Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The Promised Joke

I promised a joke about Political Correctness and here it is.

Once upon a time, one of those PC types (as only cretins refer to those who aren't knee-jerk Colonel Blimp types) was very proud because his son had passed through Primary School and gone on to Secondary School where they teach proper subjects like History and Geography instead of fingerpainting and self-esteem.

"So, Sebastian", said the PC Type, "How was your first day at the Big School"? (Patronising as well as PC, you see)

"It was great Dad", said Sebastian, clearly too downtrodden to complain when his father talks down to him.

"What was your favourite lesson then?"

"Oh biology, definitely, that was fantastic."

"Really, that's interesting. What did you do in Biology?"

"We dissected a guinea pig".

The PC type went as white as the sheet on a Ku Klux Klansman and, looking shocked, said. "Oh for goodness sake Sebastian. Didn't I bring you up to be politically correct at all times? Can't you remember, we don't call people "Guineas", they're Italians."

Saturday, February 25, 2006


Everything gets to be so frustrating sometimes. Apparently, we're supposed to react well to frustration.

I don't know if anyone's noticed but the standard criticism of violent men, whether they're alcoholics, roadragers or however their violence is expressed, somebody always says that it's because this man "has a low tolerance for frustration".

I've been thinking about this lately and wondering, why violence should be the reaction to frustration. I mean, for crying out loud, what's wrong with tears? What's wrong with running and running until exhaustion? Why do they have to use their wives as punchbags? They give men a bad name.

Now, I know I've mentioned elsewhere that I've no problem with rough sex (shall we say) provided it's safe, sane and consensual. The thing is though, if you're taking your frustrations out on your partner, it ISN'T.

It isn't safe because frustration causes depression at least temporarily and with it, a lack of judgement. A depressed "top" is a dangerous one. It isn't sane for the same reason it isn't safe. And consensual? I don't say it's impossible but for the most part, I don't think so because whatever your partner may have consented to, it was with the more rational you.

So... what IS a good way to deal with frustration. I've found nothing that helps so far but would be happy to see suggestions.

Friday, February 24, 2006

All I Ever Wanted

The one thing I've always been good with is words. It's a very specific talent though. My skill is in painting pictures with words.

It might have been nicer if I'd had a knack for telling stories. When I was starting out, I could have made money from stories. I might even have finished my novel ten years earlier than I did.

When I was much, much younger, roughly from seventeen to twenty two years old, I wrote around 300 poems. Some of them found their way into fanzines or found themselves used by the bands of people I vaguely knew. Others I gave away, usually to girls in whose knickers I hoped to get.

It never worked. Or rather it DID work, spectacularly so but I was too young and stupid to realise just how well it had worked. The poems provided an avenue to allow a degree of emotional openness men so rarely attempt, let alone achieve. I could write the words and reveal my hunger, my rage, my fear or whatever. Each of them made me somehow alluring. That's the other thing I wish. I wish I'd known at the time just how powerful the effect of my words was.

It's not the real regret though. I did eventually get rid of my virginity (I was twenty nine years old and that's a story for another time). My real regret is, I could never make a living as a poet.

I realised that pretty quickly and began to try writing short stories. They were very short, in effect prose poems that drew pictures instead of telling stories.

As an exercise, the leader of a writers' workshop I was in briefly, tried to stir up our creativity by having us write fifty word stories. That's the story boiled down to its bare essentials. The thing is, my creativity didn't NEED to be stirred up, it was dancing with fireflies already, sizzling and snapping like snow on a grill. What I needed was some way to hold it in check long enough to write.

I did finish stories. I even sent them off to Interzone, the Gate, and Aboriginal SF, the only three magazines that would take SF/fantasy/horror short stories from people in England. They all turned me down and when I finally got a rejection slip (I remember, it was for a story called Seventeen) that said, "this is a fine story and moves along well but is not suitable for Interzone", I knew, at the age of 27, that if I was ever to make a living from writing, I'd have to write a novel.

I was 37 when I finally finished it. I thought it was really good but came to realise that the words were good, it was well written and every scene jumped out of the page, seeming real to the reader, but as a storyteller, I was far too dull.

That threw me into a spin. I sank into a deep depression. Princess Diana died. My father died and I managed to crawl out of the hole I'd dug myself.

I tried to sell the novel as slowly it became dated. I even found someone who loved it (but loved me more). Now I need to write another but it's 8 years since I finished the last one. I've written a screenplay since then but it's for a movie nobody will ever make (Rapunzel set amongst the stars).

To write for a living. To do nothing but write is STILL the only thing I want out of life. Nothing else comes close.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

Gigs I remember

Having made Lionel jealous on the BBC board by referring to the two times I saw The Smiths, I suddenly realised I've actually been to a relatively small number of gigs. I thought I'd let Lionel see just how few I've seen.

Thin Lizzy - Bourne Corn Exchange 1970 something
Gary Glitter - ditto
Motorhead - Cambridge Corn Exchange 1979 and 1980
X Ray Specs/The Members - Cambridge Corn Exchange
The Soft Boys - about half a dozen times around Cambridge. The same goes for less famous Cambridge bands, Device, Autopilot and Hazzard.
Katrina and the Waves - The Great Northern, Cambridge
Wang Chung - I can't remember what the place was called but it was a poxy little disco underneath the Great Northern in Cambridge.
The Undertones - Cambridge Corn Exchange 1978 and Brixton Ace 1982 (their last gig I believe)
Spider far too many times - and that's an embarrassing confession.
The Vapours - Cambridge Corn Exchange - Can't remember the year but Turning Japanese was in the charts.
The Smiths - twice North East London Polytechnic
The Cure - I think it was Brixton Academy
The Dead Kennedys/The Redskins - 1982 Brixton Ace
The Fall/Danse Society plus a bunch of bands I never heard of - The Lyceum 1983
Nico/God's Toys - The Venue 1983 (this one was scary because someone I later realised was Dennis Nielsen tried to pick me up)
Redskins/Abacush/Billy Bragg/Benjamin Zephaniah and lots more at one of Ken Livingstone's fairwell gigs, South Bank 1983
Lloyd Langton Band (ex Hawkwind) - an impromptu gig outside the Royal Festival Hall
Cream - first reunion 1978 East of England Showground Alwalton Peterborough.
Rubella Ballet - Chicken Shack Club, East London (to be fair, I was the doorman for this gig so I didn't really get to see much).
The Thrashing Doves - ULU

There are some more I've seen (eg, the Adverts/TV Smith's Explorers, Stranglers, Tom Robinson Band but I can't remember where or when).

There are also some I've known but never seen. Jeremy Valentine of The Cortinas and Richard Fairbrass of Right Said Fred were both in my class for the first year of my degree course. John Hegley of the Popticians was a regular in the King Edward VII pub in Stratford at the same time as me, as were AR Kane/MARRS (of "Pump Up da Volume" fame) and Green from Scritti Pollitti.

There you go, that's it Lionel. Pretty much all the gigs I've been to... not an impressive total, I'm sure you'll agree.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Music - other than Patti Smith

So, who else can I talk about?

Me'shell Ndegeceolo

Long, long ago, I saw two brilliant tracks together on MTV. The second was Milk by Garbage but the first took me ages to track down. It was "Leviticus: Faggot" by Me'shell Ndegeocelo. I had almost forgotten about it when I heard my friend Sharron McLeod (a Canadian Jazz Singer) doing her version of Me'shell's "Mary Magdalene" and, on Sharron's advice, I tracked down some of Me'shell's work. "Bitter", "Comfort Woman", "Who is He and What is He to you?" are some of the excellent tracks I've heard. She's also one of only two singers my wife and I both love (the other being Mary Margaret O'Hara).

Alice Cooper

I got into him when I was at school and I've loved most things he's done since then. I don't just love the things he did when he was big, but the stuff he's come up with since. "From the Inside", from the period when he was pulling himself back together after madness and alcoholism. "Dada", also tinged with madness and alcohol (and surrealism) has some fantastic tracks as well as Bob Ezrin's synthesizer work. "Fresh Blood" is a Vampire story, "Former Lee Warmer" a take on Virginia Andrews' Flowers in the Attic and "Pass the Gun Around", a deeply melodic song about despair.

Later on, he progressed to "Brutal Planet" (his 2000 album). "Brutal Planet" itself is, believe it or not, a Christian song, about the Fall of Adam. The same album also has "Gimme", a take on the Rolling Stones' Sympathy for the Devil and "Wicked Young Man", which is about evil and censorship.


Today, I thought I'd talk about music.

I've talked about what I like to read, or at least the latest writers I enjoy reading and thougt, well... what about music?

A few months ago, I took part in a national Pop Quiz. In fact I was only there making up numbers. The only records I recognised that my teammates didn't were "I predict a Riot" by Kaiser Chiefs and "Romeo" by Mr Big. But what was interesting about this quiz was a round based on favourite tracks chosen by the members of all the teams (4 people, 13 teams). I chose "Land" by Patti Smith although in fact they played "Gloria" instead (the one that begins "Jesus died for somebody's sins but not mine"). It's got me thinking about favourites generally.

Patti Smith

I've mentioned "Land" from the Album "Horses". It's 12 minutes long with a pounding beat. Apparently it was written after Patti Smith was raped ("The boy looked at Johnny, Johnny wanna run but the movie kept moving as planned).

Whether or not that's true, it's become linked in my mind both with Tony Parsons and Julie Burchill's book on Punk, "The Boy Looked at Johnny" and even more with the TV series, "Millennium". At the end of the second series, where the world, including Frank Black's wife is dying of Bird Flu, the blonde female member of the Millennium Group loses her mind. The camera focusses on her, watchign her fall apart. There is no dialog, only "Land", the full extended version. It's one of the most powerful music videos ever and yet was never released as such.

I've been into Patti Smith since the first days of punk, perhaps even longer. I bought the album "New Wave", which is an eclectic album with tracks by artists as diverse as the Boomtown Rats, Richard Hell, and the Talking Heads. It includes Patti Smith's "Piss Factory", an extended rap record long before rap's time and that was enough. I was hooked. Since then I've heard other great tracks from her, "Because the Night", "Kimberley", "Easter", "A Room in Lebanon", "Ask the Angels", "Gandhi" etc.

And now I've gone on so long about Patti Smith that I'll have to do another entry about music more generally.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Room 101 - another keeper

They'll none of them be missed.

1) People who think there are non-mathematical questions that have only one answer and then rant and rave and bluster because somebody proposes an alternative.

2) Any -isms that suggest a single solution whether it be the dictatorship of the proletariat, the return of Christ to Earth, the removal of "immigrants", or the wearing of beanie hats wrapped in aluminium foil will cure all the world's problems.

3) People who refuse to believe that human beings individually or collectively are capable of solving their own problems.

4) People who refuse to take responsibility for their actions or inactions.

5) Broccolli

6) Politicians who have any motivations other than the best interests of all of their constituents.

7) This viral bronchitis I have at the moment.

8) My own inability to concentrate on sitting down and writing my novel then selling it. (Or perhaps the reverse, selling then writing)

9) The petty bureaucrat at my local train provider who decided that the start point for trains to my local station should be moved from Liverpool Street to Stratford.

10) Conformity.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Another Keeper

"The flaw in your argument is that if a majority voted for someone whom they thought had no chance then they'd get in. You'd still have a government, but quite what its makeup would be I have no idea, since when push comes to shove they'd still have to come up with some policies for running the country. I suspect the chaos that would ensue would quickly bring these Raving Loonies, whether official or not, to their senses and hopefully the rest of us as well."

Quoted from http://www.bbc.co.uk/dna/mbfivelive/F2148564?thread=2267363&post=26190130#p26190130

I don't see that as a flaw at all. If a majority of the people in this country voted for no hopers, there would be some weird politics going on in Parliament. We'd have the extreme right, the extreme left, greens, Christians and the extremely weird with NOBODY holding the balance of power.

These people would have to find things they COULD agree upon and we'd gain from the Wisdom of Crowds. In the end, you could not find any group of six hundred-odd people in this country who would rule much better or any worse than the current lot.

That said, at what point do you think the no hopers would form a government? They're such a disparate group that they wouldn't be cohesive. If the no hopers got less than say 70% of the vote, we'd still find ourselves with a (albeit minority) Labour or Tory government. If 80% of the population REALLY want to vote "None of the Above" then the major parties are so out of touch with the electorate, or so corrupt, or so scandal-ridden or any combination of these that they do not deserve power.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


I've talked about contemporary writers I like but there's another list I'd like to share. These are my favourite TITLES. They can be books, songs, films, albums, poems or whatever but they're all titles that make me laugh or smile or wince.

I'll start with some songs...

Broken Hearts are for Assholes by Frank Zappa
Praying to the Aliens by Tubeway Army.
New York Mining Disaster by the Bee Gees
Pissing in the River by Patti Smith

Then books...

The Minotaur Takes A Cigarette Break by Steven Sherrill (I'd never heard of this one but saw it in a bookshop and had to buy it. The book was dull but the title is marvellous)

Random Acts of Senseless Violence by Jack Womack

An Interview with Ann Rice by Michael Riley

The Adventures of Una Persson and Catherine Cornelius in the Twentieth Century by Michael Moorcock

I was going to go onto Films next but the only one I can think of is the old Fredric March film, "Death Takes a Holiday" so I'll go onto albums instead.

Paranoid and Sunburnt by Skunk Anansie
13 by The Doors (An excellent name for a greatest hits album)
Music to Murder by (selected by Alfred Hitchcock)

Then poems...

Almost anything by William McGonnagal
When Lilacs last in the Dooryard Bloomed by Walt Whitman

And stories...

The Beast Who Shouted Love At The Heart of the World by Harlan Ellison
When Elephants Last in the Dooryard Bloomed by Ray Bradbury

Friday, February 10, 2006


Gavin says it's not enough to produce a reading list. Instead, it's important to choose, to tell people which books I like.

Later, I may go back in time, but for now, I'll list some contemporary writers I enjoy.

Neil Gaiman

Neil Gaiman wrote, with Terry Pratchett, "Good Omens" which is based around "The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch". While Pratchett is popular with many people whose opinions I value, I'm not a fan at all. I am, however, a fan of Gaiman. In comics, he wrote The Sandman series, which is fine and dandy, a great achievement etc. In literature though, he wrote Neverwhere, about another world parallel to the London Underground. Best of all though, he wrote the magnificent, "American Gods".

Iain Banks

Sometimes Banks comes with an M (Iain M Banks being, sort of, the pseudonym he uses for Science Fiction). I rate him both with and without. With, my favourite is The Use of Weapons (one of many novels set in The Culture). Without the M, his first novel, The Wasp Factory remains a splendid achievement, but my favourite is Complicity (because I could not help but be complicit in the plans of the villain.

Orson Scott Card

Card is a Mormon from Utah. He is also one of the most humanistic science fiction writers I know of. He has written many varied peieces including the Alvin Maker stories, set in an alternative North America where the continent is divided between a Royalist and republican section. His greatest achievement though is the book, "Ender's Game" about children trained for an act of xenocide (albeit in self-defence). This was followed by Speaker for the Dead, in which Ender Wiggin, who killed an alien race called the Hive, then wrote the book that brought the human race to shame for what it had done.

Gregory Maguire

Maguire rewrites fairy-tales and other stories from popular culture. Wicked is the Wizard of Oz, told from the point of view of the Wicked Witch of the West. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is Cinderella. Mirror, Mirror is Sleeping Beauty with Lucretia Borgia as the wicked queen. Angela Carter is dead but Maguire writes well enough to be a worthy successor.

Neal Stephenson

The Baroque cycle is over 3000 pages long and tells the story of how the renaissance became the industrial age. It sounds dull when you put it like that but it is a marvellously ornate fantasy that's every bit as compelling as, say Lord of the Rings. Stephenson also wrote The Cryptonomicon which is another fine fantasy set in and after the second world war.

Stephen Baxter

I'm not that big a fan of hard science fiction and generally find Baxter's work too dry. I make an exception though for his Destiny's Children trilogy... "Coalescent", "Exultant" and "Transcendence". Well worth checking out.

Adam Roberts

He writes works that are heavy on ideas, On for example, where the world is a wall and gravity is sideways. My favourite works by Roberts are Salt (a novel about an attempt to colonise another planet failing not because of problems on the planet but because the colonists were too alien to each other before they ever left Earth) and Snow (which is an end of the world story).

Richard Morgan

Lionel Hutz/Takeshi Kovacs knows this work. It's absolutely splendid (Takeshi Kovacs is a central character in three of Morgan's four books (Altered Carbon, Broken Angels, and Woken Furies - the exception being Market Forces).

Jacqueline Carey

I originally bought this because a central character in Kushiel's Dart was called Alcuin. There are three books in her trilogy, Kushiel's Dart, Kushiel's Chosen, and Kushiel's Avatar (Alcuin dies in the first book I'm afraid but by then I was extremely interested in the life of the main character, Phaedra no Delaunay). The books are very sexy, epic fantasy with huge scope and a heroine who is a masochist and a prostitute. An extremely brave work and one that works very very well.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006


Suddenly, I find myself raging.

What should be included in a canon and what should not? How about the books that have shaped the world...

But there are hundreds... how about the barest minimum

The Bible, the Koran, Socrates' Dialogues, Pythagoras' Geometries, the Odyssey, the Illiad, Machiavelli, Bernouilli, Newton, Leibnitz, it becomes a list of names.

I'm unsatisfied at the IDEA of a Canon because there are simply so MANY books.

As promised

I shall have a go at a list of essential books. To make it easier both to read and to write, I'll break them into categories...

1-5 Shakespeare

1 Hamlet
2 Julius Caesar
3 Romeo and Juliette
4 The Taming of the Shrew
5 King Lear.

6-10 Latin and early Italian

6 The Divine Comedy - Dante Aleghieri
7 The poems of Catullus
8 Metamorphosis - Ovid
9 The Prince - Niccolo Machiavelli
10 Lives - Plutarch

11-15 Other Ancient

11 The Odyssey - Homer
12 The Mahabharata - (Ancient Sanskrit epic - author unknown)
13 Tao Te Ching - Lao Tse
14 The Book of War - Han Tzu
15 Aristotle (I'm not sure which book to choose)

16-20 More Pre-Shakespeare

16 Canterbury Tales - Geoffrey Chaucer
17 Le Morte D'Arthur - Malory (Not the best version but you need to know about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table)
18 Dr Faustus - Christopher Marlowe
19 Snorri Snurrlasson (sp?) again, I'm not sure which to pick, this guy wrote down many of the Viking Sagas, I think if forced to choose, I'd pick the Vinland Saga.
20 The Adventures of Robin Hood and His Merrie Men (I don't know which version to choose but again, something that you need to know).

21-25 17th century

21 The King James Version of the Bible
22 Paradise Lost - John Milton
23 Fanny Hill - John Cleland (one of the earliest if not the earliest known novel written purely as pornography - and well written it is too)
24 Poems of John Donne
25 To His Coy Mistress (a poem) by Andrew Marvell

26-30 18th century

26 Robinson Crusoe - Daniel Defoe
27 Gulliver's Travels - Jonathan Swift (you might also try "A Modest Proposal" which is short and influential - cf J G Ballard's "To Howard Hughes - A Modest Proposal" in which a rich man holds the world to nuclear ransom).
28 Confessions of a Justified Sinner - James Hogg
29 To a Mouse - Robert Burns (known as Rab in life, but never as Rabbie)
30 Poems of William Blake

31-35 19th Century

31 Ivanhoe - Sir Walter Scott (or pick any other of his novels, all influential, all readable and all great fun)
32 The Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Samuel Taylor Coleridge
33 The Mask of Anarchy - Percy Bysshe Shelley
34 A Study In Scarlet - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (and all the other Sherlock Holmes stories of course)
35 The Charge of the Light Brigade - Alfred Lord Tennyson.

36-40 Charles Dickens

36 Great Expectations
37 Bleak House
38 The Olde Curiosity Shop
39 A Christmas Carol
40 Oliver Twist

41-46 20th Century

41 Tarzan - Edgar Rice Burroughs
42 The Trial - Franz Kafka
43 The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway
44 The Wizard of Oz - L Frank Baum
45 Stranger in a Strange Land - Robert A Heinlein


46 Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoevsky
47 Sonnets on Orpheus - Rainer-Maria Rilke
48 The Castle of Crossed Destinies - Italo Calvino
49 Things Fall Apart - Chinua Achebe
50 Dracula - Bram Stoker
51 Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
52 Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer - Mark Twain

I'm afraid the list goes on. I don't think I can do it after all. Sorry 6.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Why I have Such A Name

As Span has pointed out, my name is not Michael Arthur Edwards or even Sebastian St John Nigel Edwards, it's Alcuin Insull Edwards, so why do I get such a name?

I'll start with Insull because it's a longer story. My grandfather's name was Clarence Insull Edwards. He was born not a throwin away from Villa Park back in the 1880s when Villa used to win things all the time instead of the occasional League Cup win and the League once every ten years (we're overdue by the way).

I have no idea why he was called Clarence but he got the middle name Insull because of a family tradition of giving the oldest son (until the early 19th century it was all children) his mother's maiden name as a middle name. (His mother was Sarah Insull - Sarah also had a much older brother who was the father of Samuel Insull who emigrated to the USA before my grandfather was born, became secretary to Thomas Alva Edison and at one stage almost literally OWNED Chicago.

When my father was born, for reasons known only to himself, decided to call my father Anthony Clarence Edwards, rather than giving him Porter as his middle name as he would under the tradition. My father knew there was a family tradition but he didn't realise precisely WHAT that tradition was so he gave ME the middle name Insull thinking he was following the tradition. Of course, if he HAD been following the tradition, my middle name would have been Lockwood, but there you go.

I have not continued this family tradition for two reasons... firstly my wife had her tubes tied before I met her and so we have no kids. Secondly... my wife's maiden name is Coote (although when I met her she was living under her married name of Blair ... no relation to Lionel, Tony or even Sander from The Armageddon Rag).

So... that's Insull so why am I called Alcuin. That is a much shorter story. I was born in 1960 at the very beginning of Generation X. This in turn means that my dad was an early breaker of the Boomers' mystical hippy wave (actually it was a separate tradition, that runs in the family, my Grandmother on his side was a devotee of the odious Madame Blavatsky)

Anyway my father was a member of AMORC

(The Ancient Mystical Order Rosae Crucis) otherwise known as Rosicrucians. Rosicrucianism claims origins with the Comte de St Germain in the 18th century, with the Illuminati in the 17th and even with ancient Egypt or Atlantis but AMORC was founded in 1915 and publishes (or used to publish back in the fifties and sixties) a magazine called Rosicrucian Digest. In the February 1960 edition, there was an article on Alcuin.

So... I have my name because my Dad messed up a family tradition and because there was an article in some mystical magazine about an 8th century Northumbrian Beatus (who is unusual in STILL not being canonised 1201 years after his death)

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Suicide - another keeper

Sorry folks, I've just seen this thread and I notice there are huge numbers of threads modded. I can imagine what they say and frankly, I don't want to know.

I have in the past considered suicide. In fact, back in the 1986 0r 7 I seriously considered becoming a suicide bomber. I'd been unemployed for about two years (apart from two weeks as a security guard) and was getting to my wits' end. Even the German Democratic Republic laughed when I sought political asylum (having read that they had zero unemployment).

In the end, two things stopped me. The first is, at base, I'm far too arrogant to let my self-esteem sink that low. At the end of the day, I could not convince myself that I was worthless, and I knew that there were people who would be upset if I was not around anymore.

The second stage was the realisation that my unemployment was a result of decisions taken by a limited number of individuals and it would not be fair for me to take out my anger on those who were innocent in this matter. I spent so long trying to work out who to blame that I realised I could use the effort I was making more constructively. I have to say, I am EXTREMELY glad there was nobody around to point me in the "right" direction.

In the end, Augustus, depression just isn't a good enough reason to kill yourself, in fact, nothing is. It's an act of violence against everybody who loves you.

Don't do it.

To quote the great philosopher Geldof, "Suicide leaves such a bad aftertaste in the soul".