Remains of the day

I’ve been very slack on the blogging front in the last couple of months.

No time for writing. Or, more accurately, no time for thinking. Trying to find space and time to think about what to write has been the challenge this year.

The desire to write has been significant.  On more than one occasion I’ve found myself sat in front of either a blank word document or a blank WordPress console. Sat with nothing to write.

Time for reading has been slim too.

Paucity of time has been compounded by some bad choices on the book front, sapping momentum from what was a fairly prolific start to the year.

I seem to have found salvation in the form of The Remains of the Day by Kezuo Ishiguro. It’s a gentle novel. A nice change from the corse prose of an Amis or a Welsh or a Niven.

I am sure that this is the most pedestrian and prosaic of readings – but the thing i’ve been most taken with is the focus of the story on transition. It is an obvious observation perhaps, given the novel’s title.

We meet our character as he approaches the twilight of his career. We see an England that is falling from the grasp of the previous generation’s nobility and into the hand’s of wealthy industrialists. New Owners. New Money. Set between the  first and second world war, an even bigger shift in the global stage is about to occur.

I don’t know why I’ve been so captivated by these themes. Transition and change are everywhere in modern storytelling. But,  something about the stories use of a distinct change in ownership seems especially pertinent to me, today – living in London. London is in flux. Money is flooding in to the capital. Pubs in hitherto unfashionable areas of London are being taken over and converted by estate agents, those most loathsome standard-bearers of the capitalist mission. Where their liveried fleet of vehicles go, money inevitably follows, and so with it goes a little bit of the soul of a place. A soul which has made London so so vital and vibrant.

Like Ishaguro’s England, the change is being driven by new money. But today we also have a new government too, one whose recent election promises are now manifesting themselves in startling technicolour. People aren’t happy about it. For whilst the capital booms, the rest of the country that is outside of the M25 seems to continue to stutter and those most in need of help from society see less and less support. Change is everywhere, some of it good, some of it not so.

Not many other forms of culture force the mind in such a vivid way. It’s an important quality that literature possesses. Something about the way we engage with a book or story, not quite part of it, but still not quite removed. Stories become useful lenses for us to interpret our surroundings, to make sense of the world and try and find meaning: much in the same way we try to with works of fiction in the first place.

There is a relentlessness about Ishaguro’s story. A foreboding sense that as night falls and the remains of the day fade, we will witness our protagonist’s end. That the ultimate transition we’re witnessing is from life to death. I know London will not be killed by the changes it is going through currently, but it may experience a certain type of death – one that kills it’s creativity, one that kills it’s vibrancy, one that makes it boring; a fate that could be worse than death.

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Death of a Disco Dancer

I came across this amazing video the other day. It is very grainy, early video footage from a club night called Shaboo, recorded about 25 years ago in Blackpool in 1990.

The DJ playing is Sasha. 25 years later he’s still around and remains one of the leading lights of the electronic music scene.

It’s a pretty incredible video. And not just because recordings of raves and club nights from this time are so rare. It’s incredible because it really cemented for me how shit iPhones and their kind have made things.

People are dancing. Really dancing. Totally inhibited – either naturally or as a result of the chemicals they’ve chosen to accompany their evening. Not only that, but the DJ isn’t the focus. People face every direction. They face each other. The music is what is driving them. Its what drives the connection between the people in the room and the room itself.Nothing like today. Nothing like the narcissistic need to be front and center. Not like the need to record everything you see so that you can share it online later, convincing your friends and yourself how fucking awesome a time you had.

Not like the fact we’ve never had so much to look at, but we barely see anything at all.

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Hollow Men

Between the conception
And the creation
Between the emotion
And the response
Falls the Shadow

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Deal or No Deal

Full of cold, i’ve worked from home today.

Accompanied by a bowl of Tomato Soup I flicked through the channels, looking for something to watch as I ate. I settled on Channel 4, lured in by the lairy opening credits of gameshow Deal or No Deal.

I’ve not watched the programme in two years. Gone are the days when I used to work in TV and it was my job to keep an eye on daytime television. There are lots of the show’s elements that have changed. There are new elements to the game play. More interaction with the banker, more decisions make and an all new 23rd box that awaits each player at the end of the game.

It so happened that it was a terrible edition to watch, from the contestant’s perspective. He went away with a pound, having eliminated all the red (high value) amounts immediately.

The one constant though was the level of spiritualism exhibited by everyone; by Noel, by the contestant, by his co-contestants. There is an almost unbelievable level of belief that this game is tactical. That the player can impact the result and that faith in a system will prevail.

True, there are tactics. Knowing when to deal, for instance. But, the game is luck. You chose a box. You deal with the consequences. There is no skill. No greater force at play.

It reminded me of Jon Ronson’s killer article about the whole thing. How amazing the cult of Deal or No Deal is. What it does to people and how the producers create the camaraderie that we see on screen. Its remarkable. The article is one of my favourite pieces of journalism. Its always worth a re-read. Especially when confronted by Noel’s strange, spiritual spiel.

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Welcome to Ambridge

“A contemporary drama in a rural setting”

Something about the way my digital radio described Radio 4’s The Archers to me this morning made me smirk.

A ticker tape, words and a series of illuminated LEDs passing from right to left. I have no idea why it made me smile, nor why this is the first time i’ve noticed it.

Extremely accurate on the one hand, totally insufficient on the other.

What about the hay thief?

What about the amateur dramatics?

What about the flood?

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Delayed Gratification

My wife bought me a subscription to Delayed Gratification for my birthday, a magazine published by The Slow Journalism Company.

I’d never heard of it before and didnt know what to expect, but having read the explanation of the concept that I found on the inside front cover, I think it’ll be right up my street. This is what it says:

Slow Journalism matters

Why? Because today’s ultra fast news cycle rates being first above being right. It tells us what’s happening in real time but not what it means. It gives us the beginning of stories by never their end. It promotes kneejerk reactions and cut-and-paste journalism over context and perspective. It lends significance to Twitter storms, PR-driven stories and synthetic outrage.

It does not nourish. It does not inspire. It is not enough.

We believe in a slower, smarter approach and with your support we are taking a stand. Each purchase of Delayed Gratification is a vote for non-partisan, independent, intelligent slow journalism


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Stephen King – On Writing

In this case, actually the more globally famous Stephen King, rather than the one I normally find myself writing about.

A book a number of people have recommended to me in the last year is Stephen King’s ‘memoir of the craft’, On Writing. I’ve not read much of his work and am more than familiar with a couple of the films adapted from his work, so didnt know what to expect really.

It’s a fantastic book. He writes simply and clearly with an honesty which was almost refreshing. Who would have thought that both Misery and The Shining were about him dealing with addiction. But, whilst the ‘CV’ section – loosely a short and concise memoir of how he got into writing was interesting, amusing and enlightening, it was the section on how to write that was most rewarding. As discussed here, the way I write, especially with regards to my work has become a bit of a preoccupation recently.

Whilst there were a number of nice stylistic and formal tips for writers in the book – avoid adverbs, never use the word ‘very’, for starters – it was some of the more fundamental points he makes which I found myself agreeing with the most, normally whilst thinking that whilst they were basic tips for writing, I’m lazy and often forget…

Firstly : Kill your darlings . In other words – don’t be afraid of getting rid of something – an idea, an insight, a point, a strategy. Especially if it doesn’t fit or doesn’t work. Don’t get sentimental about your ideas.

Secondly, a loosely related to the point above: If a gun is on the mantel in Act 1, it has to go off in Act 3. Why set something up in a document if it never gets resolved?

Thirdly – what is your version of Edgar Wallace’s plot wheel? Basically an early version of Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategy Cards: a way of muddling through problems when no obvious answer exists!

Lastly: write with the audience in mind. Obvious, but easily forgotten. Who are you presenting to. What will they comment on and what will they notice?

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