Revisionism for the masses

For reasons too boring to list, I was forced to use the Labour party’s online contact form.

The auto-reply I received was from ‘no-reply@new.labour.org.uk’.

As someone who’ll chase even the slightest whiff of sarcasm or cynicism, the irony wasn’t lost on me.

Neither was it lost on Labour:
New Labour screen cap
Image: new.labour.org.uk.

The humour might be accidental but the intention was not. Other addresses (haha.labour.org.uk, abolishthepast.labour.org.uk, and weneedtolooknewanddifferentbutnottoodifferentorthedailymailwillhateus.labour.org.uk) are all standard addresses. This is deliberate and my flat cap goes off to whoever did it.

Use your right to protest on the street

I’m watching everyone on the Student Fees protests while listening to Running The World over and over again.


Picture: BBC. Original.

Your free market is perfectly natural,
Or do you think that I’m some kind of dummy,
It’s the ideal way to order the world,
Fuck the morals, does it make any money?
And if you don’t like it? Then leave.
Or use your right to protest on the street,
Yeah, use your rights but don’t imagine that it’s heard, Oh no no.

It’s been one of those days yes, which is oddly in tune with itself (I have Pulp tickets, yes!) but it’s more than that. It’s people, for once, doing something. I’m not asking for violence, no. That will just make people dismiss us. Doing something, yes. YES.

Socialist serenade

Following on from my previous political ramble, something in me snapped at the Newport Manics gig. Somewhere between Masses Against The Classes and Golden Platitudes I was overwhelmed by sheer frustration and disbelief at what’s going on around me.

No, not Nicky playing with his crotch all night, though that did bring a certain wave of disbelief with it too.

Not that, but the way the spending cuts are being run and the general change in the political weather. I’ve grown up under Labour and I’ve grown up under people telling me they’re just as bad as the Tories. Five months in power and I’m certain right through to my very core that they’re not.

I am so angry right now. I’ve been off the daily political ball for so long that I can only vaguely tell you what I’m angry at, but I am angry. I stopped reading the news because it made me angry at the way it was reported and what they chose to count as news, rather than what was actually said. I hate information media. I need it, I thrive on it, but I hate it.

Yet, even in my relatively uninformed state, I know that this. is. not. right.

Golden Platitudes is a terrible song. But every time I hear it it cuts deeper. What the HELL are we doing? Seriously?

So cut back to the Manics gig for a second. Think what I’ve been hearing all night: The liberal left destroyed; What price now for a shallow piece of dignity; the future is what we believe in; then your children will be next; This life it sucks your principles away you have to fight against it every single day.

Little wonder then, that I snapped. They’re the ones that gave me this political sensibility, why not them to reignite it?

And what have I done? I’ve gone and joined the Labour party, that’s what. You will now address me as Comrade Hegarty or I’ll declare you a Bolshevik.


Link: Labour party membership site.

Now I know that this won’t really solve anything but I want to do something, however small.

And I know that Labour aren’t exactly the best model of left-wing politics either but they’re the best we’ve got. I’ve not got the energy to start a one-woman revolution, or a single passion for a single issue. This is an ideological fight and I’d sooner join the Bullingdon club than the SWP.

And I know that I’ll probably hate local politcs and find it as depressing and futile as everyone says it is, but I’m still going to give it a try because if nothing else it’s an adventure.

And I know that you’ll all think it’s just because of the Manics and maybe on one level it is, but they didn’t tell me to do this, they inspired me and that’s very different.

And I know you think that it’ll probably come to nothing, but you’re wrong. It’s already made my Tory-loving 6th Form politics teacher with very odd definitions of ‘fair’ absolutely hopping mad.

Plus, it was a quid and you can’t say fairer than that.

Put out more flags

“There is no us and you, only we.”

Not a exactly a revolutionary statement anymore, although it should be. It might seem strange that I frame my anger and passions through the actions and words of a pop band, but actually it’s the way that makes most sense. Nothing combines the threads of my life – media, politics, music, comedy, God, words, noveltly stationary – like the Manics.

In Liverpool, James Dean Bradfield speaks this simple statement just before ‘A Design For Life’ and my whole soul is with him. The fact that I have been nursing a rant about that innocuous word ‘they’ and all the unseen damage it does is only part of the story. So is the pure exhilaration of live music. It’s not because it’s true, but because I so badly want it to be true.

Earlier they played ‘Golden Platitudes’. Not much on record, live it takes on a new level of righteous anger. Where did it all go wrong? The liberal left destroyed. Why colonise the moon when every single of kind of desperation exists?. It’s not a call to arms but a howl of despair.


Picture: JDB by Amy Hill

Charlie Brooker recently wrote about the left’s inability to use rheteric and propaganda as well as the right. One reason might well be that we don’t have coherent standpoints or arguments to make. Our main cry is in essensce ‘I think you’ll find it’s a bit more complicated than that’ (cheers, Ben). I truly believe that it almost always is. But in the political arena we have at the moment, the message of difference and tolerance is really hard to put out, precisely because there is no hard line to be drawn or people group to blame.

I don’t have a solution, thought it might help if the media and the Labour party themselves would actually let us have a vaguely left leaning opposition, instead of this Red Ed nonsense and panicing every time they say something against the Tories. Op.po.si.tion.

I love the Manics because they use the platform they have to say some of this. They teach me and clarify what I’m already thinking. Life is complicated but sometimes there’s no simpler pleasure than watching a truly great band.

Still so in love with you

It’s that time of year again, when everything kicks into gear. Not because it’s autumn or anything, but when I open my diary and it’s a mess of train times and confirmation numbers. My head, to match, is a mess of organisation, revelation and glitterly disintergration. Time, in short, for a Manics tour.

A new album too, to add to the adventures of my imagination this month. I’ve been seeing the world through a mixture of Sherlock, Phill Jupitus, Chalet School, Edwyn Collins, Fry & Laurie, Bret Easton Ellis, Edingburgh Fringe, and Patrick Wolf, plus all my usual temptations.

Now’re we’re in September and things are kicking up a gear.

Exhibit A. On Monday we see Stephen Fry read from his biography part 2. I’m re-reading volume one, Moab is my Washpot in anticipation. It’s been a while and I’d forgotten how close to the bone it was. Not in circumstance but in sentiment. I keep having to come up for air during passages. Sometimes I can’t process a whole sentence at a time, the feeling is so thick. I adore it, but it feels like I’m being turned inside out in the process. I remember when I first read it I knew it would change me. That was about three years ago and I was right. The next link in the chain, the next big touchstone for all I’d pick up, read, frame my thoughts through. You’ll either get that or you won’t but either way, it started in Moab.

Exhibit B. I was in York this weekend gone and with two hours free shopping, hit the charity shops to stock up. Very succesfull – Mark Gatiss, Alan and Victoria Coren, a previously un-owned edition of Moab, Grahame Green and Miles Kington all showed themselves. So did a Billy Ray Cyrus CD and a horrible book titled ‘The Smarties Guide to the Galaxy: Space, the universe and everything’. I did not buy these last two monstrosities; I put Billy to the back of the rack and hit the Smarties one against the bookshelf because I am mature like that.

Exhibit C. There’s lots to write at the moment, so I must take notes properly as I go pootle along so I don’t forget all the things I’ll put to page when I get the bloody time. I must keep hold of the Edingburgh spirit when I stayed up all night discussing sketch craft with the UCL Comedie crew. Sketches are where I started. I still have a Monty Python-esque fear of punchlines.

These things might sound like diversion but they’re all the same thing really. Swimming deep in inspiration, infatuation and validation. I love it. It makes we want to work, to create, to design and write.

So after Fry there’s a couple of weeks respite until the Manics tour, which takes up most of October. In between all this introspection, I must organise trains, hotels and myself. I must attempt to remember which of the hundreds of editions of the album/single I’ve ordered.

And then I’ll hit the road. I’ll be working, travelling, and singing, but probably not eating or sleeping. No doubt I’ll come back with a million new in-jokes and a whole host of new favourite lines. Let’s end on another one, Jarvis this time. Why live in the world when you can live in your head – and cringe at the number of hours you’ll spend waiting in Birmingham New Street wondering where the hell you’re headed next?

There’s a song that I recall

I went to see an adaptation of Adolf Hitler: My Part In His Downfall in Hampstead the other week. As adapatations go, it was excellent. It took the three biggest elements of ‘Adolf’ and the subsequent volumes – the humour, the loss and the music – and told of the first two through the latter.

Taking of the form of a classic revue show of jazz standards, it merged the hits of the time into the plot, and unlike most of the modern day pop-musicals (yes, still looking at you, Ben Elton) it succeded wonderfully. Like the best stand-up shows, the transitions between skits, songs and scenes were seemless, and the over all impression was of friendship in one of the most wasteful expending of human life in history. I was laughing, through joy and sorrow, often at the same time. In short, it did justice to the books, and was exactly what theatre should be.

In the subsequent couple of weeks, I’ve re-read ‘Adolf’ and the next one in the series, Rommel, Gunner Who?. A lunch break later and I’m wondering what happened to Harry ‘Ying Tong’ Edgington, Spike’s best friend in the pre-Goon era. Now so reliant on Google and Wikipedia to meet all my pop-culture needs, I was really rather confounded when a search on both of these turned up next to nothing.

If did they a QI on ‘ways Kathryn chooses to abuse the wealth of information resources at her fingertips’, I will definitely apply for the job of Chief Elf.

The reason I know so much about Harry is, ironically enough, because I can’t find anything much out about him at all. I was reading Spike Milligan’s war memoirs, and he’s featured loads (usually with a cup of tea). He co-wrote some of Spike’s early comedy sketches and started a Battery Band with him. His surname was even the inspiration behind the Goon’s Ying Tong Song.

Anyway, as I often happens whenever I get interested in a subject something slightly to the sidelines of the main subject (i.e. WWII) will spark my curiosity. In this case it was Spike mentioning that Harry lived in Archway, down the road from me! I wondered if he went back there after the war, and what he ended up doing. He didn’t end up in the Goons despite his early forays into that music and comedy with Spike, so where did he go? Normally I’d whack a couple of things into Google, and bish bash bosh, there’s your answer.

Only, there’s nothing, except a small article in a Kiwi newspaper saying he’d died. Ziltch. I tried a few more combinations and still nothing. Harry was to the Goons as Pete Best was to the Beatles, and yet the internet has never heard of him, apart from in reference to the Ying Tong Song. I think this actually broke me slightly because I’m so used to being able to find anything I want online. I then spent a mad afternoon looking in the Guardian, Mirror and Times online archives (which go right back to the first edition). STILL NOTHING, not even in Spike’s obituaries.

Of course, obstruction like this just makes me more determined to find out what I can about the guy. I’ve pieced a few things together, but it’s basically my pet project at the moment. It made me think about all the other information that probably isn’t online. A massive black hole that you don’t know is there until you try and find something from pre-1980. People these days assume that everything is online, that there’s a record of everything and there isn’t. Harry wasn’t just another soldier, he was instrumental (excuse the pun) in changing Britain’s comedy culture and there really isn’t anything. I’m trying to find out enough information so we can make a wikipedia page for him, then I expect other people will be able to add stuff. It’s just getting it started.

Information is a gorgeosity

One side effect of having a computer which takes 20 minutes to boot up is the free time I get to flick through Information is beautiful each morning. True to its word, its a beautiful book and before long I decide it’s time to try my own hand.

I’m an Information Architect. Without information I’m only an annoyance to RIBA. Can’t be that hard to construct a visually tantalising self-explanatory diagram, can it? Turns out it can.

First, I needed some data. Figures and/or relative relationships seemed to be the way forward, only I didn’t really have a strong set of either. What I did have was a long-standing amusement over the way characters in Stephen Fry novels interlock. Not just in a Bret Easton Ellis manner where we see the same people across different publications, but where different elements of semi-autobiography are split and twisted for different purposes forming a tapestry of half-truth, fact, madness and breakfast.

It’s not something that’s easily explained in words so it seemed the perfect subject for my info graphic.

But, as any idiot except me could see, that was the easy bit. So we’ve got our complexity, big deal. How to make it simple? Here’s some questions I tried to answer:

What are the important parameters and relationships?
Should some characters be given more weight than others?
How many dimensions (time, truth, relevance, head-hurtingness)?
Am I trying to make the complex clear, or show just how confusingly complex it is?

To begin with I went with something very rigid. I kept it monocrome as I wanted to get the structure and relationships records before I added that extra layer of distraction. Easy enough to read, I think, but it didn’t show the overlaps and confusion clearly enough. Also, using a fact->breakfast scale of confusion is (1) a very geeky Fry thing to do, and consequently (2) only makes sense to me. I happen to like it, even named a site after it, but it’s not exactly accessible.


Bigger.

So I switched to a more complex structure which had lots of detail, but turned out to be a nightmare to design. This was partly because I was over-complicating the different between ‘protagonist’ and ‘love interest’, placing too much emphasis on the source texts and trying to maintain a time/truth dimension to it when really that’s too subjective to record. Bad moves.


Bigger.

The last attempt takes a more subtle tone. It’s character-focused, which the previous iterations weren’t. This is important because the whole point of this infographic is the morphic overlapping characterisation. Good.


Bigger.

But they’re characters, so what? Lots of people are called Steve. So why is this interesting? Because it’s about love, friendship and learning. It’s human. I only care about the way these people link together because I am emotionally engaged with their emotional lives. Let’s show it.

Lastly, I needed a way to show where each character was featured, otherwise there’d be no indication that this was conflation of plots, not just one. This was tricky as I’d already overcomplicated things once and didn’t want to go down that road again. Colour-coding sure, but how? Each element needs to be readable at a glance, but it mustn’t over-power because it’s a secondary feature. A little dot either side of the emotional link. It just about does its job, I think.

From my list of considerations, one, Am I trying to make the complex clear, or show just how confusingly complex it is? still remains unanswered. The concept I’m trying to express doesn’t lend itself to divisions or clarity and I don’t think it’s stands up on its own. Unless you know Fry’s work it’ll be meaningless; prior knowledge is needed.

In retrospect, it probably wasn’t the best choice of data. It could show just how confusingly complex it is, but actually I think that’s ideas above its station. It’s just confusing!

One thing’s for sure. When Fry publishes the next volume of his biography this September, I’m going to need to redraw. Things will be more complicated than ever.

Hello, it’s us again.

Attention. The next Manics album will be as follows.
Following gobshite Wire’s statement that the next album will be an attempt at ‘mass communication’, a pub committee decide we don’t even need to hear it to know what it’ll sound like.

Tracklisting:

1. The second single. It’ll have a ‘la la laaa’ chorous, and will certainly contain a string section.
2. The first, slightly communist hit single, with a repeated chorous (Nick’s spelling, not mine) and a high chance of string section.
3. The track based on Sky news, referencing money, football and the Tories.
4. The track about some artist we’ve never heard of.
5. The track on some film nobody knows or wants to see. There will be an least one instance of a poorly recorded soundbite from said film, or if Wire is feeling extra-clever, a poet.
6. The track which is ripped off from made up of quotes from Wire’s current favourite people.
7. The track which will inevitably become James’ acoustic spot live, and will probably be the third single.
8. The track about war, global politics and Wire’s own internal strife vaguely weaved together. This is like track 3, except Nicky read about this stuff in a book, rather than watching it on the telly.
9. The track where Nicky takes lead vocals/prominent backing vocals and mutters about his house, kids, Newport, haircuts, dysons and GLORIOUS WALES.
10. The track which James wrote the lyrics to, over a pint (or two or three or four), where he attempts to sound deep ‘n stuff
11. The last track, with a four word chorous and epic outro.
12. The hidden track – probably Poker Face, or Rock Around The Clock, if James gets to choose.

And the bsides:
13. The track which rips off a Generation Terrorist song, only James sings an octave lower.
14. The track which reuses the lyrics to previous Manics songs
15. The track about Richey, but it isn’t, but it is yeah you know kinda like. Despite not being about Richey, it’ll have a soundbite of him speaking in the middle.