Revelation 

Yesterday I rewatched the South Park two-parter Rehash/Happy Holograms. It’s an interesting concept. Kyle wants to play Call of Duty with his brother Ike, however Ike is more interested in watching someone else playing Call of Duty on YouTube and commentating on it. This subsequently leads Cartman to engage in the fad by commentating on people commentating on all manner of things. This ends when the person who is doing the watching and commentating on the watching and commentating becomes the watched and commentated upon.
It reminded me of a scene from my favourite Doctor Who episode. In all likelihood, I’m the only person who can say this, as the episode in question is usually granted the damning praise of being “probably Colin Baker’s best episode.” At best. However, I’ve always found it a fascinating outlier in terms of the series. Revelation of the Daleks. I decided to rewatch it.

The episode is largely based on the premise of Evelyn Waugh’s ‘The Loved One.’ It’s the only Doctor Who episode to my knowledge to combine themes of mortuaries, cannibalism and bodysnatching. Although that makes it different, it isn’t however, why I like it.

The story is broken down into a number of subplots (usually) between two people and their interaction. There is the story of the Doctor and Peri arriving on Necros and the first episode largely concerns itself with their ‘misadventures’ of getting to ‘Tranquil Repose’ including encountering a mutant who Peri kills in about thirty seconds – bewilderingly, the then show-runner John Nathan Turner originally believed he could get Laurence Olivier to play. Some thinly veiled innuendo as the Doctor climbs over a wall and then finally, the Doctor being crushed by a statue of himself. Which I’m sure is also thinly veiled metaphor for that era of the show. There are two ‘bodysnatchers,’ one of whom is trying to retrieve her father – who is also the man the Doctor is seeking. There is Jobel the arrogant chief mortician and the woman (whose name I’ve forgotten) who is attracted to him and subsequently is lured and manipulated into murdering on Davros’ behalf. Along with Davros – now going by the ironic and portentous non de guerre: The Great Healer – whose head is now suspended in a jar, there is Kara who is the owner of a food distribution company (yes) and a pawn of Davros’. Kara hires two assassins to murder Davros, in the form of Orcini and Bostock. Further to this, there is a DJ played by Alexei Sayle who watches events unfold and provides a running commentary. Then we have Davros watching the DJ watching events unfold. This provides an interesting collage of events which is infinitely more interesting for the fact that the Doctor (or the irritating paper tigers, the Daleks for that matter) is not at the centre of them until well into part two. I actually really like how the episode pans in and out of the individual stories of each of the characters.

Of course, being a Dalek story, inevitably, all of these characters end up being murdered, but it was fun while it lasted. However, despite this, the story is still better for the fact that the Daleks or the Doctor are never truly able to take centre stage. Even the slightly lacklustre resolution through the introduction of the Dalek civil war doesn’t overshadow, the revelation of gratuitous cannibalism or Orcini – who I find to be one of the shows better mercenaries, in aiming to kill for ‘honour’ blowing the mortuary to bits.

The best Dalek stories are the ones where the Daleks do not take centre stage. Which is why there are so few good stories with them in. The acclaimed Genesis of the Daleks which is essentially a WW2 movie with a moral ending, or the excellent RTD era ‘Dalek’ which centres on the owner of an underground museum being cases in point on how to do these episodes well. As an aside, to be fair, RTD generally carried off his Dalek stories with a degree of aplomb, due to filling his stories with enormous amounts of emotional chaos. Even the woeful and virtually unforgivable Stolen Earth saga, much like his previous over-the-top season finales which had an abhorrent over reliance on deus ex machina endings, could find some redemption in that the over-the-top (even for any sci-fi) action was a secondary backdrop to almost tear-jerking human drama. That Davies’ stories were so grounded in the real lives of ordinary, relatable characters was probably both his greatest strength and weakness in terms of the bold stories he created. Imagine watching a good, really engaging version of Eastenders where you begin to strongly identify with the characters and their daily foibles. Invariably it would go something like this: one of the characters has just discovered he has cancer with only months only to live, his motherless teenage daughter who for months has been getting bullied about her weight, meanwhile has just discovered she’s pregnant and has nowhere to turn as the guy who impregnated and the only decent person she knows apart from her father has been ran over by a car, only for the Queen Vic to suddenly have the real Queen Victoria turn up and then be stolen and taken to Mars by giant alien elephants and then Daleks come and indiscriminately destroy the whole planet, except Albert Square, because someone activated the eye of harmony and the time vortex, preserved all life there but destroyed all the Daleks. That teenage girl and her father however are still up shit-creek without a paddle and the tenth doctor is “so so sorry.” However, they are all the better for the chance to live better lives – no matter how short, inconvenient and miserable – for the experience of meeting The Doctor, even if it now transpires it’s in a parallel universe. It’s a better place and atleast if her father is going to die, she now has her long dead (in the other dimension) mother to help her through this. Oh wait, it turns out that there’s another fully healthy version of her father in this world too, so atleast when he dies, there’s a like for like replacement. Just heartbreaking she had to leave behind her XBox which meant so much to her. Still, I suppose that’s better than Moffat equivalent where he’d have the girl, her father and her boyfriend all die out of sequence at the beginning of the episode, the whole planet be destroyed except for the Queen Vic, because one of the regulars is actually responsible for rewriting the entire continuity of Eastenders and the cosmos, and the Doctor is all puzzled and like “I can’t rewrite time” and then his companion who is also the barmaid realises you can go back in time and just change the barrel of beer which caused all of this disaster in the first place and opened the chasm in space time which by rights shouldn’t have even been there because that beer barrel was actually out of date sludge from the 17th century infected with the bubonic plague which was put there in a plot by the Cybermen with help from the master (who has now regenerated into a female version of Wel’ard) earlier in the season arc, so after timey wimey stuff, no-one actually dies at all. Apart from Wel’ard and the Daleks who were also there for no reason whatsoever. Well, until the first episode of the next season. But I digress. 

Doctor Who is always more interesting when it’s about other people. The Doctor – aside from a brief spell in the late eighties, and a short period in the mid nighties where it may or may not be the case he’s a genocidal maniac with the blood of billions of civilisations on his hands, particularly the time lords who are the most annoying, tedious bunch of bureaucrats in television history (RTD’s greatest contribution to Doctor Who until it was undone) – hasn’t actually been a particularly interesting character since the sixties when he was a cantankerous, manipulative old fossil with a penchant for kidnapping. Similar to the comeback of the series with Rose in 2005, was framed through the eyes of not the Doctor, but his granddaughter Susan and her two schoolteachers. After that initial, iconic first episode, the serial goes wayward with some Shakespearean caveman before picking up again in the next episode and first episode starring the Daleks, titled, well, The Daleks. An interesting if not drawn out lament on pacifism, the Daleks, although severely limited – they are reliant on radiation to live and can only move on surfaces that give off static electricity – are a bit more interesting than in later outings due to their cunning, manipulative tendencies which interacts well with the character of the still rather unlikeable Doctor. Villains are always more interesting when they mirror the hero of the piece. They would subsequently undergo a lot of retconning, to the point where they can broaden their horizons, go out into the universe and take control of other civilisations. Including Earth. This terrifies the bureaucratic time lords so much they force the fourth Doctor to go and attempt to change history in the aforementioned Genesis of the Daleks. By this point they had long ago ran their course, but in the context of placing them in a story about their creation – as a race that are so badly mutated from millennia of biological, chemical and nuclear war they placed into mini tanks to survive – with not remotely subtle Nazi and World War 2 undertones, it works. Davros and the Daleks’ next outing – ironically written by their own creator Terry Nation – would see all of this completely undone by actually forgetting they are living beings in tanks and useless they can beat some rubbish 70’s disco robots because they’re too logical (!) despite the fact that in previous outings they have ruled over countless planets including Earth and were considered so dangerous by the most powerful civilisation in the Doctor Who universe, that they were willing to completely rip up the rules of time – their apparently fundamental reason for being. Although it’s never really fully explained what the time lords do, other than act as some accidental metaphor for public sector bureaucracy – stop them from ever existing. So by my reckoning ‘Revelation’ to even have a remotely watchable Davros/Dalek story is an achievement in itself. You can accept that Davros who is someone who is completely useless in every conceivable use of the term, might be a little bit edgy and dangerous. This is why gruesome concept of the cannibalism and harvesting people into Daleks works in the context of the story. It gets back to the roots of what makes most of the better villains in the series effective and interesting, a desire for survival, rather than just some lacklustre plan to take over a world. Again, it works because as I’ve said, it’s not a story about Davros, the Daleks or the Doctor. It’s a story about an arrogant conceited man and a woman’s unrequited love for him which subsequently leads to a brutal murder, it’s a story about a girl with her alcoholic friend searching for her father, a story about a woman who wants to essentially kill her boss, who has been manipulated betraying and being betrayed, a story about two assassins and their motives, about a de facto security state where the watchers get watched. It works because it’s different and an outlier in the series. An episode that manages to use the characters at its disposal and portray an alien world through creating an interesting collage. That’s why I like it. It should also have been the last time Davros ever appeared on TV. His unnecessary appearances in later stories from Rememberance of the Daleks, where the creepy little girl was far more interesting, RTD and Moffatt era Doctor Who – I still can’t figure out the point of bringing him back and then retconning him again to actually make the Daleks even more pitiful through them now having a concept of clemency -along with Skaro and the Master/Missy –  mean he and his paper tigers have more than long outstayed their welcome. Perhaps it was just a big fuck you from Moffatt in restoring Skaro at the start of the series and Gallifrey at the end to completely undo the greatest service RTD did for Doctor Who. Largely killing off the two most boring races in the universe to a level that was palatable for Saturday night audiences.

Principles? Don’t Waste my Time

I know a lot about ideology and principle and how the two become almost inseparable. I grew up in an astonishingly republican family where members were even seriously opposed to my name (Michael) because I shared it with Michael Collins, who they maintained had betrayed the cause of Ireland by signing the Anglo-Irish treaty – or his own ‘death warrant,’ as he put it – subsequently leading to the partition of the nation and made the troubles in the north east of Ireland, some forty plus years later somewhat of an inevitability for anyone who cared to pay an interest. Of course, an ideologue can understand that this did some degree betray those who had fought and died for a unified Irish Republic, however,  it may in the process overlook that political settlement to some degree prevented further bloodshed in the north-east and that his revolutionary army who had fought so gallantly against the biggest empire the world has ever known and actually brought them to the negotiating table were rapidly running out of resources and were perhaps even only a few days from achieving nothing at all. 

During the 1960’s, prior to the start of the troubles, Sinn Fein and their military wing – or perhaps that should actually be the other way round, to be a true reflection of that time – who adhered only to the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916, the revolutionary Dáil Éireann of 1919-1922 and had vowed to carry on the fight of those who had fought against the treaty, all whilst refusing to recognise the legitimacy of the two parliaments formed in the north and south of Ireland following partition were a spent force. The leadership were beginning to shift away from these ideals into left-wing politics, and attempting to realise their goal through a questionable interpretation of Marxism – although to some degree correct in the assertion – that Ireland could only be united through overcoming sectarian differences between communities and the working classes of those communities unifying to best represent their interests. However, the conservative instincts of the working classes (north and south) were (and still are) a long way from coming to terms with such sentiments and before long, as the catholic nationalist communities – inspired by events in America – began to march and demand Civil Rights – including housing rights and voting rights long denied to them due to the disproportionately gerrymandered electoral system – which had long been witheld from them. Ulster would soon be rocked by sectarian warfare,which would scar the six counties for decades to come. The would be Marxists found themselves ill equipped to defend their communities, a split in Sinn Fein occurred, the baton would shift giving rise to the more conservatively inclined Provisionals, who would again reject politics, pledge allegiance to the first Dáil and would only accept the unification of Ireland through the use of armed struggle. Tragically it would be a long time before it became tenable for them to move towards politics.

In the early 1980’s, it would be the hunger striker Bobby Sands who would be ironically, the catalyst for the shift in mindset which would lead to an acceptance of politics and ultimately a rejection of the long held principle of armed struggle. Whilst on hunger strike against the treatment of Republican prisoners and their inhumane treatment, one of those unusual quirks of history occurred. A by-election was called following the death of an independent Republican MP in Fermanagh. Bobby Sands stood on an anti H-Block ticket and was duly elected as a member of parliament.  Sinn Fein now under the leadership began to identify the potential of electoral politics as a means of bringing the troubles to an end (as documented through secret negotiations between sources close to the British government and those close to the republican movement intermittently from the early 1970’s onwards. Please see Peter Taylor’s book: Provos, for more on this). Gradually, the process began to undo decades of ideology. Including over writing their most abiding principles, the ones that they maintained gave their war legitimacy: abstentionism and their refusal to recognise the Dublin and Stormont parliaments and thus the two partitioned states as legitimate. (Note: Sinn Fein, still refuse to take seats in Westminster, however they do actually make use of offices within parliament – one foot in the door).  

Ultimately, following years of clever stewardship by Adams – who remarkably achieved what Collins could not, although there are some crucial differences, delivering an almost fully intact Republican movement into the peace process –  they would come to accept the principle that unity can only be achieved through basically what the misguided Marxists said: when the people of both communities can come together and realise that a shared future is mutually beneficial – and that they have more in common with each other and begin to wonder why their hard-earned taxes are going to an apathetic Westminster government, rather than having complete control of their own affairs. Likewise, when businesses in the north reach a similar conclusion to their southern counterparts post 1916, that their interests are best served ‘going it alone.’ It will be then that those two mean-spirited nations formed from the Anglo-Irish agreement of the twenties can align for a progressive shared future. The dark days of the past put firmly to bed for good. I continue to hope that within my lifetime, I will see a Federal Irish Republic governed by the people of Ireland for all the people of Ireland achieved through peaceful means.

Perhaps it is easier to look back in hindsight, however, in no instance that I know of has an uncompromising, dogmatic, principled approach ever achieved anything substantial. In the Civil War of the 1920’s, families were torn apart, during the later troubles in the north, every death caused further division and probably pushed the ultimate goal of unification further away. 

Whilst I am no doubt being dramatic by highlighting the short history in the preceding paragraphs, it occurs to me, that steadfast deeply principled approach will only take you so far. Inevitably, you must deal with people who disagree with you, and you with them. To create a progressive path forward, you must sit down and listen and form a consensus. This isn’t ‘compromising,’ it’s called maturity. Steadfastly rejecting the views of those you oppose on partisan or ideologica grounds isn’t a credible position to take. There comes a time when two sides must look to meet somewhere in the middle to find a solution and consensus and move on. I am more sure than ever that dogmatism, ideology, principles and mean spiritedness in the greater scheme of things are the path to nowhere other than preaching to the choir within an echo chamber.

(Almost) Finished With Labour

What’s the bloody point of being a member and having a vote if our voice is just going to be vetoed by a completely unrepresentative parliamentary party?
I’m not just talking about people necessarily identifying with Corbyn hereor his supporters here.

I’m talking about a huge chasm in values between the parliamentarians and the membership and then with the casual voter, which at the moment just seems irreconcilable. It’s not like I even think Corbyn is particularly representative of most Labour voters.Certainly not ones from places like where I live who can be quite small c conservative and frown upon a lot of the middle class fringe issues which have overshadowed him at times. Take things like Trident for example. The people here have no interest in that, precisely because communities like Sunderland have always been the ones to build things like Trident! Not because there’s some innate desire to destroy the planet, just the fact that it’s an industry and industries like shipbuilding are what have kept roofs over people’s heads for generations. The people are too focused on just surviving and don’t have the time to worry about issues like nuclear weapons. Having the time to think about such things would be a luxury almost. Still, at the time of the vote, he was the closest to representative available.

I would actually have no issue whatsoever with someone standing against Corbyn if there was a good candidate with something to offer. There isn’t. That’s why he got the job in the first place! What a shambles.

Labour: The PLP and Jeremy Corbyn

Let’s get this straight:

Labour prior to Corbyn was on a fast track to political insignificance (i) being wiped out in Scotland post Indy-ref (ii) mainly because the ideologically vapid, toxic Blairites/Tory lites are so bereft of any kind of progressive policies they’ve lost the last two general elections and not only that, they’ve lost the Labour heartlands of Scotland. This isn’t an accident and it has nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn. Seriously, it doesn’t take a genius to put 2+2 together.

The rise of Corbyn was a response from the membership, he is symptomatic of the crisis in Labour and of the members wanting something more representative that isn’t the toxic proven failure of post-Blairism. If any of the people who are now (still) trying to oust him had had anything about them, he wouldn’t have been elected as Labour leader in the first place. This wasn’t some blind ideological crusade by Labour members, it was the fact that he was the best of a particularly vapid and useless bunch.

Ironically, it’s the ones who shout loudest that Corbyn is unelectable, wh0 are the ones who are most unelectable themselves. Not only the membership, but the country hates them, that’s why they’ve lost two general elections to the most nauseating party for years and continue to trail in the polls.

Jeremy Corbyn will not be Labour leader at the next GE, but Labour will lose. It will have nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn, or Corbyn’s year in charge. It’ll have everything to do with that if the people of this country are given a choice between the shallow, vapid Conservative Party and a party trying to be like a shallow, vapid Tory Party because they think that’s what wins votes, the country will again opt for the real thing.

Masculinity.

My ninety year old grandfather was supposed to die last week. He’s had a long series of set backs. His kidneys are failing, he has a form of septicaemia in the blood which the strongest antibiotics available were unable to fight, he can’t open his eyes, he can’t speak, he can’t breathe without the aid of an oxygen mask. The doctors have said they can’t do anything else for him. His only aid in his weakened state is some anaesthetic and a nurse regularly turning him to prevent the build up of pressure sores. It was and is shocking to see. I last saw him two days ago, he was conscious, only able to try and move his head. 

Rather than write the usual tedious platitudes when he ultimately dies, which at this rate could be long after the rest of the family, I want to write this now.

My brother said that he initially didn’t want to see him in such a state. That he wanted to remember him as he was. Understandable. However, as I saw him and as he remains at the time of writing is how I want to remember him. What he has shown in these last few days, to continue to survive beyond what would otherwise be considered feasible is the ultimate testament to the mental strength and fortitude of the man. 

From a generation of men, which are probably the last to embody the real assured, mature masculinity, assertive, respectful and dignified without being soft or overly sensitive. 

I didn’t always agree with my grandfathers points of view, but he didn’t mind that, because he wasn’t from a generation of sissies who had such a fragile sensitive outlook towards being disagreed with or told they’re wrong. Capable of putting a point across without having a meltdown. Assertive. 

A sergeant in the Army, in Burma after World War 2. A boxer in his younger days, he has shown (and shows) the same insurmountable resilience to the last. He has my undimmed and untarnished respect for the dignity and courage he has shown. Masculinity doesn’t come from the physical, it comes from the maturity shown in situations where the physical has absconded. 

A true man, from a generation made of stronger, better stuff. 

for sunshine after storm

“I would say that he has a rather limited and uncreative way of looking at the situation. You want to know if I understand that this is a mental hospital? Yes, I understand that. But, then how can I say that you are Don Octavio and I am a guest at your villa? Correct?” – Don Juan DeMarco

A few months ago I experienced something unusual. I was tense. I couldn’t think clearly. I couldn’t grasp my thoughts. A fog had descended over my brain. I couldn’t visualise or access the parts of my brain where all the interesting stuff was. 

I love reading and literature. I could read something but I couldn’t access the memory drive or whatever the technical term is for that, where I hold all the allusions and reference points to my previous experiences and all of the other shit I’ve read in my life to form a picture or an opinion or expand on, or even understand what the writer was trying to say (intentionally or otherwise). It was an incredibly frustrating experience.

I was stressed out from long hours. I was physically and mentally jaded. My brain and body had effectively hit the ‘safe mode’ á la Windows 98. All my body and mind was interested in was the basic functions of survival and protecting myself to stay alive. An ancient, hard wired evolutionary response.

Your body is designed for two primary functions: reproduce and survive. When you’re faced with stressful situations, the only parts of your brain you can access are the ones which perform the basic functions of keeping you alive. If you’re about to be lunch for a sabre tooth tiger, your mind couldn’t give a shit about the nuances of James Joyce’s Ulysses, only the threat at hand and keeping you alive. 

It actually took me a while, to regain my sense of self. I don’t like feeling jaded or having my mind clouded over. I enjoy the sensory aspects of living. How pretentious as fuck does that sound? I started trying to increase blood-flow to my brain and break the shackles of the stultifying fog.

I started looking for outlets and later it was by chance I became interested in playing guitar again. I don’t profess to be even a proficient guitar player. I’m working on it. However I became fascinated by the possibilities of the instrument and the creative process. I eventually started to think outside of the box again and started looking beyond the conventional idea of the instrument. If you’re playing an electric guitar, essentially, the guitar is actually the platform and your instrument is the amp. I started messing around with various effects pedals, which are actually addictive. I started looking beyond the guitar in the conventional sense of playing chords and became interested and intrigued in the various multi-faceted possibilities. Utilising the various quirks of the equipment to create interesting sounds, rather than spending hours tediously practising ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ to make it sound like it does on Led Zep 4, I thought it was more interesting just messing and playing around. Creating my own sound. I didn’t care. The stress was gone. This is freedom.

I had internalised the greatest lesson from James Joyce’s work, the creative process is essentially for your own amusement. Art brings stillness and fulfilment. It doesn’t mean shit if people like, appreciate or even understand what you’re doing, it isn’t a means to an end. You do not create for visceral reponse. It is an outpouring of spiritual repose.

Four on Six

image

I’m determined to get good at this.

Some considerations:

During every practise session of an hour or longer, there will be 10-20 minutes ‘cold time’ and this makes no consideration for how “purposeful” the practise session is. Nor does it take into consideration how invested you are in what you’re actually doing. 

However this also doesn’t take into consideration towards other time spent towards developing. Time invested in studying technique, music, researching, learning will ultimately be beneficial. 

Degüello

To the chagrin of my neighbours I spent the morning listening to back-to-back ZZ Top albums on the Kitsound Boom Evo and I’ve rediscovered this classic.

  
Manic Mechanic aside which is like some kind of mescaline trip. Although it kind of works if you listen to it within the scope of the whole album; as a standalone track it’s kind of terrible, I think Degüello (meaning ‘slit your throat’) might be one of my favourite albums ever. Beat-up, sleazy blues. It’s basically what would happen if Charles Bukowski was a guitar player. The album is complete filth. Tracks such as I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide, Fool for your Stockings and Cheap Sunglasses which is effectively the greatest porno movie riff never used – one which would make you watch to the end of the film to see if they end up getting married – are mesmerisingly good.

I much prefer this to their more commercially successful stuff: Eliminator and Afterburner. I actually also much prefer it to the outstanding Tres Hombres which has the classic La Grange with that amazing ripped off John Lee Hooker lick. Which basically makes this head and shoulders ZZ Top’s greatest album and probably one of the best and most underrated albums of all time. I actually rate this as being up with albums the calibre of Revolver by The Beatles. 

Strongly recommended.

Raw is Wah

Looking forward to the arrival of my new Telecaster, Dunlop JC95 Wah and Behringer SF400, which has some interesting effects and a wide range of tones I can mess about with.

I recently found the sweet spot with my Les Paul, where I managed to finally illicit the right amount of gain to get a really dirty, gritty bluesy sound. I’ve been having a lot of fun playing some Beatles stuff in the fashion of a really beat up, poor mans ZZ Top. I’m interested to see how I can expand on that with the Telecaster. I loved the tonality of the Tele whilst playing blues licks.

I ordered the JC95 Wah after spending an afternoon watching head-to-heads on YouTube of various pedals and I ended up torn between the JC95 model, which is based on eliciting the sound of Alice in Chains’ Jerry Cantrell and the signature model of the late Pantera guitarist Dimebag Darrel, ‘The Crybaby from Hell Wah.’ For the sound I’m looking for, It was a tough choice between the two as to which offered the most textured, layered tone. I ultimately opted for the Cantrell model, as you can only obsess over the nuances of sound so much and obsessing over the ‘perfect sound’ just gets in the way of creativity. You have to work with the quirks of the tools at your disposal.

Rather than looking for perfection, I think it’s a lot more interesting to work with what you’ve got and build your own unique style and sound based on that, rather than being de rigueur or trying to imitate someone else. It’s the quirks which give you the authenticity, soul, individuality and originality.

It’s always better to the first and best you, than a second rate someone else.

Looking to add an MXR M108 10-Band Graphic EQ and a decent digital delay pedal sometime soon, too. This set-up should lead me nicely to one day making high budget films on oil tankers lamenting the breakdown of human relationships and swimming with dolphins. If you don’t get that last reference, you never will.