Got my back up

The site crashed most effectively in early 2019, and it took me nearly a year to try to fix it, time and apathy being what they are. I finally did it, though, and here it is. My efficiency at backing up also being what it is, I’ve lost all of 2018, but I don’t think that’s much. The stuff I was really scared I’d lost – the travel diaries – are all still here. The rest is audio stuff I will have somewhere.

Fragment – Farmers’ Market Diary

A snippet I found lurking on Google Drive, part of a project that (like so many) apparently started with a certain sparkle but failed to live long enough to have a part 2. It’s maybe three years old. Liz is in Dublin now, and I haven’t seen much of Heidi since, but here it is.

Saturday was the Farmers’ Market, of course, which meant coffee with Liz.  Liz is the closest friend I’ve made since moving to Willunga.  She’s a midwife, an academic, and a witch and occasionally, I suspect, more of each of those things at the same time than she can easily integrate.  I am sure that she wouldn’t baulk at a little sympathetic magic over the neonates, and I have a feeling that faculty meetings could be quite interesting, too.

It was a sunny morning, the day was full of promise, and we were at the market early enough to watch it come to life around us, so we quite naturally fell to talking of all the ways we were fucked up by our parents, and all the more significant ways we are fucking up our own children.  From there we fell, by turns, into a wide ranging exploration of psycho-sexual development and the differences between men and women.  I spoke, quite poetically I thought, about the seeming self-containment of women, and of the very different male experience, at least as observed from the inside.  I tried to convey the deep, driving urgency of the male sexual need – its power, its everpresence, the hunger, the frustration. Liz bought me a cup of coffee.

We chatted briefly with a new acquaintance, Heidi.  Heidi is an artist, medium paint and pencil, who lives in the Arts Eco Village, a nearby demicommune whose chief claims to ecological sensitivity are communal recycling bins and roads made deliberately narrow and windy, so that one doesn’t see the skateboarding child until it is too late.  Before you have time to react he has done a handstand on your bonnet, tagged your rear bumper with indecipherable hieroglyphics and released a hip hop album.

Heidi is working on a new project intended to explore and celebrate the mature male form.  Seeking to break out from the usual study of male life models, who are all apparently about 20 years old and come to the studio straight from the weights room at the gym, Heidi is looking for men of a more generous figure who are willing to be drawn and painted in the outfit they were born in.  She tells me that the car bonnet she is planning to use is not usually too hot first thing in the morning, and the subject’s modesty will be preserved by the tasteful placement of a range of light weaponry.  Any volunteers can contact me via the website.

The Kierkegaard Spandrel

I have, for some time, been taken by the fact that when I photograph my children, they frequently manage to look contemplative, and troubled, and tousled, and very, very cool. This might have nothing to do with the fact that they are the children of two of the coolest people on the planet, and are largely dressed by one of those very cool people, and have had the opportunity to model themselves on those very cool people. And then again.

In fact, over the years I have thought, on seeing a number of photos of my children, “Ah, there is the cover of his (or their) debut album of shoegazer pop (or underground techno, or alt-folk, or whatever). Come to think of it, I reckon I bought an album like that from Big Star in about 1994. Hermione put me on to it, or Richard, can’t remember. Wasn’t one of the band involved in some sort of bizarre egg-coddling accident?”

That sort of idea can burble along in the background for years, until you have a spare hour or two and a basic image editing program and no pressing need to be doing anything else. Which happened to me recently, and lo, The Kierkegaard Spandrel was born. I’m still not sure if they’re a shoegazer pop group or an underground techno collective or avant-punk outfit. Probably not an alt-folk duo, on second thoughts. But I do know that they will always be very, very cool.


Spring is springing, and with it the quotidian miracle of new life on many fronts, not least in the fifteen centimetres of unpromising dirt that hems one side of our house block. Hard by the corrugated iron fence that daily prevents violence by separating me from my neighbours has sproinged into existence a minor forest of tiny nectarine trees. Once you know what they are, they are as winningly adorable as any vulnerable young creature. A delightful sight – and also the first evidence that these tired eyes have ever seen that the stone in stone fruit has any purpose other than to break mammalian teeth or, if well aimed, the equanimity and goodwill of other children.

The companion of my joys and sorrows will not, I trust, mind overmuch me saying that she is not customarily given to whimsy. Perhaps it is yet another magical effect of spring, then, that caused the thought to enter into her head of attempting to sell some of the seedlings to passers-by. We have a house well situated for such an enterprise, occupying the closest block to the local school, past whose portal hundreds of parents must drag their offspring ten times a week. It is partly for that reason that, in honour of Lyle Shelton, a large rainbow flag has, for the last few weeks, fluttered, if periodically a bit soggily, out front. In keeping with the developing theme, therefore, my occasionally better half hit upon an advertising strategy that consisted of a small, A-frame blackboard promising to enrich the life of Willunga’s more progressive gardeners by supplying them with “gender-neutral nectarine trees”.

The ensuing conversation recalled to my mind an essay I wrote in second-year biochemistry, in which I discussed the sometimes intricate mechanisms employed by plants to avoid the catastrophe of self-fertilisation. The human taboo on incestuous couplings has, it is said, its deep rationale in avoiding the reinforcement of dangerous recessive genes in the offspring of close relatives. How much more pressing a need, therefore, must be felt by plants which, frequently bearing both male and female sex organs, must worry not just about outrunning their brothers but also getting knocked up by themselves, conceivably without even noticing, I assure you, officer.

I could recall, from those balmy, cannabis-saturated days of my undergraduacy, that not all plants face this difficulty, as some are true sexual heteromorphs. Whether that is the case for stone fruit I was eager to learn, and I hied me accordingly to the nearest available internet. What I learned was that one should never, under any circumstances, google “tree sex”, if one hopes to retain a sunny disposition and a freedom from uncontrollable Parkinsonesque twitching.

I am old enough to remember a world when the internet was new and, ipso facto, also a time when it was possible to be optimistic about its societal effects. With the coming of the net, it seemed, people might truly now speak peace unto other people, and the strident shout of nations become the convivial chatter of multitudes. That the result of all of this truth would be justice and the global triumph of democracy was, if not inevitable, at least plausible.

That it hasn’t turned out that way is, of course, regrettable, if fascinating. The emergence of the new media landscape (drink!) as an information battleground (drink!) over which evanescent psyops manipulators flit like malevolent spectres looks set fair to provide the voters of the near term future with quite a few problems, and not a few opportunities for employment, but in a sense ‘twas ever thus. Propaganda is as old as Babylon, and horseshit as old as the horse. We will find a way to navigate the sewers, even if we don’t yet know quite what the next generation of buckets and shovels will look like.

But optimistic as I am on that front, I am assailed by a more general anxiety, and the cause of that is not fake news (drink!) but the pure, unadulterated truth. For we do, in truth, now all speak, one to many and many to one. But to listen to that conversation for any time at all is to learn that a very large number of people are evil, stupid, malicious, hateful, ignorant and antisocial or, as Thomas Hobbes might have put it if he had lived in this hour (and could write as good as what I am able to), solitary, puerile, nasty, brutish and fraught.

The greater threat to democracy may not, in the end, be Vladimir Putin’s patsies convincing each other that Hilary Clinton ran a child prostitution ring out of a pizza joint. That the wicked will believe others capable of wickedness, however bizarre, is to be expected, and democracies have accommodated the foolish since the Ancient Greeks. But it is not clear to me that democracies can survive without democrats. Government by the people requires a minimum number of people who understand the stakes, who are familiar with history, alert to tyranny’s seduction, people wedded to notions such as the rule of law, of due process, of the supremacy of Parliament and the separation of powers, of a mature and considered government acting after deliberation and with the consent of the governed, respectful of tradition but hopeful of progress, accountable to an electorate of engaged citizens. Such people are made, not born, by other democrats, and a mighty pile of them is needed to preserve the critical mass from which a polity, as opposed to a mob, is formed.

The risk presented by the internet is that we will, in sufficient numbers, decide that we have indeed heard the voice of the people and, frankly, being turned into cat food’s too good for them. That we’re not prepared to die in a ditch for the likes of the Comments Section. That in fact, the sooner they’re rendered into something we can spray on our lawns from a pump pack, the better. Democracy may die in the full light of day.

We didn’t sell any nectarine seedlings, either.

Europe 30 – Mr Nicholas Changes Trains

Yeah, look, there’s only one train in this story, but if you thought I was not going to follow up the Isherwood reference of a couple of days ago with another (on the flimsiest of bases) then you have badly overestimated my creativity (or underestimated my laziness).

Nor is it much of a story, frankly. We caught a train, full stop, the end. From Carcassonne to Barcelona. The Pyrenees were attractive. It’s nice to be back in Barcelona again, but we’re all tired, and ready to head home.

Full stop, the end.