Tuesday, 3 January 2023

2023

 


Happy New Year. 

My year got off to a good start yesterday when I noticed on Facebook a blog review of favourite books of the year that included my own Decadent London. My sincere thanks to the blogger - these things make you feel that you're not wasting your time. You can find it here.

Work on my next book continues slowly but surely. I would like to be more productive as a publisher this year but we'll have to wait and see. I have to admire the workload of this publisher.

Reading some academic articles online I became interested in the work of the religious studies scholar Carole Cusack, who has written about invented religions. I listened to a couple of podcasts she's been involved with:

The Religious Studies Project here. Also an interesting discussion on Gurdjieff.

Invented Religions here.

Also an article on occultural bricolage and popular culture here.

Jeremy Harte is an excellent speaker and has written about many aspects of folklore. His latest book on devilish folklore will be on my reading list this year. Guardian review here. Magonia review here.

Three gigs for this year: 

April 2 Steve Hillage Band Brighton Concorde 2

April 4 Matt Ridley Hastings Jazz Club

June 20 Yes Hammersmith Apollo Definitely my last time seeing the much-depleted Yes, but have to go as they are playing my favourite of their albums: Relayer.


Thursday, 20 October 2022

A Time of Gifts


Reading the travel classic A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, in which he sets out to walk from Rotterdam to Constantinople in 1933. The passage below struck me, as he reminisced about the values of his public school - King's School Canterbury. Maybe the question needs to be asked in this troubled England, what, if anything, has changed since his musings?

"'It goes without saying that in a small, tradition-haunted public school of such improbable antiquity - founded a few decades after Justinian closed the pagan academy at Athens - the atmosphere was likely to be conservative, and it was; but it was conservatism of an inexplicit kind, unaggressive because it was unchallenged - at least, at the age of sixteen and a half it was, which is when I vanished for the scene; but deep in the bloodstream nevertheless . . . 

Socialism sounded grey and without charm and Labour MPs conjured up visions of steel-rimmed spectacles, homespun cloth, cocoa and seed-cake and long killjoy faces bent on dismantling - what? Here an odd medley of targets would be bandied across fifth-form studies: What indeed? Why, the Empire for a start! The Fleet! The Army! Established religion - 'except Methodist chapels;' Gibraltar, the Lords, judges' wigs, kilts, bearskins, public schools ('No, steady on!'), Latin and Greek, Oxford and Cambridge - 'the Boat race too, most likely'; 'county cricket for a cert' - steeplechasing, shooting, fox-hunting, flat-racing, the Derby, betting, country-life, farming - ('I'd bet they'd plough up everything for swedes and beetroots if they got the chance!') What about London? Why, the Palladium and the Aldwych would be turned into lecture halls or bloody temperance canteens . . . Talk would languish and a pensive gloom descend. Then someone might say: 'It's a pity something can't be done about those poor chaps on the dole'; and the gloom would deepen; then: 'It's rotten luck on all those miners.' Awkward silence would prolong itself while these liberal thoughts fluttered overhead. Then somebody might tactfully put Rhapsody in Blue or Ain't Misbehavin' on the gramophone steer the talk into happier channels . . . "

 


Wednesday, 28 September 2022

Accumulator Press Update and More Books




 

As the economy collapses around us and costs spiral it might not be a good idea for me to embark on a publishing programme. I decided a few months ago that I won't be writing and publishing an updated edition of my best-selling Subterranean City to which I have the rights. I began to work on the project before COVID and my illness intervened. I now think it would be too expensive to print with its extensive colour pictorial content and there is a huge amount of competition that didn't exist when it first appeared in 2000. Time to move on. I am working on a new book but it is difficult to remain motivated these days - however, each week more words are added. 

Last year I read a lot while ill - part of which was another periodic binge on classic Science Fiction of which my favourites were:

Joe Haldeman The Forever War - far better than I was expecting and still relevant of course. See here 

Philip K Dick The Simulacra. See here

Kurt Vonnegut The Sirens of Titan see here   I enjoyed the recent documentary on Vonnegut reminding me why I loved him in my late teens.

The one I enjoyed most was Solaris by Stanislav Lem, rightly deemed a classic. See here. I also watched Tarkovsky's brilliant film adaptation for the first time.

Talking of Tarkovsky I was listening to a fascinating podcast Trickster on Carlos Castaneda last night and learned that the great Russian director wanted to bring Don Juan to the screen, as did Federico Fellini who was also a massive fan. The podcast can be heard here. I found it through the website of Jules Evans whose book Philosophy For Life I am currently rereading. In these turbulent times some other readers may fond strategies for stoically coping in its pages. You can also find on that site an essay about Esalen which I mention in an earlier post. 

In my reading binge I also devoured all of Brian Catling's Vorrh trilogy, an unsettling but incredible feat of imagination. I was particularly impressed by how he could write about non-human 'life'. The books manage to include a number of real people including Eadweard Muybridge Raymond Roussel and Nicholas Parsons! I was thinking about asking him to contribute something to my new book, when I read this week that he had died. He only attained some form of fame, thanks to his books in his sixties. Prior to that he had been known for his art and performance pieces. See here and here. I had seen him a couple of times when he accompanied Iain Sinclair at events in the 1990s and found him pretty scary and intimidating as a performer, which is what he intended no doubt. RIP.    



Borges and Me

 


Another book I've enjoyed this month is Borges and Me by Jay Parini (Canongate 2020) recounting the author's experience, when studying in Scotland in the early 1970s, of driving the protean Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges around that country and the Northern Isles. He had never read any of the author's work at the time and did not appreciate his international fame. Borges was blind and needed Parini to describe in detail the towns and landscapes they were passing through. 

The book is funny, moving and very well written. Parini confesses in the final chapter what the reader has suspected all along - that this could not possibly be a fully accurate account of the encounter as there are long passages of apparently perfectly remembered conversations and monologues from Borges (some of which I think are adapted from his stories). Instead: 'It's a bit of a palimpsest, a text written over another text, with many erasures; the underlying text is barely legible but nonetheless important, its bones poking through the skin. This story was shaped as fiction, or auto fiction, and the residue of that shaping in its transformation into this text, "An Encounter."' There are just too many perfect coincidences - the three 'Weird Sister' 'witches' at a foggy Scone Castle stop for example - enabling Borges to wax lyrical from his formidable literary knowledge. I also dipped into Borges Collected Fictions to reminder me of his unique style. I think I first became aware of Borges when reading Umberto Eco's bestselling The Name of the Rose in the 1980s in which an important character is based on him. I also found the first few chapters about Parini's student life before the arrival of Borges equally absorbing.

Sunday, 11 September 2022

Haunts of the Black Masseur





I recently read an autobiography by Jeremy Lewis called Kindred Spirits: Adrift in Literary London (Harper Collins, 1995), chronicling his adventures in London's publishing world of the 1970s and 1980s, a landscape that has since been transformed by mergers and takeovers, so that most if not all the small publishers he worked for are now defunct or part of huge corporate conglomerates.  

It's very readable and offers an insight into a closed world, dominated by an Oxbridge and public school intake - there are many comparisons to various publishers' offices resembling prep schools. It's also quite amusing, although the self-deprecation gets a bit wearying after a while. It introduced me to some new names and books, the most interesting sounding being Haunts of the Black Masseur (1992) which I am currently reading. It was written by a good friend of Lewis, Charles Sprawson, who he accompanies on some of his swimming expeditions around Europe, attempting to discover the sites of ancient springs mentioned in classical literature, often to find polluted horrors or tourist travesties. 

Sprawson's book is recommended: a chronicle of swimmers through literature and history, again revealing the dominance of the public-school educated writers who wished to relive the epic feats of Leander and other classical natators; Byron naturally features heavily. From my present perspective it's a model for how to write about a single subject without becoming too repetitive and boring - Sprawson must have had a large file of quotations gleaned from prodigious reading, before the days of Google. A number of figures familiar from this blog put in appearances - there is a substantial section on Fr Rolfe/Baron Corvo for example - as well as Percy Shelley, Rupert Brooke, Goethe, George Borrow and many others. Swimming also provides a plethora of useful metaphors and analogies for writers, which Sprawson beautifully illuminates.  

Much of the swimming described takes place in lakes, rivers and the sea, what would be called 'wild swimming' today and a lot of it during the winter months, which has recently regained popularity. A few years ago I read Roger Deakin's wonderful Waterlog, which I believe encouraged many people to swim in less frequented places. After years of never swimming, and persuaded by wife, I started to swim in lakes when we were on holiday in Switzerland and France, the weedy and fast-flowing Rhein at Stein-am Rhein and other less frequented spots. I still find swimming is helpful for the various aches and pains of middle age and we try to swim in the nearby sea, although recent discharges of sewage into the English Channel by Southern Water are discouraging. I think it unlikely that I'll ever swim in the Hastings sea in the winter.   

A review here.

Sprawson's obituary can be found here.

Jeremy Lewis is also sadly no longer with us, an obituary here.

Thursday, 18 August 2022

Strychnine

 


One of the books I took along to read in our Devon holiday cottage last week was In Love With Hell by William Palmer, a series of short biographies of modern writers who were very heavy drinkers or alcoholics. The usual suspects are present and correct: Patrick Hamilton, John Cheever, Dylan Thomas, Kingsley Amis  etc. The chapter on Malcolm Lowry (see earlier post) contained some information that shed light on a passage that I often include in my talks on Decadent London.

In a letter from July 1894 dipsomaniac decadent poet Ernest Dowson wrote about a journey to alcoholic oblivion with his friend the actor Charles Goodhart: 

'Goodie and I met in the evening, he had a charming man with him, a twenty-ton opium eater, who had run away with his cousin and is now to marry her. We met at 7 and consumed 4 absinthes apiece in the Cock till 9 [in Shaftesbury Avenue - demolished]. We then went and ate some kidneys- after which two absinthes apiece at the Crown [now a KFC in Charing Cross Road]. After which, one absinthe apiece at Goodie's club. Total 7 absinthes. These had seriously affected us - but made little impression on the opium eater. He took us back to the Temple in a cab. This morning Goodie and I were twitching visibly. I feel rather indisposed; and in fact we decided that our grief is now sufficiently drowned, and we must spend a few days on nothing stronger than lemonade and strychnine.'

I had assumed the 'lemonade and strychnine' was a joke, but it turns out that 'suitably diluted, strychnine was in the past given as a stimulant to patients suffering from the palsy from lead poisoning, beriberi, and the shakes induced by alcoholism' [William Palmer, In Love With Hell: Drink in the Lives and Work of Eleven Writers p.82] In Lowry's masterpiece Under The Volcano, based on one day, the Consul's breakfast consists of a bottle half-full of Johnny Walker and a glass of strychnine mixture. Later he mistakenly takes a second draft of the strychnine mixture and passes out. Needless to say, don't try this at home. 

For a scientific overview see here.

Also immortalised in 1965 by The Sonics (and later covered by The Fall) here

'Some folks Like water, Some folks like wine, but I like the taste, of straight strychnine.'



 

Wednesday, 17 August 2022

To Keep the Ball Rolling





Almost all copies of Netherwood, Secret Tunnels of England and Decadent London have now sold and decisions will have to made about any future Accumulator Press projects or reprints in the light of our 'cost of living crisis' - what a damning phrase that is.

I'm much more aware of my general health these days and don't want to take on a great deal of work. Having said that I'm still working on what I hope will be another non-fiction book, Gothic in nature, that will be published next year and I may do various talks and walks, but probably not till 2023. To promote the book I am planning an event that will feature a talk from me, films and live music, I hope an improvised soundtrack to a silent film (I've been checking out some musicians for this) to be held in quite a large venue in St Leonards. 

On the music front the following are lined up:

Hatis Noit   Church of St John Bethnal Green, London 25 August

Alabaster DePlume   Marina Fountain, St Leonards 15 September (not sure about this one)

Steve Hackett   De La Warr Pavilion, Bexhill 17 September - 50 years since Foxtrot was released

The Bug Club   The Piper St Leonards 29 October   

Emma Rawicz Quintet   Hastings Jazz Club 6 December. A star-studded band assembled.

In Brighton on Sunday 21 August there will be various celebrations marking the 150th birthday of the great Aubrey Beardsley. I hope to be there in the afternoon and evening and may check out the bar called The Yellow Book.

See here.



Wednesday, 6 July 2022

The Bloodhound



For research purposes I've been watching a lot of films in recent months - mostly horror. Some have been very bad indeed, but one that stood out as original and aesthetically pleasing was The Bloodhound, directed by Patrick Picard. It's apt that a film about loneliness and isolation should have been released in 2020 mid-pandemic. It is loosely based on Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Fall of the House of Usher' but updated for the 21st century, even though the story eschews modern technology such as laptops and mobile phones. 

I like the fact that the house is not a creepy Gothic pile but a modernist 1930s home with restricted space that adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere - the film almost never ventures outside. This is the actual house they used, the Neutra VDL in Los Angeles.

The acting is impressive in a stylised artificial way, especially the weird looking Joe Adler as Jean Paul Luret (an allusion to Jean Paul Sartre's Huit Clos?) self-exiled in a timeless present. Essentially the film is a two-hander with JP and his old friend Francis. Lurking in a closet is a creature called the Bloodhound which to the film's advantage is never properly seen or confronted - my theory is that it's a tulpa created by JP.

A cool modernist aesthetic pervades the cinematography, composition and art direction with nods to David Lynch and Stanley Kubrick.

It will be interesting to see what Patrick Picard does next - this was his first full length film (only 72 minutes).

The Bloodhound is available through Arrow Films on Blu-ray or streaming.

An interview with the writer and director here

I've written quite a long piece about it that will surface eventually, but here are some links to online reviews.  

Variety here

Austin Chronicle here

Elements of Madness here



Sunday, 8 May 2022

 


As part of the Silverhill Press Presents events on 21 May I shall be promoting Accumulator Press and giving a short presentation on the book Netherwood: Last Resort of Aleister Crowley.

The few remaining Accumulator Press books that I have will be on sale: Decadent London, Netherwood, Secret Tunnels of England and there will be the opportunity to crowdfund/pre-order my next book Mansion of Gloom.

Accumulator Press on Big Cartel here

Electro Studios St Leonards on Sea 11-7.

The illustrated Crowley at Netherwood talk will begin at 1pm 

A Talk in St Leonards on Aleister Crowley at Netherwood