On a sudden bout of synesthesia in front of Stanley Spencer

Halfway around Of Angels and Dirt, the Hepworth’s Stanley Spencer exhibition, I realised I had been infected by a bout of temporary synesthesia. I could audibly smell some of the paintings (that phrase makes sense to me in my head) and hear them, too. I have liked Stanley Spencer’s paintings since I was an early teen, and I hoped that visiting another exhibition of his work would help me work out why. I think it has.

I walked to the gallery from Wakefield Westgate, down the pastoral route of the A638, bejewelled with Currys, Homebase, Toys ‘R’ Us and wire mesh fencing. On the way, I saw a young man casually drop his greaseproof fast food wrapping to the floor as he licked his greasy mayonnaise fingers. It is a simple, single action that makes a tut echo in my head as my mind sighs sadly at humanity. Casual littering is an action, or lack of action, that makes me resort to sociopathic thoughts and ruing the failure of parents, education and society as a whole. It was the sort of ugly action that can be adeptly countered by rooms filled with the paintings and words of Stanley Spencer.

“I like my life so much that I want to fill every empty space on a wall with it”

I like Stanley Spencer for a two, maybe three pronged nostalgia.

I used to go to a book fair with my father in Cookham. The Stanley Spencer Gallery is the first art gallery I went to with him.

There is tremendous warmth in his paintings and feelings of a memory of an England that probably never was but was fertile in the mind of Spencer. It is certainly a better England on the wall than in my ear as I write this while a man on the Bradford train is leaving bids for a car loudly over his phone (which is on speaker).
I look at his images of Cookham and can reminisce over things that never happened in my life.

Why is placing New Testament events in the graveyards, on the river banks and in the streets of Cookham so delightful. Can I ever understand how I painter can so adeptly transfer the delight in his mind onto canvas and still convey that 57 years after his death?

While Francis Bacon may have us distressed and murmuring, “what fresh hell is this?” , Spencer has our eyes smiling as we ask, “but what fresh heaven is this?” And his heavenly images are not those of a distant magnificence that says’ “all this can be yours just as soon as your dead”, it says, “this can be yours and it is here and it is now”.

The Last Supper (1920) reminded me of Gulley Jimson (the artist of Joyce Cary’s Horse’s Mouth who, in the film if not in the book, lazily I cannot tell you if it is both, spends months painting feet for a grand mural. When he sees the right wall, he must paint on it, even though he has never been able to be true to what hangs in his head). It is not merely the lightness of this last supper, it is the disciples bare feet all sticking out from under the table that pleases so much.

His naked paintings were considered beyond the bounds of decency during his life. The painting of his second wife, Patricia Preece, topless is the antithesis of contemporary consumer nude. The breasts sag, the veins are apparent, the flesh is fleshy. There was too much reality for some then and there may be too much reality for some now. There is no air in this brush. He described his brush as being like an ant crawling all over her body as he recreated what was before him on paper.

It is the room of the workers on the Clyde and the cluttered Art Class where the noise really begins, and the smell too. Why, when I have seen so far more exact painterly interpretations of boat builder’s yards and furnace huffing industries does Stanley Spencer’s work create the most noise?

And amongst all these, some of the most beautiful paintings of flowers, and gardens and landscapes…
I probably still haven’t worked out what it is about Spencer, but after a morning at the Hepworth, my delight in him is even more firmly held than it was the day before.

Only a few days left, you should go, you deserve it.

Book Shambles series 4 has begun. Episode one is Alan Moore talking of rap and myth and Lovecraft and creation, next up is Noel Fielding. Patreon subscribers will get a bonus 70 minutes of Alan Moore on Sunday. You can find Alan Moore (and the rest) HERE.(also, if you are in London, remember the brilliant US comic Barry Crimmins is playing Leicester Square Theatre on Friday and Saturday)


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Fish in bras, chicken in underpants – but is it art?


When walking into an art gallery, I enjoy immediately being confronted by the question, “but is it art?”
I don’t mean from a philosophical or aesthetic perspective, I mean, is that figure in a luminous vest curated or has it been called to fix the plug sockets.
It didn’t take long to ascertain that this was a man with a drill checking plugs, not a performance. You may contest me and say, “but isn’t life itself a performance”, and I’ll reply, “I can’t hear you, I typed this earlier and I am somewhere else now, and what I mean is that Elizabeth Price didn’t choose and place this man of electrical abilities”.

The electrician complimented the Gavin Turk artwork beside him. Nomad is a bronze cast of an occupied sleeping bag.

It is a work you are desperate touch. It looks so like a dirty sleeping bag made of polyester and other 1950s material wonders, but we know it is solid. The more you look at it, the more you imagine who may be inside. When the gallery is very quiet, there is a hint of apprehension that it may suddenly burst into life like the hessian sack in the terrifying but artful torture film, Audition.

Elizabeth price has curated four rooms – Sleeping, Working, Mourning and Dancing. It may be sadly instructional that my favourite on both visits has been Sleeping. This is partly Charles Laughton’s fault. Projected on the wall is the beautiful and haunting Pretty Fly song from Night of the Hunter.

Anytime I witness even a smidgen of this masterpiece, I am hamstrung with confusion by the fact it was a critical and commercial failure on first release. I need to see it on the big screen almost immediately.

In a Dream You Saw A Way to Survive And You Were Full of Joy, a quote from Neo Conceptual artist Jenny Holzer (I have just typed a term I cannot define). Beneath this quote is Kenneth Armitage’s Figure Lying On Its Side (no.5) which reminded me that I hope never to wake up and find myself transformed into an insect.

Elizabeth Price is an admirer of Henry Moore and his drawings can be found in Sleeping and Working. I think I prefer his shapes as drawings than as sculptures, and this is why I am not the sort of person to professionally discuss art. It may be that I see some similarities to the gloomier pictures of Raymond Briggs (and what a man he is to deliver to his publisher the traumatic nuclear apocalypse drama When the Wind Blows as a follow up to The Snowman).

One wall highlights the sleep of the homeless, both in London and South Africa. A century old photo shows vagrants asleep and dotted across Green Park like the corpses the absent-minded gravedigger forgot. In the background is an ornate house. Lately, I have taken to staring at pictures of old houses and briefly imagining that on second examination there is a figure in the window that wasn’t there on first look. I realise it is me, am I strangled or strangling. I must stop reading MR James. It is ever since I bought that book on Ritual Animal Disguises (best purchase this week, can you see me in the window?).

In one photograph of 1975, the park sleeper has fallen asleep with pencil in hand and times crossword balancing on his belly. I don’t think you are meant to imagine the homeless doing crosswords, or refugees, it means they may be just like us, and then where would we be?

Bridget Riley’s graph paper, a pattern half mapped out, reveals the care of her process.

The photographs of Carl Andre’s Equivalent VIII, best know as Bricks, reminded me of just how disgusted the 1970s public were by this. It launched a million barroom conversations which began, “call that art…my three year old could do that”, which has continued to be echoed every Turner prize since.

Carolee Scheemann’s Meat Joy was being shown, and the spectators I was with didn’t seem to be won over by these 60s art provocateurs of New York sticking chicken and fish in their underpants. I I find something delightful in Carolee Schneemann’s playfulness, but i couldn’t hear the voiceover, so I may have missed the meaning. I like to see it as the arthouse version of John Water’s chicken fucking scene in Pink Flamingos.
The art peekers gave even less time to Fikret Atay’s Rebels at the Dance 20 – 2. Two boys singing a sort of song and dicking about by a cash machine. Most had their headphones on for something approaching Planck time. Like many similar things, it doesn’t work for three seconds, but if you keep looking, and I did, it becomes delightful and alluring.

My favourite title was Lynn Hershman Leeson’s Roberta Multiple is exorcised by a flaming vase. i liked it so much, I bought the book.

The three minute excerpt of Fassbinder’s American Soldier made me realise I should stop being such a dolt and watch a lot more of his work. Fear Eats the Soul every three years may not be enough.

On the way out, I pitied Cicely Hey. It’s how they’ll always remember her, thanks Walter Sickert.

(there was much more besides. I think Whitworth Gallery is in my top five now, but it’s the Hepworth tomorrow…)

Book Shambles is back. We start off with Alan Moore, soon to be followed up by Noel Fielding.
Patreon supporters will get a bonus 70 minute Alan interview. All podcasts are HERE.



Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

And in at Number Three, it’s being solitary – The Anatomy of Rest

Spending a Sunday afternoon recording a Radio 4 show in the library of the Wellcome Institute, near its cakes and pickle jars, is just the sort of thing that would be expected of me.
I was taking part in a recording to conclude the Anatomy of Rest series. It was a calm and poetic countdown of the top five activities that people partake in to find some sense of calm.
In at number 5 was “doing nothing”, though it might just as well have been called “slobbing around”. It was the only one on the list that I find to be an uncomfortable activity, or inactivity.
Four was music and I would certainly drink to that, though drinking did not make the top 5, which surprised me, but as we all know, “oh no,doctor, I only have about ten units a week and most of that is communion wine”. Nature was at number two. Francs Bacon (painter not chicken refrigeraror) would not have liked that, as I had read that morning how much he despised the birdsong of the countryside, preferring the cacophony of drunks in Soho drinking establishments. Reading was number one, and I would add browsing to that, but it wasn’t my survey, so I can’t.

I was given number three, solitude.

“I am a loner by choice…not mine, everyone else decided for me”.

As a child, my preferred games were of solitary characters. I would be Robinson Crusoe or an astronaut who had crash landed in a strange murky and wooded planet. I probably wanted more friends, but I have grown to be satisfied with my own company.

Long before Morrissey celebrated the Cemetery Gates, I would hang around graveyards, particularly fascinated by the lone war grave in the country churchyard with the soldier’s bugle cemented into the stone.

My work necessitates being gregarious, so my play can be play alone. I am happy to drink alone, to go to movies and theatre alone, to be lost in a book alone. Solitude does not have to happen in private, there is the joy of public solitude. After a small town gig, where I have been loudly showing off to strangers in an art centre, after the transition from performance, via post show chats with audience members, I am delighted to spend the final hour before closing time in a quiet pub, lost in a pint and a book.

Luis Bunuel wrote, “I like solitude, as long as someone drops by to chat about it from time to time.”

I can enjoy solitude because I know there are escape hatches into social whirls if I ring the bell for attention.

In our gregarious times, where if you’re not being social in reality there is a virtual socialising constantly jabbering, solitude is still viewed with suspicion.

Have you ever laughed while sat alone on a bus? The tribe grow suspicious. How dare that man imagine something in his head that has brought joy, the elders must be informed, he must be thrown out onto the waste ground as the Number 73 careers past the demolition sites.
There must be shame if signs of contentment, even happiness, are shown when not in company.
(I am always in company, I have a very busy inner monologue).

Positive solitude is forgetting the judgement of others. It is not being on social media, you may be alone, but you are also in a screaming pit being relentless jostled by emoticons and expletives if you are there.
Some years ago, I went to an Edward Hopper exhibition. I had been warned that the lonely figures in his paintings were so melancholy that I may depart the Tate with an oily black dog hovering above me. As it was, it was hard to feel the loneliness in rooms so busy, filled with voyeurs elbowing everyone out of the way to ogle the lonely people.

On the wall hung a painting of naked woman sat on chair, looking out of a window.
“oh dear”
“oh how sad”
“poor woman”
“what could be going through her mind?”
“all alone”
And I thought maybe what is going through her head is “hmmm, skirt or trousers”.

I look at the diner in Nighthawks with hope not despair. “I hope I am sat in a New York diner on my own at 3am, at the very least, I’ll feel like I live in a painting” and at the most, I’ll experience those spikes of delight that appear without warning and disappear when observed, but you know they were there in you for a little while.

Colin Wilson wrote of peak consciousness, those moments when you suddenly realise you are experiencing a rare sense of utter delight at existence. I remember sitting in a cafe with cake and coffee and a big bag of secondhand books and comics. The background music was low enough that it didn’t need to hijack your thoughts, and I felt delight to be in this version of my movie.

Do not be suspicious of your sometime desire for solitude, you can find your own flotation tank without shutting a lid and lying in saline, but be happy that loneliness can be a choice not a necessity.

New series of Book Shambles begins on Thursday with Alan Moore, followed by Noel Fielding – details of all the shows we have put up and also how to donate via Patreon to Paypal are HERE.

There will also be a Theatre Shambles special with Lisa Dwan talking about No’s Knife going up in the next 24 hours. No’s Knife opens at the Old Vic this week, information HERE.





























Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The Freedom To Fuck Up – on Podcasts

To escape from the quicksand of demographic groups, to be free of market research, to fail on your own terms, maybe over and over again…

Some alien words hastily die on the vine, others soon become mundane.
I remember the TV development meeting I was in when someone brought up “podcasts”.
“What is this podcast you talk of”, we questioned like extraterrestrials asking James Kirk, “what is ‘love’?”.
Now there are more podcasts than there are humans to listen to them.

It was about eleven years ago when I started podcasting. My first one was Show and Tell. It was a spore from the Paramount Channel, now rebranded as Comedy Central to make things easier for the bottle fed listings reader. It was produced by Englishman Adrian Mackinder, now rebranded as Scandinavian to make things easier for him, and Helen Quigley, who now does the voices herself.

I suggested a sidekick, Josie Long. In moment of madness, we elevated her to co-presenter and so the seeds of her mid twenty first century dictatorship of the world were sown.

Show and Tell was exactly that. We would have a guest, such as Steve Merchant or Sarah Kendall, and they would bring in an object to talk about. We soon found that we would become sidetracked and never get around to talking of the object, so changed the title to Robin and Josie’s or Josie’s and Robin’s Shambles.

I now dabble in three podcasts, The Infinite Monkey Cage with Brian Cox, Josie and Robin’s Book Shambles and Vitriola, a foolish and angry and absurd music podcast with my friend, Michael Legge. I love making all three as I am fortunate to be working with friends, none of these partnerships have reached Lewis and Martin hubris yet.

Though Monkey Cage exists as a podcast, both in the form of the Radio 4 broadcast version and an extended format, it is primarily a BBC show. Nevertheless, from the outset we wanted it to have the feel of a podcast. My definition of this would be that it does not sound too rigorously planned. That’s not that it should sound slapdash, but that it has the momentum that occurs when nervously script-less. (that is me being nervous, as you know, the replicant Brian Cox is perpetually unruffled, suspiciously so…).

The Comedy Channel eventually forgot about Josie and I and, despite healthy listener numbers, they spent the budget that once was ours on novelty King of Queens beany hats (this may not be entirely true, though some of it is).

After a long pause, I managed to woo Josie Long, now known as Carlito, back into the podcast organisation. Trent Burton, who I also made the Cosmic Genome app with, came in as producer, as Josie and I are knuckle-headed with technology.

The freedom of the podcast is its potential looseness. We try to be informal and unplanned, though constantly wary of being boring. Messy conversations that erratically leap from idea to haiku to confusion are wonderful to create as long as we avoid being dull as much as possible. Sometimes even being dull is a necessity for a moment so that we can pogo out of it into delight.

Our pre-show planning is limited to deciding on guests and hoping they say yes. On top of that, we may bring in a carrier bag full of books, most of which will go unmentioned.

We have recorded 9 episodes for our new series starting with Alan Moore, though he was our last interview. I have finished Alan’s vast physical, metaphysical, psychological and mythical examination of Northampton, Jerusalem and I recommend it to you all. Do not be daunted. Here is a book that is both the map and the territory. Halfway through reading it, in the midst of adventures with ghost children and Oliver Cromwell, I found that this work was not satisfied with occupying my waking hours, and I started having dreams and hypnogogic occurrences that had both starring roles and cameos from Northampton and its population. We were lucky that Alan was our final guest of day two. We had had four guests already in the muggy mini submarine under Soho which we record in and our brains lacked sugar and oxygen. Few questions are required for Alan to create elaborate and lengthy concepts and theory of anarchy and magic. (I have recorded ten podcasts with Alan Moore and Grace Petrie, recorded in Northampton under the title Blooming, Buzzing Confusion, but they seem to have got lost in the LA Podcast smog).

72 hours before, I had been filming a TV musical about the entire universe with Noel Fielding. In our performing intervals, while dancers were occupied in the choreography of being particles that come in and out of existence, we talked of paintings and The Man Who Fell to Earth and adjectives we most delight in, as well as the wrong and right species for punchlines. We continued this conversation in the submarine three days later. I received a Richard Brautigan book and Josie was given a book about Basquiat, so he leapt up our chart of favourite guests.
We have talked to Sarah Bakewell, author of my favourite book of 2016 so far, about Nausea and dangerous walking…And Simon Ings on cyberpunk and Georgia O Keeffe…And Johann Hari with some devastating stories from his Chasing the Scream book…
And John Dowie told us of Ivor Cutler and the revelatory moment he saw Spike Milligan on stage in the Bed-Sitting Room…
And Nick Offerman told us of how he delighted in Margate and carpentry…And Chas Hodges impersonator Ralf Little talking of the perfection of Caroline Aherne’s writing and video games (VIDEO GAMES! on Book Shambles?)
And Helen Czerski on popcorn and physics….
And there were more, but you get the general idea.

Because we are delighted our guests are there and as we love reading and books, we can get overexcited, and maybe we mention Kurt Vonnegut too much, but I hope we create a conversation worth eavesdropping on…free to fuck up.

One year ago, we started Book Shambles with Stewart Lee (we talked over each other a bit too much that day), then Sara Pascoe on her book Animal, Chris Hadfield on space, well, you’ll find the list (and the shows) here.

All Book Shambles podcasts are free, but we finance them via Patreon subscription (you can sponsor the podcast for anything from $1 per show and we give away a box of books to a randomly chosen Patreon supporter every show) and if you don’t want to regularly donate, you can make a one off donation via Paypal (you don’t need a paypal account to do it)

I also listen to Richard Herring’s podcasts, Scroobius Pip’s Distraction Pieces, Suzi Gage’s Say Why To Drugs. Please feel free to recommend your favourite podcast under this blog.

Patreon supporters will get a bonus 60 minute Alan Moore podcast.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 6 Comments

Oops, I judged a book by its cover – on amazon and honesty

You can judge a book by its cover, or at least you can judge a product sold on Amazon by its photograph and all other information is irrelevant.
This is a warning to book fools like me.
After a Diane Arbus exhibition in Canberra, I became fascinated by the work of Lisette Model, a clear influence on Arbus. Seeking out a book of her work, I browsed for something secondhand on the internet. This was what I found on Amazon.


I have a Diane Arbus Aperture Monograph book, so this looked just the thing (and what a wonderful Coney Island image on the cover). As something of bibliophiliac gannet, I thought it best to not be excessive on my splashing out, and so I clicked on that page to choose a paperback version.

This is what came up.


I noticed that the picture was wrong, but presumed that was laziness and Amazon had just used another in the Aperture Monograph series. The title was Lisette Model Ltd (yes, LTD was an odd addition), but the description was for a book of Lisette Model’s work, the reviews were of a Lisette Model book, and Lisette Model was in the title.

Three weeks later, I received the book in the picture. I did not want the book in the picture. I wrote to the seller, Owlsmart USA and explained that I presumed a book called Lisette Mode etc etc would be a Lisette Model book, not one with no link to her whatsoever, save for a shared publisher.

They replied,

“Thank you for your email. I’m very sorry for any confusion, however in checking your order, I see that the book ordered has Eugene Atget listed as the author. I’ve pasted an image below from the Amazon order page with the information highlighted.”

I wrote back, in between putting taking off a mini skirt and putting on an Isaac Newton costume, that’s the fun you have working with Eric Idle.

“I do not think it is acceptable that a product clearly described as a book about Lisette Model with Lisette Model in the title that had no link whatsoever to Lisette Model is a  book about someone else. Please look at this link https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/aw/d/0893810525/ref=ya_st_dp_summary
and tell me that you believe this is honest selling”

But they came back with this (anyone else getting flashbacks to Sunday nights watching That’s Life?)

“Hello Robin,

Thank you for your email. I’m very sorry, but the item descriptions  on Amazon are provided by Amazon. Also, in checking the link you had provided, it shows Eugene Atget listed as the author. Again, we are sorry for any confusion. If we can be of further assistance, please feel welcomed to contact us again.”

Though all other information from title onwards for another book, the only thing I should have based my purchase on was picture and author? I am an art idiot, so had no idea who Atget was, and for all I knew, Atget was a Lisette Model biographer.

And back and forth and back and forth. I may return the book, but I will not get back the postage costs etc and it is still considered my silly fault.

So, am I the idiot? (i must make it clear, am I the idiot on this particular transaction, I accept I am a halfwit on many other things).

Is this Amazon’s error? Does that page aim to sell Eugène Atget books? If so, how does the canny buyer know that asking for a Lisette Model book is the right starting point? Should OwlsmartUSA think, “hmmm, I can see how this mistake was made, let’s just refund”, or is the virtual marketplace now so authentic that it scams as well as any flash and canvas bazaar? (Footnote – Amazon have started dealing with this and hopefully they will repair the link as well).

If you like books, right ones or wrong ones, Josie Long and I have done many book shambles podcasts with actors, authors, comedians etc. You can find them all here, why not begin with Stewart Lee and end on Evie Wyld?

Posted in Uncategorized | 8 Comments

I Wish I Could Get The Colours in My Head Out

“When I started painting the pelvis bones, I was most interested in the holes in the bones”.

It was some rooms before Georgia O’ Keeffe’s colourful renderings of pelvis bones where I saw my favourite painting of the exhibition.

I was disappointed by the Georgia O’ Keeffe exhibition, nothing to do with the work on display, it was the lack of public solitude available at this Tate Modern. I am a big fan of unpopular exhibitions, or exhibitions that are unpopular when I turn up. It is an entirely selfish position, but what is the 21st century for if not narcissism?

When I went to the Edward Hopper exhibition, I had been sternly warned that the melancholy of his lonely people may stir me to depression. As it was, the exhibition was so packed with people elbowing each other out of the way to ogle the lonely people trapped on canvas, that my only feeling for these figures was envy for their quiet solitude. I see more dead eyes above laughing mouths in gregarious situations than I do when seeing people alone with their coffee froth and thoughts.

“I have things in my head that are not like what anyone has taught me”.

I admire and envy artists like O’ Keeffe. I want the ability to translate the colours and shapes inside me onto paper, or shape it into something via a tupperware box of plasticine. Red and Orange Streak was the most captivating work for me, one of her paintings influenced by her fascination with synesthesia. I wish i knew how to create “an aural experience of the Texas landscape”.

As all things which we are capable of seem mundane, art like this is shamanism and magic to me. How does this visual experience go into the eye and then come out of the mind via brush and arm?
Just as it is near impossible to effectively verbalise why a tasty pudding delights you beyond a variety of synonyms for “YUM”, the delight of “Pink and Blue Mountain” or “Jimson Weed/ White Flower Number 1” is lost to a vocabulary that is unavailable to me.

Walking around, with my pen in hand and my thoughts too loudly saying, “how am I reacting to that? and what about that? what do you think of that?” rather than just sitting back and waiting, I had a flash image of me tripping over one of the trespass ropes and accidentally piercing a painting. I realised that would be the only way of playing any part in art history.
And it would be far less fun than the story of the nonagenarian crossword enthusiast who filled in Arthur Koepcke’s Crossword themed painting “Reading – Work – Piece”.
There are those who may thoughtfully destroy someone or something so they could be part of the story. I remember being told of the famed writer of imaginative fiction who was hounded by a tax investigator who was a big fan, such a big fan he was willing to drive his icon to bankruptcy and exile so he could get close to the man he admired and maybe be a footnote in a biographical study.

If you need some air after the O’Keeffe exhibition, take a look at the Bhupen Khakhar rooms. I knew nothing of him, but his work is bold and delightful, even when dealing with his cancer.
“His heart bleeds as he chants her name day and night (because of that oesophagus/coal cord got joined to his hear)”, now that’s a title. My favourite exhibition of the work of an artist who kept up part-time accountancy work. He celebrated solitary men in pubs, too.

Book Shambles, presented by Josie Long and me, has just finished series 3. Series 4 starts soon with Nick Offerman, John Dowie and Alan Moore amongst the guests. They are all freely available, but you can become a regular Patreon patron or just make a one off donation HERE. Patreon supporters now have access to new extra stuff and we’ll be giving away free books every week to randomly chosen supporters.

“Heh Heh, I’ve baked a proper gingerbread hottie here… DRIBBLE…just look at those meringue tits! They’ve risen perfectly.” Great news, it’s a double baker issue of Viz, The Drunken Bakers and Fru ‘T’ Bunn. What a treat.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Is it Time for the Furious Rise of the Don’t Knows

Hurriedly, the rats pressed the pedals for their pellets of spite and superiority…

This week’s New Scientist editorial opens with a little Aristotle, “all men by nature desire to know”.
The editor goes on to tell us that “human nature has not changed”. I am not so sure, a slight re-edit could help.
“All men by nature desire to tell you what they know”.
The vaunted reaction against experts my come from the increasing number of people quite certain that they have as much expertise as the experts, cack-handedly strung together from light reading of internet links.

I wish I knew what other people knew that makes them so sure.

I have never been as confused as I am now about why people believe what they believe.

The Kruger Dunning effect spreads with bubonic speed, tweets replacing sneezes as the most effective method of hastening the plague progress.

Should I remain doubtful or must I align myself with some gang of new dogmatists closest to my opinion for fear that the other fundamentalists will be victorious if I don’t choose a banner to wave or burn?

The necessity of taking Donald Trump seriously as a presidential candidate is terrifying and strange.

Watching both the pro and anti Corbyn vitriol, fury and certainty has left me hankering for an invasion of pods to replicate us all without these haphazard and thought hindering emotions. (I know research demonstrates the necessity of emotions for decisions, but maybe we need to have a little Vulcan human hybrid grip).

In Michael Crichton’s The Terminal Man, a man who is victim of murderous rage has a chip implanted which secretes calming delight every time he is on the cusp of uncontrollable violent outbursts. Unfortunately, he becomes increasingly addicted to the calming delight, and so he becomes more, not less controllable. It’s a neurological disaster. It’s the cane toad of psycho therapy. (this is based on memory of watching the George Segal version on Channel 4 thirty years ago, so apologies to the Michael Crichton estate for any misrepresentation).
This addiction seems similar to our addiction to seeking perpetual fury on social media, a perpetual fury driven by our perpetual certainty that we are the extreme expert on almost bloody everything.

Traintoiletgate seemed a typical example. I watched as self-proclaimed sceptic banged on and on about this scandalous plot of Corbyn, twizzling his waxed beard in a monochrome expressionistic movie, leering with delight at his carefully etched plan to pretend the train was full, which as we know, they so rarely are.

Meanwhile, anyone who wishes to criticise Corbyn in even the most moderate language must be flushed into a threatening sewer of language and spite.

The worst examples of any side are repeatedly held up as the most typical of whichever team you despise.

The bunker mentality is such that barely anyone is above ground now. Everyone is on the losing or victimised side, so the few who roam free, Jeremy Hunt and Southern Rail executives amongst them, are free to disembowel what they want while we’re busy typing typing typing (look, I’m doing it too).

I am punch-drunk to the point of immobility. (The sceptic who tweeted to me that Noam Chomsky is basically America’s David Icke has a special place in my “really? REALLY? You REALLY believe that?” file)

I have had to cancel my appearance at a Jeremy Corbyn event in Brighton due to rehearsals for a musical. Never let politics get in the way of a high kick, unless you are Betty Boothroyd, when you can combine both. In some ways, I am relieved. I worry about supporting political parties, and now this event has become a sub set within that party, though it’s not really a party anyway. It is an opposition party that has become obsessed with opposing itself. Rarely do I actively support a party, a benefit here and there, some for Caroline Lucas, a do for the Lib Dems, a Stand up for Labour event, and a few evenings for some anarchists pretty much sums it up, and I think the anarchists may have the allure, after all, haven’t they got Ursula K Le Guin and Alan Moore?
The relentless besmirching has worked. I have lost faith in most humans, at least when they are given authority, and I am increasingly convinced that “the right thing to do” is impossible because those with the tightest grip on the reins have no desire to do any sort of right thing if it may damage the mathematical outcomes they wish to see.

I think I have made the mistake of saying yes to Sunday Morning Live, the BBC debate show. They have kindly asked for some years now, and I was alway sober enough to say no. I think I said yes a few months ago and now I remember why I am so utterly useless for such spectacles,
I don’t know. I could bluff knowing. I could even ask for a bit of make up that means the lighting makes me look like I’m sure. Perhaps I can bluff fanaticism.

Peter Hitchens, Owen Jones, Douglas Murray and other regulars seem to know. They have a certainty that is increasingly elusive to me. Who is hiding all the better answers?

It’s time for the “don’t knows” to rise up, and look the Yeses and Nos straight in the eyes and say, “so what makes you so sure?”

Or maybe it’s not…

There are now 28 Book Shambles podcasts available – from Sara Pascoe to Chris Hadfield, Geoff Dyer to Nikesh Shukla, Eddie Izzard to Isy Suttie


A new horror anthology, Dead Funny Encore, has just come up – stories by Stewart Lee, Josie Long, Alice Lowe, Alan Moore, James Acaster, me…

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment