The next thing is Not The Leaders' Speech. Which, the way things are going, will be in the sodding directory by Spring.
The next thing is Not The Leaders' Speech. Which, the way things are going, will be in the sodding directory by Spring.
The weather: foul
The builders: present
The energy: low despite caffeine (I think food is the answer, sigh)
"I will go to the gym in a bit."
The bed: comfortable
"I have got up and put on a t-shirt in preparation for going to the gym."
Legs: like lead
Anyway what happened was it took me until about eleven to even force myself to go to the shop and buy vegetables, never mind any mythical "gym", and as predicted the builders insisted on interrogating me on suitcases (not ours), or as close to "interrogation" as you can get when two people speaking know literally ONE WORD of each other's languages and that word is "sorry" and neither of you are really feeling that.
Once out of the house I was too cold and too tired despite the sunshine to tackle a mere walk through the park; got the bus to Crouch End, bought loose vegetables, etc, etc, etc. Nothing of great interest. Came home again with EAR PLUGS as the builders are literally working on the wall right by my bedroom the week we're on nights. OF COURSE.
Achievement: edited and submitted the merman story to the anthology about water stuff.
Failure: couldn't even fucking nap because by the time the builders pissed off and stopped being loud Lindsay came back and snored at me.
Neutral: Finally got to read some more of my Yashim book as my brain was too reminiscent of soup to cope with research.
Oh, also the pub called me and I have a provisional booking pending me giving them a £50 deposit when they ask for it by the end of the month. So that's me birthday venue sorted.
Successfully puked up another scene on the interminably long fic I'm basically writing for Liza and Liza alone (she has strep throat now, so I suppose it constitutes a get-well present). Tragically had to miss out on going to the Kingsman II Premiere as offered by R because FUCKING WORK. But at least there's free bananas.
The Current Nonsense
I am amassing a list of pointless shit I want to own ahead of m'birthday
Have chaired first thing - health spokesperson Q&A with Liz Barker, Joan Walmsley, and Norman Lamb. I think it went quite well. Have also done MOAR aideing, HSLD AGM, and am now preparing for GLEEEEEEE.
I voted on some stuff, but none of it was controversial.
I have also undertaken to do a post (after conf) on How To Fill In a Speaker's Card, with examples. I am looking forward to doing this. Right, must dash...
The first in my series of essays on Nilsson’s music, album by album, like I’ve done with other artists
Nilsson’s first released album was not really conceived as an album. Nilsson had released a number of singles in the mid 1960s on different small labels, usually recording other people’s material, while working a night job as the manager of a bank computer centre. None of these singles did anything much, and they were mostly not very good. However, in 1966 he was introduced by the arranger George Tipton (of whom much more later) to Gil Garfield and Perry Botkin Jr., two songwriter/arranger/publishers who ran their own company. They were astonished by Nilsson’s raw talent as a singer and songwriter, and signed him to a $25 contract as a staff songwriter.
Nilsson was not just talented, but driven – he would work from six PM to two AM at the bank, then make his way to Botkin and Garfield’s office, where he would write songs until collapsing to sleep (and would often also act as office cleaner, climbing out of the third-floor windows to clean them). When woken up by Botkin and Garfield arriving at the office, he’d then make his way round record company offices promoting his songs, before heading back to work.
This continued for the best part of two years, during which time Nilsson collaborated with Phil Spector and made some progress in his career as a songwriter, if not as a singer.
Nilsson wanted to make records, not just be a staff songwriter, but there was a problem – Tower, the label which had released three of his poor-selling singles, still had him under contract and wouldn’t give him up without more material, but nor would they actually pay for any further sessions. The problem was eventually solved by Tipton, who spent his life savings on a session to record four more songs, freeing Nilsson from the contract.
The four new songs were added to the A and B sides of the older singles and released as Spotlight on Nilsson – which, as well as being Nilsson’s first album, was also the first recording to be credited as “Nilsson” – all the earlier singles having been released as by “Harry Nilsson”. It’s a short album, only twenty-two minutes in length, with most songs barely hitting two minutes and none hitting three, and it has none of the sophistication of his later efforts. It’s not an album that admits of much analysis compared with those later records, either – it’s a series of pastiches and attempts at recreating the sound of current hits, done competently but with little inspiration. It’s the sound of an immature talent trying to find a style that works for him, but there are occasional moments where one can hear, however distantly, the sound of the man who would later create some of the best music of his generation.
The Path That Leads to Trouble
Songwriter: Johnny Cole
The opening track is possibly the most generically 1965 LA record ever made, one of a number of tracks from that time which try to bridge the gap between Spector-style teen pop and protest folk rock. The track seems to be specifically styled on the Association’s version of Dylan’s “One too Many Mornings”, which came out a couple of weeks before this track did and was a local hit in LA, and one suspects it was rather rushed in order to jump on a bandwagon. There are other influences there, however – the drum pattern from “Be My Baby” is borrowed, and Nilsson’s vocal (which sounds unlike anything else he ever did) seems to split the difference between Sonny Bono and Barry McGuire.
The track was released as by “the New Salvation Singers featuring Harry Nilsson”, and Nilsson later claimed he’d never been paid for the session, which he’d done as a favour for a business associate.
Songwriter: Harry Nilsson
The B-side of the preceding song is much more interesting. It’s a gospel rocker with some Motown influence, driven by a rhythmic piano part, playing a riff that sounds more like a guitar riff than a normal piano part – indeed the riff sounds very like the Monkees’ later “Last Train to Clarksville”. Nilsson later offered the song to the Monkees, in fact, and they recorded a backing track for it in 1968, but their version remained unfinished until 2016, when it was released as the title track for their reunion album, as a posthumous duet between Nilsson and Micky Dolenz.
That version is modelled closely on this one, but misses one of the more interesting features of this track, where the backing (which consists only of block backing vocals, heavily reverbed piano, and percussion) drops out the first time Nilsson sings “starting at the county line” and Nilsson holds a falsetto note on “line” for a bar and a half, providing a strange interruption in the rhythm of what is otherwise a very rhythmic track.
So You Think You’ve Got Troubles
Songwriter: Marvin Rainwater
A cover of a song by rockabilly artist Marvin Rainwater, this is an early example of how Nilsson can totally reinvent a song. Rainwater’s original song is very much in the style of Hank Williams and similar artists, alternating between spoken patter verses humorously listing his troubles (“I strained a muscle in my fishing hand and my income tax is due”, “I have every ailment known to man from the African mumps to the dishpan hand”) and sung choruses in which he sings “so you think you’ve got troubles/Brother you ain’t heard nothin’ yet”, and with an instrumental backing of steel guitar, piano, and fiddle, ending with the punchline “so I’m puttin’ me a bar in the back of my car and driving myself to drink”.
Nilsson takes the chorus and the verse lyrics, changes the structure of the song, turning what had been two long spoken verses into four shorter ones, drops the punchline altogether, and reworks it into the style of the Coasters (it resembles several of their singles, most notably “Little Egypt” and “Love Potion Number 9”). The verse melody is all his, and the final result bears only the most distant resemblance to the original, while still keeping its self-pitying humour.
I’m Gonna Lose My Mind
Songwriter: Johnny Cole
A simple twist-beat twelve-bar blues, with call and response backing vocals and Hammond organ, this is generic early-sixties pop filler – there’s a touch of Ray Charles in the backing vocal sound, but it’s closer to “Let’s Dance On” by the Monkees and similar proto-bubblegum. Pleasant enough, but not very interesting.
Songwriters: Harry Nilsson and J.R. Shanklin
This is a track that seems to be a bit of a failed experiment in putting together bits of wildly different songs. Each of the three sections on its own is perfectly fine – there’s a slow, quiet, verse which is all tinkling harpsichords and sustained strings, a much louder, shouty, dance-rhythm chorus with a Spectoresque feel to it, and an extended twenty-bar waltz-time middle section which points forward melodically to things like the middle section of “Without Her”.
The problem is that none of these three sections really go together, and the transitions between them are abrupt and make little musical sense. I see what they were trying to do, and it’s the kind of musical collage that would become immensely popular not long after this, but it’s not quite there.
Songwriter: Merle Travis
Another utterly rearranged country cover. Here Nilsson takes the classic song made famous by Tennessee Ernie Ford, gets rid of two of the four verses (including the famous opening verse “some people say a man’s made of muscle and blood”), changes the rhythm utterly (again to one reminiscent of some of the Coasters’ material, although there’s also an element of slick LA recordings like “Secret Agent Man” here), adds call-and-response girl group backing vocals, and rewrites the melody. The result bears almost no resemblance to the original song, to the point where when I first heard this recording I assumed it was a different song of the same name until half-way through the chorus.
It’s an interesting take on the song, but Nilsson’s tenor vocal pyrotechnics seem disconnected from the song – he doesn’t sound “another day older and deeper in debt”, he’s got far too much energy and enthusiasm for that.
Born In Grenada
Songwriters: Harry Nilsson and John Marascalco
Can Harry get a witness? This is just a straight soundalike of Marvin Gaye’s classic “Can I Get A Witness?”
Nilsson’s vocals are great, and the performance is slick and tight apart from an inexplicable moment at 1:52 when the horns come in at the wrong point, but this is just an attempt at copying a recent hit.
You Can’t Take Your Love (Away from Me)
Songwriter: Harry Nilsson
This track may well be inspired by the breakup of his first marriage, which was happening during the time he was working for Botkin and Garfield – one reason he spent so much time working was that his marriage was collapsing.
The track combines a verse/chorus that sounds very Spectoresque, with a pseudo-Latin rhythm, with a slick Vegas feel for the middle eight, and has a lot more of Nilsson’s fingerprints on it than many of the other originals here, but it’s still fundamentally a piece by someone learning his trade, and the lyrics, while heartfelt, seem to be strung together largely from cliches.
Songwriter: Harry Nilsson
One of the better originals here, this has some melodic resemblance to “Save The Last Dance For Me”, but Tipton’s arrangement, with its arpeggiated guitars, high strings, and glockenspiel, takes the song in a very different direction, and at times this sounds almost like early Scott Walker.
While the lyrics aren’t great – it’s a simple song about how little children play with toys but when they’re grown up little boys need love from little girls and vice versa – Nilsson’s vocal, for perhaps the only time on the album, connects properly with the sentiment of the song, and he eschews vocal pyrotechnics and just sings it straight. While his vocal embellishments would often be wonderful on later recordings, many of the vocals so far have prized technique over emotion, and this one doesn’t.
Do You Believe
Songwriter: Harry Nilsson
And the album ends with one of the better tracks, an uptempo R&B track with more than a little Ray Charles influence. There’s no real song here, but the track has a nice groove to it, and here Nilsson’s vocal swoops and melismas are entirely appropriate – a track like this is meant to be all style and no substance. The main criticism here is that the track is rather short and underdeveloped – there are a couple of verses and then it fades quickly.
And that’s much like the whole of Spotlight on Nilsson, really – a short, underdeveloped album which fades from the listener’s mind as soon as it’s finished. An album by a vocalist who’s clearly hugely technically gifted, but hasn’t yet found a style that suits him, or material he can connect with. That would soon change…
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SATURDAY: Knee was feeling well enough for me to do Big Cardio which is just as well as I couldn't find the battle ropes and wasn't about to go ask someone to take them out. Horrible horrible rush trying to get ready in decent time and deal with Jess's nine thousand pointless already-answered questions and refusal to be even slightly helpful about checking stuff while I literally had my hands full trying to do ten other things; Monzo card finally arrived and was christened. It is neon orange.
Got on train to Brighton eventually, looking like this, because Wedding Reception: https://www.instagram.com/p/BZGhr4Rh6k-
It rained approximately eighty times while we were on the way down there; we had a look in some shops in the Lanes but not to any great effect (some cool things but nothing I was comfortable lugging to a fucking wedding reception/that would fit in a bag), I did buy a lapel pin that reads "It Will End In Tears" which is damningly accurate. We met up with Muffy, who was looking like this: https://www.instagram.com/p/
During this I started suffering from waves of dizziness, despair, and nausea, correctly determined that I was hungry, flagged down Jess for some food from my bag and was eventually ready to go again, at which point Jess, who never bothers to bring food with her anywhere, decided that we were going for dinner and that everyone could piss off - I talked her into going to a tiny Japanese place in the Lanes (very cheap also) so that Muffy would come as well (it was about 4.30pm, not dinner time, too early for anything including the reception and far too early for me to be left alone with Jess for more hours of her sniping and complaining at me about everything); I was coaxed/manipulated into eating bits of the dinner, ruining diet part one. We crawled away to a Costa.
(Chris posted a mug on their instagram SO GOOD that I had to show the barista as well: "NOT SORRY ABOUT YOUR FRAGILE MASCULINITY").
While we were there the entire sky fell and practically ate the street. Muffy pointed out that this had happened the last time I came to Brighton as well. "I'm not saying it's your fault, but I'm not not saying it either."
We ventured out eventually. Muffy headed for the bus; I had dinner: https://www.instagram.com/p/BZHASxRB6-
When I say the weather had no idea what it was doing I mean it: https://www.instagram.com/p/
We snuck into the wedding reception while the Best Maid was making her lengthy, rambling, cat-video-featuring speech. Found the brides, hugged the brides, sent Jess off to the bar to spend both drink tokens on prosecco for herself, spent a while eating h'ors d'oeuvres and thoroughly wrecking entire diet plan (some of them were nicely-conceived - tiny wraps of "fish" and chips with mushy pea dip was cute) while Jess repeatedly told me to stop eating; watched the cake being cut, watched a couple of the dances, snuck off home. I feel in a way that, had I gone alone as I'd initially planned to and chickened out of doing, I might have had a decent enough time and been introduced to people, definitely stayed long enough to nip over to Muffy's DJ set, or gone to Duckie on getting back to London.
However, what's done is done. I had an amaretto hot chocolate when we got back to Victoria, binged when I got back to the house (this did at least get me through some stuff I'd been trying to get rid of) and passed out.
SUNDAY: With full intention of making up for this failure, I threw serious caffeine in my face and went to town on cardio today. This worked out - I could have gone on and done some gentle running again as I did yesterday but time was running out and I have to fucking foam roller after exercise now because it stops my shittening thigh muscles pulling my knee out of alignment or something. So there was another rushed morning of preparation (I AM SICK OF THIS) and fighting with Jess (ALSO OF THIS) as a result of which I left yogurt on the side all day.
However we DID get to the station in time for coffee which is more than can be said for Fiona, who was befucked by my West Country Transport Woes again and only just managed to arrive before the start of the play by forgoing a bathroom break or any food. We fed her the remaining half of Jess's stroopwaffel and promised the existence of an interval.
This was all a bit pointless tbh as the play was ARSE. Jess was MOVED by the first act and I don't really want to get into this much but: don't try to write in Ye Olde English if you can't do it consistently within the same SPEECH AT LEAST and if you don't know how the fucking language WORKS; ration your fucking monologues; if you're going to make allusions to a current situation A) consider carefully if they're appropriate in the narrative you have created B) don't be self-indulgent with music C) don't do cheap emotional stings D) literally don't be mawkish E) learn to fucking pace your plot properly with scenes in a sensible order and when the story should end F) YOU'RE NOT SHAKESPEARE G) please stop boring me with your costume choices and actually commit to either full aesthetic or the full non-aesthetic instead of this garbagey 6th form piecemeal nonsense (however thanks for inspiring me to reconsider "not buying brass vambraces") H) Okay the Very Big Man playing the beserker was Hot and did a good job with his role I) Did I mention that you're not Shakespeare but apparently think that you are in a number of ways? BAD. Oh, and J) If you're acting with hairline mics because your actors can't project properly, please get them USED to this so that I don't get deafened during their hugging dialogue, of which there was too much. You're bad at blocking.
God it dragged. I felt guilty too because I was right in the front and I probably looked as bored as I felt, and that's not something the cast needed to deal with as the very vast majority of what I didn't like about that play was not their doing.
[In the queue beforehand I observed, bitterly, that I missed going to things with Doug. I don't want to dwell on that too much, but it used to be a lot of fun, and obviously that never happens any more. And these days there are very few male friends I get to go to things with. And I feel that absence a lot? And I feel like someone is going to come and scream at me for having that emotion, too].
I bullied Fiona and Jess over to Starbucks and had the first REASON FOR THE SEASON:
I suggested heading towards London Bridge afterwards (having spotted no less than four members of the cast heading home in various ways past the window) primarily because this was the ONE DAY I didn't bring my sunglasses (I brought my raincoat though, and needed that), and the fuckening sun would have been in my eyes had we gone any direction but east at that point. Jess decided to route-march this for reasons best known to herself; at London Bridge we very nearly had another row simply because LITERALLY NO ONE ELSE WOULD MAKE A DECISION OR ADVANCE AN OPINION ABOUT DOING ANYTHING AND I HAD PROVIDED A NORMAL NUMBER OF OPTIONS (3) AND WAS TIRED OF DOING ALL THE FUCKING THINKING; Jess decided it would be diplomatic to go home, I calmed down and Fiona and I had a nice hour or so in the George.
Now, the George in Southwark was a specific plan because A) it is a National Trust Pub from the 17th century presumably spared the Great Fire because of its position on the South Bank, and therefore Pleasantly Atmospheric and B) I had recently read that Mark Rylance's revived Twelfth Night Mumming/Combat Play company The Lion's Part take their crowd there on Twelfth Night along with the Holly Man in order to wassail and generally continue old traditions and that made it sound like a good idea. I *have* been there a couple of times before. So pleased was I (and confused by being charged 90p for a lime and soda by one bar man then 45p by the other?) that I sent them an enquiry on their website about having my birthday there. I feel like it would be SUITABLY EXTRA.
(If we ain't facebook acquainted and you therefore didn't get the invite and are reading: the party's on the 4th of November. You're invited. I'm going to be 35. I want fucking presents. LOTS of them and good ones. I am a petulant Roman Emperor. I demand ego massage.]
On the whole, I think it was a good thing I didn't exhaust myself on Saturday night but a bad thing that I've not been Out Dancing once this week.
Andrew offered to come with me to help me find it but that's not going to be easy for someone who woke up at three this afternoon; it's basically an accessibility issue for him too. And it costs money in bus fare. And it's just not fair because that shouldn't be his responsibility and I hate feeling dependent on him.
I booked my Disability Services meeting a month ago for as soon as I could get it, but that turns out to be Tuesday. I know this will be a busy and nightmarish time for them, but argh. Hopefully I will be a bit less confused for the rest of the week. There are a bunch of other rooms I have to find after these first ones tomorrow!
So the Lib Dem leadership’s wrecking amendment to make the party pro-Brexit while continuing to say it’s anti-Brexit won, despite even the amendment itself being unconstitutional (wrecking amendments are not allowed normally), and despite the policy itself contradicting the Lib Dem constitution.
I still intend to fight this within the party, and I still intend to fight for the party, but I accept both those fights currently seem futile. However, fighting for futile things is basically the story of my life. The alternative would be suicide.
As far as I can tell, the Lib Dems today voted both for Britain to become an authoritarian dystopia and for the party itself not to have a single policy that can actually be sold on the doorstep in a way to persuade *anyone* to vote for it. I fear 2017’s election results may come to look like some great golden age when compared to future ones.
(Those of you who are not Lib Dems will be glad to know this concludes the posts on Lib Dem conference for this year).
Nonetheless, the fight continues.
Then, because I was going to be stage aide on F6 The Paris Agreement, Zoe (who was chairing it) & I went to plan the session - deciding what order to call speakers, etc. When it came to The Paris Agreement debate itself, as I got on stage I suddenly realised I had parted my hair the wrong side, and every time I looked at the speaker I was presenting a curtain of hair to the audience. Also, if I needed further incentive to lose a little weight, I can only just fit my ample derriere into the chair provided...
I grabbed a (rather manky) toastie, and then lurked in the back of the First timers' Q&A session, mainly to check that the sort of answers I have been giving when newbies ask me stuff had some congruence with official answers. Then there was more debate planning, this time for F10 The Natural Environment. Apparently while I was doing this I missed some barnstorming speeches in the Impact of Brexit on Public Services debate. Still, as I was Hall Aide rather than Stage Aide for the Natural Environment motion, I actually got to vote in the debate - my first policy vote of the conference. I voted in favour of the amendment, then in favour of the motion as amended, as did pretty much everyone else.
Then, while everyone else was at the rally, I had Safeguarding Training - compulsory for FCC members - followed by a quick dash to the pub to obtain food. We dragged a journo along with us and talked to him about trains. I think he secretly quite liked being at conference. Then there was the First timers' Reception -this is another thing I have to do as a committee member. Go and wander round looking approachable and asking people how they are finding conference. I think I was actually helpful to some people - showing them a speaker's card and explaining how to fill it in and things.
Then, for the first time ever, I was inveigled into going to the lib dem Disco. It started with headbanging to rage against the machine and ended with a drunken impromtu rendition of Poisoning Pigeons In The Park on the street outside.
All in all a reasonably successful day. Today is a bit less full on, although I do have ALL THE LGBT+ THINGS tonight... Now have to dash to the venu to get to (you guessed it) an FCC meeting.
Can't even really make a GP appointment until I have a better idea of what my schedule will be like. Nnnrgh.
Plus I already have a follow-up appointment about my new meds, a smear test, and my first meeting with the Disabled Students Office this week, which is quite enough Health Work to be getting on with right now.
By the end of the week I will definitely know my class schedule (since it starts the week after that!) and will be able to make an appointment about my horrible feet. So at least I have a plan.
Thankfully, the Lib Dem insurbrexion worked — the motion to suspend standing orders was won, by 377 votes to 96, so now there will be an actual debate and vote on policy tomorrow.
Now, I can’t be at conference for personal reasons, but I think it’s important that we actually vote for the new policy, and not for the leadership wrecking amendment which would return the policy to the one we have now. But several powerful people in the party, including the leader and a vice-chair of FPC, have been out in force today saying the opposite.
What they’ve been saying is that we don’t need to change the policy, because “under our existing policy we are fully committed to exiting from Brexit”. This is, frankly, a lie. It may well be what they hope to be the result of the existing policy, but it’s not what the existing policy actually commits us to.
Remember that our policies say *what we would do in government*, and imagine we somehow managed to form a government before the end of the negotiations after a snap election. Now what would our existing policy commit us to do?
It would commit us, first, to continue to negotiate Britain’s exit from the EU and try to get a deal with the other EU members — even though we think it’s a bad idea to leave the EU and getting a good deal is impossible.
Then it would commit us to holding a referendum in which we would campaign against the deal we just negotiated, saying we hadn’t done a good enough job of negotiation.
And then, assuming that referendum resulted in people still voting to leave the EU anyway — and I see no reason to assume otherwise, and certainly not to be sure of it — it would commit a Lib Dem government to leaving the EU, even though we think that’s a terrible idea.
That’s not a policy. That’s an attempt at fence-sitting so torturous it ends up with the party impaled on a fence-post, writhing in self-imposed agony. It’s neither a principled argument nor a pragmatic one, it’s just an attempt not to have any position on a controversial issue.
The policy motion put forward, on the other hand, is not perfect (for example I’d have changed the wording about “a Liberal Democrat-led government” so it referred to any government in which the Lib Dems are even a junior partner), but what it commits any future Lib Dem government to is simple:
Not leaving the EU.
That’s it. Not “negotiating a deal we know to be bad and then campaigning against the deal we negotiated”, not “rerunning an ill-advised advisory plebiscite which was distorted by a massive oligarchal propaganda campaign in the hope that the billionaires will play nice this time and not try to asset-strip the country after all”. Just not leaving the EU.
And note that it doesn’t bind the party in any situation *other* than a Lib Dem-led government. It doesn’t prevent MPs from working with MPs from other parties while in opposition to get a referendum on the final deal. It doesn’t prevent MPs from amending government bills to soften the worst of what’s happening.
It doesn’t, in short, prevent the party from compromising with other parties to get an imperfect result that’s still better than the current one. It just doesn’t *pre-compromise* everything. It’s sometimes necessary to meet people half-way, but when you’re doing that you don’t *start* from half-way.
We can either claim to be opposed to Brexit, or we can say “we don’t really have an opinion either way, you decide”. Yes, having an opinion will alienate some voters, but since most voters are already alienated from us, perhaps we could try winning over those with strong opinions rather than the current strategy of being no things to no people?
Anyway, that’s what I think, and that’s what I’d say to conference if I had a chance. And I hope someone more diplomatic than I *will* say that tomorrow.
So there's going to be a mini debate on the suspension of standing orders, with a maximum of six speakers with a maximum of two minutes' speaking time each. It's going to be chaired by Mary Reid, who is absolutely scrupulous about debate balance and fairness. Whatever happens, I think it's going to be interesting.
Other things that happened included boring stuff like checking everyone knew which debates they were chairing/aideing/hall aideing, people covering stuff that other people could suddenly not do (I'm going to be chairing a spokespeople Q&A session now as well as a debate), a tour of the venue so we know where all the backstage bits you guys don't get to see are, and then chair's training, which is always huge amounts of fun.
For the first time I got one with absolutely no clue as to what the problem I was going to be faced with was, and I think I did OK. SO I'm a tiny bit less nervous about debate chairing...
Now off to have breakfast, and then going to the hall for The Contentious Vote.
If you're in Bournemouth and you spot me, do say hi. My hair is bright purple this year, and today I am wearing this t-shirt.
lady_lugosi1313 and I got there shortly before lunch on the Friday, but the official business didn't begin until that evening, so we spent the afternoon enjoying Gothic seaside fun in the sunshine. We pottered around the shops buying various treasures, and then headed down to the harbour front where she introduced me to Goth Blood milkshakes - basically ordinary milkshakes with bucket-loads of food colouring in them which turn your tongue blood-red after a single sip:
I also went through the Dracula Experience: a once-in-a-lifetime audio-visual presentation of the Dracula story. I say 'once-in-a-lifetime' because it is so rubbish that it is hard to imagine anyone voluntarily going twice (for all the reasons aptly articulated in these TripAdvisor reviews). They have a cloak at the beginning of the exhibition which they claim is one of Christopher Lee's Dracula capes, but I'm afraid it clearly isn't: it has a strong diagonal ridged texture which none of Lee's capes in any of the Hammer Dracula films ever did. Still, though, the whole thing only cost three quid, and I did chuckle most of the way through at how inept it was, so I guess it wasn't the worst thing I've ever spent money on. Afterwards, we spent one whole pound each on the tuppenny falls, where lady_lugosi1313, who is an experienced competitive player, completely wiped the floor with me, winning more than double the amount of tuppences I had managed to score every time we compared our takings.
The evening began with the traditional gathering around the bench which the Society donated in 1980 (I suppose we'll celebrate the 40th anniversary of that in three years too!), where lady_lugosi1313 encountered most of the Society's members for the first time, and was also introduced to tuica: Romanian plum brandy, and of course our preferred toast. The rest of the evening was informal, but Julia (the Society's very energetic chair) had laid on a wonderful programme of events for us at the Royal Hotel the following day.
We began with a screening of ( 27. Holy Terrors (2017), dir. Julian Butler and Mark Goodall )
We also had two talks given by members of the Society: Gail-Nina Anderson on werewolves and Barry McCann on Jekyll and Hyde. Both traced the evolution of their creatures and their stories through time, looking at how and why they have been treated differently in different circumstances, and what aspects of the human experience they have been used to explore. And although this wasn't particularly planned, both actually informed the other very neatly, and indeed made me realise something I had never really noticed before: that Jekyll and Hyde is essentially a werewolf story. As Gail had already shown us, werewolf stories have never actually been that prescriptive about the matter of how a person becomes a werewolf: many just take it for granted that they exist, and those which do try to explain how it happens offer a much wider range of possibilities than the now common idea of being bitten by an existing werewolf. Nor is the moon particularly consistently required to prompt transformations. So a story about a man who brings out his inner beast voluntarily through a potion of his own making fits right into the canon.
After lunch (roast pork baps from the Greedy Pig GET IN MY FACE!), it was time for a quiz. Given that this consisted of a ten-point round on Stoker's Dracula (which I have read multiple times and am reading right now), a ten-point round on Whitby (where I was sat while taking the quiz), and a twenty-point round on film adaptations of Dracula (which are basically the heart of lady_lugosi1313's and my co-conspiratorial film watching), you would have thought I might manage to do quite well on this, but no! Somehow Julia managed to make it really hard. The winner, Kate, scored a fairly modest 26.5 points out of 40, while I scraped along with 14.5 and lady_lugosi1313 bagged a mere 11.5. It's almost like we've been wasting our lives!
Oh well, at least we had plenty of opportunity to buy up books and DVDs which might help us to do better next time in the society auction - not to mention all sorts of other goodies, from the utterly tat-tastic to the actually very tasteful. ( This was my personal haul, including a notebook in the shape of Christopher Lee as Dracula )
That evening was the Society's formal dinner, so I grabbed the rare opportunity to dress up in full Gothic finery with both hands. We had allowed plenty of time to walk down from our guest-house and ended up arriving ridiculously early, so, as it was still light and I don't look like this very often, lady_lugosi1313 indulged me with a little photo-shoot.
( Vanity, vanity, all is vanity )
Much wine was drunk, merriment had and patrons on a ghost walk of Whitby outside the window trolled by means of a green Frankenstein torch shone at them through a white napkin (though irritatingly they didn't seem to notice). None of this, though, stopped a hardy band of us from getting up the next morning bright and early to do the six-and-a-half-mile cliff walk from Whitby to Robin Hood's Bay. This of course was all in honour of Mina and Lucy, who do just this walk in Stoker's novel straight after the funeral of the Demeter's captain: a plan concocted by Mina with a view to tiring Lucy out and stopping her from fretting about the funeral and sleep-walking that night. She records her plan in an entry on the morning of 10 August thus:
She will be dreaming of this tonight, I am sure. The whole agglomeration of things, the ship steered into port by a dead man, his attitude, tied to the wheel with a crucifix and beads, the touching funeral, the dog, now furious and now in terror, will all afford material for her dreams. I think it will be best for her to go to bed tired out physically, so I shall take her for a long walk by the cliffs to Robin Hood's Bay and back. She ought not to have much inclination for sleep-walking then.And you can read her post-factum report of the walk itself that evening here.
We grabbed a couple of group pictures before we set off, which I hope Michael won't mind too much that I have stolen from his FB page:
Then off we went, ( past many picturesque delights )
The conversation as we walked unfolded much as you would expect in the circumstances. I can't remember exactly who said what now, but the gist of it all went more or less like this:
"Presumably Mina and Lucy can't actually have walked to Robins Hood's Bay. They must have taken a horse and cart or something."
"Oh no, it says quite clearly in the novel that they walked."
"Yes, that's right - they're obviously going across the fields because some cows come up and give them a fright."
"Can you imagine doing this in heels and a corset, though?"
"Well, Victorian women did have sensible walking boots and country clothing."
"Yes, absolutely - the Victorians were very much into their physical exercise and fresh air."
"They would still definitely have been wearing corsets, though."
"Oh yes. Mind you, the whalebone corsets had quite a lot of give in them. You would only wear the steel ones in the evening."
"Well, my respect for Mina and Lucy is increasing with every step."
"You've got to wonder if Bram ever actually thought about the implications of doing all this in a corset, though."
"Hmm, yes - good point. Well, unless he dressed up in the full regalia himself and did the whole walk that way. You know, just to really get into the heads of his characters."
"Well, given that he was 6'4", that would have been quite a sight!"
In the end, we were not as hardcore as Mina and Lucy ourselves, though. They walked both ways, and had to suffer an unwanted visit from a curate in the evening. We got the bus back, before enjoying another final dinner together ahead of our general dispersal on the Monday morning. Not that lady_lugosi1313 and I were in a rush to get home that morning, though - not least because she didn't have any house-keys, so couldn't get into the house until planet_andy got home with his set anyway, and furthermore because their boiler had broken so the house would be freezing. Instead we spent most of the day in Filey, which I have never visited before, but which proved to be a charming seaside town with a lovely museum, some great charity shops, some excellent cafes, and a fountain with a surround designed like ( a compass showing the directions of all the locations mentioned in the shipping forecast )
They also had a crazy golf course, where lady_lugosi1313 and I played a game so utterly inept that it more than once reduced us to tears of laughter; but I feel duty bound to note that she did beat me, with a score of 37 shots for 9 holes to my 40. Finally it was time to head home, playing games of "I Spy" and "I am a Hammer film: which one am I?" as we drove. All in all a very enjoyable and much-needed final summer jolly before term hits with a vengeance next week...
As a basic step of self-esteem, learn to treat as the mark of a cannibal any man’s demand for your help. To demand it is to claim that your life is his property—and loathsome as such claim might be, there’s something still more loathsome: your agreement. Do you ask if it’s ever proper to help another man? No—if he claims it as his right or as a moral duty that you owe him. Yes—if such is your own desire based on your own selfish pleasure in the value of his person and his struggle.
While there are good points to Heinlein’s work – things about it that make it obvious to a sympathetic reader why it is he became so immensely popular, and things in it which can encourage a reader to become sympathetic – there’s nothing of the sort to the other book that jointly won the first Prometheus Hall of Fame award. Atlas Shrugged is a bad book on every conceivable level – bad on the level of craft, bad on the level of morality, and bad in terms of its influence and effects.
The basic plot is a simple one. An inventor named John Galt invents what amounts to a perpetual motion machine. The company he works for are impressed, and decide that since they would have a monopoly on a machine which would basically create a post-scarcity society, they might give some of the money they earn from it to charity, rather than keep it all for themselves.
Galt is horrified at the idea that anyone other than himself could possibly see any benefit from his machine, so he sabotages it and goes into hiding, spending years going around the USA persuading every competent inventor or manager to join him in a secret hideaway for rich people who think they’re the Nietzschean superman, and sabotaging all the major industries, so everything slowly decays and falls into corruption.
At the climax of the book Galt takes over all the radio stations and broadcasts a speech, lasting seventy pages, in which he berates everyone who isn’t him for their not being as clever as he is, and says that he is destroying civilisation because people who do physical work think they deserve a decent day’s pay in return for it, and because people believe that it’s morally incumbent on those who have money and power to help those who are suffering. He causes a massive civil war, and in the last few pages of the book, cuts off New York’s power and its transport systems, leaving people trapped there with no escape to die, panicking. Once enough people have died and the country’s collapse is complete, he intends to become ruler of the rubble along with his friends.
Oh, and he’s the hero of the book.
Rand’s book is, simply put, an attempt at arguing that supervillains are the real heroes. Her argument is that all progress happens because of men who are cleverer and simply better than everyone else, that they have no responsibilities whatsoever to the sheeple scurrying around them, that scale of achievement in itself is the ultimate good, and that anyone who tries to stop a genius from doing anything he wants to by imposing any kind of regulations is committing a sin against humanity and indeed against existence. Towards the end of the book, one of the characters rewrites the US constitution to include “Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of production and trade”.
In other words, and to use an example from a piece of SF that my readers will mostly be familiar with, when the Doctor asks if he has the right to destroy the Daleks, Rand would argue that not only does he not have that right, but that by even asking the question he is making himself a leech and an impediment to progress. On the other hand, Davros’ speech about the virus would be exactly the kind of forward-thinking genius that makes humanity so great, and everyone should worship him (and women should have humiliating rapey sex with him because he’s so great and important).
This is not a distortion of the book’s meaning, and nor is it an oversimplification. It’s a book that takes the simple moral black-and-white-with-no-grey-areas view of superhero comics and simply reverses it. Greed is good. Power is good. People who try to restrain powerful greedy geniuses are the most evil people in the world. It’s a claim (I typed “an argument” at first, but it presents no argument, merely stating its conclusions as axioms) that health and safety regulations, taxation to provide public goods, and any other attempts to limit the harm that can be done by people who fit the comic-book (if not necessarily the real) definition of psychopathy are the greatest imaginable evils.
It’s not a book that has any literary depth to analyse, nor is it a book that admits of a nuanced reading – Rand explicitly argues against the very concept of nuance – it’s just a bald statement: clever people deserve to be worshipped by the stupid masses, who they are morally obliged to use and dispose of at their own whim.
And the “clever people” part of that is the secret to the book’s popularity – at least in the US (it’s never really made any impact anywhere else in the world, and only really came to the rest of the world’s notice as the Internet made the idiosyncracies of local cultures more readily available. Most people in Britain, for example, have still never heard of it). It says that if you think you’re cleverer than everyone else around you but you don’t make as much money as a plumber or a welder, it’s not because the plumber or welder has a more useful skill than you, it’s because you’re being held down by evil looters. On the other hand if you, as a computer programmer or an advertising copywriter or a politician, are making more money than them, that’s because you are a supergenius who really deserves even more, because the looters are still holding you back.
Of course, to anyone who feels even the slightest resentment about their position in life (and who has no basic empathy or understanding of social structures), this is a perfect excuse for every failure and justification for every success. It’s even better than blaming black or Jewish people for those purposes, because you can draw the lines however you want. Obviously you are one of the productive people, and obviously whoever you dislike is one of the looters. I’m OK, you’re a leech who should be killed for the improvement of humanity.
And so this book has become massively successful, and has permeated the culture in ways that are often so all-pervading it’s hard to realise just how much it’s harmed the world. Alan Greenspan, who was in charge of US monetary policy for decades (and who was pretty much single-handedly responsible for neoliberalism being a thing) was a devotee of Rand, as is Paul Ryan, the current Speaker of the United States House of Representatives. Nathaniel Branden, who largely invented the concept of self-esteem as it’s applied in self-help books and feelgood memes, was a devotee (and lover) of Rand trying to popularise her ideas. As a result, her ideas have become so mainstream, even though when looked at directly they’re evil, that they often become an unacknowledged frame for discussion.
The odd thing is, though, that Heinlein, the Libertarians’ other favourite SF author, anticipated and parodied Atlas Shrugged seventeen years earlier. His short story The Roads Must Roll involves a technician who has convinced himself that he and his colleagues should be the ones to run the world, because society can’t function without them and therefore they’re the most important people in the world. He gathers a cadre of like-minded technically-skilled people around him, and then sabotages the workings of the transport system while broadcasting to the world about how the sheeple need to be ruled by the technicians who are the real workers.
The difference is, Heinlein’s “Galt” is the villain, and loses at the end, because all the sensible characters realise what a stupid and evil plan it is.
Heinlein was parodying Mafia-run US trade unions, but the plot is the same, and Heinlein even manages to sum up Atlas Shrugged‘s appeal:
The author…disclaimed the “outworn and futile” ideas of democracy and human equality, and substituted a system in which human beings were evaluated “functionally” – that is to say, by the role each filled in the economic sequence. The underlying thesis was that it was right and proper for a man to exercise over his fellows whatever power was inherent in his function, and that any other form of social organization was silly, visionary, and contrary to the “natural order.”
The complete interdependence of modern economic life seems to have escaped him entirely…
Functionalism was particularly popular among little people everywhere who could persuade themselves that their particular jobs were the indispensable ones, and that, therefore, under the “natural order” they would be top dog. With so many different functions actually indispensable such self-persuasion was easy.
If only the people who worship Heinlein had bothered to actually read him, maybe a lot of unpleasantness could have been avoided…
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And unnecessary since REAL DRAMA was occurring on the other side of town, what with shit incendiaries burning a bunch of people on the train possibly just following Susanne's? Not fun. But hey, so far no casualties! A first for terrorist incidents this year. None deaths.
I think my original plan today was "library, Edith's House" but what happened was "pub, Camden" because idk, the devil. Anyway Camden was hellish; not to begin with - to begin with I just went to the Costa by the overground station and did some more research (VIRTUOUS) and headed down into Camden with the full intention of going to the Stables Market cafe and doing more research there; it was raining so I went into Sainsburys a minute, ate cold eggs standing next to a church because my "definitely going to adult sensibly and mindfully" campaign still hasn't quite gotten off the ground yet, did a HARD HATE all the way up Camden high street and kind of just... meandered around a lot. There's a shop that sells RAF uniforms for I think roughly £50 for the whole thing. There's another that sells several items of North African / Berber jewellery I desperately want but have nowhere to wear. I accidentally bought a pair of TINY ORANGE CORDUROY BOOTY SHORTS WITH POCKETS to go with that heinous crop top and let me tell you that paired with the right accessories I look truly noxious. I found a place called Metal Rooster which sells some pretty Nice Soft Drapey stuff I would wear would I still doing the Mori Boy thing. What I did not do, Internet, was go and do research; Jess texted me to tell me the builders were gone so I picked up a coffee and some free cake samples and fucked my way back off home again.
Apparently even with a fucked knee I can still do cardio - Abbi says "battle ropes" (ten minutes of which, and I guarantee I cannot do that, will do me for an acceptable number of calories. I MAY be able to manage rowing although that does involve bending my knee. I CAN do fast small weight arm exercises. Somehow this will have to do).
(I just got a message from the magazine people saying their accountant is in the office on Wednesday and they'll send me the money then so apparently they mean this? Will wait and see. Speaking of money: no sign of the Monzo card. Bit worrying).
quick order one of these t-shirts or other products with this design before this stupid website decides they're a copyright infringement or something.
Further to my last post, FCC have thankfully reversed their decision to oppose suspension of standing orders in view of the reaction. BUT, in what those of a suspicious nature might see as yet another attempt to stack the deck, while everyone else might see it as an attempt to respond to an unusual level of interest, they have not gone back to the original deal.
The original plan (as understood by those who agreed to it) was that Julian Huppert would speak in favour of suspension, no-one would speak against, and Andrew Wiseman would sum up saying that FCC as a whole were neutral but he was personally in favour of suspension.
Now, on the other hand, the plan is to have several speakers at the debate. (This paragraph edited after some discussion of what the rules are).
Get there early — the earlier you get there, the less work you’ll cause for the moderator of what will be a very difficult debate. While I think this is absolutely necessary for the party, we should be very mindful of the voluntary nature of the people who are having to deal with this upheaval, and create no more work for them than necessary.
Please note, as well, that this is the situation *as of now* — 6:50PM on Friday. Whether that is the situation at 9AM on Saturday, we shall have to wait and see. I wish I could be there.
(Prometheans post will be up in an hour or so)
I wrote about Cassini when it got to Saturn, musing on what a long time it had been traveling. So much had happened to me; I'd gone from a high school freshman to living in a country I hadn't thought much about before.
And then I happened to notice Cassini's seventh anniversary at Saturn, and thought how quickly and how slowly the years were going by.
Time piles up so quickly in space, where seven years is nothing compared to the uncountable vastness of the universe. But one of the great things about spaceships is that they connect the universe to the humans: its twenty years now Cassini has been in space. And I don't even know how many years in development to get it that far. A good chunk of a person's working life could have been spent on this one little thing, anyway, that flew through space and burnt up today.
I've seen dramatic words about Cassini "plunging to its death" and some twee cartoons about how it's going home because Saturn is its home, but all I'm interested in is how much we love this little spaceship. We've made it a person, we've given it a lot of time and attention. We've followed it on twitter. My phone's background pictures aren't of my partners or even my dog; they're ones taken by Cassini. (This one and this one, in case you're interested.) Of course we'll miss it now it's gone.
Here's a video with lots of pictures and nice music.
Sorry for the lack of new posts around here. Since the start of this month I’ve written about 15,000 words of fiction you’ll eventually see (10,000 words to finish The Basilisk Murders and the last 5,000 of a 10,000-word Faction Paradox story), a script you almost certainly *won’t* eventually see unless you happen to be an eight-year-old girl who watches the YouTube channel I ghostwrite stuff for, and that long post the other day about the Lib Dem leadership. And I’ve also been out of melatonin for most of that time, which has made coherent thought almost impossible.
But my melatonin has arrived, and everything I had a deadline for is now done, so I plan to get some actual sleep tonight and then tomorrow post a review of Atlas Shrugged (spoiler: it’s not my favourite novel of all time)
went to the gym; they were setting up. tried to have a good gym but due to smaller breakfast/worse sleep/forgetting caffeine pill wasn't feeling it. decided to take it easy on the crosstrainer and carry on as normal with everything else, which seemed to be an acceptable tactic with no drawbacks apart from the small insistent voice muttering "lazy", right up until i got on the seated cycle and after approximately 15 seconds just above my knee something that was not a muscle began to feel distinctly Not Good. I bargained with myself - was meant to do 20 minutes and a cooldown and did two minutes and the mounting sense that stopping was a good idea (despite not being in howling pain which is normally how I work out that i'm not "making it up to get out of it"); stopped for coffee on the way home ("Haven't seen you in a while," said EXTREMELY PREGNANT barista/cafe owner. / "YOU were on holiday," I said, "which I hope you spent sitting down." / "Absolutely," she said, "two weeks by the pool without moving. Brilliant!"; lord why are you still at work you are practically having that baby RIGHT NOW); struggled past the builders.
[An aside, there was post behind the door and some of the post - thank god I found it because there was NONE POST when I returned from the gym - turned out to be a letter from Charing Cross, who have NOT removed me from their books, asking me to come in for an appointment at a mildly inconvenient hour in November, but since they're only on the other side of London that is at least feasible, unlike Exeter trying to get me to show up at 10am. So there's that I guess. No sign of the post I wanted and was expecting and am slightly worried about though].
Left the flat again after a while, armed with tablet and reference book so I could do research out of the house and not have to deal with the stairs so much which turned out to be a good thing because they wouldn't move the fucking ladder, ignored me asking them to, and when I finally squeezed around it the stairs were also covered in a nice thick slippery layer of wallpaper so I had a TIME not actually breaking my fucking neck. Decision - as I stomped up the hill to my dentist's appointment looking like a post-apocalyptic junkie vampire again - was taken at this point that I wasn't going back until they'd fucked off as at least they pack up when they go home.
Dentist: also a building site, hilariously enough, although a much more friendly one. Site foreman chatting amiably about having to take one of his workers down to the Indian High Commission already today. Dentist - not the scary Italian lady this time, she's gone part-time - said my teeth are absolutely fine, "Whatever you're going, keep doing it," and gave them a clean and polish to deal with the tartar on the backs ("Everyone gets this, it's basically unavoidable", and GOD DAMN I hate cleanings there they are so horrible I'd literally rather get a filling a sochaiousch); meanwhile Lindsay has to pay £500 to get his crown fixed, so I think I stole all the good dental karma.
Went to Wetherspoons to do research (why is it so hard why am I so filled with panic why don't I have enough material why is it nearly September already why is none of this useful) and twiddle the outline a little bit, also to eavesdrop on two people having a very serious suited-and-booted conversation about Professionalism over a table. In Wetherspoons. Guys. It's the middle of the afternoon and you're in W E T H E R S P O O N S. Anyway, walked down the hill to Kimura (Japanese deli) for more tuna sashimi because it's EASY FAST RELIABLE TASTY PROTEIN; went into town to collect a replacement for my lost mushrooms and check out the clearance sale at the old Japan Centre and also, to, um, go buy a knee pad for my intermittently Unhappy knee.
Literally everything is exhausting, also the people in front of me in the queue at the old JPC pipped me to the last of the ice so I couldn't even have the sneaky snow cone I was going to cheat on my diet with, I am made of sulk; Boots made up for it as they've started selling bags of edamame (well, at Piccadilly Circus Boots anyway) like the standard Tesco Carrot Snack Pack size or whatever and they have their no-calorie cream soda and that's also nice. Walked down to the NEW JPC, was personally victimised by the existence of yet more attractive men in tight hoodies, checked with Lindsay to see if the builders had fucked off, and began making my way home --
Somewhat spoiled by some prize dickheads on the escalators at Leicester Square; I thought the man they were patting on the back as he walked past was a friend but he didn't react to them (two wankers in blue suits with slicked back hair who thought everything was hilarious); they made some sort of comment when I was passing as well (yes I am wearing sunglasses indoors my eyes hurt also it's none of your business) but as I was listening to excellent TORTURE PORN PODFIC I couldn't really hear them over the sound of a sexual sadist trying real hard not to sexmurder someone.
Once again arrived home exhausted and OH I SHOULD ALSO MENTION
So this apparently legit or at least claiming to be associated with this legit (German-language) magazine asked me if they could use my photos from my Kintsugi article for a piece they were doing on the practice and I off-handedly said I prefer to be paid for my work in money rather than exposure, they said 100EU, I said sure, they said, send us an invoice with your bank details. I found a template when I got home (this conversation being conducted via FB messages on my House of D account while I was out so not really able to draw one up there and then) and drew up an invoice. When it came to putting in my bank details I went "hang on ein minuten, I have no idea who you are", checked, found her profile was locked, and decided that rather than being openly suspicious at her I would just hedge my bets. So she has been sent one invoice with "bank details: I prefer transactions to be completed via this paypal address"; conclusion, if they're legit they give me 100EU in my paypal; if they're not they can't take any money off me.
I will spare you food and food rage details, and only mention that I still haven't put the thing on my knee and every time I move my damn knee it hurts so I'm going to go put the thing on my knee now and hope I can actually go to the gym tomorrow, aka THE FIRST DAY OF THE WEEK WHEN I HAVEN'T HAD TO DO SO IN A RUSH.