…or perhaps, more accurately, transformed slightly. It can now be found HERE.
Following the completion of my doctoral thesis, the energies (such as they were) put in to T.I.S.A.R will be redirected towards Old Indifferent Gods. Information from this site – blogposts, audio links etc – will be redirected through Old Indifferent Gods in due course.
Thank you for your custom, and we look forward to welcoming you once more at Old Indifferent Gods.
Last week I finished (as in ‘I’ve corrected and edited enough that it’s ready to hand in’) the final draft of my thesis. Someone asked me if I felt elated, but I think I responded by suggesting that I was tired. I went for a walk to try and clear my head a little, or at least reconsider what I felt in light of how long I’d spent working on this project. I left the University and walked in straight line for what Google Tracks informed me was three hours (though because of some issue with GPS it was unable to map my route). After the first hour, I came across a square flanked by tall white buildings, each one adorned with long elaborately decorated flags. The square appeared to be deserted at least at first glance, but as my eyes adjusted to the new brightness of my surroundings I could see people flitting in and out of doorways, and tiny heads peeping around window frames. It wasn’t too long before the square was filled with people. Girls with deep blue eyes sang along to tunes played on wooden flutes, confused-looking poets recited incantations to a silent, cross-legged water God and jugglers and trapeze artists performed around a central platform of twirling, angry flamenco dancers. I thought that I recognized the faces of some of performers (I briefly ran an unsuccessful online record label and wondered if there was some connection) but before I had a chance to enquire after them, I was encouraged by two large men¹ to exit the square and be on my way. The celebration was in aid of a sacred relic that had recently been returned to the local museum following its ‘liberation’ at the hands of ‘my people’ during a brief spell of fighting fifty years before my birth. I wouldn’t be welcome, they said, and for my own safety I should continue my walk. I was in no position to disagree with their inverted commas.
After an hour and a half the trail I had continued along became less distinct. The tarmac and road markings had turned to a thin brown powder (which still stains my least-favourite pair of Puma trainers). It was still possible to chart a path of sorts though, as what was left of the track was peppered with cattle tracks and the occasional pile of what I took to be animal bones. I could also smell the city, and hear the sounds of far away trade caravans. After two hours I passed under the low wooden gates that marked the western limit of what had once been titled ‘The Amber Borough’. Rather than streets flanked with the yellow sassafras and sweetbay magnolias of my memory, I saw only knotted thickets of diseased rhododendrons, their flowers either browned or the colour of old blood. In my hurry to ‘walk-off’ the thesis, I’d forgotten that it was autumn, and the riotous pulses of spring colour I was familiar with had been literally replaced by the army of horticulturalists who comprise two-thirds of the city’s population. Gone too were the ornately carved swings which lined the main boulevard, where children dangled on the end of silk ropes during the high season, their mothers and fathers sprawled across the road, wine cups spilled, food ignored and subsequently devoured by whatever sewer-dwelling organism had developed legs that particular year. It was always a city of excess, even when apparently fallow. Despite my increasing thirst, I felt no urge to drop in on one of the out-of-season emporia in search of water (or indeed something stronger); they had originally been named after the delicate white snout moth, but the drab, rust-grey frontages I was witness to on this occasion bore no resemblance to their name sake. The place echoed the feeling I had when I visited Great Yarmouth with Zo (winter 2004 I think) and there was snow on the beach.
I departed the city from the eastern-most gate. Soon after leaving, the track wound through the remnants of a deciduous forest – where the tired boughs and hollow trunks seemed keen to mimic the grand institutional structures of their neighbour – to a series of caves cut not by rainfall, glaciation, or an underground river, but by human hands. I had been walking for two and a half hours, and after my nagging recollections in the city, I thought that getting out of the sunshine might help perk me up. Unfortunately, the cave I slid in to offered no darkness, its slick, ancient ceiling coated with purple crystals that emitted a waxy kind of light; now it comes to me, that unnerving subterranean glow is reminiscent of the council-flat bedroom I grew up in, and shared, with my sister. The cave walls, in an identical fashion to the bedroom from my childhood, were crisscrossed with overlapping murals depicting the absent aristocracy I had expected to find during that earlier hour. Thronging those imagined streets – which had been described to me as ‘loosely based on a celestial map of the Epsilon Eridani system’ – were women in gowns made of feathers and, from the look of it, material not dissimilar to a sheep’s stomach, bounding away from men adorned with hats made of tiles, each one inlaid with the eyes of an insect. Some of the men had dogs with them, but their anatomy was all wrong, their legs the texture of a lizard’s back. In another less well-constructed mural, children were cycling on Victorian bikes, playing a type of polo that I assume was adapted for the horseless (isn’t everyone these days?). My favourite of the cave paintings depicted a gang of hominids, a hunting party. In the foreground were the hunters – ageless and sexless; behind them, an array of big cats – arranged in order of size – who had been saddled for some unexpected purpose; the cats were watched over by birds of prey in tiny jackets and, behind them, almost merging in to the background-world of fossils and stone, mountain donkeys laden with enough provisions to the last the party a fortnight.
It was at this point that I pulled out my phone to add a marker to my map in case I wanted to return to inspect the murals at a later date; I figure I’m allowed a bit of down time…perhaps I want to explore a bit. Like I say, the map didn’t work, but seeing that I’d been walking for three hours I decided it was probably worth heading home and getting the dinner on (I cooked a dish that has been christened ‘Korean Clams’). Good exercise I suppose, but I’m slightly annoyed by the fact that I decided, based purely on longevity, that it was time to stop. As if there is some allotted time for these activities. I think I convinced myself I was tired when actually I was doing okay.
¹ Subsequently, a small amount of digging around in the archives has revealed that these men had once been slaves, most likely the property of one of the low island kings (at least according to their facial markings and the scar patterns on their shoulders).
A very brief post to say that the archive material for WDT/VSTM will unavailable for a time owing to the server on which they were hosted being closed down. I’ll endeavour to sort the links out and rehost when I get a chance (ditto actually adding something to the blog)
Lowndes Square was one of several projects designed by George Basevi, the architect son of a London merchant of the same name; he trained under Sir John Soane and his early work includes the St. Thomas’ Church in Stockport as well as Belgrave Square – also in London – which took sixteen years to complete. Basevi was similarly responsible for designing the Founder’s Building at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge, but died before it was completed (with Charles Robert Cockerell – who designed the Ashmolean – stepping in to finish the job). Lowndes Square is, so I read, a twist on what was typical of Belgravia. Whilst it features the white stucco grand terraces beloved, then at least, by the likes of Cubbitt and the Hardwick unlike Belgrave Square’s houses – which the aforementioned assisted in designing – Basevi kept tighter control on Lowndes and enforced uniformity by being its only designer (perhaps by pulling planning strings with his cousin Benjamin Disraeli?). Today it is occupied by oligarchs. Roman Abramovich owns a property there worth an estimated £150 million, but I saw that in the Daily Mail so who knows.
The Jumeirah Carlton Tower, a 5 star hotel that describes itself as ‘the essence of Knightsbridge’ and ‘a beacon of British style and sophistication’ sits just behind Lowndes Square and is, I think, the site where Susan Maitland is hurled to her death by what might be called a ‘global weather event’, whereby the speed of the wind increases exponentially until much of the Earth – with perhaps the exception of the far extremities, already windswept in their own icy way – is reduced to powdered stone. There is nothing left of the structures that we have built. Donald, her former husband, who had returned back to his apartment in the complex via armoured personnel carrier could do nothing but stare; he ‘saw her for an instant, catapulted through the updraught rising from the street, bounce off the roof of the Embassy building and then spin away like a smashed doll into the maze of rooftops beyond.’
In the strictest sense, which I would imagine to be anathema to Deleuze and Guattari were they still alive, Susan’s death is not a line of flight. I mean it is in a literal sense, in that she flies out of the window and bounces off of the roof of the Pakistan Embassy (or High Commission as it is listed today), but in a looser sense it still qualifies, in the context that ligne de fuite can cover ‘not only the act of fleeing or eluding but also flowing, leaking, and disappearing into the distance’…note the avoidance of the rest of that quote and its disavowal of flying. Susan is obviously disappearing in to the distance, reflecting Donald’s collapsing support network – which he had assumed no longer mattered, hence his planned departure for London Airport at the opening of the book – but she is also fleeing. Her death is an escape from complicity in the destruction that follows.
The apartment building Donald steps in to, prior to finding Susan semi-hiding out, is in reality an expensive hotel in Knightsbridge, but whilst reading of the gradual destruction of the Capital all I could picture was One Hyde Park, its empty corridors and expansive, shiny floor space (possessed but uninhabited, private security guards stalked by the ghosts of venture capital and secretly executed hedge-fund managers) a proxy for the abandonment of any semblance of interest in the ever-increasing gulf between owners and owned. It has always been thus; at least it isn’t a future of skies filled with nothing but buildings turned to dust. Oh. Excuse me. Donald’s remaining friends in military intelligence, either before or after Susan’s death (I forget which), have to enter a similar complex by blasting through an underground garage, the only point of entry, a security precaution designed by – I think – a man named Marshall as a way of keeping out undesirables. Later, much later, a similar entrance is required to allow access to a gigantic reinforced concrete pyramid, poorly anchored, eventually destroyed, but again designed solely as an insulated system. No connection between multiplicities, no transformations just exteriorities and people staring out at exteriority.
There are three potential walking routes from my house to the University where I work. Two of them converge at this point, with one initially tracing a line along the Hull Road which heads east out the city before snaking up Greendykes to the main vehicular access point to the campus, and the other following the school route past St.Leonards (via a cut-through I mentioned here) and then a shortcut between hospital buildings at The Retreat, the mental health centre established by William Tuke (his confectionery associate, Joseph Rowntree, is buried on the fringes of the grounds). The former route I use infrequently, and more often as a return route if I am accompanied by colleagues who live off the east road. The route includes the nunnery my house backs on to – soon to be redeveloped as student flats – and a number of new-build flats already partially occupied by students. The buildings have been given suitably-York names to remind people of a rough geography of the North, what we might call landscape-factoring structures; there is Bolton (after the castle), Helmsley (after the market town and castle) and Rievalux (after the abbey). These are names referring to other examples of the built environment, allied to buildings not really faintly similar to their namesakes. No bother. Further up the road, there is another set of student flats called The Boulevard. It has a security gate at the front, private security personnel inside, and an architecture that reaffirms the prevalence of flat pack thoughtlessness in design.
‘By the time I came to England at the age of sixteen I’d seen a great variety of landscapes. I think the English landscape was the only landscape I’d come across which didn’t mean anything, particularly the urban landscape. England seemed to be very dull, because I’d been brought up at a much lower latitude — the same latitude as the places which are my real spiritual home as I sometimes think: Los Angeles and Casablanca. I’m sure this is something one perceives — I mean the angle of light, density of light. I’m always much happier in the south — Spain, Greece — than I am anywhere else. The English one, oddly enough, didn’t mean anything. I didn’t like it, it seemed odd. England was a place that was totally exhausted.’
The point where the two routes meet – linked to earlier on Googlemaps – is a small road that has no real access for vehicles except as a drop off point. Until recently Googlemaps had this road listed as the main route in to the University. I attempt to highlight the mistake, owing to my cartographical OCD, but Google offered no feature whereby mistakes could be reported. Seemed odd, or potentially demonstrated Google’s control over the ways in which we interpret territory, or our understanding of the spaces we move through. Perhaps not as extreme as the case last year where Costa Rica was invaded by Nicaragua based on Googlemap inaccuracies over borders. Google’s spokesperson suggested that ‘by no means should they [the maps] be used as a reference to decide military actions between two countries’. Good to know. On the new Googlemaps, which appears to remove the old left hand info bar in favour of presenting a full page map with the old information embedded in the image itself, even the unofficial footpath through the trees to the back of the Biology block is included. There is something about this that makes me feel slightly grubby, the idea that this shortcut carved out by dog walkers, occasional student walkers and cyclists, is now codified by Google. Here, the creation of the path, what Lefebvre might term the representational space of walkers, is captured and made representative space, the preserve of the planners, and no longer lived in the same way. A reterritorialization on behalf of quasi-accuracy.
The third route to/from work heads from my house towards the school but diverges at this point. This is one of several entrances to Walmgate Stray, an area that is also known as Low Moor and is, as far as I’m aware, common land. Last year cattle were a frequent sight on the Stray, and made negotiating a route home slightly trickier. As with the east road route, I am more likely to take this route on my way back from work, rather than on the way there, with the exception of last week when low fog in the morning made the route an obvious choice based exclusively on ‘eerie atmosphere’. The route from work involves crossing the Stray partially on a paved path (where a colleague nearly ran me over on their bike several years ago as we headed to the Fulford Arms pub; again, this was in thick fog) before heading north under the usually heavy arms of trees, the mental hospital playing fields on the right behind a high wall, and the currently fallow allotments on the left, behind a low fence. The route between these two zones climbs gently to a peak which seems to be the highest point for 30 miles. From the top of the hill you can see the White Horse at Kilburn.
Last Easter, with snow still on the ground, I walked out to the White Horse along Roulston Scar (accompanied by my wife, and Stokes and Vicky who were visiting; they had brought homemade crème eggs which were the stickiest thing I have ever eaten). The snow was peppered by dog shit, which detracted somewhat from the view across the Vale. Eyes down, not up. You had to pass the gliding club to get out to The Horse. From the viewpoint around about the horses head it was possible to see the Minster through ‘powerful binoculars’. The scar was appropriately windswept, largely barren, but well walked as evidenced by the number of families in the tea room back at the car park. It was also, I learnt afterwards, one of the key sites in the Scottish War for Independence; the location of the Battle of Old Byland, where Edward II was defeated in 1322. The horse itself was carved on to the hill at the request of Thomas Taylor, a local who had seen the Uffington Horse in 1857 and wanted something similar for his village (or so writes Morris Marples in the 40s). None of that Neolithic symbolism for them.
The hill I walk across on my way home has something much older underneath it. The University, around July last year, set up a series of walks and talks around the area and fixed info points to walls from which I learnt about some of this. The walks/talks themselves were cancelled due to inclement weather (rain rather than fog). There is a hint of older structures and uses near the high wall, with a series of undulations and mounds that are clearly man made, but then I’m no archaeologist (or, for that matter, much of anything else). More information here I believe.
The hill was used during the Civil War. As the highest point in the area, cannons were positioned to fire in to the walls at Walmgate Bar, which still bears the marks of prolonged attack during the Siege of York. The gun platform was set up in 1644. Prior to that there was a windmill there. Before that, according to excavations done at the site, it was an Anglian cemetery, the 38 inhumations found there facing East-West. My route off the hill takes me back along the path of the birds at midnight. The spectaculars of history – by which I mean that all of history, by codifying its events and its ‘important people’, becomes spectacular regardless of representational accuracy – and the mundane nature of my walk, beneath the flight of a cannonball, interlink. I am, temporally-speaking, unable to escape the territory.
‘In the centre of Times Square a giant saguaro cactus raised its thirty-foot arms into the overheated air, an imposing sentinel guarding the entrance to a desert nature reserve. Clumps of sagebrush hung from the rusting neon signs, as if the whole of Manhattan had been transformed into a set for the ultimate western. Prickly pear flourished in the second-floor windows of banks and finance houses, yucca and mesquite shaded the doorways of airline offices and travel agents.’
Works consulted, in no particular order, include:
Lefebvre, H. 1991. The Production of Space. Wiley-Blackwell.
Marples, M. 1949. White Horses and Other Hill Figures. Sutton Publishing.
Deleuze, G and Guatarri, F.1980. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia Vol. 2. Trans. Brian Massumi. Continuum Press.
Ballard, J.G. 1962. The Wind From Nowhere. Penguin Books
Ballard, J.G. 1962. The Drowned World. Berkley Books
Ballard, J.G. 1975. Interview with James Goddard. Available here
A paragraph or so of text for Matt in order to contextualise video number V077A – Review of specified time period in allegory 2006-2013.
The second half of 2013 was vastly different to the seven preceding years. I used to spend my days in front of a computer screen in an office, broadly cut off from the world. Now I spend my days in front of a computer screen in a spare bedroom, broadly cut off from the world.
Whilst I am contractually obliged not to detail the events leading to this change in circumstances, the past year has nevertheless had a significant impact on the content of my continual march towards death.
Resultingly, I have decided to attempt an expression of recent themes through the combination of two hitherto uncombined film scenes. Since it would be unwise for me to comment further, given the aforementioned contractual obligation, I will allow you, dear reader/watcher, to draw conclusions that are subject to the whims of your own prejudice and experience. You’re welcome.
For his January/New Year guest contribution to T.I.S.A.R, Chris wanted to highlight some of his photographic work. Pictures first (which are pretty damn impressive), information second.
Former member of Tomfire et al, Chris studied for his BA in Photography and Video at the University of Lincoln, graduating in 2005 with a First Class Hons. With job prospects in a slump, Chris took a year off to live and work in Japan where he began to develop a taste for street photography, especially the phenomenon of sleeping in public places – a habit the Japanese seem to embrace.
Upon returning to the UK, Chris found employment as a graphic designer, a role which eventually led him to London and to a career as a freelancer.
A clearing in a wood surrounded by dead trees; the skeletons of birds and small mammals litter the floor. A sunken pond in a field. A man has cycled out to it and he lays asleep on the grass, his feet just touching the water. A morning so cold crows appear to have frozen in the air.
On the news, there is footage of Pakistani villages that have been destroyed by drone strikes. The drones are controlled from a room in Virginia. A few years ago there was that Army advert designed for young people – 18 or 19 perhaps – using Xbox controllers to pilot spy cameras attached to craft that look similar to drones. I think the advert was banned.
…a long sensitive pause is held till almost unbearable; then he looses…his tremulous hollow song. It echoes down the brook, breaking the frozen surface of the air. I look out at the west’s complexity of light. A heron, black against the yellow sky, kinked neck and dagger bill incised, sweeps silently down into the brook’s dark gulf. The sky infuses with the afterglow…
Animal trafficking discussed in seminars a few weeks ago. Belem do Para on the news as well. A tough port where there is a price for everything. Animal trafficking is the 3rd most lucrative business after drugs and gun running; 20 billion dollars a year. The man is speaking Portuguese, but I cannot read the subtitles without my glasses. Get in the suitcase.
…east of my home, the long ridge lies across the skyline like the low hull of a submarine. Above it, the eastern sky is bright with reflections of distant water, and there is a feeling of sails beyond land. Hill trees mass together in a dark-spired forest, but when I move towards them they slowly fan apart, the sky descends between, and they are solitary oaks and elms, each with its own wide territory of winter shadow. The calmness, the solitude of horizons lures me towards them, through them, and on to others. They layer the memory like strata….who are we at war with this week? Earlier, a man asked me for money. Carlos is yelling in to the trees, trying to attract monkeys. He’s wearing a relatively smart shirt. Perhaps I can use this discussion? A bald parrot looks like half a Christmas bird. The animals are terrified of human beings.
On the way to work in the morning, the new tar on the road has created a ludicrous amount of run-off, so it’s difficult to cross the road; the whole thing is more like a river now. Someone’s dog has shat all about the place. The three toed sloth is very easy to catch. One thousand dollars. Carlos is trying to tempt monkeys with a half-eaten banana. Sensibly they are ignoring him. He is described as ‘Brazil’s worst hunter’. He gets thirty dollars for a sloth.
The office is freezing. Strip lighting is painfully bright, and the lamp is too dim to read from properly. I’ve had communications from a number of people, a variety of messages, some of which I misread and respond to with information that is perhaps less than helpful, and later correct myself with apologies. ‘Hotdog Johnny’s is a great place!’ ‘My mother was born 1912 and she’d vote for him’. A reach which other people do not have. Find a compromise.
The first week, my dreams are confused. I am told my trousers are all wrong for the role. What am I expected to do? During the day – the real day – other nocturnal statements plague me, and it takes me a while to recall the separation between the real and the imagined. The man has lost a lot of weight as a result of gastric band surgery. There are explosions outside the window, but my legs ache too much to move over and see if any of them are any good.
…near the brook a heron lay in frozen stubble. Its wings were stuck to the ground by frost, and the mandibles of its bill were frozen together. Its eyes were open and living, the rest of it was dead. All was dead but the fear of man. As I approached I could see its whole body craving into flight. But it could not fly…
Energy drinks keep me awake. I’ve been ill a number of times. First some sort of flu, now an internal infection which hopefully won’t require anything more than time to fix: this is what I’ve been told. The old people flats have crumpled cans and empty bottles in the hedges. What is the matter with these people?
A red-throated diver, sodden and obscene with oil, able to move only its head, will push itself out from the sea-wall with its bill if you reach down to it as it floats like a log in the tide. A poisoned crow, gaping and helplessly floundering in the grass, bright yellow foam bubbling from its throat, will dash itself up again and again on to the descending wall of air, if you try to catch it. A rabbit, inflated and foul with myxomatosis, just a twitching pulse bleating in a bladder of bones and fur, will feel the vibration of your footstep and will look for you with bulging, sightless eyes. Then it will drag itself away into a bush, trembling with fear.
She says 90% of illegal immigrants enter the country and go on benefits. This is clearly bullshit. She strongly disagrees with things she knows nothing about. There are a number of maps on the wall. I can see pretend areas of London. No. Real areas, the areas people create or imagine or move through. Billy is looking down on me, with that withering stare. His eyes are sunken, his hand curled in to a half-fist. His complexion is thin, but you know that he is furious inside. At twelve thousand feet two planes collide. The wind is ferocious and there is fire in the sky for a moment.
We’re at the Jeep, and she bundles me inside. The animals are waking up at this time of day, as the sun sinks a little and the heat drifts off to some other shifting continent, except they all ran away didn’t they? My heart is pumping fast. My pupils are dilated. But I will be OK.
Sly have made a Prog album. A fucking trippy, mysterious, terrifying, dark and brooding beast of an album. Anyone can make noise. It takes a lot of reflection, heartbreak, stolen whisky slogs, squatting and bloodshed to actually evolve your sound whilst keeping the spirit of your act. And Sly, man, if you’ve seen them live, you know these crazy bastards know how to create the tension then release all the energy in the room into something euphoric and insane. They’ve captured it on record beautifully. It’s rich, stuff happening all over the place. So much going on. Waves of drones, drums build up, drums go ape, noise, YES. N.o.i.s. e. Chants. Screams. It’s what Industrial music should sound like before that genre got hijacked by Goths and cunts. In places, it lets you imagine if Autechre weren’t just sat behind laptops, and actually had a band. This is the closest I can describe it. It’s unique. Krautrock being dragged into the 21st century and drained of all the hippy shite. Yeah! Full on Tangerine Dream and Stockhausen vibes. And done with no strings in sight! That, comrade, is impressive. Salute….
Track one “Handed Cack” sets the uncompromising and claustrophobic scene for what is to come. It feels like how your head and ears feel like just after you’ve seen them live. Warm bloodied ears, with the threatening hum of tinnitus. Vocals being deformed in to the mix, chimes tingling high notes creating an eerie cascade.
Track one slow drips into Track two “Grey Meat”. The dying radar alarm sounds warn you the tempo is about to change. The tribal drumming builds up, with noise coming and going. Sampler stabs. Building and building until the whole thing kicks off for a riot. And then back to the alarm.
Track three, “A man that could look no way but downwards, with a muck-rake in his hand”, goes for a Musique Concrete approach to start off with, and then rips its mask off to reveal again the howls and mania heard in “Grey Meat” before then dropping some epic sub beats that pave the way for some fine cosmic nodding.
Get this on vinyl, bandcamp; play loud, in a room. And give it the respect it deserves!
27th of July 1974
The House of Representative Judiciary Committee votes 27 to 11 to recommend the first article of impeachment against President Richard Nixon
At Ascot for a friend’s stag-do. We arrived via minibus, the driver having accidentally taken us in to central London for no apparent reason, and went to a pub down the road from the race course. The place was packed, five or six deep at the bar, and it was suggested we use the bar outside to get our drinks. We make our way outside, and as we approach the bar the barmaid collapses on the ground, possibly as the result of heat stroke. Random drinker – but no-one from our party – rush to her assistance. I stand for a moment, taking in the scene, and making very little of the actions of the people around me. Eventually we go back inside where it takes a very long time to be served. A different barmaid apparently overhears a conversation that some of our party are having about the size of her chest, and departs for the kitchen, returning with a jumper on. I wonder if she will get heat stroke as a result.
We miss the first two races, the party splits up, we sit on a hillside as horses occasionally bob past at what seems a slow pace. In the distance a number of helicopters arrive and depart, no doubt ferrying the well-to-do about the place. None of the people I am with loses a vast amount of money, and the atmosphere is relatively jovial, despite the heat and the unacknowledged weirdness of being in an environment that is foreign to most of us.
Later, at a curry house in Luton, the man at the end of our table reminisces about his time at school, and how the friends he made then, he still has now. He explains that ‘I’d die for my mates’, and tears up a little. None of us is sure what to do, so we drink our terrible Indian lagers in silence. Someone mentions flaming sambuccas. Outside it is raining. My brother picks me up from the bus stop by St. Mary’s church
28th of July 1943
Operation Gomorrah sees the British bomb Hamburg, causing a firestorm that kills forty two thousand German civilians.
29th of July 2005
Astronomers announce the discovery of the dwarf planet Eris.
30th of July 1965
U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Social Security Act 1965 into law, establishing Medicare and Medicaid.
I meet up with a friend I haven’t seen since my wedding two years ago. We drink in a pub in Clerkenwell, then move on to another near Barbican where we are joined by another friend who has just finished work, both for the day and forever, in the sense that he has handed in his notice. We talk about being at University (we met on a Master’s degree course), and I mention some of the changes (I am still at the same University), including the death of one of our lecturers. This comes as a shock, so we raise a toast to him.
The real purpose of the mini-reunion is to attend the stand-up routine of one of my drinking companions. We go first to collect his comedy organiser, who is a good stand-up in her own right (at just 19), from Waterloo station and have a drink in an underground bar. I only have a half, but the barman insists on printing me a receipt. I am tempted to leave it on the bar, to soak up the beer I spill picking up my glass, but think better of it.
The comedy venue is a peculiar bar in Canary Wharf. We disembark the train, ascend the stairs, and feel dwarfed by the absurdity of the buildings. Crossing the old wharfs, tatty looking terrace houses are juxtaposed with huge office complexes. I wonder if anyone lives in the houses, and, if so, what sort of people would want to. I reason they are probably super rich, or maybe where various ancillary staff live temporarily whilst cleaning the office Mon-Fri. The venue is an out-of-the-way bar that looks out across the Thames to towards the Millennium Dome (as I know it, pre-branding). We are joined by older friends. The comedy venue is relatively empty, aside from other acts and a man dressed like Tommy Lee Jones in Under Siege. We eat burgers outside, and comment on the setting. Above the venue is a strip club. As we go in to lend our support to the comedy, some of the strippers file in to work. Both comedy sets are greeted with applause and laughter which is deserved, even if my friend is dressed as a sheep. He makes a joke about Justin Welby and Wonga, which is funny largely because of the outfit, and the notion that a sheep might have a view on something like short term loans. I go to the toilet after they finish on stage. It is like Peter Stringfellow’s underwear; entirely leopard print. What I should have said is ‘it is like what I imagine Peter Stringfellow’s underwear might look like’.
31st of July 1588
The Spanish Armada is spotted off the coast of England.
1st of August 1801
The American schooner, USS Enterprise, captures the Tripolitan polacca Tripoli in a single ship action of the coast of modern-day Libya.
My wife has a barbecue for her birthday. After a misunderstanding in which neither of us watches food burn, the barbeque itself catches fire. I sit watching the flames. Other people try to put the fire out. I reason that I do nothing because I am in a funny mood. The day is the hottest of the year and abhorrent as a result. My poor behaviour mimics this. We eat. I cook a zebra burger, in a pointless attempt to reinforce my position as ‘weird’. I do this despite knowing the majority of the guests for some twenty years. As I do readily when drunk, I reveal a number of secrets to the dwindling circle of friends still sitting around the table. I also heckle anyone going to the toilet, as they are visible from my seat in the garden (unintentionally). The following morning, when sober, I regret most of these actions.
2nd of August 1922
A typhoon hits Shantou in the Republic of China, killing more than fifty thousand people.
On the train home, I regret some of the actions of the previous day, but reason that one of the secrets was actually public knowledge, as it had been made at a gathering and heard by many people. I spend a while looking out of the window of the train, thinking about the separation between private troubles and public discourse.