notoriously vigilant in their monitoring and censorship of internet access (with the complicity of the large international content and service providers) and I wonder what happened. Given the brief period over which the visits happened I wonder if either (a) the political firewalls all went down at once or (b) the operators of the political firewalls suddenly conceived a desire to monitor the content of mine and Beth's blogs. It could be the start of a new conspiracy theory. I'm sure my regular readers will be able to fill in the details.

Post Scriptum

Thanks for all the nice comments about the photographs in my previous post. I'm pleased you enjoyed them as much as I enjoyed taking them.
Oh, and I came across the photograph to right on Bits & Pieces and it made me giggle.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Posted @ 21:00Alexandra Dock Sunset

It was cold, frosty cold; chilled air with no trace of wind. The sun was orange on the skyline, bright in the steel-blue winter air. Just a short walk over Corporation Bridge, watching the water — a still high tide — and taking photographs as the mood took me. Feeling moderately pleased with myself as at least two of the tunes I've been working with seemed to have crystallised into workable songs. Not exactly the most cheery of songs, but the achievement is in the completion; only time — and an audience — will pass judgement on their quality. Damn it, I know that, in the end, it'll be me who judges them the most harshly.

The bridge — a memorial to the dock's busier days — rises in mechanical splendour; more solid than the memories, real and imagined, that it invokes. Once, this dock echoed to Slavic voices, bringing timber from northern Russia. Once, this dock was a place of industry rather than retail, a place closer to making; a place for content rather than form and fashion. All too easy to dream when there's no conversation and when people, tight and safe and warm in their little cars, are detached from the crisp atmosphere of this fading February day. All too easy to wax lyrical — with consequent verbal effluvium — when all the world is boxed and hidden.

A rare encounter with a stranger: he stops and asks if I'm looking for the diver. I mumble. He says there was a diver in the dock earlier. I wonder if he means a human or a bird, but don't press the question and let him walk on, leaving me unenlightened. Bundled against the cold, the other pedestrians glance at me — mobile phone in hand — snapping the sights of the late afternoon. Too polite to question; too curious not to sneak a glance. A group of young lads comes towards me, boistrous and chirpy. I'm ashamed to say my first reaction is fear: remembering that encounter last year when I had my phone stolen and got a clout in the face for standing up to another group of teenage boys. But my shame is enough to calm me and I smile as they pass. Note to self: the world — and the behaviour of people in it — is better than you imagine.

Walking on, I think of going for a beer; just think, my pockets lack the wherewithal for such an adventure today. Content myself with a small purchase of crumpets for tea. Rehearse the lyrics to my new songs in my head, as many lines as I can remember. I'm determined to dispense with sheets of words in front of me when I take them out in public for the first time. It's far too easy to leave this chore lying in the "to-do" list and then becoming dependent on those printed and hand-written sheets. Surely I can't have exhausted my brain's long-term memory capacity just yet.

Now I start to worry again about the shabbiness of my recent public guitar playing. Sitting alone I am — reasonably — competent with the mechanics and the sound satisfying to my biased ears. Sitting or standing in public, my fingers not so much have a mind of their own as become detached from the control of any mind whatsoever and disappear on their own, unique intergalactic trip to planet Incompetence. The little monster on my shoulder calls out "this is the bit you always cock up, bet you do it again". And, sure enough, I do:

The memories come back to haunt me
They haunt me like a curse
Is a dream a lie if it don't come true?
Or is it something worse?

Bruce Springsteen; The River

And now the gremlins get busy in my psyche again: this is all a bit like your life, ain't it? But sod self-pity for a game of soldiers — for today, anyway — remember what you have accomplished in the past few days.

And, looking at the photographs, I remember the gorgeous thrill of the outdoor air, cold as it was, and the pure joy of seeing the hard light of the sun in that pure blue sky. It was a short walk through a short winter day, but it made the day. Sitting at the computer, warm and full of crumpets and tea, I feel less fragile. That seems to be enough for now.

In the end it's all academic really. I've had a reasonable day: a little conversation, a brief but beautiful walk and some lyrics. On the grand scale of things it doesn't amount to much but it made my day — it was my day. Also managed to take some photographs and string together a few words to help me remember it.

Now the day's over, I'm still wishing for a beer and a bit of, possibly loud and trivial, company. But that'll have to wait for another day when the ancient gods finally make a re-appearance. I'll be content with TV — A Knight's Tale is on Film4 later — and tea and some guitar practice (and a cigarette or three). Must make some effort to record some of my songs for that album I've been threatening everyone with for the past few years. Really must. That would be an achievement.

Ahh, memory: somewhere in the back of my cobwebbed memory there's some fragments of Eliot. Give me a moment with Google...

That's it, "and then the lighting of the lamps"...

The winter evening settles down
With smell of steaks in passageways.
Six o'clock.
The burnt-out ends of smoky days.
And now a gusty shower wraps
The grimy scraps
Of withered leaves about your feet
And newspapers from vacant lots;
The showers beat
On broken blinds and chimney-pots,
And at the corner of the street
A lonely cab-horse steams and stamps.
And then the lighting of the lamps.

T S Eliot; Preludes I

You can always trust in Eliot for an apposite quotation.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Posted @ 19:50Poker, Golf & Madonna

There appears, at first sight, little to connect the three subjects listed in the title of this post. But this is an optical illusion. These three share many common features, which this brief note will attempt to elucidate. My thoughts began with the first two items.

I've written about golf, before, and this is not the time — nor, if the truth be known, the place — to supplement those earlier observations, not the least reason being the utter tedium of even thinking about golf. Poker shares many of the features of golf: inordinate quantities of TV broadcast time are devoted to it; the practitioners are pompous and snobbish concerning their pastime; and it serves little or no sane purpose other than occupying minds which would be otherwise dormant.

It was whilst I was considering these concordances of spirit between these two monsters of modern life that I was nagged by the remembrance of at least one other subject which displayed the same features. Naturally, Ricky Gervais sprang to mind, particularly with regard to all being overrated clap-trap. However, Gervais is not strictly the same as golf or poker since he is incapable of occupying the mind in any capacity whatsoever. True, he does involve the mind-numbing repetition of otherwise mundane actions, but this is not enough.

No, dear reader, it was necessary to look further afield: what was it that consumed its adherents to the level of obsession? What was it that managed to mutate its disciples into evangelists for some supposed life-affirming philosophy which involves thousands and thousands of images and words which are simply the same thing repeated over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again and again and again and again... ...I think my meaning is clear.

A then, inspiration struck: of course, that sub-talent Madonna; that over-blown excuse for a singer who serves absolutely no function whatsoever. Since she was forced down our throats in the 1980's she has repeatedly failed to produce any work of any worth whatsoever, but the music critics and cultural commentators still fawn over her as if she were the personification of some truly supreme orgasm. She is, of course, extremely dull and ordinary but possesses a good PR department and a gullible public.

Madonna shares with golf and poker, the undoubted privilege of being things we would not miss if they vanished from the Earth forever; to be sure, they are things we wouldn't bother to invent if they didn't already exist. When I think about it, I realise the world would be no different without these three items — except of course for the lack of bores obsessing about their significance, greatness and all-round wonderfulness.

Sometimes I want to become one of those old-time mad scientists who invent machines from unlikely components which perform srtunning and amazing alterations in reality. My patent PGM-Remover would be a great hit.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Posted @ 20:50351 Years

Far from the mad crowds of the city, Blaise Pascal passed comment on the strange behaviour of this urban contemporaries in his Provincial Letters. The connection between them and this blog is somewhat tenuous.

So I wrote as the description of this blog when I started it, just over 2 years ago; however, it was 351 years ago today that the inspiration for the title — if not the tone of the content — of this blog first appeared. It begins:

Paris, January 23, 1656
We were entirely mistaken. It was only yesterday that I was undeceived. Until that time I had laboured under the impression that the disputes in the Sorbonne were vastly important, and deeply affected the interests of religion. The frequent convocations of an assembly so illustrious as that of the Theological Faculty of Paris, attended by so many extraordinary and unprecedented circumstances, led one to form such high expectations that it was impossible to help coming to the conclusion that the subject was most extraordinary. You will be greatly surprised, however, when you learn from the following account the issue of this grand demonstration, which, having made myself perfectly master of the subject, I shall be able to tell you in very few words.

Blaise Pascal; Provincial Letter I

His basic observation is that seemingly illustrious and important organisations are often obsessed by the mundane, trivial and ridiculous. How things have changed.

You could do worse than read some of his letters — you may need some historical clues to get the fine nuances — as a celebration of this day. They're all available on-line at Oregon State University, amongst other places.

Raise a glass to M. Pascal and celebrate the Provincial over the Metropolitan — these people in the big cities think themselves so important.

I had intended to celebrate the occasion with an updated version of Provincial Letter I but I find that I am incapable of achieving the correct tone or sufficient expertise with prose. But, we cannot let the event pass unnoticed or unrecognised.

It is probably timely to extend my apologies to all those serious students of the Provincial Letters who find this site through Google searches and wonder if it's at all relevant to their subject. I wish it could be.