Saturday, January 22, 2005

this morning

Beautiful frost. Each blade of grass encrusted with sleepy dust, crunchy and lethargic, reluctant to rise on a Saturday morn. The field stretched out like a great bed sheet, gentle undulations under its sheer white frosting. The crests of the waves tinged pink from the vivid dawn colours spilling over the trees to the east, the troughs couched in blue-hued shadow. The air cold, the sky blue and pink and orange, the sun yet to lift above the horizon.

Breath deep.

Breath deep.


Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Today's ridiculously hyperbolic quote

From the Guardian, talking about the new Airbus 380 'super-jumbo':

Geoff Dixon, chief executive of the Australian national airline, Qantas, said the Antipodes would be brought closer by the new plane. He said it would stimulate renewed travel by "conquering the tyranny of distance" for far-flung, isolated countries.

Yes, curse that evil, malicious distance.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

pictures and research

Managed to get around to the continually mammoth task of going through old pictures and sorting out some prints today. Always fun, especially as jessops are doing cheap digital prints at the moment so thoughts of brevity (approximately equal to care) can go straight out the window. Here are a couple of New York that I rather like:

Also pulled out a half-finished essay from last year about digital memory prosthesis and decided to try and finish some interesting but barely fleshed out thoughts. Made a start with some research – very interesting but haven't got any further than saying hmmmm a few times. Sadly no more days off until next week, so it looks like its going on hold again.

No web design today, but thanks to some helpful words from my brother, who can draw, I've some ideas for finishing off the theme for thisisthewaytheworldends. Perhaps some research at work tomorrow (sources!), but I'm now confident I can satisfactorily finish the main page, which will contain all the main design elements, without it being too large to download quickly (the problem I had when I tried to use one large illustration) or looking a bit sparse as it currently does. The rest should then follow fairly rapidly as it will just be a case of adding different bits of text to appear between the header and footer. Cheers brother dearest.

Monday, January 17, 2005

a new project

Spent most of today having a play around with some ideas for Ian's band's site. I've never really done much illustration for the web before (as opposed to manipulating photos for the web), but I'm fairly pleased with how it's going so far. I was working from a flyer for their previous gig which had a war of the worlds style picture, so I've just carried on with that (thankfully flying saucers are fairly easy to draw!)... not sure if it's perhaps a little too b-movie, but I think that's the style they're after.

Check it out at and let me know what you think, all constructive criticism appreciated, especially from those of you who can actually illustrate! You can also see their current site at

An exploration of logical madness

Why, yes Mr HD, I'd be glad to elaborate, any excuse to write some pseudo-philosophy! It sounds like a ridiculous oxymoron and it was perhaps a slightly lazy shorthand on my part, so let's explore the connotations of what I have termed 'logical madness'.

Put simply I mean the kind of extreme actions that could arise naturally from a sound, logical plan. In Home the character's initial ideas were simple: he didn't want to go out, so he decided to set-up an experiment to see whether he could stay in. The parameters were also reasonable enough, he decided not to set foot outside the house, not to use the phone or initiate contact with the outside world in any way, to live off only what was in the house. Indeed he was quite lucid when formulating this plan, but a quick extrapolation starts to hint that all may not go well. What will happen when the food runs out? What will happen when his work colleagues try to make contact? Will he stop his experiment, or will he descend into madness? Thus the madness is already implicit in the logical plan, but not a foregone conclusion – any of us could decide to follow a similar scheme but decide to quit before any extreme results were reached (death, murder, madness etc.).

Another example of this kind of behaviour is Marco Fogg in Auster's Moon Palace. He plans to read all of the books his uncle has left him, selling those he has read but allowing himself no other activity to earn money or food. It is obvious that once this course of action has begun there will be no easy conclusion or way out, yet at the same time this path offers a beautiful simplicity and freedom.

"As I sold off the books, my apartment went through many changes. That was inevitable, for each time I opened another box I simultaneously destroyed another piece of furniture. My bed was dismantled, my chairs shrank and disappeared, my desk atrophied into empty space. My life had become a gathering zero, and it was a thing I could actually see: a palpable, burgeoning emptiness. Each time I ventured into my uncle's past, it produced a physical result, an effect in the real world. The consequences were therefore always before my eyes, and there was no way to escape them. So many boxes were left, so many boxes were gone. I had only to look at my room to know what was happening. The room was a machine that measured my condition: how much of me remained, how much of me was no longer there. I was both perpetrator and witness, both actor and audience in a theatre of one. I could follow the progress of my own dismemberment. Piece by piece, I could watch myself disappear."

And Fogg almost does disappear, indeed he wishes it: "So began the summer of 1969. It seemed almost certain to be the last summer I spent on earth." And he finds a certain kind of freedom as his mind drifts through his books and, later, his empty apartment. As he becomes starved madness encroaches, but it is madness with a cause, madness that has been bidden welcome by Fogg's actions. To achieve this true freedom madness must occur, it is only then that the set parameters become our entire world, only then that we are free of the constraints imposed on us by others and free of physical burdens. Both these characters find their freedom, but only through the mental and physical trauma of starvation and obsession, not a route which most of us would wish to follow.

A less terminal example is the action of the executives in Ballard's Super-Cannes. To alleviate the stress of the business park and the day job they take to driving around nearby towns as vigilante gangs, fighting and murdering as they see fit. These are completely insane actions, but they find that it is the only way that they can maintain sanity throughout the rest of their lives. Thus we again have an insane situation arising from logical thought.

Obviously fiction is the natural home for these kinds of extreme logic, I doubt that anyone would consider following these plans to their fullest in the real world (unless they were already insane), but they do ask the question of exactly how far can we go, and why should we want to? In these situations freedom and madness become one and the same, mind and body drift freely – it is only through this complete loss of self and other, time and space, that we can gain this freedom. Logic is extrapolated to its natural, illogical, conclusion.

Saturday, January 15, 2005


I watched 'home' earlier, a short film based on the JG Ballard story The Enormous Space, shown as one of those "bbc4 on bbc2" moments (i.e. part of the continued insistence by the beeb that bbc2 is no longer showing any interesting or high-brow programming and we must all get digital). I found it quite reminiscent of some Paul Auster moments and also Mark Danielewski's House of Leaves, although I don't know when the Ballard story was actually written – I presume it predates most of these. It was very good and, like the other writers mentioned above, revealed an essential truth of existence: true freedom is only found through logical madness.

get a socialist haircut

There was an absolutely brilliant article in the guardian on Wednesday about fashion in North Korea. Obviously it's completely wrong to mock a socialist regime and all the people who live there, but their wording is priceless... a five-part TV show called "let's trim our hair in accordance with the socialist lifestyle" and a radio show called "dressing in accordance with our people's emotion and taste". I now have an image in my head of everyone walking around with some kind of textbook detailing the miniature of their lives, meanwhile Kim Jong-il as illustrious leader ignores it all and lives like a capitalist tycoon. If only we could share without corruption, or mandatory haircuts, the world would be a much better place. Although perhaps less amusing.


And some more Waterstone's bashing here.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

lsd #4

first of the year

Blimey, almost halfway through jan already. Still, it’s only now that things are returning to their normal rhythm and I have time for faffing on the internet: Amy is back at school and the Christmas busyness is over at work.

Good things at the moment are Mobius Dick by Andrew Crumey, How to be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson, dancing my ass off (well, wiggling slightly while sat in a chair) to the CD bro made me for Christmas, Tim visiting last weekend, finally getting promoted at work (it was actually quite a productive appraisal too), days out with amy last week (oh, how I envy that 2 week holiday!), producing issue #4 of Longshore Drift (it will be appearing online later today), and probably lots of other stuff too.

Bad thing at the moment is primarily the story about a chap called Joe Gordon who has been sacked by Waterstone’s over some fairly innocuous comments he made on his blog. There appears to be no libel, no ‘big story’ as would be the case, for example, of someone taking a newspaper to court over unsubstantiated personal allegations. This is one of those stories that cuts right to the heart of free speech issues, the control that employers have over us and corporate behaviour as a faceless machine. Instead of being handled with humility and reason on a personal level it seems to have been blown out of proportion. I can only presume this is due to some kind of personality clash between Joe and the boss who has magnificently inflated the situation. Naturally the fact that I also work at Waterstone’s makes the story particularly pertinent.

I’ve written on here before about how I hate work, all work (here, for example), a necessary evil in our current puritanical capitalist hard-work society (thanks to How to be Idle for that one!) but one of the things that makes it bearable are the people you work with. Most people who work for Waterstone’s are intelligent and interesting, this is a policy the company pursues by mainly employing graduates. After all, if you’re going to deal with books it helps to be literate and thoughtful. Accepting this, why do you then start trying to run the shops as identikit retail outfits? The beauty of the chain used to be in its personality and individuality – people like Joe make this possible. But here is the schism, the psychosis at work between the shop floor and the board room: the personality that brings difference and specialization and character is completely at odds with modern, uber-efficient corporate management. Thus our jobs are at once both high skilled yet low-paid, the people with the most ideas that have the most to add are those that get bored and want to leave the quickest, the atmosphere and ethos that is encouraged by books and free-thinking is removed by heavy handed rules and overreactions.

So it is that any small company becomes a major chain, so it is that joy is sucked from us, so it is that people who clearly love what they’re doing but still have bad days to moan about lose their jobs while those who plod through inoffensively but without panache come to rule.

In some ways I feel wrong writing this. To constructively criticise implies a certain level of care, love even, that I feel I do not have for my job. How can anyone come to love a company? How can anyone be proud? I have to work, that is the bottom line, the least odious job wins but this doesn’t mean that the company is suddenly like my family. This is the feeling attempted with corporate talk of ‘loyalty’ and ‘teams’. But people like Joe do seem to have this quality. Sure, they have bad days (who doesn’t) but, at root, they put a lot of effort in, posses a lot of skill and knowledge and do a good job. As a Border’s employee commented on Joe’s blog:
“The irony of all this is the fact that you must have loved (as I do) certain aspects of your job as a book seller - even if the company you worked for sometimes (often/usually/always) treated you like shit, you were prepared to stay because of your passion for books and because you loved recommending your favourites to customers who came back to read that particular author's entire back-catalogue simply because they trusted and liked those recommendations of yours. Waterstones are the losers, they have lost a great deal.”
It is completely wrong that people are treated like this, and end up feeling like this, yet what do companies expect? They can’t have it both ways, they can either be good at what they do and respect their staff accordingly, or they can be faceless corporations and have staff who don’t give a stuff. They can’t be both, yet they keep trying to encourage us with the carrot-and-stick in the left hand while beating us down with a club in the right.

Enough with the flaws in corporate structure, what about the free speech issue? This is the more pressing aspect for most people, particularly anyone else who blogs and mentions their work. I don’t see why your employer should have any say over your private life. Perhaps if you were mounting a specific campaign against a company you worked for they’d have grounds to fire you, then again you’d probably have already quit if that were the case. But talking about your day on a blog is nothing like this, particularly as the accusations that Joe defamed the company’s name supposes that he has a large readership and an axe to grind, neither of which seems to have been the case until he was sacked and the media picked up the story. Similarly personal accusations posted online might just about warrant some kind of apology, but again this doesn’t seem relevant as Joe’s comments are generally pretty impersonal – no names are mentioned – and pretty mild. In short, why shouldn’t you be allowed to discuss your day and your opinions as you see fit? I find it incredibly sad that people are writing about how they now feel the need to go back through old posts and remove mentions of work; self-censorship in this way can only stifle creativity and free-expression, and is in some ways worse than external censorship as it implies the existence of a culture of fear and thought police.

Time to conclude before I start repeating myself. In fact, I’m just going to quote Hal Duncan’s comments on Joe’s blog:

“As a citizen of Glasgow I have been a customer in your Sauchiehall Street and Argyll Street stores on numerous occasions. In buying Christmas presents last year, in fact - somewhat ironically - I deliberately chose to buy from your store rather than from Borders, having personally known individuals who had suffered from that chain's "corporate American" management style and the concomitant devaluation of its employees. Waterstones seemed to offer an alternative, a company which was not part of the bullying and exploitative culture increasingly prevalent in the service industry, one where specialist knowledge on the part of staff and management was encouraged and where real and pragmatic customer service might be expected as a result - rather than the all too familiar blank, forced smile of fundamentally disinterested, disenchanted workers. Clearly, however, this is not the case. Clearly a long-term employee with a deep knowledge of, and respect for, a certain field is worthless to yourselves. I must say that I am at a loss, however, to understand exactly what it is that is more valuable.

To be frank, the reasoning behind Joe Gordon's dismissal escapes me. I can appreciate that public criticism of the company by an employee would be frowned upon, and I assume that a posting on a personal blog is, to yourselves, on the same level as, for instance, writing an article in some high-selling national newspaper. One might have thought a warning, a request to withdraw such criticisms would be understood and accepted. To Waterstones, though, this is an outrage beyond the pale. Others might well compare a blog entry to someone letting off steam over a pint at their local with some friends, but clearly as far as Waterstones is concerned this is much more than that. A calculated Machiavellian act of sabotage, no less. A savage attempt to destroy the very company from within. Gross misconduct, no less. Bringing the company into disrepute. Petty, spiteful vindictiveness.

It seems to me, though, that if anyone has sabotaged the company's sales, brought Waterstones into disrepute, acted out of petty, spiteful vindictiveness, it is the manager who sacked Mr Gordon. The man has single-handedly destroyed Waterstones' credibility for myself and God knows how many others. Honestly, I think it would be extremely foolish to underestimate the implications and ramifications of this one act in the opinions of writers, readers, bloggers and genre fans across the country. It would be extremely foolish to underestimate the bad publicity, the way this will play in the media and in the writing, blogging and SF and Fantasy communities. What this tells us is not just that Waterstones is as contemptible in its attitude to its staff as the call centres and fast food chains that a huge portion of the book-buying market - young, educated, intelligent, middle class, liberal - will know and revile. What this tells us is that Waterstones is contemptible in its attitude to writing itself, happy to exploit consumer appetites for sharp-toothed, anti-corporate satire from the likes of Michael Moore, but utterly intolerant when it is made the target of even a few inconsequential jibes. Satire is worthless to Waterstones except as a commodity. Free speech is worthless to Waterstones except as a commodity. Writing is worthless to Waterstones except as a commodity. To Waterstones, in fact, such outspoken satirical writing is simply abhorrent… when it is not a product they themselves are capitalising on. I find it difficult to stress just how repellent I consider this act, just how far it lowers your company in my opinion.”