PIZZA - THE OFFICIAL FOOD OF BEING STONE BROKE

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Back in 1986/7, when London had chewed me up and spat me out the other side, I got on a train with the last of my money and moved back home. If you read between the lines, what that really means is I went home. I didn’t actually have anything to move with me because a Sony Walkman, a pair of orange sponge headphones and one tape cassette does not constitute as ‘moving’.

Life was going wrong in all kinds of ways. I was more lost than one of those kids that hangs out with Peter Pan. With nothing to my name but Rick Springfield’s Living In Oz and TKO’s Below The Belt on that cassette, the future looked pretty bleak. I should have paid attention to the album titles.

With my back against the wall, I found myself living at a train station. Not anything like Euston or Kings Cross, where I had been known to spend more than the occasional night, but one of those small village stations you’ll be familiar with if you don’t live in a town or city. There was a bench and there was a roof over it to shelter from the rain and that was about it. It worked out for a little while but it gets pretty damn life-defeating living outside with autumn coming down the line listening to just two albums, particularly when your batteries run out.

Something had to change.

One particular morning, on a whim, I jumped the early morning train into town and bumped into a couple of goth girls I used to know who were on their way to work. I was more surprised that they had jobs to be honest - alt girls back then were way more over the top than they are now and a hell of a lot less common too. Turns out they worked in Pizzaland (long since a dead franchise I think) and introduced me to their boss and told her I needed a job.

And she gave me a job right there on the spot. Spandex pants, cowboy boots and all. I’m not sure what I expected but making coleslaw from scratch all day long was a far cry from playing at The Marquee. I’d never seen so many cabbages in sacks and industrial sized mayonnaise jars. Paying your dues sure can be a humiliating experience.

And for this, I got £14 a week which was £14 a week more than I had been getting. I was also fed which was another bonus, though if they hadn't fed me, I could probably have gotten by on fistfuls of coleslaw or cleaning the leftovers from the plates that came back from the restaurant. You get resourceful when you’re looking at the ocean from the edge of a cliff.

A couple of weeks drifted by and I found a room to live in. £12 a week, which didn’t leave a lot of fuel in the tank for anything else but again, it was better than finishing your shift, going ‘home’ on the train and it taking just six steps to where you were going to sleep before you got up and did it all over again.

Things started to get better from there on, I picked up some extra shifts, wasn’t spending any money on food and my life moved on albeit very, very slowly. Not always in the direction it was supposed to either but I never hit the skids again quite so hard again.

The kids are coming round for dinner tonight. The request was for pizza. Every time I see pizza it shoots me right back to that time but it’s good for the soul y’know.

We’re all two steps away from making coleslaw for pennies.

BABY DYNAMITE - DUG UP FROM THE GROUND

If you’ve arrived here from the instagram pic I planted this morning, these three songs and a pair of boots are all I have left of Baby Dynamite.

Pulled from a very fragile tape cassette, I had to capture these from a tape player transferred into my phone headphone jack via an iRig…

White Knuckle Ride: I wrote this to be our ‘single’. Our Livin’ On A Prayer kinda thing…

Creature Feature: I pulled this one together either for Alice Cooper or because I wanted to be Alice Cooper. I always meant to give it to him but never got around to it. I guess there’s still time if I could figure out the correct road to take…

Hot Cherie: To prove the level we wanted to be playing at even though we had no money, I dug up this song from an old demo of a band I used to know called Brunette to record:

I wasn’t going to pass it off as our own by any means but I wasn’t exactly going to tell anybody either. As it panned out, a week or so after recording this, a band turned up on the scene called Hardline featuring members of Brunette and freaking Journey! JOURNEY! My secret probably wouldn’t stay a secret for long but I still think it’s a great song. Funny.

1993. It was a weird time. Nirvana, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains had arrived. The sands beneath our feet were moving fast.

The only other thing I have to say is that we recorded these in a bedroom in five days with the most basic of computer equipment.

#GoodTimes #RockNRoll

THE DAY A NEIGHBOUR CAME KNOCKING

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“Have you got a parcel for me?”

“No. Sorry. Should I have"?”

“Oh… a delivery driver put a note through the door and said because we were out he had left it with you.”

He shows me the card. Sure enough - right there on the card is the number of my house.

“Maybe he got it wrong, not sure what to say about that - I’ve been in all day too.”

Neighbour returns to his house across the road. In all likelihood, he will call the number on the card and ask what they have really done with the package and eventually, they will hack into their digital scanners and send him a picture of the signature of the person that signed for it - which is pretty dumb. I know most of the people who live in our street but I couldn’t tell you what the signature looks like for any of them.

But when he makes that call, they will also tell him the surname of whoever it was signed for it - but it’s not going say ‘Shelia With The Shitty Old Silver Renault Who Can’t Park For Shit’ or ‘James The Christian Who Waters His Garden Even When It Just Rained About An Hour Ago’ which is how most people are known around here - or at least they are in our house.

No… it will say something innocuous, like ‘Smith’.

I laugh to myself as I pull the curtains closed and open his package. I could have opened it earlier but somehow it seemed more satisfying to lie to his face first.

It’s a big old box with some amazon branding on it. I’m hoping it’s a box of books I’ve never read that will keep me going until Christmas. Something like the complete works of Mickey Spillane but I’ve never had that kind of luck.

Instead, there’s not one, not two, but twelve drinking bottles. The kind that all us good citizens now have so that we don’t fill our recycling bins with Evian Turtle Killers. The kind that you see people with beards carrying. Or cyclists. Or Yummy Mummies who run blogs that feature the very best in £500 buggies and eateries that give generous portions of cucumber with their frappucinos’s.

So far as I know, he lives with his cookie-cutter wife. I’ve never seen any kids over there though I suspect he might have a chinchilla or an infestation of rats. It’s hard to tell from across the road.

What could he possibly need with 12 drinking bottles though?

There’s a pen in my hand so I make a list:

  1. He has some friends with beards who are behind the hipster times.

  2. He has some cyclist friends who can’t get out of the middle of the road for long enough to go and buy their own.

  3. It’s unlikely that he writes a Yummy Mummy blog but it’s 2019 and I’m not taking anything for granted.

Or maybe, he and his wife have become very thirsty in their old age and they will split them up according to colour codes and have one in each room of the house. Thirst can strike at any moment when you’re at home and more than six feet away from a tap.

They’re decent enough bottles though. If mine wasn’t ten times better than these, I might be inclined to keep them because like I said, you never know when thirst might strike, but no, I shall give them back. (Yes, I do own one, but mine is awesome and far superior to these in every way).

Out in the garden, there’s the dying remnants of all the ivy I cut off the fence last weekend. I was hoping it would decay to nothing by itself but it hasn’t. I fill the bottles with the leaves and use the handle of a big paintbrush to poke them down so as I can get them all in.

Then, I put them all back in the box and seal it up - nice and professionally - with some parcel tape I have in case… well, in case you ever need to parcel something up professionally.

Later, under the cover of night, I’ll take it back and leave it outside his front door where he can collect it in the morning.

There’s a price to pay for taking in a delivery of a man’s new guitar three years ago and forgetting about it for two days when it’s plain to see it has come in a box with a freaking huge red Gretsch logo across the front.

The moral of the story is: Forgive and forget. Always. And then take vengeance at the opportune moment. Then forgive yourself and forget what you’ve done.

THE MYSTERY OF THE VAGINA

I thought this cow looked great though it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the story.

I thought this cow looked great though it doesn’t actually have anything to do with the story.

Man… you know you’re tired when you catch a glimpse of an advert that features a graphic of a hair follicle and you think it’s a vagina.

It also says a lot about advertising when you weren’t surprised in the slightest that you think you’re watching an advert on early evening TV for something to do with a vagina. What they might be wanting to sell you on the vaginal front is a mystery but it’s 2019 and the world will try and sell you anything if it thinks it can make some kind of margin on it.

In only a kind of related subject, earlier today I was running some admin on the site here and one of the links took me to an article on personal branding… and I read it out of curiosity. Then I read some more articles on it. It’s a real world thing that people are concerned about. If you don’t have a ‘personal brand’, how do people know what you do? If they don’t know what you do, how are they ever going to invest their time and money in you?

It’s a good question and an important one, whatever business you’re in but there’s a part of me that simply reacts with: ‘this person is trying to sell me a personal brand message’ and I don’t much like being treated like an idiot… and I switch off because I like to discover things for myself.

Whatever happened to discovery? Led Zeppelin were a mysterious band because they never talked about anything. Kiss were mysterious because they didn’t have any human faces. Alice Cooper was mysterious because well… he was just mysterious.

Mysterious = people want to know more. The less they can get to know, the more interested they are in you and what you have to offer.

Much like the vagina really - though it’s probably also fair to say the opposite is true regarding the penis if your interest lies on the other side of the sex fence - it would be a worrying state of affairs if you mistook a hair follicle for a penis though.

What is it with people and hair follicles these days? Humanity has gone through millennia of coping without being stripped to the bone of its hair but now, you’re an ugly beast of a creature if you keep your hair anywhere but your head? I can’t believe people buy into it but they do. Beards are in? Seventies porno bushes are out?

Talking of keeping your hair on your head, I was thinking about cutting all of mine off again just to drive a stake through my own personal brand.

Like Kiss, the make-up over-rode the great songs. Like Alice, the chicken thing drew away from the fact that he was probably the greatest lyricist of the seventies. Like Zeppelin, the black magic drew away from the playing… then again, they all survived because they meant what they did and did it for long enough that people knew they weren’t lying.

What did I learn today?

Keep the hair.

Keep writing.

Don’t worry about ‘personal branding’, if you’re real, why would you need to brand anything at all?

If people don’t know who you are… why not?

Vaginas do not look like hair follicles.

Probably best I get some sleep before writing anything else.

LATE TO THE PARTY

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You ever have a hero? One you could rely on deep into the grave? In the last ten years or so, the term ‘hero’ has been taken away from people we idolise and handed back to people who do things like spread themselves across live grenades so as a bus load of school kids don’t have early funerals… and rightly so, but for the purposes of this piece, I’m rolling with the word because choosing something else doesn’t come close for me.

I’ve had a few since I felt the need to put somebody in that position and as the years have gone by, they’ve never let me down. Some are so obvious, they’re hardly worth mentioning if you know me. Paul Stanley from Kiss and Alice Cooper are the big guns. Their philosophy is not so different despite their (seeming) rivalry.

There’s also been a few that were a sign of the times - that I picked up and put down as I needed them - which might even be the whole point of having a hero. I was obsessive about Bjorn Borg for a while simply because he was the ‘whole game’. I’m not sure what I got out of it but there it is. Christopher Lee was another… again, because when it came to monster movies, he was also ‘the whole game’. Bret Hart - the whole game. There are a few others like this. Short life-spans but there to drain/fill the reservoir when needed

But when it comes to books, it’s not so simple. Neil Gaiman came close, not least because I once picked up The Doll’s House graphic novel on a whim one Saturday afternoon back in something like ‘89/90 (whenever it came out) when I was headed to a weekend-long party and was early for the bus.

It had all the makings of the kind of party everybody talked about for years but I wouldn’t know. I spent the entire two days with my head in that book, drinking tea and eating whatever food my then (very understanding) girlfriend chose to put in front of me. Having presumably finished the book, I vaguely recall something about being chased by a horse in the dark and going home alone (natch). It was a long time ago but Gaiman has been pretty consistent and I’m still with him… but so is the rest of the world and that makes him a lot less attractive these days as a name to bandy about. These days I’m more likely to waft Michael Chabon’s name in front of your face as a name of somebody you should be reading. Mr Gaiman needs no more assistance from me at the moment.

Stephen King came close to a lifelong thing but wobbled too much and got replaced by Clive Barker… who also wobbled, but when I went back to King he was still too unstable for me. I keep up with them both still but it’s probably unreasonable to expect either to still be on their respective mountain tops, standing on one leg and juggling a very singular crown.

As the years have trickled by, those I didn’t recognise as heroes for the longest time have risen to the surface. Most of them were dead by the time I figured this out which gives it a certain kind of closure. It’s unlikely that they will become zeroes anymore - the work is complete. Raymond Carver, Hemingway, Steinbeck, Orwell and Dylan Thomas have weathered that storm with a certain grace I can only dream of but:

One of the really big deals for me out in the world is J.D. Salinger. Aside from his books being some kind of misinterpreted influential template for my own work, I liked the way he went to his grave with two fingers in the air over never having his books made into films and how digital books could kiss his ass. It’s not how he wanted things to be and credit where it’s due, his estate have continued piling cement into that wall since he died.

Until this week.

His son, Matt, the very man who been mixing that cement since 2010, was interviewed by the New York Times and the article brought up some important things - namely, this:

‘Then, during a trip to China earlier this year, he realized that many young people overseas read exclusively on phones and digital devices, and that e-books were the only way to get his father’s writing in front of them.’

and from the horses mouth:

“He wouldn’t want people to not be able to read his stuff.”

And while we can sit here all day and argue that both Catcher In The Rye and Franny and Zooey are both still widely available in paperback (show me a bookshop without either and I’ll show you a bookshop without clue), the world has changed - and continues to change - bringing into sharp perspective my own observation that a book isn’t a book unless it’s actually being read. If somebody is not devouring the story, it’s just some paper with some thicker paper on the outside that lives on a shelf to show other people what sort of person you’d like them to think you are.

It brings up all kinds of horrible questions I never want to have to answer about what constitutes as ‘reading’.

But in the end, he’s right and if that’s the opinion of the last bastion of something I hold so dear, I need to swallow a plateful of humble pie topped with pride and also get to work on making things available digitally. It’s not so long ago that I seem to recall saying “Once you can read a book on your phone, the game will be over” and I would have been at least partially right.

This very week, I bolted across St Pancras station to Hatchards to pick up something for the weekend, only to find it wasn’t there anymore. The internet says this hasn’t happened yet, but my eyes did not deceive me.

There will always be those who love a good physical book, how it feels in their hands, what it means to them and how they remember where they bought it from. Those are my kind of people but I’m sure that whole Gaiman episode I described above would never have happened if I had downloaded The Doll’s House to my portable reading device. Things change and time moves with it eventually crushing everything in its path that doesn’t want to ‘flow’.

It’s sad, but I guess it’s not sad at all if you’re under thirty. If you’re under thirty, it’s just the way things are and the way they’ve always been.

Out there in the world somewhere, there are most likely people for whom eight track was the bees knees too.

Time, huh. Can’t live with it…


Footnote: Salinger also had a good line in quotes, so here’s a few of my favourites - all of which sound a lot like things that come out of my own mouth…

I’m sick of just liking people. I wish to God I could meet somebody I could respect.

It’s funny. All you have to do is say something nobody understands and they’ll do practically anything you want them to

There are still a few men who love desperately

I’m just sick of ego, ego, ego. My own and everybody else’s

If you do something too good, then, after a while, if you don’t watch it, you start showing off. And then you’re not as good anymore

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THE PROBLEM WITH NUMBER 10 AND THE WHITEHOUSE

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It’s been staring us in the face for so long, you’d be right to be worried that so many people had missed it - and I would venture to say Number 10 and 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are not the only governmental offenders either. It’s something that transcends the colour of any party you purport to lead too - and there’s a lot to be said for that. Colour doesn’t belong in politics in more ways than one.

I’m talking about pets - or very specifically, dogs.

It’s hardly a surprise that Moby Dick is the first president in nearly two hundred years not to have had a pet of any kind since James K. Polk (1845-1849) and I’ll slap a crisp ten pound note on the table that says that’s the first time you’ve ever even heard his name never mind knew he was a President. (Even Andrew Johnson (1865-1869) whose picture belies him as the most miserable president ever to serve, apparently fed a couple of white mice he found in his bedroom.)

A cat - which is what we currently have at Number 10 in the shape of Larry, unless he was evicted with Mrs May’s pride - doesn’t really count in politics. A cat is far too independent for a political household. It will find a rub behind the ear from anybody in the house and be truly satisfied with whoever it chooses to adopt.

A dog on the other hand will remind you every opportunity it gets that something needs attention around here other than your own ego.

To not have a pet at all just hoists a red flag the size of a bus in the air that you don’t give a fuck about anything except you own agenda… and if we look closely, you’ll find that’s exactly what’s going on over there, but let’s bring it back home:

There’s never been a dog in Number 10 as long as I’ve been alive and one is very much needed. Preferably one that needs to be walked properly twice a day. When you’re running a country, you should be getting out there with other dog owners (pretty much a microcosm of the general population anyway and their opinions will save you a lot of messing about with referendums), working off your noodles for lunch and generally paying attention to the fact that there are other things in the world than your own needs - aka: the contents of your bank balance.

So far as I can work out, the last PM to have a dog was Churchill. He had a few in fact and at one point in time, also a lion (a gift) which he swiftly handed over to London Zoo. As we all know, Churchill got stuff done. He also smoked a fair old whack and had a tattoo. Hell, even his mother had a snake tattoo on her wrist. I like the guy.

For all his faults (and I guess that depends on where you live), even Mr Putin has dogs. Four of them last time I counted. For good or ill, you can’t deny he is hyper-aware of other people, though what he chooses to do with that knowledge is for a bigger mind than mine to analyse. He’s also an active participant in the conservation of many endangered Russian dog breeds. Incidentally, he too had a big cat - a tiger - gifted to him that he also gave to a zoo. Where do these foreign dignitaries get lions and tigers to give away like others do with Belgian chocolate?

I don’t have to mention Mr Obama’s dogs. They probably even have their own twitter account but again, proof positive that a dog will make you aware of other life forms outside of your own five inch aura.

Macron - a guy I kinda like out there in the political arena - has Nemo. Over in Canada, Justin Trudeau has a dog that may or may not exist called Kenzie. He was spoken about and photographed once and then never heard from again… hopefully he is still around, but the fact remains that even if he had to give him away, Trudeau recognised the potential of letting the public know he had one.

Off the radar of (most of) the world, is the Finnish president, Sauli Niinistö, who has a Boston terrier called Lennu. In my opinion, there’s another country with its shit mostly together in the big scheme of things.

Taking it to the extreme, ex-Aussie PM, Malcolm Turnbull, even ran a dog blog written in the voice of his dog JoJo. Maybe that’s taking it too far and would explain why the word ‘ex’ appears in that sentence.

Hell… even Kim Jong-un (who was rumoured to have fed his subversive uncle to a pack of revenues dogs - a rumour that began with a satirists cartoon) is a huge dog lover. What, with Love Island making all the news last month because a man with a beard humped a girl with hair when she should have been going out with some other dude with a beard, it probably didn’t make the news that Kim had recently gifted Moon Jae-in (the South Korean president - see, you didn’t know that either did you) a couple of North Korean Pungsan dogs to improve their relations.

You see it all coming together?

If Mr Johnson outlawed puppy farming to the tune of £100,000 in fines for those caught in the act and took on a dog from a rescue centre while also bringing back the dog licence at £100 a year and throwing a cool-ish £1m into something like Guide Dog training, he’d surely have most of the country at least on his side regardless of what happens on October 31st.

And if it all turned to dust in his hands, one single picture of him with his dog would have most of us forgetting at least for a little while.

Laughs aside, there’s a lot of truth in this if you toy with it. A dog will absolutely make you pay attention to the world around you.

Down at the bottom end of the scale, if you can’t handle your dog because it asks too much of you, you should probably cash in your chips and not be a world leader at all.

Or you could simply step up to the mark and be the person your dog thinks you are, then we’d all be cooking with gas.


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BIG BEAR RESCUE REDUX

Along with everything else that’s been under the revamp gun here, my Big Bear Rescue project has not escaped the microscope either.

For the foreseeable future, I’ll be funnelling all revenue into the Four Paws organisation who directly fund seven bear sanctuaries across Europe alongside of three big cat sanctuaries. I’ve looked long and hard at where money raised would be best spent and that’s as good as it gets as far I can see. I’ve got a real soft spot for the sanctuary that’s specifically for rescued dancing bears with nose damage in Belitsa, Bulgaria.

So, just as we did last time, we’ll start at the beginning with some original t-shirt designs and see where it goes. I’ll continue to use EverPress for this simply because their ‘30 days to buy/print at the end’ model is the most sensible, sustainable and cost effective way to get the money where it should be.

For now, I’m also going to leave the Big Bear Rescue page within my own site where I can control what’s going on and the flow of information.

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You can also find us back on twitter and instagram at those links or @BigBearRescue if you’re an analogue kinda person.

Here’s a reminder of what tugged on my heart-strings in the first place:

THE EMPEROR'S NEW CLOTHES

In the papers last week - over in The Guardian - there’s a piece about Simon Armitage, the new Poet Laureate, and his first poem in the role. It’s about the moon landing and to say it’s underwhelming in the extreme is an understatement. Don’t take my word for it, you can read it yourself here. I’m sure he’s a nice guy - I even quite like some of his older material - but that particular piece… that the whole world is looking at because of who he is and what it’s about, just plain sucks for the job in hand.

Can I do better? Not sure. Let’s have a stab, live and unedited:

THE DAY THE EARTH ALMOST STOOD STILL

Cheese

Fucking cheese

He was so surprised, he said it out loud

“Fucking cheese. Who woulda thought!”

Hits the button on his chest to open comms back to Apollo

Armstrong: Buzz, turn off the cameras

Aldrin: Problem?

Armstrong: Not so much a problem…

He thinks for a moment

Armstrong: Just turn off the cameras and come see for yourself

Two stand on the surface of the moon

Two wonder what they’re going to tell the folks back home

Aldrin: I vote we say nothing

Armstrong: Copy that

Aldrin: But we could take a few handfuls back up for lunch right?

Armstrong: I see no harm in a few scraps. I think there’s even bread of a kind up there somewhere

Aldrin: Cheese. Who woulda thought

Armstrong: That’s what I said! One small lunch for us but it might too much of a giant step for mankind if we tell the truth

Aldrin: Hey that’s good. You should use that when we set the cameras rolling again

YOU EVER READ A BOOK?

You ever read a book and think, ‘Damn, I wish I had written that’? (Maybe it’s a writer-thing. Maybe folk that don’t write ever think such things at all). There have been a few for me over the years. Some of them are pretty obvious but perhaps one of the less obvious ones for me is Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist. It was one of those books that drew me in from afar and burrowed itself into my psyche, maybe not as much as when I discovered Carlos Castaneda as a teenager but it was the same kind of thing. 

Maybe it was the right book at the right time - that happens sometimes.

Anyway, there I was chewing over some book projects I’ve had on the back burner for a while when my buddy Wayne suggested I write something similar... there is a whole train of thought behind this but if I lay it all out here, the idea will lose its sting, so I’ll keep the detail to myself. The concept has legs and I found myself thinking about it pretty much all day long.

Whether I do or I don’t end up writing such a thing, the very thought of getting down to the business of a serious book (I use the term loosely considering what it would be based around) means you have to consider your own beliefs about the world. Do they stand up to close scrutiny and appear strong enough to use as a foundation to build on? 

The jury is still out on that but I think it’s worth a shot. The biggest kick I could ever get out of writing would be for somebody to say “I wish I had written that”.

Er… yeah… that’s all. Consider this a thinking out loud blog post as I get back into the discipline of blogging as well as writing.

WELCOME HOME

There’s few better feelings than getting together with your bro’s, eating a few bowls of Chinese food, sinking a few drinks and checking in… which is exactly what I did a couple of weeks back with my old buddies from, well, forever:

Yep… I look like their pet dog that got lost in the woods for a while.

Yep… I look like their pet dog that got lost in the woods for a while.

It’s funny how time never changes anything at all between us - and the line in that Bon Jovi song about being there ‘if I got that call in the dead of the night’… that’s these guys - though in the real world, I guess it might take me a while, but still.

When I came back home, it got me to thinking. You always think you’ve got all the time in the world but you haven’t. All you’ve got is right now. So without being a sentimental fool about things, figured I had better get back to what it is I had decided I should be doing with my life… which would be writing books that might make people laugh now and again but also give them pause to realise I’d cut them with a pen so sharp they didn’t even realise there was any blood and writing songs that do the polar opposite.

It always sounded like a good life plan but sometimes, you can get distracted by the noise of the universe - which I did.

But now I’m not, thus, the rebirth of the website and the blog.

What might happen here is anybody’s guess but my intentions are good, so that’s OK.

Home Alone

Aside from Hector, I have the house to myself for nine days. Totally against the grain of my soul, I’ve mapped out a ‘plan’ for how to spend those days wisely… and contrary to popular opinion, they don’t contain Pot Noodles and an abundance of Netflix.

I’ve got the next issue of the magazine under control (which can only be done with late nights, coffee and being smart), which has freed up some time for galavanting with a pen through some more of what will be my next novel (though it will be a short one - I have plan on that front too) while also flirting dangerously with a Gretsch and GarageBand.

And while I was making pasta this evening (not from scratch, so that should read ‘watching it boil’) I thought it almost looked like a life and I wouldn’t be far off. I might not be swimming in a pool of plenty - what committed minimalist is - but the wheels are moving in the right direction and that’s good enough for me.

Feeling pleased with myself that the plan worked out (at least for day one) I went looking for a print of this but came up empty handed:

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That would look great on the wall around here. Maybe I’ll pursue it a little harder if tomorrow rolls in the same direction.

VINDICATION

You know those times when you think about something really hard for a long period, decide that you are indeed correct and then act on it… only to find that months down the line, nobody else thought your idea held any water?

I had one of those a couple of years back when I decided that social media was not a good place for me, closed all my accounts and threw all my eggs into the basket you see here. I figured some other people might see my reasoning also - and there were lots of reasons, such as: twitter being useless for saying anything because everybody else was also talking at the same time every second of the day, instagram/facebook being run by people (ie: your ‘marketing partner on the internet’) that thought it was OK to let other people post some foul comments/videos despite what came out of their mouths to the contrary… that’s a hot topic this week for all the wrong reasons too. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for me.

Anyway, I stuck with it and kept on walking away but I never saw anybody else figure out the same thing (maybe I was looking in the wrong place) but yesterday - being as I’m on a book binge at the moment - I was catching up around the place and saw that Joe Hill had resumed blogging. I like Joe a lot - his comic book series Locke & Key is quite superb.

In his ‘returning to blogging’ blog post, he wrote this piece and I hope he doesn’t mind me grabbing a piece from it (he really won’t mind at all if you go buy some of his books) to illustrate the point:

“It can be my space or it can be MySpace; something I own or something that belongs to Mark Zuckerberg. I went with me.”

Bang on the nose - took the words right out of my mouth. Think about it for yourself. It’s not easy getting out of the cult/s and staying out. It’s baffling as to how you might be able to make a difference to what you’re doing without them but in all honesty, I don’t recall ever selling a book from a social media post. Working those socials until you die is neat for some people who can make it work and don’t mind being associated with them but it’s not for me… and hey… my friends know my phone number and my email address so I’m not missing out on that front. Hell… some of them even come round.

Read that piece from Joe. It makes a lot of sense. At some point, you really do have to stand for something.

OTHER PEOPLE’S STUFF

Sometimes, things can pass you by for no reason at all. This album - Dregen - is five years old (maybe more) and I didn’t know it had even come out but this weekend, I found it and made everything right in the world again. If you’ve ever surveyed the landscape and considered rock n roll as you once loved it to be dead and buried… dream on sucker. What a great record this is for all the right reasons and somehow, digging it out of the earth with my bare hands has made it even better.

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Meanwhile, I went wandering in search of wholesome brain food and Daisy Jones and The Six might be a very decent meal. I haven’t started this yet but everything is pointing towards it being a class act for all the right reasons and if my memory serves me well, it’s also heading for Netflix as a series sometime soon. I’m hoping it will shape up to be one of those books I’ll finish and wish I had written:

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We appear to be in a great place for books at the moment. Despite - or in spite - of the world proclaiming print is dead, I swear I am finding more things to read than ever… or maybe I’m just open to different kinds of things, but I don’t think so. I’m treading the same path I have always trodden really. For instance, I picked up Gwendy’s Button Box - a novella by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar - and umm… sat until it was finished (bar a couple of breaks for coffee).

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King has seriously come back to the table recently. This is a great read and - with a nod to the post I made a couple of posts ago about the Pushkin Vertigo novellas - I’m seeing an awful lot to love about the novella these days. So much so, that as a writer, I’m thinking the format might suit me more than anything else. There’s something immensely satisfying about them that I can really relate too. Stairway to Heaven is a fantastic (perhaps the greatest) piece of music to get involved in but sometimes you simply need that four minutes of Back in Black to plug your spirit into the mains of the universe.

The days are gone when I had the capacity for huge novels like Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell (maybe not forever but certainly for the foreseeable). Not that I don’t have the attention span for such things - rather that I have other things to do. At least I think that’s the reason.

Maybe I just like reading novellas and that’s reason enough.

Sion Smith: King of the Novella. It has a ring I could get used to… and more importantly, a shape to it that suits my brain.

Now and again, I dig some poetry too. Not every day like some people do, but occasionally my heart demands it. This is pretty cool if you like such things:

Oh… I forgot about this - mostly because I bought it, tossed it in the car and haven’t actually been out in the car since:

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Never really paid a lot of attention to John Cooper Clarke’s work but I went into HMV to see why some Canadian thought it still had legs as a brand and for a fiver, I figured I’d give it a whirl. It’s the kind of thing I usually look at and think “I could do that” and then don’t do because when you really listen, find it’s harder to get right than you ever thought it could be.

But hey… the thought is there.

I have a dog to walk and work to do and so should you.

Later Gators…

WHEN THE GODS DON'T WANT YOU AROUND ANY MORE...

…they send Mother Nature to do their dirty work.

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I swear, if I had been wearing earbuds, this would have come down on top of me… but I don’t wear earbuds on a dog walk and my life was saved by the unholy crack it gave before it separated us. Hector had run on ahead and found himself trapped on the other side (not the supernatural other side, just the other side of the tree). I climbed over it to get to him but we sure as hell weren’t coming back that way anytime soon.

It was pretty scary actually, particularly when…

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…not 15 minutes later when we had abandoned that neck of the woods because there were too many trees that didn't look stable, this happened. Again, right in front of our eyes. This time we were a little further away but after a quick whip around this field, we went home because you can only push your luck so far in a 80mph wind.

Not So Secret Agents

It’s the London Book Fair next week.  I’m on the case. Over this last eight years, I’ve been to what must rack up to hundreds of conventions but I’m not sure what to expect at such a thing as this so I shall simply turn up and roll with it. 

Yes - you can read between the lines and discover that it’s time to search for an agent. There’s dozens of things I want to do with a pen out there and I can’t do it alone... no matter how much I think I’d like to: ‘When the going gets tough, the tough go pro’. Hunter S Thompson always did have a way with words. Ain’t nobody going to be saying that about me without an agent in my corner and you know... one day, I’d really like them to. 

Just one person.  

Preferably not my mother. 

I’ll keep you clued in.


Meantime, I made some plans for getting around the planet (in association with day job of course): Florence (natch), Luxembourg, Neumünster in Germany, Helsingborg in Sweden, Odense in Denmark, Barcelona, Amsterdam, Gdansk in Poland and New York are all on the list.

I probably won’t keep you clued in about much of that until I have enough material to release Cities of the Dead V2… and then all will become clear by itself.


And then I bought Hector a new collar tag - Aladdin Sane style:

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NOIR. SHORT NOIR AT THAT.

Some time ago, I picked up a copy of Dard’s Bird In A Cage… then last week, I came by The Wicked Go To Hell and fell in love with both of them…

So much that I went ahead and ordered these yesterday:

There’s something about these short novels that really works for me right now. I think they all clock in at around 120 pages and don’t take long to read really. Not that I struggle to read a thick novel at all, but perhaps there’s a time and a place for the shorter novel in my life whereas I’ve usually tended to dismiss them. I’ve got work lying all over the place - magazines, songs, book projects - and those things can be time consuming in the extreme but a day in which I don’t read is a day I failed to live my life properly.

Anyway, Pushkin Vertigo have a great collection of these hit n run length novels out on the market - they’ve all got great covers too and because they’re mostly all translations of foreign authors, they are far from run of the mill stylistically.

I’m finding a lot to love here.


As a little appendix to this, on the Pushkin website, they have a page about book design and how important it is. Damn… all publishers should host a page like that. Here’s an extract:

Book design means a lot more than making a book look good. It should be an appeal to (or, if you like, a seduction of) the prospective reader, a manifestation of the qualities of the writing, a primer of expectations. A book should feel right in the hand, and present itself, and its text, well to the eye. 

That means that the details matter: not only the cover design and illustrators, but the paper, the binding, the typeface inside, the positioning of the textblock and a dozen more details. 

So we work hard to get it right, with great book designers like David Pearson, Clare Skeats and Nathan Burton. And when we do get it right, each of our books should be a beautiful object you want to keep forever. And it should disappear completely as you read.

It might not be top of everybody’s list of important things when it comes to a book but you know… if you get it wrong, it can kick a book over the cliff into oblivion no matter how good the story is.

That last sentence though: it should disappear completely as you read - that’s genius.

Always judge a book by its cover. It’s a great indication about how much the people behind it care and believe in it.

THAT FORWARD LOOKING THING CALLED MOMENTUM

One band I have never seen live and actually want to experience is Alice In Chains. I was trading trans-atlantic demo tapes of these guys back when they were a very different looking band in the late eighties and nobody had yet coined the word ‘grunge’ as a handy term for any band with a guitar that came out of Seattle. So today, I decided to bite the bullet on this tour even though I despise Wembley with a passion:

The new album is a killer. Should be neat.


I’ve been chewing over how to boost my profile as a writer this week. There’s probably a million things I could do but as alluded to somewhere on this blog a year or so back, I see little point/mileage in doing such a thing through social media like a blind digital samurai throwing mud until it sticks so I started fishing with a long rod.

There’s a couple of radio stations out there that are decent, brave and forward thinking enough to have had poets in to talk about their work recently. In fact, some of them are turning out better programming than the BBC so that’s top of the list for me over the next week or so.

There are still a fair few indie bookshops around too that are worth investigating. The main drag now is to figure out exactly what it is I would do when I got there that's beneficial to them - because I don’t mind going anywhere for anything. So begins a tour of the internet in search of good ideas and then carving a hole in the calendar to how I can make it work.

I can see the main bone of contention being why anybody should be bothered going out of the house to listen to somebody talk and read that they’ve never heard of before. It’s a good question and one that I’ll answer with the assistance of a lot of coffee. I’ve probably got quite a decent amount of collateral if I look at it analytically enough.

Kind of associated - but only from the point of standing up in front of people who are waiting to be impressed - I decided I had best put a strap on a guitar and start working on my material standing up because trust me… playing standing up is way different from sitting on a stool. Everything is about is different as it can ever be. It’s getting there but then you introduce ‘the mirror’ into the equation and that’s a whole other ballgame in being self-conscious… well, it is when you’re not 14 anymore.

Then again, there’s only one way to move forwards and that’s by putting one foot in front of the other and as I said to somebody the other day who was having some concerns of their own: “There’s plenty of fucking idiots out there succeeding - I wouldn't worry about it too much. Don’t be a dick, be cool to people and do what you do... or don’t do it.”

Which is good advice for just about anything.


I’ll leave you with this. We just pulled together a neat feature to go into issue 300 of the mag on this guy - Andreas Vrontis - because anybody who can put a great tattoo of Hemingway together out of typewriter letters is worth spending time with. Brilliant.

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Issue 300! That’s quite a landmark huh.

LIONS

Daughter. Lions.

Lions. Daughter.

I spent the morning at the zoo today hanging around in sub-zero wind while my daughter scored herself some work experience at said zoo working with the Big Cats. I probably make it sound a bit more exciting than it will actually be but it sure as hell beats sitting around in an office doing a whole bunch of pointless stuff that nobody else wants to do and then wandering over to a shop to buy a bag of crisps for lunch.

She is very pleased. I am very pleased. We are both still trying to figure out what we really think of zoos - I’ve had a lot longer than she has to work at that and still can’t decide - but she wants to spend her life doing conservation-type stuff so we’ll roll with the positivity because it puts things in the right column for doing the right kind of things when the right time comes.

She is eighteen in a few weeks. Not sure my opinion will count for a whole lot one day soon but you never know… I might get to be one of ‘those’ Dads that retains the X-Factor long after it should have run out.

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My buddy JJ mailed me a link to a story about writing yesterday… it goes like this:

“INJECT is a free digital tool that can help stimulate journalists’ creativity by providing them with a variety of perspectives on a specified topic. Journalists can use it as an idea generator, a suggestion machine, or an inspiration tool that can help them find innovative ways to tell their story.”

It goes on to say:

“Journalists, today, have less time, and fewer resources, to create ideas and write stories. What INJECT will do is to make journalists as creative as they are at the moment, but more quickly and efficiently. The INJECT tools will do this by implementing strategies that will enable them to undertake some of the work of experienced journalists more quickly, to permit and support journalists to spend more time on creative thinking and story development.”

Neil Maiden, INJECT’s Project Leaderand Professor of Digital Creativity at Cass Business School, London”

I do NOT class myself as a journalist even though I edit a huge international magazine. I do write - and I write a lot - so I feel I’m at least reasonably qualified to say this man is talking with his mouth full.

Journalists today have way more time than they ever did. They can write on the move, ship stories in at the click of a button, take a photograph to go with it if needs be… text their buddies if they’re in a hole, fly relatively cheaply around the world… tech is their best freaking friend on so many fronts so I don’t know about that ‘fewer resources’ bit either. The problem facing journalists is not creativity but actually getting paid to do good work in an environment that’s shrinking financially but growing digitally (and for free) on a daily basis.

As always, if you have the penchant to write and feel like you don’t have enough time or resources, step away from the bullshit drain of social media, turn off the TV and the other four devices you have at your disposal, grab a stub of a pencil, the back of an envelope and get to fucking work. Write something meaningful. The world is on its knees for quality journalism.

You do not need an app with a pop-up bar to give you ideas - that makes you a computer operator. What you need to do is get to work. The only way you can be a writer is to write. To be a journalist… journal.

Using this app will not help make you a better journalist.

And it sure as hell won’t make you into a lion.

TROUBADOURS

I went on a shopping mission this morning. I felt the need to lounge around in the swamp with the greats and came away armed with this:

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And this:

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And this:

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And this:

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The conclusion that I have come to before opening any of them is that these artists were successful because they went out on a limb and did their own thing. Interestingly perhaps in the big scheme of things, I would say that none of them will ever be in the Top 100 singers of any list, ever (Kate could scrape it maybe) but they should all be in the Top Five of any list that looks at storytelling songwriters. Call it poetry if you like but it’s more than that. It’s full on Troubadourness (I don’t think that’s an actual word but it is now) and I never really noticed that about myself before - that storytellers in music are my ‘thing’. This is a good thing to know about myself as I push forward with the whole Deadbirds project.

(Note: because Troubadour is an ancient word, it is thus the male description of one. A female troubadour is called a Trobairitz.)

Given that my love for him is boundless and such a thing does not exist, I got to thinking that maybe I should put together an authorised (which might take a while) complete lyric book of Alice Cooper’s work. He is one of the best the world has ever seen without question and that talent is absolutely overshadowed by escapades with chickens and guillotines… and he also falls neatly into my ‘not the best singer in the world’ thesis. I’m not saying none of these guys can sing - I’m just talking technically. More to the point, I don’t think any of them ever cared either. The point is to deliver the song and tell the story not to shatter a glass at twenty paces.

Maybe that’s the payoff? It’s sure as hell a payoff I would take every day of the week over somebody fawning over my voice - not that such a thing is ever likely to happen.


Not relevant to any of that, but did you know there was a theory that Scooby Doo is a collective hallucination of The Gang who are all tripping on LSD? I thought I was well versed in pop culture but that’s the first time I’ve ever heard that floated down the river. We can only assume it was a bad batch of CIA infused drugs when somebody threw Scrappy into the arena and spoiled the fun forever.

Just say no, right?

Finally… I’m not really a t-shirt kinda guy anymore but this looks like a valuable addition to a limited wardrobe:

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LONE WOLF II

I love seeing a book of my own out in the wild... this copy of Coffee House arrived at its new home this morning and probably won’t look this new for long but I’m putting a tick in the win column over making the cover the same colour as this coffee:

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Here’s that very same book a day or so later:

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I love writing books.


It’s been a full-on week so far out here. Carved my way with a scythe through a stack of day-job work, spent some time with my buddy Adrian beating the living daylights out of that new Gretsch, walked across the hills with Hector to the tune of about 16,000 steps a day (I must stop looking at that stupid app thing) and I’m beat. I also need a good night’s sleep and a shave.

It’s my small persons eighteenth birthday in about ten weeks. After much discussion, I reluctantly agreed that maybe… just maybe… it would be OK if she went away by herself (with a friend) somewhere exciting. She floated Paris as an idea but I think I’ve rewired that machine so that Paris now means Florence. Paris is cool and everything… but for a young girl… I wasn’t super happy about that. Florence on the other hand is reasonably small and super safe so far as I have ever seen when I’ve been out there.

It’s a big step for me to cope with this. We have reached an age in which some of her friends now have cars and drive. An age in which she can make plans that involve aeroplanes… and fistfuls of other unholy things. It scares me to fucking death and back again.

There is only one thing for it. I’m going to print a few of these and hide them in her pockets, suitcase, purse… you name it, I will find a home for it:

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I heard a good line on a TV show tonight. It goes like this:  “It’s become fashionable not to be believe in anything except your own personal gain.”

There’s more truth in that one line than there is on the whole front page of the BBC News site - or any news site for that matter - but maybe one day soon, the nation will swing back and start believing in satyrs and Gef the talking mongoose again... now there’s a story you don’t hear very often anymore:

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Look it up.  

Meanwhile, I spent most of the afternoon working on a song called The Wolves In The Radio (that I’m loving very much) and any moment now, I’m heading to the place known as ‘ratting a pencil between your teeth’ to wrap up something I started on yesterday before the threads of it disappear forever.

...and then I might just abandon what remains of the day and read.  

And maybe I should finish off those cookies before they go stale. That would be a rea shame.