Keep the faith

I’ve been having a lot of music evenings lately. They tend to go one of three ways. The classic is the dancing-in-the-kitchen variety. These involve making a drink, clearing some space, and either putting my playlist Big Soul Bangers on or else Craig Charles’ funk and show show on the BBC Sounds app – particularly around about the time the show moves into its “Talcum Time” northern soul segment, though both the “Spinage à Trois” and “Trunk of Funk” are generally pretty reliable too (though the less said about that “electro” remix of Superstition the better – it makes the clavinet sound like a prepared piano being dragged through an A-level music performance, for god’s sake). I clear a space, limber up a bit and get to work on some footwork and spins. Although in an ideal world I’d prefer a bit more floorspace, my style of dancing (a heterodox, more anarchic variation of northern soul, I like to think) is well-suited to solo manoeuvring and working with the contours of the kitchen. The second, a very recent phenomenon, essentially involves me playing Fifa on career mode pretty mindlessly while I just vibe to the tunes, occasionally pausing the game to add something to my “Funk and soul finds” playlist.

The third variety of music evening is the one that has become more frequent since about the 11th or 12th week of lockdown, I guess. Invariably involving some level of intoxication, I pile soft things onto my not-very-comfortable sofa and lie on my back to examine the ceiling and the wall, contemplating each in turn. I dwell on the contrast between my ability to spin plates really pretty competently in my professional life – some weeks I even impress myself – and my inability to seriously motivate myself in a lot of personal projects, always begun and seldom progressed. Sometimes I just think of nothing – a new one for me – interrupting myself occasionally to wonder how long it was since I last blinked. Some evenings, like tonight, I ask myself how it can be that I can feel so on-the-ball as to be floating above the ground in the afternoon, or even throughout a whole week, only to realise at some point my mind has wandered into a profound ambient sadness that feels so basic and elemental I wonder if I’ll ever laugh again. I try to reason with myself. I sort of know it’s always there really, like my sad eyes and ringing ears. I sometimes wonder if I’m bipolar, before feeling irritated at how everyone’s so keen to medicalise everything now. And then I just feel sad that I don’t feel like dancing.

While I mainly listen to podcasts on a speaker, I always listen to music through headphones. I’m not sure why; I guess it feels more intimate. Less like a party-for-one and more like my own private worship at the altar of soul. The highest fidelity. I used to think it was impossible to listen to soul music and not feel an improvement in mood. I know that’s not true now, which is sad in a way, but given my evangelical (bordering noumenal) relationship with soul I’m trying to appreciate it as a new, additional dimension to the relationship rather than as a loss of the faith northern soul always instructed us to keep (speaking of which, I was amused to see the logo below has been circulating online in the Gen X northern circles).

It’s ironic that I never used to believe in the existence of the soul. I’m pretty sure I do now, or at least it’s something I think about quite a lot.

I ought to just wash my hair and have some ice cream though.

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Top 10 reviews of 2020 so far

It’s been a difficult year for cinema. Still, I’m pleased I’ve managed to add 89 films to my Instagram film review blog @aloneinthefrontrow. New releases have been thin on the ground recently, but the blog is nearly three years old and I’ll soon be writing my 350th review for it, so I thought it would be nice to look back at the reviews I’ve written so far this year (it was) and pull out a few favourites.

24 made the longlist, from which I picked this top 10 (in no particular order). Some of these films I loved, some I detested, but I think altogether the reviews give a pretty good account of my ongoing interest in film writing. I’m happy to confess I don’t particularly spend much time constructing my film reviews – most of them are written on the toilet – but I think that’s because to me there’s nothing more gratifying than bashing out some words pretty quickly and immediately being quite pleased with yourself.

Special mentions go to the reviews of Jojo Rabbit, Funny Cow, Toy Story 3, Coco, Good Night and Good Luck, and The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, but of course the highlight of the year so far was seeing an excerpt from my 2018 review of Moonlight chosen to be featured on Empire’s readers’ list of the 100 greatest films of this century.

The Thin Red Line (1998, Terrence Malick)

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I’ll put some cards on the table: I think war films get a written off too easily and I think more people ought to watch them. The jingoistic among them are few, and for the most part they provide thoughtful explorations of people engaged in the worst thing humans can do to each other, often despite their own instincts.

The Thin Red Line sets off on a tone that feels antithetical to Saving Private Ryan, another great film released earlier the same year. It’s not that the introduction to SPR is pro-war in any way, but here we start with two AWOL soldiers whose only antagonist is their own army coming to find them. It’s safe to say the initial pace gets ramped up, but it sets the mood of the film.

As much time as I have for the genre, it does feel daring for a war film to feature men’s internal monologues so prominently. There doesn’t seem to be a man in ‘C’ company who doesn’t feel desperately lonely. At one point early on in the mission, an officer calls in an artillery strike that is guaranteed to be ineffective purely because it “bucks the men up”. This is a film that takes aim at masculine imagination of war. We see these men vomiting, sobbing, petrified with fear. Yet when one man accidentally sets a grenade off by his own backside, his first concern is that his wife gets told he “died like a man”, before reasoning that dying is for the best because he “can’t fuck no more”.

Scenes like this would be on-the-nose were they not woven into the drug-rush of battle so effortlessly. It really is an epic of a film (and fair play to Hans Zimmer for creating such an attentive score), showing war in all its carnage and mundanity, its mental torture and nothingness. I couldn’t help but think it was like watching a bag of broken biscuits, each slightly disfigured but still resembling an ideal, slowly then frantically being shaken into crumbs.

(27 Apr 2020)

Let the Sunshine In (2017, Claire Denis)

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Let the Sunshine In (Un beau soleil intérieur) is Claire Denis’s take on a romantic comedy. Most of the humour comes from hilariously written characters and the wry use of repetition across different pieces of dialogue, but the film is in essence a tragedy and altogether more emotionally knotted than the rom-com label would suggest. Based on a “fragmentary” novel, it’s a fragmentary film but not bitty. Rather, the fragments build empathy in a way I found really compelling, thanks in very large part to Juliette Binoche in the lead role.

I’ve seen it said she plays a woman looking for love but doomed to making bad decisions. It strikes me that only a man, and a certain type of man, could come to such a facile conclusion.

Isabella (Binoche) is a successful artist navigating romantic and sexual desire as a middle-aged woman, which unfortunately forces her to engage with a range of middle-aged men. She desires sexual gratification and emotional fulfilment, and somewhat more complicatedly, a type of male attention that makes her feel alive, validated, seen. This isn’t the male attention she’s inundated with, and she worries her love life is behind her, with only a sort of hollow sex life ahead. She feels proletarianised by the relationships around her, as if love and validation are capital hoarded by a bourgeoisie that looks down on her emotional pains, which makes her cynical about even the possibility of genuine fulfilment.

It’s not simply that all men fail her, though many (perhaps most) do. It’s that desire is complex; a relationship that is ideal on paper can lack raw heat, while something passionate and authentic can let us down on paper – an objection that is altogether harder to face in oneself.

Isabelle longs for the spark of untrammeled intersubjectivity; instead she is objectified by almost every man she meets. Yet the one man who can look into her eyes without dropping his gaze is unacceptable, however much she may hate to admit it, because she cannot help but invert her own insecurities onto him. In an excruciating final scene, Denis confronts us with the all the complexity and mundanity of love sought, all the vapid and asinine sentiments we comfort each other with, and the oppressive circularity of relationships past and future, all while Binoche’s face conveys every furtive feeling, the fine border between guardedness and unguardedness, and above all the longing for je ne sais quoi.

(7 June 2020)

3 Ninjas (1992, Jon Turteltaub)

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So while looking up Cool Runnings for the review I had a wtf moment when I saw that Jon Turteltaub’s previous film was 3 Ninjas, and I basically couldn’t not watch it immediately.

I loved this film as a kid, and I’ll not hear a word against it. It’s only now that I’ve learned that critics panned it at the time as a cross between Karate Kid and Home Alone with a dash of Bill & Ted. Sorry, but how does that not sound awesome?! For a start it’s far more entertaining than Karate Kid, and while Home Alone is technically a superior film, the three brothers in 3 Ninjas are way more fleshed out and mature than Kevin McCallister.

There is one bit of forced/clunky exposition early on, an awkward but minor set-up moment and one blink-and-you’ll-miss-it continuity error, but aside from that it’s a well constructed story with a lot of great character-driven action and plenty of laughs. People who criticise it for being derivative or unbelievable are fundamentally misunderstanding the driving force of the film, which is to see three kids, each with their own personality, grapple with adult authority whilst doing cool shit that’ll make you wish you could be a fucking ninja, during the course of which they each grow as a person. What’s not to like?!

(5 April 2020)

Bombshell (2019, Jay Roache)

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I definitely enjoyed Bombshell and I think it is a fairly solid effort at portraying a very important story. As others have said, narratively it owes a debt to The Big Short, a choice that mostly works but not always. As with so many stories that try to grapple with behaviour that spans years, the film does struggle a bit structurally because it’s trying to fit long-term patterns into a three-act tale. One way the film attempts this is through Margot Robbie’s composite character, who is well played but whose story arc trails off somewhat.

Necessarily, a film like this needs its goodies and baddies, which is both a strength and a weakness in this case. On one hand, the film usefully situates itself amongst the complexities and contradictions that exist within a wholly malignant organisation like Fox News, but on the other it does at times minimise the harm Megyn Kelly and Gretchen Carlson have themselves caused as people in positions of power and influence, and almost goes as far as to suggest the likes of James Murdoch are heroic reformers-in-waiting.

I certainly wouldn’t write the film off for these reasons – or minimise the violence suffered by Kelly, Carlson and dozens of others – and it occurred to me how rarely I’ve seen characters onscreen thrashing out some of these issues, which is something that certainly deserves credit, but for me I would have liked the film to lean into the complexities of the central women a little more because there’s room to say something really specific and important about the nature of gendered violence. I do think the film wants to go there, but with a baddie as obviously hideous as Roger Ailes I think the film ends up erring more on the side of liberal reformism to the detriment of the type of interrogation it sets out on.

(21 January 2020)

Las Hijas Del Fuego (2018, Albertina Carri)

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“The problem is never the representation of bodies, the problem is how those bodies become territory and landscape in front of the camera.” Our narrator appears to set out the thesis of Las Hijas Del Fuego in the opening scenes, which start promisingly with some literal stamping on misogyny. The protagonist, a filmmaker, begins to pose herself the question of whether subjectivity is possible in porn, her new project, half-leading a trio of lovers on a mind-expanding road trip across south Argentina.

If this sounds interesting, don’t get excited. This isn’t a subtle or good film. At best it forgets to ever interrogate its opening ideas; at worst it flat-out betrays them while thinking it’s doing the opposite. Call me old fashioned, but subjective filmmaking does not often benefit from completely empty characters, and having the camera linger not just on bodies but specifically genitals and nameless bodies during sex does little to prevent them becoming mere territory and landscape.

To give you a flavour, early in the journey we’re treated to a porntastic threesome on a church altar and the persistent narration of a dreadful essay grasping for any semblance of poignancy. By the end, any sense of story or narrative or emotion has given way to a thoroughly gratuitous “I bet you’ve never seen this in a film” fest, structure totally out of the window, and – worst of all by the film’s own purported standards – relegating a hell of a lot of bodies to pure landscape and texture. Immersive, I’m sure.

Somewhere in the middle there is one lonely moment of empathy, incredibly farfetched as it is, which would be a high point were it not completely unconnected to rest of film, followed as it is by pointless psychedelic images of sex acts in close up narrated by a terrible poem. Whatever the film wants to say, the fact it is incapable of finding a way to say it visually speaks to a severe problem. The film is marketed like an edgier Portrait of a Lady on Fire; it’s absolutely nothing of the sort, I promise you. The film literally closes with a 6-minute open-leg masturbation scene that makes you feel like you’ve been watching a 2-hour one.

(24 April 2020)

Portrait of a Lady on Fire (2019, Céline Sciamma)

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Wow. Along with Parasite it’s hard to see how Portrait of a Lady on Fire (Portrait de la jeune fille en feu) won’t be near the top of my films of the year list.

It felt like a slow burn at first but before long I was absolutely invested and everything about the central three characters had me in the palm of the story’s hand. I ended the film breathless. It’s on Mubi now and I’d say the less you know the better – not a trailer, not any stills, I even found it hard to find a poster I felt didn’t give things away. So settle down, put your phone away and watch it completely cold.

It looks incredible, which is apposite as it’s totally a film about looking and seeing in a number of senses. Somehow it manages to say something profoundly philosophical and yet simple. At times it feels ethereal and yet it’s incredibly human. And perhaps most cleverly it’s totally intimate yet explosively political, at least next to most other new releases I’ve seen lately. Highly recommend.

(17 April 2020)

National Treasure (2004, Jon Turteltaub)

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National Treasure has one of those dreadful scripts that can’t let a single thing go unsaid. There is literally no thought that’s allowed to go unverbalised, to the extent that once you notice it becomes like a game you can play along with.

It probably goes without saying that the story is farfetched beyond belief, not just the historical tale but the actual machinations of the quest. Yet to be fair it does at least feel like a quest, and although the film is overlong, if you can get on board it’s entertaining enough as a family film. And to its credit, it’s not like the film isn’t self-aware. At one point Nic Cage successfully places someone else’s fingerprint over his own with the help of a bit of rubber glove, a sandwich bag and some purple smoke. “Unbelievable,” replies his accomplice. Lol, you don’t say.

I have to admit I never got the whole Cage thing, but if I had to pick one this would be in my top three, and the film is well served for having Sean Bean as its baddie. To be honest, the main thing that lets it down is the weirdly puerile and patronising treatment the script dishes out to its one female character, which was generally either about getting her to shut up or commenting on her appearance. At best, it reads like pure social ineptitude on the part of writers who literally can’t imagine how else men might speak to women, at worst we’re left to assume the writers just couldn’t stand to include a PhD-educated woman in a lead role without denigrating her every ten minutes. Either way, it’s frankly embarrassing and definitely sours an otherwise passable film.

(19 April 2020)

You’ve Got Mail (1998, Nora Ephron)

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Sometimes you just really need some Nora Ephron in your life and today was one of those days, so I went for You’ve Got Mail, a film I actually don’t think I’ve seen since 1998 when it came out.

There is something immediately comforting about how clearly dated it is, and yet unlike many more recent films it manages to use information technology (specifically email) as an actual dramatic device for exploring the complexities of romantic emotion and empathy by weaving together conventional cinematic storytelling with an epistolary thread.

The two play out almost like alternate realities, though the dramatic irony is that they’re two sides of the same coin. While this device does find its limits in the third act – and a little uncomfortably for me – it’s a firm dramatic foundation which underpins a beautiful script. Where many romantic comedies struggle, this film’s brand of will-they/won’t-they feels genuine right to the last scene, and the dynamic between the leads is helped by excellent casting.

Aside from the late-90s references to cybersex, chat rooms and rent controls in Manhattan (all of which drew a chuckle – $450 for 6 rooms!!), I think one detail I particularly appreciated given the genre – and one that I think is an Ephron strong suit – is the film’s frankly realistic and non-moralistic portrayal of monogamy’s fundamental unreliability. For something that is simply a factor of human experience, it’s never really featured in the genre except for moments of duplicity or crisis, but I think the film is all the better for it.

(13 May 2020)

From Russia With Love (1963, Terence Young)

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I don’t know why but I just really fancied a Sunday afternoon Bond. From Russia With Love has probably always been one of my favourites, though in many ways it’s hard to say exactly why. The plot of complex at times, it’s not particularly full of gadgets (which suits me) but neither are the emotional stakes as high as in something like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

One reviewer at the time described it as “totally immoral…but fun” and that’s probably the long and short of it. More so than in Dr No, From Russia With Love is full of James Bond firsts and although it’s the second Bond film it’s the first to really look the full part. In that sense it’s genuinely responsible for the viability of the rest of the franchise and absolutely pivotal in setting the grammar of the series.

Yet it also continues the outright weirdness of Dr No, which is a less talked about element of Bond films but one that to this day means the franchise simply cannot follow a hard-boiled Bourne path. Take SPECTRE, whose portrayal here is one of my favourites, not least because it actually looks like an organisation rather than an extension of one madman’s ego: we’ve got a fish-fighting cat lover, chess genius, lesbian colonel in full domme mode, leather-donning quartermaster and a psychopathic Adonis fresh out of prison. Who even comes up with that combination?? Yet it’s played straight enough that the violence feels genuinely suspenseful and it doesn’t undermine the very gentle relationship between Bond and his Istanbul ally Kerim Bey.

There remains the not insignificant matter of the film’s undoubtedly retrograde gender politics, but I do genuinely think people misread Tatiana Romanova by forgetting that she too is a person on a mission, whose actions need to be read in the context of trying to lay a honeytrap, which although eyerollingly predictable was a real tactic of spies in the 1960s which warrants some exploration in film – though by no means is this the best attempt.

(6 Apr 2020)

The Gentlemen (2020, Guy Ritchie)

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The Gentlemen is probably among Guy Ritchie’s better films but it’s not the “return to form” (ie 2000) some people are making it out to be.

Colin Farrell is very good, Eddie Marsan is laughably and satisfyingly shit, and Charlie Hunnam is the surprise MVP. The story is so-so but it’s told in a way that is just about interesting enough, but I’m sad to say it falls down with Hugh Grant and Matthew McConaughey’s characters.

Grant is clearly having a great time, and I actually didn’t mind his character, but it hasn’t been very well thought out, and it’s never really clear why Hunnam’s character takes him quite so seriously. At the other end of the film, I’m not actually sure McConaughey knows who he’s meant to be playing.

The idea is he’s a lower class American who’s learnt how to ingratiate himself with the British upper classes. The problem is I think doing that convincingly would have required McConaughey to have a better understanding of the British class system, at least so he can carry himself in such a way that rings true to a British audience’s understanding of upper class mores. It wouldn’t matter too much except the film clearly does want to say something about class (the tagline is literally “Criminal. Class.”), though it’s unclear what.

On the flip side, Ritchie’s own increasingly perverse take on working class life is best represented through the slightly bizarre rap videos made by a gang of youngsters which just feel a bit naff. I guess one problem is that basically since Lock Stock, Ritchie’s primary reference for road culture has been…his own films. Don’t get me wrong, there were things to enjoy – I really liked how camp it was and I was never bored – but the whole thing just felt like it could have done with a bit more time and consideration, from the writing to the execution.

(18 Jan 2020)

I couldn’t find my phone

I wake from a dream in which my friend’s teenage child had performed rather respectably in his first motorbike race. She couldn’t see the fuss, but I was excited for him, and not a little ashamed I myself had lagged so far behind that the race organisers didn’t even display my name or where I had finished.

Craig – 23rd.

I roll my tongue around the grim taste of the morning and take a mouthful of bedside coke to clear it. With an unpretty lurch I haul myself to a sitting position and then stand up. I feel amazed that even at my weakest my body retains the strength to lift all of me and move it from place to place.

I wonder how long I slept, and vaguely remember deciding not to set an alarm. I brush my teeth with some urgency, turn the heating on, and mess about with a plant trying to work out whether it will be better served by the light at the front or the back of the house. Normally it’s clear – morning front, back from about 2 – but today the clouds are blanket and low, so it’s hard to tell where the sun is at all. I wonder about the time. It could be 3pm or 6am, the normal sound of screeching children at the school next door isn’t there to guide me.

I wonder what my phone will tell me. 8am, no messages. That would be a dream. More likely 2.30 and enough notifications that even the benign ones pull my brain in too many directions.

I envy people who check their phone as readily as yawning. I look around the room for it, weighing up my desire for the time against the self-loathing of seeing what I’ve allowed to stack up. It’s not in either of the usual spots, high on the drawers or on the carpet by the door – both far enough to make the stretch from bed uncomfortable. It’s not on the bedside table either, a weekend favourite.

I look in the bathroom, wondering if I’ve left it on the corner of the cardboard box by the sink. I go to the kitchen, scanning the hall on the way. I stand on the threshold of the kitchen and sitting room, a watchtower surveying the surfaces while I try to recreate the end of the evening. I remember feeling so tired, little else.

I discount the bathroom and hallway once more, leaving only the bedroom and kitchen-sitting room. I move between them barefoot – carpet, lino, carpet, lino, carpet again – like a useless goose. I check the pockets of recently worn clothes as I go, occasionally standing still to wonder how I could leave it somewhere so out of sight.

I begin to think about who has contacted me and what I will tell them. “I couldn’t find my phone” sounds like such an improbable excuse. Pathetic. I turn the heating off, irritated by the warmth. I look at the plant, trying to gauge the shadows. I still can’t see the sun, and I can’t tell if the shadow of the chimney stack opposite is really a shadow – at least 4 o’clock – or just a reflection on the wet slate. I feel guilty for caring; I’m not even working today. I feel guilty again for wasting a day off.

I stand in the kitchen once more, at a loss. I wonder if it’s really just gone. Then I feel a twitch. I turn to my small speaker and press the power button. It beeps on, followed by a familiar two-tone click. Bluetooth.

Hot and cold. I turn the speaker off and pick up my headphones. Placing the buds in my ears mutes the rain and focuses my thoughts. I hold the middle button – a jolly scale plays. Nothing else. I check the light. It’s going crazy, searching. I walk across the kitchen, then slowly into the hall. I stop a moment. Power off, power on, I take no chances. I turn into the bedroom, stalking past the door. I reach the foot of the bed.

One beep, firm.

I press the middle button again, just a click, hoping for sound – my last podcast, maybe spotify – imagining that the quality of the reception might help me work out a radius. No luck. But it’s here, somewhere.

Anchored by the knowledge that I am connected, I stand beside the bed. Had I really been so tired? I lift the pillows, amazed at the thought that it might be there. Very uncharacteristic. I throw back the covers – still unlikely, but not unimaginable, if I’m honest with myself. No. I tidy the sheets quickly, no excuse for a messy bed.

Frustrated, I grab the mattress with both hands, hauling it up off the bed. I pin back the mattress with my body weight, my back straining a little at the angle. I peer into the shadows, it’s so dark I can’t see much of anything. I slowly scan, and then I recognise another black, directly beneath my pillow. There.

I reach through the slats, shoulder not happy. I pick it up, then ease my large hands back through the gap, keen not to drop it. I stand upright, dropping the mattress. I spin it around and click the power button.

12:16. Could have been worse.

 

Big up the riots

I think already I’ve become more self-conscious than I’m comfortable with about this blog. I’m not totally self-conscious, only a bit. And it’s not that I lack confidence in writing or committing my inner world to paper or anything like that; it’s more that I’ve become aware that if I post this to Facebook people will read it, and because my Facebook for the most part comprises people I care about, I find myself caring what they think when they interact with it. Obviously it’s nice when people say nice things and I’m not being negi about that (though my first thought when posting the first of this series a couple of weeks ago was “If I’d known people would read it I would have made more of an effort”), it’s that already I find myself chasing the dopamine hits of validation post-publication when the whole point is meant to be that the thrill is in writing something for myself and no one else.

I guess the right thing to do is simply to see the blog as an experiment. An attempt at authentic writing or even just personal reflection in a public space. It’s hard when after almost two decades online it often feels impossible to read anything online as anything other than posturing, especially when written by politicos. That’s not strictly true, of course. I know that really. But social media has felt like a strange place lately. There’s such grief and emotion everywhere you look – unbridled authentic consciousness raising. It is incredibly moving. Yet reliably even that collective expression is shot through with competitive hot takes and, this week in particular, white people trying to out-ally each other for the benefit of other white people (“post a black square – post a black square AND educate yourself – please don’t use that hashtag – actually take the black square down” all within a day, what a trip). I don’t particularly have a view on any of these actions, much less any grand wisdom. It’s the continual desire to be performing better than other white people I don’t understand. It manages to be both earnest and disingenuous at once. Maybe I’ll regret saying it sometime, but it’s hard to feel like it isn’t just another form of white saviour complex.

I’ll readily admit that the week’s juxtaposition of massive transatlantic expressions of Black power and solidarity with outpourings of both solidarity and guilt from white people have made me think about my own take on current events. It basically boils down to this:

Big up the riots.

That’s it really. I don’t have answers for everything, but I’m happy to let everything flow from that principle. You shouldn’t have to be an expert in African American history to know that you can’t even talk about it without talking about an unbroken history of racist violence. If white violence was thought of as war, as well it might be, the USA would literally never have experienced peacetime. It’s fucking Sparta. So I figure the least any would-be “ally” can do is have a bit of fucking respect for a history we’re still living through and not make their solidarity conditional.

I’m sure it’s crass but I feel like people’s views on property damage in political struggle are essentially questions of taste. I’m just not going to make my solidarity conditional on taste. I think about how it must feel to take part in a riot, to make those first steps towards a building, to look at the first stone in your hand, to face rubber bullets and police fireworks. How angry and upset and consumed you would have to feel. I sit with those thoughts, and I imagine how I might feel. Afraid, uncertain, maybe even powerful, at least after the first strikes on a reinforced window. The knowledge that you’re committing a crime in public in full view of the police. Not like the other crimes everyone does all the time that people like to pretend are less harmful than breaking windows (or graffitiing cop cars or stealing TVs) – speeding, driving on two pints, recreational drugs. A public declaration of your refusal to take it anymore. I respect that.

Fuck statues, too. Naturally, British onlookers like to imagine they’re superior to America in every way. It’s not that white people in the UK actually think racism doesn’t exist here. White British people know Britain occupied foreign lands and bent them to our will. They know racial profiling and stop and search are used to keep Black people “in their place”. Moreover, they have all felt their own racism pang in their heart at some point in their life. I will never believe the person who insists they “don’t think about race” hasn’t ever gripped their phone a little tighter when passing a young Black man in the street. It’s that we’re supposed to collude in the fantasy that because we invented capitalism and Mo Farah won four gold medals at the Olympics we’ve got the most advanced fucking “tolerant” society going. If that was even remotely true the least we ought to be doing is pulling down monuments to racists and throwing them in the sea. I suggest the Thames would be a good fit for Churchill: it’s closer and contains more shit.

What I’ve been watching

Highlights this week have been 13th, Ava DuVernay’s formidable documentary essay about racism and crime in America, and Let the Sunshine In, a beguiling take on a rom-com by Claire Denis starring Juliette Binoche, who I think I love.

Prompted by Tom Watson’s dig at Novara on some irrelevant old fart podcast, I went back and reacquainted myself with the infamous video of that podcast’s host, John Sweeney, formerly of the BBC, disgracing himself while pissed up (always good to be familiar with your betters, eh). I’ve become kind of fascinated by this little man with a bit of a Napoleon complex (his channel is called “hard2hurt” lol); he posts a lot of videos about street fighting, but in this one he makes a homemade double-end bag which I was quite impressed with. A much better channel I’ve also subscribed to is Paige Mariah, a young African American woman living in London who presents really well and posts a really good range of videos. I’ve also been watching loads of videos on scientology and comparing some great video essays on my favourite film, LA Confidential. I think this was the best one but an honorable mention goes to the one that mapped core sociological ontologies onto the central characters. It’s funny that it always gets remembered for the Ed Exley/Bud White pairing, but increasingly I think Jack Vincennes is perhaps the most interesting character. Ah, who am I kidding? I can’t choose.

I hate reading

Sad by Design has sat dutifully in my bag all week, but I did dig out Capitalist Realism the other day because my sister is reading it and we’re going to start a bit of a reading club together, which I’m looking forward to.

I’m beginning to think that whereas most readers post “what I’m reading” to impress people, my spin is to constantly update “what I’m reading next” rather than ever finishing anything.

Keeping me company

It’s been an unsatisfactory week for podcasts. Judith Bowman was on Wittertainment again; I hate to say it (especially about a woman working in public) but I really do just think she’s quite dim and exhausting.

Craig Charles is starting to annoy me too – for the last few weeks talcum time hasn’t even had anything that passes for northern soul, and while I’m partial to some of the tracks he has on rapid rotation if I have to hear one more damned remix of Superstition I think I’ll burst. LEAVE STEVIE ALONE!

I’ve been dipping into The Daily a bit more than usual for US coverage, and I’ve started listening to Today in Focus every few days – the episode on Anfield and Cheltenham was very moving. But I feel like I’m really missing a good podcast hug and no one is updating their feeds promptly enough, with the exception of the New Statesman, which I always feel a big grubby listening to, like having a tactical wank for no other reason than to get it out of the way. It truly is la petite mort of political podcasts.

Just a little misunderstanding

The other night I went and sat in a park in the dark because I thought a long night walk would be good for me after a long day.

This week I’ve definitely been more house-bound than usual; I think the end of lockdown is making me feel very anxious. I don’t want to sit 2m apart from a group of friends in the park, I want to hug them. I particularly don’t want to sit 2m apart from a group of friends when it’s clear all the other groups of friends, families etc. are not sitting 2m apart from each other in the slightest.

The stress of being able to touch friends rubs up against the stress of seeing other people touching their loved ones. In public places I frequently feel like the drunken missionary in Zulu – a classic Shakespearean fool – yelling at stoney faces from the back of a stagecoach: “You’re all going to die! Don’t you realise? Can’t you see? You’re all going to die!” Walking at night, usually an experience with its own anxieties, has felt like a more calming option.

In the middle of a wide field, I laid on my back directly under the Plough, the words of two friends playing out in my mind in different intonations. Earlier in the evening, just two or three sentences put to me by two separate friends had begun their soak. Having unsettled me for a few hours, even as I distracted myself with an old favourite podcast episode, I decided I needed to remove my earphones and roll my tongue around the words for myself, taking moments to feel the ground beneath my back and head, the dew on my hands, and trace the big bear in the sky between sentences.

They were just misunderstandings really. Not of the same kind, each big and small in different ways, and I don’t want to talk about them. I took each in turn, unpacking it verbally, examining it from different points of entry, as if adopting different positions in a room around an object. The exercise made me feel a little better, but still disquieted.

I suppose no friendship can ever be without misunderstandings from time to time. It feels perverse, then, that they should always feel so raw, particularly when in most friendships they are such rare occurences, and rarely even that consequential in the great balance of things. And yet. Here I am, lying on my back in the middle of the night in a deserted park, half wondering how long it would take for a passing police car to question my choice of recreation, half asking the universe face-on to help me understand better, or help friends understand better, I don’t know which.

As it happened, later in the week one misunderstanding was dealt with and squared away quite quickly, the other parked for another time. Still, the experience made me think about friendship, and understanding, and what it means to know a person, if anything.

Some of what I’ve written above was written that night in the park. Brain still fried, but having at least satisfied myself I had talked aloud into the darkness for about as long as I was willing to, I wrote it in a message to a new friend and thought about how friendships often seem to emerge from shared understandings rather than shared knowledge of each other.

Call it my outsider complex, but I rarely think anyone knows me very well. It’s a different set of thoughts, but it’s something I’ve observed as long as I can remember. But at any given time I do think my closest friends understand me, which is something quite different. As I think of it, it’s really tempting to draw up a graph – ‘know’ on one axis, ‘understand’ on the other. I do have a small number of friends who know me very well, but it’s striking to me that one who comes to mind hardly understands me at all – the source of a certain strand of hilarity in our years-long relationship. Understanding seems like a very different type of knowledge; it feels like the ability to intuit things about another person beyond what is known, such that when they express new thoughts or stories or facts, you can see how they sit within the weave of a person.

Maybe this is why misunderstandings hurt so much when they concern friends. Something unexpected nicks the fabric of familiarity and suddenly it feels impossible to avoid. Walking home feeling a little lighter, my mind went to The Contours’ northern soul banger ‘Just a Little Misunderstanding’. Although descriptive of a misunderstanding completely different from either of my own, these lines stood out: “Our love, surely can we mend it? / It’s just a little misunderstanding / That’s all it is / We’ve been loving so long / It just seems wrong / That our love could never be”

I might have more thoughts on this, but I don’t actually feel hung up enough to commit any conclusions now. “Better not kick the arse out of it,” as I said through stifled tears of laughter in a ten-minute call with my mum earlier in the week. We’d been reflecting with amusement on the fact that despite the emotional closeness of the triangle we share with my sister, we don’t actually talk very often.

Ah yes, we reflected. Our unbreakable bond. Three people in different cities across two countries who share a sense of humour and the same pet peeves about washing up. “My world 🌍”

What I’ve been watching

Bit of a quieter one this week; I’m painfully aware both Mubi and Netflix have got loads of new stuff (and I’m missing some things I’d wanted to see on the former) but I just haven’t found the time. Still, this weekend it was good to watch one of my all-time favourites Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Paul Greengrass’s Bloody Sunday, which only gets more powerful on repeat viewing. Reviews will be up when I get around to it on my Instagram film blog.

Over on the ‘Tube it’s been a similarly quiet week for me, but the standouts were Kumail Nanjiani giving Men’s Health an insight into his MCU workout regime (he’s a really personable screen presence; The Big Sick was a really lovely find the other year ), Normal People‘s Sally Rooney talking a bit about Marxism, and a horrific but compelling short video of a guy getting a broken nose reset.

I hate reading

I got to finish Empire (#376 Summer 2020) in the park yesterday. A sweet little ‘Comfort Zone’ piece on Planes, Trains and Automobiles encouraged me to put it on, and this edition’s ‘The Ranking’ on films from 1999 made me think about how mind-blowing The Matrix was at the time. As Dan Jolin puts it: “That was one of those movies where you walk out of the cinema afterwards and go, ‘I think I’ve got superpowers!'”

Next up is Sad By Design by Geert Lovink, and I really must get back to Class Power on Zero Hours.

Keeping me company

The 301 Permanently Moved deep-dive continues apace; it’s really such a good project. After a bit of a break from politics chat I did some catching up with the FT Politics and New Stateman podcasts after the Dominic Cummings stuff. As ever, they’re determinedly OK. Much better was Friday’s episode of The Burner, because frankly everything about it is just better – but the closing section on political hope especially.

I was disappointed that Kermode and Mayo were off from Wittertainment this week, and even more disappointed that Edith Bowman was filling in, but Simran Hans had her first outing in Kermode’s place and I thought she did a really good job, so I look forward to hearing more of her. I think she’d make a good B-team pairing with Ben Bailey Smith, so I hope that happens sometime.

I was glad when the new Empire podcast dropped this week, but I couldn’t help feeling Chris Hewitt had lost a little of his verve. He sounded sad, and with Helen O’Hara really having to carry an interview with Eliza Hittman it felt like a bit of a patchy episode. I hope they’re all okay – I think it’s really hard to be a content presenter at the moment, especially when the audience is relying on you to be chirpy.

Finally, I ought to mention the Novara FM episode on nightwalking I took to the park. As I wrote on Facebook at the time:

I think about this episode a lot. I think it’s almost certainly the most unapologetically literary thing we’ve ever done, and for someone as unfamiliar with 18th/19th/whatever century literature it’s a bit of a plunge pool of references, but it’s so so rich and every time I’ve listened to it I’ve taken something new away. I’m as guilty as anyone of being a bit of a philistine about proper art/culture, but I also think it’s important to be really defensive of the notion that there’s really nothing that is ever totally mentally inaccessible to people whatever their level of education.
I know it sounds odd to say this as someone who’s formally gone about as far as you can go in the education system, but I’ve only really gone that far in one really narrow set of things, and I think there’s no shame in admitting what you don’t know yet (and kinda wish more people would be up for doing so). I’m certain my ability to analyse a poem won’t have progressed beyond whatever I could do at school, and has probably slid backwards if anything. But I think if anything that means I get even more joy out of listening to something a bit unfamiliar and challenging – at least about a topic (nightwalking) that I’m interested in – and feel even more rewarded for learning new things rather than only ever listening to things I already know about or agree with and somehow being satisfied with that.
I suppose I’m saying isn’t learning a properly lovely thing? To coin a phrase: death to anti-intellectualism, freedom to the learners! Lol.

Quiet is a memory

During lockdown my neighbourhood has felt like the location of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window expanded over half a square mile or so.

Quiet is a distant memory. Revving engines and tyre screeches are followed by police sirens, which are followed by quad bikes or wheelie-ing dirt bikes, which are occasionally followed by a rather sad moped, filming the action on a cracked phone. About once a week a police helicopter joins the cacophony, which during autumn or winter would be followed by fireworks aimed as skillfully as possible. But mostly it’s just voices, which I can hear everywhere.

Groups of friends talking loudly as they walk down the street, not fast enough for my liking. That one neighbour who for some reason cannot open her car door without also opening her mouth. The young child who screeches from her front step around the same time every night about 2am, presumably while her young dad has his bedtime cigarette. Occasionally a party at the local trap house, which I’ve sort of grown to like. Almost nightly, a family leaving number 12, having decided that saying their goodbyes inside the house would be far too curt.

And with the ready availability of my own internal monologue, the boys who play football in the dead end behind me. I’ve had to block the wall of my house with my car because they meet my appeals – I don’t mind you playing football [except I do, in truth, but what can you say, when you know full well the main road is deathly] but if you have to slam the damn ball against a wall with everything you can muster, could you do it against the wall that doesn’t have a house behind it? – with bemusement, but it’s not something I like doing. Still, I hear their feet shuffling as they dribble; the familiar cry – Ali! Aliiii! – of a younger brother begging for a pass; the inexplicable sine wave squeal of a toddler, presumably just reminding us all he exists.

There’s always something. Right now it’s a baby wailing and car doors slamming. Running feet. A dull thud. And my tinnitus, of course.

I’m trying to just let it run through me today. For one thing, it’s Eid, and I don’t want to be a misery. Times aren’t easy, we’re all living on top of each other, and although I sometimes have to remind myself, I’m an adult man who is capable to choosing how he responds to things in the world.

I think the constant noise here used to occupy my thoughts a lot more than it actually does these days, though I’m aware I’m giving the opposite impression. It’s not that I don’t notice, because I always notice, but I probably only give it actual thought once a day, which isn’t a lot really. But right now it’s on my mind because this evening I took advantage of the late sun with a lengthy trip to the big park about a mile up the road. Lying on my front with a magazine and a bottle of beer, I realised for a few seconds there was almost complete quiet. Even my tinnitus – my most faithful companion – appeared to be subsumed just for a moment by what felt like a sound all in its own right, but one completely unfamiliar to me, like seeing a colour you don’t recognise.

Gradually I heard a distant car, some voices, my tinnitus as clear and sturdy as ever, but the moment stayed with me a little longer as I remembered other quiet times. Sitting in a car in rural Wales. A deserted motorway service station by a deserted motorway. For a moment, I could have been anywhere.

It took me a long time to realise I like quiet. It’s one of the many reasons I’m so fond of night, and defensive about it. It’s partly why I enjoy sitting in the front row at the pictures. It’s probably the main reason I’ve developed a rather late affection for the countryside. I like quiet people, or at least people who know when to be quiet, or at least people who frequently choose to be quiet.

I often think it’s in the quiet, in the gaps between noise, that we might really find something worth saying.

I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise to me that I’m a more comfortable editor than writer. While writing is an art of saying, editing is largely an art of erasing things that don’t need to be said, at least in words. Funny then that I’ve chosen today to begin a weekly blog, inspired in large part by people who seem to me so adept and prolific when it comes to saying things.

The direct impetus is probably Jay’s podcast, 301 Permanently Moved, which I’ve spent spend a considerable amount of time listening to lately, and today specifically. It’s a personal podcast, 301 seconds in length, written, recorded and edited in one hour each week. It’s a formidible undertaking really, not just because of the commitment and time pressure of its making, but because it has clearly developed across its history and yet each episode fulfils its mission: it remains, above anything else, a personal podcast; we listeners are merely along for the ride, dipping our toes into Jay’s internal world. Gratefully I can report that the water’s lovely.

I’m also motivated by my friend James, whose daily podcast The Burner is an intellectual accomplishment of the kind I can’t really wrap my head around, and a new friend, Sarah, whose writing (and podcasting) output is nothing short of prolific, but who still commits time each week to a newsletter that is much more honest and personal than you might expect from a journalist who seems to be continually reaching the height of her career.

The more I engage with the things these three people put into the world, the more inspired I feel to commit something too. The problem is I’m one of those people who finds it much harder to act on ideas than to think them up where they concern what we might think of as intellectual creativity, which leaves me feeling a bit useless and melancholy.

When I used to be in bands, creating things to put into the world was a weekly endeavour. 12 years later, despite having created a PhD and being secure in the knowledge that, at least when I put my mind to it, I can “write well”, I struggle to see flashes of inspiration through to anything that doesn’t just end up in an imaginary waste paper basket, whether because of a lack of authenticity or originality. Where I used to be able to spend hours across any given week crafting a song, these days I’m lucky if I manage a verse before the idea is jettisoned. Less than two years since my PhD, I’m lucky if I get excited about a sentence.

I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem is two-fold. The first is practice. Easy enough. But the second is that I’ve never really been sure who my audience is, which only leads to a familiar set of self-defeating questions: what should I write? how should I write it? who’s read it? what did they think of it? what is the point? I’ve answered that now, with the help of 301 Permanently Moved. This blog’s audience is going to be me.

I’ve purposefully chosen not to revisit the existing two posts on this blog, but the blog’s existence – and the posts’ time stamps – is to me a reminder of my propensity for starting out projects without seeing them through, for whatever reason. A blog. A screenplay. A novel. A song. A podcast. A recording. A book. Two books. It goes on. Of all these I’m going back to a blog because I’ve been thinking about it since Jay told us all to, and because of all those things it seems the most likely medium that, knowing myself, I’ll be able to keep personal. Not just in terms of content, but in purpose.

So from now on this will be a personal blog. Not just about me, but also about me – though I will have to at least partially overcome my reluctance to put anything but hyperreal fragments of myself on the internet. Most importantly, the act of creating it will be for me – time each week, carved out to focus on something for myself simply because it’s something for myself. I confess this thought doesn’t come naturally to me – it’s an attempt at a conclusion to a longer thought process, really – but I want to test myself and see if I can sustain it, because it forces me to shut out the noise and find a little quiet. Who knows, maybe I’ll even find something worth saying.

What I’ve been watching

I’m quite pleased that this weekend I’ve managed to get through a few films, having struggled to allow myself the time over the past few weeks. The weekend started strong with Good Night, and Good Luck, the black-and-white film directed by George Clooney, which Sarah and I watched concurrently. The decidedly unerotic unthrilling erotic thriller Chloe was a misstep for Mubi, I shouldn’t have bothered. Yesterday I committed to parts 1 and 2 of The Godfather, which felt like an accomplishment, and today my friend Jess and I watched Psycho – my first time! – which I really enjoyed, and I’m pretty grateful she teased me into it because I think I’d have been a bit scared on my own.

Over on YouTube, Rick Beato’s ‘What Makes This Song Great’ episode on ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was fantastic and sent me down a real Nirvana rabbit hole, and I spent quite a bit of time this week watching video explainers on Hinduism and Sikhism, leading me to an exciting new explainery channel called Cogito. Each was about 20 minutes, so still the basics but enough to get into it a bit. I might go back for more this week – I’ve been thinking about religion a lot lately.

I hate reading

I’ve failed to get back into Wolf Hall for some time now, and although I started the so-far excellent Class Power on Zero Hours the other week, I’ve failed to make time for it this week. I feel extra bad about it because I’ve committed to writing a review piece about it.

In better news I got back into Empire (#376 Summer 2020) and felt quite motivated by Mark Cousins’ defence of documentaries. I think I might order his new one, Women Make Film: A New Road Movie Through Cinema, on blu-ray if it’s not too dear.

Keeping me company

Aside from my 301 Permanently Moved deep-dive, I listened to Kermode and Mayo yesterday for wholesome Saturday vibes, and I caught up with the last Pilot TV podcast. I’ve been missing The Burner a lot lately, though it was totally right to take it off air for a week. I’m looking forward to having it back tomorrow. The most recent Empire podcast will probably get a look-in too, and I’ve been getting back into Blindboy lately – which has been about the closest thing to a tight hug from a good friend in a while. Meanwhile I think I’ve managed to avoid any politics podcasts for about a week. Funny that.

Hasta la semana que viene.

When the night meets the morning sun

I’ve been on a bit of a mad one lately. For some time I’ve been plagued by a generalised sense of quantitative overload, which merged into something like a psychosocial compression.

For a time I felt as though the sense of every task, chore, commitment or grand plan had been either reduced or expanded to fill the same cognitive bandwidth. Answering that email. Reading that book. Washing my clothes. Finishing my chapter. Checking the other inbox. Replying to that text. Posting a letter. Going to London. Eating a snack. Calling that person. Selling my bike. Going for a coffee with a friend. Making a coffee for myself. Travelling cross-country for fieldwork. Going to a meeting. Buying milk. Each action moulded into a single unit of equal size and added to the end of an ever-growing mental blockchain. Every human interaction, however meaningful, taking its place in the social macro-management puzzle playing out in my head every moment. As I type I’m reminded of that infuriating game, To Build a Better Mousetrap.

As might be expected, I got to a point where I stopped trying to hold back the tide. Fuck it; try to float on the rapids instead. The emails stacked up. The letters kept coming. I put myself on leave from one commitment (never completely able to shed my ideology of responsibility, as a friend called it recently) and went AWOL on the others. I stopped looking after myself, emotionally and physically. While I cut off all commitments to press on with my chapter each day (now submitted, that’s something), I let myself slide into casual self-destructiveness.

Thanks to the unwitting support and humour of some friends and loved ones, I now feel myself gradually finding my way back down to earth. This happens from time to time, and as usual I suppose I’m trying to debrief with myself a bit. When I have these intense periods, it’s usually like a sort of fragile hedonism, or an exuberant masochism. One of the things I notice when I get that way is my mental attitude to social interactions fluctuates quite wildly between enthusiastic abandon and anxious uncertainty. [I should state at this point this is very much Me and not You for any friends, lovers or family members who’ve chanced upon this post!]

Amongst other things, lately I’ve been thinking about intimate encounters in relation to anxiety of the other, and the association of promiscuity with self-destructiveness, that sort of thing. I’m certainly resistant to the idea that having an active and varied sex life is somehow morally bad (though not for everyone, sure), but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t occasionally cross my mind that maybe a heightened desire for closeness could (from time to time) be bound up to some extent with a lack of self-regard. I can only speak for myself on that, but it’s a perverse thought, isn’t it?

It got me thinking about why people are sometimes outwardly or inwardly self-deprecating about some aspect of their character following intimacy, not out of nowhere but as if mitigating some communicative inhibition. I know I’ve occasionally been preoccupied with feelings or thoughts I’m too self-conscious to verbalise, even when they’re inconsequential, clarificatory, or (far worse) positive. What are we worried about?

Unable to sleep, again, the other night I returned to my all-time favourite album, Tapestry. If you don’t know it, then for fuck’s sake, sort it out. The first song that came on was Will You Love Me Tomorrow? As is so often the case with King, beneath the sentimental arrangement she really lays bare the sort of emotional knots you’d rather not think about let alone start unpicking.

Originally recorded by The Shirelles, and banned by some radio stations for its sexual overtones, the song is sung from the point of view of a lover wondering if their co-copulator will still feel the same way when the night meets the morning sun. At the centre of the song, and the protagonist’s anxiety, is that what is being said tonight with words unspoken will not translate into words spoken following the encounter.

I think this is probably right. The non-verbal communication (or that aspect) of physical intimacy ebbs away, but verbal communication can’t fill the void, leading to an indeterminacy of emotional communication altogether (regardless of the content of the feeling) which in turn reinforces the anxiety you were trying to get away from in the first place. As King (and Goffin) wrote for The Drifters: You know I can’t express this feeling of tenderness, there’s so much I wanna say but the right words don’t come my way. For the protagonist in that song, the feeling of tenderness isn’t alleviated by the fact they are actually trying to articulate some kind of wonderful.

I feel like this presents a problem. I certainly don’t have the solution, but Charlotte Church might. In a recent interview she talked about the raison d’etre of her Late Night Pop Dungeon, which I had the pleasure of seeing first hand with old and new comrades a little while ago. “We are in such dark times at the moment and everything feels so heavy … this is just about everything being sparkly and beautiful and wonderful and joyful.” While a set consisting of floorfiller megamixes played by ten-piece band and CharlotteFuckingChurch to a packed social club would rightly be defined as collective psychic resistance at the best of times, in darker moments it’s also a proof of the more affirmative principle identified by one reviewer: “there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure”. That’s something worth remembering, I think.

Like a landslide

Why would I start a blog now? Clearly I’ve missed the ‘golden age’ of blogging, but perhaps I see it as something to fill the void (mine, not yours) left by my social media retreat. Or more precisely, to fill in the void I find social media has created. For some time now I’ve felt myself to be lacking creativity, uninspired, unable to follow ideas through, etc. I suppose I’m hoping to recapture something of the joy I used to find in writing.

But I’m also starting a blog – this blog – because I’ve been unable to shake from my mind something said by Robin Mackay at the memorial service for our comrade Mark a couple of weekends ago. Talking of the need to speak openly, Robin said something along the lines of risking a wager on shared experience. I forgot the exact wording almost as soon as I heard it, as happens too often, but that idea – of a wager on shared experience – has distracted me every day since. Thankfully the eulogies have now been put online, so they can be read as they were intended to be heard:

In speaking in memory of Mark I can only speak for myself. But I feel a responsibility to speak openly, just in case my feelings, my questions, and my pain, are not merely my own. Because that’s the risk Mark chose to take: wagering on the potential of shared experience and shared understanding, sometimes at the cost of a self-exposure that was perilous for him, where others would have retreated into safety; he remained true to his own thought despite his personal fragility; indeed, in exposing and examining that fragility, he transformed it into a discursive force to be reckoned with.

Is shared experience and shared understanding not the necessary foundation of our collective progress and action? And is collectivity – collective care – not the real foundation of individuality, as Keir wrote last week? I’m more convinced than ever that these are the essential and crucial conditions we need and are grasping for. Lately I feel an unshakeable sense of urgency, as though our ability to keep the flame burning – let alone dive headlong into the oncoming storm, petrel-like – absolutely depends on it. Keir says we need to “care for everyone, so that everyone can be brave” – and that’s the rub, isn’t it? Being brave. The wager is the hard part; wagering means risk and exposure. Our trepidation produces political impotence, but also social inertia and internal distress by means of comparable doses of distanciation on one hand, and on the other a quasi-taphophobia, as if we might end up like Poe’s Fortunato despite all our good intentions. Being exposed is scary.

How do we overcome fear? I’m fucked if I know. But I suspect one aspect is either realising you’re part of a community – a collectivity of experience and understanding – or otherwise building one. As such, this blog is really a personal wager. I don’t even know if anyone’s reading, let alone if so much as a scintilla will resonate with an other. But I’m certainly beginning to admire those who try to point to shared angst and frustration as a means of arriving at shared joy, power, or even something less profound but no less meaningful. I think of the title of Nadia’s blog, ‘Not alone in the world‘ and pretty much everything an older friend, John Ledger, has painstakingly committed to paper. At the root of a wager on shared experience is something like an indeterminacy of sociality, but what I admire about these different projects is their apparent insistence on the possibility of shared understanding. Hopefully through sending occasional sorties over the distance I might convince myself and others of the possibility too.

Lately I’ve been indulging my longstanding enthusiasm for northern soul. Released in 1966, it wasn’t until the next decade that ‘Landslide’ found an audience (and the other side of the Atlantic, at that). Tony Clarke opens: Misery is rushing down on me just like a landslide. He goes on to tell us he’s got no shelter, no place to hide. His only hope is the song’s listener: Baby save me, don’t you let me get caught up in this landslide. Despite the open stress of the song’s lyrics – and the futility of Clarke’s appeal for rescue apparent in the closing bars as his voice fades prematurely into the wall of sound (No, no, landslide, no no no…) – the singer’s cry for help is transformed into the song’s rally cry, its driving drums and bass providing stability and just enough of a push, the horn section bold and confident, glimpses of a piano just hinting at something playful or joyous (but you’ll have to work a little harder for it to come through). The infectious drive of the song – some have called it the ultimate northern soul record – seems to contradict the ubiquitous misery the singer finds himself facing. Or maybe it is in fact because of the singer’s outpouring of emotion – the act of sharing his pain and fear of sadness – that it is so relatable. A wager on shared experience.