Sunday, 8 December 2019

Sunday shorts: World View Blue (acoustic version)

From the Loved E.P, the first Blue Aeroplanes record I ever bought, from a stall on the market in 1990.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Nineteen in '19: The Sea Inside Me

I've read far less in recent years than I would like. To help remedy this, I've set myself the modest target of reading nineteen books in 2019. When I finish one, a thumbnail review here will follow.

14/19: The Sea Inside Me by Sarah Dobbs

The blurb: In an England ravaged by civil strife and terrorism, Newark-by-the-Sea has trialled the Process – the removal of traumatic memories to eliminate crime and fear from the minds of its citizens. Processing Officer Audrey is instructed to tail Candy, a girl whose memories are inexplicably returning. As the Process is about to be rolled out countrywide, a dark conspiracy coils smoke-like into view. Dobbs’ prose is vivid and emotive, crammed with stark images and disturbing insights into the way we are and where we are heading.

The review: there's a quote that the publishers of this novella, Unthank Books, are using to promote The Sea Inside Me and it's this, from Guy Mankowski: "Evoking Ishiguro and Philip K Dick, this story couldn't be more now." And you know what, he's right. Dobbs's portrayal of a near-future England, familiar yet going to ruin, did put me in mind, at times, of Never Let Me Go. Similarly, her extrapolation of modern life, and its direction of travel, to conjure a realistic and all-too conceivable future world reminded me of Minority Report.

Those are pretty grand comparisons to make, but The Sea Inside Me justifies them as a slice of dystopian science fiction. But that's not all. Like all the best speculative fiction, Sarah's tale uses the prism of an imagined near-future England to shine a light on contemporary issues: gender inequality, trafficking, the commodification of women, worrying developments in the use of technology and, looming large over the whole story, climate change and environmental catastrophe. Those are all heavyweight issues, yet the author lays them all out for us to consider deftly, without them overshadowing the narrative; these themes serve the story, not the other way around.

What's more, Dobb's liquid prose style is a joy to read, even when the subject matter is grim. She has a distinctive voice, conjuring inventive descriptions and using words in unusual ways, that is both exciting and rewarding to read. She is also terrific at evoking a sense of place with great economy, brilliantly describing sensory details that place the reader very firmly in Newark-by-the-Sea. Similarly, there is concise but effective characterisation here - Dobbs provides enough of a character to instantly draw a thumbnail sketch of them, with further tiny details drip-fed as the story progresses, allowing the reader to join the dots. For an author, this is a real skill; for a reader, it is a joy to behold.

I'm keen to avoid spoilers, but I can talk about the Process because it's described in the blurb. It's such an intriguing idea, and it's been on my mind for days since finishing the book. Because if you can blank people, ostensibly to remove traumatic memories from victims, do you also create people to whom anything can be done? That's a pretty scary idea... but then if speculative dystopian SF doesn't scare you a bit, it's not doing its job properly, I'd say... And on that note, I'll leave the last word to Sarah's protagonist, Audrey, who closes The Sea Inside Me with this:

Mostly I wonder about stories. About how, while they might not change the world, they at least let us ask the questions. Don't you think?

The bottom line: brilliantly, beautifully written slice of speculative dystopia, deserving of a wide audience (and a three-part TV adaptation by the BBC, in my book)

Since everything online is rated these days: ★★★★★☆

Tuesday, 3 December 2019


It occurs to me that it's nearly Christmas. Once more, I feel disinclined to construct a New Amusements Advent Calendar - sorry about that. They're a lot of work to put together (bah) and finding decent alternative Christmas tunes gets harder every year (humbug). Plus, you know, life has a funny habit of taking the shine off such trivial pursuits... like silver jewellery going black if you don't wear it. Who wants to hear 24 festive indie tunes when old Wotsit-face Tiny-hands is over here for a visit, and our domestic breed of politicians are promising everything in the full knowledge that they cannot deliver it all.

Anyway... the calendars from previous Christmases are all still here for your listening/viewing pleasure, in case you're feeling jollier than I which, let's face it, is quite likely. Knock yourselves out...

Advent 2015   •   Advent 2016   •   Advent 2017

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Sunday shorts: Underneath The Bunker

As one of the YouTube commenters correctly observed, this sounds like it ought to be on a Tarantino soundtrack.

Friday, 29 November 2019

Gaslighting the nation

My first and, I promise, last post about party politics and the 2019 General Election...

With all apologies to fans of Hugh Jackman
(and for very hurried, Photoshop-less graphics work)
I suppose you have to have some kind of grudging admiration for Johnson and his Tory-boy chums. I mean, they have learned. They have really learned. Not just from their own past campaigns, and from those of New Labour (when did you last hear the phrase "spin doctor", by the way?), but also from the right-wing upstarts of the Brexit Party and, most of all, from the Republicans' Trump campaign. For right now there is nobody, literally nobody better at repackaging a narrative and peddling it as truth than Johnson et al. Or more accurately, because Boris is not actually as clever as some people once thought, Conservative Campaign Headquarters, CCHQ. Someone there is really earning their 30 pieces of silver.

Take last night's climate debate on Channel 4, an event to which all party leaders had been invited and all bar Johnson and Farage showed up. Now it's easy to see why Farage ducked this - the more the general public see of him, the less they like him. Far better for him to concentrate on blowing his dog-whistle to ensure the continued support of those that already back him; he knows he's not going to win anyone over, least of all on the environment. But Johnson? The man who is, lest we forget, still Prime Minister and leader of the largest party in the last Parliament (and the man whose backers have plenty of investment in fossil fuels, and the man who wants to be best buddies with eco-catastrophe Trump...). For him to duck a debate on what should really be the defining issue of our time? Scandalous. And he was rightly called on it. Social media was awash with the scorn being poured on him for ducking this. #ChickenBoris was trending, and CCHQ didn't like it. What was to be done?

And this is where they earned their money, again. Because, uninvited and unexpected by Channel 4, they sent Michael Gove along at the eleventh hour. And to ensure their preferred narrative could be repackaged and peddled to depict the Tories as the aggrieved party, Gove even had his own camera crew with him; his, or rather CCHQ's, perspective could be captured rather than Channel 4's. Because look, here was Michael, all eager, politely asking if he could be allowed to participate in the climate debate because, after all, he had been Environment Secretary, and wasn't it important for the Conservative position to be heard... well yes, Michael, but if it was so important, why not send the party leader to a leader's debate?

Credit to Channel 4, they played it with a straight bat. The production team were consulted. The other party leaders were consulted. And the answer was, rightly in my view, thank you but no. As you may have seen, they empty-chaired Boris and Nigel, replacing them with ice sculptures that symbolically started to melt during the debate.

And so there should be two stories this morning: one, what the attending leaders actually had to say at the debate; and two, the cowardly non-appearance of Conservative party leader, Boris Johnson. But the whole thing has been repackaged by CCHQ and the public is being told no, that's not a fair depiction of what happened, the things you have seen and read with your own eyes are not correct. Look, enviro-Gove attended the debate but nasty old Channel 4 wouldn't let him in. Don't you see, it's Channel 4 and the other party leaders that were the cowards, for refusing to debate Michael. Oh, and look, we sent Boris's dad along too, to say charmingly baffled things about WhatsApp, in the hope that it might evoke a rose-tinted nostalgia for that time when Boris was on HIGNFY a lot, you know, when he was more popular. Don't believe the truth, people, believe our truth. And if that's not gaslighting, I don't know what is.

Of course this repackaged narrative of the Tories as media victims is also quite handy for legitimising a threat to review Channel 4's public service broadcasting remit (and, by inference, funding). This from the party that has also banned the Daily Mirror from their campaign bus. The message is clear. Report us the way we want or else. That sort of thing reminds me of Soviet Russia. Or 1930s Germany.

The underlying message of this whole sorry story though can't trust Boris. More than that, you can't trust the Conservative party. Whilst Johnson might be their notional leader, he's just a figurehead - witness his squirming response on the further cowardice of dodging the Andrew Neil interview ("Other people than me are responsible for those discussions and negotiations" - Christ, man, you're supposed to be the leader!). And you really can't trust him/them on the NHS. How many new hospitals, really? How many new nurses, really? Not up for sale, really?

I almost started this post by saying I don't have a particular political axe to grind. I'm not trying to get you to vote for a particular party. But I guess I have ended up here, imploring you not to vote for a particular party. Don't be conned. Don't be taken in. Don't vote Conservative.

More than that, though. Do vote tactically. Give our country its best chance of not having a Tory majority or Tory-led coalition. There are three main tactical voting guidance sites, so take your pick of these:, and - unhelpfully, they don't always agree, so visit all three and then use your common sense.

EDIT: Oh, and if you think I'm over-reacting to the manipulation and treatment of "dissenting" media by those in power, I've just read that the i newspaper has been bought by the owner of the Daily Mail... good luck to us all.

Thursday, 28 November 2019

I used to love how he said "Pracatan"

RIP the marvellous Clive James, an absolute staple of my 80s and early 90s television watching...

And here he is, interviewing another hero, The Shat, because, well, why not?

He wrote some good books too...

Wednesday, 27 November 2019


This was on the radio this morning, and it suddenly struck me that this is a song to add to last week's discussion of funeral playlists.

For a start, it's a wonderful Kinks song, and they were a band that was so important to the younger me. Then there's Kirsty's singing - I love the idea of her voice filling the crematorium. And finally, there are these lyrics, that I hope would be uplifting for anyone that shows up:

Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.
I’m thinking of the days, I won’t forget a single day believe me.
I bless the light, I bless the light that lights on you believe me.
And though you’re gone you’re with me every single day believe me.

Days I’ll remember all my life. Days when you can’t see wrong from right.
You took my life, but then I knew that very soon you’d leave me.
But it’s alright, now I’m not frightened of this world believe me.

I wish today could be tomorrow.
The night is long, it just brings sorrow, let it wait.

Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.
I’m thinking of the days, I won’t forget a single day believe me.

Days I’ll remember all my life. Days when you can’t see wrong from right.
You took my life, but then I knew that very soon you’d leave me.
But it’s alright, now I’m not frightened of this world believe me.


Thank you for the days, those endless days, those sacred days you gave me.
I’m thinking of the days, I won’t forget a single day believe me.
I bless the light, I bless the light that lights on you believe me.
And though you’re gone you’re with me every single day believe me.


There, that's nice, isn't it? A positive message to leave my nearest and dearest. And, as a bonus, the whole thing is over in three minutes. I don't think music played at a funeral should go on too long, do you? Anyway, here's three versions of the song:

Original video

Bonus TOTP performance

Source material...

And as an aside, the Kirsty MacColl website is an amazing resource and something of an Internet rabbit hole, with great detail about every song. Have a look sometime...