February Links Post

Things my friends have done

Things I have done

Things strangers have done

  • Begun the process of reconstructing sounds from brainwaves, apparently. I cannot work out if this is cool, terrifying, or both.
  • Compiled a gorgeous selection of photographs of the most beautiful and innovative bookshops in the world. I am sad about the lack of representation of Hay-on-Wye, but deeply envious of some of the ones that are on the list. Portugal especially have apparently nailed “awesome bookshop”.
  • Interesting fellow on OKCupid showed me his music (this is not a euphemism), so naturally I am going to share it with the internet: Add Gray Fun. The two tracks I’ve listened to are sort of sparse and build tunes out of discord, which I’m very fond of as a feature in electronica. Professionally speaking I think they definitely need mixing & mastering – some work on the levels – and would personally have an annoying faff with reverb in places but overall I rather like it.
  • This fuzzy-haired scientist has an apparently supportable theory that cats make us bonkers. When you add up all the different ways it can harm us, says Flegr, “Toxoplasma might even kill as many people as malaria, or at least a million people a year.” Well, that’s not terrifying at all.
  • This Tumblr user is using police photo-fit software to try to recreate the faces of famous literary characters as described by their authors. What a fantastic concept!
  • Josie Long takes on UniLadMag and does so wonderfully.
  • When Same-Sex Marriage Was a Christian Rite. Fascinating to me, and I do have a copy of a book with a title along the lines of “Same Sex Unions in Medieval Europe” waiting for me to finish reading the thousands of other books I’ve acquired and get around to it.
  • Written about The Invention of Heterosexuality, which examines how other areas of social change during the birth of psychiatry as a profession led to the creation of sexual identities connected to biological urges, and the value judgements that come with them.
  • People Like Me, a very depressing list of unfair treatment you can expect to receive if you’re viewed as being “unacceptably” fat.
  • A handy little interactive graph for women to use to determine which clothing size their measurements make them at any given clothing shop.
  • An Eight-Step Guide To Self-Editing Your Manuscript. On, completely unrelated, a very pretty blog.
  • Via that link, a useful website for determining how often you use particular words. I am cringing just imagining what would come up on mine.
  • And an io9 article about what the problem is with adverbs
  • As a confirmed over-emotional weenie about the city I live in who buys maps and cries every time she lands back at Heathrow and owns an embarrassing number of books of London photography, this post about London set to music is rather moving.
  • This fascinating blog over at Tiger Beatdown about how reality television and blogging have destroyed the ability of readers and viewers to appreciate the difference between performance and reality.
  • A very funny review of what sounds like a very awful movie (Splice).
  • In a rather timely coincidence, not long after I whined that I’d be more inclined to eat healthily if healthy food were more convenient, a friend of mine discovered COOK, who have made that leap for me.
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Daphne Oram: Sound Engineer & Composer

In 2010/2011, I worked probably not hard enough to gain a vocational qualification in Sound Engineering which promptly became useless to me due to a combination of chronic shyness and perpetual ear infections leaving me functionally deaf in one ear. Among the practical skills I learned: digital composition, tape editing, multi-track recording, analogue mixing, location sound recording, a little in the way of electronic engineering, and along with the history of musical development and notation, I also learned a little of the history of electronic music. This was supplemented significantly by Ishkur’s Electronic Music Guide, but neither in class nor in my admittedly haphazard readings outside of class did I encounter much in the way of information about the history of women in electronic music. I think the only woman my digital music tutor even mentioned was Wendy Carlos. Wendy was absolutely at the forefront of electronic musical fame and deserves every single column inch in every article devoted to her work with modular synths, but I feel disappointed that it wasn’t until a recent trip to the Science Museum for an evening event (the filming of a space-related educational program for use in the USA, which also included a choir, an orchestra, a ballet dancer, and free champagne) that I discovered Daphne Oram.

BBC Radiophonic Workshop

I’ve long been besotted and beset with admiration for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. As a great big Dr Who fan I’ve always been delighted by the tales of their early effects for the program: the ring modulator for the Daleks, the keys scraped down the piano wires, and the seminal theme tune of Ron Grainer’s (which was actually electronically arranged by another wonderful woman, Delia Derbyshire). What surprises me is that no one had really mentioned that setting this up and having electronic effects and music introduced to the BBC was the work of Daphne Oram and Desmond Briscoe. It would have cheered me up no end on my course (on which I was one of only two women!) to know that another woman was so important and influential in sound engineering at the BBC.

Daphne continued composing and developed a system to convert pictures into sounds. It involved drawing on 10 strips of 35mm film, which were then read by photo-electric cells and converted into sound, and became known as Oramics.

Daphne Oram, the unsung  pioneer of techno, by Giles Wilson

To me this is fascinating. Daphne Oram not only composed electronic music when the artform was still very much in its infancy, not  only drove the BBC to set up an electronic music & effects workshop, not only set up her own music studio (the first woman to do so in the UK), but designed and created an entirely new form of instrument (with the assistance of engineer Graham Wrench). I am quite shocked that she isn’t better-known or more widely talked-about, considering what she brought to television, to sound technology, and to music in general. What a remarkable, intelligent, and hard-working woman she was, by all accounts constantly driven to create and innovate. She would have been the perfect role model for the women on my course!

Daphne Oram in her studio in the 70s

Ever since hearing about optical recording in an introductory session on my course I have found the idea fascinating, and the idea that Daphne Oram used it not only to to record external music but to create music is quite electrifying.

If you’re able to get to the Science Museum I’d definitely recommend having a poke around the “Oramics” display: they have several fantastic machines from the early days of electronic music, and – my favourite – an interactive display which allows you to compose on the trot by drawing on a screen with your finger, a little like her optical recording method. For a moment, waffling with this display with a half-empty glass of champagne between my knees and headphones slipping off my too-small ears, I got to pretend that I was half the innovative genius and engineering pioneer that Daphne Oram was, and that’s a really good feeling.

(Especially as it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out some of the virtual synth settings on Logic Pro!)

A very specific literary genre

My dad says that being a Londoner has nothing to do with where you’re born. He says that there are people who get off a jumbo jet at Heathrow, go through immigration waving any kind of passport, hop on the tube and by the time the train’s pulled into Piccadilly Circus they’ve become a Londoner.

Moon Over Soho,  Ben Aaronovitch,  Chapter  9.

As a non-native Londoner (I was born in Nottingham and dragged up in the West Country) and smitten arrival inside the nightmarish embrace of the M25 I’m grateful to Mr Aaronovitch (or rather to his protagonist Peter Grant) for this. Moon Over Soho is the sequel to Rivers of London, and is therefore another entry into the scrupulously-policed genre of the “supernatural London-based crime novel”.

I’ve joked with a couple of friends that if I ever ran a bookshop (this would be a bad thing for many reasons, not limited to my terrible customer service and examples from my family history that suggest none of us should be allowed to run anything more complicated than an electric pencil sharpener; my mother took over a cafe and ran it into the ground in seven months), I would have a specific section devoted to books of this ilk. I’d love to write one – I’m not sure that Pass the Parcel quite qualifies, although it has a lot of the requisite elements – but I’m not sure I’ve yet developed the writerly chops to do it justice.

The parameters for the genre are strict, in my mind. I explained this to my boyfriend while hopping around manically outside the bathroom with a cup of tea in my hand, which means that it’s clearly a very solid idea.

First:

Book/majority of book must be set in London, and recognisably either London now, or a London of the past. Alternate Londons must be close enough to this London to qualify. This excludes on this criteria alone the excellent children’s book Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, and the even more brilliant Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, as both are set in parallel Strange Londons.

Second:

Central plot should be about a crime, rather than a quest or a romance. This again rules out Un Lun Dun, and Neverwhere. It also rules out Pass the Parcel, which has a somewhat decentralised plot and while the whole thing is riddled with crime, it’s not a criminal investigation or a mystery plot.

Third:

“Supernatural” can over a multitude of sins, but the magic/weird should always be underground and unacknowledged by the general public, otherwise we get back into the realms of being either unrecognisable London or urban fantasy rather than supernatural crime. While Pass the Parcel could possibly fall under the aegis of the supernatural, as the bloody author I’m still grumpily calling it Urban Sci Fi rather than Urban Fantasy/Supernatural City. And my word on this matter is law!

What Qualifies?

Well, the Rivers of London books (Rivers of London, Moon Over Soho, and the forthcoming third instalment) by Ben Aaronovitch, which are about a young police officer from Kentish Town who is also training to be a wizard, and the magical crimes (often quite gruesome) that he solves. It’s fairly textbook.

Then there’s Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney, which revolves around forgery, deception, and demons. It’s not about quite what it sounds like it’s about (fittingly), and views a slightly different, more bookish London to the London of the Rivers of London books. It is a London of more stylish and elderly bars, with more Bloomsbury and less Soho. But, as with films, Guy Ritchie and Richard Curtis both make films about the same city: a lot of cities fit into the urban gastric band of the M25.

Finally there’s the China Mieville books: while Un Lun Dun doesn’t qualify, King Rat (which suffers rather from First Novel Syndrome but which has such blinding localisation that I’m almost prepared to forgive it: it is very grotty, and very close to certain homes), and Kraken do. China’s work is louder, faster, less genteel and more violent than Heaney’s or Aaronovitch’s, more like a riot of the weird but still London enough to meet my requirements. It draws on recognisable landmarks, like the Natural History Museum’s Spirit Museum, and SOAS, and the London Stone. It also introduces the utterly compelling notion of Londonmancers, a species of soothsayer who read the rhythms of the city to predict the future.

All of these books treat the city to an extent both as an organism and as a divinity built of divinities, whether layering on demons as Memoirs does, or drawing out a whole bestiary of strange and wicked creatures as Kraken does. I think, personally, that’s the intelligent way to write about cities – any living city, not just London – which are magical places where the sheer weight of humanity distorts sanity rather like matter and space-time (my understanding of Relativity was gleaned from a comic book about Einstein’s cat).

It becomes apparent in books like these that all sorts of strange worlds and twisted beings are bumping into the average Londoner on the street or locked up behind a thin veneer of crumbling brick. Anyone who has walked the streets of this city at night a few times will tell you that is absolutely the case: entire nations flourish behind locked doors, and you can step from country to country by turning a key in a lock.

My infatuation with the city naturally leads me towards London-based literature, but I am quite sure that other cities carry a similar canon of works: it would be hard to imagine that Moscow or Mumbai or Rome had somehow escaped a torrent of adoring stories celebrating their strangenesses and charms. The romance of the urban grips writers like a fever.

Other books in this genre?

I think that’s up to you, dear readers: can you think of any others that fit the criteria? I’d love to hear from you if you can, because I’m making it my mission to read more of them.

Books mentioned in this post which you might like to read: Un Lun Dun by China Mieville, Kraken by China Mieville, King Rat by China Mieville, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, Memoirs of a Master Forger by William Heaney, Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch, Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch, Pass the Parcel by Delilah Des Anges

Bric-a-Brac and Indolence 6: South Kensington Museumorama Part 1

In typical fashion, the visit to Museum Central – otherwise known as South Kensington – was truncated by the mutual inability of the visitors to get out of bed at a reasonable hour, and the Natural History Museum, with its profligacy of gift shops, had to be postponed so that the lovely Holly Yagoda and I could tramp to the National Film Theatre. I was off to see Blue Velvet, which has had quite enough reviews on the internet without me adding to them, and to imbibe cocktails; Holly was mostly tugged along in my ranty wake like a good-natured and vastly more intelligent … thing that follows along in your wake.

This isn't quite the route we took

 The Victoria and Albert Museum, Cromwell Road

Number of Gift Shops: 2 (one general, one bookshop)

(Please attribute the critical tone of this review to the shop repeatedly relieving me of a lot of my money).

The V&A’s main gift shop is rather similar to the posh bit of the British Museum’s gift shop colony: it assumes a particular age group, gender and social class in its clientele and adheres to it. Even more so than the British Museum’s posh bit, it is possible to acquire almost an entire outfit from the gift shop, including gloves. A token effort has been made towards a children’s section, but its contents are not chosen with children in mind, rather with what might appeal to someone buying for their infrequently-seen grandchildren. Or, to put it another way, the kind of stuff I got as a kid and then discreetly sold at car boot sales to buy My Little Ponies.

The effort toward providing something for every pocket has primarily gone on two walls of postcards and some cheaper jewellery, but the V&A gift shop I think mostly views itself as an additional gallery where the display is for sale, more than it views itself as a shop.

There is some very beautiful and very expensive jewellery available which is clearly closely inspired by the collection, and my wallet might well have been bothered by either the exquisite patterned silk ties or the cake were they not quite so pricy.

More than anywhere else I’ve visited in this little series so far, the V&A gift shop is a slave to seasonal displays and integrating collections/exhibitions; it’s well worth visiting in the Christmas season for decorations and delicacies – always provided, of course, that your bank balance is looking healthy.

The book shop is, rather surprisingly, more focussed on the 20th/21st Century in art, design, and fashion than on earlier elements of their history, although there are some good books on architecture, and an enclave of books on Islamic art which cover a wider time period. The book shop does also boast a shelf stack of books published for or by the museum, and those are well worth examining.

The Science Museum

No dinosaurs, but ASTRONAUTS

 Number of Gift Shops: 1

Though just across the road, this shop assumes the inverse demographic of customer to the V&A. It is for families, catering both to children (and children above all) and the overgrown children who parent them. There is a certain amount of trendy, stylish kitchen gadgetry and gadgetry in general – the kind of amusements found on ThinkGeek.com – but the majority of the shop is given over to the kinds of things (robots, spy games, bouncy balls, glow-in-the-dark everything, noise machines) that make a superannuated child like me crow “cool!” and try to play with it. Holly and I entertained ourselves with bouncy balls full of swirling glitter and flashing lights for a little longer than is strictly permissible for adults who aren’t on ecstasy.

Although there are some very impressive and possibly high-end (I know nothing) telescopes available for sale, the average price is much lower than at the V&A; that said, the top-cost product here clocks up a cool grand out of your bank account. It is a ring made of cast silver which replicates the molecular structure of a diamond.

Book-wise, their selection is nearly bisected between children and adults, and covers some fascinating and often specialised areas! There are no Folio Society editions here, of course, as it seems science books don’t merit the same level of lavish binding and collectors’ item reverence, even Philosophiæ Naturalis Principia Mathematica or On The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection.

Bric-a-Brac and Indolence 5: War, Huh, What is it good for?

My continuing mission, to seek out well-known museums and their gift shops, to review what no one could be bothered to review before for the very reason that it is a frankly bizarre choice, was recently combined with a powerful desire to have a cream tea and cry over dead soldiers with a new friend. Happily, the Imperial War Museum, aside from being an imposing edifice and exceptionally well-stocked in matters relating to the two World Wars, also boasts a tea room and a gift shop in which to sate these strange longings. And apparently doesn’t mind two odd-looking women wandering through their exhibits burbling about poetry.

We then wandered off to the South Bank for cocktails at the BFI bar, which is irrelevant to the review but gives me the opportunity to promote one of my favourite bars (it’s right by the river side, does lovely snacks and cocktails, and you can sit outside in deckchairs all year round watching people go through the book market), and to throw in another route map:

Imperial War Museum, Lambeth

Imposing and popular for father/son bonding days

Number of Gift Shops: 2 (one general and integrated, one exhibition-specific on a higher floor).

Before I surge on with this particular review I must declare a bias that may or may not affect the outcome: as regular readers of this blog will be aware, I have an embarrassing and overblown emotional thing for T. E. Lawrence, and as visitors to the Imperial War Museum will be aware, a number of items relating to him are on display there, including some of his clothing from the desert campaigns, a bust, and his Brough Superior. The museum also boasts an extremely tempting book about him in the gift shop which features his drawings and photographs and other ephemera, so in the unlikely event that this review starts to sound like the foot-stamping tantrum of a spoilt toddler it’s because I realised I couldn’t throw money after anything and was not allowed to buy this book or the ceramic bottle of sarsaparilla cordial that I was coveting.

The Imperial War Museum gift shop is like the History Channel made solid, and that is both a compliment and a condemnation. The books, which focus almost exclusively on the World Wars (although from just about every conceivable angle), muted and monochrome with explosions of red, and the same fonts used over and over in bleak slabs and faux-stencils.

The shop itself is like a strange collision between a toy shop (the children’s section features a selection of model aeroplanes, spy games, and tank spotting guides the like of which could not possibly be found elsewhere) and some strange retro kitsch emporium. Keep Calm And Carry On merchandise is rife; Bakelite rotary dial phones, fake ration books, “Home Front” fudge rations and the aforementioned sarsaparilla cordial litter the place as if it’s the TARDIS crash-landed in a somewhat inaccurate 1940s grocer’s.

Unusually, it has a section devoted to music (which is, unsurprisingly, music of the wars and plays heavily on nostalgia for swing and ragtime), and a variety of miniature replica medals; the thought of purchasing the latter makes me enormously uncomfortable. The shop spills out onto the forecourt in the same manner as that at the London Museum (see previous Bric-a-Brac and Indolence posts for review) and heralds untold delights within in the form of a £500-or-so aviator jacket on prominent display. The untold delights never quite deliver, although there are, bafflingly, bouncy rubber eggs.

One area in which the gift shop does excel, and which poses the most danger to the wallet, is their selection of wartime propaganda posters. It is by no means as broad as the fascinating exhibition the museum held some years ago of propaganda posters, but it’s enough to tickle the fancy of anyone into retro art, or anyone who really wants to wake up to Winston Churchill’s face.

Essay Repost: Dress Rehearsal Rag

I wrote this in 2006, during a lull in my workplace that appeared to be stretching on into infinity. It was an attempt to recapture something I’d done during my degree in 2004 (for the Poetry: Text and Performance class), analysing song lyrics as poetry. The original attempt had involved the lyrics to Ani DiFranco’s Dilate, while this uses Leonard Cohen’s Dress Rehearsal Rag; in both cases I cheated by using lyricists who were also poets by profession, and in Cohen’s case a poet long before he began writing music.


Dress Rehearsal Rag, by Leonard Cohen:

Four o’clock in the afternoon
and I didn’t feel like very much.
I said to myself, “Where are you golden boy,
where is your famous golden touch?”
I thought you knew where
all of the elephants lie down,
I thought you were the crown prince
of all the wheels in Ivory Town.
Just take a look at your body now,
there’s nothing much to save
and a bitter voice in the mirror cries,
“Hey, Prince, you need a shave.”
Now if you can manage to get
your trembling fingers to behave,
why don’t you try unwrapping
a stainless steel razor blade?
That’s right, it’s come to this,
yes it’s come to this,
and wasn’t it a long way down,
wasn’t it a strange way down?

There’s no hot water
and the cold is running thin.
Well, what do you expect from
the kind of places you’ve been living in?
Don’t drink from that cup,
it’s all caked and cracked along the rim.
That’s not the electric light, my friend,
that is your vision growing dim.
Cover up your face with soap, there,
now you’re Santa Claus.
And you’ve got a gift for anyone
who will give you his applause.
I thought you were a racing man,
ah, but you couldn’t take the pace.
That’s a funeral in the mirror
and it’s stopping at your face.
That’s right, it’s come to this,
yes it’s come to this,
and wasn’t it a long way down,
ah wasn’t it a strange way down?

Once there was a path
and a girl with chestnut hair,
and you passed the summers
picking all of the berries that grew there;
there were times she was a woman,
oh, there were times she was just a child,
and you held her in the shadows
where the raspberries grow wild.
And you climbed the twilight mountains
and you sang about the view,
and everywhere that you wandered
love seemed to go along with you.
That’s a hard one to remember,
yes it makes you clench your fist.
And then the veins stand out like highways,
all along your wrist.
And yes it’s come to this,
it’s come to this,
and wasn’t it a long way down,
wasn’t it a strange way down?

You can still find a job,
go out and talk to a friend.
On the back of every magazine
there are those coupons you can send.
Why don’t you join the Rosicrucians,
they can give you back your hope,
you can find your love with diagrams
on a plain brown envelope.
But you’ve used up all your coupons
except the one that seems
to be written on your wrist
along with several thousand dreams.
Now Santa Claus comes forward,
that’s a razor in his mit;
and he puts on his dark glasses
and he shows you where to hit;
and then the cameras pan,
the stand in stunt man,
dress rehearsal rag,
it’s just the dress rehearsal rag,
you know this dress rehearsal rag,
it’s just a dress rehearsal rag.

Dress Rehearsal Rag less song than it is performance poem, as with much of Leonard Cohen’s work, but while it is quite pertinent to analyse it as a poem, as a text, it is worth bearing in mind the element of song, of performance in its construction, if only to balance against instances in the text where the rhythm seems to falter; these are often instances when the word or note is held/drawn out for emphasis, rather than a failing of the beat of the poem. The element of performance/song in the text also explains the repeating lines at its conclusion; the fade-out effect being employed relating back to the subject matter.

The text is almost unequivocal, even on first reading, as a piece about a failed or deliberately stalled suicide attempt, but unlike It Seems So Long Ago, Nancy and other songs about suicide by other artists, it lacks the sense of misery or remorse or even self-pity, illustrating rather the self-pity of a persona discussed in second person. The overall tone is one of disgust and contempt – this is more apparent in the performance of the piece, as Cohen’s voice lends itself well to admonition.

The metaphor upon which this theme is suspended is one of a dress rehearsal (hence the title – Cohen’s songs usually take one of the repeating lines as their name), but that does not become apparent until the crescendo, and he shows you where to hit has been reached; the remainder of the song diminishes the melodrama of the previous verses, undermining the heightened emotions in the imagery of performance, nostalgia and addiction by dismissing it all as a “dress rehearsal rag”. This bathetic ending reinforces the sense of disgust and contempt apparent in Cohen’s tone, the implication being that the protagonist of the poem is not even up to this final “performance”.

Beginning in the first person – Four o’clock in the afternoon, and I didn’t feel like very much – he introduces us to the idea that the failed sucide is himself before switching, almost immediate, to the second person in order to more effectively berate and abuse the failure with the appropriate venom. In the first instance this abuse takes the form of him speaking to himself: I said to my self, “Where are you golden boy, where is your famous golden touch?”, becoming more and more harsh and self-deprecating as he sneers to himself, “Hey, Prince, you need a shave.”. The lecture to himself meanders through some very typical Cohen themes of impending death and lost love, repeating And yes it’s come to this, it’s come to this, each time connected to the razor blade he originally intended to use for shaving – the act of presenting a better face to the world.

The voice of the admondisher alternates between mockingly encouraging the protagonist through his ritual of shaving and encouraging him, or enticing him, into slashing his wrists. It could reasonably be concluded that this “bitter voice” neither wants him to go through with the act nor to refrain from it, but merely wishes to deride the protagonist’s emotional state. It is also worth noting at this juncture that there are a great many allusory references throughout the song which may well have a deeper meaner in the context of the poet’s personal life, but that the essayist is currently without access to a biography and can therefore draw no definite conclusions at this point.

It appears, in the final verse, that the voice of mockery briefly takes a turn for the sympathetic, urging the protagonist to take solice in his friends or to essentially buck up his ideas and get on with his life, but this is dispelled in performance by the continued sarcasm and derision in Cohen’s tone, swiftly followed by the sneering you can find your love with diagrams on a plain brown envelope, which undermines the nostalgic view of romance evinced in the previous verse, and once again belittles the protagonist’s emotional state. The final verse serves to undermine previous themes several times, including ones expressed within itself; the “coupons” on the back of magazines are revealed as having been used up. Given their textual proximity to the act of talking to a friend it could be suggested that the coupons represent second chances, forgiveness in the eyes of others. That they are all used up would imply that the protagonist has pushed too hard too many times against the forgiveness of his friends.

The third verse has as its central theme one of Cohen’s most frequently occurring themes – lost love. The “bitter voice” reminds the protagonist of his previous love affair, with the implication that it is over long since, and that the memory of it (and possibly the end of the affair) is to prove a catalyst to the suicide attempt: That’s a hard one to remember, yes it makes you clench your fist. The description of the affair is typically Cohen; he speaks of the colour of her hair, makes an allusion to something sensual (in this case, fruit), and blurs the lines between acceptable adult romance and a more paternal feeling: there were times she was a woman, oh, there were times she was just a child, while also giving the affair an already darker edge, speaking of shadows. The word “highways” is particularly noteable here not just for the idea of taking a journey out of life by slitting the veins that “stand out like highways”, but in the wider context – “highways” are a a regular visitor to Cohen’s texts, in pieces such as The Stranger Song, or as roads (Stories of the Street). The idea of journeys, be they curtailed, about to begin or nervously avoided, is ever-prevalent.

The third verse serves as a brief, misleading diversion into happier memories after the blistering description of the present in its predecessor. The physical situation seems as bleak as the emotional one, expanding upon the obversation in the first verse: Just take a look at your body now, there’s nothing much to save to take in the room in which the protagonist stands to shave, the kind of places you’ve been living in. The picture Cohen paints is all the more disenheartening and overwhelming for being incomplete – we are invited to draw our own conclusions, our own outlines, from details such as there’s no hot water and the cold is running thin. This also stands as a pathetic fallacy, an outward illustration of the protagonist’s emotional state; he has run dry of emotions (hot water) and now tires even of the basic survivalist thought (cold). The state of his cup again hammers home the message – it’s all caked and cracked along the rim – standing in place of his heart. The light is dimming, both the metaphorical light of his will to continue and the physical light of his unpleasant habitation, and as act of lathering up his face begins with another mocking observation the mood darkens again.

The base rhyme of the text is alternating lines, ABCB, but it is not strict – often assonance1 is used instead of a complete rhyme, and at the end of each verse he abandons the ABCB structure in order to repeat the phrases “it’s come to this” and “way down”, emphasising the descent by breaking the scheme and also strengthening the cohesion of the poem as a whole. In the final verse the rhyme structure is subverted at the moment that we are shown the “fake” nature of the situation. Following the final “B” line, he employs an AA rhyme, followed by a repeating refrain of the title, which helpfully has an assonanical relationship2 with the preceding couplet.

However, the balance of sounds – both rhyme and dissonance – in poetry is rarely limited to the ends of lines, andDress Rehearsal Ragdemonstrates this masterfully. In the second verse, in addition to the “pace/face” rhyme, there is a lead-in of “racing man”, the repetition of both the assonance and the sibilant helping again to bind the observation together, the silibant in particular lending an element of threat to the verse, and connecting it to the closing refrain. Connections like this appear throughout the text: child/wild resonates withtwilight on the next line in the third verse, and the fist/wrist pairing echoes again the final verse with written on your wrist; in the first verse shave/behave has an assonancial relationship with razorblade.

The relationship of sounds binding the song is consistent and insidious: in the second verse soap and growing balance each other with long “oh” sounds, the near-homonyms of passed and path at the opening of the third draw the reader/listener further down along the path in question. Even allowing for the lyrical repetition of phrase employed throughout (lending a nursery-rhyme air rather perversely to the subject and allowing for mnemonic longeivity – for the phrase to get stuck in one’s head), there are any number of repeated vowel sounds coming in close proximity: in the final verse, they can give hangs in a pair with you can find, both in sense and in sound.


1. Vowel-rhyme
2. Not sure this is actually a word

There was going to be more, and a conclusion. But I suck.

Jewellery Post: Tudor Style

Some simple but striking necklaces available from my Etsy store. I’ve changed the icon! Do you like it?

Click on image for listing.

35 and three quarter inches / 91.5 centimetre beaded chain with gold plate findings, raw brass plates, acrylic, metal, and lucite beads.

A single-strand necklace long enough for looping, this warm-coloured chain will look fabulous both on its own or in combination with this or other amber-hued lucite jewellery.

Chain can be shortened by removing links, if you feel 35 and three quarter inches is surplus to requirements, please contact me and let me know how long you’d like your necklace!

Click on image for listing.

27 inch / 68.5 centimetre vintage jet bead and glass pearl rosary with St Christopher medallion.

100% vintage recycled parts! This lovely St Christopher pendant rosary is warm to the touch thanks to the jet beads, and looks monastically fabulous with almost anything. It goes especially well with velvet, and dark reds.


Snippet post: The Advent Chronicles

I’m still wrestling with refining the plot of Advent Chronicles down into chunks that can actually be written (using a loose variation on the Snowflake Method), and still repeatedly badgering my dear friends/walking reference libraries Shoi and G. for more information, and still compulsively buying books about crime in 1920s New York and then somewhat undermining my stringent research attempts by not reading them.

I’m very nervous about the prospect of writing serial fiction, because I’ve never really done it before; or at least, certainly not to a set schedule, or with an overarching plot rather than a series of afterthoughts tacked on with increasing clumsiness. I’ve already harangued Lee Barnett (Week Ending for the BBC) and Kieron Gillen (Phonogram, Journey Into Mystery) about how best to divide up the plot and maintain a level of appropriate tension and release, and just about restrained myself from filling up the ask box on Neil Gaiman’s Tumblr with whiny entreaties for some kind of explanation as to how the hell one writes serially.

Possibly as an antidote to this, and because it’s the one part of the story that doesn’t require as much research, I’ve written the introduction. I may well rewrite it – in fact, I will almost certainly rewrite it – but in the interests of Showing My Workings like we’re all still in school, here’s the opening to The Advent Chronicles:

The aliens came to America at the change of the century. It was a hot night in late May, and as a portent of doom they were early and kinda not what anyone was expecting.

No one knew what they wanted, but it turned out they wanted what every other schmoe washing up on the land of liberty wanted: the chance to make something for themselves. Well, we couldn’t deny ’em that. Back then we didn’t have the quotas in place.

And at first they didn’t cause no trouble, so we let ’em go. Just making a living, like all of us. It wasn’t ’til 1910 that it started leaking out of the ghettos and the ditches and the railway bridges – y’know, all the places where people people who ain’t got no one like to hang out – that there were something to be afraid of.

Now we know the word “ovipositor”, even the working girls know it, though they can’t spell it. Dr Hamidullah Lal of the NYPD tells me he’s seen it writ down any way you care to think. He’s a goddamn expert in deciphering the “talisman of violation” from the shaky handwriting of some impoverished sonofabitch’s worried buddy.

My neighbour Raymond, he lost his son that way. Not to the egg, but to the river. Too afraid to think straight, Raymond Junior didn’t go to his pa or Dr Hamidullah Lal. He went to the river and he jumped. Sergeant Gilgun’s men pulled him out bloated and discoloured. Raymond Senior thanks God Almighty he’s been blind these thirty years.

There’s all sortsa shadows that spell the end for girls in this city, but I guess when Fleur du Mal came to us up in the office and said something terrible had happened to Tiny Baby Anastasia, our minds went right to that word: ovipositor. The worst thing that can happen.

We weren’t expecting her to be dead.

It’s out of keeping with my usual, much more florid writing style, and it’s in first person, which I hardly ever write. With any luck Advent Chronicles will continue to be a challenge enough to keep me interested, but not so much of a challenge that I get completely put off! It’s a fine line to walk.

All the world’s a soggy semi-circle

Thanks to some quick thinking and a little shove from me, my dear friend Doug has secured us both standing tickets to see Twelfth Night at the Globe this autumn, with Stephen Fry as Malvolio. I am indifferent to Fry’s acting abilities, and find he makes a much better orator than actor or comedian, but I love the Globe (and not just for the gift shop).

For A-Level Theatre Studies, many moons ago (I’m not sure how many moons, but it was upwards of ten years), I saw a great many plays, and thanks to my unorthodox education I saw a great many performances of plays and ballets during secondary school, too (in fact this is how I first came to visit the Globe, not long after it first opened). One of the discoveries I made as a result of this glut of theatre trips was that theatres, no matter how plushly decorated or comfortable or well-lit, are after a few minutes just a dark box with a lot of people in them.

This is well and good when you’re working in them: the busy-busy-busy of cast and crew, front of house and concession keeps one far too occupied to begin any sensation of being contained. In the audience, with little to do but lose yourself in the performance, it’s often uncomfortable to be jerked out of your reverie and reminded that you are hunkered down with strangers watching a pretence unfold.

Happily, having had the dubious privilege of growing up in the West Country, I’ve also been familiar with the solution to this problem for some time: as a child, and later an adolescent, I saw several performances by Kneehigh Theatre.

Kneehigh Theatre

There are few things quite as exciting, to my mind, as open-air theatre. Everything has an element of risk involved: it could rain at any minute (and indeed at last summer’s performance of Dr Faustus at the Globe the heavens opened and the clouds rumbled and I was blue-lipped and shivering by the time the eponymous doctor was dragged to hell), the outside world stops for no man, and while the immersion may seem incomplete as a result I’ve always found that it feels more like theatre that way. There’s a sense of being involved in a very long theatrical tradition, pre-dating the establishment of permanent theatres, an odd connection to the history of the art form and the history of the story being told, as well as the story itself.

For example, some time in the late 90s or very early 00s, I had the opportunity to watch a performance of Arabian Nights put on by the Kneehigh theatre company, by torchlight, in the ruins of an 11th century abbey. Needless to say, it was an atmospheric and captivating performance; likewise when a friend of mine attended a staging of Macbeth at the incredible Minack Theatre, and the weather obligingly added further special effects in the form of a thick fog that engulfed the actors and left the audience isolated with the witches.

Principally the real charm of open-air theatre is the feeling of luck. One might have a thoroughly miserable time, weather-wise (as I did during Dr Faustus and my adventures with hypothermia) that is redeemed by an excellent and sympathetic cast who incorporate the vagrancies of meteorology into their performance (“By this sign, I know the sorcerer to be near!” cried Benvolio, off-script, as the heavens flashed lightning above our heads, and followed his ad-lib with thunder. The audience tittered as they had hooted and snickered at every mention of the sea, rains, or waters all afternoon. He paused. “Back to Marlowe!”). One might end up with a feeling of camaraderie with the remainder of the audience in the face of hardships endured, even making friends.

I hasten to explain, I don’t think all forms of theatre are suited to this particular medium. Open-air theatre works best for plays which were written for open-air theatre, not for those written for Stanislavskian realism, Brechtian dislocation or any other sort of self-conscious theatrical movement. The kind of play that requires two people staring rigidly at each other wrapped up in private torments fares badly, and so Pinter is also right out.

Old stories suit this kind of theatre best, old stories and strong stories. Folklore, myths, fairytales, Biblical accounts, lyrical words and vast ideas. The works of Homer, Aeschylus, Sophocles, Petronas, and later the anonymous Beowulf, the sublimely-authored Canterbury Tales in any adaptation, and of course the works which have drawn me back to the South Bank to receive sunstroke, hypothermia, and a crick in my neck: Shakespeare’s. They were made to be called out over a rustling audience outside a bow byre, standing on a barn door, accompanied by a persistently out-of-tune mandolin. They were written to be declaimed around a stone depression in a cliff face. These are strong words which have survived centuries of use because of their rhythm and the tenacity and universality of their stories (and perhaps somewhat because certain cultures went tramping around the world inflicting them on other people, although the Ramayana‘s performance continues, too).

This could easily be staged outside.

Which is not to say that more modern plays cannot be made to fit the form; I believe that Waiting for Godot and Rosencrantz & Guildenstern are Dead would both play wonderfully not only open-air but in situ. Performances have been put on in the cells of old prisons and in the car-parks of nightclubs, and I love the shady feel of that, the idea of theatre as illicit and somehow dangerous to experience, something you huddle around to listen to.

What is my conclusion? My conclusion is that even living in the middle of a city which has an absolute embarrassment of music halls, theatres, and pubs with stages upon which to enact its dramas, I’m still afforded the opportunity by the Globe and the Regents Park open air theatre to relive the parts of my youth I spent wrapped in a blanket, plonked down in a bush, enraptured as three men and a woman wove an entire world out of a handful of props and some battered instruments.

Kindle Launch: Protect Me From What I Want

When a 40-year-old cold case opens unexpectedly on a sleepy island, John Hennessey (perpetually-on-the-brink-of-being-fired) finds his past comes back to haunt him, too. This unconventional tale is told in the first person to an unseen reporter, and through the eyes of a not-wholly honest observer.

Already available in print and EPUB format, now that I’ve got the hang of Kindle Direct Publishing a little better this unusual mystery story (that isn’t really a mystery) is also available for Kindle for £2.64; I promise it doesn’t contain as many Bergerac references as the Lulu.com tags may make it look like.