My Memories of The Resignation of Lord Frederick North

NPG 6180,Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guilford,by Pompeo Batoni

Portrait of Frederick North, 2nd Earl of Guildford, by Pompeo Batoni – 1753

Back when I was a student, one of our tasks was to create a short story from a portrait of our choosing in the National Gallery. I chose Lord Frederick North, former Prime Minister who presided over America’s greatest day and, until recently, Britain’s greatest loss – The American war of independence. After much researching online and through the British Library (in which the main point of contention between accounts was whether or not it was snowing or raining), I created this dramatisation of the events which you would now call one of the biggest political “mic drops” in history. So as it’s Independence Day in America and a week of continuing resignations in the UK, I thought I’d let this out in to the wild.

Sean

 

My Memories of The Resignation of Lord Frederick North

It was March the 28th, in the year of our lord 1782. Some ten years before my friend Lord North, The Earl of Guildford passed away. I stood in the Central Lobby of the Houses of Parliament looking out of the window over the Thames. Its majesty dampened by the falling of snow and the freezing weather. The reflection of the House lost on the surface of water. It was not unheard of, an early spring day in March, for snow to fall and cover the streets so far past Christmas and Whit Sunday. The horses would make small punctures in the otherwise perfectly white sheets above the cobbles as they pulled their carriages. Carriages, for which, we were awaiting. Not long after the New Year of 1782 had dawned on us that our Prime Minister, Lord Frederick North, was fighting three battles. All of which he was ready to surrender. The first was America. Since news of Cornwallis’s surrender in Yorktown had reached North in November of 1781, he had argued that ‘Peace with America was necessary.’

A view not shared by our King. George III had legislated the taxes that created this war, and he saw no end to it that wasn’t awash with blood, something that North had tried desperately to avoid in his attempts to first, suggest peace and later, resign. The final battle, the one with the House of Commons, was today. They had forced the King’s hand in accepting his resignation after a vote of no confidence. Today he finally surrendered, although if there was any relief in the man, it did not show.

Lord North stood in the doorway of the entrance to the Members Lobby. His resignation accepted. The House adjourned. The ministers gathered in the Central Lobby after leaving the spectacle, the snow starting to fall more rapidly outside. The rumors of the Kings final words to him circulated. North had been in constant communication with the King for months now. The King, stubborn as he had been in creating this war, refused all of North’s recommendations and resignations. Lord Cavendish, Rockingham and his Whig’s all made sure of his eventual demise from office. Picking off his party one by one. But the King did nothing, until now. North had come straight from Kew and had been told ‘it is you so desert me, not I you.’

He looked composed. He always looked composed, even when you could see the ills that had befallen his mind recently. But here and now the weight had been lifted and it showed upon the man. I’d spoken to him but a week ago about one of his many meetings with The King at Kew. ‘I will not be dictated upon,’ The King had said. ‘The house thinks that our way has been lost and our hard fought enterprise to the west has fallen afoul of greed and war. But I will not have it. They will starve and they will beg when their incredulous rebellion is brought to judgement. I will not bow to what God has granted us through victory to a population of peasants and rogues.’

North had told me in confidence, ‘I agree that The King is most correct. We shall not have this rebellion in our own house. But this war will, if it is not to be won, then be brought to conclusion through virtues of peace if not for a short time. But I am not he who can bring this to pass. I am no longer the keeper of our Empire’s interests in the eyes of our nobles and government. The King knows this but cannot see it or renders himself blind out of faith.’

‘The King has lost touch,’ I said.

‘I consider him a friend as well as my ruler and I respect his honourable charge. God has granted us fortune in battle. America, Spain, and Waterloo are some of the finest hours our navy and our empire have seen. But the King cannot see that Peace, in its nature, is not to lose. It is not to win either, but to compromise. This power over our Commons is not his to yield. It is my power and my responsibility.’

‘You intend to resign?” I enquired.

‘I have resigned in all but official record. The King will not abide by my decision and refuses to summon opposition to the House.’

‘You risk his wrath by defying him,’ I pointed out. ‘This could be seen as Treason by the King and you could be hung!’

‘That is so, yet the sacrifice of one man may be better employed for our continued victory, than to have him weigh down the stern of his fleet. I shall do what must be done. The King must see that, or more men will be lost to a futile battle in America. We have the French and the Spanish on our doorstep. We must pick our battles or risk losing all. America is lost. As is my government.’

 

Nearly five months after Yorktown, after months of motions for resignation and continued attacks from the opposition, he had finally resigned. The new parliament needed to be formed. A few people shook hands with North as they left the Members Lobby and one who was still loyal to him gathered behind him in a show of support. I decided to join them both. North greeted me warmly, quite obviously thankful for my continued loyalty in this dire hour for him. He returned to the rest of the exiting ministers with stillness in his eyes and his expressions. Eventually everyone had left the Members Chamber. North studied them all. Congratulating themselves, laughing, shaking hands to new allegiances and making plans for meetings. You could overhear people mentioning that they had defeated the King, that America was theirs for the taking, and that the Crown needed to be brought to heel in the wake of such a defeat. It was true that this was a big defeat for King George. The partnership of government that North and him had formed had lasted for twelve years. They were more than peers they were friends as well. It could not have been easy for North for have risked his friendship with The King, nor could it have been easy for him betray his wishes. If what the King had said was true, and that countenance had been paid, then their friendship was lost. In his later days, North did not recover well from the loss of his friendship. He was always ailed by his failure that brought this personal catastrophe, more so than his later blindness.

North was too busy studying the assembled crowd to bother thinking about such notions. Even if he was thinking, his face did not portray it. A porter appeared and advised North that his carriage was ready. North thanked him and began to smile. ‘Gentlemen,’ he said to us, his gaze not faltering from the crowd. ‘You two have been loyal supports of me and I value your friendship at this difficult time. Please allow me to invite you to my home. The day is still young and we have many things to discuss.’

We both agreed and were ready to leave, but North waited. The day was young. It could not be long after 4 in the afternoon. Big Ben had only tolled its bells a short time ago. The crowd had begun to look at each other, slightly worried. They had seen the porter talk to North, but their carriages had not arrived yet. Plans had been made between them all to visit houses, pubs, inns, and all manner of places. But they had no means to get there and the conversations were beginning to run dry. There was no way in all their gentry they would brave the snow. They would hardly do it in the dry. All the carriages had been sent away, the peers expecting to have taken much longer in deliberating North’s departure. This was their time to criticize to insult and to establish their own positions before Parliament would be recalled the following Monday. North had robbed this from them and now it became clear that out of the Chamber, their noise was powerless. The noise itself in the lobby had dropped and North signaled us to follow him. He cut a commanding figure as he began to cut through the crowd. North, being a robust gentleman was not someone you wanted to get in the way of, lest you be knocked to the ground rather unceremoniously. People parted and the chatter dropped to an even quieter level. North just strutted through to get towards Westminster Hall, and to his carriage outside.

 

The Marquis of Rockingham stood at the end of North’s path. He stopped him briefly as if to gloat in front of him. It was the Marquis and his Whig’s that had engineered the fall of North. Although his policies had failed, and North would freely admit this, his connection to the King and his absolute resolve in implementing his wishes was his downfall as much as their military losses. They stood together staring in to each other’s eyes. The King could have entered the hall and no one would have notice. The silence was ready to be entertained with Rockingham’s ferocity. It did not come. Rockingham moved out of the way to let North past. Chatter raised behind us as we walked through the hall. It wasn’t audible but idle gossip never is. The crowd had started to follow us out and by the time we had reached the entrance, the mass of people looked like a mob from the Gordon Riots of a few years before. The snow was still falling and a carriage stood outside with North’s and he offered us entry. ‘After you, gentlemen,’ he said and we went on ahead with North carefully treading behind us.

The crowds had begun to spill outside behind us and were getting covered in the snow. Their jackets picking up the flakes before they melted under their body heat making them more and more sodden. The Marquis of Rockingham among them. Next to him Lord Cavendish held a face that seemed perplexed by these events. Other peers gathered around them and behind them, forcing them further out into the elements. We entered the carriage, steam rising from our breath and from the horses, like a chimney bellowing smoke into the air. North went to get on board and paused, turned to face the gathered crowd and addressed them. He said, pointing to us, ‘I have my carriage. You see, gentlemen, the advantage of being in the secret. Good night.’

He climbed aboard, smiling. No one said a word. I was dumbstruck by his words. The wit and intellect he had possessed to orchestrate this entire event amazed me. Even in his lowest hour he had won a victory. The faces of the crowd were equally as amazed. The carriage driver snapped his whip and shouted an unintelligible noise as the horses started to pull us. The clopping sound of the horses metal shoes against the cobblestone underneath echoed between the high walls of the building. The snow, soft, gentle and serene, still fell as the horses made their little puncture marks in the sheet below us, the wheels of the carriage cutting through the sheet also, creating a trail for anyone to follow us. We left Parliament into the streets as we headed towards Lord North’s residence. London, even in the snow, was working. The day was still light and people around us went about their daily routine. The snow did nothing to stop them. ‘Well gentlemen,’ North started. ‘I do hope you’re in the mood for a feast. I have a great selection of meats and cheeses at the house and wine that needs to be drunk.’

He started to laugh, and nervously we joined in. This was the measure of the man we knew, the Prime Minister that lost America.

 

The EU Referendum is more like a Wrestling Show

e9e1cadf06c007b116f0a71bef412870

You’d be forgiven for being confused what side you are on over the EU Referendum. For so long the media has given us clear sides and divides – These people are Tories, those lot over there are Labour, the Lib Dems were here but I can’t see… Over there? No, that’s the Green’s and the SNP.

As the movers and shakers swap and intermingle, the scene has become bloated and confusing. Who do I like? Why are they siding with them? Why is everyone fighting amongst themselves? That’s when I realised that the EU Referendum we’re seeing on screen is nothing more than a professional wrestling storyline.

Wrestling – a predetermined contest taking place in a narratively driven feud, with the WWE being the most globally recognised company. You have good guys (Faces), bad guys (Heels) and if someone changed their ways from bad to good, or visa versa, this is known as a turn.

47933494.cached

Not Boris Johnson.

The EU referendum is playing out like this. Political stars are moving back and forth, swapping allegiances to make the best play for their own agendas and careers, fighting through the current storyline so that when the next feud starts, they’ll be at the top, ready for a run as “the leader of the Conservative Party.”

In the mid-90s the biggest star of wrestling, Hulk Hogan, jumped ship to a rival company and “turned heel”. Gone were the yellow trunks, the patriotic American zeal and in were the egomaniacal power plays of a Hollywood autocrat who was (legitimately) bigger than the business. Comedic hair aside, enter to the fray Boris Johnson.

Boris is quite possibly the smartest guy in the Leave campaign room and his move from ex-Mayor to Leave figurehead is quite like Hogan’s switch. At the time of the move, Hogan had a “creative control” clause added to his contract that meant he got the final say on anything the character did.

may-12-rtx2du4w-e1463229568103.jpg

I mean, come on. Look at this man with his Blake’s 7 space cockpit.

Before Boris was seen as the clownish parliamentarian, a man who has written a novel about a fictional Islamic terrorist attack (Seventy Two Virgins). The Observer review of the book said:

Boris Johnson has written a witty page-turner, but not quite a novel. Digesting this book is like listening to a seasoned raconteur holding court rather than reading a work of literature.

(https://www.theguardian.com/books/2004/oct/03/fiction.features1)

It’s this Boris that we have seen for the years, holding his London court, ably playing the dandy whilst the new guard of his Conservative party squabbles for control. Now the time has come to rally his troops, the mix of the old guard and the Cabinet ‘powers,’ and make his play. Gone are the conversations with Paxman over sausages; in is the rhetoric of numbers – the £350m.

Whilst I’m not touching on the politics itself, I do know the benefit of a good hook – £350m. It’s a number, it’s tangible and it is something for the crowd to get behind. Bret “The Hitman” Hart used to say he was “The best there is, the best there was, and the best there ever will be.” And he proved it by winning championships and out-wrestling everyone. It was a believable statement. Was it true? Maybe, but either way it sells T-Shirts. Is £350m true? Who knows, but it sounds good and it fits in headlines very easily.

Eventually Bret Hart jumped ship because he didn’t like the new direction his industry was taking. Tory MP Sarah Wollaston has jumped ship because the £350m that could go to funding the NHS “simply isn’t true.” As a doctor herself, you’d think what she was saying would be believable, quantifiable, and would suggest truth. Much like the older guard of UK politics like Sir John Major and Tony Blair who, differences aside, both believe that the campaign from the leave camp has been, as Major puts it, ‘deceitful” and “misleading”.

Then you get the power play of Lords, those top aristocrats, business owners and general vacuums for economic gain. JCB chairman Lord Bamford wants to leave, explaining to his employees in an open letter that the EU isn’t relevant anymore and we can cast it off, presumably like tectonic shifts cast the North American Plate off from us 200 million years ago. Lord Lawson entered the debate supporting the leave campaign. The two combined bare more resemblance to Harry Secombe’s Mr Bumble from Oliver than empathetic characters. Given the big business leaders we’ve seen in front of MP’s this week alone, should we really trust their opinions? Much like wrestling’s all-powerful McMahon family, who run the show, when they say it’s best for us do we really believe it after everything they’ve done to our heroes?

PossumPosse3_zpsd96c9ef5

MORE??? Only if we leave the EU *sniggers*

Then you get the biggest turn (which is presumably a face turn because being in power, you are naturally the bad guy unless you’re Justin Trudeau or Mick Foley) with David Cameron.

This is the man the left have vilified, the centerpiece of everyone’s vitriol, and now, he’s switched sides. Except he hasn’t, he’s still on the same side for his party but he wants to remain. So he has turned, all of his buddies are now ganging up on him like some betrayal that deserves retribution. Like when Batista turned his back on Triple H and Ric Flair because they wanted him to play ball, and he wanted to do what he felt was right. The betrayal of a “stable” (wrestling term for a group) is common place and suddenly you may find yourself either supporting or jeering the one who has gone out from the group to defend their freedom of opinion. But are his days numbered as the blue-on-blue conflict begins to rally back bench momentum?

Wrestling has recently done a similar ousting with the return of the WWE owner’s son, Shane McMahon. He sees the way the company is falling in ratings and stock and it is time that his youth and exuberance took over the company and made a change for the better. Would Shane, a not too shabby businessman in his own right and a man forever trapped in his father’s shadow, get the best out of the WWE? Who can tell, but you’ll tune in to find out! Would the UK and the economy be better under new leadership, leaving the EU and returning to a long lamented and dubiously fictitious pastiche of Good ol’ Post-War Blighty? The one that has hung over our British patriotism like a father’s shadow? Ask Boris Hogan.

In a final and rather coincidental parable, the WWE is splitting themselves in two. Their two shows Raw and SmackDown will become their own entities and brands with separate performers on each. They did this before in the early to mid ‘00s, which was partially successful but ended up rejoining as a whole. Why? Because one show was always going to be the favourite son and the other became a stale forgettable contemporary. If the UK leaves the continent and the union that it helped forge, do we become the favourite son, or do we ebb away into obscurity and ask to come back because together, business is better? Stay tuned…

The Problem with Dramatic Conspiracies

x-files-new-11.png

This is in response to The X-Files recent return to television which, let’s face it, was great. It was fantastic, it didn’t feel like nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake. The unflinching direction that hallmarked the nine years of television we all watched in the 90s (and we all watched it, even if we didn’t like it) was not emulated, not homaged, but continued. As far as television has come along in quality of drama, direction, technology and writing, it’s amazing that something that really petered out around sixteen years ago still worked so well today.

There are obvious reasons why but all of them boil down to good material and the wonderful work of Duchovny and Anderson, both of whom bear no typecast or shadow from the original’s time. In episode five, Mulder goes full Hank Moody and in several episodes, the fun side of Scully is matched by her proportionate intensity to counteract the inevitable. As the series has aged there is something that now sticks out like a sore thumb and, ironically it is the show’s original premise.

rs_1024x759-160126062017-1024.the-x-files-were-monster-3.ch.012615

If you watch all of The X-Files from the beginning, the story is very apparent and is, arguably, very dated. The U.S. Government is hiding the truth about extraterrestrial life on Earth and using what they’ve learned or pillaged for their own nefarious needs, or are being manipulated by an order of wankers who have united to do whatever is needed for a greater good (nefarious needs). The story stops there because I don’t want to spoil anything and like most conspiracy theories they die rather flatly in the face of empirical evidence. But if things get strange, you start to worry that this could be a case for Mulder and Scully.

Such is the power and cultural relevance of the way The X-Files delivered its fiction that it’s become an production trope, utilised by everything from hilariously implausible documentaries to the endless entertainment of heavily effected stock footage of people in suits with torches in dark basements between dramatic narration and eyewitness accounts that barely register any usable sentences, and presumably were filmed in a diner toilet off the I-25.

The problem we have watching this now and why, in my opinion, the two conspiracy episodes in the new series and a lot of the previous series are the weakest episodes is thus: We are unable to viably believe the scale of such an event or misdirection in a production and introspectively small environment as a television drama.

the_x_files_115337.jpg

In the end, The X-Files themselves were about one thing, mysteries to be solved. But the show became about something much more important to us as humans (which is weird given the importance of the shows subject) and that is the relationship between Mulder and Scully. The show, whilst driven narratively by Mulder’s self destructive approach to find out the truth and Scully’s skepticism, became a story about how we want love and affection to still blossom in the face of alien apocalypse, death by our own capitalist implosions, deals with the devil, or anything – The story was about a connection that never needed the words to be said because we saw something pure come to light. In the new series with events that have previously occurred, we see this come to the fore and it’s wonderful and painful all at once. Even after sixteen years of their on-screen absence in the roles and their drama, it makes you wonder and realise how so many of us can’t get our shit together.

But it was pure. Sure, it was a man/woman dynamic which in the land of entertainment only leads to sexual tension, but this wasn’t a show about that. It was about scary monsters, untrustworthy bureaucrats and world domination, and as the millions of viewers who were watching were adults and children, the prospect of two people copulating was really a precedent only set by the media that covered it. For the viewers we knew what it was, it was a genuine love that wasn’t guided by physical attraction but by less carnal desires.

The conspiracy works of course and is entertaining as a thread but to say it has lost its lustre in a larger, more connected day an age isn’t accurate. Utopia had the same problem for me and it’s a problem with the medium of television. The scale for us to appreciate such an impact that results from the conspiracy cannot plausibly be conveyed with the production budgets afforded to the small screen, no matter how big those budgets are. In Utopia, we had two series of five friends and a few other people associated by a grand conspiracy to release a virus that would lower the population strategically to ease the burden on dwindling natural resources and food production. But for most of it, we followed a small group of friends, with an average age of around 23, around colourful fields, empty estates and homes, whilst avoiding practically any technological contact with the world. Sexual tension was there for no other reason but to dramatise affection and as a viewer the impact of the conspiracy (in threat or practice) is never realised.

Fight-The-Future-the-x-files-25323979-2560-1676.jpg

The X-Files does a lot more than many have and can in this regard but even so, when your story is about your leading pair, a middle management servant in Walter Skinner and the face of the evil, the Cigarette Smoking Man, the wider world really gets lost. In the new series we have Tad O’ Malley, a conservative talk show host and politician who has also been able to find out things relating to these conspiratorial secrets. But even so, our only avenue to broadcast coverage of a serious problem is limited to the screen time of the O’ Malley show’s segments and regardless of how good Joel McHale is, he can’t convey the drama of an entire country, or an entire planet, slowly discovering its own pre-determined destiny by these conspirators.

Whilst we are entertained as viewers, it is never by the wider threat but more the impact it has on our two characters and, after ten years of television, The X-Files has finally realised that and does as much as it can to resolve the giant alien elephant in the room and get to where the real story is – Mulder and Scully. In truth, nothing can scare us anymore thanks to rolling news and the entrenched fear we are all programmed to live in by it. No longer does the narration of Orson Wells cause panic at the news of martian attacks, nor do the characters of Michael Crichton attempting to stop a deadly disease brought to earth by a fallen satellite, or Bernard Quatermass apologising to the world for what has become of Astronaut Victor Caroon and the danger he has caused. I even remember a made for TV B-movie (although the name escapes me) that was the apocalypse being broadcast as rolling news with reports all over the world coming in as the presenters know their sign off will also be the sign off of mankind.

The thing is that the conspiracy stories can work, and do work in books and even in movies. The first X-Files movie is a testament to that. But the limitation that TV has, not only for production costs but practicality behind everything and most importantly time to produce, edit and sell a series, sadly renders at times a bigger picture in a largely undramatic way. Thankfully The X-Files became more than that and its return should be a lesson to all: Never lose sight of where the drama truly is. Unless things are getting strange and you’re starting to worry…

I’ve already done that pun.

Shit.

screen-shot-2013-06-06-at-9-27-06-pm.png

Oh and episode three was fantastic, it was the payoff for every comedic big monster episode ever and was funny, transcendent and just beautifully shown, especially with the mementos to crew and colleagues now departed. So shut it.

VideoBrains Talk Transcript – When Bad Guys Are Good

Right. I did this talk for VideoBrains back in October. Honestly, I thought it wasn’t a good talk but now having watched it back five months on, I’m less scathing of myself. However, due to my fast and at times inaudible speaking, I’ve decided to put the script here. Yes those puns were mostly all written, including the one about wearing a tie for Jake.

You can find out more about the wonderful talks and tickets to future events at http://www.videobrains.co.uk/.

 

My original plan was to come out here in a black leather jacket and shades with Bad to the Bone by George Thorogood and the Destoryers playing. Thankfully I changed my mind, mostly because I thought Jake would kill me for not wearing a tie.

My original plan also included looking at my experience of playing as a bad-guy or an anti-hero. I thought it would go well with the theme. Although I have to say that it has also been interesting to find the differences between a literal interpretation of an anti-hero and what we consider in an modern entertainment context to be an anti-hero.

But before I list a few of these characters that we all know and love or loath, I think I should share with you the games that inspired me to talk about this in the first place.

Back in 1994, I had my first PC. A slightly rescued and rebuilt IBM 386mhz PC with a floppy disk drive. Moving on from the fairly linear design of the console games available to me in my local Blockbuster Video, and the growing impatience at my Spectrum’s ever failing keyboard, I found many games that I just could not stop playing. X-Wing of course was first, but it was TIE Fighter that gripped me. Here I was, an aimless pawn in the story arc of my then favorite trilogy. I was a nameless, faceless piece of cannon fodder who rose above it to see this fictional conflict from another viewpoint.

I was shield-less and ballsy, shooting rebel craft in to polygons and leaving nothing but waste for the vacuum of space. But for years I had a very binary notion of good and evil. The rebels and the Imperials by their nature sound as they should, which when you think about it is eloquently designed to engender empathy for the side of the fiction’s protagonist. I imagine Orwell would have had a field day with Star Wars in that regard.

But in a strange way, because the game was designed to be harder and reflect that almost Japanese WW2 airforce dogfighting dynamic, I became more attuned to the Imperials. There was more to lose here, more to prove and therefore, more to gain in success.

Then there’s Dungeon Keeper, the titular inspiration of this month’s topic. What a game Dungeon Keeper was. The magnificent Richard Ridings, whose voice I first heard introducing the Polymorph on Red Dwarf, exudes the most deliciously evil tone, like it oozed out of my Packard Bell’s speakers back in ’97. It’s at this point that most of you have probably decided to put the word ooze on par with moist in your forbidden lexicon.

For those that only know the freemium travesety, Dungeon Keeper was one of those pre-Milo Molyneux games that followed an isometric building/strategy formula that his Bullfrog studio made famous with Theme Park and Theme Hospital. Of course, ever the guy to subvert convention, the idea for this building game was to construct dungeons and attract minions in your quest to take over the land. A land of fantasy prospered above the surface where you built your halls, libraries, training rooms, treasuries and chicken pens. Your imps would dig out rooms, mine for gold and take over areas, digging faster with a gentle slap of the “god hand” cursor. You could then possess any of your minions, including the rather bemused chickens and run around, preparing for when the knight of that realm decided to come down and challenge you. And eventually lose to your never-ending wave of corruption, destroying the entire kingdom before it.

Basically, whilst actually being a good strategy game, it was the first one that I played that actively celebrated you being a complete and total bastard.

As a thirteen year old I never questioned it but as a man well and truly fixed in his early twenties, please don’t correct my maths, I’ve become more fascinated as to why I enjoy this subversive frivolity.

Terry Eagleton is a renowned literary critic and theorist. Writing for The Independent whilst promoting a book he had written on evil, he said this:

When did evil start to look so alluring? One answer might be: when goodness began to look boring. We can blame this on the puritanical middle classes. It is they who redefined virtue as thrift, prudence, meekness, abstinence, chastity and industriousness. It’s not hard to see why some people should prefer zombies and vampires. Goodness came to seem negative and restrictive. As the poet Auden wryly remarked, the Ten Commandments consist in observing human behaviour and then inserting a “not”.

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/books/features/so-bad-its-good-why-do-we-find-evil-so-much-more-fascinating-than-goodness-1965587.html

 So, in this aspect, I enjoy playing evil because I’ve been surrounded by so much socially acceptable, middle-class driven virtue, that I am instinctively programmed to seek the antithesis of this. I also worked in telesales for seven years but I’m sure that’s got nothing to do with it.

Eagleton is of course referring to something more classic with his words and the rise of the gothic and more fantastical strands of literature over the course of the Victorian era. But all of this leads to the conclusion of escapism. Which of course is the default explanation for anything that doesn’t involve you just being happy with your below inflation office employment and the ever retracting welfare support system you’ve been forced to rely on.

Escapism: “The tendency to seek distraction and relief from unpleasant realities, especially by seeking entertainment or engaging in fantasy.

Well. Shadow of the Colossus is in the fantasy setting. I’m not going to go in to it too much because many people are much better qualified to wax lyrical about the game. But escapism certainly is a subjective experience here.

Playing as Wander, the “protagonist” depending on your viewpoint, you go on an heroic quest to destroy the Colossi in order to save Mono, but as you progress you realise this comes at a cost with your own soul becoming more corrupted and the destruction of nature by your hand changing the balance of the entire realm.

Now, we have some empathy here with Wander because, even though the reasons are presumably selfish, we can understand at a human level the need to save and not lose what we love. We understand the avoidance of grief and the extension of comfort. To us, Wander is doing all the wrong things for the right reasons.

You’d think right now that I’m going to go straight in to the anti-hero but I’m actually going to disqualify some characters first, before we go in to that strand of thought, because there is a definite separation between an anti-hero and a hateful character.

Trevor and Michael from Grand Theft Auto V. In fact pretty much any main character from this series of games. It may seem like a strong word, “hateful” but that’s what they are. We should hate their guts for the pain and torment they blissfully put others through in the process of fulfilling their narrative agenda. Trevor needlessly tortures a man, so you can’t get more hateful than that, surely? We should be totally disgusted by this.

But we aren’t and for an explanation of this, I’m turning to… Ken Levine.

No, not that Ken Levine, but I will point out something he said to IGN earlier in the year about character in his new game that:

‘”to make an interesting character, you have to have a character who has a bunch of passions, wants, and needs”… Levine says a character’s wants and needs are the heart of who they are. “It’s not their skin color, not their religion, not their sex. It’s what they want, what they need, and what’s in their way.”

http://uk.ign.com/articles/2015/04/10/ken-levine-talks-characters-and-relationships-in-his-next-game

 It’s a statement that the Ken Levine I’m actually going to talk about echoes completely. Ken Levine is an Emmy winning TV writer, producer, and director and has worked on everything from MASH to Cheers to The Simpsons. Hateful or evil characters are quite hard to sell in TV because usually they alienate you as a viewer. The most recent example of this was probably Watch_Dog’s Aiden Pearce, whilst not being hateful, he isn’t exactly likeable. So why do we even attempt it?

Because they’re interesting. 

 Evil characters create drama and suspense. They stir up the pot. They surprise us. They make choices that we wouldn’t make.  They say things we’d like to say.  They cut through the bullshit (or create their over own).  Their worldview is different. It’s fun to watch them operate. Sometimes you actually root for them, and other times you can’t wait for them to get theirs. And on certain rare occasions you do both. Seriously, who holds your interest more – Anna from DOWNTON ABBEY or Claire from HOUSE OF CARDS? 

http://kenlevine.blogspot.co.uk/2014/03/why-do-we-like-hateful-characters.html

So this is where we start differentiating the anti-hero from these other more psychotic characters. Looking this up on Psychology Today, I found this blog post by H. Eric Bender MD. Trying to define an anti-hero as a more morally ambiguous character who did the right thing, despite their “antisocial behaviour”:

It might be because their moral complexity more closely mirrors our own. They’re flawed. They’re still developing, learning, growing.  And sometimes in the end, they trend toward heroism. We root for their redemption and wring our hands when they pay for their mistakes. They surprise us. They disappoint us. And they’re anything but predictable.

 While the antiheroes’ incompatibility with societal rules lays the foundation for compelling drama, it’s their unlikely virtue in the face of relatable circumstances that emotionally connects us to them.  Consider the moments that we spent cheering for Tony Soprano.  Typically they involved his efforts to overcome his anxiety—a relatively common condition—and his attempts, at times unprecedented, to protect family, both nuclear and crime.

 Similarly, Walter White garnered our sympathy when we initially learned of his cancer, lack of financial stability, and inordinate medical debt. The failures of our society are not unique to Walter White, but are a common, shared experience between the character and his audience.  He feels our pain as he, too, has been pushed too far by a broken healthcare system that threatens his family’s —let alone his own—survival.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/broadcast-thought/201309/rise-the-antihero

So here’s a few video game characters that fit that bill, Alan Wake, John Marston and Joel from The Last of Us.

Then of course there’s the characters that you create in role playing games like Fallout, Skyrim and Mass Effect. They are bound by their own worlds but your decisions are what make them the virtual projection of your own human values, unless you purposefully set out to be a cannibal or something.

Then there’s the more linear choices you make in Telltale’s games like The Walking Dead, the actions you take in Lionhead’s Fable games and even now as we speak, Halo’s Master Chief who is being promoted as a renegade that we know is doing things for the good of mankind.

Our relationship to anti-heroes is based very much on our own limitations of what we can do and what we want to do. Anything from revenge to redemption, restitution to reconciliation, revelation to retirement.

I think that’s something we can all agree on, right?

No.

Because I wasn’t happy with this and wanted a better, more definitive definition, I went back to my degree (I studied English Literature and Creative Writing, hence being a games journalist), I wanted to find something formal, something concrete. And so I took to my bookshelf and found my Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory. Want to see what it said?

“A ‘non-hero’, or the antithesis of a hero of the old-fashioned kind who was capable of heroic, deeds, who was dashing, strong, brave and resourceful.”

 “The anti-hero is the man who is given the vocation of failure. The anti-hero – a type who is incompetent, unlucky, tactless, clumsy, cack-handed, stupid, buffoonish – is of ancient lineage.”

This description then goes on to note various examples, highlighting Greek New Comedy, Don Quixote, and Tristram Shandy. Even Leopold Bloom from James Joyce’s Ulysses is mentioned.

Which makes me think that the definition in a modern sense, especially across other entertainment has changed, or at least how we see them.

And if we see some of these traits in a modern game character – unlucky, clumsy, tactless (which means showing a lack of skill and sensitivity in dealing with others or with difficult issues) – then we have our classical anti-hero.

Max Caulfield.

Max, a troubled late teenager struggling to come to terms with her new found independence, is trying to impress herself among the new faces in her life in a place she no longer knows. But without the fall back of other figures to guide or correct her path, it’s left up to her own judgment that, once gifted with power proves to be both naïve and brave. Her selfish actions also reveal her selflessness.

The thing is with all of these characters and these games, especially now in our current era of entertainment, character and game design, it’s impossible to have such a complete and binary explanation of what an anti-hero or a bad person is. Everything is so subjective and fluid that there is no definitive list that says what the characters are.

That leads me to conclude only one thing, which is the terribly cheesy notion that these characters are us, because of the way we play them and how we project, not only our desires but our fears too. The things that scare us, the things that make us jump, by extension make our characters jump too (even if they don’t actually jump). We are all our own anti-heroes only because we are all so different.

Which only tells me something I already knew from the start, which is that I am a complete and total bastard.

Side One – Track Ones (Part. 1)

 

I’ve included the above just for some context from one of my favourite movies and favourite books and favourite book to movie adaptations… I had a pang to list some things in this way. A bit snobbish but what the hell, it’s fun to write.

The Side One – Track One is ultimately a thing long lost to the veil of history as digitisation conquered all, but the thing that stands out for this is that traditionally, the best ones are album tracks. It’s kind of cheating when the first track on an album is the single and a predominantly successful single, as happened and still happens en masse. As someone who’s played music, your first track on an album is setting the tone, destroying preconceptions and making you feel comfortable that you picked a nice beer, sat in the comfiest chair with the best headphones on and decided to dedicate forty minutes to an hour of your life to this musical work you have on.

So, looking at albums I personally own, I’m going through some of my favourites. I’m going to miss loads because I probably don’t own them and music streaming does often make me forget how much good music is out there that I’m missing. If I included all albums, I’d be here forever. But please, share your own favourite first tracks. There’s no need to be as picky with rules or anything, but this makes for an interesting conversation, no?

Five Years – David Bowie (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars, 1972)

You can see what I was listening to that drew me back in to this internal conversation. Recent events really did show just how transcendent Bowie’s music was across any era. My first experience of this song was watching Old Grey Whistle Test compilations that my dad had taped from the TV in the late 80s as the show was drawing to a close. But this song is often regarded as one of the best opening tracks for an album. It’s got all of the character from Bowie’s previous albums in the strings, punctuated by the other worldly echo that ends the song compared to its incredibly crisp beginning.

But the Bowie that came before had changed. You could tell in his tone, his lyrics and his confidence. It was harsher, less forgiving and, most importantly contained the swagger of a new character. You could hear the groundwork for it in songs like Queen Bitch and Andy Warhol from Hunky Dory, but it came to its full characterisation as soon as you start playing Ziggy. Go from The Man Who Sold the World through to Ziggy and you’ll realise as soon as Five Years starts that you got where the music needed to go.

Apocalypse Please – Muse (Absolution, 2003)

Before Absolution Muse had released two studio albums, Showbiz and Origin of Symmetry. Showbiz had some excellent tracks on it and showed a competent band who had a unique sound (you might remember the song Sunburn being used for various Apple adverts around the late 90s), but it was a style of music that was quite safe at the time with bands like Feeder and Stereophonics – radio and MTV2 friendly. Origin became the complete opposite, a heavy Prog Rock monster doused with classical motifs and sonic noise that owed more to its progenitors than the clash of nu-metal, pop punk and radio alt-rock of the early 2000s. Come Absolution, the shrill of Matt Bellamy’s voice had been perfectly nuanced and tempered between the extremes of the previous two albums. Gone was the enforced reverb and echo to create a sonic madness. Instead was the beautifully captured natural sounds from recording processes in the UK studio sessions.

Apocalypse Please starts with a drum intro, the militaristic drone that comes towards you, inspired by the anti-war protest and sentiment of the time, peppered with the barking of orders like a Roger Waters/Pink Floyd song. Then out of nowhere the hard, smashing piano riff hits you at a beat you aren’t expecting. The monotony of doom is perfectly interrupted to bring you the scale, the impact and the immediacy of music that’s coming. But it’s welcoming because it’s also incredibly clean. There’s no feedback, no insane effects, with Bellamy’s voice slightly peaking to gain some natural distortion and strength beyond the low, loud hits. Followed by a soft almost impossibly synchronous chorus of harmonic voices like those heard from Queen thirty years before. This clean sound carries on throughout the album, even with the effects and Bellamy’s talent at getting the most unique, odd and interesting sounds from his guitars and Chris Wolstenholme’s bass. Rich Costey does a perfect job at keeping the rhythm section as simple and punctuated as possible and that means that nothing else is competing, everything can be heard perfectly. Absolution is certainly my favourite Muse album thanks to this, as well as the amazing Storm Thorgersen cover, and I know that Apocalypse Please did eventually become a single, but it introduces everything about that album and about what Muse had become perfectly.

Bombtrack – Rage Against The Machine (Rage Against The Machine, 1992)

Again, this is another song that became a single eventually, but not until a good eight months had passed since release so it’s ok, I think. It’s hard to find songs that didn’t become singles because that ultimately means they aren’t strong songs, especially in the 80s. The 80s normally had a bad habit of sticking the singles within the first five tracks of an album and leaving it as that. But as it hit the 90s, a bunch of radicals (I don’t want to use the sub-genre terms of rock’s culture at the time) formed and waited until their music found the right label to keep their message. Pushed together from the ashes of punk bands, Rage Against The Machine set out to make an immediate impact.

Around the time, remember, you have Nirvana riding high and the Seattle grunge sound taking over the radio and TV airwaves – Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots, etc. Rage were never in this commercial space and their high energy, politically charged message came loud and clear, visually and musically. The striking cover of the vietnamese monk, the creeping bass and guitar that hits a tempo which is immediately slowed by the heavy riff laden, distorted funk beat. Zack de la Rocha’s rap begins and you realise that this isn’t a band bound by convention. It’s the fusion of years of oppression that has found its way in to music, the freedom it has borne and a generation of young talented angry kids who knew how to up tools and harness it for their needs. Repeated chorus lyrics continue like a riot chant. The music slowly grooves but with enough intricacy to keep your ears and your body moving. The faster riff at the beginning reminding you this isn’t just a rock band with funk undertones. Edwin Starr, Black Sabbath and Public Enemy, all fused in to one, outspoken group. Bombtrack doesn’t let you forget that.

 

More to come in part 2…

 

How To Write and Not Feel Bad About It…

… It’s impossible. Sorry. It is. Unless of course you are a soulless beast with no concept of emotional connection or self doubt whatsoever.

So writers will hurt people. It is an accepted problem that, because writers draw from their own experiences and history that it will inevitably hurt those around them. The same, although with a slightly more distant connection, goes for journalism and opinion editorial pieces.

Today I had a piece published that was admittedly a bit abrasive and via edits, reworking, drafts, etc, didn’t really get any less so and maybe lost the in translation of my snark. but I had an actual point which, given the subject, was going to be fairly forgotten. I expected this.

But I didn’t expect it to come across as abrasive as it was and there’s an irony that I commented on naivety and was probably guilty of it myself. I feel a little bad about because I don’t want to contribute to the ongoing problem I myself was commenting upon.

So you have to remember certain things. Firstly that the reason you write is for you. If you are lucky enough to make it a job then that’s great but you write for you. Even if it’s an op-ed that’s a popular/unpopular subject you aren’t (or shouldn’t) be writing to just be reactionary. It’s not becoming and very often is ill researched and makes you look stupid.

But at the same time, you need to be able to write about those things because that’s how the Internet works. People want to publish things that will bring people to read it, abrasive or otherwise. And that’s fine. So as a writer you need to be capable of talking about an issue and maintaining clarity, etc, and be ready to write about it because, that’s how you get paid.

Anyway, the internet works in mysterious ways and any issues will surely be lost to the forgotten realms in a few days. But I felt bad because I’d found out about my abrasiveness from people whose opinions and values I respect. Obviously they told me not to be silly. But still, I feel a little bad and I feel bad for being “preachy” for lack of a better term.

So how do you combat this bad feeling? Well you can’t. Not if you’re human.

Writing is filled with self-doubt because you are putting yourself out there. Imagine turning up to a nudist beach already nude and realising you got the wrong beach. That’s how writing can feel, especially when you relinquish the piece to the publisher. Any piece, that is. The only way to combat that is to be honest, and bullish. Admit when you’re wrong or you have erred but stick to your convictions and stride on to that bitch, grab a towel to cover your bits and act like you don’t care.

The thing is, because you are a human being with emotions and feelings and know that you’ll actually see the faces of the people you hurt, or pass them in the street, then it will feel awful. But if they know or care, they’ll forgive you. Unless you’ve really practically betrayed their trust then they might not but that’s an art vs privacy debate for another conversation.

Anyway, just needed to vocalise my thoughts a little. Carry on, internet.

Generation Loss

Here’s another article I’ve written that didn’t get published so you’re more than welcome to have it.

In analogue media terms, generation loss is where something degrades after repeated editing, compression or saving. It affects things such as music and pictures, dropping the quality of such materials the more you save them or have to save them to add other things. Analogue music mixing and subsequent copying made for many different generations in the process. Firstly there’s mastering, then more mastering if you need to add more tracks (large channel mixing was very expensive). Genertaion one. Then there’s copying that to versatile media such a vinyl, CD or tape. Generation two. Then if people copy that to a tape or rip it to a computer in a compressed file format that’s generation three. The cycle goes on and each time the original song loses more and more cohesion which manifests itself in static noise, tinny compression and lower quality. Newer digital technology has eliminated a lot of this but it still can occur.

My generation (the actual human people, not The Who song) are hitting their late twenties and early thirties. A combination of factors completely outside of our control, and arguably outside of the previous generations too, has effectively degraded our chances of prosperity in our economy. Austerity has hit us hard as we hardly had any money to begin with. Jobs are so fiercely fought over for barely liveable wages (and sometimes not even that) with many employers simply unable to afford to keep up with the cost of living. Private renting has escalated to such a unregulated level that demand keeps prices too high and social housing hasn’t recovered for several generations.

These are 2010's party manifestos. Or a employee handbook, a Raisin sales brochure and a bland book you'd likely find on a Wetherspoons bookshelf.

These are 2010’s party manifestos. Or a employee handbook, a Raisin sales brochure and a bland book you’d likely find on a Wetherspoons bookshelf.

The problems we face are the same as everyone else, yet it seems that we are the least vocal about the false promises and the lack of hope. We’re called millennials, as if this is a nice code word for being “stuck living at home due to no savings, lack of jobs that pay or being burdened with debt.” Desperation sees us having to take multiple jobs, I myself have three including self employment and a zero hours contract. Practically none of us have equity thanks to the astronomical property ladder. Our reality is that unless we are paid well, which admittedly some people are, we have to starve ourselves of spending, which isn’t helping us nor an economy already hamstrung by austerity. The more likely reality is if our parents/grandparents leave us enough when they pass on, we can start to be comfortable. We can look at house deposits and the like, and finally leave home for the first or second time.

This is a terribly morbid notion and ever more unlikely due to the increase in life expectancy which is tightening strings at the other end of the age gap. The thing is with our generation is that we’re now at the age where we want to settle down, have families and plan for our future. Yet for many of us the future lies between the next phone call offering a days work and the next glass of cheap alcohol to combat the ever increasing depression of this dilemma.

This collection of bricks thrown down an alleyway in Islington is reportedly worth just under £750,000. That's the same as 750,000 McDonalds cheesburgers

This collection of bricks thrown down an alleyway in Islington is reportedly worth just under £750,000. That’s the same as 750,000 McDonalds cheesburgers

You’d be right to think that we’re quite salty about all of the above, the election promises and the confabulated statistics that support a parties rhetoric. The generation before us of business and home owners suffered massively with the banking crisis that we’re still reeling from today. The generation before that suffered from the economic problems of the late ’80s and early ’90s. The generation below us occupy low paid part-time and zero hours work, as well as working for free to jump start careers, and now WE’RE expected to be beginning the next generation – Starting families and investing in our genetic future.

Our education system was in tatters as we were going through the end of primary and secondary school. Help wasn’t there for people with difficulties in learning. Technology didn’t come until after we left the system, meaning that we just missed the technology and coding boom that our schools couldn’t teach. Our grades, passable or otherwise, are over a decade old and now mean nothing in an experience based, nepotistic world. We’ve lived and are living through the spiralling cost of private accommodation thanks to the lack of social housing, a policy the Conservatives seem set to repeat. Over reliance on the service sector, thanks in part to Labour, completely left us bereft of employment but was a massive lie due to the lack of any career progression. We spent the early part of the decade in now closed call centres selling financial products nobody wanted, leaving us all with frustrating debt. We’re not stupid enough to blame it on UKIP’s phantom job stealers (although some blindly do as a focal point of directing anger) and many of us were sold down a river by the Lib Dems last time out. Trust and optimism was broken and we were hung out to dry.

This is actual generation loss. Which just goes to show the visual representation of how wee feel.

This is actual generation loss. Which just goes to show the visual representation of how we feel.

All of this can be seen as a generalisation. Some people in our generation have escaped this or are just about surviving comfortably. There are both fiscally and socially successful people in every generation who are doing well, but en masse we are not. This is well documented but ill communicated between the lines of optimistic sound bites and manifesto rhetoric. Many generations have suffered from unemployment, public service cuts and the divide of the rich and the poor. Arguably however it is our generation that has felt the combined forces of all of these problems more forcibly and has degraded the most. Like the MP3 file on your music device, we have been suffering from previous generations worth of strain leaving us with nothing but static noise and the tinny residue of a people compressed. The next bunch after us, who are equally disenchanted but young enough to be convinced of false hope, are now the focus of recovery. We’re not even a generation loss but “generation lost”, an unaddressed burden that will haunt the next government (whatever that may be) for years to come.

Monday Morning

This is a story that was published in the “Just Met 2013” writing anthology by London Metropolitan University and also won a prize for best fiction. Judge & Poet Catherine Smith: “The twist at the end is heart wrenching. A really well-realised story, perfectly framed.”

 

Monday Morning

By Sean Cleaver

It’s a damp, muggy Monday morning. You just missed your train by seconds. Already you are irritated. The day has hardly begun and you’ve successfully pissed yourself off. The weekend ranked between a failure and a casual relaxing event. You stomp up the stairs to the platform and decide you want a coffee.

When you enter the little coffee bar, you see a girl who’s just packed her big flowery bag on the side table. She’s in your way. You start the process of hating her until you look up and realise that she is very pretty. Not only that but she is smiling at you. Not a smile that’s a general “sorry, I’m in your way” but more of a coy “I’m sorry, I really like you, you seem different. But it’s Monday morning and I look like shit, so don’t take it personally. I hope I see you again soon or I might curse myself for missing this chance.” You reply with a smile that says “it’s ok, I understand” and walk to the counter.

You order your cappuccino and take stock of your situation. The pretty girl has moved down the platform now, so it’s safe to evaluate things. She had straight, very light ginger hair, red trousers, pretty grey eyes and a Cath Kidston pink flowery bag. She was shorter than you, about shoulder height, and slim. Not athletic but nice. She’s exactly your type. You look to see you are the only person wearing jeans in a sea of suits and in spite of your messy receding hair and unkempt stubble, you do look younger than most people on the platform. You are the epitome of casual in your jeans, leather jacket and Star Wars t-shirt with the Millennium Falcon on it. You are cool? The question is too big a concept to consider and you quickly discard the t-shirt as being a deciding factor of coolness as your coffee is ready. The person serving you is griping to her colleague about the “crap” on the radio. Some cover of a decade old pop song, sung by a girl on a piano, is playing that you recognise from a television advert. “How many times is this guy going somewhere for her to go? It’s too bloody long if you ask me.” You laugh in appreciation at the effort of the person serving you, even though you don’t really care about her opinion at all and you make a mental note to search the internet for the song when you get home.

You get on the train and open your book, Bright Lights, Big City. There’s nowhere to sit so you stand in an awkward position beside someone’s fold-up bicycle and obstructing the First Class doors. The compartment is almost empty and inviting. You notice that a man is asleep in there and wonder if he’s paid extra for that privilege. Adopting the most uncomfortable position you can, you lower your head try to read as the train departs. You quickly lose all conviction to read as soon as you finish the first few lines. After fraudulently turning a few pages, you look up and see the girl again. She is right next to you. The train moves a little too violently and knocks the unprepared girl into you.

You both smile at each other and have a little laugh with yourself. “Sorry,” she says.

“It’s ok,” you reply, “it’s a big bag! Cath Kidston, yeah?” This is the first time you’ve spoken to a girl like this in two years and there’s a very good reason why you don’t do it. You’re fucking terrible at it.
“Yeah it is,” she looks pleasantly surprised and a tiny bit suspicious. “How d’you know?”
Stop. The next answer could end the conversation and your chance to impress this girl. You are either one of three things: Into fashion (which is unlikely as your t-shirt proves); Gay; A well-researched present giver. You go with a joke and hope for the best. “I’m not gay, if that’s what you’re thinking.” You both laugh.

Stop. You realise that you may have got away with that one but it’s only temporary, and you now have to explain how you know this. The truth is that an ex girlfriend liked it and you brought presents for her. Answering this truthfully, specifically the word “ex” will end this straight away. You compromise. “I used to know someone who liked it.”

You quickly change the subject. “What do you do?” Well done, you sarcastically tell yourself in your head.

“I work in accounts, you know, boring stuff.” Her reply is wistful like she knows she can do better and her eyes open a little wider. You wonder what she is thinking. “How about you?”

“Oh, this and that.” You say with a smile so it sounds rather more mysterious than it is. “At the moment I’m studying but I do a few odd jobs here and there.”

She begins to look down slightly and you hope she doesn’t ask the most cliché over-asked question you always get asked and are bored of replying to.

“What are you studying?”

She’s asked the most cliché over-asked question.

“I’m studying books, writing, that kind of thing.” You hope this sounds more interesting than giving a straight answer and she looks back up again. You appear to have survived negative judgement for the moment.

You both exchange some small talk about how busy the train is, what books you like and even talk a bit about Star Wars, including making the Wookie noise you’re good at doing. You make each other laugh with little quips and are getting on very well. The conductor announces that you’re nearly at your destination. “Well,” you croak slightly losing the confidence your voice had. “Would you like to meet later? I mean here at the station. You know…” She is laughing a little at your stumbling and smiling. You have succeeded in being the correct kind of cute. “We could get the train back together, or maybe a tea?” In your mind you are like a Hollywood movie star appearing tall, gallant and oozing sex appeal. In the reflection of the glass in the train door, you see that you look on the verge of a panic attack.

“Yeah, I’d like that,” she replies.

You agree to meet and swap numbers. As you do, you realise you haven’t asked her name. As you go to ask, the train moves violently again, throwing you in her direction. You crash into the bicycle and look around to hide any embarrassment from the other passengers. The girl isn’t there. You’ve day dreamed through your entire journey after losing interest in the page you were pretending to read. You feel a small bit of pressure underneath your ribcage and consider yourself a complete fool for imagining yourself being cool and not looking like a complete bum.

As you get off the train, you look ahead to see a way through the crowd disembarking and you notice the girl and her bag. You wonder if you can go up to her and be the man you imagined you could be, but you decide not to embarrass yourself further. After all it is Monday and you look like shit, so you don’t take it too personally.

The Wicked and The Divine – The Fade Out

This may shock you, but I’m not a comic book guy. Never have been really. There’s no real reason for it, I did read some comics of TV shows I liked when I was young that were in the show’s magazines like Doctor Who, Red Dwarf and Star Trek. But mostly I just wasn’t a comic book person. I couldn’t access them in the same way my friends have. The universes of Marvel and DC were as alien to me on a page as Kale currently is. I could possibly in retrospect put it down to my complete lack of any artistic ability.

I can’t draw. At all. Not above a crude level. But when I was young I could barely write properly, had a very tough time with maths and was creatively impotent… In retrospect I mean. I read though. I read a lot. I absorbed the meanings of things very quickly from fiction and reference books and that has stayed with me in the accumulation of knowledge only befitting relevance to certain pub quiz rounds.

In fact my interest in comics, which probably won’t surprise anyone given the relevance of the past 12 years of cinema, has come from the Alan Moore graphic novels. These also seem to be a part of a lot of reading lists on literature/writing degrees now in relevance to the art of writing, the conversion to cinema, the mystique Moore has around him and his creations; so it’s all been quite convenient.

I know a lot more now about the universes thanks to the popularity of the film and television franchises that have come from Marvel and DC, but 10 years ago I would have been clueless. Which is why I wanted to talk about two comics I have been reading lately.

The first is a comic by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips called “The Fade Out.” It’s a noir thriller that channels the setting of post-war, post-depression Hollywood and the myths and legends around the time and centres them in to a multi faceted whodunit. I ashamedly am not a guy who will sit in a comic shop for long enough to peruse these things so I was caught by seeing it on Comixology. The first issue has a cover of an old typewriter with a water colour blood stain dripping down over it. That obviously captured me.

What caught me after that was the sample that showed the beginning, and the sense of things that play in the mind and haunt you with the scene of the LA Blackouts after Pearl Harbour. It’s something that, if you read the letters at the end of the issues, the writer says was something that stuck with him and enabled him to access the story, the time and the emotions behind it. Given the incredibly complex emotions of guilt and trauma that our most viewed protagonist, screenwriter Charlie Parish, has it’s something that ties him to his current situation. Which is solving a murder of a Hollywood starlet that has been covered up in to a suicide by unknown parties and him trying to recall the events that led to that moment.

It’s incredibly well written and from my experience, noir can be overly pastiched. Especially when you look at the cinematic impact and the written works of Chandler and Hammett in regards to later imitations. But the style and unfolding of so little and the introduction of such a varied and all equally culpable dramatis personae has kept me rivited. Along with the artwork which evokes a great sense of the world of Old Hollywood but also has such a cinematographic eye that the right emotion on a characters face is equally as important as the balance of light in a frame. This isn’t a first for these guys but this is my first experience of their work and I’ve been loving every page of it.

The second is a comic by a man I’ve always respected and admired for his work as a video games critic. Many people will cite Charlie Brooker as a big influence on their writing style and I do too. But I came to Brooker long after he had finished writing for PC Zone. I was a PC Gamer guy and my writer was Kieron Gillen. He has since transcended his work there and for Rock, Paper, Shotgun by becoming a comic book writer, with some great work reinvigorating franchises for Marvel along with Jamie McKelvie. Again this comic isn’t their first independent work but it is the one that I’ve come to first and has gripped me.

The Wicked and The Divine tells of a pantheon. Twelve God-like figures who come in to existence every 90 years (a few generations) and manifest themselves in late-teenage people. But after two years they are gone, sacrificing themselves until the time is upon them again. This time it’s 2014 and their appearance and God-like abilities has become entwined with the rise of popular artists, celebrity culture, underground music scenes, socialites, sub-cultures of fashion and social groups, and cultural youth icons. All fuelled by dedicated fandom in the fiction the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Bowie in the 70s and the modern connectivity/hysteria of the Internet and distanced-reality only inflates these obsessions. The heroine Laura enters a world of illusion, confusion and admiration as a fan of these Gods and becomes a part of something much bigger and deadlier.

Gillen makes no apologies that this is kind of a love letter to his youth and the desire to create art. Gillen, like myself presumably, grew up with the stories of parents and other elders who had seen these immortals that we saw on little screens and on the covers of our families vinyl collections. It inspired our own research and our own dedication to something we had never experienced. When that experience suddenly became open to us, we grasped it and threw ourselves in to it in our selfish search for immortality that we didn’t ever understand. For him I guess it was the golden age of the early 90s through to the end of the decade and beyond. For me it started with the popular punk renaissance of the early 2000’s along with the reappearance of heavy angst driven rock. Something that reflected my utter confusion and inability to know who I was, what I wanted and how the fuck I would ever get such a thing even if I knew what it was. Us lost souls would gravitate to the churches that held these bands and their music would unite all of us, make us whole and allow us to try and order snakebite as soon as we’d seen that someone else had one.

The Wicked and The Divine is colourful, flamboyant, unapologetic and yet shows a latent innocence that any 16-17 has and still does feel. The parables to the UK’s music scene of all generations is clear (along with a few further afield). Everything from Bowie, Bush, Prince and Daft Punk is thrown in to the mix of these modern day underground music pantheon performers, but the story always centres around Laura and her dealings (not literal) with one of the pantheon who goes by the name of Lucifer. A tom girl with all the echoes of Eurythmics-era Annie Lennox but with a mystique that combines that with Patti Smith, Chrissy Hynde, and their 90s equivalents like Kenickie, the presenters of The Girly Show and many other alternative music/youth shows like The Word.

Both of these comics are available on Comixology for the technologically inclined (or those wanting to hide their comic books from prying eyes/judgmental room cleaners) and of course from any good comic book retailer. The Fade Out is coming back this month after their first four issues and The Wicked and The Divine is on their 8th issue this month, with the first five available as a compendium called “The Faust Act”.

The Record Player (Short Story)

634_9843

He sat down with no one except the spectre of what used to be. Surrounding him was a record player, the kind of one you find in the shopping sections in the back of Readers Digest magazines, a pair of headphones, an old vinyl of Hotel California and half a bottle of Jack Daniels next to a glass filled with some ice. Some might call it a ritual, but for him this was a retraction, or an expulsion, of what was stuck in his head.

Memories have a strange way of making the past recur in the present when it really shouldn’t belong. Much like listening to a band like the Manic Street Preachers or Smashing Pumpkins now when you used to listen to them in the 90s. Are you listening to them now because you like it, or because you’re living in the memory of when they were at their peak of musical creation? All those bands that you hear a new song from on the radio, or you get on CD as a birthday or christmas present because someone remembered you used to like them and it just seems like the right thing to have; they all get old. They all change. They all remove themselves from what they were because there comes a time when you simply cannot live there anymore.

He poured the first measure of his whiskey. It was a little stingy so he added some more. A bit too much. I can savour this one, he thought. He dropped the needle before quickly realising it needed a bit of a blow, to shake off the dusty collection of fluff. Then he dropped it again and the opening bars of Hotel California rang in his ears like an old friend that had come to stay and chat about old flames, lined up in perfect chronological recollection, like pretty maids all in a row. He ran through them all: the first, the other first, the one that should have been first, the one that came after, the one that stayed, the one that left, the one he left, the one they both walked away from, the one that hurt and the one that stung. Those were the memories that needed to leave.

The problem, his old friend sagely advised, was that there was no new kid in town. There was no way to stop that memory creeping in. The present wonderfully suppresses the past like the bourbon suppresses the clouded thinking for truth. It wasn’t the last resort to invite the friend in but it was needed, that clarity. The memory is like that old band, it hangs around waiting for the appreciation it feels its earned but all it does is outstay its welcome and give you heartburn. Acidic stinging making him drop his shoulders more than he comfortably should be and keeping him rearranging his pillow at night before his body is too worn out or just too drunk to stay awake.

“All of this time with the memory is wasted time,” the friend said. “You’re sitting here for what? A chance? A slice of that past? Well it doesn’t work. You don’t believe in fate, or destiny, or any of that fluffy pop crap. You think you’re sitting here pretending to be a victim of love, but you’re only the victim of your own ego.”

He sat and pondered this as he realised he needed to top up his drink and would need to flip the record over too. Ego, he questioned to himself? How can he have an ego if he wasn’t good enough to stay with, if he wasn’t good enough to move himself along? Surely that isn’t his fault? He’s no rich kid, or devil may care punk living life in the fast lane way beyond his years. He was distrustful of love by now. It kept bringing all these memories and old records and empty bottles of whiskey.

“Why do you distrust love?” the friend asked in the quiet moment where he flipped the record over to side B. “If you distrust something then it needs to be alive, an animal or something. The only animal in love is the one looking at you in the mirror when you stare too long after a shower and think your hair can do whatever you want it to. Love isn’t alive, love is a choice. It didn’t choose you and your ego took the hit.”

The memory rose to the closest point his mind has with his eyelids as he closed them and replayed a self-edited montage of what he wanted to believe. He took a sip from his glass and realised the memory was over very quickly, as quickly as the sip from his glass, but it just repeated and repeated like a CD that was skipping. “You see this?” The friend made him look at the vinyl. “This is pure. This has no cracks or blemishes that weren’t designed to be there. This isn’t skipping over same things over and over again. Take another look.”

He looked and the memory went a bit further. It looked at moments of silence, of being sat next to a phone or having social media show him everything he never wanted to see. “You chose this,” the friend reminded him. “Now you just need to realise that this is a choice, try and love again, and see what else is out there. The bands were great, but now they’re old. Not forgotten but hanging on before people chose to not to remember them anymore.” He poured his last generous glass and swirled around what little was left of the melted ice cubes. They had degraded to such a point that they almost weren’t even there, but the outline was hanging on to remind you they were.

He contemplated the choice as the last song played its way in to his headphones. It is a choice, he said. I choose… He pondered. He took the remaining bits of ice out of the glass and leaned back on the floor, his shoulders straightening and bringing relief like a massage. It felt like he was melting in to the floor enough for it to mould around him and capture him perfectly. He lifted his head up slightly and drank the last of the bourbon as the record spun around to the end and he closed his eyes. The memory was gone. The edited one, the full one, all of it. “See you next time,” the friend said, “but remember you chose to be here. Don’t choose to go somewhere you can never leave.”

He opened his eyes and put his hand in the slightly damp puddle the melted ice had left. He closed the record player and took his headphones off. He put the bottle in the recycling bin and went to his bed. He spun himself over once and flipped his pillow to a colder side. Then it was morning and the radio woke him up with a new song by an old band. He switched it off, got up and left.