YOU'RE NOT ON A HERO'S JOURNEY. DEAL WITH IT.

There's a myth going round that we're heroes, or at any rate can be. It's a myth that started with Jung, infected Hollywood, and is now rippling through the personal development and marketing communities like avocados on Instagram. And it's a myth about a myth. One known as The Hero's Journey.

Joseph Campbell was a student of Jung. Influenced by his mentor's fascination with archetypes and an interest in stories, he discovered that stories have an archetypal structure. Just the one, hence he called it the monomyth. The fact that he boiled down thousands of stories from hundreds of cultures and concluded there was actually just the one story should raise an eyebrow. It's reminiscent of the bit in Hitchhiker's Guide where the entry in the Guide for Earth reads 'Mostly harmless' - and that's the longer revised version.

For sure, Campbell discovered something when he distilled all those myths and legends and folklore into one handy dandy template. George Lucas consulted Campbell when he made the first Star Wars film. Thanks to Chris Vogler, who wrote a memo about it when he worked at Disney that shaped films including The Lion King, Campbell's monomyth has become the default shape of Hollywood films for a couple of decades now. You know the one. The hero is called to do something that disrupts their life and ultimately answers a fundamental question for them, in the process changing them for ever more thanks to an experience of rebirth. Neo in The Matrix, getting the cheat codes for reality. Bill Murray in Groundhog Day, redeeming himself from a meaningless life through love. Any film where an unlikely mentor supports our plucky hero in their hour of need, eg Splinter - the giant rat who teaches ninjutsu to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. And who could forget Legally Blonde?

Boil a story down to the essence it has in common with thousands of others, and by definition you lose what makes it unique. And there's something too conveniently Hollywood-friendly about Vogler's condensed take on Campbell. The success of Marvel's superhero movies suggests that filmgoers are tiring of the tried and tested. That might seem counterintuitive given how self-evidently heroic Marvel heroes are, and yes - they have their own kind of saminess. True, but it's only part of the story. Part of what audiences are loving in Marvel films is the way characters recur. And it's in those multiple appearances we see them in a new light. Captain America, hero in his own film, is the butt of jokes in other Marvel movies. Black Panther was clearly the star of his own movie, but in Infinity War he's got a supporting role. Iron Man has a major but not lead role in Infinity War, and if anyone's the protagonist it's Thanos - and he's the villain, in a film which also cheats audience expectations powerfully with its ending and yet is still doing huge box office.

Research demonstrates that when Japanese people respond to a painting, they are concerned with its setting, taking the whole in. Americans focus instead on the dominant image, particularly if it's of a person. And there's something about that which connects with the American Dream, the notion that anyone can go from log cabin to Whitehouse. That's the story of the entrepreneur too, a strong-willed individual who is driven by their dream to change the world and profit from it. Not much sense of the context and supporting cast in that picture - the market which might simply be ready for someone's idea and wasn't a year before when someone else tried the same idea, a handy beta for their successor. Then there are employees, whose talent and hard work created the detail of the founder's dream without which it would be vaporware. And what about suppliers and customers?

The point isn't to be picky, but to present a different picture. It's something that can be seen in Japanese work culture. In the day, working together as a team, colleagues collaborate to achieve outcomes. It's at night when they socialise together that it's acceptable to criticise bosses when alcohol is a means of expressing truths that would be less tolerable in the office. There's a sense of communal endeavour, and setpiece boardroom chestbeating and people standing their ground don't figure in it in the same way.

These differences of perspective matter. Not least at a time when strong-willed individuals in the form of billionaire oligarchs and the politicians they bankroll are carving up the world for their advantage and willing to sacrifice others in pursuit of their greed. Back in the day, a strong-willed individual like James Stewart would stand up for what was right in the films of the day. Today's political titans are more likely to speak on behalf of an oil lobby-funded belief that climate change is a myth, wilfully oblivious to the bigger picture we're all part of. 

Do we need people willing to take risks and make sacrifices? Sure. And we need them to do so in alliance with others rather than through their pig-headedness. Another of the central tenets of the Marvel movies is that superheroes were once like you and me before being granted their powers. It's as a team and with shared goals that they get to put the world to rights - and that doesn't mean in their own image, because as Peter Parker learned tragically when he became Spider-Man, 'with great power comes great responsibility'.

Countless websites detail coaches and trainers who reckon they fit the role of mentor in your Hero's Journey. Can you really imagine Frida Kahlo or Martin Luther King attending a seminar on manifesting their hero within? Even as a typology, the Hero's Journey is just one of those available. Vladimir Propp checked out Russian folklore and mythology a decade or two before Campbell and came up with something equally valid. Propp's schema is not as glamourous, noting as it does the likelihood of the hero being scarred along the way, and doing a lot of their work without even being recognised. That's not going to go down well on a weekend workshop, which as much as anything are about inflating the participants' sense of who they are and what they can achieve. 

Take a note from the Japanese. When you're being sold someone's big heroic story, ask questions which will give you details about who else was involved, and the environment which supported their success. And do it over a beer. It's great that we have ideas and do things to make them come true - but the Hero's Journey fuels the story that change happens without a social and economic context to make it possible, and that's a myth we can do without.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WHATEVER IT TAKES

It wasn't long after I got my first job as a copywriter that I heard about how a rival agency won a pitch. Asked to present concepts for what promised to be a substantial account, not only did they make a good show of the work they did, they went above and beyond. Making a bit of razzle dazzle out of it, they led the client out to the front of the building. A new car was sitting there. To indicate their excitement and commitment about working together, they gave the keys to the client. She took them. And the agency won the account. It was unclear whether the story was being told out of disgust, or grudging admiration.

The next agency I work for, a big London one, I got to see how things sometimes worked when one of the directors showed me some previous work they'd done. I was looking at a leaflet campaign for a premium retail store seeking staff, and asked why they used that approach and not run an ad in a newspaper. Turned out they'd done that, but too many of the candidates who applied were off-brand. Which is to say, they were black, or at any rate not white. So the leaflets targeted a suburb where well brought-up young white women were to be found, which is who the department store  wanted to be selling to their customers.

A few years later, in Nottingham, I was developing scripts and meeting people who were getting short films made and occasionally worked in radio and television. Two guys hatched a sitcom, and got some funds to make a pilot episode. They came along to a shindig for the regional screen agency, and thanked the chief exec for support received to an audience of people hoping for similar backing. Only, the screen agency had nothing to do with the money that the sitcom got. The chief exec was pals with the chaps who'd made it though, who sang his praises in return for the prospect of future collaboration.

I mention all of this in the light of the Cambridge Analytica revelations. They made dark use of data harvested illegally from Facebook, and using a combination of digitally-assisted psychological profiling and good old-fashioned skulduggery delivered election results that some pretty unpleasant clients paid handsomely for.

The thing being, none of this is surprising.

Cambridge Analytica are only different in the scale that they operate on. The targeting the department store colluded in with the London ad agency was no different in principle, or lack of it. There are people in businesses worldwide who would behave in exactly the same ways, and clients everywhere more than happy to pay for results.

The guys behind the sitcom caper are classic cases in point. They'd think of themselves as decent sorts, just doing whatever it takes to get by in a cut-throat industry. So they cut throats. One in particular would justify his actions by frequent use of the term 'realpolitik'. Being prepared to do anything to get your result is ok if there's a German word for it.

As you go about your business today, what ethical choices will you be faced with? And how will you deal with them?

 

MORE THAN A FAILING

I trust the third mind more than I trust my own.

William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, or both of them, coined the phrase when they worked together in a period that resulted in the cut-up technique David Bowie later picked up and played with as a tool in his songwriting. With cut-up, reassembling a text or combining it with another is a way of forging or exposing new connections through randomness. That's one example of what can be thought of as another mind at work. When two minds come together in ways that spark, they occupy a space that can effectively be considered a third. There comes a point in collaboration when the notion of who came up with a particular idea is redundant. When it flows, the process generates solutions as they're needed, and laying claim to them is an exercise that usually starts with ego and ends in bitterness. 

I've seen it in action plenty of times. It's one of the reasons I love working with others, rather than being resolute in believing that squeezing my brain juices over a project is inevitably the best solution. My brain juices are fine - and cocktails are even better. 

On the recently created Projects page of this site, there's a newly completed audio version of my play Breaking In. Thanks to a lack of foresight, we did the recording session with the actors in a way that didn't lend itself to a naturalistic production with sound effects creating the ambience of different locations. Oops. Only, why let that limit us? A lot of the most interesting art in the last century parted company with naturalism a long time ago. 

Brian Eno nailed it with his Oblique Strategy card, 'Turn a seeming disadvantage to your advantage'. Which is itself another take on 'Necessity is the mother of invention'. In this instance, I turned to Darren Bourne for a solution, confident that the man who comes up with the music of halF unusuaL would have a trick up his sleeve. Turns out he did. In playing with the voices of the two actors - a cut-up of sorts - Darren hit upon a shimmering glow of a soundscape, that in its numinous quality nails the emotional core of the story, about a couple whose efforts to find love on a weekend break remain seemingly out of reach, though each yearns for that experience. That musical theme is threaded through the play at appropriate moments, and marks out the scenes in a far more interesting way than doors slamming, the crunch of footsteps on gravel, and the ambience of a hotel bar, which is what might have happened otherwise.

Treasure mistakes. Eno again: 'Honor thy error as a hidden intention.'

Sometimes the third mind pops up after a first connection in another seemingly unrelated context. I spent a day on a new project with a client in London last week. We hit on a very distinctive visual metaphor that we are developing as an actual image. A few days later, the very same image came up in the context of a Tarot reading someone did for me, and in talking about it the reader hit on the core of the work that had been done a few days previously, work she was unaware of. 

Question your instincts. When I wrote the short film White Lily, the male and female roles were scripted intentionally in a way that hopefully cut against gender stereotypes. Later, in rehearsals, the first couple of times we did it as written. Siddhii Lagrutta wanted to swap the roles though, or at any rate find out what happened when we did. That's what we ran with - there was an extra energy and dynamic to the resulting relationship between her and David McCaffrey that director Tristan Ofield and I recognised and responded to. I'd accidentally written the parts the wrong way round.

Earlier tonight, a filmmaker sent me a rough cut of a piece we're developing. We'd come up with ideas of how we wanted to work together, but as interesting as they were, he couldn't follow them through with conviction. Where he's ended up instead is somewhere neither of us had anticipated, and all the more interesting as a result. Any endeavour has a life of its own. Go with that, rather than be limited by your initial conceptions of it.

There's a time and place for following the map you've created between you. But all too often the treasure hasn't been marked on that map, and only shows up after the fact. Ideas flow when you're onto something. Learn to go with that, and you'll leave safe harbours behind and discover brave new worlds. We'll find tomorrow there, not by turning over the bones of yesterday's concepts and mistaking the women and men who came up with them for the power of the ideas they came across when they plugged into the third mind.

 

 

 

 

 

WOLF MOON

In some traditions the first full moon of the year is called a wolf moon. We had one last night, and there'll be another this evening. You don't have to buy into everything to do with that metaphor to accept the romance of it. Oh, and New Year? That's a metaphor too. Our world is rotating as it always has. Any notions of there being something new about that come from the science, the history, the stories we drape over raw elemental reality to make it bearable to us. With a bunch of words in place, we can tell ourselves we know what's going on, as long as we stop where those words indicate and don't peer beyond. We don't want to fall off the edge.

Where stories come in useful is when they provide pointers. What becomes apparent with the notion of a wolf moon is a connection to our primal state. Wolves are thought of as solitary creatures, but in truth are pack animals whose sensory skills attune them beautifully to their environment. That's something we can learn on, and if the idea that the year is new is a prompt to contemplate our lives in relation to wolves, where does that take us?

"No wolf drags a long bag of yesterdays behind them today." Dr Clarissa Pinkola Estes. 

I removed a whole bunch of stuff that didn't belong in my bathroom and chucked it out - a big bag of yesterdays. And the reason they were there, in part, is because of another yesterday that I realise I drag with me: the one that says I shouldn't throw stuff away, because it might be useful. That one was given to me by parents who grew up during World War Two, particularly a mother who was an evacuee with powerful emotions attached to those few things she took to Devon when she was sent there from London as a child.

Odds are you'll have had some success on your journey to date, maybe achieved some of what's important to you in life, and yet - the world continues to frustrate either your progress or your understanding. Whichever it is, it's a phenomenon that results from the stuff we cart around with us, even if it's the belief that we don't. One pernicious aspect of some contemporary thinking is that our past can be overwritten just so. Another is that we are able to have whatever we want, with no obligation to the web of social structures that allow us to be granted our desires. In different ways, both are expressions of the myth of the lone wolf.

Wolves look after each other pretty well, it turns out. It takes fucked-up thinking to mess yourself and others up, the legacy in part of language. We can believe impossible things before breakfast, and do the same for other meals too. Some of those thoughts become works of surpassing beauty and power - a design for a house made from recycled materials, an effective cancer treatment, an opera, a business plan that creates jobs in an impoverished community. Others are harmful, to ourselves or others - an obsession with an ex, a belief that money is a bad thing, hatred for a neighbour, addiction to alcohol. They all start as ideas, woven into our thinking and bodies, and then shaping what we do and the way we do it.

I say this as someone who is both an award-winning screenwriter, and an expert self-saboteur. Just now it took me 45 minutes, speaking to 4 people at a bank, to untangle a problem it turns out was my fault. I dealt with it promptly, and stayed calm throughout - two things which wouldn't have happened in the past. Plus I have dealt with the issue in question, sorting it promptly and without anguish. Change doesn't just take insight, it requires commitment.

How's your 2018 looking? What excites you? What's holding you back? In either case, do you know for sure that you can accomplish what you'd like? Especially if you've been down this road before, and have explored counselling, coaching, therapy, to help you get more of what matters to you, and less of what doesn't, you'll know that the start of the year is a time for anxiety as well as excitement. That's fine - and you're still faced with the potential to be more of the person you are at your best, today as any other day.

With an ally to support you, things don't get any easier. The value is in having an ongoing conversation where you're called on to be real, and accountable. To examine what you're still carrying from the past and do something special with it, whether that means sorting out what you don't need and is no longer true, or building something magnificent to showcase what you're capable of - a business goal, a life dream, a creative ambition. I've supported people as they've made all of those things happen. For some, that's plenty. For others, there's that extra thing that needs working on - especially if you've succeeded in making good stuff happen but sense there's still something missing. 

I don't do much formal paid 1:1 work with people in part because my primary focus is on creative projects. And my approach is not for everyone. I ask questions you won't find in the books and workshops that coaches have typically learned from - because I'm interested in getting to grips with what's going on with you, not applying someone else's models. My role is not to be your cheerleader, though I'll applaud if you really are doing what you want, and together find ways to make doing what you want and need more straightforward and more effective. Big shows of dynamic performance don't impress me - I'm about making it the most natural thing in the world to do more of what you sincerely want to do, not putting energy where it's wasted. If you're up for your ideas and sense of who you are being challenged in the name of experiencing more of what matters for you, we can talk. An initial conversation, in person or on Skype, will cost nothing and give us a sense of whether we want to work together. You can also check out these audio pieces I've done giving examples of what it is I do. 

You'll have gathered I'm not a lone wolf. I'm a proud member of several packs. And there are times I call, to see who will respond.

 

 

SIGN OF THE TIMES

The tram bulges with people wanting release. A few days ago there was a hint of seasonal cheer getting about town, but the other side of Christmas suspicion is once again the default mode, goodwill depleted on unwelcome relatives and the stench of unfulfilled desires - to love and be loved, or at any rate get some decent presents. Step away from home's tensions, maybe snap up a bargain if you're lucky. 

I get off the tram to catch a Medilink bus over to Nottingham's biggest hospital. The service used to be free, now costs £1.20. No complaint about that, the fee an acknowledgement of the era we live in. It's 2017 - the NHS is headed by Jeremy Hunt, a habitual liar who co-wrote a book arguing for its privatisation, and the organisation's money is being pissed away on serial offender Richard Branson, who took the NHS to court protesting not only should he have won a contract to deliver children's health services in Surrey, but is entitled to compensation having lost.

Thankfully the hospital is just a convenient stopping off point, a stroll away from a walk in the grounds of Wollaton Hall with a friend. I spot her red coat, and we make our way to the utilitarian entrance, through to the other side. Only a wall separates us from a busy A road, but that's all you need when on the other side are deer, trees, and centuries-old paths. I was last here on Halloween, an impromptu decision to embrace older traditions that declared it a year-end, somewhere to reflect and refresh. Now another new year is close, and I'm Branson-greedy for a second bite of the cherry, this time with a berry-coated companion.

There's a tree stump we come on at just the right moment, discovered on my last visit. The centre is eaten away, but it's alive with mulch, mildew, and beetles. We sit and compare notes on the year, then make our way up an incline to a courtyard where a cafe can be found, and continue our conversation with coffees in hand. For both of us, there's a sense of moving forward with what matters to us, and too of being snared by the inevitable consequences of being social animals. We learn. We love. We get hurt. We carry on. Knowing people we can share our latest findings with makes the passage easier.

And then we're out of the park, arcing back towards where we started. We hug, the contact an affirmation as much as our words, and I branch off down Triumph Road. The name hints at the architecture of the university buildings dotted along it, eco-friendly optimistic designs demonstrating a faith in the future that works in its own right, but seems like a science fiction dream just a few streets away.

Austerity feels like hungry dogs wandering a neighbourhood that didn't seem so unsettling last time I passed through a few weeks ago. I could be mistaken for a bulked-up Travis Bickle from a distance, say behind the blanked-out windows of passing cars. Around here, I used to know people who ran projects for the community. There are children, but the parents with them walk fast and don't make eye contact - and why would they, if I look like Bickle? A teenager runs across the road and I can't tell if she's 14 or 34 by the time she gets nearer, in a white top with black Mickey Mouse faces, black skirt with white circles the same size as the rodent skulls, furry slippers with pom-poms.

The gun shop has crossbows and samurai swords in the window, too, and the only bigger stores are owned by adjacent bookmakers. Malevolent electricity trickles into the atmosphere throughout, a feel that anything could happen and possibly already is just a street away. Even some of the familiar names don't gel here - a pub converted into a supermarket that won't be showcased in the chain's annual report and may not last until the next is put together. It sits next to a car wash with the chill edge of a Mexican police operation. Stark white light frames an area set back from the road where men wield squeegees and buckets like they're anticipating conflict. 

Past threadbare Caribbean takeaways, minimalist barbers where all that's needed is a chair and a razor, a former corner pub now a Middle Eastern grill with a sign in the window promoting Bar Juice, and I stop at Asda. As well as picking up a few reduced items, I use the toilet. The swastika on the inside of the door that had been bleached off is inked in again.

 

 

 

 

 

LOOKING IN ALL THE WRONG PLACES

Someone comes along, sees a friend under a streetlamp, looking for something.

'What have you lost?'

'My keys.'

'Where were they when you last saw them?'

'Over there.'

'So why are you looking here?'

'I need the streetlamp to see.'

Last night I went to the final evening of Nottingham's First Tuesday networking event, at least in the form it took under the fabulous and irrepressible Debbie Doodah. She's moving on, and leaving the event in the highly capable hands of her ThinkInNG allies. 

I remember a particular First Tuesday, a year or more back. One of the speakers was a guy who'd gone out of his way to tell Debbie about how she really needed to book him. Which is fair enough - you've got to be your own ambassador after all. And he came, and talked. He knew exactly what he was going to say,  and he said it, which is how people often do these things.

He told us about a book he'd read. In that book, the author left his job, inspired to train with some Hong Kong martial artists. Doing so helped him in all kinds of ways. Having read the book, the guy doing the talk decided - that he'd do the same thing himself. He went to Hong Kong. And had the same experience he'd read about, with the same martial artists.

How often is someone else's dream identical to yours? How likely is it that someone else has already hit on the very thing you need to make your heart sing, in the course of fulfilling their own dreams? 

The abiding sense I got from hearing this ostensibly successful man talk about how he'd replicated someone else's dream, was that he wasn't in touch with himself. That he knew what inspiration looked like...because he'd read about someone else's. And the best thing about that is - it's OK. There are times we all fail to challenge ourselves enough. That we take a peek outside our comfort zones and decide that someone else's success is what we want. Safer that, than risk finding out what it really is that gives your life purpose - and fail to bring it about.

Of course, I realised that having so often done the same. Not in quite so blatant a way as to arrange to pay strangers to beat me up in Hong Kong. But there've been times when I've wanted to have achieved what some of my creative idols have achieved. Grant Morrison say. Or Kate Tempest. Only, they got to do their thing and have it work by - doing their thing. And they in turn will have had role models and mentors who in time play less of a role in their own sense of self as they create more work that feels like who they truly are.

It's OK to want someone else's success. And a lot of the time, that's what coaching offers. Strategies that helped someone else achieve what was important to them. And that's great. But how often do borrowed clothes really fit?

I experience that old clothes stink when I hear the majority of coaches and trainers talk. Can hear in their words the books they've read, sometimes see the mannerisms of those who've trained them. And that makes me sad. Telling other people how to achieve whatever, as the local budget version of someone your clients would get more from if you had the guts to tell them to go to the source of whatever skills and knowledge you've gleaned. It's not for me, and if training with some of the people I learned from is going to be a better solution than working with me, I'll tell you that.

If I'm different, it's because my mentors are different. You'll notice the irony. And also, my life isn't defined by coaching and training. I'm an award-winning scriptwriter, who wrote and helped make a short film that recently played at a festival in Hollywood where it stood shoulder-to-shoulder with films made with much larger budgets and name actors. I've written a speech for a world champion boxer; successfully pitched to a team who masterminded some of the world's biggest film's franchises; been headhunted by a leading London ad agency; written TV drama for the BBC without having an agent to get the work for me. 

Those are things I mention because they're achievements. And, by the way, I've also been through the hell of being sectioned twice. Of recovering from that and being suicidal at times for most of a year. So when I talk about getting up and starting again, of looking at what you've got and thinking about it in another way, of finding ways to make the unlikely happen, I'm talking at first hand.

Let the stories of others be an inspiration. Let them surge through your veins, inform your choices, shape your dreams. But do not mistake them for what you're about. It's not what others have achieved that matters. The ways they accomplished it are largely irrelevant. What's important is that a spark was lit in you, or that seeing something outside allowed you to become aware of your spark inside. And it's the spark that counts. 

It's the spark that ignites the pilot light. Great name, huh? Pilot light. A light that guides you. And that's what matters more than anything. Yes, strategy matters. Resources count. Contacts are crucial. But above all nurture that spark. And if it grows when you're around a particular coach or trainer, then that's a good indication they're good for you. If not...then walk away - even if you have to make your way back from Hong Kong, because you realise that was the wrong direction and your feet ache because you're wearing someone else's shoes.

If that light is dimming in you, I can be a good person to talk with. If you want to discover what lies beyond your mentors and models, we can do that. If you've discovered you're living someone else's dream - a parent's, a role model's, whoever it may be - that's something we can talk about. And if you're getting the sense that whoever you've been getting coaching from is going through the motions, there's plenty we can discuss. You know where to find me. Now how about finding you?

 

TRIGGER HAPPY

Steely Dan plays in a Camden Market cafe as a toddler chirrups like a squeaky hinge. This carrot cake is the best, and my deep black coffee is smooth, frictionless. Rewind 12 hours and Steve Cowie and I are in conversation with Dotty, an amateur Egyptologist who has been on a glorious adventure since parting with his wife there and is now living in a hostel for trans people in London. Three hours before that she was an audience member who responded to the call for goddesses. We're at The Cockpit theatre in Marylebone and just two days before I was reading Alan Moore's introduction to a collection of Michael Moorcock stories - he speculates that Prince Elric of his fantasy stories lived in the area. Melnibone was wiped from our memories but peeks through Marylebone in its street markets and an open-fronted eaterie where walnut-skinned men serve us freshly cooked flatbreads with savouries of your choice. There is no menu, instead we point and when we leave are asked for just £10. By this time we've seen spirits invoked by a sage couple who administer non-denominational funerals. Death makes you hungry. John Higgs riffed with lyrical power about identity rooted not in nation but in geography. Salena Godden's poems again spoke of death and the urgency of fucking and feasting your all as it motors towards you. And Daisy Campbell shared hope and magic and thoughts of community. This is a community I'm proud to be part of, and Daisy's at the hub. We all are potentially - Charles Fort reminds us that we measure a circle beginning anywhere. And if we extend that community through time as well as space Fort is there too, inspiring Robert Anton Wilson to look more at those things that don't fit. His polio was cured using a technique developed by a nurse who not only failed the era's credibility test by failing to be a doctor, but to make matters worse Sister Kenny was a woman. Wilson's freewheeling sense of inquiry takes him to work at Playboy where he gets to meet Tim Leary, William Burroughs, and Alan Watts among others. Those experiences transmute into the Illuminatus trilogy which Daisy's dad Ken stages in a legendary theatrical incarnation in Liverpool, just by the crossroads that might be the very one that featured in a dream Jung believed to be the most powerful of his life. And all of that and more went into Cosmic Trigger, the autobiographical text Wilson went on to write, and which Daisy has made more theatrical magic from in a four hour spectacle of epic questing, zesty jesting, mind-refreshing beauty and chaos. Out of that concoction the actor playing Wilson, experiencing a psychedelic transcensexual serial (episode isn't big enough) hands me a random Tarot card. Time and the fourth wall are broken and I am accelerated through my own Wilsonian adventures. Lovesexdeath all activated by and activating intelligence. I find myself. I find myself staring. I find myself staring at the card in my hand. The 6 of Disks. Success.

THE DISTINCTIVE ODOUR OF BULLSHIT

There are phrases that cause you to pause, and wonder exactly what was just said. A pivotal one for me was when an account director at an ad agency I worked at in the 90s showed me some leaflets promoting jobs at a department store. I asked why they'd chosen to do that rather than go the more conventional route of a newspaper ad. "We tried that," he said, "but the ethnic response was too high."

I knew something significant had happened, but it took me a while to untangle the knotty meaning from the apparently straightforward packaging in which it was presented. The speaker had been so comfortable in what he was saying that its full ugliness wasn't immediately apparent. What he meant was, too many black people had applied for the jobs. The idea of 'too many' is an interesting one, and seems to suggest that a threshold had been breached. In this case, it came down to a nice middle class department store not wanting to dismay its customers with non-white faces. Only, in the meeting where the decision to create the leaflet was cooked up, I'm confident neither account handler nor the store's HR person would have used words like race or discrimination - they just wanted the store's staffing to be on-brand. Hence, put flyers through doors in leafy suburbs where reassuringly pale people could be found, who would remind shoppers of their nephews, nieces, grandchildren.

If there'd been a smoking gun document about that meeting and the thinking involved, I'd have passed it on to The Guardian or Private Eye. But the nature of such discussions is they happen in person - more often than not, man to man. For me it guaranteed that, sooner or later, I'd be gone from that agency. Having grown up among my father's students, who came from Malaysia, Ghana, Hong Kong, Uganda and elsewhere, I knew where I stood - had since I was about 7, when one of dad's Nigerian students told us that a tailor he'd asked to make him a jacket asked if he should leave room for sir's tail.

Bigots have no joy, no humour about them. Anything like that in you shrivels up when you choose to look at the world through the bone-framed lenses of the fearful and greedy. You need them, to give you distance, and witness a world that's going to the dogs (and not the way dad did when he took his students to Hall Green greyhound track to show them a bit of British culture). Loneliness makes you paranoid say mental health researchers, and one of the easiest ways to be lonely in a world as big as ours is by deliberately making other people 'them' and contrasting that group with an ever-dwindling 'us'.

We all warp reality in our own special ways, and make language do awkward things to fit what we want to get across, but there's a particular variety of it done by people with power that's instructive to watch. It was the odious Tory Grant Shapps who introduced me to the curious expression 'misspoke', when he used that word to express some lies he'd been caught in. Using 'misspoke' has some tentative implication that actually, Shapps had every intention of being a straight-up guy, but just as he was about to drop some truth some bollocks came out instead.

And now Labour's Diane Abbott has used the phrase. She had all the right numbers lined up in her head to explain how the party will pay for 10,000 cops, but rubbish fell out of her mouth. Like when you're eating, and crumbs bail out. Hillary Clinton said she misspoke too, when describing how she dodged bullets in Bosnia - which didn't happen. 

Getting things wrong is fine. It's what human beings do. What 'misspoken' does is position the speaker as some kind of superhuman, whose heart is pure but whose mind became mush and let tumblewords fall from the hole in heir face, perhaps due to the Kryptonite of an astute question or awkward observation.

Politicians believing they're more than human is just as unhelpful as bigots believing some people are subhuman. It's the same crap, which draws a distinction between the speaker and the world at large. I'm pretty sure I'll fall for it myself again soon, maybe even later today. But at least I know what to watch out for.

 

 

 

THE PATTERNS WE MAKE AS WE DECORATE TIME

Let me tell you about my brother. I don't speak about Nigel much. Partly it's to do with that thing about someone being dead - there's a moment where it seems relevant to mention it in conversation which leads the other party to say they're sorry when actually it happened so long ago that such a nicety seems redundant. Also, I pretty much wrote him off before his death. He was stealing from and violent to our mother, who was running a launderette in the Erdington area of Birmingham, where the kindest people around were her criminal neighbours.

B23 was an interesting area. Those criminal neighbours? They described another local as looking like a solicitor, because the only time they came across a woman dressed like that was in court. The clothes didn't make her family above the law - her younger brother had been trained as a toddler by his mum to crawl through a narrow opening at a Spanish hotel that gave him access to valuables kept safe for guests. For his mother he brought back jewellery, and she praised him for that, and years later in Birmingham those birds were coming home to roost. His suited sister worked at a car rental place, not as a solicitor.

My parents had divorced, and Nigel lived with mum at a couple of places before getting somewhere of his own. And he came back, as described, which is why there was a court order barring him from being near mum at the point he was killed. It happened when Nigel was over in Lichfield where dad lived, probably to celebrate dad's birthday, since that was the date he and some pals stole a car. Nigel was driving when it smashed, and dad was asked to identify remains, only there wasn't much of him left to recognise, so they had to use dental records.

I got a garbled version of what had happened in a call at the ad agency I was working in Holborn. Mum seemed to think Nigel was alive and in hospital, but a friend and neighbour took the phone and said "He's dead Adrian. He's dead." I went to the top of the stairs to take this in, an area people used to smoke. I think I may have asked someone there for a cigarette. Whether I did that or not, I told him what I'd just heard and he said as he went back in to the office "No use crying over spilt milk." 

The funeral procession set off from my mums's flat above the launderette. She was trying to sell the business at the time - had planned to anyway, and Nigel's death accelerated the process. There was a call that morning from someone who'd viewed the place a couple of times and was making interested noises. They knew the funeral was happening so I passed the phone on to mum, assuming they were going to say something kind and awkward. Instead, the caller - making the most of experience of doorstepping grieving parents acquired as a cop - wanted mum to knock a few grand off the price if she agreed to a quick sale. These are things that happen.

There isn't a place on your map for some experiences. That was one. Another transpired when the funeral procession moved off. Without any planning, the route chosen took us past all the places we'd lived as a family, in the order we'd lived in them. Nigel's life became a journey more or less up and off the A34, passing from Shaw Drive in Acocks Green to Peveril Drive in Hall Green and ending up travelling down School Lane in Hockley Heath, where he was buried about a mile away from where we'd lived for something like 7 years. Tracing that path made it a lot harder to hold Nigel in my mind as someone who treated mum badly.

If you saw that journey in a film you'd think it was contrived. But geography is etched with history in ways it's hard to fathom. And your history and mine and all of ours is there in the streets we walk, the paths we take and choose not to, the woods we enter and ones we wouldn't. It's not that films are contrived, more that it takes something like a death to see the shape of your life, which is what cinema can explore. We're so immersed in the living of it, the idea that in doing so we're creating layers and lines, shading and shapes, passes us by. 

Tonight I did something new. It's Good Friday, and a friend performed in a choir doing Faure's Requiem in an old church in Bottesford. Exactly the sort of thing I don't do, and even better for doing it. The music itself, in that space, was beautiful - I've lately been listening to hiphop, electronica, and heavy metal, and choral music is a whole other thing.

What made it magical was the choir hadn't all met before today. They gathered with some knowledge of the forty minute piece, and a conductor to guide them, someone to play the organ, and a couple of soloists for the showcase bits. And after rehearsing, they sang - and shimmered, and shone, and shadows dissolved. I reckon that's pretty punk - a group of strangers getting together for a single performance, then going their separate ways. No record contracts, no tour bus, no reviews.

That gathering happens every year in the same place at the same time with a different choral piece and a choir that has different people whenever they assemble, including some who are there consistently. Every one of those who come to sing or listen has been affected by death somewhere along the line, and all participated in a ritual to connect those present with the intentional death of a man we're told died for us all.

Christianity is not my belief system of choice, but for tonight at least I felt its power, and understood some of why it connects people over centuries. Something about that experience was magical, and it's in the ability to be lost in something bigger - because, in the nicest possible way, whatever 'it' is, it really isn't about you or me. It's about the pattern that connects, as Gregory Bateson put it, whether in the form of a choir that coalesces once a year, or a funeral procession that charts a family's years together.

 

 

 

DEFYING HOMOGENOPOLIS

The picture heading this piece up is one of several I took of a guy dancing to the music a talented saxophonist was playing, as he busked outside a store that had closed in the centre of Nottingham. A new shop has replaced the failed one, with peristaltic inevitability. Just don't ask me what it is. All I can tell you is it's one or other of the branded stores that you can find anywhere round the world, for the convenience of consumers who believe that a familiar logo will present them with peace of mind in whatever transaction they want to make.

A brand is a promise and a promise is a lie, more often than not. Back in the day, if you wanted a pair of shoes you'd go to whoever made them in your area. There might only be one provider, and hopefully they'd know what they were doing. Maybe there was more than one, each offering something the other couldn't. Now, it's a different story - and remember that word story. There are many shoe shops in town, differentiated by arcane marketing methods according to the demographics of the area. Somewhere down the line, data has been crunched and a customer profile concocted, and lo and behold - you're no longer a fully fledged human being. Instead you're a consumer, noteworthy only for how you spend your money, and funneled by the full panoply of advertising and marketing techniques to the right shoe shop for members of your tribe. You could be in Brussels or Los Angeles, and much the same would apply.

This process of homogenisation is predicated on a lie, remember?  Brands promise consistency - of service, of outcome - when neither are possible in the world we inhabit. We want to believe that, and to do so we get involved in creating distortions, using additives to ensure our company's sauce has the same colour and flavour throughout the year even though the provenance and quality of the ingredients changes. I read recently about some customers of an American food chain called Chipotle complaining about leaves in the food they ordered. Which there were. Bayleaves. To create a particular flavour. I wonder if Chipotle will acquiesce and remove the bayleaves or use a powdered form in future, so customers aren't troubled by reality. The customers themselves are blameless - it's not typical in the experience of eating at a takeaway you're presented with bayleaves. Bit by bit they've disappeared from popular consciousness, like the rosemary bush that grew outside the McDonalds near where I live and then wasn't there one day.

I don't know what store has replaced the one in the photo. I do know I'll remember the saxophonist and the dancer for a long time. They made me smile. They were a beautiful interruption to my day. A spark of humanity and humour, something unprogrammed and all the more delightful for that. Sure, the busker was asking for money - but he wasn't promising or implying that my earnings would increase as a result, that my cholesterol would decrease, that relationships within my family would improve. That's the branding lie, the one we hear countless times every day here in Homogenopolis.

There's a book. Spirits of Place, edited by John Reppion. And it explores a whole variety of places, from Rajagiriya in Colombo, and the various places in Iceland where elves are discussed with more seriousness than they tend to be elsewhere, to the sea forts of Southend and the streets of Mexico City. It's a rich and rewarding collection of essays from a variety of contributors, the most celebrated being Alan Moore. Thanks to this book I'm now eager to explore more of the work of Vajra Chandrasekera, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Damien Williams and others. In very different ways, they all succeed in excavating the intertwined histories and mythologies of areas they have a connection with, and how those intricate stories affect the way people do what they do, irrespective of the ravenous ticktock of the branded world.

You are who you are in large part because of where and when you are. Pay attention to the pulse of what's happening around you. We've been deceived, told that what is presented on screens by some or other organisation that you matter to only as a consumer is more important than what's unfolding at the end of your road. And it's simply not true. Not far from the end of my road is Rachel, who in the course of running a charity to support women and children refugees vulnerable to sexual exploitation has made media appearances. On a tv show she spoke on Rachel was asked not to say words like terrorist and ISIS, which limited what she could speak about and made her message more generic, less likely to scare advertisers or bring truth into someone's midday viewing. 

It might seem that Starbucks has existed forever, but it's just another coffee shop among many. Go there by all means, but ask yourself why you've chosen that place to have your morning pick-me-up and not the cafe nearby run by a local family. The fact that Starbucks occupies a lot of your cognitive real estate doesn't actually make the coffee there any better. Maybe the local cafe will write your name on the cup, if that really matters to you. And sometimes locals will find a way to adapt the branded world to the way they like to do things. Cigarette papers are used just for that by everyone I know. But for some griots in Africa, putting a cigarette paper in the neck of their instrument gives kora strings a touch of distortion that's effective in some songs the wandering storytellers play

Interesting that one aspect of service Starbucks hit on was that - personal attention is something people will pay for, even if the truth of the matter is more complex. There are a couple of cafes in town which trip all the switches that say handcrafted and unique, but are owned by a conglomerate that's realised the value of not having a brand. And that McDonalds, which used to have the rosemary bush outside? Walking somewhere helps to stir my thinking, and sometimes it's to the McDonalds. I've spoken to a few people there, and heard their stories, like the woman who was planning her brother-in-law's funeral and turned 60 the same week.

A blue-haired teenager works there, with bright eyes that drink the world in. She grew up in Dubai, to an Egyptian/Palestinian father and Welsh mother, going to an international - ie American - school where when she left the librarian gave her a censored copy of 1984 with all the references to pigs and pork whited out. She saw me reading Spirits of Place, and liked the cover, and she was fascinated, growing up part of several worlds as she has, and with a copy of Bulfinch's Mythology at home. I popped in a couple of days back, and she told me she expects her copy of Spirits of Place to arrive any day. The rosemary bush is gone, but not the memory of it - the herb improves memory after all - and next time I see her I'll tell that tale, and ask for one of hers. It's what people do, and when we do it just because we can, and not with an eye on profit, we recover a little bit more of our humanity outside the reach of spreadsheet entries or MRI investigation, and which might lead you too to dance outside a vacated shop one day when you hear music that makes you shine.

When the weather is good, I walk further up the road, to a Portugese cafe, and though the original owner has moved on it's still a place I treasure, and remember my father taking her by the hand and dancing with her as Frank Sinatra played. Next time I tell that story, I might instead say a rhumba was on the radio, and that's fine too. Part of the beauty of stories, is that - unlike brands - there's never even the pretence of consistency.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us (and a quotations website reminds me) "consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds". Think about that next time you pass another shopfront promising familiar names at a newly opened store in Homogenopolis. 

 

 

THEY'RE JUSTIFIED, AND THEY'RE AWKWARD, AND THEY KNOW WHAT PRICE IS MONEY

Prince was active in controlling his music so he would be involved in determining its availability both to fans and in commercial contexts such as soundtracks - it's not just about the money. Since his death a gaggle of his relatives in association with a bank have been working to maximise the revenues of his estate and as a result you will soon be able to stream some of his music. It's what he'd have wanted. Well, actually not. But in a consumer society people have a 'right' to more stuff because...well, because, OK?

Situations like this help me understand the stance of the KLF who in metaphorically torching their back catalogue ensured that such an outcome would never happen with their hugely popular repertoire. In doing so the financial loss dwarfed the million pounds they actually torched - and they got to control their legacy in a way that fits their stance as artists. The buzz about their return in some cryptic form in their Justified Ancients of Mu Mu guise 23 years after they went out in a blaze of something more chaotic and interesting than glory wouldn't have the same magic if their music was just another commodity to be plundered for the sake of a fill-the-airtime dance music retrospective for aged DJs to chat about on Channel 4.

Think about that should you hear Purple Rain in a burger commercial in the next couple of years. And be thankful the death of idiosyncratic creators removes the obstacles to accessing their creativity for exploitation across all media channels for your benefit, and the continued prosperity of the world economy.

When decisions are made solely on the basis of commerce, more often than not bad things happen. The distinction between Jefferson Airplane and Starship - their ultimate branding after being Jefferson Starship for a while - makes that very clear. In their first incarnation, their psychedelic take on the Alice In Wonderland story resulted in a song that's intricately woven into the history of late sixties American culture, Grace Slick's vocal on White Rabbit exactly the kind of thing many record companies would have wanted to moderate so as not to upset radio audiences in the midwest. A couple of decades later, their proclamation We Built This City was a statement of corporate intent, and had the sweet mystery and erotic allure of a spreadsheet.

We Built This City is itself about the desire of Slick et al to be recognised for their part in creating the musical landscape that record companies profit from, and is the sound of musicians crushed by that industry wishing they'd made some better deals back in the day and hadn't taken every opportunity managers lined up for them. Frank Zappa noted that the musical variety of the sixties didn't happen because of the execs at record labels, but in spite of them - old hands took chances on new music, and some of it became massively popular. Things went downhill when those execs hired people who at least looked like the bands and audiences of the day, whose typical desire was to put out pretty much more of what they liked when music was just entertainment, and not what they got paid for. Not that musicians have any sense of what will sell - one of Zappa's biggest moneyspinners was a whimsically created recording of daughter Moon Unit parodying the way her friends talked over a musical backing her dad concocted. Valley Girl led to marketing deals and a proposed animation series, demonstrating once again that pop will eat itself.

PWEI famously declared that Alan Moore knows the score, and that knowledge led him to run screaming from the mainstream comics industry and concentrate on work that he could not only create, but own. He'd signed a deal that made sense at the time, meaning the rights to Watchmen would revert to him when the comic went out of print. Only, it never has. And now it never will. Collecting it in graphic novel form wasn't enough for DC - more recently they've put out hardback editions of each of the 12 comics of the original series. Giving up on making amends with Moore, DC are now reinventing their superhero mythos once again, and this time embedding Watchmen into the core of that fetid lore.  It's the comics equivalent of Donald Trump's preference for being photographed in front of gold drapes at the Oval Office, heritage and status a frame signifying class supposedly shared by the subject of those images - the Vatican's been using that shtik for centuries.

With humungous corporations controlling the rights to more and more of the work creators have generated for decades, and digital media contracts typically set up to ensure the same continues to happen in new forms, the opportunity for artists to put out and control work they've cooked up diminishes, at least if they intend to make money from it. The question then becomes about goals and strategies, and pop having not only eaten itself but served itself up as next day's leftovers, weird mutations are happening. 

At some point, money ceased to be a measure of worth, and instead became something that could be gamed by elites to create more money. When people are getting rich on the basis of the possible future value of a hypothetical commodity, something strange is happening. You could argue it's decadent, only there's a lot of baggage around terms like that. Apply the same mentality to intellectual property, and you end up with Lego Batman - a digitally animated version of a plastic construction toy, used to tell a story about a billionaire who victimises mentally ill criminals concocted as pulp entertainment a few generations back. 

It's hard enough supporting yourself being creative. Stories about Van Gogh being valued only after his death get wheeled out at this point. Quite what he'd made of Sunflowers being available as a fridge magnet we can only guess. And why wouldn't it be? I saw a booth at a creative industries trade fair licensing images of Che Guevara after all, which helps explain why he's such a perennial icon, the Batman of revolutionaries. And Lego Batman? Against all the odds, it's a hilarious and sweet tale taking full advantage of the madness of that proposition. Inevitably, the soundtrack features a remix of We Built This City. It's a sign of the times.

 

 

 

 

 

 

FAKE NEWS, REAL BULLSHIT, AND THE IMPORTANCE OF AGNOSTICISM

I got talking to someone earlier, a woman called Rachel. We'd kind of run into one another before, but not properly engaged. Rachel works in a charity shop near me, called Mesopotamia. And what the charity does is rescue refugee children and women from unimaginable situations in Greece, in Iraq, and elsewhere. What I hadn't realised until today, as I passed her cash for a couple of books and a CD, is that it's Rachel who goes out to these countries, risking her life to save others. 

We talked about that. And she told me about the situations she goes into, which has been part of her life since she married a Muslim Turkish man and discovered what was happening in his country and others where words like 'refugee' have a richer and fuller meaning than they tend to in the UK.

Rachel has been featured in the media a few times, with a Panorama documentary and other television coverage. She appeared on a daytime show at some point, but it was virtually impossible to say anything either useful or true. She was asked not to mention ISIS or Islam, and not being able to talk about them makes it really difficult for Rachel to communicate just what she's doing, and who it benefits.

The people with the biggest reason to be scared of ISIS are Muslims. And that's something it would be good to be informed properly about. Instead, newspapers shriek hatred towards brown people and lump them all together. Noam Chomsky talks about the difficulty of expressing views within the media that don't fit in the framework of stories already put out there. If you've only got two minutes before the next guest comes on to talk about the latest diet, getting into the necessary intricacies of varied interpretations of Islam and just what jihad means isn't going to happen.

In turn, that means a good percentage of what we come across in the media is bogus. If informed conversation about what's going on in Syria is impossible, and debates about what can be done about it are framed largely in terms of coverage which omits much of the salient information, then the solutions proposed necessarily lack credibility.

The mainstream media is telling us to beware of fake news. It's hard not to raise an eyebrow at that point, in a week when the Daily Express has run an entirely bogus story about German leader Angela Merkel's plans for an EU army, not long after an equally bullshit front cover claiming a 'polar vortex' would plunge Britain into subzero temperatures and make it the worst winter for a century.

To generalise, significant elements of the media are encouraging us to be scared, and angry, and hateful, about people we haven't met. And we're told that those people have been radicalised to hate us, and destroy us in a holy war. Which doesn't make for a great conversation starter if you're convinced the family next door are tooled up for jihad and planning for you to be their first victims.

I met a Syrian refugee recently. Ahmed was cutting hair in Damascus at 13, then moved on to Dubai, and is now based in Birmingham. He's recently dissolved his first entrepreneurial venture, a very successful enterprise which saw him collaborate with manufacturers in China, where he said he learned a lot from the people he dealt with. Now, he has bigger plans with a social agenda - not least to be a good role model for other refugees. I believe he's capable of achieving that vision.

Right now, I could be getting caught up in the Tweet-tsunami of people exchanging vitriol about Donald Trump as he's sworn in. I choose not to engage. The guy plays social media in a quite brilliant way, and has skilfully turned the phrase 'fake news' against some of the media channels that disapprove of him, and done a great job of bringing out all the people who object to him in the open, where they will be even more vulnerable to state surveillance now that Obama has increased government powers for Trump to play with . 

Once talk turns to state surveillance it's easy to get disheartened. It happened to Rachel, who came to the attention of Special Branch because of her frequent visits to Muslim countries and activities in refugee camps. They found her phone number by dognapping her pooch, who has it written on his collar. Rachel reckoned it was like something out of Dad's Army. Which is a much more comforting thought than some of the apocalyptic scenarios conjured up by believers of all persuasions right now. A reminder once again that, as Robert Anton Wilson said, 'Convictions cause convicts'. 

 

IF YOU DON'T LIKE IT, OVERWRITE IT

Often, when I'm meeting someone for the first time, I'll say that I took early retirement at 25. It's a harmless and supposedly amusing way to avoid talking about something bigger that happened half a life ago, when I and about a third of the staff at an ad agency were made redundant.

I suspect I was the only one who left something like happily and willingly. And that's down to something that had happened a few months earlier.

This night wounds time. The expression has haunted me since I encountered it on the cover of Starless And Bible Black, a King Crimson album. It was there thanks to Tom Phillips, an artist most known for his work A Humument, where he took a Victorian book - A Human Document by W.H. Mallock - and created his own text from it by highlighting and connecting some words and phrases, and painting over the remainder.

Now, nobody much talks about Mallock's book. But what Phillips did with it lives on as a significant alteration of something that was already there. I wish the same could be said for the town centres I see across Britain, and sometimes elsewhere when I have been abroad. Centuries of urban development and complex local histories and understandings have been overwritten by the same few shops that can be seen again and again as you travel about, square footage consumed by voracious multinational businesses that populate their space with goods aimed at whatever demographic they've opted to feed on. Their logos are seared into our consciousness, because isn't that what brands do?

As space is corrupted, so is time. Retailers are seeking to co-opt the calendar with events like Black Friday, and National Pastie Week, but corporations haven't yet succeeded in redefining the way we structure time with the success that the Gregorian calendar had when it replaced the Julian one. Besides, raw human experience can still overpower prepackaged options. 

February 28th was my dad's birthday.

But the year I was made redundant it was overwritten by my brother Nigel's death.

He was at the wheel of a car he and some friends had stolen.

Dad had to identify his charred corpse.

 

This night wounds time.

 

And wounds can heal.

 

When we buried my brother, the route taken by the hearse took us past the homes we shared with Nigel as a family, in the order we'd lived in them. That wasn't planned by either of my parents. It happened to be the route that made most sense given where the journey started, and where it ended, chosen by the driver of the hearse. But that particular shape, recapitulating the years we lived and grew and changed together, inevitably felt significant. Well, it was significant - just unplanned. There's a reason Jung called synchronicity meaningful coincidence.

That journey was a condensed version of our lives with Nigel, much of the time spent travelling down roads we'd played, fought, laughed, argued. It's how they'd do it in a film, so is it any wonder I ended up writing scripts when life itself seemed to be overdoing the job on this and so many occasions?

And now it's a New Year, according to the calendar I favour. A blank page. And one which we don't have to write on at all, let alone with resolutions. But have a think, about the extent to which your choices are shaped by organisations that are only interested in you as a source of revenue. If there are people who treat you similarly, then pay them some attention too. Thing being, it doesn't have to be like that. You get to choose a lot more about your life than you might imagine, and it's worth doing if the result is trading a way of living primarily experienced through your economic value to others for one where you get to determine what's significant, and how you allocate your time as a consequence.

This needn't involved giving up a job and becoming a hermit or self-employed. There are plenty of people I know who find their jobs rewarding and worthwhile. And there are more I know who trade hours put into organisations that mean nothing to them for cash allowing them to enjoy their time outside of it. If that's a transaction that works, then good luck. It's best to be in charge of making the big choices in your life, than be forced into a major reassessment of how you live because of the death of someone you love.

After my brother's death, I moved to Nottingham. Yesterday, I took a walk through Beeston, the area I first lived when I came here. And part of what made that experience good is the choices I've made since have overwritten whatever I may have formerly felt about the place, let alone what created those feelings. Wandering through the place ('a seaside town without the sea', a much-missed friend put it once) and beyond, I walked through the university grounds, and spent time at a couple of arts centres there. You could say that a university is a brand, but even if that's the case I'm much happier with brands that decorate their space with opportunities to occupy time in nature, and with paintings, and the company of people out for a show or a walk with their children, than I am in a city where I could be anywhere judging by the familiarity of the names on the shopfronts.

Capitalism has imprinted its offerings on us in part through using what makes art work, and it's easy to mistake its products for our desires. Given that I'm writing this in a house full of books, DVDs, comics, CDs, and other paraphernalia of consumer society, that may be hypocritical to some extent. So be it. And I know that much of what I enjoy and pay money for goes on to shape my own creativity, and the stories I offer the world, and the forms in which I offer those stories. Maybe stories isn't your thing, but we've all got something to offer that you can't get by wandering around town and finding it for the best price. Whatever that something is, do more of it this year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

WELCOME TO THE MONKEYHOUSE

If I asked you how you'd be hospitable to someone, you'd have lots of suggestions I'm sure. You could listen as they describe their day, share soup, maybe even run them a bath. There are all kinds of things we can do, and they start small and simple. Eye contact. Smiling. It really is that basic.

Conversely, people can be made to feel unwelcome. We've had that experience, whether personally or when we've seen it happen to someone else. Only, something has happened around that indisputable phenomenon. It's become politicised, thanks to the use of the term microaggression to describe those behaviours which can make people feel that they're not wanted.

And already, people will be making assumptions about me for making that statement. You should. If you're convinced that microaggression is a fantasy, a delusion suffered by social justice warriors who need safe spaces then it's possible that you've allowed yourselves to be lulled by the siren of the alt right, or alt reich as I call them to remind myself what they're about. And it's easy for that to happen. I know, because I've succumbed from time to time, having come across some tiresome examples of people wanting to shut down free speech and insist that their preferences matter more than anyone else's opinions. And yet -

A friend of mine was lucky enough to get to do postgraduate studies at a university. She'd never expected to do so, and wanted to make the most of the opportunity. Doing her degree had been an amazing experience, but pretty soon it became clear as she started her Masters that things weren't the same. And she couldn't be sure why. What she knew was she felt bad, but couldn't locate the source of her unease.

Bit by bit she started to understand what was happening to her, and its subtlety. She's a working class single mum, and most of the people she was meeting in the space for postgrads were younger, and middle class. Most importantly, they were fluent in a language that was new to my friend, and pervasive within middle class and academic circles...passive-aggression. People would say one thing, mean another. And the disconnect left her feeling bad.

Not just my friend in fact - she realised low-grade paranoia was pervasive within the area set aside for the postgrads. A small group of people helped create the atmosphere for all. They might not have intended to make somewhere so unfriendly, but that's exactly what they'd done. And the biggest evidence was in the dwindling numbers of overseas students using what was supposed to be a resource for all. My friend, who has always spoken with pretty much anyone and treated them as an equal and someone she can learn from, found out that lots of the overseas students weren't using the space because they felt unwelcome.

This stuff is subtle, but it happens. And in heartbreaking ways. One of the Chinese students, convinced that there was bad energy in the room - whatever that might mean - had taken to putting a mirror on his computer to deflect the negative vibes. Sounds daft, but it was a culturally-grounded response to a situation that he couldn't process and respond to in a rational way. You don't have to believe in feng shui to know there are places that feel bad.

Somewhere I've read about an experiment where a neighbourhood with a bad reputation and high crime experienced a transformation when researchers paid people to smile and make eye contact with others walking through the area. I can't find the book with that study unfortunately, but I can recall something comparable in my own experience...

In 2009 I spent a few weeks in Australia. And I found it to be an extraordinarily hospitable place. Now, I know like any society there's plenty of racism too - I'm no pollyanna. But generally, I experienced an incredible degree of welcome from people, and not just ones I had some connection with. I stayed at a little seaside town, Ballina, for a few days. And one wet and windy Monday night, wanted to get some food. Only, between bad weather and it being the start of the week, hardly anywhere was open. I found somewhere that seemed to be, but they were about to close. A couple there for a birthday meal said I was welcome to have the remains of the pizza they had shared - an incredibly touching kindness. And I found similar examples pretty much wherever I went, giving me a huge affection for Australia that will stay with me.

My friend challenged the unwelcoming culture at her university, and the space for postgrads became one that was used by all. And it's possibly the case that the exclusionary tactics used by the core group weren't intentionally divisive, but a reflection of their discomfort with difference. And that's something we all suffer from at some point, to a greater or lesser degree.

It's incredibly easy to make another social or cultural group other in some way. Othering is a valuable tool for elites to maintain their power by getting people to focus on differences as a bad thing, rather than celebrating them as something to treasure. Which is pretty banal - only right now it isn't. 

One of the first things that I was aware of as a response to Trump's electoral victory was an American transwoman I work with ensuring that her passport and other documentation is in order should the President-elect see through homophobic legislation that is possibly on the way. The response from the trans community and their allies is to organise, and ensure people have what they need, with funds being put together to ensure that's possible. There's talk of registering Muslims, and for many that understandably has an echo of the first steps of Hitler's treatment of Jews in Germany, which is why some American Jews are saying they're going to register as Muslims and are encouraging others to do so.

The magic word in all this is empathy. It's an innate human quality, and one that politicians of various sorts would section off to function only within groups they define, with anyone not belonging to the group depicted as alien. But they're not, any more than anyone is. As humans, we are 99% plus genetically identical to chimpanzees. Remember - whatever you make of Muslims, gays, left-handers, and Christians, you're even closer to them then you are the other primates. 

 

EYES ON THE PRIZE

I met a director a few years ago, who worked mostly in television. She'd worked on one of the big shows for the BBC, which starred an actress who'd got an impressive pedigree. The character she depicted had all kinds of stuff going on, as protagonists should, and much of it came to the boil in one episode where realisations would be made, catharsis experienced, and so forth. 

The director wanted to portray the impact of all this with a shot in which the actress would be seen at a distance, the details of the setting providing all kinds of information about her emotional state and the point she'd reached on her journey. It sounded like it would have been a beautiful scene. Only, the actress wanted nothing to do with it. In her eyes, this was her chance to emote like a performer has never emoted before, and she wanted the camera to catch that in all its glorious detail.

In the end, the director got a stand-in to be silhouetted in the space where the actress made it very clear she wouldn't stand. It looked great, but the show never really took off. And the attitude taken by the actress helps explain that.

Filmmaking is a team sport. And that's been proven to me once again by the news I woke up to earlier. I scripted a short film, White Lily. And ran a Kickstarter to fund it, and brought on board the director, producer, actors, and sound design team. Note the recurrence of that word 'team'. It'll come up again, I'm sure.

When we started the rehearsals, actors David McCaffrey and Siddhii Lagrutta slipped into the script with ease. After a couple of run-throughs, Siddhii suggested that they swap roles, so she would play Dave's part, and he hers. They ran it again, and there was a distinct and palpable difference to the performances that improved what director Tristan Ofield and I could see and hear from them. That's the way we settled on doing it for the film, because it's the end result that people are affected by and remember, not the ticklist of who suggested what, when, and how they demanded credit for it.

There were other instances like that along the way with White Lily. Dialogue was changed to fit actualities of the physical set. Sentences were snipped out in the edit. A new line was found to finesse the ending. Comparable evolutions happened within the music, visual effects, and other aspects of the film. The result? This morning I woke to find out we'd pretty much swept the boards at the Focus International Film Festival. White Lily won Best Film, Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, Best Visual Effects, and Best Sound Design.

Filmmaking is a team sport. It can't be played with people who insist on things being a certain way. I met a guy who'd been involved with a well-loved Christmas feature from years ago. He wanted to work with a writer to develop a new project, but wouldn't let me know even what it was about. I don't think it was coincidental that he didn't seem to have done any film work since the festive favourite a decade or more before. 

I developed a feature project that a director loved. As we talked, his input shaped the story. Of course it would - if you want a director to engage with a script, steer it in a direction that works well for the project as a whole. He didn't want or expect a writing credit for this - it was part of the natural process of developing a film. The producer working with us didn't see things that way, wanting a writing credit for two ideas - one genuinely useful, but by no means comparable to the director's considered and ongoing input. That kind of desire for control is more about power than creativity, which became fully apparent when the producer blew up at me - perhaps due to anxiety about working with a director who'd already made one feature, hence putting him a notch above in terms of status and power. Great way to fizzle out a promising project, and dissolve what had been a good working relationship until that point.

There is no better drug than watching a film you've initiated and helped bring to life on a big screen. That's what happened when I got to see White Lily recently at Mayhem Festival at Broadway Cinema. I was sitting next to the man known universally as Boz, who was undisputed man of the match during filming as he made himself invaluable to the activity unfolding in a cold warehouse on an ageing industrial estate that had been transformed into the interior of a spaceship. Making White Lily was and will remain one of the highlights of my life. I look forward to working and playing with some of the same collaborators in the future, and continue to meet talented and generous people who want to share their creativity and expertise in pursuit of further adventures. Maybe we'll even pick up some more awards along the way.

 

 

 

ANGER IS AN ENERGY

When I was a kid growing up in 70s Birmingham, my dad had a friend called Bill. There'd be a card game Friday night when Bill and other cronies came round, to gamble, drink, and discuss plans to renovate houses in the hope of selling them on for a fat profit. Bill was a builder who knew dad through their love of chess, Sean a plasterer who could knock back five pints of Guinness over lunch before getting seriously stuck in at night, and the gang also included a side-burned electrician, and a one-eyed upholsterer.

Bill had no sense of taste or smell. Some accident of army dentistry had robbed him of the requisite wiring. Another man might have taken that accident and turned it to his advantage, becoming a circus freak able to eat or drink anything put in front of him. Not Bill. He ate only those things he was familiar with, meaning gammon and egg, steak and chips, pork pie, and the like. Solid British food basically, though he made an exception for a few dishes that reminded him of time he spent with the army in Cyprus. 

We were pretty adventurous eaters as a family. My parents had some involvement with a wholefood cooperative called Red Beans, and many of our visitors were dad's students. They came from places like Malaysia, Nigeria, and Hong Kong where a fried breakfast was not on the menu. And sometimes they'd cook for us. If Bill was around, he'd be offered some of the food. He'd dutifully pick some up with a fork, raise it to his mouth - and put it down, shaking his head. The man who could eat raw shark lungs if he chose to could not cope with rice or beansprouts, because they didn't look right. Something in Bill feared what the foreign food might taste like, if he could taste it.

Fear is only a goose step away from hate, which I'm seeing a lot of lately. Wind back a few weeks to Nigel Farage, whose amiable incredulity about foreigners seems like blokey banter down the pub but soon became a thick vein of pus in the bloodstream of British public life. The National Police Chiefs' Council says the increase in attacks on migrants after the Brexit vote is the worst spike in hate crime they've ever known. Imagine killing someone because they don't talk like you. The words they speak won't fit in your own mouth, any more than Bill's would accept aubergine - and for that they have to die.

Donald Trump is peddling the same slurry of hate in the American election, against a backdrop of racial tensions rising in a way that hasn't been seen since the sixties. It seems we're wired to hate. At any rate it's easily manipulated by those who would rather we focused on some group declared Other than consider what alternatives there may be to virulence and contempt as ways to go about the day.

If we must hate, couldn't we at least be more imaginative about it?

Instead of homophobia, how about attacking poverty with the glee that some attack Poles?

Why do the same old same old hatred based on skin colour when we could turn our hate on company boards who plunder the pensions of the workers who've created that wealth?

The love thing is all very well, but there's too often a disconnect between people talking about love and actually doing something concrete to realise that vision. We need people who will do something constructive to create change.

Given that more of us seem to excel at hate, and the passive aggressive woolliness of many of the love advocates, I want to see more hate in the world - just please be creative about it, and make your hatred pro-social. Rather than base beliefs on illusion, as Bill did when he turned down food he couldn't even taste, be the Spielberg of spite, the Miles Davis of malevolence, the Bjork of bigotry, and pick on something truly worthy of your anger.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

MY HEART DECLARES A HOLIDAY

There's a thing I've noticed. Sometimes I do it. That thing where you list off the stuff you're doing to indicate what a busy bee you are. And there are times when that's right and appropriate. But it really isn't recommended as an ongoing way of life. Trust me.

For most of the last week, I haven't done much that you could call work. I went to London for a couple of days, caught up with people I care about. A writer friend's first adult novel has been published and it was great hearing the story behind the story (her book, by the way, is The Woman Next Door, a twisty-turny psychological thriller that I was pleased to see at my local Asda). Another friend took me to a full-on London art scene party where I talked to some smart and interesting musicians who were all the more fascinating because their careers had given them a measure of success, but on an appreciable scale rather than the kind of gargantuan whammy that I'm sure can't do the likes of U2 any good. 

The main thing was a workshop about actor/writer/director Ken Campbell, an eye-opening day led by the engaging and insightful Jeremy Stockwell, who had cleverly looked at the multi-faceted creative's ability to make fun things happen over decades and found simple body-focused principles at the heart of them. Captivating, and though I'd have preferred there to be more non-actors present it was a day I got a lot from.

And really...well...that's kind of it.

Since then, I've walked a bit, seen some films, and made notes in a chunky blank-paged book I carry round with me that are gradually becoming the basis of a framework for a comic series. Other than that - not a great deal. Which is fine, because I need to be doing not much of anything from time to time, and would recommend the pursuit of nothing in particular to anyone.

When I worked at a London ad agency, I'd make a point of sitting there reading a newspaper when there was nothing for me to do. I expected other people to realise that this was a good moment to ask me to do something for them. Instead, I was told that when I had nothing to do, it was important not to let others think I was doing nothing. Somehow, I'd be letting the side down. Only, if I genuinely have no task to occupy me, why on Earth would I pretend otherwise?

Much of what I do is writing. And from some years involved in this on a regular basis, one of the few things I'm confident of is that time beetling about doing nothing in particular is crucial to the creative process. Before ideas come into focus, you have to let stuff float around. Things you've read, watched, noticed, talked about - in a casual way for its own sake, rather than shackled to purpose. Intent is all well and good at the right time, but that time is to be chosen carefully, and not plunged into merely because Stuff Needs Doing.

Some phases of writing a script require consistent effort, for sure. But that is in contrast to another equally valid part of the process, which is more akin to ambient music - allowing thoughts to drift and settle. It's from this flow that new stuff emerges. Without it, what you're left with is the mere mechanics of writing, the stuff most writing gurus go on about. All well and good in its place, but only after a good healthy dose of doing nothing in particular. No sense arranging pieces before something cool has bubbled up. Without something tasty to glom onto, it's just letters of the alphabet. 

THE KING IS DEAD, LONG LIVE THE KING

Two of my favourite art forms are uniquely American - jazz and comics. And one way to articulate my enthusiasm for the work of comics legend Jack 'King' Kirby is through talking about jazz. Specifically, jazz in 1959.

In that year, an album was released that changed the face of music. Kind of Blue by Miles Davis is a beautiful, spare, and understated masterpiece, as So What continues to make clear. In comics, the equivalent might be the work of Alex Toth, who never drew a line that wasn't essential to convey his intent - look here for some of what Toth was doing in 1959. Every line is about telling the story, nothing is superfluous.

Compare to what Kirby was up to in the same year - he tells the story, but he's captivated by the chance to add detail. Each robot gives him a chance to come up with a new design, and the tech in the background is guaranteed to get a child's mind wondering just what function the switches and buttons have. It's every grown up's caricature of what comics are and why many wouldn't let their children read them, an explosion of grotesque imagination by an uncensored mind.

Kind of Blue is celebrated still. Rightly so - it's a thing of rare beauty. Just as highly touted at the time was the record Ah Um by Charles Mingus. It blares, it stomps, and people whoop and clap - where Miles transforms jazz into something elegant, Mingus is fascinated by its roots in churches and brothels, brandishing them while at the same time bringing different kinds of sophistication than those Miles was then fascinated by to a sometimes raw setting.

Mingus isn't talked about much these days. He's one for the connoisseurs. Something similar has happened with Kirby in some respects. His style went out of fashion at some point in the seventies, and many artists took pride in doing more 'realistic' illustration. But by then Jack Kirby had already created pretty much all the building blocks of what went out under the Marvel name. The Hulk. Captain America. Fantastic Four. Black Panther. X-Men. Thor (in his comics incarnation). Ant Man. Silver Surfer. There are at least a hundred other characters he created for Marvel alone.

Even if you don't follow comics, you'll know those characters, because of the films which they appear in. Sadly, Kirby never got to see the full impact he would come to have on popular culture, and was treated very badly by Marvel, who only now after his death are acknowledging his significance. Without him, Marvel would have a lot less to offer the world. Very few of their characters post-Kirby have taken off, and the publisher is now trying to persuade fans to be charmed by a reinvented version of Jack's creations The Inhumans despite none of the new characters having anything like the kind of weird visceral charm that Jack's originals have.

Jack Kirby would have been 99 this week. He was never remotely rewarded for his work in creating the multi-billion dollar enterprise that his characters have spawned. And that may yet be one of his biggest legacies to creators such as myself who want to create work in comics and other media, and to do so on terms that respect our ability to devise concepts that appeal to audiences and generate income as a result.

Charles Mingus never had to deal with the consequences of vast popularity, but Miles Davis did. He signed with Warner Brothers in 1986, and the contract meant they owned his publishing rights. As a consequence, Miles didn't write new material since he didn't feel he was being compensated suitably, and the reputation of his last few records - written by collaborators - suffers because of that choice. It's one Miles made knowingly and in strength - better that perhaps than to die with little of the recognition that's since come to him, which was Kirby's fate. At least Jack's estate reached an agreement with Marvel, so his family get to enjoy the legacy the artist deserved.

Treating creators fairly is a big subject, and it's got lots of facets. Kirby found he was treated a lot better in the world of animation than he ever had been in comics, and they're both worlds that I'm now beginning to be active in. It's thanks to creators like the ones mentioned in this piece that my generation of writers and artists are in a much better position to be rewarded for what we develop than our predecessors. We face different difficulties too, as audiences are used to getting what they want for free online from digital providers happy to let people have content while claiming to have no legal obligation to recompense its creators. There will always be a new battle, a new frontier for creators in their imaginations and their ability to prosper. I can only hope that I face mine with even a fraction of the imagination and energy that Jack Kirby did.

 

DIFFERENT VOICES, DIFFERENT TRUTHS

Quite a few of the creative projects I take on are science fiction in some form. The comic Dadtown takes place on a space colony, a setting I'm inordinately fond of and is the environment for an animated project I'm developing and can soon discuss, and a lunar colony features in another comic story I'm cooking up at this point. 

I'm not very plugged into the science fiction scene generally, but am aware of controversies surrounding the influence of a group of right wing fans who are angry about the state of the field. They see the greater diversity of people expressing themselves through science fiction as a threat to what they perceive as authentic sf, by which they mean the sort of books I was reared on and have a lot of fondness for.

If those women and non-white authors writing in the genre now described spaceships and aliens with engineering knowhow wheeled on to save the day then maybe the protesters wouldn't be upset. Instead, this new generation of writers often brings to tales of futuristic and alien settings reminders of social and cultural and class issues on the planet we're living on here and now, which spoils the good clean fun of ion engines, blasters, and bug eyed monsters. All I know is I'm reading Lagoon, a tale of extraterrestrial contact in Nigeria by Nnedi Okorafor, and it's all the more interesting for the Nigerian-American author bringing such a story to her family's home country, than seeing such a tale unfold in America yet again. 

You see much the same happening in comics. Muslim writer G. Willow Wilson brings a fresh feel to the adventures of Ms. Marvel, a teenager called Kamala Khan who in her own way is continuing the tradition of Spider-Man - a youngster whose difficulties with family and friends are only complicated by superpowers. What Donald Trump would make of this I can only guess, let alone the fact that the comic Black Panther is now scripted by Ta-Nehisi Coates, an African-American writer on social, political, and cultural issues bringing a sophisticated take to a character whose adventures have been chronicled by a number of fascinating black writers.  

Let's not get too excited - it's still unusual for a writer to be other than white, male, and straight at Marvel or DC. Fortunately those publishers are not the only games in town, even if their output defines the medium in the eyes of many, whether they read comics or not. 

What we're seeing here is poverty of imagination on the part of readers who don't like the emergence of diverse voices in their reading matter of choice. What many people think of as science fiction, means hard sciences like physics and biology. The idea that social or cognitive sciences could be involved is unsettling, suggesting as it does a connection to things they'd rather not think about regarding the here and now.

We've seen this before. Back in the sixties Michael Moorcock took the helm of New Worlds magazine. It had been a traditional sf mag since the forties, and what he brought to it was an injection of his own era - both its politics, and a sense of wider currents in literature as represented by William Burroughs. The fans of have spaceship, will travel were deeply upset and said so but the work of authors including J.G. Ballard, Brian Aldiss and Thomas Disch published by Moorcock was and is regarded as groundbreaking despite their tweedy indignation.

As a straight white older dude, I welcome experiencing new voices. A book that made a profound impact on me decades ago was The Motion Of Light On Water by Samuel Delaney. This autobiographical account of life in sixties New York by a queer folk-singing black science fiction writer in an open marriage with Jewish poet Marilyn Hacker opened up my eyes more than pretty much all of the science fiction I've read, and in ways that gave me a sense of wonder about the world just like you'd hope good sf would.

What's at the base of all this, I suspect, is anything that challenges the belief that the straight white male perspective is somehow 'natural'. It's the default setting of much of the media, for sure, and it seems to me that experiencing a different perspective unsettles some audiences. It raises questions about their own assumptions and perceptions, and that's a road not many people like to go down.

For me, that experience of difference is one of the most valuable journeys that can be undertaken. My understanding is not and cannot be that of a Catholic seamstress born in Sri Lanka, a bisexual footballer in Dublin, a Sikh physicist in Calgary. How come changes of perspective of that small degree are feared where tales of hermaphrodite triple-brained extraterrestrials are enjoyed? Perhaps because there's no danger of meeting the latter, while we may encounter any of the former and risk our own beliefs being undermined. 

I'm totally up for adventurous tales that rattle along with conflict and glory. Fiction doesn't have to be demanding, after all. But if the range of fictions we encounter in our media of choice let in some of the light of the world we live in, they can be all the more rewarding. I just enjoyed the first Game of Thrones book without wanting to take a sword to my enemies or dunk a family member's head in molten gold. I'm pretty sure that the worldviews writers of varied backgrounds bring to their work are as relevant for the stories they tell as it was that Ian Fleming's background in naval intelligence contributed to his James Bond books. It's as simple as that. 

 

 

 

 

FLAGGED

A (very) short story, for the first time here.

I like to take stories for a walk, and with this one I went to a Portugese cafe I like, drank coffee and ate custard tarts, and watched and listened. The other inspiration came from Alistair Fruish, who I saw read extracts from a story he'd written using entirely single syllable words.

 

Ruy's foot hurts from the job he did a few days back. A man with a van picked him up and drove Ruy and three more men to a place none of them knew. They dug pits and put tins of stewed meat in them, then piled earth on top of the holes. Ruy saw that the tins bulged and so not to take them but one guy, a Turk, found ways to store some in a bag he brought. With few shared words Ruy knew it would be hard to tell the Turk leave the meat be.

His foot throbs and Ruy drinks beer with his friends. They meet once a week to swap news and see skin and hair like their own. There are black guys here of course, but Ruy and the crew tut that they are not the same. On his own Ruy is not so sure. He talks and works with guys of all shades and they seem much the same. They long for home, and wish they chose not to come here. Since the vote it has changed. One of the van men has a flag at the back that Ruy knows means jobs just for whites. 

The songs they play here make Ruy and his friends smile and weep. Guys and girls come in, move to the pulse. Drums bring new life to Ruy's feet and though the left one aches he lifts both in a slow show of red shoes and bright socks that make him think of loud birds and salt air. 

Cruz brings them more beer and play fights with Ruy. This is part of the night as much as Ruy's red shoes and the song they sing when there is no more cash and thoughts of home swell and bring sweet pain. This is not what they signed up for, and they can hold it just so long.

Cruz is smart, spots the hurt spread and rise. That's when she puts the big screen on, and Ruy and the gang watch their team kick that ball round the pitch. Ruy used to play well - was the star in his town's team - but with his foot the way it is he's not sure now. Best give it a rest. Sleep, and a new van. There's more rank meat to hide. 

Soon, they will go back to the flats and rooms they rent. And dream of Portugal, Brazil, Angola.