“Oh my goodness, there’s a communist looking after my accounts!” Says one of my company’s most lucrative clients, as he spots my Jeremy Corbyn screensaver. Great. Now I’m trapped in a basement office full of Tories, ones that pay my wages, charged with the task of defending my personal politics, sans profanity. Rats. Perhaps I should have opted for a less controversial image instead; maybe the 2015 equivalent of Anna Kournikova picking her knickers out of her bum-crack, or Tom Hardy waving a big gun around.
First Day of Hiking. August 7th 2012.
A shaven headed young man with a Chicago twang and a backpack is eying ours and yelling, “Hey, are you guys going to Saint Jean? Wanna split a cab?”
“No thanks, it’s only an hour on the train”, I reply.
“Suit yourself,” he smiles, as a car pulls into the lay-by beside him, “I’ll see you there.”
That afternoon, in picture postcard market town of St Jean Pied-de-Port (Saint John [at the] foot of the pass), Rob and I join the queue at the Pilgrims Passport Office; a small community hall furnished with foldout tables. It is best, a leathery old woman with a clipboard informs us, in broken English, to avoid the full force of the mid-Summer sun. Starting early each day will ensure us a place at the next hostel and help us avoid sunstroke so we must not walk now, but get a bed for the night and rise with the birds.
Actually, they say a pilgrimage begins at home, so for me it started in Brighton, but I’m not counting the Easyjet flight to Biarritz, or the train to Bayonne and then on to St. Jean. That was just preparation for ‘The Camino de Santiago de Compostela‘ or ‘The Way of St. James Under The Stars’: a 500 mile trek from the South of France, up and over the Pyrenees and then all across Northern Spain. No planes, trains or automobiles between the first and last stamp on your pilgrims passport. Final destination for Catholics: Santiago Cathedral. Final destination pour moi: Finisterre – translation – ‘the end of the known world’. (Online pictures of clover-clad rocks, parting to reveal white sand flats against a topaz sea appeared worth an extra 54 miles of blistered heels and sunburn.)
It’s Sunday, the best day of the week. Poisonous remnants of last night’s vino destructo lumber around my cardiovascular system, but I wouldn’t call it a full-blown hangover. This fuzzy, achy feeling is nothing two of pints of Ribena and a day of frenetic activity won’t cure. I tell myself that feeling slightly woozy during yesterday’s somnambulistic drone gig was well worth today’s mild discomfort, but as I slide my diary from the bedside table onto the duvet, a searing bolt of pain passes between my temples causing me momentarily to doubt my Ribena theory. A blank page. Right then, I’d better make some art before apathy kicks in and leads me to the sofa; where I’ll have the option of remaining, in this unflattering knickers-and-a-jumper combo, whining at my housemates to bring me food from now until nightfall.
This is my view from the terrace of the Headland Hotel in Newquay, a vision of tidy tranquility. Roald Dahl’s The Witches was filmed here in 1990, but no movie memorabilia adorns the walls; instead, photo-realistic oil paintings depicting bits of cloth draped over suitcases, against fleur de lis patterned wallpaper. I sink further into an outside sofa, gazing out to sea, and try to relax. Cognitive dissonance: I’ve just devoured a slice of key-lime pie, the summer breeze is caressing my neck and I have no responsibilities for the next two days: I should feel contented. But I don’t. What right do I have to unwind whilst others are at the anti-austerity demo in London? What precious seconds am I selfishly wasting, here alone with my thoughts?
Before we found out what he’d been up to, half the girls at Weald fancied Mr. Rogers. Of course we did; it was an all girls grammar school and he was the only male teacher under thirty. We didn’t mind that he was a maths geek, at a time when NHS specs and ankle-swinging chinos weren’t a mark of roguish self-awareness and a killer record collection but a sign that you lived with your mother. Think Christian Slater in ‘He Was a Quiet Man’.
Mr. Rogers was in a band. That fact alone put him right up there with Alex James from Blur (this was well before the Tory-voting, cheese-farming crisis), even though it was the Salvation Army band and he played trombone. What did we know about music anyway? Most of my classmates thought ‘Now 35’ was the greatest album ever released.
For me, musicians have a special kind of draw, something like a shimmering forcefield of energy surrounding their bodies, sending snakelike tendrils through the ethers to wrap themselves about my wrists and pull me closer. I’ve never been a groupie; it’s not about getting my photo taken with some guitar-wielding Lothario at the end of a sweaty gig. The fascination comes from hearing someone’s soul represented in the sounds they make (chill out atheists, you can switch the word soul for ‘personality’ if you like) and admiring the drive that causes them to prioritise making noise over eating, sleeping and accruing material wealth. Yes, I’m talking about dedicated artists of sound, not record-deal hunters. And I propose author and biologist Rupert Sheldrake’s hotly contentious concept of Morphic Resonance to make sense of that ‘je ne sais quoi’ possessed by the ‘true musician’:
The term ‘rape culture’ refers to the various ways in which the severity of the act of rape is being belittled within our society, from its actual promotion on banter sites like unilad.co.uk and in the inane patter of self-styled celebrity wannabes like Dapper Laughs, to the porn industry and the myth perpetuating newsprint media. Headlines such as ‘Six footballers jailed over gang rape of 12-year-old girls in midnight park orgy’ (Daily Mail) damage the perspective of readers through language that serves a patriarchal agenda. We need to realise that by equating rape to ‘surprise sex’ by way of a joke, or describing vile acts of paedophilia as an ‘orgy’, we are normalising behaviour that should on no level be tolerated. Firstly, I think a simple change in the law could make a huge difference. By filtering down into the education system, understanding of this law could challenge the dangerous cultural attitudes being bred into our youth:
Jesus flippin’ Christ!!! Just watched Milibrand: The Interview. Apart from the repeated sexism that flowed from ‘heart in the right place, but in need of an education on gender equality’, Russell’s mouth, it played out like the best propaganda speech Labour could ever have hoped for. Ed has become eloquent. He must have won over a hell of a lot of ‘to vote or not to vote’ fence-sitters with his carefully agreeable approach. If Labour whips another few ballot-papers from betwixt the fingers of the Cons, it will be a small mercy, but it will be down to Russell. How is not being willing to engage with the current political system conducive to interviewing its champions? If Russell wants to maintain his stance that party-politics in the UK has become farcical and irrelevant, he probably shouldn’t be thrusting home the opposite message by inviting politicians to share his platform.
Incognito in dark glasses and a wide-brimmed hat, George Osborne sits in Standard Class on the 05:49 Bedford service from Brighton. He will pull his scarf up over his mouth before alighting at London Victoria. The station refreshment booths do not open for business until 06:00 so he is not drinking coffee, a fact causing grave irritation; the only genuine emotion he has retained the capacity to experience after the initiation process. Inspecting his hands, George notices the evidence: a small amount of dried blood under the nail of the left forefinger. No matter, she won’t be missed before Wednesday; The Agency will ensure there will be nothing left by then.
I have been an admirer of yours for many years. Your sense of humour is out of this world, and often, after a tough day at work, I can find no better way of cheering myself up than by donning my silk kimono, turning off all the electric lights, and tucking into a soothing bottle of absinthe whilst watching Fire Walk With Me. I’d rather disappear into one of your films than go to a party any day. Except for the Straight Story. I’m sorry to say that I really didn’t feel the magic there and would much rather have spent my one hundred and twelve minutes embroiled in a family-sized cake, crisps and wrapping paper nightmare. Recently though, I did attend a debauched birthday gathering that seemed to set in motion the chain of events that led me to writing this letter:
Over the last six months, I’ve inadvertently transformed from Luddite to digitally obsessed data-fiend. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not become a trained analyst (yet), but I have embarked on an exploration of the astonishingly broad implications of us living more of our lives online. Access to education, ease of data-sharing for scientific research purposes, social networking to aid political movement, the ease of online shopping for people with physical disabilities are all fantastic things. And online gaming. Bafflingly, that seems to bring geeky joy to a hell of a lot of people. Lack of privacy (coupled with diminished trust in international security agencies – thank you for shedding some light Ed Snowdon), individually targeted marketing, social pressures on youth/online bullying are not quite so warmly welcomed into our day-to-day reality. Okay, I still have fears about the future looking like an Orwellian dystopia (with more robots) but have reconciled myself to believing that the Internet is being used both for and against that happening. It is the best political tool we have as it unites like minds. But how is our use of digital communication changing the way we regard one another?