Book Shambles Is Back – my January books

Book Shambles has returned. The first episode is with comedian, producer, director, actor AND broadcaster, Jeff Garlin.

To tie in with its return, here is my reading and seeing diary for January. Much of January has involved working on the third draft of my own book, which has hampered but also focused me. Fortunately, I have had enough traveling – Belfast, Toronto and Oslo –  to leave me in waiting rooms and in transit where I turned thumb twiddling into library time.
My reading recall is abysmal, so this exercise is partly to remind me of what I have read.

Last Look by Charles Burns (GOSH comics, Berwick st)
A creepy and disconcerting comic book trilogy of one man trying to digest, comprehend and repair his big mistake via his own nightmares and reality. Includes sweary reptiles and slimy eggs.

The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K Dick (Oxfam Books, Berkhamsted)
It’s boom time for Philip K Dick again with his paranoid and claustrophobic dystopias being pawed over by people who hope to find solace in their reality not really being a reality at all. I found this one to be the most disconcerting of his novels that I have read so far. It is also the one where I found his shortcomings on creating female characters was at its most distracting. I’d summarise it as “Phwoar, she wasn’t wearing a bra… but would she betray him?”

Mercy on Me by Reinhard Kleist (GOSH comics, Berwick St)
I haven’t read Kleist’s comic book on Johnny Cash, but having read this one inspired by the life and lyrics of Nick Cave, I will. A fiction and a reality, based on Cave’s life it is brutal, tempestuous, elegiac and enigmatic, so it is perfect for Nick Cave admirers and anyone who wonders if they should have an interest.

I am Alive and You are Dead: A Journey into the Mind of Philip K Dick by Emmanuel Carrere (a charity bookshop on Bath Road, Cheltenham)
I have been warned that, as well-written and intriguing this biography by Emmanuel Carrere is, he does use the licence of novelist every now and again. Then again, what biographer can ever produce an objective account of a human (or Lark or Monkey). At times, Dick comes across like patriarchal movie ogre, The Stepfather, but he is never less than fascinating and this gives a good window into what paranoias were being fed off to create each novel.

What the Fuck Did I Do Last Night by Rowland Rivron (Amazon)
A very entertaining account of a drunk man persuading TV executives to make chat shows where host and guest would float in the Thames. Also a reminder of why Set of Six is brilliant and still worth visiting (when Steve Nieve read the scripts, he said “you can’t make this, it’s too sad.)
A lovely look at a pissed up innovator driven by joy and booze.

Inventing Ourselves: The Secret life of the Teenage Brain by Sarah-Jane Blakemore (Advance copy)
Do you have a teenager? Have you been a teenager? Are you a teenager? If you answered yes to any of those, this book will prove enormously useful to you understanding yourself or your offspring. Sarah-Jane is a highly respected neuroscientist and this book covers her specific area of expertise. Amazingly, it is only in the last couple of decades that the teenage brain has been considered to be in a separate class to child brain and adult brain. The book is concise, comprehensible and enlightening.

Roadside Picnic by Boris and Arkady Strugatsky (£3 bookshop in Park St, Bristol)
My favourite book of January, this book became Andrei Tarkovsky’s masterpiece, Stalker. The book is very different, but no less intriguing. It is an adventure filled with ideas – technological, scientific and philosophical. I read it in one sitting.

Sally Heathcote – Suffragette by Mary and Bryan Talbot (GOSH comics)
The story of a fictional suffragette which highlights the bravery of that movement and the brutality and dunder-headedness of many who opposed it.

Unlucky Wally Twenty Years On by Raymond Briggs (Keats and Chapman)
I love that Raymond Briggs is adored for The Snowman but rather than capitalise in that he creates books about nuclear holocausts and knobbly kneed bachelor outsiders. This is the latter.

Everybody Lies by Seth Stephen Davidowitz (advance copy)
What can we learn if we analyse google searches? Quite a lot it seems. A book on big data and how it can reveal the truth of human desires, needs and beliefs. I have learnt about horse heart left ventricles, pregnant mother needs, where racism festers and many counter-instinctual ideas that illuminate our baser natures. And all from the pen of a Leonard Cohen fan, which makes Seth trustworthy in my eyes, though the statistical research on that isn’t in yet.

The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon (a gift from Josie Long)
a beautifully realised comic book about a young woman trying to live with obsessive compulsive disorder

Believing is Seeing by Mary Anne Staniszewski (Oxfam, Wimbledon)  – a series of lectures on art that help change what you see in a painting and also working out when art becomes art – from Sheelah Na Gig to Neo Dada.

Oh, and I am nearly at the end of Will Eisner’s Signal from Space.

Books begun in January and to be continued

Watling Street by John Higgs – find out the mystical inspiration behind Milton Keynes

This is Memorial Device by David Keenan – discover the truth of the fictional post punk bands of Airdrie in this inventive novel (particularly delightful for anyone who still has the ink from the fanzines they made under their fingernails)

House of Psychotic Women by Kier La-Janisse – the author looks at the psychotic woman in film and uses it to explore her own mental health.

The River of Consciousness by Oliver Sacks – the final collection of Sacks’ beautiful and humane writings, these particularly focus on Darwin, Freud and William James. The opening essay on botany is delightful and will change the way you view marigolds, beetles and creepers. Just lovely.

The Mysterium – another of Jo Keeling and David Bramwell’s encyclopedias of the peculiar. a perfect contemporary take on the extraordinary for people who were brought up on The Unexplained magazine.

If This Isn’t Nice, What Is? – the collection of Kurt Vonnegut’s graduation speeches, worth choosing one to start each week with.

And So It Goes – Charles Shields’ biography of Kurt Vonnegut, worth reading to get a sense of a revered writer’s long struggle and to understand Vonnegut’s humanism and its sometime failure.

Face to Face – a collection of Richard Cork’s interviews with artists. Only read Francis bacon’s so far, but it has already changed how I look at his paintings.

Book Shambles is back this week. We start with Jeff Garlin, then Stewart Lee, Lucy Cooke, Jenny Landreth, Andy Weir, Ricky Gervais and lots more.

I am off on tour – starting in Chipping Norton then across the UK – Aberdeen, Newcastle, Hove, Exeter plus 36 more locations and ending at Soho Theatre. Details here.

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Were There Other Doctors? – On Tom Baker

Here is a piece I wrote about Tom Baker for the Mark Millar edited Big Issue.

Oh the giddy nausea of excitement when the Doctor Who theme tune began on a Saturday afternoon. Who is my Doctor? Tom Baker, of course. Who is yours? If it’s not Tom Baker then you are wrong. After 40 years, his eyes still make a connection from beyond the screen. His friend since drama school, sociologist Laurie Taylor, put it succinctly, “Tom peers around the side of the character”. Or as Mark Gatiss put it, “his air of Olympian detachment”.

He possesses the best qualities of humanity, even when he distances himself from humans. Like the wonderful Alastair Sim, there seems to be such madness and kindness within, and mischief.

He was told he would never make an actor, his own personality was too big. Like Christopher Walken, he inhabits a character but does not leave himself behind. How much I would love to have seen his performance of Oscar Wilde, I can imagine the perfect blend of intellectual, bon viveur and outsider.

The myths and legends of Tom Baker are many.

Did he really kidnap all the toys from Play School, Hamble, Big Ted and all?

What of that moment he was being driven around and suddenly realised he wanted to watch that night’s episode of Doctor Who. Seeing some kids’ bikes leaning against a house, he got out of the car, tapped on the door, and asked if he could come in and watch Doctor Who with them.

He was a famous drinker in Soho, hanging around with Francis Bacon and “hammering the optics” of the west end drinking clubs with the proceeds of his many voiceovers.

In the history of voiceover outtakes, his haranguing over the correct pronunciation of “tarpaulin” stands up with Orson Welles’s frustration over the sentence structure of an advert for frozen peas and Colonel Sanders repeatedly fumbling and gabbling his lines about “his new fried cripy chicken with a crisp crumb coating”.

He was happy to utilise Doctor Who to enhance his already powerful personality to get what he wanted. Drunk in Putney late one night, he stood in the middle of the road as cars sped by, shocked to see a timelord in their path. Eventually getting on to a bus, he asked if he could be taken to Sloane Square. The driver explained that wasn’t on the route, but as the bus as otherwise empty and this was Doctor Who, he went a mile and half off route to get Tom Baker home.

More recently, I can think of few more wonderful moments on Have I Got New For You than Baker seeing a photograph of Angus Deayton and suddenly quoting ee cummings, “how do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mr Death”.

His Doctor Who was a unifier of odd boys and girls. The young eccentric with their face pushed in the mud was offered hope by this most peculiar and charismatic figure.

Tom Baker tells a rather beautiful story of being recognised by a man in Oxford Street. After some incredulity that it really is Baker, the man says, “I was in a home for children; nobody wanted us…it was terrible. You made Saturday night good”. Close to tears, the man stopped talking, and looked at Baker with an expression of “no more needs to be said” and gave the thumbs up. And for Baker, “it was a knighthood. Just thumbs up…it’s incredible isn’t it?”

When Mark Gatiss interviewed him at the BFI, he asked what he thought of the other Doctors.
“There were OTHERS?”

I am back on tour with a show about art, death, love and physics – 40 dates across the UK from Chipping Norton to Soho via Hove, Halifax, Exeter, Swindon, Aberdeen and many more. Dates and details HERE

 

 

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What I did on my holiday – Professor Brian Cox tour version

An audience of 24,000 spread over nine shows in eight cities in fifteen days, and now the Australian and New Zealand tour is done.
We left London twenty days ago and return shortly after a couple of days in Hong Kong.
It appears to have been a success. Using the giant, exuberantly bright screen, Brian has burnt images of Andromeda and Friedman’s equation onto the retinas of Antipodeans. Hopefully, I have increased the likelihood of bassoons being used in amateur earthworm experiments.
As usual, we have been hugely encouraged by the quality of quantum entanglement queries that have come from the under 10s.
Now, we have to come up with a whole new show and set of images for 2019.
I also have to maintain my tenacity when it comes to lifting weights and feeling the tightening of long softened muscles without the help of Steph, tour trainer and fitness wrangler.
We have been spoilt for wine and cheese. We have also been able to spend the day predominantly thoughtlessly as the tour expertise of Caroline and Simon meant that as long as we were in the lobby on time, we would find ourselves in another loading bay in another city without recourse to any of our own ingenuity. (and thanks to Matt, Mark and Fraser, a remarkable tech crew)
With the exception of Melbourne, I have managed to make it to at least one gallery in every city.
I have taken in exhibitions of Robert Mapplethorpe, Gerhard Richter, Dunedin occult art, hyper real fleshy fair visitations and my favourite exhibition of 2017 in either hemisphere, Pipilotti Rist.


I have gone backwards on book rewriting. When I landed in Singapore, I was on page 135 of my rewrite of I’m a Joke…and So Are You, I am now back to page 62. I have cut out 9000 words, but added 11000.
I have signed 460 copies of The Monkey Cage – How to Build a Universe…part one book, and read I Hate the Internet, Fight Like a Girl, The Sick Bag Song, Bomb Culture and two books about Tracey Moffatt.
Both those Tracey Moffatt books were bought on this trip, plus the books to accompany Hyper Real and Occulture exhibitions, as well as books on the history of British magazine design and the work of Grace Cossington Smith.
I have tour small bottles of orange scented body wash, three complimentary toothbrushes and an airline lip balm.
My skin colour is a little darker than it was three weeks ago, but still predominantly pale blue. And Brian and I haven’t had a single argument caused by an equation, which may mean we are due a lot of equation rows during the next series of Monkey Cage.
And that is what I did in my holiday.

Tickets now on sale for 2019 tour with Brian Cox.

My solo tour begins again in Dartmouth, then across the UK and some stop offs in Toronto and Oslo.

We also recorded a few lo fi podcasts dealing with hifalutin questions

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Long Live the Hyper Real Flesh and the old joke – Canberra to Adelaide

I have a fascination with old school comedians that has been interfering with my sleep patterns. Through a series of moves via Mick Miller and Johnny Casson, I find myself watching a 45 minute recording of Duncan Norvelle. Best known in the 1980s for his catchphrase “chase me” and singing Teddy Bears’ Picnic, this was twenty years on from his heyday. What is interesting to me is that once you’ve found your act, there is very little changing it, not dissimilar to the music hall acts that would keep going with the same twelve minutes from town to town until television put paid to the longevity of your gurning, slapstick dance. But it is obvious to see that Duncan Norvelle knows how to play a room and his well-rehearsed cheek and speed has charm. I also wasn’t expecting him to be able to do a very good Richard Burton impression (it’s at 14′ 40″).
At midnight in Adelaide, after watching Professor Cox on Q and A, I made the bold decision to watch an old documentary about Roy Chubby Brown. He is a different sort of oddity to me. He has a more abrasive cheek and charm and some silliness too. Then, he gets onto race jokes, but they don’t seem to be jokes at all. It is just Daily Express nastiness, and rather than get laughs it gets caterwauls of vicious agreement from the stalls. It is a peculiar thing to watch a man dressed in such splendidly ridiculous costume, with such a plump face of mischief, deliver such a hatred on stage. I don’t think Roy Chubby Brown thinks of it as hate, but the expression on some of his audience’s faces is disconcertingly aggressive.
Who will I watch in Perth?
Probably Max Wall, a great of music hall and Beckett and a lovely face for a portrait, too.


(also, watching Colin Crompton is beautiful walk through post war cultural changes. He also tells my favourite hoop and stick joke)

Monday is a travel day. Brian travels to Sydney for Q&A and the rest of us will travel to Adelaide late in the afternoon. After the usual workout of pain mixed the hope of the loss of the process of jellification that comes with middle age, Steph and I go to the National Gallery.
It is a great monument to brutalism and beauty. The design allows you to get confused and lost, but contentedly lost as the walls of your mistaken destination have Monet’s Water lilies or Auerbach’s Primrose Hill or Sidney Nolan’s Ned Kelly series.
Not much time to get lost on this occasion, so it is straight to the current main exhibition, Hyper Real. Hyper Real is a series of figures, some naked, some mutated, some fairy tale delightful, some disturbingly reflective of the problems of being human. When we arrive, a school party are having Patricia Piccinini’s near life size model of a man holding a Blobish fish in his hands. Her work is for the love of “monsters”. Beautifully imagined love and delight at flesh that is not as we imagine it should be. The little girl smiling with delight at the approaching at the hybrid human baby/sloth toed being (The Welcome Guest) ,the boy affectionately sleeping with a grandmotherly, mammalian mermaid (The Long Awaited).


In less fantastical form, Sam Jinks’ creates a touching figure of an old woman in a night dress hugging a new baby, its excess wrinkles of flesh there to give space to grow into, while her wrinkles of a skin that will be departed. Embrace by Marc Sijan has a similar effect, whilst his figure of an old woman, battered feet and a face that has seen too much of a wrong life seems to move. The eyes allowing you to stare into hopelessness. I am always fascinated at how the act of staring at such realistic skin leads to the mind creating an illusion of movement because that is what the mind is expecting. How can something so real be so still? Ron Mueck’s old woman in a bed disconcertingly captures that grey skin and slack mouth that means the end is very close.

Then, we ate celery at another airport and arrived in another city. A few beers, talk of Judas Priest, Q&A, Chubby Brown, sleep.

I am back to UK soon to continue my solo tour on art, death, love and physics – all across UK and beyond. Details HERE.

The Monkey Cage book – How to Build a Universe… part one – is available now.

 

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Let us Celebrate Leo McKern – a day in Canberra

I bumped my head on the beam of my own absurdity as I walked around Canberra’s great big lake. I risked a walk without hat or factor 50 unaware of the high, hot sun. You think I’d have been aware of the Sun after two weeks touring with a cosmologist. I sensed I must be purpling by midday and scurried, bad temperedly, for shade. Fearing sunstroke, I skipped the gym workout and hid under a sheet for a while, then went off to the galleries.

Australian cinema was exotic and arcane when I was young.
The seventies had seen Australian filmmakers making their mark internationally and so by the 1980s, BBC2 would run series of Australian movies. They were arthouse by the very virtue of not being in the usual language of Hollywood or Ealing. Generally, the BBC would skip Alvin Purple Rides Again, Barry McKenzie Holds His Own and Mad Dog Morgan, in favour of Heatwave, Picnic at Hanging Rock and My Brilliant Career.
The National Gallery in Canberra currently has an exhibition of on set images, movie fan scrapbooks and the occasional spangly dress, from Australian movie history.
It was a reminder both of youthful favourites and also of how parochial film distribution is. Many photos on the wall were from films that have never made it to a UK cinema screen with the exception of specialist festivals at the Barbican or NFT.

I have only recently seen Wake in Fright, a revered and loathed thriller involving a teacher who finds himself trapped in an outback town where seamy criminality is the norm. It’s images of festering immorality outraged some Australians in the same way Les Patterson did.
At an early screening, one infuriated audience member stood up and declared, “that’s not us.”
Australian screen icon Jack Thompson yelled back, “sit down, mate, it’s us.”
As The Cars that Are Paris and Wolf Creek have shown, the long tracks of arid loneliness in Australia are good for creating threat to outsiders unused to a fragmentation of urban civilisation.
Meanwhile, Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock demonstrated, one of the works more heavily illustrated in the exhibition top, this is a landscape where the uncanny may never be that far away.

Many great Australian films are represented – The Getting of Wisdom, Shine, Don’s Party and I was glad to see the inclusion of Howling 3: The Marsupials. Directed by Philippe Mora, he was also responsible for Christopher Lee’s finest filmed singing performance.
The Year my Voice Broke is one of my favourite Australian films of the 1980s and the reason I own four Lawrence Durrell books, none of which I have read.

I still consider Mad Max 2 one of the greatest limited dialogue, maximum action movies and the image of the beaten, bruised, leather clad, knee callipered Max Rockatansky staring belligerently at the camera is an iconic memory. Oh when would the video rental shop believe I was 18.
This exhibition also reminded me that I needed to watch The Last Wave, Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith and The Getting of Wisdom. The one failure of the exhibition was the lack of any reference to Razzle Dazzle: A Journey Into Dance (screenplay by Carolyn Wilson and Robin Ince)

It is always good to see an exhibition with some framed images of Leo McKern, who I was fortunate to see on stage in Jean Anouilh’s Number One at the Windsor Royal (adapted by Michael Frayn).

Now, I have to continue my search for those elusive Ozploitation boxed sets I’ve been seeking for three years.

I was reminded that I still haven’t seen The Cars that Ate Paris, stuck in my mind since I was nine due to the image of a multi-spiked VW beetle that appeared in one my Lorrimer books of horror, perhaps it was in Speed, Savage Cinema or maybe even David Annan’s Robot: The Mechanical Monster. The Peter Weir boxed set was immediately ordered, to be enjoyed in the cold, long dark nights I am returning to.

Then, I returned to the hotel and we all ate cheeses, had 5 puddings and finished the day watching my favourite short film of the year, Brian and Charles. Now, I need to watch Muriel’s Wedding and Turkey Shoot. (And maybe Patrick, too. Where were the spooky pics of the haunting ballet dancer, Red Shoes star and child catcher Robert Helpmann? My favourite Helpmann story is when a friend rang him after taking his children to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. “Robert, you are coming to dinner on Sunday, but you have just scared my kids witless as the child catcher. Could you just have a quick word with them on the phone and explain you are an actor?” “Of course,” he replied, and once the children reached the phone he cackled, ‘I’m coming to get you, kiddies!” Oh the cruelty of ballet dancers.)

The exhibition was also a sad reminder of the shortness of John Hargreaves’ life, a wonderful presence in many movies including Long Weekend, one of the most regularly shown Australian films on the BBC in the 1980s. Oh how the animals had their day.

Monkey Cage book is out now.

I am back on tour in UK soon – Bordon, Totton, Dartmouth and across the UK.

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Crowd Surfing the Gravitational Waves is Forbidden… and a transformative exhibition

345am alarm.
Relieved again that by being woken by an alarm that must necessarily mean I have been asleep.
Brian has a lovely long lie in until 430am. Should his beauty sleep be too truncated, that can have ramifications for ticket sales and TV work.
The rest of us go to the airport with 14 bags to check in.

I read a copy of Bookforum that has been haunting my hessian bag for some time. I read about a biography of Ernest Hemingway. I think, “Hmmm, I really must read more about Ernest Hemingway” and just before I order some staggering volume, I remember that my house is filled with unread books I was inspired to buy due to well-written reviews when really I only wanted an extra thousand words.

I read about the diaries of Susan Sontag – “the psychic enmeshment deepens after reading syntactically peculiar passages like these”

And of Diane Arbus’s sexual adventures – “But Arbus was exceedingly strange and exceedingly free, intent on pursuing her attraction to seediness (you can smell the dank motel rooms in her photographs) and determined to face down her disgust.”

I read the Fortean Times obituary of David Jones AKA Daedalus – “he posited rambunctious ghosts could be thermodynamically exorcised by exposing them to an open microwave oven.”

I draw close to finishing Nick Cave’s The Sick Bag Song and Jarett Kobek’s i hate the internet, both of which I would effusively recommend, the kind of books where there is no room for subjectivity, if you don’t like them, then you are wrong.

Once my brain sags, I turn to the plane screen and watch the end of A Ghost Story and the start of Wonder Woman.

Today is a three breakfast day, possibly my first.
We eat breakfast in the lounge.
We breakfast on the plane.
We eat breakfast when we arrive at the Sydney hotel.
Breakfasts spread over six hours is a good idea.
The rumours are true, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day, especially if you have it three times.
Brian will almost trump this in 48 hours time when he has a three pie lunch in Goulburn.
He is sinewy and sharp. I am soft and edgeless. It must be the burning of calories that comes with thinking about Hawking radiation. I think about quantum indeterminacy for a while, but I am as round after as I was before. Maybe I’ll try to understand a Roger Penrose book while I am on a treadmill.

A snooze, then a walk to Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary art for an exhibition I know nothing about. I enter ignorant of Pipilotti Rist and leave in love. I feel as excited as I did when I saw the Robert Rauschenberg nearly a year ago. Everything about it makes me delighted.
The undersea projection accompanied by a strained and then furious version of Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game.
The too big sofa to sit on and too big remote control to change the channels of her early work that makes you feel like Stan and Ollie playing kids on oversize furniture in Brats.
The joy of being taken back to early days of video art and the excitement of the 1980s accessibility of cameras and rudimentary editing equipment that ignited a new possibilities of fucking about.

And then the rooms, the rooms that were illuminated and enlarged by projections of delight and colour, and make sure you look at the hole in the carpet.
One room looks like the final room in 2001: A Space Odyssey if it had been used for a photo shoot for a Littlewoods home furnishings catalogue that was projected on by Derek Jarman, but that doesn’t tell half the story which is both Wizard of Oz-ish and Twin Peaks-ish and also bursting with originality, too.
I wanted to return to it, but time ran out. I am trying to replay it repeatedly in my mind so I don’t lose it.

Then, I spent the rest of the day telling everyone I could see that they must go to the MCA to see this thing of ethereal beauty and fecund imagination.

The Horden Pavilion gig was fun though it was a pity they took down the signs forbidding crowdsurfing before we began. I liked the idea of it driving rebellious theoretical physicists to surf the gravitational waves.

I am returning to UK to do my show on art, death, love and physics soon – Folkestone, Bath, Exeter, Glasgow and most places that will have me.

 

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Beauty Spot Head Cavity – Day 10 (or 11 or 12 or 9) of The Brian Cox Tour

It doesn’t take long when a sea is between you and your family and you change hotel four to five times a week to feel that this has been your only life. Tour sleep peculiarities, airport check-ins, unpack, repack, “where’s my shampoo? have I remembered to steal as many hotel pens as I can?” becomes quite normal.
“Oh look, another beautiful view across a bay.”
The time expands, not at an hourly rate, the hours move at the usual speed, but the distance from passport control to sixth landing is a divide of generations.
One day soon, my body wash and cotton buds will not be complimentary.

We start the day watching a man in the hotel opposite eating a tube of Pringles. Our hotel is one of those ones where each window is almost directly opposite the windows of another hotel. At night, when the net curtains are translucent, we wait to see hints of murder and live out a Hitchcockian fantasy.

It is show day in Auckland, so we warm up by going on a ferry to a dormant volcano with a vineyard restaurant. We remain teetotal, cosmology suffers under the effects of inebriation.
Despite his sinewy frame, Brian has an ability to consume that is somewhere between a Borgia and Mr Creosote. We arrive at the venue three hours after our vineyard lunch and he tucks into pre-show tea of meats and broccoli. We have had some very good broccoli on this tour. We will publish our league of broccoli just as soon as all the data is in.

After the show, we have a meet and greet and ask questions about quantum field theory in the bar.
Auckland has the most in depth questions on contemporary physics of any of these events so far.
There is also a six year old fan there who is in Professor Cox cosplay.

We fly to Wellington the next morning. This is a rapid turnaround trip. We have enough to land, lunch, and either go and do boxing training on a beach or go and see an exhibition of occult art at the City Gallery, I choose the latter and Brian and Steph choose the former.

I almost don’t need to go to a gallery as our fashionable hotel has contemporary New Zealand art on all walls. Brian eats his steak under Liz Maw’s Pandora Rides the Noon Day Demon.


My favourite title is of a painting is Simon Mee’s The Attack of the 60ft Vermeer Inspired Woman and Despondent Chicken. I was also keen on Andrew Moon’s Fast Supper.

“One should not paint nature at all, one should paint the will.”

The Occulture exhibition is a brew of Aleister Crowley paintings, a Curtis Harrington’s film about Marjorie Cameron, The Wormwood Star, a hint of Kenneth Anger and some more contemporary reactions to witchcraft, the occult and the eerie. Marjorie Cameron was the wife of Jack Parsons, the rocket scientist and occult practitioner who blew himself to smithereens while mixing explosives. There was also work of Rosaleen Norton of Dunedin whose occupations were listed as artist and witch. She would enter the astral plane using “a plasmic body” that was an astral counterpart to her physical body.

Upstairs, I am pleased to find two further exhibitions including one of my favourites, Tracey Moffatt. This time it is her plantation sequence in display as part of an exhibition about slavery and sugar. It also contains Jasmine Togo-Brisby’s Bitter Sweet, a pile of skulls whose morbidity is in contrast to their ingredient which is cane sugar, these are representations of the bitter death required for our sweet desires.

My broad ignorance allows me to continually discover things I am sure I should know about and today it was the work of John Stezaker. I love his collages, particularly the faces with picture postcards of bridges and arches placed over them which makes them look like tourist beauty spot bullet holes.

Then, we did a gig. We drank some booze and we prepared for the 4 hours sleep before the 6am flight to Sydney. No time for a second visit to Te Papa’s magnificent, provocative, empathetic and educational Gallipoli exhibition or to ogle the long squid.

The Monkey Cage book is out now.  And still some tickets for shows in Canberra and Adelaide (though not Perth or Sydney)

I am back on solo tour in UK soon, restarting in Dartmouth, Bordon, Totton and Folkestone, then off to Belfast, Newcastle, Exeter and on and on.

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