Latitude Festival: The Boring Bits

Blogging is to writing what podcasting is to broadcasting. That which was once structured and refined has degenerated into a mindless splurge of pseudo-consciousness. The reason I love blogging and podcasting is because the pleasures you receive — however thin — tend to be relatively unexpected. We are epigones suffering from a surfeit of genre conventions. Blogging and podcasting are the barbarians at the gates, destroying whatever rusted infrastructure gets in their way.

So when Robert Wringham suggested recording our thoughts at Latitude festival, I readily agreed. He has since recorded another podcast with his mate in Dudley, disowning this one on the basis that it won’t “make either of us famous wits”. It’s true, the pleasures of our podcast isn’t in its comedic value. Rather, it is a study of incipient madness, the podcasting equivalent of Godard’s Weekend.


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Against Toleration

Yesterday we went to the birthday party of the charming Anneliese Mackintosh, who I had inadvertently offended earlier in the week by forgetting the subject of her short story (fortunately, YouTube has since come to the rescue). She had invited us to the Corinthian on Ingram Street, a devastatingly grand building whose beauty is undermined by the absence of a dress code (one man looked for all the world like a Berlin rent boy). I apologised for the perceived slight, but explained that I am neither a writer nor a reviewer, merely a diarist condemned to oafish honesty.

Towards the end of the evening, when I was effectively pickled in Merlot, I spoke to a PhD student about the efficacy of tolerating prostitution. She stated the accepted liberal dogma that increased toleration produces better working conditions, whereas I wondered whether that safety didn’t come at the cost of making it acceptable. I was adapting Zizek’s argument about how discussing torture of supposed terrorists sullies discourse and is evidence of societal regression. We know these things happen, but we can’t accept them in rational discourse. We are taught to believe that hypocrisy and propriety are automatically bad things, but don’t they also provide boundaries of accepted behaviour?

Taking a stand

It’s easy to go through life without taking a stand against anything or anyone. Strongly held beliefs are like rocks on the path of least resistance, they are places to pause, have a picnic and chat to fellow travellers.

I was listening to the Adam Phillips radio essay on Excess (kindly edited into one package by Momus) and heard him mention that, statistically, the thing that old people are most likely to regret is being too virtuous. Taking a stand is a way of being naughty, of shaking things up a little, and obstructing the unthinking majority.

For instance, I am currently campaigning in order to turf out the addicts and drunkards who bed down in Hope House, the local Salvation Army hostel. Thus far, my campaign consists of writing to my councillors and posting this entry, but I am hoping that this will galvanize othersto put pressure on them to move out sooner rather than later.

Hope House, like all Sally Army hostels, offers a teetotal setting for the dispossessed to get their lives in order, which in theory sounds excellent. In practice, it means that groups of addicts congregate on the pavement outside, dealing drugs, smashing bottles on the pavement, plotting petty crimes and generally enjoying themselves too much. Rather than offering a cure, the Salvation Army exacerbates their problems by facilitating a kind of anti-social community club.

It sometimes looks as if half of all Glaswegians have just come back from the Great War, so shell-shocked are they by malnutrition, drugs and alcohol. Lumping them all in one place may be useful for the police and ambulance service (it is almost akin to the Hamsterdam series of The Wire in its concentration of the problem), but it is a blight on the community and no good for the addicts themselves, who should be better integrated in the community.

For those who want to join in me in taking a stand against this blight, feel free to drop me an email.

Complete Twit

I hate Twitter, it is always breaking, no one says anything interesting and it distracts me. Nevertheless, having just read through all 180-odd twits I wrote, I am impressed with how well it captures the important minutiae of everyday life. It feels far more accurate at evoking the past than any diary I have ever had. Enjoy!

Discombobulate at the CCA

Last night, at Discombobulate, a wild-haired mixer called Julian Corrie asked me if I was a writer. My instinct was to say ‘god no!’ but that wouldn’t be altogether honest, for what am I doing now but writing? It is also true that I have, in more innocent times, written short stories, poems, and even a novella. Perhaps I might call myself an ex-aspiring-writer, for to say ‘I am a writer’ requires some kind of external validation — say publication, remuneration, or celebration — and I am constitutionally incapable of writing to deadlines or doing what other people want me to do. Trouble is, as soon as I am under any obligation, my attention scatters and my pen dries up.

Even writing this blog has become something of a trial since I promised Anneliese Mackintosh — who read her teenage diaries at OMG and a short story at Discombobulate — that I would write a review of one or both nights. You should never promise to write about something you haven’t made any definite thoughts about, the promise drains all one’s urgency.

Nevertheless, I did promise, so I tried to think of various avenues that would offer access to the quiddity of Discombobulate:

I thought about writing a review of this genteel literary night as if it were a gig (as I did in the old days). I could mention Conrad Watts’ fleece tunic and how you shouldn’t prejudge him on the basis of it, because his story about a swing breaking was the most engaging of the evening, despite being somewhat sniff o’ the lamp.

I thought about writing about a world in which embarrassment didn’t exist and what that would imply. For how else would Magi (pronounced Maggie not may-ji) Gibson be able to read out her Wild Woman Rap without dying of shame.

I thought about writing about Anneliese Mackintosh, a Glasgow-based German writer, whose story I enjoyed but can’t remember anything about. Indeed, despite using the words “last night” at the beginning of this piece, I am writing 15 days later and can barely remember the evening at all.

So please treat this all as reverie rather than review when I say that entertaining though it undoubtedly is, Discombobulate feels a bit too safe, a bit too aspirational-bourgeois to have much impact on modern souls like mine. It is great to see writers who have been externally validated and who are big fish in their small ponds, but it . . . I don’t know . . . all feels toothless to me.

Autumn Blues

It’s the change of the seasons and my body is creaking. The goalless desolation of Autumn, the dying light and the rush to the pub — these are the things that ail me. Me and everyone else, it seems. Wringham is depressed, Rhodri waiting for succour, and I am in a state of complete confusion. Of course, it always feels this way — I always end up in this state and yet I never remember. i should start a kind of yearbook of events. August 28th — the start of Autumn and the beginning of depression.

Human beings are adaptable, though, we get used to it.

My memory is shot, I tell myself things and then five minutes haven’t the faintest trace of them. It is painful. I don’t suppose that they are particularly important things, but they are things nonetheless. I begin to worry about my purpose in life. I have let another summer slide past without event — except of course getting married. I get the feeling that I ought to be focusing on one thing to the exclusion of all others.

The fug of Autumn, an indirection, the forgetting a salient point, lost behind the fog. We escape to the pub, to keep the warmth of summer alive in our bellies, we get lethargic and ill. We turn to comfort food, I crave warm stodge to keep the cold from me. Smokers, their lungs rebelling, begin to cough and hawk.

The Fountain

duchamp urinal fountain

What do you think about when you go to the toilet? When I’m at work, I try to work out the statistical possibility of someone being in the toilet with me.

There are 160 people at my work, with a 50/50 male-female split.

There are 2 male bathrooms (each containing 3 urinals and 3 bowls) for the three floors, which I estimate are used equally over the 8 hours of the working day.

Given that the average healthy male micturates 2 to 4 times per working day, you have an average of 120 urinations per bathroom per day.

Divide the 480 minutes of the working day by 120 and that equals 1 wee every 4 minutes. Given that the average piss takes 1 minute to perform (including washing the hands), There is a 1/4 chance of encountering another worker when you go to the toilet.

Of course, this doesn’t take into account other activities liking pooing or people who take a long time to wash and dry their hands, which could well bring it up to 1/3, but it seems heuristically accurate to me.

Some people find going to the toilet when others are around uncomfortable. I suppose their mind is thinking — do I enjoy this? No, therefore I must hate it. It’s as though they have to make a decision and, given that the toilet is the only place in some houses where you can get privacy, it is not surprising that people get edgy.

Personally, I find all such bodily activities faintly absurd. The idea of a group of hominids wearing trousers all lining up to a wall with a bowl attached to, with their willies hanging out, engaging in the excretion of waste water is bizarre. It’s like a chimp in a bikini or a chimp drinking tea from bone china — eerie but amusing.

The Five Blade Razor

What a piece of work is man. We have used our genius to create weapons of enormous destruction, we have prolonged life to almost Methuselahian lengths, we have created works of art so devastatingly beautiful that you’ll want to gouge out your eyes so as not to taint retinal after-image, but all of this is as nothing compared to humanity’s greatest achievement, the five blade razor.

fusion gillette

I have used Gillette razors ever since they sent me a (two blade) Sensor Excel razor on my 18th Birthday. I don’t particularly mind a bit of stubble and rarely shave more than 2 or 3 times a week, but when I do shave I like to luxuriate in the new-skin-smoothness of a wet shave.

When I was a poorer man, I tried out Lidl’s one-blade disposables, but it was a false economy and I ended up with a chin so lacerated I needed a bath towel to staunch the flow of blood. Gillette blades always seemed so expensive, so I would make mine last about 6 months each, to the point where they started to get rusty. When I finally forced myself to get some new Sensor Excel blades I discovered out that it was actually cheaper to buy a Mach3 instead.

Apart from the absence of rust, I couldn’t see much difference between the Sensor Excel and the Mach3 — I sneered at the marketing spiel and remained cynical as further improvements were announced in flashy commercials. I was reminded of the classic Onion spoof about a 5 blade razor, which highlighted ludicrousness of the razor-blade arms race:

The market? Listen, we make the market. All we have to do is put her out there with a little jingle. It’s as easy as, “Hey, shaving with anything less than five blades is like scraping your beard off with a dull hatchet.” Or “You’ll be so smooth, I could snort lines off of your chin.” Try “Your neck is going to be so friggin’ soft, someone’s gonna walk up and tie a goddamn Cub Scout kerchief under it.”

This satirical fantasy of five blades became reality with the Gillette Fusion, a razor that not only has five blades but also an aloe strip and a 6th blade on the other side of the razor for shaving awkward areas.

Last week I bought the Fusion, encouraged by a Superdrug promotion, and have subsequently had the best two shaves of my life. How did we live in those barbarous days of less than five blades? What savages we were!

People often complain that human ingenuity could be tasked to solving problems of greater importance than having a slightly smoother chin (and no doubt in a Gillette lab they are constructing a self-lathering seven-blade prototype with a hair dissolving membrane) but I would argue that civilization is built upon such small improvements. Civilization is not a utilitarian endeavour, civilization is built on vanity and excess.