Friday, 31 January 2014
Out of desperation, I hit Google with my question: ‘How to improve blog traffic’. It led me to an American blog, run by a smiley Californian with his face in a round picture. He had good advice such as ‘writer killer content’ and ‘be funny’. I can do neither. It only leaves me the third bit of advice: ‘write less’. That is easily done.
I blogged every day in January. I can’t see myself blogging as much in February. I don't know... Tonight I feel miserably defeated. My article didn't even elicit a reply from the editors I’d emailed and if I was going to hear anything it would have been today. They didn’t even reject me with a polite ‘no’. Just silence. Horrible isolating silence. Yes I’m dejected and yes, yes, must carry on… But what’s the point when even my best work gets me nowhere?
God! This is the way the month ends, not with a bang but with an unfinished caricature of Michael Gove. Pitiful.
I couldn’t, for example, hum you one of his songs. I couldn’t recite you a Bieber lyric or even tell you if he’s had a Number One hit in the USA or Europe. I recall some small details from news stories that have been on the TV that’s in the same room as I’ve sat brooding away in my hatred of the man. I know that he found fame on Youtube and then he was arrested driving a yellow Lamborghini. I’m also sure some things happened between those two world changing events but I don’t recall what they were. He might have had a relationship with some young actress, singer or model but there I’m really stretching my knowledge and it would be the thick end of guesswork to say if she even was an actress, singer, or model. I do, however, know he used to have a fringe worthy of Lloyd Christmas and now he’s all bad-boy with a razored look reminiscent of the less talented of Elton John’s shaved pair. I think he also owns a monkey and its name might or might not be Bubbles. However, this post isn’t about his monkey. This post is about how I utterly despise Justin Bieber, a man I know next to nothing about.
Thankfully, the reason I utterly despise Justin Bieber has nothing to do with Justin Bieber and everything to do with his fans. I suppose this blog post would more accurately be described as being about how I utterly despise Justin Bieber fans, about whom I unfortunately know quite a bit.
I know, for example, that they descended upon Twitter like a pestilence straight from Ezekiel, their meaningless yay-boo chunnering entirely destroying the social media network in the process. Perhaps they should be commended for turning a bad idea for humanity into an even worse reality but it’s hard to admire the virulency of any plague that turns a place for human communication into a wasteland of nasty hormonal squeaking. It’s hard not to prefer any form of interaction to their screeched outpouring of impotent love, completely devoid of punctuation except when they use it to produce some florid decoration reminiscent of the very worst kind of anal tattooing. Hash hash heart kiss kiss Justin!
I suppose, now I come to think about it, this blog post shouldn’t have mentioned Bieber at all but, since I have, I should say that I actually feel sorry for the poor bastard. Imagine being lusted after by millions of rat-fringed sow-eyed bitch divas, their greased pubescent skin blocked at every pore as their plastered make-up causes god knows what hormonal juices to back up into their brains where it affects them like some exotic frog venom pumped straight into their cerebellums. There is no other reason why they seem to lose all motor functions when Bieber is around. It reduces them to panting hysteria which probably smells as sickly sweet as it looks outlandish and part of the freak zone. I suppose there might be some sweat heaving Japanese businessmen out there who might pay a fortune to own their underwear sealed in a plastic bag but, make no mistake, this has nothing to do with sex. The Bieber business is classic human chemistry, one giddy build up to a glandular squeeze with results as erotic and predictable as spotting caustic soda onto the eyeballs of laboratory beagles.
Yes, the more I think about it, I feel sorry for Justin Bieber and I don’t blame him for hitting the drugs. He’s already on anxiety medication, which might surprise you given that he’s worth millions, but I think we know that the poor bastard will need to jack that up to something stronger if these sluttish Juliets keep ovulating beneath their Romeo’s window. I have no idea if he lives a life of debauched excess but the erotic potential has to be set alongside the psychological damage of being surrounded by these post-pubescent brutes, all poutiness and blusher, their trailer-trash twisted hair fashioned with all the subtlety of a Nazi rally. It’s like watching rats fighting over the most buoyant of the faecal rafts as they float through the sewer. The bitchiness, the scratching, the savage estradiol-induced fury: Beliebers identify themselves by a term that sounds like a Doomsday sect yet the reality is that their religious iconography is so utterly devoid of higher meaning. It’s like watching jellyfish reproduce, the sea erupting into a sick thick soup of sperm. Yet for Beliebers, the sad yearnings of their bodies is couched in terms of love and hearts and cherubs and unicorns and pink things such as the pink pretty boy who couldn’t harm a fly, cherub, or unicorn. There are no whiskers or whisky in the Bieber universe, just a freakishly pimple-free boy who occasionally sports a pair of glasses to make him look vulnerable. It’s all about the coquettish sideways looks and those pouty lips, as obese as slugs copulating on the corpse of a scabietic dog.
Yes, I despise Bieber fans. I despise them for combining arrogance and ignorance into one utterly despicable package. Some might say it’s the arrogance of youth but has youth ever been so brazenly misguided or wrong? Beliebers are a generational phenomenon, like the mass hysteria starlings suffer before they fly head first into plate glass. Beliebers are nothing more than a human murmuration on an epic scale, a cultish devotion to a freak of pubescence, a vain and arrogant symbol of consumerist exploitation, designed by men in offices and tested in laboratories on hormonal girls.
Most of all, they are a reminder than beneath all of humanity’s philosophy, science, and art, we are just liquid emotions that sometimes spill out from the fleshy buckets. Beliebers are our animal selves uncontrolled by logic or reason. They are the last point on the road to nothingness. Beyond them lies the void, echoing with their giddy laughter.
Thursday, 30 January 2014
And it’s true. In terms of stability and my sanity, my host does a pretty good job. They’re not the fastest webhost in the world and I figure that I’d be in trouble at the first sniff of serious web traffic. However, for my purposes, they’ve served me well for a good number of years.
Or they did right until the moment at lunchtime when the website went critical. I’d slaved for hours last night on today’s cartoon and not ten minutes after I’d published it, the site went down, leaving just an error message on my screen. It was a strange error message, the kind of error message I might have written years ago whilst setting up this website and not having the time to create something more imaginative. My immediate thought wasn’t: I need to act to get my website back! It was: I need to update that error message with something funnier than that!
If you saw my error message, I can only apologise that it wasn’t entertaining enough. I’m going to look into this problem and see if I can’t do something more entertaining the next time my web server experiences a blip. Hopefully, a full service will resume tomorrow and I’ll save the long thing I’d written for today until then. I’ve already wasted last night's long cartooning session on today's barely-seen cartoon. I’ll save myself from the utter misery of also wasting a good session of writing.
Wednesday, 29 January 2014
The way I’m treated by people often seems something of a paradox. It became apparent when ‘Twisted Root’ mentioned in the comments to my previous article about the bogus email from the tax people that ‘the 'Best Regards' sign off is a bit of a giveaway’. I snorted a laugh when I read the comment but, given a little reflection, I realise that tax people are usually this polite. Having dealt with them on the phone, they were helpful, witty, and surprisingly human. It reminded me again that whilst stereotypes are fun things to play with, you really shouldn’t expect reality to conform to their straight edges. Some of the funniest people I’ve known worked in accounts departments and some of the dullest people I’ve ever met were students of literature.
The paradox of good manners is that the people who tend to be rude are the people you find yourself working for and usually working for nothing. In the past two weeks, I've sent out 'commissioned'* work to three people and I never received a reply from any of the three. The things that usually grate with me are the instances when I go out of my way to do something for a person and that person treats it with negligible interest. I can never figure out why given the lengths I'll go to be polite to a person. Elberry recently pointed me in the direction of this unused clip from the film ‘Magnolia’ in which Tom Cruise’s love guru advises men to be rude to women who will then be in a submissive position and accept any bad treatment as though they deserve it. I wonder if I’m in a similar position, writing and drawing things for people who know they can take me for granted.
It’s a larger truth of life, I guess. Critics sneer but rarely create and the same is true with any kind of commissioning editor. In the same way that critics will never run out of targets, perhaps editors simply have a large enough world view which leads them to realise that there are always people willing to work for little or nothing.
It’s a sobering thought. Whenever you submit articles to newspapers, you’re lucky if you get anything more than the automated response of their email system warning you that they get so many submissions you’d be lucky to get a personal reply. Well, I guess that’s fair enough but this time I haven’t even had an automated response. The best 1400 words I’ve ever written treated as though it were no more significant than some bogus tax email. Though, on reflection, the bogus tax email has at least produced a real work response: I’ve now written two blog posts about it and I’ve had four comments and one juicy pingback.
So I wait and hope but in the meantime, I’m heading for the door. I’m due in the dentist’s chair in half an hour. And here’s another of those examples of manners being a paradox: my dentist is a really decent polite guy.
Tuesday, 28 January 2014
Like millions of people, part of the crap I’ve had to endure this week was submitting my self-assessment tax form. It’s always a sobering thing to do: weighing up how little you've earned from all your labours. So when something like this appears, it's quite natural for your sphincter to give an involuntary contraction and your heart to leap up one nostril.
Sadly, it didn't take me long to spot that it might not be a totally legit email. I have to say that whilst I admire the effort these spammers go to make their work look like the real deal, complete with all the official graphics, I’m pretty sure that Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs know the difference between pounds weight and pounds money, and they don’t generally go issuing tax refunds in ‘lbs’.
My refund is apparently 1400lbs but of what, I’m not entirely sure, though I have my suspicions.
Today I’m overwhelmed with work, not least the effort of keeping my inbox clear. I’ve been inundated with SPAM coming to me for the British Thong Society. As the society’s chairman, secretary, and web designer, I get plenty of emails but rarely any that make any sense. I really have better things to do…
Tomorrow I have the dentist but today I’m trying to move a website from a web server in the heart of Nigeria to one based in the UK. The UK end of the operation has been straightforward but getting the website files off the Nigerian server is proving to be a nightmare that might eventually require the UN to fly in peacekeepers. The website I’m moving is barely 150mb so I created a zipped archive on the remote server which I thought it should be easy to download. Three hours later, it’s still crawling along at 0mbs per second (I guess the speed is so low that it’s registering as 0) with about 90mb remaining.
However, it at least allows me to deal with other things. I’m rushing late, as usual, to provide a cartoon for the next issue of Red All Over The Land (last night’s caricature is an unfinished panel from that strip) and I’ve also written something for The Pangolin, which needs to be proofread.
Before I do any of that, I really need to finish yesterday’s discussion about viscous dogs.
I suspected that chief ninja Elberry would know what to do with a devil dog and he emailed late last night to inform me that he has been handling attack hounds all his life. He doesn’t go into much detail about jujitsu choke holds but he at least offered some suggestions about the proper equipment:
As for weaponry, i would advise pepper spray - i wouldn't try and use an expandable baton (i had one in Manchester, for chavs) as dogs are more or less impervious to blows when they're fully charged, which is why you have to take them out immediately.
If you really dislike dogs and they are a danger, i would get a small water pistol, fill it with water or lemon juice, and carry it somewhere you can draw it quickly. Dogs really don't like being sprayed. Tape the handle and leaking areas with gaffer tape to stop it spilling on you, like Michael Corleone's gun in The Godfather restaurant scene.
So there you have it, straight from the horse’s mouth, or since we’re talking The Godfather, straight from the mouth of the decapitated horse as it lies between your satin sheets. If you meet me in the street and wonder what that scented patch of damp trouser around my crotch, it’s only my snub nosed water pistol leaking lemon water. Of course, when dogs attack I need to learn to make my first reaction one of dropping my trousers. Not sure this is sensible given my need to flee but there’s really no point in consulting the experts if you don’t follow their advice.
Monday, 27 January 2014
In the meantime, I’ve been giving serious thought to my short writing projects.
One of the problems of trying to write more isn’t so much the problem of writing, although finding time can sometimes be a problem. The main problem is finding things to write about. I sat down yesterday afternoon, my notepad open on my lap, and I scribbled down some ideas. I’ve decided that if I’m going to write more for the blog, I might as well write seriously and try to get things published. It’s the way of these things that you usually find out that some editor has given you the spike after a day or two and that means I should have at least one long decent article to post here between the cartoons and unpolished jottings such as this one.
I sat there for nearly two hours and the best thing I could come up with was an article about ‘mouthy types on Youtube’. I knew then I wasn’t on a hot streak. That doesn’t mean my instincts were wrong. I’m sure I could write a pretty strong 1000 words on the way culture has shifted and the world is now dominated by the empty vessels making the most sound. That thought was precipitated by my browsing Youtube and stumbling across this rant about Nintendo’s future plans for the Wii-U. You don’t have to be interested in gaming technology to understand my point. There’s something about this particular video that grates but perhaps it’s no more than the cocky certainty of the American baritone. Perhaps it’s just an English sensibility: the guy sounds so confident in his own voice when I sound like I should be playing a milkman in some grim kitchen sink drama from the 1970s.
Today I’ve been a little more productive. I woke up at 7am with what I thought was a really good idea, which I intend to work on for the rest of the week. It’s all part of a new strategy I’m trying to put in place. I even have a vague idea about making a short film to go along with it but I’m not entirely sure I have the right hardware or I have it in me to go into public and film real people. I’ll have to see. I was looking at the price of video cameras and they're well outside anything I could afford.
But the point is: I was feeling more upbeat by the time I also went on my usual bike ride which is when I had my second good idea. It happened the moment a dog launched itself at me.
The dog was one of those mastiff types which I hear are even more dangerous than the pitbulls that usually commit horrors in aid of good media headlines. I’m not a dog owner for the one obvious reason that I’m actually one of the world’s great dog fearers. I’m scared of the brutes, probably on account of a mauling I had at the mouth of an evil Labrador when I was a mere infant. I know Labradors are supposed to be the kindest of dogs and I believe that their owners believe that when they say it, except one of the clearest memories of childhood was being chased down a street by this big bastard hound which proceeded to bite my arm. It probably explains why I go rigid in fear when a dog even sniffs my way.
When the mastiff jumped, I froze. I froze going forward on my bike, which wasn’t a good combination. Luckily the dog was a long leash and its owner hauled it away before he laughed it off. ‘He’s only being friendly,’ he shouted as I recovered from riding into a bush. ‘He wouldn’t hurt anybody.’
It’s what dog owners always say. It’s probably what bush owners would say where I to point out the scratches on my legs. The point is, dog owners usually say this and then after their dog has eaten some poor bugger’s face off, they’re on TV repeating it all in the past tense. ‘I don’t understand. He was the friendliest dog in the world. He wouldn’t harm anybody.’ And this usually after it took a Police tactical firearms team to take the dog down.
The point is: the dog jumped, I fell off and after I exchanged a few 'pleasantries' with the dog’s owner. Then I began to think: if that dog had got hold of me, what would I have done?
It seems like such an obvious thing that every person should know. What should you do when a vicious fighting dog attacks you?
I hear sticking a finger in their eyes can help but some experts say it’s sure to annoy the dog even more. Sticking your hand down its throat is another trick but I don’t see how it’s do that if it was in the process of chewing through an artery. Would squeezing their balls help? Even if it did, would I want to touch a dog’s balls? It reminds me of an old comedy routine, possibly by Jasper Carrot, about sticking a pencil up a dog’s bum but what to do if you don’t have a pencil? Would a finger do the trick but is that something you’d really want to contemplate? What, indeed, about using a carrot? Not a bad idea. Note to self: always carry a carrot in case of dog mauling.
So there we have it: two ideas for essays. I might look into this a little more. Simply from a survival point of view, I think this is something a man like Ray Mears should have covered. I don’t recall Ray Mears ever sticking his finger up a pitbull’s rectum. Or at least, I don’t believe I ever saw it on BBC2.
In the meantime, if you have any tips on how to subdue a raging dog, please pass them on but I do know the one about hitting it with a garden spade. I’m looking for something a little more subtle and less likely to arouse the anger of dog owners.
PS. Here's last night's caricature, meant to be Theresa May but it was really rushed in the few minutes before I fell asleep. However, this allows me to maintain my ambition of posting one a day for my big month of caricatures.
Sunday, 26 January 2014
It also meant that I drew nothing last night, or at least, earlier in the evening, I drew only this quick doodle for a project I'm slowly working on between every other job. I suppose it counts if my purpose is to post whatever caricature drawing I do each day.
The coming week promises to be a freakshow of hellish proportions and I’ll be surprised if I’m in any sane state of mind by next Saturday. Despite that, I’m making another new resolution based on a promise I made in response to a comment by Nathan deGargoyle. I intend to write more blog posts. I know why I stopped writing long pieces and that was simply because I felt a waste of energy. It isn’t, I know, but I just wish the effort actually produced some real world results such as little quality food on the table. The answer to that particular riddle is obviously to write better, write more, and send more things away. So I’ll make that my third resolution of the New Year just gone and I’ll start tomorrow, providing the coming week leaves me any hours to think or affords me any sanity.
Saturday, 25 January 2014
Friday, 24 January 2014
Last night I dreamed good dreams, full of interesting people and interesting things. In my dreams I often live the life I always wanted to live: productive, artistic, profoundly social. Probably because I’d worked last night to the chatter of ‘QI’ in the background, one of my dreams involved an interesting walk around Chester in the company of Stephen Fry who was being very supportive of my writing as we talked about literature. Strange thing to dream, stranger thing yet to confess... A psychologist might take deep meanings from the tangle of my psychological bramble, not least some latent homosexual leanings I’m completely incapable of seeing in the daylight. I prefer to think the simpler explanation is the wish to find affirmation from somebody with good judgement. I think deep down it’s what all writers ultimately seek.
That wasn’t the end of my dreaming. I had conversations with other people good at conversation and my views seemed to matter to them more than they do in the real world. The wonderful Brian Blessed also made an appearance but that, no doubt, was also linked to last night’s TV. I’d watched a rerun of the Have I Got News For You in which Blessed stole the show. Martin Rowson was also a lurking presence but Rowson’s work is always lurking somewhere in my day. His anger and fury with the world matches my own.
It was a good sleep, unbroken for the most part and I woke up filled with optimism for the day ahead. I’d spent two hours last night drawing my Justin Bieber cartoon so I knew I had ‘something to post’, which is one of those little worries I have every morning and it always makes me feel good when I know there’s an answer to that riddle.
So I posted the cartoon here and to Twitter. I then luxuriated in the five hits that came back. Given the amount of effort I’d expended on the cartoon, it worked out at about 25 minutes work per hit. Each visitor looked at the cartoon and left, clearly unimpressed. Okay, it was an obvious gag on an obvious subject but my real reason for drawing it was part of my month’s goal of drawing a caricature a day. If I can come up with a gag to go with each caricature, that’s even better. I shouldn’t complain and no web traffic is my perennial problem…
So I sipped my morning coffee and started through my numerous inboxes. I have a lot of inboxes. I’ve just counted them and I can hardly believe that in the many years I’ve been blogging, I’ve amassed 49 email addresses. A few are dead accounts, to domain names I no longer own, and a few are Yahoo accounts that get very little traffic. That leaves about 15 accounts that need checking and clearing but, really, only five that are seriously in use and only two that really matter to me. They’re the two accounts where I get emails from friends and (on rare occasions) readers of this blog, so they’re the ones I check with the most anticipation.
The morning had brought nothing but SPAM. Emails from Reese Witherspoon (I wish they were real since I adore her chin), marketing people wanting me to sell my blog for $50 a year (tempted), emailed titled ‘Nothing beats a good stick’ (‘Indeed!’ said in my best Stephen Fry voice), SEO proposals and offers to buy my time for $2.5 million, which I figured were probably fake since real proposals to buy my time for $2.5 millon aren’t going to arrive with a single line: ‘Contact us. We’re willing to pay you $2.5 million for your time.’
I went out. Hit the local town for some shopping. And then I had an uncomfortable encounter. I saw a friend I’ve not spoken to in many years. We occasionally see each other around town and something always stops us from speaking. We walk past, each no doubt feeling as awful as the other. We were once good friends but more of that kind of enforced friendship you get at school when two outsiders stick by each other. We drifted apart when I went back to university to study English, which is where I had overcame my shyness at speaking to girls, which a degree in English pretty much guarantees. The last time we spoke was when we’d gone to a comedy show together and I’d gone in the company of a girl. It was awkward and never to be repeated. I stuck with the girl and drifted apart from my friend who, for all I know, remains drifting.
Seeing him again, all the time between came into focus. I wouldn’t know what to say, how to justify my life and, for his sake, hope he was no longer the wimpish type that he and I suppose I had once been. How would I explain my Ph.D., my brief adventure of having a book published, last year’s Radio 4 interview, and how to describe the otherwise pointless ramble that is my life as well as, I guess, this blog post?
But all that was the thought of half a second. We walked past each other and I ducked into Boots.
I got home and I opened my 49 email accounts. Mostly it was more SPAM but into one dropped three things that made a difference. One was praise for a cartoon, in another a friend had sent me an interesting Youtube link that might help with the book I’m writing, and then, finally, an email from the great Bill Stott. Somebody had liked something I’ve been writing for a website that Bill runs. These things helped, though it would be a lie to say they helped very much, certainly they won’t help at the end of the month and the bills need paying. People can like your work but nothing quite feels the same as getting paid for that work. Money in your bank account is worth every compliment in the world and it even takes away the pain of every insult. It’s where I am this Friday afternoon, feeling like I’m drifting, like I should punch out for the day, the week, perhaps even the month. Yet something makes me linger. One last look at my web traffic and I see I’ve had two more visitors. One came from Poona, Maharashtra, in India and the other from the United Republic of Tanzania. They were both looking for ‘pornography’ but found my lamp cartoon. Is that enough to make me carry on hoping, carry on drawing, carry on writing? Sadly for me, it usually is…
Thursday, 23 January 2014
Been busy today drawing a comic strip for no known reason beyond the fact that I had an idea for a strip that seemed too good not to draw. It’s good to find myself having ideas again, the positive effect of the SAD lamp (and yes, this is the third blog post of my day... Too much? I think so too).
Last night, I sat down in front of The Daily Show and couldn’t think of a person I should draw and this caricature the result. I’m incapable of telling if it looks like Jon Stewart, so let’s say it isn’t Jon Stewart, unless, of course, you think it does look like Jon Stewart, in which case: mission accomplished and the drinks are on me. This plan I had to draw a face a day is beginning to wear. I might not let it carry on past a month if like today I feel a wearying onus to post something. However, it’s a useful exercise so perhaps one worth doing simply because it is, in some ways, tiring. I hurt my knee a few years ago and after months of it not getting better, I swore to myself that I’d stop favouring my stronger knee. Now both knees feel equally strong. I think the same way about drawing. Practise the things you hate, the things you find difficult. It’s the place where you should, in theory, see the most improvements.
Things have definitely changed over the last decade. I no longer feel the need to travel armed. Simply walking the streets late at night feels different, lacking that degree of suburban menace found when turning a corner and see the cast of a Clockwork Orange etching their graffiti on a pensioner. It’s rare that you hear of a car being stolen thanks to the same advances in technology that make it impossible to have them repaired at a garage. Home break-ins aren’t as prevalent as they once were thanks mainly to double glazing and the fact we’re now allowed to practice farmer justice and blow intruders away with our illegally held shotguns. The only crimes I now witness tend to be crimes of inconvenience: people parking blocking pavements because they’re too lazy to walk the extra metre to their front door.
The politicians tell us that it’s because policing has improved and home owners do more to protect themselves. I’m not so sure. From where I view the world, it seems that it’s people that have changed. Bored kids left to wander the streets have become glassy-eyed kids sitting in their bedrooms staring at cheaply produced flat screen TVs or their ubiquitous mobile phones. Drinking has gone from a rowdy social activity done every Friday night to something done cheaply and silently every night behind cheap curtains, where the only evidence of a serious wine habit are the crates of green bottles left out for the recycling each week.
I sense that those given to crime are simply too lazy to bother. They have more interesting things to do. I look at the crime figures and feel thankful that we’re percentage points less likely to be victims of crime but I do wonder what the cost is to our culture. The same reason that people are too bored to steal is because even the criminals share our cultural malaise. The lower crime rates are intimately linked with those that suggest that fewer people vote, take part in debates, or get involved in their local community. It’s the same reason neighbours rarely speak to neighbours and why our high streets are failing except for sports casual shops and the army of pimpled freaks ready to convince you to upgrade your mobile phone. It’s the same reason people don’t read books and only take notice of anything local if some big-name trollop from London is involved. People want everything to be easy. Nothing valuable is hard won these days.
I know I’m jaded. I don’t want more crime but neither do I want us continuing down this road to a world of momentary pleasures crammed between ever longer working hours. It’s a world conceived by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451 as a dystopian future but it feels ever more like the dystopian present, where life is ‘one big pratfall […]; everything bang, boff, and wow!’
Wednesday, 22 January 2014
I know it has something to do with my looking at a long book-length Word document and thinking: ‘would anybody want to read this nonsense?’ The problem is an old and familiar one. Nothing you create yourself can ever surprise you. It comes from known places of your mind, so reading your own work is like knowing the punch lines to all your favourite jokes. In fact, it’s worse than that: it’s understanding the mechanisms of the jokes, the rhythms of your own speech, the comic turns you habitually employ, the tricks you use to make something funny. To other people, they come as a surprise and, hopefully, make them laugh. But me, sitting here: I generally only have the academic sense of things being funny, the occasional laughs coming like momentary stings amid the blizzard of one liners.
What this means is that I’m tinkering with things that probably don’t need my tinkering, trying to make familiar things unfamiliar simply by changing them so they’re no longer the same thing I’ve read a hundred times. I suppose that’s why Elberry’s latest blog post made me smile. It wasn’t simply because he opened by saying that he’d been reading my blog. It was because I felt a sense of recognition.
The post is an interesting piece about how we value writers and their work. Elberry recounts his encounter with a London journalist who had pretty strong opinions about various literary figures, including Joseph Conrad who the journalist described as ‘shit’. I guess it was this judgement about Conrad that intrigued me so I emailed Elberry who provided a link straight into the heart of darkness.
The journalist’s blog was a well written, full of intelligent things and precisely the kind of blog that gets held up as the ‘quality article’. It also bored the hell out of me. It was the type of blog that makes me stand back and look myself in the mirror. I see myself as a reasonably intelligent guy but the blog made me look again, as though some hand were pushing me back into the monkey cage where I’ve previously been daubing my shit on the wall. Perhaps I’d been daubing it better than other monkeys but nevertheless, I’d still been daubing shit.
The journalist’s blog had a sense of perilous elevation, like a man standing on a stepladder whilst balancing on one leg and blowing a tune on a hollowed out carrot with the word ‘eternity’ scratched onto the side. It was meaningful with an artiness that I’ve never ever felt. I don’t believe that art is about some disembodied ethereal sensation you channel. I think art is mechanical, physical, designed, determined, and ultimately hard won. Yet the other is an attitude so very familiar and utterly horrifying to me. I have a pretty heightened sense of my own pretentiousness and I hate myself if I recognise it in anything I’ve written. I’ve written blog posts where I thought I was stretching to hold a pose that wasn’t natural and I regret that I’ve never deleted them. This journalist’s blog is one long well held pose and it just looks so uncomfortable. I didn’t recognise the title of 20+ of his films of the year and the only one I did recognise was the one about the two French lesbians, one of whom has blue hair and I only remember because she was beautiful but awkward in Woody Allen’s ‘Midnight in Paris’. I later discovered that she is the granddaughter of the Chairman of Pathé and grandniece of the Chairman and CEO of Gaumont. Again: what a small world…
But back to the journalist and his blog... It got me thinking to myself: would I really want his life? Would I want to spend my year watching nothing but independent foreign movies, going to art galleries and listening to bands that might not make another album but had artistic integrity for one wonderful summer as they made tunes by beating beer crates? I can’t say that I would, except it seems satisfying to the journalist and would be satisfying to the many like him, who live in a world centred on the Guardian building, their electric souls brightly illuminated and entirely free of humour so they can’t laugh at anything or hold any hard position for fear of appearing didactic and judgemental. I suppose I’ve never been into art in such a meaningful way and that makes me a fraud. Compared to the things that me feel happy, so much of what the journalist praises looks cold and unappealing. I liked the line I read in a book by Alan Furst the other night (the book is called ‘Dark Voyage’): ‘Conrad shaded off, as DeHaan saw it, to what he really liked, adventure stories with intellectual heroes.’ I guess I’m the same. Give me intellectual heroes in a meaty American genre movie. Give me clever twists on the formulaic rather than the bold and experimental. Give me craft not guile.
Speaking of which, something which has neither craft nor guile: today’s picture. I was directed me to read Bill Murray’s recent question and answer session on Reddit and I thought he’d make the perfect subject for my late night doodle. It didn’t turn out as a caricature or, at least, this was my initial sketch where I worked out the way his face works. I fell asleep drawing the caricature.
Tuesday, 21 January 2014
Monday, 20 January 2014
In case you can’t tell, my attempt at drawing a caricature last night was meant to be Tom Cruise. Cruise has always been a challenge and I occasionally come back to give it another try. There’s something about certain (usually handsome) faces which make caricaturing them so damn difficult. I look at how other people capture Cruise’s likeness and I sit there humbled by their skill. This is better than any of my previous efforts but still not right. I think it’s the teeth…
This is the second blog post of the day which perhaps gives a hint that this is also the second day I’ve remembered to turn on my SAD lamp. I’m basking in its intense light as I hammer away at this keyboard with more focus and energy than I’ve felt in a very long time.
Yesterday I mentioned that I’d turned my attention to a book I’d written a year ago. Today, I’m actively working on it and finding myself surprised at the effort I’d previously expended. I also mentioned yesterday that there were thirty illustrations in the book but counting them last night I discovered that I’d actually drawn more than eighty. I’m a fool to myself. I should never have stopped working on it, though something must have happened to distract me. Perhaps it was just the grind of writing and drawing and feeling like it would be for nothing. It’s hard not to be disillusioned when the work you produce seems to amuse only yourself. An article I read somewhere over the weekend said that most writers (I think the percentage was somewhere in the high nineties) earn less than £600 a year from their writing. It’s a depressing thought, though I blame Amazon partly for that.
Perhaps I’m no better than the rest but e-publishing has opened the market to every illiterate hack able to hammer away at a keyboard for 30,000 words and then brazen enough to call it a novel. It has done to publishing what successive governments have done to teaching: removing the element of highly-trained professionalism in favour of cheapness and ubiquity. The market is vastly dominated by badly written erotica and fifth-rate romances whilst Amazon continues to encourage e-book writers to sell their books for pennies whilst the big companies charge the same price as their paper editions. I’ve spoken before about the long tail syndrome where Amazon make huge profits on the meagre dreams of millions of authors but I don’t see how that liberates us. It puts writers in thrall to their ambitions and the only people other than Amazon making money are the charlatans standing in the middle, acting as ‘editors’ and offering professional publishing services for which naïve writers pay believing it will make a difference. There is only one truth I’ve learned about publishing and this is it: only the marketing matters. As is proved year upon year, the most incomprehensible jibberish can be a publishing sensation so long as they get the marketing right and in order to get the marketing right, you really need the money only real publishers can offer. In other words: the technology has changed but the game is pretty much the same.
I’ll end my rant there before it develops into the full fever. My book might definitely be classed in the category of light humour but I hope it’s not toilet literature. I won’t know that until I get some feedback and I’ve yet to find somebody to read it. I’m not sure who my ideal reader would be. I need somebody intelligent enough to see the seriousness beyond the craziness yet with enough humour to realise that none of it should be taken too seriously. If anybody is reading this and if you know anybody like that then please forward their details. The alternative will be to e-publish this sucker and dump it onto Amazon just so I can forget about it. I hate doing that. It’s the ultimate waste of hard work.
Sunday, 19 January 2014
There was something about getting a meaningful communication from the outside world that gave me a kickstart. I rarely get real emails in the same way that this blog rarely gets comments. I know I occasionally mention my frustration of writing to a silent (possibly absent) audience but I’ve always been a confidence player. When my confidence is high, I can write and draw prolifically. When my confidence is low then I find it hard to get out of bed in the morning. And my confidence has never been as low as it’s been after my twin failures to feature in the results of the Observer and Spectator comic/cartoon competitions.
Elberry’s letter reminded me of how much I cherish emails and contact from the outside world. It got me thinking about changing my routines and it even prompted me to tidy up my art desk. I even remembered to go and get my winter lamp from upstairs. I’ve not been using it, though this winter has been darker than most. People say these SAD lamps are placebos but if they are, they’re placebos that work for me. I’m always surprised when time sitting beside my lamp changes my mood but yesterday it filled me with new enthusiasm. Before it, I felt tired. After it, I hit Liverpool late to sort out some cabling problems I have since I moved my office to this new room. I woke today and used the lamp again and I’ve been reading the manuscript of a lowbrow humour book I wrote last year. I’m half way and though there are small things that need fixing, the meat of the book is pretty solid. It made me laugh at least twice a page and I just need to test it on some willing victims. It’s a mere 57,000 words long, which is too short if it was a novel but for the kind of humorous trifle, that’s not bad. Plus it’s illustrated with about 30 of my hand drawn pictures. A lot of work went into the book. I can’t believe I just let it sit forgotten in my work directory.
Last night I fell asleep before I could finish a drawing. I’ll try harder today. The only thing I have to post is this scribbled attempt at a gaping Farage.
Saturday, 18 January 2014
Friday, 17 January 2014
Thursday, 16 January 2014
Drawn late last night, the background drawn sitting in Nero this afternoon and then waiting for a train this evening. I could have carried on and at one point I thought about colouring it in but I'm trying to stick with my resolution: one caricature a day.
Wednesday, 15 January 2014
Oh, how there’s villainy afoot! The poisonous Clinton clan are at it again, playing politics on the clean green lawns of Washington DC…
Or so the media would like us to believe. The Clintons might be slinging their faeces around but I doubt if anybody could tell if they happened to be standing in the festering pig yard of frontline American politics. Politics is a stinking business and the laborers aren’t known for having the cleanest of fingers. Knowing the people out to harm you is the very same game as knowing where and when to make alliances. It’s the beating cholesterol soaked heart of politics and it has been ever thus since the first tribe agreed to stop stealing sheep from their neighbours in exchange for a couple of nubiles and a bushel of that miraculous new crop known as ‘wheat’.
There’s an arch moment in that unappreciated political satire, ‘The Campaign’, when the two candidates stand shaking hands at the beginning of a debate, smiling as the cameras fire. All looks decent, upbeat, and civilized, until the camera moves closer and we hear the candidate’s words whispered under their breath and squeezed out between those insincere smiles. They’re uttering the foulest insults at each other and that is the reality of politics I recognise and the only reality I believe.
I haven’t got a ‘shit list’ but it wouldn’t be a flight of fantasy to imagine myself writing one. I guess most people feel the same even if they wouldn’t like to go on the record and admit it. What would require a flight of fantasy, possibly requiring strong medication derived from Hopi magic, would be imagining a person with a soul so clean that they would never think bad thing of another person. Now that is a thought that sends a shiver rattling up my spine. Good hair and bad skin is the political archetype I see gazing out of the TV screen every night, as if the strong hair can distract from the bad complexion hinting at bad living, bad habits, and, no doubt, questionable morality. Political types always promote purity and it makes them unbelievable as both politicians and people. It’s the curse of Obama, the man who could do no wrong but was destined to ultimately do some wrong, even when he was still trying to do right. He’s the man who tried to walk upright with shin splints courtesy of the NSA. The fact that he still hasn’t closed Guantanamo doesn’t make him a bad man, merely a real man in the real world. I find something satisfying in that.
So too, in my eyes, the Clintons’ hit list doesn’t put a black mark by their names any more than Big Bill’s taste for kneeling interns changed my opinion of what he did for America. As far a recent memory goes, Clinton didn’t seem that bad a President, unless you really want to offer up an unhealthy dose of hindsight and blame him for not slapping a battlefield nuke on top of Bin Laden’s hideout in Zhawar Kili al-Badr back in 1998. More significantly now, Hilary didn’t strike me as a bad Secretary of State. She also knew what to laugh and play the clown and I find that more reassuring than all the serious words and frowns to camera.
Human fallibility is the missing ingredient in too much political campaigning. My instinct is to distrust the politician who stands behind his family and quotes from the Bible. That’s not to say that I prefer my politicians to be open about their villainy but if there’s a degree of the huckster about them, then they seem eminently more believable. I wouldn’t vote for either Nigel Farage or George Galloway but they seem cut from the same piece of shyster worsted. They are dirty players in a dirty game. I don’t expect too much from them, so they only surprise me when they don’t act like the enormous malignant arseholes I expect my politicians to be.
Tuesday, 14 January 2014
Monday, 13 January 2014
I suppose there was a time when I was foolish enough to believe that politics and political debate actually mattered. Then I slipped the rubber teat from my mouth and uttered my first words. Democracy, whatever we mean by the hippy term, is a beautiful thing until you shuffle up to it on your hands and knees and begin to examine it closely. Then it resembles Swift’s young nymph who, sitting before her mirror:
Takes off her artificial Hair:
Now, picking out a Crystal Eye,
She wipes it clean, and lays it by.
Politics has all the nobility of massaging puss from a blackhead. We are brainwashed from the cradle to believe that every vote matters but statisticians can now tell us to a precise degree that a great many votes simply don’t matter. My own vote is supposedly one of the most worthless in the country, valued at just thirty three pence at the last election. Compare that with the £1.07 spent on every ‘more valuable than most’ vote in George Osborne’s Tatton constituency. (If anybody cares to take the time, I'd like to know what your votes are worth. Perhaps you could leave the answer in the comments...)
But what is the value of one thinking considering individual when swathes of the country can be moved by dark rhetoric? George Osborne made a speech this past week in which he spoke directly to a powerful electorate who believe that the world is full of benefit bandits empowered by a liberal left who are out to destroy the country though the insidious power of compassion. It is motivating language sure to translate into jaundiced figures shuffling balefully into the ballot booths come the next election but if Osborne’s words represent reality then I’m fairly blind to that world. All I see are people stuck in hopeless situations, where a mixture of ignorance and desperation breeds a culture of rat survival. There are some who prevail but they’re the savage and wilful, shell-suited hicksters taught to leverage every advantage from a dishevelled system and to make more money by whatever means outside the system. It’s not hard to spot them and anybody living in their community can point them out, living as they usually do behind torn curtains of some cheap-rented semi at the end of the road but with a fifty thousand pound 4x4 parked outside. Nobody truly living in poverty chooses to do so unless they’re foolish enough to believe in higher things such as God or art or, the saints preserve us, writing a blog.
Democracy is supposed to be the saviour of the common man in the same way that technology is supposed to save us all from the grind of menial jobs. The reality is so different to what was promoted in the brochures. Technology has distracted us whilst the jobs became even more menial. The simple dictum is that democracy should mean most to those people at the bottom of the heap because they have the most to gain by an equal distribution of power. But Nature seems to abhor equilibrium as much as it abhors a vacuum.
Individual votes mean little, not always because many lack the intelligence to use that vote but because circumstances leads most to believe that the system cannot be changed. Politics matters little to the average person not because they grow tired of Westminster scandals and tales of knickers and kickbacks but, simply, because politics so rarely impact on individual lives. The greatest mistake of Thatcher’s premiership was to bring in the Poll Tax, a policy that impacted greatly on individual lives. She paid the price and, since then, politicians have learned the golden rule of not rocking the boat. Or, at least, choosing when to rock the boat so the wake doesn’t disturb their constituents…
It’s understandable that they govern that way. The country has become too big to be ruled from London where the debate in parliament might be given all the media coverage but it singularly ignores the real world of the other kind of politics, the politics that matter, the dreary unglamorous politics of local library closures or potholes.
To talk about national politics is to denigrate the very word ‘politics’. The national ‘argument’ is more about ideological gamesmanship, played by men and women who largely go unaffected by the hypotheses they create and enforce on the rest of the country. George Osborne preaches austerity from a lofty perch as heir apparent to the Osborne baronetcy. He talks about ‘hard working people’ (a not too subtle code meaning ‘not the workshy’) although he has never himself held down a proper job, having moved straight from university into the Conservative party where he worked as an adviser before becoming an MP. He is a thoroughbred among political hounds, sniffing the uric tang of policy shifts around every Westminster lamppost and knowing that the bray of the nationalistic trumpet promises the taste of socialist blood. His personal fortune is supposedly around £4 million. It’s an often repeated argument that a man who knows such wealth is incapable of making judgements about poverty but it’s we well knuckled one. How is he to understand poverty when he’s never had to choose between buying a meal or a book?
Sunday, 12 January 2014
Saturday, 11 January 2014
If I have any regular readers left since my slight break over November and Christmas, you'll know that I'm trying to draw one caricature a day. If I had any hope of keeping this going, I'd call it my 'Draw One Caricature a Day for a Year Project' but I doubt I'll last the month. Not every day throws up a good face to draw and I often don't have time to come up with a gag. These are just exercises in making myself draw every day and draw the one thing I find hardest to draw, which is the likenessES of famous people. So, here is Day 10's effort, drawn very late at night when I was already tired after drawing this month's strip for the Liverpool fanzine, 'Red All Over The Land'.
To explain as well as I can without going into too much detail: I do various work freelance but for so little money that I feel that I shouldn’t be working every hour or, indeed, all that many hours each month for other people. Somebody left a comment on this blog a few weeks ago suggesting that I should charge £66 an hour, which made me laugh and sob at the same time. Yet despite my not charging £66 an hour for my services, today I was told that I’m not ‘there’ enough, meaning I’m not ‘here’ enough when people need me. That might or might not be true (I’m always reachable via email but not via other methods which I find intrusive) but the only reason for my taking this work was to allow me the time to do other things that are far more important to my mental wellbeing, such as writing and drawing the odd cartoon. Except lately it’s not been working like that at all... I’m thrown increasingly complicated amounts of work for which I would expect to be paid more handsomely than I am being paid, leading me to question that if I’m not getting the time to write or cartoon, then why the hell aren’t I working full time and getting a wage consummate with the hours?
The answer is that I don’t want to rock the boat. I just want to retain a degree of separation from the work. I do it quickly and to the highest quality I can manage in the often short timescales. I don’t quibble (much) when others come along and tinker with my work to the detriment of what I was trying to achieve. I like to think I produce the results with minimum of fuss but apparently that’s not enough… Nothing I do is ever enough.
This was all brought into focus by the arrival of a handwritten A4 envelope this morning with a London postmark. I was intrigued as I opened it, deflated when I recognised my own signature inside. My letter and four cartoons had come back from The Spectator’s cartoon competition with a rejection note attached. Or at least I think it’s a rejection note. The two sides of the card are a bit contradictory...
Guess that's an ironic 'yes.' Anyway, here (below) are the four rejected cartoons. To say that these four cartoons represented the end of my cartooning career might be to overstate the situation. I took a month to come up with these monstrosities based on the damn difficult concept of ‘man in motion’. However, since I finished these, I’ve felt a serious shift in confidence and I guess I’m still trying to recover by drawing the recent caricatures (surely the weakest form of gag cartooning). To get these back today was about the worst time for me to get them. Apparently I’m a lousy employee and a lousy cartoonist. And this self-obsessed moaning blog post proves that I’m a lousy blogger too. Oh, bugger. I’m going to get drunk… Except, when I type ‘drunk’ I mean ‘spend my Saturday afternoon trying to be part of a team, be communicative, and do the work with a smile on my face’...
Friday, 10 January 2014
Day seven or eight of my New Year's resolution... I'm losing count, which is probably a good thing. This is a quick cartoon drawn sitting on a train into Manchester yesterday.
Thursday, 9 January 2014
Today has been a little more successful. I moved myself beyond the call of the whistle and I've actually written something for tomorrow's blog as well as finished a drawing. I also spent the afternoon in Manchester, partly because I needed to buy a birthday card but also because I needed time away from my desk and (I have to say this in hushed tones) away from my ebullient sister who, for the first time in months, appears to be feeling better thanks to the advice of the consultant we spoke to on Saturday. He didn't so much provide a miracle cure as provide the advice to ignore the bad advice of our local GP.
In Manchester, I hit the usual shops and as is usually the case, Waterstones was full of books I couldn't afford. Unlike 99% of the time I visit, it actually had books I actually wanted but I had to forgo the hardback copy of Robert Crumb's 'Weirdo Years'. In the end, I settled for a book of political journalism which isn't always the definition of a good time but I occasionally have a hankering after the stuff.
Once thing I did notice as I stood in the the science section of the big Deansgate Waterstones: it was empty, yet across the aisle, the spirituality section was packed with five or six people. What does that say about science, spirituality, or, indeed, people?
I also visited Claus Oulsen for a new bike lock and stood in the queue behind a big guy who was getting frustrated that the queue wasn't moving. A little old lady was standing ahead of us and she just wasn't shifting. It took us the best part of two or three minutes before we realized we were actually standing behind a mannequin covered in a pac-a-mac. He laughed. I laughed. The world seemed okay.
Wednesday, 8 January 2014
I had such fun creating this video, I know I’ll feel its absence in my life. I’ll miss listening to this tune, which has been rattling around in my brain for well over a month. Speaking of which: I should do the stand-up thing and point you all in the direction of the fantastic Josh Woodward who released this great piece of music into the public domain. One thing that continually astonishes and delights me as I make these animations is being able to use music made by such outstanding talents producing work so much better than the majority of the mainstream. Sticking my mongrel animations against such great music really doesn't do the music justice.
Most of all, I’ll miss working on this because it taught me so many things about animating my drawings. Of course, I look on it now and see the things I could have done better and places where I would have improved the source graphics but that’s always the case. No work is ever really finished but to carry on would have probably involved starting again with new drawings and a new approach.
So, here is six weeks work (minus the endless hours I had to spend doing other less stimulating things). Also be sure to check out the Anecdotl website which I’m told will be going live in the near future.
Another cartoon as part of my current fad/resolution to draw a face a day. I try to turn them into something at the end but, as this one shows, the joke isn't the point. I'm currently far too busy to think these things through and sometimes I end up with a picture in need of a gag. Tonight or tomorrow, I'll also post the result of my month-long animation work...
Tuesday, 7 January 2014
It was a funny response in a way, though Hoggart had also stuck a hot knife in the sensitive spot where I felt hurt as an unpublished writer. At the time I wondered why anybody could respond to something so innocuous with such miserly contempt. Yet I suppose in the long term, Hoggart was right. He clearly knew the market. The world didn’t need another book of spoof letters or, at least, the world didn’t want mine. Yet with even greater hindsight, I wonder if he’d known about his illness when I’d written to him. It makes me feel slightly ashamed that I’d thought as I’d done. It’s easy to forget the real lives behind all the public facades. My letter might have arrived at a bad time. Feeling this shame, I voiced this thought today. I suppose I might feel more miserly had a friend not replied that I shouldn’t feel bad because all I’d ever done was try to make him laugh as he’d often made me laugh. That might be true.
[caption id="attachment_3610" align="alignright" width="306"] Click to enlarge[/caption]
Yet it’s strange that I think back on that letter today. In Chester on Saturday, I’d spent five minutes walking around The Works after we were done at the hospital. We were wasting time until our train home and I was feeling so justified in my finding a specialist for my sister via Doctoralia that I was in the mood to treat myself. My eyes opened a little wider as I spotted a small pile of books on the shelf. They marked the last publication of the great Ronald Searle. Les Très Riches Heures de Mrs Mole is a series of illustrations that Searle drew for his wife as she underwent prolonged medical treatment. It’s a poignant but ultimately sad little book and I couldn’t bring myself to buy it, despite my loving all of Ronald Searle’s work. I’d written to Searle back in 2010 and I had got a reply, much to the disgust of my friend Stu who never had much success getting replies when he wrote to great illustrators. As I thumbed through the Mrs Mole book, I thought of Searle’s postcard, sitting in my fat file of replies. He’d generously taken time to write a response in his distinctive spidery scrawl, despite his wife’s battle with illness, yet his reply was perhaps tinged with a certain weariness when he wrote: ‘The best of luck in the world of illustration but from long experience I can say it’s a good thing you have your chisel-throwing to fall back on!’
Only a fool would disregard the advice when the greatest illustrator/cartoonist in the world tells you to give up but I’ve always been a fool and I continue to scrawl my cartoons that remain unpublished and, I think it’s fair to say, unwanted. In a way, I suppose in both cases, my letters had arrived in much feted lives but troubled by real concerns. It makes me wonder if the world every really needs spoof letters, tricksters, and men of shallow delights. I begin to wonder how much I might have intruded in a way that really was unwelcome and a just little bit wrong.
I don’t know… I do know that I miss Searle enormously and I’ll miss that swine Hoggart too. He brought some rare humour into British politics. And if he clearly thought my book a rat of an idea, I like to think that he had honour of being the first to tell me so.
You have to admire Merkel, hobbling around for days before she'd realised she'd fractured her pelvis. I wonder how long Osborne will wander around before he remembers that he hit his head those many years ago.
Still, six solid days of blogging and my New Year resolution holds. I will, of course, eventually run out of steam or I’ll have a day involving punctures, animal slurry, and a gypsy curse which makes it impossible to blog and then there will be a long gap as I seek psychiatric help about my inability to blog. However, for the moment, I’m celebrating nearly a week of being back to webface and my cartoon ideas are slowly returning. Tonight I might draw Michael Bay running off stage at the Samsung event at the CES in Los Vegas ([drool] where they launched their 12 inch Samsung Note Pro [/drool]) but perhaps it will be a picture about Boris and ringfencing. My immediate job is to render out a video I promised somebody a week ago and then I want to finish something I wrote yesterday that needs to be posted today. That’s my big ambition for the day: two blog posts inside 24 hours. It’s been done before but I never thought I’d manage to do it again.
Monday, 6 January 2014
Sunday, 5 January 2014
Fourth day and the New Year resolution to doodle a face a day continues. I drew this yesterday sitting on a train into Chester or sitting in the Café Nero beneath the city wall. The response to my blog post before Christmas made a difference. Yesterday my sister took the steps to see a consultant privately. I’d previously discovered the Doctoralia website and used it to find the best expert on her particular condition. Last Wednesday, we booked an appointment. It’s a stunningly good service that’s easy to use and pinpoints the experts in your region. We booked a noon appointment, travelled all morning to get there, only to discover that the hospital didn’t seem to know anything about the Doctoralia service or, at least, didn’t have the mechanism in place to turn virtual bookings into real bookings at the front desk. It wasn’t looking good but we were glad when we learned the doctor would see us.
We had to wait until he’d seen his other patients but eventually we were called in. We entered expecting very little but I’m happy to say that we left feeling very different. Bad experiences has taught us to expect little from doctors but we emerged shaking with delight. ‘Christ he was brilliant,’ my sister whispered as we walked to the front desk. I thought the same. After years of being told that my sister’s pain isn’t significant because, to quote other doctors, ‘there are no organs there’, we were shown diagrams of what was there and it was explained what her problem might be and what steps we can now take to help her. She’ll now have tests and we’ll go back for the results but, without going into too much trouble, one of her problems might be caused by other doctors changing her medication to a cheaper form of the drug she’s been prescribed to help her pain. We’ve now taken steps to remedy this and I hope we’ll see an improvement. I just wanted to write a little something to thank the people who gave me feedback either in the comments or via email. It’s good to know I have readers who follow much of the nonsense I write or draw but it’s even better to know you read my rare wanderings into the realm of the serious.
Saturday, 4 January 2014
Friday, 3 January 2014
I’d normally wax long and lyrical about this, explain why Dawson was funny and why today’s comedians wouldn’t be content with a flash of knicker. However, today I’m building a website. I would have said ‘design’ but the design duties seem to have taken from me and I’m working in the role of the trained gibbon who simply presses the buttons and makes things happen. Needless to say that I hate this work.
Thursday, 2 January 2014
The result of day one is my version of Piers Morgan facing Brett Lee in the Melbourne nets. I couldn't draw broken ribs so I did the next best thing. Having watched the over, I'm surprised he got away with broken ribs.
But none of this matters. It’s New Year’s Eve. A special night. It’s the hallowed festival of the cretinous and bizarre.
Nobody questions what happens on New Year’s Eve for fear of looking like the perennial party pooper, yet no small part of the nation stays indoors or goes to bed early. We non-combatants never make the news but then TV hardly acknowledges our existence, as though avoiding the New Year weren’t a valid choice for sane men and women. There was a time when to do otherwise meant watching Hogmanay riots, where men in kilts acted the fool to bad folk music and the worst kind of regional presenter with a dry scalp and greasy comb over who would grope the dancing girls in the name of warm seasonal camaraderie. At some point in the not-so-distant past, that form of New Year torture gave way to sly news reviews, sometimes hosted by the great Clive James, later hosted by a succession of tuxedoed non-entities who would get the blood boiling well before Big Ben chimed. After that, New Year became a chance to watch Jules Holland invite aging soul acts to celebrate New Year from a sweltering hot studio in the middle of June, which was when the show was actually recorded.
Since the turn of the millennium, fireworks over the Thames have welcomed in the New Year along with cut up pop punctuated by people speaking BBC English announcing ‘This is London’ against the constant beat of music favoured by the pubicly plucked and the arse stamped. It’s probably the best alternative we’ve had simply because it’s as loud and meaningless as New Year itself. As the spectacle from London reaches its crescendo in a fiery mass of flames and flares, it’s like one very lough ‘blergh’ screamed into the void, as if a whole generation doesn’t care what noise fills the space so long as we don’t have to hear the silence where meaning used to be found before we killed our Gods and failed our science O levels.
Of course, we don’t have big celebrations this far north. The sky occasionally crackles and pours with fireworks ignited from various council estates or rugby clubs. Chinese lanterns drift across the cloudless firmament ready to drop their incendiary load wherever fields are dry or innocent children look skyward. None of it really makes sense but it doesn’t have to. New Year’s Eve is the point at which all the year’s banality comes together as one. And the banality this year really couldn’t have been bettered than what we saw along the Thames. I suppose those food artists, Bombas & Parr, typified the state of the nation. They do things with jelly, apparently, but on the BBC News, they were more like a gastronomic Gilbert & George. No doubt they would probably accept the comparison as a compliment but they shouldn’t.
TV embraces this type of character because they’re entirely self-generated and supposedly interesting because they dress weirdly and dress alike, glam Hooray Henries dressed in their neon-Bullingdon Club attire. The extent of their artistry doesn’t extend beyond our being able to say ‘they do things with jelly’ and no matter how much they fire banana confetti from canons, it doesn’t turn a firework display into a multi-sensory experience. That’s just a load of jellified nonsense. Stand in front of an exploding banger and tell me it’s not already a multi-sensory experience, which you see, hear, feel, and smell as you pick the cordite from your eyebrows. The taste of banana really doesn’t make a rocket more exciting.
That they’re there, however, is a sign of the times, as well as a sign of what we’ve come to. The false significance, the risible notion that this is art, is the most detestable element of New Year, making it more undignified than Christmas. One is a commercial event marketed by big companies to empty warehouses of last year’s products. The other lives in the febrile minds of sad people who live each week for Friday night. New Year’s Eve is the year’s Friday night. It’s the big important night when the nation slips out into the cold without any underwear. It’s for muscular plasterer’s mates, psychotic fax machine engineers, randy delivery men, and fake-tanned salon sweepers. It’s about false breasts, false muscles, false happiness. It’s the weary accumulation of a year of misery when the overpaid and the underclassed say they want to change but ultimately stay exactly the same. It’s the night when resolutions last no longer than the dying chimes of Big Ben. It marks not the beginning of a new world but the perpetuity of everything that came before. Anybody with any sense would sleep through it. Any dream is better than this bleak nightmare.