Thursday, 22 October 2009

Fresh Earfood - Available Now!

I've put two new songs up on my Myspace page, which you can listen to if you want - 'Think Of England' and 'The Other Shoe'. Just click here. I'm afraid the recording quality is a bit scrappy (although better than my previous efforts), and it's clear at several key points that my reach exceeds my grasp vocals-wise, but if you can grimace and bear it through the caterwauling then why not check them out and let me know what you think.

I'm pretty pleased with the lyrics I came up with for 'Think Of England' - it's one of the few pieces I've written where it ended up coming out exactly how I'd conceived it, without sort of morphing or collapsing on the journey - but I always feel slightly fraudulent writing songs. I suppose I've come to terms with calling myself a 'poet', an 'author' and a 'writer', but 'musician' still sounds like a ridiculous leap, despite the fact I play songs to live audiences pretty much every week. Hopefully the live aspect keeps my feet on the ground a bit. I like to think that if every crowd I played to gradually lost the will to live each time I performed a uke song, I'd notice and phase them out of my set (the songs, not the crowd)... unless, of course, I'm so dazzling and charismatic that all concerns over quality of material get overridden, and what looks like positive feedback is just them all gazing, enraptured, at my massive visage.

So yeah, basically what I'm saying is I've done some stuff even I'm ambivalent about, yet I've chosen to display it to the world anyway. Oversharing, eh? It's the modern disease, I suppose.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Local Boys Done Vid

So yeah, those of you who came to the Local Boys Done Good edition of HOMEWORK will remember we did a show all about our hometowns. Well, guess what? If you missed it or just forgot it or loved it so much that you want to be locked in a cell with it projected onto your clammy delighted face 24-7 then fortune has shined upon you, friend, because it's up on Youtube. BOOM:

The more eagle-eyed, beagle-nosed and smeagle-fingered amongst you may have noticed a distinct absence of Tim-ness in this video collection. Well, that's cos when it came to doing my bit I heinously overran, plinking and a-plonking on my uke and waffling, and ended up going to about 23 mins or something insano. I think we all agreed it didn't really work as a conclusion, well-intentioned though it was, so rather than cram it in there, I'm rewriting my section for when we continue to develop the show next year. It'll be all polished up with a brand spanking new ending, extra bits, slicker delivery, and a slightly more aged, paunchier cast. On the plus side, this means we haven't given everything away online, so if you come to see us, you'll find out how it all ends, what it all meant, and hear me playing the ukulele. We're performing it at Norwich Arts Centre on Monday 8th February, so pen that monster in your diaries, yo. Hope you enjoy these flicks. If you do, commenting on them and posting them somewheres else like your blog or your Facebook wall would be a super-helpful indulgence. Gotta spread the word. Peace out.

Homework Is Due

So yeah, had a faboo weekend over in Liverpool at the Bluecoat, doing some challenging and fun gigs and getting to soak up some culture. I really enjoyed doing the Revolutions In Form gig on the Sunday, which featured live doodles, a poem passed Chinese Whispers style through the whole audience, performance art, music and film. I realise I'm not a very credible advocate for a gig I was part of, and I don't usually like bigging up gigs I liked anyway, because it makes me sound like an awful fawning luvvie, but I thought it was a really interesting show. 'Performance art' especially gets a bad rap as a blanket term, but at its best it just means someone doing something cool and fascinating live.

Um, so next Wednesday, the 28th of October, you should come to the final Homework of the season. Aisle16 will be performing The 9½ Commandments Of Aisle16. Okay, here's the pitch:

'When the British Council approached stand-up poetry collective Aisle16 wanting to commission a brand new live literature show for a "live, appreciative audience", they jumped at the chance. After doing a poetry tour of Britain’s motorway service stations and becoming the world’s first poetry boyband, as well as their regular appearances at festivals such as Glastonbury and Latitude, they were used to taking verse to new audiences. But there was a catch.

The show would be at the 2nd Annual Children’s Book Festival in Athens – and the "live, appreciative audience" would be composed entirely of Greek 7-year-olds, who hardly spoke any English at all. Never ones to shy away from a challenge – or money – Aisle16 set about trying to write a new poetry show that could be understood by people who barely speak the language.

The result is The 9½ Commandments Of Aisle16 – a stand-up poetry show featuring fat bullies, God’s rejected fish prototypes, and a portrait of the yeti as a young man."

So that'll be Chris Hicks, Luke Wright (interviewed here), Ross Sutherland (interviewed here), and Joel Stickley (interviewed here). There'll also be supporting performances of new material from me, Joe Dunthorne and John Osborne. Which means it's going to be that hella rare equinox where all seven members of Aisle16 are in the same place, at the same time, performing at the same gig. I know. You're correct to water your underpants in entrancement and terror. It will doubtless be a dead good finale to a super-successful season of Homework. Come, imbibe heartily with us as we say adios to our darling literary cabaret night for another year. And gawd bless the Arts Council for supporting our efforts. We've done our best to make it memorable, and give our audiences something more interesting than just blokes chuntering on in a vaguely artsy way.

Oh, and hey - you ought to check out the new online ventures from two of our members. Joel Stickley has started a blog called How To Write Badly Well. Partly based on his experience as a creative writing tutor, each short lesson builds up into a step-by-step guide on how to excel in composing dreadful prose. He claims he's going to update every Friday. Even though this seems a modest schedule, from experience I expect it will prove to be a SORDID LIE. Still, you should read it because it is well-wrought and funny. As someone who does a bit of the old creative writing tutoring from time to time, I enjoyed a few recognition laughs, along with a few twinges at stylistic gaffes I'd committed myself.

Also, Ross Sutherland has a new website up, here. Lots of poems, vids, links, gig dates, etc. I reckon 'The End Of Our Marriage' is particularly good.

In other news, after a weekend of appalling eating habits in Liverpool, including two takeaway pizzas and two meals at McDonalds culminating in a McGangbang (a double cheeseburger with a chicken mayo shoved in-between them... I KNOW) I am in the midst of a week of detox. No alcohol, no nicotine, no caffeine, no meat, no dairy, no sweets, no crisps. Steering away from unrefined carbs and stuff that's high on the glycemic index as much as possible. Losing Diet Coke feels like the cruellest blow thus far, which I suppose only goes to prove how much of an addle-pated addict I am. Yesterday I spent the whole day feeling like absolute crap, with a pounding headache. Today, I feel a bit better, albeit enfeebled. It's only until Saturday morning, anyhow, then I get to go right back to stuffing hot hogsflesh into my slavering unclean craw.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Mercy Me

So, I'm in the midst of a rather pleasant weekend in Liverpool, doing a bunch of gigs at the Bluecoat. On Friday evening, I got to host an evening with Vic Reeves, where we introduced a sold-out crowd to his new book, Vic Reeves' Vast Book Of World Knowledge. As you can probably imagine, I was absolutely essential to keeping the otherwise meek and audience-shy Senor Reeves buoyed up and confident over the course of the show. A well-deserved pat on the back and an egg sarnie for me.

If you're around Liverpool and its environs, Saturday 17th sees me and Ross Sutherland (who I interviewed here) doing our show Infinite Lives, about retreating from the shitty, complicated miasma of real life into the clearly defined score tables and unlimited retries of video games. Also we do poems and some music. It's free, in the Bluecoat bar, so come, get soused, and appreciate us with your massive praise-beaming faces. On Sunday the 18th, me, Ross and Nathan Jones (who I interviewed here) plus a whole host of other musicians and artists are doing a gig at the Bluecoat called Revolutions In Form. There'll be a slew of non-wanky experiments in being interesting and entertaining with spoken word and its many mutant cousins - I can't speak for the other artists, but for my part, I'll be doing a brand new performance poem and a brand new uke piece. Hopefully I won't rot the ears off my audience through sheer incompetence. It starts at 8pm. If you're in Liverpool, come, or I'll silently resent you.

Finally, Issue 9 of Mercy's online magazine Flatline has just come out. Click here to read it. On page 6 you can read a new poem from me - I hate to be a gushy pranny but I love the illustration, done by a chap called Kenn Goodall. I'm proper chuffed with it. I think it's wonderful, and I'm usually a fussy twat. Go have a look, and let me know what you think.

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Manic Pixie Dream Girl

Back at the beginning of 2007, the Onion AV Club's Nathan Rabin coined the term 'Manic Pixie Dream Girl', to describe the archetype represented by Kirsten Dunst's character in the movie Elizabethtown: 'Dunst embodies a character type I like to call The Manic Pixie Dream Girl (see Natalie Portman in Garden State for another prime example). The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures.'

In the AV Club's follow-up article listing 16 films featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, they write: 'the Manic Pixie Dream Girl archetype is largely defined by secondary status and lack of an inner life. She's on hand to lift a gloomy male protagonist out of the doldrums, not to pursue her own happiness.'

So the Manic Pixie Dream Girl is a chauvinistic confection invented by sad sack late-twenties/early-thirties screenwriters pining for some chipper, twinkle-eyed fitty to come airlift them out of their self-brewed mires of despondency, thus sparing them the uncomfortable effort of personal responsibility - a sexy, naughty Mary Poppins to their bawling menchildren (is that the correct plural of 'manchild'? I'm never sure).

A sexist fantasy whose only purpose is to please a 'brooding arty loser' with mild depressive tendencies? Hmm... Sounds like my type of girl! But I'm inclined to agree with the Onion AV Club that the ladies who most embody the classic conception of this archetype are crappy, and not hot at all. As Jessica at Jezebel put it: 'Honestly? Anyone who telegraphs their so-called weirdness so outlandishly is not actually weird, they're merely quirky enough to be vaguely interesting without having their own thing going on. They're completely mainstream but have one really big tattoo, or occasionally sing really loud in the shower!' Amen, sister.

I'd like to reclaim the term. After years of wondering whether I have a 'type' and drawing a blank, I think I've cracked it. I like weird girls. Not 'weird' in the 'look-at-me-aren't-I-alternative' sense flagged by Jezebel above - to me, a shit dress sense and a clutch of ill-judged facial piercings, or a shrieking, ear-splintering laugh on a hair-trigger just suggest an unfortunate yearning for attention. I mean 'weird' as in 'a bit poorly in the head'. I don't mean 'mental' as in 'one time I spat off a bridge'. I mean 'mental' as in 'one time I jumped off a bridge'.

I'm not after some superficial ditz who can affect a kind of glorious infatuation with the state of being alive just because she's pretty and middle class and living in the decadent West while all over the world children die of disease, war and starvation. I want a girl who'll punch me, and mean it.

Basically I want the Ghost Of Christmas Present out of Scrooged (about 1:35):

That's my kind of Manic Pixie Dream Girl - a kind of unpredictable screaming id-dervish. Also, that bit where she chins him with the toaster (just after 2:00) is hot.

That might seem a bit fucked-up and gross but isn't that how all lovey-dovey couples look to outsiders? Isn't there a reason why we describe people as being 'madly' in love? And so many of us, we get stung and we get stung and we get stung - worse than stung, we get fucking eviscerated on the serrated horns of this huge, snorting love beast and yet, as soon as we've patched up the hole in our chest, we take up our spears and we head out hunting again. In spite of all our experience, in spite of everything we've learned, in spite of our certain knowledge that anyone we come to care about will be taken from us, if not by acrimonious divorce or apathetic abandonment then by death, to which we are all subject, in spite of all of that, we still choose to make ourselves vulnerable, and love. If that's not mental illness of the fiercest stripe, I don't know what is.

Manic Pixie Dream Girl
When you’re in love
Everything is a message
From the sun beaming brilliant and bronze in the sky
To the wind through a cornfield
A woodpigeon’s cry
The world seems exotic, so complex and new
All the bands on the radio sing just for you

When you’re insane
Everything is a message
From the fluorescent runes that dissolve at your touch
To the backwards Latin whispers
Rising out of your crotch
Amor et melle et felle est fecundissmismus
The world seems exotic, so complex and new
All the bands on the radio sing orders to assassinate Delia Smith just for you

Manic Pixie Dream Girl
For so long I’ve felt you approaching
Like the low thrum of a zeppelin fleet
Shadows rolling over the city of my heart
To a stark snare drumbeat

Magical Schizoid Munchkin Chick
You are the ripples in my water glass
The blips on my motion sensor
My seismograph’s spazzing needle
And as the printout settles in slow, pleated cascades on the floor
I know you’re coming
You’re coming
You’re coming

Floridly Psychotic Faery Queen
So horridly erotic! Where the hell have you been?
Paranoid Delusional Frenetic Elf Strumpet
O Ludicrous Hyperkinetic Gelfling Crumpet!

After we’ve kissed, I’ll just ask you to hold me
And I know you exist... cos the microwave told me
See troubles we had then were just teething pains
Lovers and madmen have such seething brains

Let’s have slow hugs and highwire fucks
Chase butterflies off viaducts
Then plug our bums with jelly tots
And ride on roofs of fire trucks
To burning buildings where
We’ll make out while the flames lick higher, sucks
For all those people trapped inside
Life’s tough
So let’s just try our luck

Till my fingers stink like sprats in brine
And your breath pongs of Cheetos
Let’s tie the knot in Vegas
Amongst brothels, bars and freakshows
With a bridal veil of tinfoil
And a skinful of Mojitos
We got peckers made of marzipan...
But you don’t have to eat those

O I know your looks have faded
And my gut’s a little flabby
And your knives are rubber-bladed
Just in case you’re feeling stabby
So you keep the windows shaded
And a close eye on the tabby
When the aliens invaded
He was singing in Punjabi

Go wild baby!
Hump that marrow!
You can be the devil’s child
And I’ll be Mia Farrow
Cos giving birth to you my dear
Would be such sweet sweet sorrow
Look! I can see her head!
Oooh! That’s gonna hurt tomorrow!

I’ll freestyle like a gabba star
While we smile in the abattoir
Snog to blood-drenched bleats and yelps
You don’t have to be mad to wank here –
But it helps!

And we won’t agree on everything
I mean
We can’t both be Jesus, now can we?
But I forgive you

Cos I love your blokish gobbing
Though I watch you through my fingers
And your choked, staccato sobbing
While receiving cunnilingus
I need ice to rest my knob in
But the fire inside still lingers
These sweet feelings aren’t like bees,
Please see, they won’t die if they sting us

What’s crazier than love
In all this shit and piss and pain?
Where magic’s just another
Drab disorder of the brain

I know we shouldn’t even start
I know one day you’ll break my hand
Sort of
And what do I need both eyes for anyway?
You can’t judge depth just by looking

They say truth’s beauty. Absurd! So screw sanity!
We’ll go down like the Hindenburg – o the humanity!
Waking life was always crappy
So I s’pose I must be dreaming
My friends ask me: Are you happy?
But I can’t hear for all the screaming

Want me to blend in? Hand me the blender!
Let’s all go on a normality bender!
Okay, okay, me first.
Here’s my impression of a normal person:
Yeah, it’s been chaos round ours, as per.
Washing machine broke down again.
Ford Galaxy broke down again.
Gloria broke down again.
Third time in a month.
Third time in a fortnight.
Third time since Pilates.
Flooded the utility room.
Leaked oil all over the pea shingle.
Pissed the ethnic rug.
Called out the plumber,
The mechanic,
The brain mender,
You know what was wrong?
Little washer,
Wedding ring
Only that big.
Costs about 50p.
Costs about 50p.
Cost about three grand and a week in Kefalonia.
Hate to think how much we’ve spent on repairs
A hundred?
15 years of grim-faced stoicism?
Gets to the stage where you think, is it worth it?
Is it worth it?

Is it worth it?

If adventure’s changing channels,
Lazy nights on the settee,
And they say I’m fucking crazy –
I say crazy’s fucking me
If a brand new set of flannels’
Your idea of being free
Then I may be fucking crazy
Maybe crazy’s fucking me
O sweet crazy, you amaze me
I’d forgotten how to see
And of course I’m fucking crazy
Because crazy’s fucking me
Grind the mountains down to gravel,
Burn the woods and boil the sea
Cos it’s true, I’m fucking crazy,
Yeah, but crazy’s fucking me

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

Games With Stupid Names - #9: Mustache Boy

Pity the swollen ranks of crap comedy superheroes - every Goitreman and Ochre Bagpiper, each Super Wafter and Captain Brasso, even The Amazing Mr Narcolepsy - and their attempts to amuse by being mediocre. They are all but wisps of bumfluff against the majesty that is Mustache Boy. Mustache Boy is a vaguely Einsteinish hirsute child. That's it. Some unpleasant hormonal disorder meant he grew a tache before puberty. That's the sum of his powers.

His moustache plays no part in the game mechanics (which involve trundling round a maze, painting blocks with your feet, Q-Bert style, while jumping over baddies) whatsoever. Best of all, he wears a space helmet the whole time, so his facial hair isn't even visible. It's like having a hero called Technicolour Revolving Cornea Chap then always portraying him in a massive pair of reflective cop shades.

The only nod to his hidden tache is the fact that, if you collect the letters to spell 'MUSTACHE', you get an extra life and skip to the next stage. Notice the disturbing subliminal commands positioned around the maze. After a few minutes play, they make you kind of, uh, woozy. Wait... maybe the protagonist isn't in the game at all! Maybe I'm Mustache Boy. KILL... KILL... KILL...

Monday, 12 October 2009


‘He goes by many names –
Loki, God of mischief,
Mara, the deceiver.
In the dark arts of misdirection and illusion
He is peerless,’
Says Cecil.
I am looking at a green electricity junction box
Concreted into the ground.
Cecil senses my confusion.

His beam widens
Like an interdimensional rift.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

Little Gods

Little Gods
Strange, omniscient Maxine watches
A couple conceive on the backseat of a Yatsuki Gremlin
Listens to the creak of leather upholstery and ancient suspension
And the hushed whoosh of a snowstorm raging outside the car
While, seventy years later,
Their great grandson thumbs cartridges like little lipsticks
Into a magazine
Puts the muzzle to his throbbing temple
And waits for the 12:15
To crescendo past his pokey tenement
Muffling the shot

She could save him
Make the trigger stick
Delay the train till he loses his nerve
Clanking the handgun down on the folding table
Then slinking back to his foldout bed
She could miracle the cartridges to Pez bricks
Even Lazarus his dead boyfriend
Back out of the grave mouth,
Dewormed and panting bashful apologies
But the fact is, She likes symmetry

When the bullet ruptures
His brain’s pleasure centre
She sees his ancestor hit orgasm
And a nodding dog on the car’s parcel shelf
Bops its head in mute approval

It’s not my place to judge
I’m just a facilitator

Pablo likes to be capricious
I write this in His notes
He appears to one of His most ardent followers
As a kind of gubbling blancmange
O loyal subject, the blancmange intones,
Ask of Me a boon, that I may grant it.
The follower prostrates, and requests wisdom.
No, says Pablo, and vanishes in a blast of flatulence.
‘That was an interesting exchange,’ I say,
Inhaling through my teeth.
‘Let’s talk about what happened there.
Why did You refuse?’
But Pablo is busy appearing in the splatter pattern
Of a high-strung spinster’s dropped porridge;
She drags a neighbour round to see
By which time
The image has changed to buttocks.
'I don't know,' He says.
'Because it was funny?'

I facepalm at Anton’s lack of originality
But can’t say
Christ alive, human beings I can understand
– in Your own image and all that –
But could You not imagine
A world without
Rice Krispies?
Instead, I try: ‘I notice You’ve filled
Your realm with lots of familiar things.
Is that a comfort to You?’
He shrugs. He is watching
A repeat of Leave It To Beaver on three million sets.

Rupert removes the top of a chap’s head
Like a boiled egg
During a wedding reception.
Nanase’s world is all dogs being sick.
Dogs being sick, I jot.

Heinrich has created an impossible ice planet
With a flaming core
And no people.
He spends aeons
Melting elaborate catacombs
Into the huge spherical glacier.
When, at last, He blows into it,
The orb shivers with one terrible note.

Friday, 9 October 2009

We Can't All Be Astronauts Wins Best Biography / Memoir!

So, yeah, guess what? Last night, my first book, We Can't All Be Astronauts, scooped Best Biography/Memoir at the East Anglian Book Awards! That's good, isn't it? The judges called it: 'A funny, poignant, beautifully written account of a budding writer's quest for literary success.' Yep. No argument there, judges.

As you can imagine, I am - ah ha, ah ha, wait for it, wait for it... over the moon. Eh? Eh? Because 'astronauts', you see? Not just a funny pun though folks - also true. I was really surprised and I accepted my award in a sort of dazzled fug. Wow. Happy times. Thanks so much to everybody who's read it and those of you who've taken the time to write to me to confirm it didn't make you sick in your mouths.

Tuesday, 6 October 2009

Games With Stupid Names - #8: The Amazing Adventures Of Mr F. Lea

The Amazing Adventures Of Mr F. Lea can't blame its title on some over-enthusiastic foreign programmer's bad English - unlike most of the other games I've covered in this hall of shame, it's just a really crap pun. Appropriate really, since the entire game is basically a succession of weak jokes, as gentle and poorly-executed as the vicar's 'funny' cartoons in the fortnightly church newsletter.

As the eponymous Mr F. Lea, you must face four dog-themed levels in whatever order you choose. Unlikely though his name may sound, when I worked selling car insurance over the phone, my manager was a Mr D. Olphin, so shit names do exist in the real world. D. Olphin wasn't a dolphin though, at least as far as I'm aware - I never saw him in person, and to be fair everyone who worked at Norwich Union had tiny, expressionless eyes and talked in a string of chirrups and clicks.

Each of the quartet of levels is essentially nicked from a more successful game, given a doggie makeover then made shit. It's like watching a version of The Matrix where all the cast are alsatians filmed on someone's Nokia. Whilst having one of your toes amputated.

'Dog Hollow' is a joyless rip-off of the first level of Donkey Kong.

Instead of fireballs, giant gorillas and daredevil leaps across girders, the rear end of a dog kicks bones and what look like beach balls down a florid morass of blocky gibberish. Collect balloons on the way, if you can be arsed.

'Lawnmower' latches onto Frogger's glistening calf and humps the living Christmas out of it.

Instead of a road and a river, you must first guide Mr F. Lea across a lawn, avoiding the mowers, then help him leap over a series of dogs' backs (the sausage dogs are the easiest to hitch a lift on, for the obvious reason) to reach some tiny, nondescript hangars (for a less obvious reason). Collision detection is crappy, and Mr F. Lea moves in a succession of decrepit jerks, yet it's still insultingly easy - an achievement almost impressive in its dreadfulness.

The other two stages, 'Dog's Back' and the irritatingly-apostrophed 'Dog's Tail's', plagiarise levels from Taito's 1982 platformer Jungle King, a game which had its own dubious history of theft, after Taito got sued by Edgar Rice Burroughs' estate for its unauthorised use of the Tarzan character (including a sample of his trademark yell), and, sadly, a game which was total shite.

'Borrowing' liberally from the vine swing and uphill boulder-dodging levels, the final two stages see Mr F. Lea swinging across a succession of apparently delighted pooches' tails, (a level which is so easy I've literally never managed to die on it - I don't even know if you can) and running up a dog's back, dodging the spots, which for some reason seem to have become lethal to fleas.

In fairness, Jungle King was bollocks to begin with, so TAAOMFL can't really be said to have hugely besmirched the lineage by producing similarly tedious, workmanlike plod-a-thons, but when they're such obvious toss, why steal them in the first place? It's like building a sex-robot then giving it the face of Gaby Roslin.

Also, why did they filch two crappy levels from Jungle King, yet not touch the section that sees you swimming through a river, repeatedly stabbing crocodiles in the face?

Regular readers of this blog know only too well what a fan I am of games where you get to stab crocodiles in the face. It's an unsung genre, and one that TAAOMFL would have done well to mimic. Instead of all that knifey-carving-supple-flesh-gnnnh-I-love-spoiling-you-bitch harmless fun, we get a stupid flea jumping up and down on a dog's big smiling head. Fuck you, Mr Lea. I bet D. Olphin would have stabbed a croc. He would have stabbed a croc right in the visage and liked it.