Monday, 30 December 2013

What Worked (and Didn't Work) For Me in 2013

Here's what worked...
Alternating swimming and training days (when I don't have a cough and cold)
Increasing the weights on at least one exercise each week
Having a snack around 10:30 (Mr City) and a takeaway burger (Byron Shoreditch) at 1:30
Magnesium spray to ease muscles
Monthly Thai Massage (so why did I stop halfway through the year?)
Weekends away with people (Lisbon, Rome, Amsterdam)
Having a locker at the gym to store a change of clothes
Wearing only blue shirts
Wearing tight tee-shirts to make the shirt fit better
Taking job interviews and finding out I was getting a better quality of a life where I am
"Sticking to the knitting" at work
Putting progressive and underground house on the iPhone

Here's what didn't...
Not having a holiday for the first six months of the year
Not going to the movies for weeks at a time
Putting on weight - about four kilos
Staying in every time the weather was cold, grey and rainy - which was a lot
Not learning any new SAS or R this year
Interviewing for "data scientist" roles for me
Trying to get to bed at 21:30 every night - really cramped my evenings
Reading-all-my-favourite blogs as the default activity - time sink

Monday, 23 December 2013

All Hail The Reverend Lawrence Shannon

So there was an article on Return of Kings about this book, written by the Reverend Lawrence Shannon.  It's sharp, hyperbolic, the distilled essence of everything Rollo Tomassi, MGTOW and others are saying, so much so that I began to wonder if all the Manosphere theorists who weren't PUAs or Married Men were just re-cycling it. It was first published in 1985 and has been re-printed since, but not since 1997.

It's everything I and every other born bachelor believes about women, marriage and dating. I have believed something like it ever since I was about, oh, probably five months old. And you know what?

About half-way through, I realised I didn't give a flying toss whether the Rev Shannon was a raving misogynist, a bitter loser who lives in his sister's basement, or any other of those shaming namings. He was saying what I had always known, and he was saying it out loud and proud.

At that point it hit me: we born bachelors are simply genetically different from you married chumps. Sorry, but with a few exceptions (like maybe Roman Abramovich and Barak Obama) that's how we think about you. What you have done is literally incomprehensible to us. Self-harm, anorexia... and getting married. It's so incomprehensible we assume that you simply don't share the same values, no, it's more fundamental than that, you don't have the same hormone soup and brain structure as us. If we were scrawny green plants with yellow flowers, botanists would deem us different species (there are a lot of species of scrawny green plants with yellow flowers).

Am I kidding when I say it's genetic? Let me see if I can explain this. Not even in the alcohol-soaked depths of the most awful depression and self-pity did I ever think that that marriage would make it better. Not even in my most Gamma moments of guilt-for-being-me did I ever think that I should get married to prove I was a Real Man. Every time I heard people talking or read people writing about how I should be making commitments to women, getting married, having children, how maybe I was gay because I wasn't chasing after a bride (oh yes, but that was back in the Bad Old never-you-minds), how I was shallow and empty because I wasn't sharing my life with a special someone, and yadda yadda yadda... I would wonder why they were lying to me. I never day-dreamed about a house, a wife and mother of my children. I day-dreamed about my future when I was a young boy, of course I did, but it never included a wife and children. Any more than it included a Bengal tiger. There has never been a time in my life when I thought marriage, or even a live-in, would be a life-improving thing to do. No matter what I might have said, thought, felt, or said I thought or felt, I was no more likely to get married than I was to jump out of a fifth-floor window. I could no more do it than a sailor could piss into the wind. It's a reflex, not a policy.

So here's the Rev Shannon on what amounts to MGTOW:
Q. Having been single a long time, I nearly married one of our corporate attorneys last year when I was thirty six. I was rescued solely by the accidental discovery that she was occasionally sleeping with her uncle in New York. But for that windfall, I would have been trapped and put on exhibit in the public square with other married men. I am now happily resigned to remaining off the playing field, watching the fracas from the bleachers and, if a truly remarkable female makes her debut, running down for a quick scrimmage. I would suggest this alternative to anyone who is tired of the daily slamming of heads—the frantic grinding that occurs in the field.

A. You have arrived at the eventual hiding place of most men who have experienced the predatory female, learned something, but still enjoy the game. Most, like yourself, prefer the exhilarating breath of freedom to the sack cloth and ashes that accompany a "commitment." In the end, a predatory female, no matter how beautiful, will always be the succubus: exciting, momentarily thrilling, mesmerizing—but dangerous as a green mamba.
Here's the Rev Shannon on the Good Life:
Condition yourself physically and mentally. Most people look like gunnysacks full of doorknobs. This is partially due to heavy doses of dependency on predatory females. Work out every day and get yourself into good physical shape. Take up a sport and start running. Do what predatory females have done for thousands of years — concentrate completely on yourself. Rid your mind of the garbage dumped into it by the matriarchal society. Occupy it instead with good books, films, and a hobby that benefits you, that you enjoy. If you get horny, don't play the matriarchal society's hackneyed dating game, RENT a woman. For two or three hundred dollars you can rent a sexual partner skilled enough to turn you into a boiled chicken. Spare yourself the tedious sales pitch that accompanies dating. There is no such thing as a free lunch, period.
Damn right - though I don't have the money for prostitutes of that calibre. Reading the Rev Shannon caused me to laugh aloud. Here was someone else saying with zero apology what I have always felt I couldn't say to others. I could quote the whole damn book, I don't think there's one single thing I seriously disagree with. I have been walking around with a lighter heart ever since.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Across London Part 124

Brushfield Street on one side of Spitalfields Market; more Gherkin; the Nido student building in the fog; a plastic reindeer at one end of Exchange Sq; St James' Park one Sunday afternoon; actual reindeer at the top of St Johns Wood High Street for a charity fair; the only tree anywhere near my house that fell over during the last Big Gale; through the ICA cafe windows; the Space Painting by Zhang Enli at the ICA.

Monday, 16 December 2013

Review: Jeune et Jolie

You will know from your attendance at Political Correctness 101 that films about prostitution must portray the men as creeps, abusers and preferably violent with it, while the prostitute must be portrayed as a victim of deception, drugs, economic injustice, male violence or, and this is risky, as a plucky single mother making a living the only way she can (before realising the error of her ways, cleaning up and getting a job as an out-reach worker). Prostitution is about providing men with sex, and that means eeeuuuugh! men! and even more eeeeuuuugh! hetero-sex. The central question the film-maker must address is why the heroine would do anything so icky and degrading as, you know, have sex. With men. Who aren't hot. Because disgusting. And Patriarchy. And Girls Are Victims. Of Everything.

So now let's proceed to the film review. Jeune et Joli is a film about a 17-year old girl, Isabelle, who looks a lot like Marine Vacth, who sets up as a part-time prostitute in her Year 13. She loses her virginity to a fit-looking but shallow German boy during the summer holiday, and then, prompted by a) a slightly creepy guy who approaches her after school and gives her his number, and b) what must by now be the annual TV documentary about undergraduates and prostitution, sets up online as a call-girl. Her clients are variously creepy, old, fat and middle-aged, and okay and middle-aged. She charges 300 euros an hour, which certain websites in this country will confirm is pretty much what a girl who looked like Marine Vacth could charge. This bit puzzled the critics: she puts the money in a zip-case in her wardrobe and doesn't spend a euro. (That is Ozon cutting off cliched explanations.

The old guy dies on her mid-act. She scarpers from the hotel. The Police catch up and break the news to her mother, whose reactions are a study in female solipsism, but not more so than we would expect. Anyone Blaming The Family is pushing it.

There's some attempt towards the end at psychological explanation with the legally-compulsory therapist. I found these unconvincing, and I think we are supposed to: again, it's Ozon cutting us off from cliched explanations.

There's also some attempt to suggest that charging 300 euros an hour improves her sense of worth and social confidence, which is most convincing as she walks through a house party full of teenagers doing drunken teenage-y things, and smiles at it all with the air of someone who Knows Way Better. I could buy that as the reaction of a teenage girl in that situation, and therefore as writerly accuracy, but not as authorial assertion. Otherwise Ozon is offering us prostitution as self-development, and I'm going to guess he doesn't believe that any more than I do.

All the critics mention Belle du Jour Of course they do. Ozon even does a visual quote from Bunuel's film to mis-direct them.

(Intentionally misleading visual quote)

But of course they shouldn't. What they should mention is Bonjour Tristesse another novel / film about an amoral young woman. Written in the 1950's it couldn't make its heroine a hooker, so she simply causes a middle-aged lover of her father to commit suicide by bad driving so she and Daddy can go back to being empty hedonists. Real cute kid huh? Oh, and nobody asked why she did that because they were all grown up enough to know why.

Ozon is assuming that we are all grown-up enough to know why Isabelle did it. Teenage girl, hot, and because for Isabelle there's no oxytocin to create spurious bonding and confusing emotions. She did it because she could: the motive of the powerful at all times and everywhere. And that's what breaks every rule you learned in PC 101.

The final bit has Charlotte Rampling as Dead Guy's wife meeting Isabelle to exorcise demons by visiting the room he died in. I wondered about that scene for a while. I kept expecting Rampling to put a knife through Vacth. But no. Instead, she's the only person who actually seems to understand anything about Isabelle. And certainly the only one who shows her any kindness. But then, Rampling's character is a grown-up woman who only exists in movies. She's the real fantasy figure, not Isabelle.

Flip the PC police the bird. Go see it

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Shadows in the City Fog

It's been foggy everywhere, and Wednesday it lasted in the City until lunchtime. At a certain spot in Spitalfields Market, everyone was looking in the Gherkin / Heron Tower direction at this...

... easily the most beautiful sight I've seen since moving to Bishopsgate. That's the Heron Tower on the right, and on the left is the shadow of the Gherkin cast in the fog. The Gherkin is in front of its shadow and about half the size. Everyone had their phones out to snap it. Click to enlarge it's worth it.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Don't Be Scared Of Growing Old Alone

(This kinda follows on from the previous post)

I've read younger Manosphere commentators make remarks along the lines of "you don't want to wind up old and lonely with no one to look after you". When I was their age, I felt the same way. It's a middle-aged man's fear. It's not an older man's fear - it's not mine. Hell, when I die, no-one will know until the neighbours complain about the smell, and that won't be my problem. I'll be dead. That does not scare me in the slightest.

I'll tell you what scares me. Growing so old I wind up in hospital and then some fucking old person's council home, while some social worker tries to set aside my will and sell the house to a builder who gives them a kickback. And that shit happens whether you have children or partners or not. With luck, something will get me first. I have no desire to live past an age I can't earn money anymore.

I'll tell you what I'm grateful for. Not spending my last years with an old woman whose company I do not enjoy and who is dragging me down. Who is cranky, insecure, full of regrets and bitter. Which is not going to happen to you because your married life is going to be a success. And because you are married to an ex-ballet dancer who is now teaching Pilates? Wait. You're not? Shame. Because they are almost the only ones who stay in shape. When you think in terms of having "someone to grow old with", you are making a huge, huge, assumption that you are going to enjoy their company. The odds are not good. Forty per cent of you are going to be divorced (one or more times) and so single in your old age anyway, and where did you get the idea that the other sixty per cent were happy with each other? Not from observation of the real world.

Don't worry about growing old and being single. You will be physically fit and mentally agile. You will be working out, reading great books for men, learning new stuff for work, maybe travelling. You may or may not have friends and a network. You will be working anyway because you won't have a pension, and so you will be surrounded by people five days a week. You won't be able to party like you used to, you won't be as driven to chase girls, you will wake up in the middle of the night to take a piss, and morning wood will be a rarity, but that's about all the differences you will notice from when you were forty.

Don't worry about being old and single. Worry about being old and married.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

I Guess I've Always Wanted...

aka (MGTOW Ramblings With A Conclusion, Even)

And I keep forgetting: I don't do oxytocin, vasopressin, endorphins and all that other feel-good bonding stuff. If you spent a month in my hormonal soup you would come out asking "For the sake of God and all his Angels, is there ever one moment of your life when you ever feel just plain good? Or even frikkin' okay?" That would be a big NO. Sex is just never going to be fireworks and mystical union.

What I've been dancing round is the possibility that I may never have an intimate relationship again, and that because I would prefer to be single than be accompanied by a woman who makes me look old. Vanity, sure. It's also a hard-headed recognition that whatever the frak "intimacy" means to you, it means nothing of the sort, and indeed nothing of any sort, to me because it requires hormones I don't make or respond to. And those I do make are associated with frakked-up co-dependent feelings I need to avoid the same way I need to avoid booze and drugs.

That's a bunch of decisions there. That's a bunch of consequences as well, some of them a little hard to take. How much easier it would be to quote a line like "that sound you hear at fifty-five is the door slamming shut on your sex life" or to bemoan my lack of fame, power and wealth. Or to say something pious about "a man who reaches my age should / shouldn't (insert whatever here)". Lamenting my logistical situation is really just excusify-ing.

I never did feel desire. The attraction I did feel was for all the wrong reasons. I managed to have sex on a cocktail of testosterone, booze and neurotic emotion. All those have more or less passed, and thank god, in most cases (I could take back the testosterone though).

I'm never going to stop looking at women and I'm never going to stop flirting with the bangable ones either. And I suppose if I ever met one who wants what I got - delightfully witty, flattering, insincere and very good company for a night - then I would be quite happy to spend that time. But put a lot of effort into it? I don't think so. Maybe put a little more effort into it than I do? Okay. I could do that.

On the other hand, these songs have always been special to me...

and of course

You know why those guitar solos are so right for that song? Because although the singer is saying that though they will give up on love, because "time and time again the chance for love has passed me by / and all I know of love is how to live without it... I'l say goodbye to love", they will not give up on life and living. That's what those two defiant, soaring solos are there to prove, that there is a way of living a life of passion and emotion even if it doesn't involve conventional "love".

Monday, 2 December 2013

October / November 2013 Review

I missed a month. I had a cold. Actually I had two colds. One on the first long weekend I took off, and one on the second. Since the second, in November, I have been taking Zinc, Vitamin D, 2xDay Nurse first thing to help keep the coughing down and until the last week, Night Nurse to sleep.

I've seen Zizek's The Pervert's Guide To Ideology and the documentary Cutie and The Boxer at the ICA; Hannah Arednt, Fifth Estate, Blue Jasmine, Muscle Shoals, Seduced and Abandoned and the Curzons; and Thanks For Sharing, Machete Kills, Captain Phillips, and The Counsellor at the local Cineworld. Also Wayne McGregor's Atoms and Hofesh Schecter's latest at Sadler's Wells. I read several volumes of the amazing Transmetropolitan, The Theory That Would Not Die, Antifragile, The Signal And The Noise, Tokyo Vice, Information Is Beautiful and Gustave Caillebotte: An Impressionist and Photography. I also took another lap round Kendig's A Guide to Plane Algebraic Curves and the fun bits around Hirzbruch-Riemman-Roch in Gathmann's lecture notes on Algebraic Geometry.

My training has been erratic, so I've switched to doing two sets and more but shorter sessions. Plus each week I have to increase the weight on something I'm doing, or add in a new exercise. So over the two months I've reached 132lbs on dead-lift, comfortably, just hit 165 lbs bench-press without a spot, and have reduced the support I use for pull-ups to... no, that's embarrassing. And added Turkish get-ups. As ever, call me when you're my age and doing those weights.


Sis and I dined at Picture in November - if I had money I would seriously book a seat at the bar twice a week at least - and had our annual visit to Rules in October, where we dined on Bambi - Roe Deer, and very nice it was too. I went to a farewell supper at Floridita for Renata, who's now left the Third Space to go travelling for a while.

Plus work gave us a team-building trip up and down from the London Eye pier to Canary Wharf and back on one of those whizzy boats, followed by some time up the Shard, though the visibility was not so good: that was the annual jolly.

All I can really remember is coughing, clearing my nose, and not wanting to leave the house for the last two or three weekends. I didn't even go training the on the last couple of Sundays. Hence the increased weekly schedule. One reason to do these things is to remind myself that it wasn't all a loss. I'm making good progress with the Riemann-Roch essay, though it's hard getting consistent time to work on it, as Saturdays really are just turning into serious days of rest. Until I do the ironing in the evening. Also I do appreciate how much more rested I feel the next morning after returning straight home from work and watching some Burn Notice.

And now it's sodding December. Xmas. The gym is closing for a week for refurbishment before the holiday. I have already arranged massages and osteopathy.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

MGTOW Ramblings (Part Two) With No Clear Destination (Yet)

What am I doing spending so long around the Manosphere? Getting a proper attitude to women and their role in a man's life. Which is something only the guys in the Manosphere are thinking about. And this is what I'm trying to answer for myself, now, at an age greater than Methuselah's.

No. I am not looking for a partner to share my life with. Unless she's under thirty. And hot. Since that's not going to happen...

There's an ego thing about spending time in the company of attractive women. I'm vain, and shallow. I'll cop to that.

There's pleasure in good conversation with someone who doesn't read their life into my words. I don't do it, and I'm a freaking man with a STEM background and job. People who fancy themselves as therapists, sponsors or as generally insightful are the worst: why would anyone assume I mean what they would mean? But then, I studied philosophy and speak Girl, so I know the first thing you have to so when someone says something is find out what the heck they meant by it. "What's meant Mrs Smith" in the words of Iz in Random Acts of Senseless Violence.

Then there's what I feel when She Who Tugs At My Co-Dependent Heartstrings and I talk. The other day she told met that a horoscope had told her that she would think about someone she knew in a different light. It was all I could do not to say "Yes. For instance me." The reason I know I'm alive is because of the summersaults my insides turn on occasions like that.

Of course I should steer clear of anyone who does that to My Co-Dependent Heartstrings. Especially if we work at the same company, with many of the same people. Getting involved with such people is how I lose control of my life. Being around someone who makes me feel alive is dangerous: it's not a feeling I'm used to.

And that's what a lot of it is about. If I'm a Man Going My Own Way, I need to own that way. I have spent much of my life on the Great Moving Walkway of White Collar Life - not to mention a fair time in the unattractive state of Poor Me, Pour Me another drink - and that may be the first thing I get straight. I'm not going to re-invent my life, though I may make a few changes around the edges. It's more about owning it, not apologising for it, polishing it up and taking it out for a drive.

My Way has been to lead an aesthetic life, to continue to exercise my mind with fairly seriously high levels of mathematics and philosophy, and to exercise my tastes by seeing and hearing as much of contemporary art and music as I can. (I have 8Tracks streaming via my netbook right now and it's playing a track from Homesick by A Day To Remember, which isn't half bad.) It has had its low spots, but most of them were because I thought I should be living a Proper Life, with Purpose, and Ambition, and a Partner with whom I Shared My Life. When I was not being true to my vain, shallow, egotistical, trivial self.

I might not be deep, but I can be delightfully witty, flattering, insincere and very good company for a night. That's what I got, and sometimes, it's what you need.

Now all I need to do is find you.

Monday, 25 November 2013

MGTOW Ramblings (Part One) With No Clear Destination (Yet)

Why the heck is a man my age spending time in the Manosphere? Aside from, it's better than watching television? Well, it's an attempt to make sense of my life. Not the outward life I've lived: there's so little of that it's barely worth thinking about. I mean the chaos and confusion in my head and heart. I've done alcoholic recovery through AA and the 12 Steps, and DA has helped me with my attitudes to money, salaries and quality of life. I've done the SAA questionnaire and that isn't me - and I've heard a few people who do fit it. But the whole girls / sex thing I still don't understand, and the mainstream therapy and psychology industries are so thoroughly corrupted either by the feminist viewpoint (academic psychology) or by the trade imperative to pander to their clients (therapeutic psychology) that there's no help to be found there. The Manosphere is a place where men rant and rave and bang on about the same old stuff and in doing so share experience - enough of it for someone who keeps showing up to have something to work on.

I like the players and PUAs. Damn I wish we'd had Roosh, Krauser and Heartiste when I was a teenager. I think the MGTOWs have the right idea, but I wouldn't withdraw totally from the economy or from the company of women. The Married Men give me another reason to stay single: whatever the heck the benefits of marriage may be, and those are never, ever explained, I'm in severe doubt that they are worth the cost in effort, attention and the Eternal Vigilance of the Alpha Husband. Some of the commentators tell horror stories of being married to women with DSM-V-grade dysfunctions, or who change utterly and for the worse at the menopause, and others just wound up married to shrews. All these are cautionary tales. As ever, of course, happy people are silent: they have no need to share, and a good thing too, because happiness, like success, is a lousy teacher. The evo-psycho stuff is a bunch of post-hoc Just-So stories which have the effect, even if their tellers don't have the intention, of letting women off the moral hook ("it's okay gals, you can be hypergamous bitches, it's in your genes"). I'm with Marx on the primacy of economics and with every legal system in the world on the unavoidability of moral agency in legal adults.

Women who make rude remarks about men and try to shame our desires don't have complicated political, economic or social reasons. It's a nasty act by aggressive and spiteful people who do it for the same reasons anyone does anything aggressive and spiteful: to dominate, control, hurt or humiliate, and above all, to enjoy the feeling of doing so. And that's exactly all it is. Shit tests and infidelity have no evolutionary justification. (Most) chicks dig jerks for the same reason (most) guys dig bad girls: it's a fling with a built-in acceptable escape clause.

One thing I have picked up is that some, perhaps many, men experience the whole sex-women-family-children thing very differently from the way I don't. I can't even guess how a regular guy sees and thinks about the world, but it is very, very different from the way I do. (I would never appoint a married man to any significant management position, because he's demonstrated he does not have the nous to recognise, and the common sense to avoid, one-sided contracts with high exit costs.) Which is why, I guess, I'm a MGTOW (not that you would see much of a Way in my biography).

Other than don't get married, there's no official MGTOW line on women. Danny from 504 is one and lord knows he seems to get laid enough. I find myself wondering what, exactly, my motivation for approaching girls is or indeed ever was. Mark Manson, in Models, says I need to be clear about that or I will come across conflicted and unconvincing. First time around, I kinda nodded, because I thought my motivation was, you know, girls. Now I get what he means.

When I was younger, my motivation was hormones and not wanting to feel lonely. I don't mean get-a-dog lonely, I mean Robert-de-Niro-in-Taxi-Driver lonely.

I thought girls were a way of curing that - except that I never prostrated myself into an LTR or a marriage, so maybe I didn't believe that. Actually, I don't think I had a clue why I did girls. It was something that people did, like going to university (except I knew why I wanted to do that), or getting jobs (that's paying the bills and taxes, right?), and going on holiday (I have no idea - maybe to get away from the shitty weather?), or going out with the lads Saturday night (because that's what you do when you're living the life, right?), or getting your own place (now that makes sense). I thought that if I was getting laid, I must be living a life, and girls were how I got laid and so proved (to myself) that I was living a life. I was not looking for a wife (a what?!?), let alone a mother of my children (I NEVER wanted children). I did girls because from time to time they made themselves available, and they were usually some kind of messed up, because the focussed marrying materialistic kind spotted me for a directionless non-marrying wastrel from way across the room. Which was a drag because I really wanted to fuck some of them. I get they were advancing their life-objectives in avoiding me and choosing guys who worked for oil companies, but I resented the heck out of it for a long time.

I have never thought "Oh, this is what the fuss is about" about sex. I've thought that about food. And movies. And books. And sunsets and dawns. And paintings. (I'd rather have sex than a cup of tea, but then it wasn't until I had fresh BOPF in a small factory in Sri Lanka that I understood what the fuss about tea was.) When I remember sexual episodes, it is as much if not more for the entire experience as for the actual humping. I'm pretty sure I got a one-night stand on Boxing Day one year and there was snow on the ground the next day. I can remember the view from her attic bedroom, but not the actual sex. What I miss is the whole experience, not simply the fucking. And part of that "whole experience" is the sense that I'm living some kind of life, that I'm out of my rut.

Which makes it sound as if, for me, girls and sex are a kind of participation art. Well, there are apparently two hundred and thirty reasons for having sex and I don't see that making art shouldn't be reason number 231. I'm not looking to make a life with whoever it is: I'm looking to make some pleasant moments. (Pauses for sneers about Peter Pan syndrome, heckling from wanna-be PUAs, shaming disguised as "psychology", and suggestions I try therapy. Now do you see why I don't bother talking to anyone about this stuff?)

So why am I not out there? I mean, aside from all the obvious reasons? And the sheer optionality of it all? And the low odds of finding someone who is willing to go with my flow? And this kinda brings me back to all that stuff about low-odds campaigns.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

Music For Being Lost In The City

Another collection of songs with a theme, in this case, London: Soho gets referenced in Pinball, Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty, Belsize Park by Marillion, while Kit Hain never says which city, but since she was London-based, let's assume the Great Wen was her model, and She's Gone is for me forever associated with the sight and smell of roasted chestnuts in winter by Tottenham Court Road underground station. And let's not forget that immortal verse: "Think I'll spend eternity in the city / Let the carbon and monoxide wash my / Thoughts away / And pretty bodies help dissolve the memories / But they can never be / What she was to me". (Today, that's called ONEitis and is a certified psychiatric disorder, but back then it was the natural state of any young man having a hard time with love.)

All of the songs have a mid-tempo beat, three have a saxophone solo, and again for all I know they all feature D minor suspended 6th. All of them are about being in but not of the city, suspended in an emotional state that isn't love or sorrow or despair or anger, but something between all those. These are songs about lost people. Kayleigh, which is a guilty pleasure, is mid-80's, while the others are from the early 1970's.

Monday, 18 November 2013

I Just Heard This Awesome Track - Smallpools, Dreaming

You know how it goes. Someone's mix on 8Tracks is halfway through, and you look up and say "What's this track? These guys are good." These guys are frikkin' awesome... give it a listen.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Being Mature, Shame Traps and Being A Mensch

Over at The Rawness, they asked over several parts "What is maturity?" And all of them walked straight into the trap. They accepted that the concept had moral freight that could be shame-dumped on transgressors. I say, faced with any concept that gets used to shame people? Screw it. Stop using it and replace it with solid descriptives instead. Who cares what someone else trying to con you into behaving in such-a-way call "mature"? 

You have respect for your body, and so exercise and eat well; you have respect for your mind, and so read challenging non-fiction, and avoids junk culture; you have respect for your soul and emotions, and so choose your friends and acquaintances well - avoiding users, vampires, dis-respectors and other vexatious and turing people; you pay your fair and due taxes, and you pay your due bills; you work in the private sector or in law enforcement, fire-fighting, the military or medicine; you are considerate to the similarly well-behaved, and co-operate with those who bear you no ill-will. Mostly you don't do stuff for free, though you do "give" if you can. You have strong boundaries, and above all, you do not enter into any contract with high exit costs (cf marriage and almost all large outsourcing contracts). 

You do all that, and you will not care if anybody calls you "immature". 

I would add, but this is optional, that you don't identify yourself with the values, traditions and social and religious practices of your family, friends, employer, society or economy. Sure, go along with it to get done what you need to get done, but belief? I don't hide behind religion, culture or any other of Mommy's conceptual skirts to defend what I do or how I feel.

Do all this and you will come across as polite, considerate and co-operative - to those whose behaviour and attitude qualify them. You won't let others spill your feelings all over you, and you won't trouble others with yours either. You are going to come across as pretty darn self-contained and distant, though among friends you will be just the opposite. You will be the guy who, well, when someone falls sick in front of you, you will call for an ambulance and stay with them until it gets there, and then get on with your day.

If you're that guy, do you care what someone else out to shame you counts as "mature"? Thought so.

Monday, 11 November 2013

Song of The Wind

I have had yet another cold / cough / fever over the last few days - I've tried to take a long weekend twice since the start of October and this happens and it is not restful.

So here's a blast from the past. Song of the Wind from Santana's Caravanserai album. I shared a room in my first year at university with a Santana fan who loved this track. It's been many years since I last heard it and how is it exactly than so many memories can be buried in the sound of an organ chord, or the exact way a note gets bent on the guitar?

Listening to it now, I get the feeling it was a jam. The band sets a groove, and Carlos just starts playing. That was how music got made then, and the musicians really were that good - they didn't do anything else but record and tour and play - and they had grown up with the example of the great jazz extemporisers.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Low-Odds Campaigns (3): An In-Conclusion

(Apologies: this is rambling on much longer than it should, but I didn't have the time to write a shorter post on it.)

I've been arguing that participation in low-odds campaigns breeds an Outsider attitude, where one either has to distance oneself from the process (e.g. job-seeking) or adopt personal goals that are not what the spectators think they are (e.g athletics).

To maintain a low-odds campaign, I need a strong motive and the willingness to alienate myself from the common experience of my friends, acquaintances, and family. This applies to sobriety, exercise, job-seeking, or skill-, knowledge- or culture-acquisition. Even getting girls, when done right, is about detaching my ego (so I can take the rejections) from the pursuit of the goal. It's not about self-discipline, "getting down to it", "getting on with it" or any of those cliches that the Normals use. It's mostly about removing the distractions, which, since "other people" are the main source of distractions, is why it's isolating.

That's why achievers tend to be messed-up, withdrawn and otherwise not one of the guys having the craich Saturday night. Getting good takes time and energy. Survivors are similarly messed-up, withdrawn and otherwise not one of the guys having the craich Saturday night, because what they've been through separates them from all the regular people and their safe, lucky lives. 

Most people don't want to be alienated from their mates and family. They want to hang out with their mates and discuss the exact uselessness of the striker who failed to score; they want to couch-surf Saturday Night TV and discuss the precise merits of the meretricious competitors; they want to feel part-of, even if it's only by feeling the bass from the sound system in the club. If they don't fall into work within about three months, if they don't get a girl after a few tries, they get dispirited. To avoid that, they settle for jobs and girls. They can settle because they don't have highly specific skills or experience, and they don't have high standards for employers or women. Sounds harsh, but the Normals know it's true. Find me one play, film or novel that shows someone becoming good at something or fighting the odds that doesn't lament the "cost" in terms of estranged friends and lost love.

Do we sustain low-odds campaigns because we're Outsiders, or do we become Outsiders because we sustain a low-odds campaign? Outsiders with self-discipline can and will sustain low-odds campaigns. I suggest that being forced into a low-odds campaign often makes Outsiders out of Normals.

What I wanted to do at this point was issue a warning about how turning entry into the basic rites of social and economic participation - employment, marriage, independent living - into low-odds campaigns will lead to social collapse. Of course it does nothing of the sort. What happens is a polarisation. Employers offering high-quality (okay: highly-paid) jobs will maintain, if not raise the standards they are looking for, knowing that they will have plenty of candidates to choose from. The rest will lower their non-essential standards, knowing that people will simply not be willing to make commitments when the expected rewards (probability x salary) are not high enough. These employers don't offer much by way of training, but then they don't ask much by way of qualifications: they are usually looking for the "right fit". If that right fit happens to have a small tattoo on her shoulder which is only visible when she wears a sleeveless summer frock, the employer will wave objections to tattoos - especially if she's doing a back-office job. And if times are bad enough, a special breed of a-hole employers will arise, offering low wages to exactly the kind of sucker they need - as for instance the companies that employ all those kids to process PPI refund applications. No decent person with a choice would do the work, but someone desperate for a job could just convince themselves they have left some key part of their identity somewhere it can't be damaged, and take it. 

The giant corporations still run, but because they aren't the high-paying employers they run with slightly less effectiveness and higher friction than before. The talent-based boutique houses still attract talent, it's just that they also need customer-facing people because the talent can make its own rules - which is why the few customer-friendly creatives and consultants kill in business. I will pass over the public sector - it's a strange land about which I know little and suspect much.

People still try to buy houses and flats even if the prices are stupid high. They still think they have "careers" even if the organisational pyramid is about ten layers from receptionist to CEO. They still chase after marriage even when the divorce rate is forty per cent over twenty years. Boys still chase after girls even when the girls are over-weight and under-charming. Partly because there's no other game in town, and partly because it's the game they grew up with, so it seems normal. Oddly, in some people, this can increase their commitment to the whole crazy system: since they had to work so hard at it, it must be worthwhile. But most people just know they are living in a fake world, which as long as that world feeds them and entertains them and gives them shiny new toys and upholds the myth that they, as individuals, can always make their lives better… as long as that illusion gets maintained, everything works. Until the day it doesn't. 

Outsiders withdraw, participating in the economy but not the society. Normals carry on participating in both. Until the day there are none left, because even the most bloke-y bloke in the sales force has had one too many struggles with what shouldn't be that hard. Then we're all Outsiders. Capital carries on - it always will - though it will look different.

How badly can Capital and State treat their employees and taxpayers until those same customers and voters turn round and stop? I don't know. There are times I think the Normals have an infinite capacity for self-deception and abuse, and the point with Outsiders is that we don't revolt, because we don't care. We're the soldiers who don't shoot at the crowd. 

Monday, 4 November 2013

Low-Odds Campaigns (2): Training Not Winning

There's another way of being an Outsider, and that's to get really good at something. The mindset you need to do it well, and not in an obsessed-tortured-genius manner, is pretty much guaranteed to remove you from Normal.

To the regular spectator, track and field athletics is about who can run fastest, throw furthest, jump highest and generally beat the other guys on the day. It's about winning and it's about records. More than that, it's way better when someone they identify with actually wins. There's a reason athletes get sponsored, and only some of it is because they are at the top of their event. This applies especially to the supporters of the underdogs: it was just the sheer amazingness of being there at all, in the Big Stadium, sharing the track with the legends. For most of history, that's what it was about for the athletes as well. 

Then it all got serious. Coaches and psychologists noticed that most athletes who were motivated by exhortations about beating the other guys, or the glory of taking part in a great event, only went so far. they got discouraged if they didn't make the podium now and again. They wouldn't train or try past the level required to stay on the national team, and after that, what was the point? The top ten are usually better enough and consistent enough to beat everyone but the others in the top ten every time. (this is why someone invented the saying: "it's not the winning that counts, it's the taking part." With the longer careers and increasing demands of the  training and competition schedules - no setting up the hurdles with champagne glasses now -

some other form of motivation was needed. What the psychologists discovered was kaizan  - continuous improvement. An athlete may never be good enough to win, but they can take pride in the fact that their personal best keeps on getting better. Not only that, but sports psychologists suggest that their athletes don't think about the occasion, the crowd or the contest. The athlete is focussed on personal improvement, on the minutiae of technique and maintaining a steady, balanced state of mind that isn't demotivated for months by a loss or sent into a panic by a Big Event, party because there's always another Big Event soon.

Now if that sounds sensible? Now look at the state of mind of the athlete. Their validation comes from their engagement with their own process, not with any of the institutions around athletics. Win or lose on the day, it's about doing as well as they can, and the medals and public applause are not the point. The ultimate athlete wins and wanders back to the changing room, oblivious to the event and the award ceremony. The spectators aren't really watching a competition, but a group training session in which competing and winning is just a by-product.

But isn't winning the point? Most people want a win, they want a payoff: a medal, a round of applause, a stack of cash, a new pair of long legs in the bed Sunday morning, a pay rise or promotion. They want to get high and down and boogie, they want treats and rewards and fungible payoffs. And they want to brag on it with the guys over a pint. 

That illusion that it's really a competition is carefully maintained and hyped for the general public. Athletes are couched by professional PR's to be upbeat, say good things about their rivals and coaches, and make it sound like they care where they finished. But competition is not the point. Training is the point. And that's definitely not how the regular folk see it. They want to focus on the moment of competition, not the weeks of preparation.

Thursday, 31 October 2013

Low-Odds Campaigns (1): Making Outsiders

Most of the things we do in our daily lives are learnable and predictable: we can learn to do them properly, and what we learn works every time. Making an omelette, shaving, buying the weekly groceries, driving a car from here to there, using the diary on your phone, swiping into the office, making half-useful comments during some interminable conference call at work, booking a theatre ticket... you get the idea. Stuff where your actions interact with Nature (omelettes), or with people who are following the rules (driving), tends to learnable and predictable.

At the other end of the scale is the really important stuff: job searching, number-farming, new product development, athletic competition, scientific and mathematical research, starting a band, electoral campaigning in a hard core Opposition constituency or getting your book published or your movie made (never mind distributed afterwards)... to name but a few. Stuff where you need other people, usually pretty much people who are total strangers, to approve, buy, and otherwise accept what you have made, or in some cases, the product that you made that is you... that stuff is not just hard.

It's random. Anything that depends on someone else saying that I nailed it is always going to have a strong element of random. This isn't the random of competition where I do well but on the day someone else does better - that's fair, that's the game. This is the random where what I did yesterday doesn't work today, where what plays in Putney doesn't work in Woking and positively bombs in Brighton.

Sometimes the random gets overwhelmed by numbers: they have fifty vacancies and ten decent applicants, guess what? I get a job. They have fifty vacancies and five hundred applicants, guess what? I get a formulaic rejection. And I know someone who got one of those jobs, and they are much the same as me in all relevant respects. There is nothing I can do right, and very little I can do that's guaranteed to sink the deal. Name any rule, there's always an exception. There's little to learn from rejections, because the rejectors usually use carefully neutral language to be polite and avoid legal action. Even when they do give real-sounding reasons, those that aren't about shaming are about personal preference - unless I really did turn up drunk or unwashed. It's random.

Combine a process that requires another person to give you the nod with a high applicant-to-opportunity ratio (anything over 5:1) and you have a low-odds campaign. What I'm going to suggest is when low-odds campaigns are compulsory, or nearly so, there are unexpected and undesirable consequences.

Let's say I'm out of work, looking for a job and the labour market has a case of flu. I do two things. The first is the mechanics of the job-search process. Then there's a bunch of stuff I need to do to survive that process. I cut down on expenses and simplify how I live to conserve money; claim benefits if I can't avoid it (it's amazingly depressing to do given how little time it actually takes and it exposes me to a bureaucracy that can send me to zero-hour no-money no-skill jobs just to keep thier numbers looking good). I need to un-identify myself from employment so that I don't feel worthless because I'm unemployed; I learn to value myself because I'm fit, healthy, interesting, have an immaculately clean house (I have to keep busy, right?), can cook nourishing low-cost meals and have read the entire canon of classical literature on my Kindle for free (the TV subscriptions go in the first month). If I'm one of the creative minority, I can work on some low-cost projects. I discover that much of my social life costs way too much and as a consequence I stop seeing a lot of "friends". I discover that my "networks" weren't about me, but my role at the company, and that nobody knows who's hiring. I learn to maintain my spiritual and intellectual health independently of the world of work and a lot of normal social contact. And by the way? People who can't do almost all those things collapse and rot inside. I have no idea how a married man with children survives, but here's a clue: I don't think they do.

If you think this sounds character-building?  Well, maybe it is, but look at the character it builds. I no longer derive any sense of value or identity in the institution of employment, nor much from the company of other people. I have survived without the support of "networks", of acquaintances, of social life, and probably without, uh, adult intimacy. I don't have a career, which requires emotional investment, but a day job; I focus on skills and re-sellable achievements, not on making your institutions work; I have seen behind the curtain of the mainstream job-seeking and career advice and smelled the bullshit.

This is an Outsider. And there's more ways of getting there than being out of work.

Monday, 28 October 2013


Cascais is the seaside town where rich people live who don't want to live in Lisbon. It's where Lisbon people "go to the beach". The train runs along the coast and reminded me a bit of the run along Dawlish Warren in Devon. Go for the park, the Paula Rego Gallery and a bunch of other culture. When we went it was grey and windy, so not the best day for lingering.

The beach and fishing boats at the Passeio Dom Luis I; a small cove near the Marina; the Courtyard of the Museum Condes Castro GuimarĂ£es; a bit of the Parque Marechal Carmona, with peacock and peeling trees; the Paula Rego Gallery; and the main beach front at Cascais. I have no idea what that silly lego building is or why.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Thanks For Sharing - Review

Now this is how you make a movie about sex addiction. A swift digression brought on by a little scene at the start of the movie: one big difference between the 12 Step Fellowships in the USA and in the UK is that the American courts do order attendance at 12 Step Meetings, and it's clearly been the conscience of those groups to co-operate. I was the joint secretary of a reasonably large meeting for a year, I've done committee service and I've read the manual (yes, there's a manual) and I have never been approached by anyone asking to have me sign their card, nor have I heard of it, or even read about it in the manual. I think this is because the Courts here don't regard 12 Step Fellowships as suitably official enough, but I have a feeling that UK AA and others wouldn't co-operate even if it was asked. Can you see the headlines? "Driver who killed Annie (4) pronounced cured of alcoholism by AA". That's the British press for you. Nah. I don't think I'm voting to put anyone in the way of that.

Hollywood portrays 12 Step Fellowships sympathetically - a LOT of industry people are in it, and it's worked for them. But this movie isn't cute about it. Okay, so none of the guys will ever look like Mark Ruffalo, nor will any of the gals look like Pink (who appears as Alecia Moore and is Jolly Good Too). And I doubt there are as many slim good-looking women in New York as there were in the movie: America is the land of the obese. And of course, nobody her age looks like Gwyneth Paltrow. Not even her. 

There was just one scene that had me muttering "yeah, right, as if", when the Tim Robbins character has a row with his son after presumptuously and falsely, as it will turn out, accusing him of stealing some Percocet. Robbins goes into a Korean grocer and can't take his eyes off a black girl with hot pants and an afro who clearly time-warped in from the early Seventies, while he orders a bunch of lottery tickets and a fifth of bourbon. Just in time, his mobile rings and he's saved by the call for help from a fellow addict. My problem is that his character was a gajillion years sober, and while YMMV, mine tells me that I couldn't make that much sobriety if I reacted that strongly to anything. The people with long-term sobriety I know are nice enough and polite enough and they do their duty when called on, but they are pretty frikkin emotionally stable. After my friend's funeral, I blew off the rest of the afternoon, went home, ate some cake and chocolate (but not stuffing it), watched Rent and burst into tears over the "Will I lose my dignity / Will someone care" song. (As indeed any human being with feeling would.)  That was it. It didn't occur to me to take a drink or light a cigarette. However, I've heard people with fifteen years talking about their slips, so…

I'm not going to talk about the rest of the movie: it's full of scenes that ring true, or are true, because I've been there. The writers clearly know what they are talking about. And if you've ever worried that maybe you look at too much porn, or think about what some random woman would be like in bed too often, or your partner thinks you want sex too often, then go see this movie, and watch the scene where Josh Gan rubs himself up against a Chinese girl on the train. Yeah. You don't do that and nor do I. But those guys do.

Oh, and there was a killer line about triggers. "Anxiety, that's a big one". 

Identify? Moi? Meme pas!

Monday, 21 October 2013

Even When The Sky Is Grey, The Rest of The World Can Still Be In Colour

More than any other town I've seen outside Italy, Lisbon is about colour. And just like the title says, even when the sky is grey, the place is still in colour. 

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Tree in The Jardim do Principe Real, Barrio Alto, Lisbon

At the top of the hill from where we were stating was the Jardim do Principe Real. In the middle is a pond and this amazing tree, held up by ornate metal scaffolding.

There's a neat little cafe kiosk on one corner with seats and tables. I liked the hot chocolate and vanilla cake. And the girl running it.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Off the Rua do Jasmim, Barrio Alto, Lisbon

So there are going to be a heap of posts with photographs from my second visit to Lisbon with the gang this year. This is the first, for no special reason.

Walk down the Rua do Jasmim from the Jardin de Principe Real, and this is half-way down on the right. One little alley, so many images.

And those 3.5" diskettes? Who even knew there were any left in the whole of Europe?

Monday, 7 October 2013

September 2013 Review

September usually goes by in a flash.

Swimming after work is now part of the routine. I'd been thinking about doing that for a while, but it took the insomnia thing to kick me into it. My swimming has rapidly improved, and I aim for fifteen minutes of fairly serious exertion, rather than long marathons. I graduated to proper dead-lifts on the Big Wheels, and am now at 3x10x60 kgs. Stop sniggering: you don't have my curved lower spine, which means I have to be super-careful about style, and need I remind you, you're way younger than me. Pull-ups are still a sticking-point: I'm doing more reps, but at levels of support that are truly embarrassing.

Sometimes the little things make a difference. I replaced the XL tee-shirts I've been wearing for years under my blue office shirts with some L Autographs from M&S, and though those hug my abs in a non-flattering way, my office shirts now fit a lot better.

One lunchtime I went down to Byron near Spitalfields Market and ordered a Classic-no-onions to take away, and haven't looked back. One big dose of cow at half-one or so sets me up for the rest of the day. I don't feel drowsy at 15:00 and I don't feel sugar-crashed at 16:30 either. It's not the cheapest lunch, but what use is a snack that sends me to sleep and bounces my blood-sugar?

Sis and I had supper at Marco Pierre White's Steak and Alehouse on Middlesex Street, which is not as expensive as you might think and a solid meal, and was given a little drama by the Central Line halting for long enough to make me think that catching a bus in the rain at Holborn would be a good idea, which lasted for as long as it took to find out on Tube Checker that the line was running again, and so I jumped off at the next stop and went back to Chancery Lane.
Taking Krauser's comment about not listening to "Woe is me my girl walked out I hate everybody" music, I started to put more instrumentals on the phone for travel-to-work music. Much though I like Seether's Holding On To Strings Better Left To Fray, it does have a negative emotional load I don't need. So as I write, I have Digweed's Structures 2, Bedrock and Live In London, Maya Jane Cole's Heaven, DJ Kicks and Comfort, Sasha's Airdrawndagger, Renaissance's The Mix Collection: The Tale of Us, and a bunch of post rock from Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai.

I saw Upstream Colour and Rush - I'm just less and less captivated by the movies at the moment; and I read a bunch of stuff, including Sandy Nairn's Art Theft, about recovering the Turners for the Tate, the first volume of Transmetropolitan (Back On The Streets)  and short studies on the history of Pop Art, Mark Rothko, Jasper Johns and Nan Goldin, as well as Fight Club, and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist ….. Nick and Norah is way better than the movie and it's genre as a "teen novel" suggests, and I was struck by how much the Manosphere makes more sense after I read Fight Club (the movies isn't quite enough).

The end of the month was Lisbon with side trips to Caiscas and Sintra. What can I say? Amazing food, Bar Baia and Urban Beach Friday night to Saturday morning, hanging out with the guys, dodging the rain, the Paula Rego museum and Atlantic waves in Caiscas, a Sunday morning stroll round the Botanical Gardens, and generally chilling in Barrio Alto cafes and squares while the rest of the gang slept off their hangovers. There are going to be a whole bunch of posts on it.

And I finally found a decent explanation of what a twisting sheaf is and why - props to Andreas Gathmann. So the slow crawl to Riemann-Roch just speeded up a lot.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Sao Domingos, Lisbon

Nothing can prepare you for being inside Sao Domingos Church in Lisbon. It burned down in 1954, was re-built it, but not re-prettified. Instead it has been left with cracked pillars, burnt rock, and a blood-red interior. This is a serious church, in which life is in danger and under threat, and God is not smiling on us and protecting us. This church reminds us that we die in accidents and earthquakes and fires, and that there is dark side to life which is God's as well. I'm a heathen, and it connects with me. Visit it, but don't do the tourist one-lap-and-out. Stay. Absorb. Take photographs because that will make you look. Notice the old women praying and sitting in silence. And still people light candles in hope, because there is hope in this blood-red darkness.