As 2016 draws to a close thousands of talented celebrities from around the world will be crossing their fingers in desperate hope that they can hang on for a tiny bit longer. It is irrefutable. 2016 has been a bastard to the famous. Thankfully I am only a Y list celebrity and thus so far have been spared.
I refuse to see the entire year as something all bad. On a personal level it was a year of firsts. I finally visited New York which was just awesome. I threw myself out of an aeroplane without any sensible reason. I appeared on stage for the first time, rather than my customary position in the shadows, and bizarrely people laughed. Not at me either. But with me. I think. Somehow during all of this I learned something important about myself. The greatest of pleasures stem from escaping my own comfort zone.
2016 saw the release of ‘We Are Sorry’, one of the longest running music projects I have worked on. There were music videos to ‘God Doesn’t Love You’ and ‘Walec’. It was both amazing and at the same time a massive relief to finally see it come to fruition as the origins of the project go back a number of years. I believe we made a huge mistake by not calling our first album ‘Greatest Hits’ as it would have saved us from ever having to record another album.
All that is left for me to say to my readers, groupies, and troll army is Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
Recently I have been crossing borders like Arnold Schwarzenegger crossed enemies back in the 1980’s. With the #Brexit referendum on the horizon it is somewhat frightening how many of us are facing a very real risk of losing the ability to cross Europe as and when we require. Thousands of international couples may well have their lives indubitably altered for the sake of justifying a slow-burning economic meltdown. It seems to escape the sphere of public debate that many couples and even families will face great difficulties regarding merely staying together should the people of Britain choose to #Brexit. I fear that there is a realistic chance that we will be the silent victims of the madness to come.
I traveled to Poland with just my dog by car for the first time. Twelve hours on the open road with zero conversation, an iPod blasting away, with music old and new, does somehow offer one a great deal of time to think. The conclusions that appeared to me on the journey have formed the basis of a new project, which 10,000 words in, is looking like it could well become a novella at the very least. The premise is thus: What if we are entirely and absolutely incorrect regarding the way we humans tend to measure our lives?
In Warsaw I bore witness to the growth of our music project. Our album #WeAreSorry is in numerous shops. The band have been on national television and radio and have recorded dozens of interviews to promote the record. It made me a little sad to realise how much I am missing out due to mere geography. #Yu also played a concert on a boat, which was very much like a concert on land, except it was on water, which is some degree wetter. There was singing and dancing and bad sweaters. It was like the worst rave of the eighties all over again.
I was lucky enough to spend a week in the big apple, which isn’t that big, and definitely isn’t an apple, but is, in fact, a phenomenal city. I have no idea whether New York really is the city that never sleeps as for at least part of our trip, we slept. To be fair our sleep was well deserved as we walked in excess of 140 kilometers around Manhattan as we explored it like we were aliens, legal aliens. New York was everything Hollywood doesn’t warn you about. The various districts had different edges that made each unique, the people were universally friendly and charming and all in all we had a wonderful time. It genuinely felt like all it took to become the King of New York was one hundred dollars in your pocket and a single evening.
Oh I nearly forgot. I am writing this post from #Warsaw because we have a new video to promote our song entitled ‘God Doesn’t Love You’. Despite the religious title it has somewhat strangely caused a great deal of consternation regarding the sexuality of Hitler. If that sounds odd you should probably watch it right now:
If you like the video or the song or both or neither please SHARE this video and help spread the message of this song.
P.S. Soon #Yu really will be able to play with yourself as #GodDoesntLoveYou is going to be released as a standalone video game. I will share the details when I have them.
The following post contains *spoilers* regarding ‘Existence Is Futile’
Last week I confessed that I had never visited Oxford when I wrote ‘Existence Is Futile’. This week I promised to explain a little more and share my experiences of my search for Henry at the end of December.
When writing a novel nowadays locations are somewhat easier to write about. Thanks to the advent of the internet, in particular google and google earth it is relatively easy to get a sense of how anywhere on earth looks aesthetically. The difficult part of crafting together a coherent account is the specific details. I recall that when I was writing about the Psychiatrist’s office I had a great problem decided where precisely in Oxford it should be located, so much so that I actually started looking at random buildings on google images before I eventually settled on this one.
I found this on google photos with a description of its precise location so I was able to pinpoint it on the map. In the book it is first mentioned like this:
He broke into a jog as he passed two archways with locked gates, before finally catching a glimpse of her entering a doorway into a two-storey monstrosity with a jutting roof.
This building is integral to the story and thus, I was desperate to actually find it and take a photograph there. Unfortunately it no longer exists. I have stood on that street. I have searched the surrounding area and it isn’t there. I suspect that it has been ‘modernised’ and it is now unrecognisable.
I did get some things right. The Morris Garage is somewhat iconic. The Harris Manchester College really does look out-of-place. Although it was closed when we visited, I was able to poke my head over the fence and confirm that at least half of the buildings look like they belong in a Hollywood film.
Probably the boldest passage that I wrote about Oxford was the following:
How he had fallen instantly in love with Oxford from the moment he first set foot on the High Street. An eclectic mixture of churches, university buildings, theatres and shops. The garish, the gothic and the damn right peculiar all sharing living space, in Henry’s mind it was a perfect allegory for 21st century society and a perfect advertisement for all which is magnificent about Little England.
These pictures from my phone really do not do Oxford justice. It is a beautiful, if not peculiar city. It has a wonderful oddness to it all.
I suppose the last thing I should mention is Magdalen Bridge. It appears again and again in the book and serves as a catalyst for change several times over. Given the importance to the story line(really trying not to give too many spoilers) I was probably most worried about this. Would it be tiny? Would it be ugly? Would there be just a stream below?
Magdalen Bridge was huge and more picturesque than I had ever imagined. It made its role so much more practical than I could ever have imagined.
Oxford is a city, albeit a small one, where some of the brightest, most brilliant and biggest bastards ever produced in Great Britain have been sent away for education. It is rich in history, drowned in tradition and contains the aristocratic quirkiness which belongs with a historic British city. When I visited Oxford I had feared that perhaps it wouldn’t be a city fitting of Henry Tomlinson, now I am certain that it is the only city that ever could have.
I have an ignominious confession to make. At the very end of 2015 I went to Oxford… for the first time in my life. However, it isn’t as scandalous as it seems, as I thought I had been there before. Only, I hadn’t.
The fact is that lying is somewhat the purview of a writer. If a writer is able to make a truth pliable, and make you believe that what isn’t is, they have performed the greatest of tricks. The creation of a new reality.
The truth is that lies come in all manner of shapes and sizes. They can be gargantuan. They can be tiny. ‘Existence Is Futile’ contains three individual rather tiny lies based around typical English names for things. Although these are somewhat innocent lies, each one has its origins in the absurd reality of my green and pleasant homeland.
The first one struck me when I began researching Oxford as a location. It was whilst researching the county where Oxford resides that I became somewhat enamored by the village names that can be found on the map of Oxfordshire. Hampton Gay, Islip, Little Coxwell, Pishill, Little Farker and Horton-Cum-Studley are a mere selection of the flamboyant magnificence that this county has to offer. Did you catch it? Did you even notice? Little Farker was my creation. It may surprise you that when I christened Henry Tomlinson’s village Little Farker it wasn’t initially for the purpose of easy jokes. It was because somehow it fit snugly, like a bug in a rug.
Little Farker wasn’t my only use of poetic license. England has a somewhat peculiar obsession with pub names. They range from the damn right dull to the borderline offensive. The pub name I used does not exist. Here is a quiz question for you….
The final lie which I must confess to is that I changed the name of the hospital in Oxford. All across England are hospitals named after Saints. I personally think it is a terrible idea. It is something Professor Henry Tomlinson would never stand for. The idea of naming a hospital after a Saint is as rational as naming a slice of bacon after a pig and is as just as likely to improve the pig’s future as a patient’s. I named the hospital in ‘Existence Is Futile’ after a somewhat obscure Saint named Dymphna. According to Wikipedia Saint Dymphna is the patron Saint of:
I do hope it worries you that the same Saint that cares for the crazy apparently cares for the health care professionals that also care for the crazy. It is like a one stop solution with extra incest thrown in free of charge. I think it is somewhat obvious why she seemed the perfect choice.
When we decided to go and visit Oxford it occurred to me that I could use it to trace the path of Professor Henry Tomlinson. So we did it. Unsurprisingly, we found a somewhat different reality to the one in ‘Existence Is Futile’. Oxford wasn’t exactly as I had written. It was almost like someone had used it as a basis, and then created a work of fiction around it. How bloody infuriating!
The next part of ‘In Search of Henry’ will be published here on Tuesday 2nd February.
Koningsdag has been and gone. That would be Kings Day to the Anglophones among us. It lacked the pomp and regality typically reserved for royal celebrations and replaced them with glow sticks and ecstasy. Even for a nation of tulip-loving, clog-wearing, windmill fanciers it was extremely surreal.
We started out the day with the intention of heading to the centre of Amstelveen, a small village to the south of Amsterdam where the King was visiting. First we took a brief detour to our local shopping centre to see what was going on in our neighbourhood. There were an abundance of stalls with people selling all kinds of junk and a generally cheerful mood. It was incredibly disturbing for a pessimistic Brit so we hurried off to go and see the King.
As we approached the centre of Amstelveen we started to see crowds of people adorned in orange, walking slowly to see their monarch. When we finally made it to the centre we were struck by the true absurdness of corporate sponsorship as the moment we got off the bus we were handed ING bank paper flags to wave. It was 11:45 a.m, there were hundreds of people, some wearing inflatable rubber crowns, others already drinking beer and almost everyone was fidgety and bored. From somewhere we couldn’t see we heard a children’s choir start singing a tuneless melody and realised how tactically stupid we were. The problem from our perspective was not the crowd, or the lack of planned viewpoints or even the noise. It was our gene pool. The first lesson we learned on King’s Day is that there is no point ever trying to watch something on King’s Day as Dutch people are so bloody tall. We felt like Lilliputians as we zigzagged through the crowd in the false hope of being able to catch a glimpse of the absolutely nothing which appeared to be going on. Eventually it occurred to us that we weren’t likely to start spontaneously growing so we decided to bugger off. However we couldn’t find off so we took the metro to Amsterdam instead.
It was whilst walking to the metro that we realised that something wasn’t quite right. We passed an enormous television screen that had been erected for the expected crowds just as the King arrived. We stopped for a few minutes and watched him fold his elastic limbs out of his bus. Some hideous music played out of the speakers as his wife and daughters appeared. It was then it dawned on me. There were only five people watching this stadium-sized screen. Every single person had warned us about the crowds so to find ourselves to close to the King’s route on a near empty square was somewhat of a surprise. We turned to leave, somewhat exhausted by the King with two names half-hearted attempts at waving. You see the problem for the Dutch King two names is that his wave just isn’t quite regal enough. He raises his hand so high that he looks like he is changing a lightbulb. As we made our way to the Metro we were confronted by the most unique sight we would see all day. Sadly, I was laughing so hard that I pretty much failed to take a decent picture. It was a man and woman, one in orange, the other in blue, wearing wooden clogs, dungarees and colanders on their heads. I have no idea what they were doing but they certainly won the best dressed at King’s Day award.
We decided to head as close as we could get to the centre of Amsterdam and then make our way on foot to Jordaan, a supposed bohemian district without any bohemians. We traipsed along the streets, following the immutable pull of the flowing river of orange, expecting to meet the sea at any time. And yet we didn’t. There were indeed a large number of people, but never quite enough to make one feel claustrophobic. Pretty much every street contained people selling crap all along the street. Most shops were selling their wares on the streets most restaurants were selling barbecued food, beer, pisses and shits. The array of crap you could buy was extremely wide-ranging but disappointingly normal. Regrettably we never found the infamous egg man or anything fascinatingly weird. Every street was drowned in the sound of irritating techno music blasted out so loud that you required drugs or a loss of hearing not to commit murder. The soundtrack was accompanied by the smell of burgers burning on every street making me wonder why it is that the Dutch do not value real music or real food.
We received an invite to a barbecue on a roof near Dam Square and gladly took it as an excuse for some respite away from the banging soundtrack which had me openly weeping as I turned each corner. At the barbecue I came to realise one of the greatest things about Amsterdam. It is a cultural melting pot. There were guests from four continents almost all wearing orange filled with optimism about a weekend of partying. The numbers made me realise something very important. That perhaps King’s Day had absolutely nothing to do with being Dutch. It was about getting smashed and wearing orange. Also I learned that buffalos have wings. But that’s a tale for another day.
We ventured out with the group into the Jordaan and immediately purchased a blonde smurfette balloon and played a grown up game of follow the leader. Jordaan was packed, it was like we were sardines in a can, but not quite dead. The sea of orange was swelling around us and pulling us into its current. The canals were full of boats filled with the lubricated and chemically enhanced as they all danced away to their own private DJs. One canal, twenty boats, twenty different sets of speakers. It was near on impossible to identify which song each boat was dancing too, not that it mattered as every tune sounded the same. As we slithered in and out of the sidestreets we passed a number of different parties, each of them as serious as the next. Parties for the old and the young, the gay and the straight, for the deaf and the deafer. Despite the amphetamine gurns, the stench of alcohol and the pungent aroma of skunkweed the mood was incredibly joyous. Not once did we see a confrontation, or a fight. The worst thing we saw all day was a bum. Given the chemical consumption of the denizens of the Dam they really do put us Britishers to shame.
Of course there were downsides. There were the lost and the forgotten. The damaged and the disappointed. There was heartbreak for some. There were great meals for the rats which dwell beside the canals. The urinals were overflowing. People had abandoned their stalls to their own fates. And somehow it didn’t matter, the party went on. It wasn’t a celebration of a King, or even a celebration of being Dutch. It was merely a celebration of being.
Now it feels somewhat like a psychotic memory, like a 21st century ‘Clockwork Orange’, just without the violence or sex. It was like drifting lost within a sea of orange whilst a relentless cacophony of irritating techno music swam through my ears pushing me to the brinks of madness. It was my own personal hell. And yet somehow, just somehow, it was quite alright.