Portable magic…

IMG_0132I’m raking in the coals of memory again.

An aunt had given us books as presents for Christmas. I got Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.

They were all abridged versions, and must have been from one of those cheap imprints where the classics cost a pound each. The covers were off-white and upon opening, already had that musty, ancient book smell – they must have sat upon a shelf in a warehouse for some time.

But the enchantment contained therein was rich and potent. I had classics in my hand and I would read them all. I would smell them and read them, and stare for what seemed like hours at the cover images before I even dared to open them and suckle at the dark nipple of gothic romance.

And, despite what christians will tell you, Dickens’ Christmas classic is the ‘Greatest Story Ever Told’ – a tale of self-discovery and redemption that never gets old, and which is constantly re-told and re-invented. Stephen King’s utterance on books being a kind of ‘portable magic’ never rang so true as in my days and weeks with those volumes.

While visiting my parents, I found two of the books amongst dozens, possibly hundreds from my childhood on some shelves in the basement. They were part of the ‘Minster Classics’ range, and my missing version of Frankenstein is still available online second-hand (just ordered myself a copy!).

Another realisation (for classic horror movie fans only), is that the cover image the Minster edition of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde seems to be a combination of Fredric March’s Dr. Jekyll from 1932, and John Barrymore’s Mr. Hyde from 1920 – currently available to watch for free.

Formerly forbidden fruit…

asterixWhen at primary school, we’d visit the local library every two weeks. You could borrow up to six books, but only from the children’s section. This was good, as it contained all the Doctor Who novelisations and ghost story anthologies that I loved to read, but access to the adult and young adult sections was strictly forbidden. These contained the horror books that I craved, and also the comic books – specifically Asterix and Tin Tin. Marvel and DC were great for action, but if you wanted something funny and clever, then it had to be one of the aforesaid.

It’s taken about forty years, but I’ve finally got my own collection of Asterix books started with the first three omnibus editions that I received for my recent birthday. So I’ve matured (slightly!) since last reading them, but I’d managed to remember the names of all the main characters and the stories are still great fun (if filled with torturous Latin puns!). And, owning them now brings so much satisfaction after being repeatedly told ‘no’ at school. It was snobbery really – comics and graphic novels weren’t considered real books, and certainly weren’t recognised as literature.

Thankfully attitudes are changing…

A phone-free day…

My near constant urge to throw my smartphone away resulted last night in me performing a factory reset in preparation for tossing it out of a train window. In the end, it just ended up being left on my desk at home as I decided to go mobile-free for the day in a fit of rebellious pique.

I did, however, have to deal with the consequences, but my reasons were righteous and manifold:

  1. I’m reading Jonathan Taplin’s Move Fast and Break Things, on the monopoly of businesses like Google, Facebook and Amazon, and their effect on both art and democracy. This has made me want to distance myself from these undeserving success stories.
  2. I have the deepening suspicion that my mind is atrophying at a fast rate, simply due to the fact that I no longer have to really remember anything when it’s all just a finger-press on a screen away from recall.
  3. My hatred of looking around to see every face buried in a smartphone. We are as atomised and polarised as a society can be at the moment, and I’m convinced that time away from this shackling technology would do us all nothing but good: we might talk to each other more, and we might be exposed to opinions outside of our usual news bubbles.

Of course, the first hurdle today was conquering the alien feeling of not actually having a phone in my pocket. As I leave the house, I habitually check my wrist for my watch, my right arse-pocket for my oyster card, and my left front pocket for said phone.This morning’s ritual check provoked an awkward pause as I went to venture forth into suburban commuter land.

And then, there was the wait for the train. I usually rely on a couple of apps to check on train and bus times and schedules, but these obviously no longer at my disposal. Oh well, I had to wait and put my trust in the notoriously untrustworthy dot-matrix indicator board. It roughly gets things right most of the time, but is often at odds with the announcements from station staff. Also, I didn’t have any news apps to peruse while waiting. I had a book to read for the journey, but again my habits were thwarted and it felt strange.

On arrival at the office, I experienced the novelty of booting up my computer to see my email inbox for the first time in the day. I usually received alerts to my phone and so know what’s going on. After checking this, I read the news on The Guardian and Independent websites over my first coffee of the day but still felt way behind the rest of the world – everyone else must have known about Donald Trump’s latest buffoonery hours before I did!

But the most severe pang of all came on my mid-morning visit to the loo, as sitting down for a bowel movement also comes with its own technological tic – that of reaching for my phone to browse the silliness on Reddit. Like most males, reading in the bog is just something you do. It used to be books, magazines and comics, but now we have smartphones to while away the time it takes to take care of business. And so, I had a shite in near silence, with nothing for my mind to focus upon but the toilet-roll holder and the back of the cubicle door.

It was hard, however, a the day wore on, I slowly adjusted to being disconnected and all was not as wrenching as I had initially feared. I was still able to function as a human being and I was still able to recall information – even if it felt initially like trying to start an old car that had been rusting in the garage for years.

The journey home too felt odd. Again, I couldn’t check train times, and when I popped into WHSmith to kill time at the station (after missing a train!), I couldn’t remember the name of the author of a book I was after – something I would usually have just googled from my phone without having to bother anyone.

The lesson
I kind of do need my smartphone. But I need to use it more sparingly and to change some of my providers and apps. I need to boot off the services that track my activity, invade my privacy, and delete apps that waste my time. I’d been hoping for an epiphany and a feeling of being unshackled, but really I just felt a bit discombobulated.

Perhaps I’m the problem and not my phone…

 

Let’s monetise motherfuckers!

6540698a-e056-4522-bf21-66c2c79eaa96It looks like Classic Rock magazine, and my old favourite, Metal Hammer have been saved from closure. I still buy the former but haven’t bothered with the latter since the commemorative Lemmy issue. As a youngster, though, it was a big favourite.

All good news for rock and metal fans I’m sure, but they’ve already let loads of their staff go – will there be jobs for them I wonder?

Of minor concern in comparison is what I assume is from the press release from Future, the new owners:

“The acquisition of these classic rock brands with their associated magazines, events and websites marks a further step in our buy and build strategy […] it further reinforces our creation of a leading global specialist media platform with data at its heart, which we are monetising through diversified revenue streams. We look forward to developing further these iconic and much-loved brands and to continuing to serve their communities of dedicated enthusiasts around the world.”

It doesn’t even read as English, let alone rock ‘n’ roll: It’s the kind of dense and wanky media speak that I thought had died out back in the nineties with Gus Hedges and Drop the Dead Donkey.

Still, ‘rock on’ and all that…

In praise of dystopia…

Surely one of the most attractive aspects of much of dystopian fiction is that, in putting ourselves in the place of the protagonist, we secretly wish that significant numbers of other people will not survive. This is especially true of the zombie holocaust or pandemic type scenario. It’s almost as if the exploration of death and hastened entropy allows nature to reclaim her dominion, and that those who survive are the lucky ones despite their deprivations.

Of course Richard Matheson went a bit too far in his I Am Legend novel. Too few people are no fun. No-one wants to be completely alone, we just want enough of the world to ourselves to create our own kingdom.

I suppose that friends and family (for the most part) would get a free pass. But even then, they’d have to occupy a different part of the world/game map. They can survive, but mustn’t interfere or harm the illusion of survival and self-suffiency.

And there, I suppose is the truth of it. A ruined world is a great fantasy, but is best lived from an armchair isn’t it. I don’t think I could really kill a wild boar to survive, do you? I could make it stop living with a sharp stick or a found gun, but then I’d have no idea of how to actually butcher it.

No, tea and biscuits in the commercial break during The Walking Dead is more my style of survival horror. I suspect it’s the same for all but the most deluded urban survival nuts.

Is that why the prospect of dystopia is so comforting? Because, rather than frighten us about a horrible future, it prompts us to look around at the comfortable present? Naturally I speak of ‘we’ in the cosseted First World. Does dystopian fiction exist or look different in the developing world?

More personal research needed on the subject…

An alternative literary canon…

Part mental exercise and part mischief, I came up with a list of literary classics that might have been:

  • Celsius 232.7
  • Sid Quixote
  • Three Men in a Dinghy
  • The Good Gatsby
  • The Loneliness of the Long Distance Plumber
  • Modest Expectations
  • A Farewell to Legs
  • A Clockwork Apple
  • In Search of Lost Change
  • A Tale of Two Towns
  • Lady Loverly’s Chatter
  • Midday’s Children
  • The Importance of Being Serious
  • Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Milkman
  • The Bananas of Wrath
  • A Passage to Ibiza
  • Paradise Misplaced
  • The Lime of the Ancient Fruiterer
  • The Maltese Pigeon
  • Gulliver’s Travel Agent
  • Len and the Art of Boiler Maintenance
  • Finnegan’s Sleep
  • For Whom the Bell Rings

Well, it kept me amused…