Sunday, January 25, 2015

Steven Wilson - Friend or Foe? Hero or Villain? Do You Even Care?

In 2011, as I had over 1000 legal and illegal CDs in my office, I decided to play everything from A to Z and I forced myself to throw away any CD with a download on it that I do not, have not or have no inclination to play. I did the same again, but with a less sentimental hat on during the autumn of last year.

I have maybe 600 CDs in my office now and some of the ones discarded reminded me that I was once a collector - a person who would require to 'full set' otherwise my listening or viewing pleasure would not be as fulfilling. The reason I tell you this is because up to 10 of the CDs I binned were Porcupine Tree bootlegs and CDs with their stuff on it and Steven Wilson, the man behind that band and numerous other projects has a real problem with the illegal download market - despite its existence probably guaranteeing him a quantity of my money he may never have seen.

I should quantify something (again). If I download something, illegally, and I like it, I buy it. If I download something and I think its shit, I bin it, usually before I commit it to disc. Sometimes I'll keep it, if it's good but not that good. As someone with a limited budget this serves my purposes even if it probably infuriates artists, record companies and retailers. Once I become confident about an artist's output I rarely download anything illegal and just pre-order it. The last time I spent good money on something I hadn't heard first was the 2013 Steven Wilson solo - The Raven That Refused to Sing - and frankly that had an enormous influence on my almost year-long personal vendetta against the album and the guy who made it.

Subjectivity probably causes wars; it causes enough arguments, divides opinions and fires up emotions like very few other things and the fact that two strangers can hurl insults and vile bile at each other because of a record one of them likes and the other dislikes possibly says more about the way humans have adopted (to) the Internet than anything else.

I am so categorically guilty of kneejerk subjective anger it is almost a separate entity to me; like a sub-version of the already markedly different Internet version of my real self. Politics tends to be my red flag - I tend to accuse people who are anywhere right of centre of being fascists, Nazis or just wankers, depending on the depths of their lack of humanity and recently my brother suggested that calling people Nazis has almost become a default setting for me now when someone's politics doesn't agree with me and, to be honest, there is something deeply satisfying about calling a defiantly right wing person a Nazi. But... a recent bout of public discussions with a UKIP supporter, where a large percentage of my friends all ganged up on said UKIPper and bombarded him with what essentially was bullying and all because none of us agreed with his beliefs, made me realise that being partisan can also be as bad as being a Nazi.

That's how terrorism starts.

The Internet now has a supremely large percentage of, to varying degrees, trolls - whether the people consciously know it or not and I'm possibly one of the worst because I wear my beliefs on my sleeve, have never shied away from sharing them and ... am prepared to call people Nazis when they disagree with me and my largely socialist beliefs. I'm not shy to come forward and offer an opinion - often negative - about things, especially when I've something invested in it (like money or years of following). In a world that seems to be dictated by the number of people who 'like' what you say. it's almost acceptable now to be abusive to someone who doesn't agree with the norm.

It's always great when people are on your side, but has social media killed the art of debate?

One of my favourite expressions is 'opinions are like arseholes; everyone has one' and that is pretty much as accurate as you're going to get. Some opinions stink, as do some arses.

I've always thought football fans sum it up best of all - not rival fans, but fans of the same team. I see more anger, recrimination and bloody-mindedness between fellow fans of Spurs than I do from rival fans. My football team causes more tensions between its own fans than it does from other, rival, London clubs. It has never ceased to amuse and amaze me at how vicious and nasty two fans of the same team can be because they disagree with each other; but it is within music fandom that the worst offences take place and it tends to be instigated by the Brits and the Yanks. I don't know if that's because we all, conceitedly, think we're better than other, non-English-speaking countries (or Australia because, well... it's Australia...) but I sometimes despair at the depths we all sink because someone has annoyed us.

Why have they annoyed us? Because they don't agree with us. It's as simple as that. It's bad enough when it's someone we know and respect, but if it's 'some twat' we've never met, who we don't know, who is presuming to tell us that we don't know what we're talking about...

I'm a hypocrite - I'm an offender. I offer my opinions - often when I'm dissatisfied - and then take umbrage because people disagree with them. It is a human trait, but one that has been exacerbated by the internet and the necessity to have our opinions heard.

One thing I've struggled to get my head around, especially in the last few days, are the people who take it as a personal attack on themselves if you criticise something they love. Like these people think because you have slagged something off that it is going to sour it for them and everyone else, so retribution and revenge against you has to be gained.

Or, at very least, attempted.

If someone says something that is wrong, or there is an alternative viewpoint, then directing that person to be able to see the error of their own ways or other, well considered, opinions should always be the first thing we do. Calling someone a cunt because they have dared to suggest that David Cameron does care about some things or because they believe Rita Ora's tits were offensive lessens civilisations slightly. I neither think Cameron cares or Ora's tits were offensive, but, you know, surely there are more important things in life to concentrate your ire on? There is a lot of talk about media manipulation - directing us to focus our energies on inconsequential ephemera rather than important issues - but in the last 15 years there are more people out there who care about celebrity than they do the poor or disenfranchised.

But I digress...

Discussion has gradually been rendered pointless on the internet because some idiot will come along, grab the attention by saying something inflammatory and will lesson the ability to actually have a proper discussion. It does still happen and sometimes people can make an argument so well, or so succinctly that it changes the way others feel. That is discussion at its best. My brother has always been a bit of a Tory, but through careful discussion and allowing him to make his own mind up about certain things, his politics have softened in recent years to the point where he can see that for his children, his grandchildren and his future health, the Tories are probably not going to do him any favours. It wasn't just me, but it was through considered discussion that he changed his mind, not because I kept shouting 'twat' 'wanker' or Nazi' at him.

The major problem with the Internet is its impersonal nature - humour, sarcasm and subtlety are lost in black and white and there are many people out there who will use smiley faces in an extremely cynical way - "You're an utter cunt ;)" doesn't lesson the insult (unless you're talking to me) and it doesn't matter how many emoticons you put after it...

Now, to get back to our theme. Steven Wilson is someone I'd not even heard of in 2004. To me the entire idea of prog rock was dead; a dead horse being flogged by a bunch of people who couldn't move on. I'd been exposed to some of the nu-prog floating around and while it was okay, was it really prog? Then, because of another band I discovered at the same time, I ended up doing something that Steven Wilson would probably have me shot for - I downloaded an album called Recordings by some group I was vaguely aware of called Porcupine Tree. The next day, I downloaded the other illegal torrent which purported to be an album called Recordings II, which turned out to be an unofficial compilation (even worse) of previously unreleased or non-album stuff. It might have been wrong, but the point was I was hooked. How had I managed to go so many years without finding this band, especially as my best friend had seen them live in 1995 and had numerous albums?

Over the next few years, I stuck to my guns and bought my way through as much of the PT back catalogue as I could (some of which are pretty much the rarest records in existence - which is why I have illegal downloads). Everything that was available I parted with good money for it. I was rarely disappointed and the output from the band between 1990 and 2007 was like discovering a whole new world...

I was a huge Genesis fan in the 70s, but by the time the 90s rolled around they were just an old joke gone too far. Every other year during the 1980s they'd release a new album, tell the press it was their best yet, make shedloads of money and leave me feeling slightly cheated. But you couldn't argue with the fact that Abacab outsold Selling England by the Pound by about 10:1 even if the quality of song writing and musicianship was considerably poorer. But, that was just my opinion; someone, somewhere (at any time of the year) would argue that mid-1980s Genesis was just the thing to complete their otherwise dull lives. Opinions you see are very much like arseholes.

In my own mind, there was a subtle irony in that by the time I'd discovered Porcupine Tree they were on the verge of releasing the album that would break them into rock's bigger time and that album is and was, in my probably not so humble opinion, the worst album they'd ever done. Fear of a Blank Planet pushed lots of people's buttons. It was a prog-metal album with Fripp and Lifeson guesting and probably made Wilson and co., more money than the previous dozen albums put together. This alone should explain that its not as crap as I thought it was, but one man's subjectivity means nothing when the general consensus is positive. Plus there are people out there who could have the faeces of Steven Wilson forced up their noses and would still squeal with joy while ejaculating money - fandom can be extremely blinkered and partisan (as well as downright weird).

I wasn't the only person to dislike FoaBP, my mate Roger detested it and even today, when I tell him there are actually a couple of tracks worthy of listening to again, he dismisses this the same way I dismissed the last Steven Wilson solo effort.

When you discover a musical polymath like Wilson, with a back catalogue that can keep you busy for years, it is a great thing. It's a little like finding a cellar full of unreleased Dickens novels or a secret Beatles album they created and then buried under a mountain for the future to find. And because there was so much of it, it didn't matter what I thought of Wilson's 'side' projects: No-Man not to my tastes, Blackfield - a great pop band. That I could take or leave Bass Communion and that IEM were good and bad in equal measures, there was so much out there it didn't matter if some of it wasn't to my tastes.

I was especially drawn to some of Wilson's 'solo' stuff and when his first solo album was announced I felt a frisson of anticipation that I was surprised hadn't been killed off by the underwhelming feelings I had for the FoaBP album.

Now, as we're discussing this in a good and civilised way; let me be honest about this. Insurgents was the best Porcupine Tree album for years. It was full of everything we'd grown to expect from a great PT album, in all but name. The next and probably final Porcupine Tree album - The Incident was the best thing they'd done - collectively - for a decade. Wilson's second solo album - Grace For Drowning was almost as good as Insurgents and as a music fan this was a purple patch par excellence. If you were new to this then you were in for a treat.

Now, don't get me wrong, my change of attitude towards Wilson didn't just happen with The Raven Who Refused to Sing, I'd grown a little tired of his whining and bleating about ipods, illegal downloads, taking pictures at his gigs, and his general aversion to the modern technology that most young people take for granted. The irony is that FoaPB was about this very thing (except a man in his 40s shouldn't be trying to do a hip and trendy 'message' album when the audience he was targeting wouldn't give him a second look). I was seeing or hearing too much of Steven Wilson's 'politics' and slowly I was finding that he just sounded like he was moaning all the time and seemingly at his fans.

You'd hear about his being pissed off with people in the audience but never how pleased he was that his audiences were now in their thousands and not in their 10s. Or how he didn't like people having illegal copies of his music, but if he made this music readily available, rather than perpetuate a ebay revelation, rather than pumping out another live CD or DVD, then maybe he wouldn't get pissed off about people having illegal copies of Staircase Infinities.

I started to think - based on his presence in the media - that Wilson was growing increasingly more egocentric and seemed to have as much desire to alienate people as attract them. I think Bryan Ferry is a complete and utter twat, but some of his music is good and Wilson was starting to fall into that category. Musically he was producing some of the best of his career, while simultaneously sounding more and more like a cock.

Then The Raven Who Refused to Sing came out and I'd long before pre-ordered it. The first two SW solos had been superb, what could possibly go wrong?

How about it being a load of shit? Sorry, that's me being subjective and opinionated, but that's what reviews are all about, isn't it? So I wrote a review on Amazon - as I'd bought it through them - and I thought I was fair and even-handed in the review. Boy, was I going to come in for pages and pages of abuse. Very few people who bothered to comment actually had much to say about the review, most of them wanted to belittle me, someone they didn't know, because I'd been critical of an artist they all admired and they didn't agree with me. Well, I admired him as well, but if he does something I don't like I'm just as entitled to shout about it as I would have done had I liked it. Or is that somehow a warped concept or way of thinking now?

The Raven album had the last time I bothered to look, something like 40 reviews on Amazon. There are two reviews that slag the album off and these two reviews have 100+ comments each, while the other 38 reviews have less than a handful of comments between them. People are more inclined to comment if they disagree than if they agree - it's why letters pages for magazines and newspaper struggled to find positive letters because negative letters outweighed them by 10:1. People don't feel they have to defend something they like if everyone else likes it - which makes perfect sense in a simplistic context. Because music is a personal thing, it should technically be impervious of criticism on a personal level.

I have seen people get so wound up by my criticism of the last Steven Wilson album they have dispensed with civility and general thought and just directed a hail of abuse at me. I even tried to point out to someone who was very personally offensive that they had no idea who I was or what I was like so making countless allegations about my sexuality, my brain's ability and the people I love was not called for. I just got more abuse.

The sad thing about this is that until you have a kind of epiphany and realise that it's pointless and counter-productive, it makes you want to sink to that level. Calling someone a cunt because they don't agree with you has an instant gratification; the problem is people remember that and when you want to put a point across and are called a cunt yourself ...

That's how wars start.

My horror - because that is what it was - at the Raven was reflected in my review. I made the suggestion that I'd been cheated out of my £15 and this seemed to be a real issue with some people, especially when I suggested that others should feel cheated too. To say it was an album I detested would be accurate. After several plays, I grew to dislike it more each play. As far as I was concerned he was no longer doing his own brand of prog rock, he was now trying to emulate and copy his heroes - specifically King Crimson (arguably a very acquired taste in prog circles, especially during their latter periods) and elements of the Canterbury Scene - in retrospect I probably couldn't have been more wrong.

And I have beaten the same drum ever since. I said in March 2014, that I would never play The Raven ever again, so angry was I that this hadn't lived up to my expectations, like I'd commissioned Wilson to do it and it had not been to my liking... And in January 2015 when Wilson announced his latest offering, there was I slagging that off before I'd even heard it.

And there is the psychological reason behind this kind - we buy something, it becomes ours - we now own it or part of it - and therefore if it doesn't live up to our expectations, we feel we have a right - which we do if it's civilised - to express that dissatisfaction publicly. What causes the confrontations is, even if people put those IMHOs in front, is that even if you personally don't like something, if someone does like it, they will want to, primarily, argue, then abuse you for not agreeing with them. Some might want to examine why there is such a disparity between two fans' opinions, but in general, if I told you your music taste was crap - albeit about as indirectly as physically possible - you are going to kick out against it.

It isn't just abuse; sometimes you get incredibly intelligent trolls; people with a deep rooted sense of personal injustice, who understand that there is a certain 'ir-rationale' about airing beliefs on the internet in an abusive or aggressive nature, so they employ a form of what I've been doing here - reasoned analysis with a 'fuck you' caveat (except, this time, there's not going to be a caveat).

I have been playing The Raven That Refused to Sing all day - on and off - and it doesn't seem half as bad as I remember it and the second track - Drive Home - which according to Roger could easily be a PT song (that isn't difficult, considering) didn't make me rush to vomit uncontrollably because of an unfair comparison. I'm not going to immediately do an about face and say how I now think this album is superb, but I'm beginning to wonder what happened to make me so vehemently anti it when it was released?

It is different to the previous two solo albums, which, at times, could easily have been PT albums and that could be the reason why some die-hard Wilson fans have a problem with it; or maybe that's the problem, because it is yet another reason why the old four-piece of PT is maybe no longer needed. Plus, Wilson has produced an awful lot of unlistenable, impenetrable shite in the past, was my ire purely down to having spent money on The Raven?

He's moved on and is doing things that float his boat; what right have I got to lambaste him for doing what he wants?

Back in the late 1980s, a comic creator called Bill Willingham wrote in a foreword of his then comic that while he liked people taking an interest in his characters, would they please stop making story suggestions or asking for this to happen because, quite simply, it's his idea and that's the story he's going to tell. I really respected Willingham for taking that stand, especially in a medium where Stan Lee had made everyone think they had a say in how stuff worked. If I admired Willingham for that surely the same ethos belongs to Steven Wilson?

The internet allows us to lance the festering boils of discontent, and we then spray the pus of our indignation in the directions of anyone who doesn't think of us as prophets of truth.

Why I'm disappointed there's no future Porcupine Tree stuff planned is also something of a puzzle. The band's quality output in the last decade hasn't been anything like the previous ten years; while Wilson's solo stuff, until I pilloried The Raven, had been batting well above average. It is like I have no rational explanation for the way I've almost forced myself to dislike Wilson - although, to be fair, there are enough anecdotal and physically evidenced things he's said or instigated in the last ten years that makes him a little nerdy, needy and therefore probably dislikeable.

Maybe I just don't like change? Maybe the idea of a 'prog' band employing Nick Beggs (of Kajagoogoo fame) just sits wrong with me. Perhaps it's because I feel he's doing things with new people that he could have been doing with the other three? The thing is I don't own Steven Wilson; I can be disappointed with his albums and I'm entitled to a public opinion and protection against internet loons who take my personal dislike of something they also usually like as an excuse to be far more offensive. Surely the most civilised way of dealing with a negative opinion is either to ask what the basis for that opinion is or just ignoring it. How often does condemning someone for their beliefs end well?

As for Wilson. He's not a musical genius like many suggest he is, but over all he's supplied me with a lot more enjoyment than upset and if I was to review The Raven That Refused to Sing now, I'd probably give it 7/10 and have some reservations about the general direction he was going.

Now, if only the rest of the arseholes with opinions out there can have the same epiphany...

Friday, January 23, 2015

This Title Has Nothing to Do With the Contents...

Almost six months to the day since 'Shit' the blog about dogs and unpleasant faecal matter, I dropped myself into some metaphoric shit by having the same intentions I had back in June. Then as now, I was bored so took the dogs for a different, much longer walk and it backfired.

That blog was about me sitting in the garden going slowly mad through inactivity; yesterday I was sitting in front of the monitor trying not to wish time away, so I pulled up (Classic) Google Maps and tried to find something a little different. I did. It was very different.

Also last year, I wrongly believed I'd walked 5 miles when I'd just walked 5km. This was an entirely different walk, but as I take the dogs out probably a minimum of 360 days a year that's not difficult to achieve. I also, initially, had no intention of walking quite as far as I did yesterday and on a day when the temperature was about 3 degrees and I was dressed up for Antarctica, from the moment I started to worry about getting from A to B, I should have stopped being such a twat and just turned around. Instead I walked up a cul-de-sac of industrial estate sized proportions and then all the way back - adding about ¾ of a mile to my journey and all because of some razor wire.

By the time I retraced my steps, I was saturated from sweating, my legs ached, my back was grumbling at me, I was covered in mud and I still had nearly ½ a mile to go. When I returned to the car we had walked according to the 'How far Did I Walk' website, a total of 3.87 miles - give or take a ¼ of a mile.

Now 3½ miles might not seem much to you, but in my condition, having sweated almost a third of my bodyweight away at only the halfway point of this fucking idiotic odyssey - while not in the same league as the Lodz debacle or other memorable walkabout episodes - it was enough to seriously fuck me up for the rest of the day, evening and most of today.

I also had an interview for a job today, working with autistic people. I didn't get it; I wouldn't have accepted it had I been offered. All through the interview and after, I felt like I'd been on holiday with a dominatrix and a real, honest-to-God, Medieval rack.

The reason I'm looking for a job is no reflection on the health of Borderline Press, but more to do with mine. Most people who know me are pretty sure I'm a wee bit mad; the thing is if I don't fill my days up with something more meaningful than emails, social media obligations and waiting for the next deadline to come around, whilst paying myself an almost laughable 'retainer', I am probably going to do something that involves extreme violence, lots of swearing and probably lots of guilt and recriminations.

I'm just so fucking bored!

So I'm looking for work. If you see any let it know about me. I'm not very good but I'm keen and reasonably able.

***

Getting plagued by nuisance calls? You'd think OfCom would be the people to go to, but no, they offer downloadable PDF files with 'easy' to follow guidelines if you're getting nuisance calls. If you think you might have been overcharged (anything from 1p to millions) you have an express service; but if some fucking shyster company phones you up on a daily basis and then hangs up without even speaking to you you have no real way of combating it.

What is the point of these Off-bodies if they can't help in the most simplest of things and why doesn't the government make it illegal for phone numbers to be sold to companies that will use your details to fuck you over?

Oh. Yeah, I forget sometimes.

***

Bad news about Edgar Froese - Tangerine Dream played a big part in my life in the 1980s.

***

I could go on a bit more about the usual shite, but this time I won't.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

Same old same old

The inspiration to write this, my first blog of the year, was prompted by various stories I saw in the paper this morning. A couple of them weren't even political...

I personally believe that the Tory party's continual accusations that the BBC is left wing is just a massive snow job, or LIE as we used to call them. The reality is it just panders to their whims and creates this feeling that everything is much better when it clearly isn't. Oh and 4/5ths of the political reporters are dyed-in-the-wool Blues...

Actually, let's start this with the 'impartial' BBC...

Surely a publicly funded broadcast company that runs its own 24-hour news channel should have a remit that forces it to have to educate as well as entertain (or 'infotain')? Whether or not news can be entertaining isn't an issue here; what is an issue is educating ignorance rather than pandering to it.

Nigel Farage has been on BBC News more times in the last 12 months than arguably the prime minister, yet not once have I seen so much as a two-minute item explaining to people who what and why UKIP are. There has been no programming to look at the pros and cons of us actually quitting Europe (because when faced with the details it is clear to see that pulling out of Europe only benefits the rich and the xenophobic and the rest of us get screwed fiscally).

Today we have a news story about a proposal, from a Tory, to set up an independent body to scrutinise the manifesto claims of the parties - to see if they are economically viable, I don't know what the outcome would be if they were found to be lying through their teeth, but if we're going to go down that path then why not hold the ruling parties' to account if they ignore their manifesto/election promises once they've gained power.

The BBC news department's role in the world should primarily be reporting news, secondly it should provide educational and informative programmes and lastly it shouldn't be spending time and money reporting on what the general public thinks - because what we think is irrelevant, even if some of us think the right things.

***

Staying with politics for a second. The government announced billions to repair the roads recently - 'huzzah' you say, but it was nothing more than a vote winner, because we all give a shit about our roads.

Road repairs have been abundant in the middle England haven of Shoesville. In fact, you'd think, by the PR generated by Michael Ellis, the local Toryboy MP, that he single-handedly filled every pot hole in himself. There are many people in Northampton currently very happy that the pot hole issue has finally been addressed. I mean, for some people that guarantees Ellis their vote come the beginning of May, because simply put he's done more for his area of town than Sally Keeble - the feeble former Labour MP.

As a lifelong socialist, Ellis comes across as a far better constituency MP than Keeble could ever muster - lessons to be learned there, I think.

However, like most things, if you scratch the surface you start to see just what a clever and manipulative politician Ellis really is. Most of the resurfaced roads in the town are in Conservative boroughs; the roads where extensive patches have been administered are largely the LibDem voting parts of the town - and go into the council estates, the Labour heartlands, such as where I live and in the town centre and the roads are just as bad as they were five years ago and there's no plans to fix them.

Take the Westone estate on the east of the town. It is suburban residential, middle class and predominantly Tory. Ellis owns property there - this is important - and as a result, every square inch of every road in Westone - most that barely needed an odd patch, was resurfaced. Less than a mile down the road in Eastfield - a slightly run down council/housing association estate - you can't see a patch, let alone a resurface for love nor money and these roads are still woefully inadequate and potentially harmful to older vehicles, with less suspension etc.

I know of three people, myself included, who took the sad path of writing to the Chronicle & Echo to point this out - all three of us were ignored in favour of a letter from a resident in Westone claiming Michael Ellis is a demigod. The Chron is a Tory owned and supported paper.

***

The Guardian has a double page feature today on how 56-year-old Madonna is no longer hip and trendy and down wid da kidz.

This is what I mean. This is why I had the idea to write this. How is this even news? In fact, how is half the crap that finds its way onto screens, into news bulletins, etc., even news or worthy of being on the news when there are so many people dependent on food banks or being made homeless by the Draconian policies of the coalition?

Two years ago, the UK was submerged in its own 2013 ice age. We had months of cold, wet, snowy weather and yet the third story of the news the other day was that parts of the UK experienced its coldest night of the winter - a cataclysmic -6 degrees.

The so-called 'weather bomb' that hit the UK in December would have been called an Atlantic Storm Front before it got infotainment-ised. The ridiculousness of the entire situation was summed up when Joanna Gosling, the BBC anchorwoman, charged with overseeing the extreme weather event on the day, asked an Orkney resident how they were coping and he said, with a hint of humour in his voice, that this kind of weather was not uncommon for Orkney and that they get about 60 storms a year, so it was business as usual. The anchorwoman pushed, but she was getting no change out of the bemused Orkney Islander. Cut back to Gosling once again foretelling the end of times because there were 100mph gusts of wind in the Outer Hebrides.

As for Madonna; the thrust of the article was to say that 15 years ago she was relevant to the internet generation but now she's just generating bad press because she's out of touch.

She's 56.

End of.

In 2001, I was innovative on the Internet, what with my e-magazine and the forums and things that I set up and help run. Today I'm just a 52-year-old manic depressive who can't understand most things said by people under the age of 20 and I've worked with kids and young people for the best part of the last 15 years...

***

Like him or loathe him, but Charlie Brooker's 2014 Screen Wipe was essential TV and possibly the most important show on over a Christmas TV period that looked like it finally gave up the ghost. I cannot remember a Christmas with less things recorded or watched.

Being even more specific, what was important about Brooker's programme wasn't his 55 minutes, but the 5 minutes dedicated to an excerpt of a new documentary film about media manipulation and how we're almost programmed to accept things. It was one of those things you want to have 50million You Tube hits and be shown almost daily, as a public information film, on terrestrial TV. And it's all related to everything I've talked about so far.

***

The Palace are strenuously denying that Prince Andrew had sex with a 17 year old because it is illegal to have sex with 17 year olds in the USA (which frankly is incredible and kind of hypocritical given the social problems that country has). I can't help thinking if this was Italy the press would be saying, "Hey, that lucky bastard Prince Andrew shagged a 17 year old!"

Yes, I am aware that the woman in question claims she was forcibly made to have sex and that is heinous, if true. The aristocracy have a solid gold history of abusing - sexually, mentally and/or physically - anyone who isn't a member of their exclusive club, so when this is finally swept under the carpet, we will all be completely convinced that Prince Andrew had forced sex with a 17 year old. If the Royals privacy is made even more strict, in the form of an aristocrat-riven Tory government, I'm sure there will be even more heinous crimes forever swept under rugs...

***

The growing anti-Islamic movement across Europe - fuelled by the far right and neo-Nazis - is both a little like the persecution of the Jews and a lot like a Man U fan saying he wants football banned because Chelsea and Man City win everything. My mum used to call it 'cutting off your nose to spite your own face' and what I cannot fathom for the life of me is how this is going to be anything other than a negative thing that will incite further problems and probably send us on the path to war.

Isn't it strange that we're getting this at a time when countries are worried sick about economies and the future. What better way to solve everything than have a war. The west and the Establishment can manufacture its own Jihad and we can have Muslims versus everyone else. We can go into this war with the knowledge that different factions of Islam hate each other more than they hate us so they'll help the cause by fighting each other when they're not fighting us... And, of course, it will generate productivity and put people back into work - win-win!

***

In an attempt to stimulate growth, the government imposed a VAT on small businesses doing trade with the rest of the world. At the same time the government loaned/gave private companies over £1.7bn to investigate new ways of obtaining fossil fuels. They also introduced a policy that allowed medium and large companies to get tax breaks much easier, while penalising small businesses with higher rates and no access to this new deal.

What I find incredible and ties directly in with the opening statement of this blog, is why we find out about these things from bloggers or foreign news and not from our own? That's a rhetorical question as I'm well aware why, I just can't understand how we've (read: the Libdems) allowed them to do that without so much as a whimper?

***

A&E waiting times are of no real concern to the Tories. If you die waiting to see a doctor that's one less pension they have to stump up for.

***

Something very important happened the other day and it should be accepted for what it is...

I was driving through Boothville and I saw a van with a name on the side and that name was the name of a qualified electrician running his own company and by the looks of the 63 plate van I'd say he was doing okay.

I knew the name, but immediately dismissed it as someone with the same name. Later I discovered the electrician was indeed someone I had worked with during my first year at the Youth Offending Service. I helped get him on his first sparky's course. Good news, eh?

This person was involved in a pretty horrendous sexual offence when he was 16 that involved his pre-teen sister and other things that would make you struggle to even look at him like he deserved to be treated with any respect at all. That offence happened 11 years ago.

He served his sentence; did his 'probation' and was allowed to return to society, albeit with a sex offenders registry entry (which may be removed this year). There was not a social media campaign against him. There was not outrage from his family or the people involved in the crimes. There was no movement to continually punish him after he'd served his sentence.

It doesn't matter who you are or what you have done, if you have paid the penalty to the limits of the law then you should not have to face trial by the public because some people are offended by it. Perhaps we should dispense with the justice system entirely and have trials by Facebook? Or maybe let the punishment be decided by the BBC's Ed Thomas by gauging how heinous the crime was by the closer to a whisper Ed's voice gets when reporting on it? Programme the red button into a Live or Die thing and we can let ITV viewers decide the fate of anyone who ever offended someone else...

The Ched Evans situation is horrendous because the above applies to him as well, but so many people have made some valid arguments about his public persona and the fact his victim has been... well, victimised.

I don't, however, buy this bullshit about him showing no remorse - he pleaded not guilty and has stuck rigidly to that ever since, to show remorse would have repercussions for his appeal - which he is entitled to have and is under way. It's made all the muddier by the fact he has maybe an 8 year window left in his life to earn any decent money, because as it has also been stated the only thing he knows about is football (which might be why he's in this mess in the first place).

What 'Jean Hatchet' the 'woman' campaigning for the right to utterly destroy Evans' life doesn't realise is her campaign is, in many ways, far worse, because she's publicly destroying a person's life and getting social media to justify 'her' actions, despite what the law say about these things. 'She' might be related to the victim - which is also no justification - or just another fanatic with too much time on their hands getting their jollies from the number of people 'liking' what they're doing.

We wouldn't have had a fraction of these problems if this had been before social media and this new craze of 'Trial by how much a member of the public is offended'.

***

Oh, Social Media - I took 5 days off of at the turn of the year and as each day passed I coped with it a little easier than the day before. I didn't disconnect with the internet, just Facebook and other places that take up my time.

***

Is it just a Northampton thing or are there more and more people choosing to walk in the road than ever before, despite there being more than adequate, working, pavements/paths? Part of me thinks that because there are a growing number of imbeciles in the world that some people think that they have as much right to walk in the road as a car has driving on it.

Yeah. Let's see how that works out for them when they have their first head on collision.

***

There were no real resolutions from me this year, all I want is a better year in everything (although I'd be happy if we had a repeat of the weather but with a nicer August). I considered trying to cut down my swearing, as it has got fucking ridiculous, and have managed to cut it down by about 80% and yet still sound like a builder in a dockyard with a bad head and a wanker for an assistant.

I gave up cutting out the sugar in coffee over the festive period and as a result I'm back up to bladder-bursting quantities of coffee again and a higher risk of diabetes. Honestly? I don't give a honey-coated fuck.

No one bought me slippers for Christmas, that was a disappointment.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Year in Review

Seriously? You want me to have to think about the last 12 fucking months, again?

2014 - largely shit.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

Another in an Erratic Series of Football Posts

With apologies to 'regular readers' expecting rants about stuff and shit.

The Pochettino Effect


Bemused.

That's probably the best description of how I've felt about my beloved Tottenham Hotspur since the spring of 2012. I've ranted about Andre Villas Boas (AVB), felt ambivalence towards Tim Sherwood and a general distrust of everything Tottenham since Mauricio Pochettino's appointment. I wasn't impressed, but I'm a realist. We had been punching above our weight and circumstances meant the pack caught us rather than Spurs pulling away and becoming better than they had a right to be.

A raging toothache prevented my usual Wednesday night quiz date, so I settled down to watch a dodgy stream of the Chelsea match, totally in the knowledge that it would end badly. It never crossed my mind that we might win or even draw; they are quite simply better than Spurs. They were.

Walking the hounds this morning, I had something of a revelation; probably wrong, but it's something that I feel at ease with; something that if it were true, I would have no problem with unless it plunged the team into a relegation dog fight and the early evidence suggests that probably won't be the case. The reason I think MoPo might be the guy.

What epiphany have I had?

Many years ago, some French geezer called Jacques Santini took over as manager along with Martin Jol and Frank Arnesen; Santini lasted a handful of games - I've always believed the weight of expectation on his shoulders and the knowledge his squad was midtable mediocrity at best scared him off. But in an interview shortly after taking the job, Santini said he wanted to mould the club from the youth up - he would satisfy the fans and Martin Jol would bring the kids through the reserve team - utilise the facilities we have at our disposal (facilities that have improved further still) and build a team for the future. Brave and courageous words. That didn't really happen, although we did have a few academy successes, circumstances dictated Spurs relied too heavily on buying power.

Big leap - missing out some stuff that's now history. But none of it seemed to include looking inside the club for solutions.

I still struggle to see the logic in the period after Harry Redknapp and the first year of AVB's reign. It makes no sense, even if some of our best players gradually drifted away to bigger and better stages. The club had built its way to where it was through stability and familiarity - the squad played well together, covered for each others' weaknesses - not always, but enough. Improve on this and you could punch above your weight for longer. But, no. It was rebuild and almost from the bottom - style of play down to style of management. It might have worked, but the almost obsessive hatred of some sections of fans put a wedge in that just kept being tapped. Capitulations to top teams sealed AVB's fate, even if the jury is out to whether he walked or was pushed.

Let's by-pass Tim Sherwood because it seems only he didn't accept the truth.

Where were Spurs going? Nowhere. Where was the grand plan? Possibly in tatters. What do you do on limited resources? Take a risk; even if it seems like insanity taking a similar risk after two previous failures.

Pochettino has a philosophy; I'm not completely sure what it is, but I'm beginning to buy into it - not through results, but through the risks that people aren't acknowledging he's taking.

Spurs midfield squad cost about a zillion quid and frankly we sold people with more heart than we bought; but that can't be changed - the clock, for all the bleating is never going to be rewound again. We are not going to sign Defoe and Kaboul from Portsmouth; the future is already here.

With some exceptions, our imported midfield is average and over priced and this has been proved by the fact that Mason and Bentaleb are on the team sheet ahead of Paulinho, Capoue or Chadli. Home grown talent showing more desire to play for the shirt, working harder, impressing the manager or, as some would have you believe, being used by the manager to make a point - either way, they are improving all the time - their confidence in a team lacking it appears to be winning through. Is his seeming reluctance to play Harry Kane at first a sign he didn't trust him or a carefully timed bomb - look at this kid compared to your £40million strike duo? Is Fazio really the future or maybe a good role model for upcoming centre backs? The average age of the Spurs team that lost 3-0 last night was ridiculously low; something like 23. That's either foolhardy or clever and I'll opt for the latter. It's change by realisation using stealth, if I'm not just over dramatising it.

You don't win anything with kids, but you do create a stable team, a squad that fits together, slots in when others drop out; a team that plays and wins because they are a team and not dependent on a Bale or a Berbatov to save the bacon. Keep free of relegation, develop this nucleus of a team and add to it in places that need adding and you might just create a team fit for a new stadium.

Yes, this season has been awful. Mid table mediocrity in but two years, yet recently there has been an urgency about the team - when they play on the break and fast they look good. They lack width and it worries me that Pochettino prefers to play through the middle when our strength has always been playing down the flanks; but he's changing the ethos, for good or bad. He's needs options, which might be why he sometimes looks like he doesn't have a Plan B. How can you when so many of the players bought in are similar?

I expect a concerted tilt at the Europa League if Spurs are no lower than 10th and are not in danger of being dragged down - 20 points is half way to safety, we're not in any trouble, yet. I don't believe the team are good enough to get past the quarter finals, but it creates a positive atmosphere and Gods that's been missing for a couple of years. If Spurs can avoid banana skins in the FA Cup, they could keep the fans reasonably happy by making a show of things they aren't good enough to win, at the moment. Time can be your friend; ask a Hammers fan at the moment and if they'd like Sam Allardyce gone?

I'm of the opinion that the opportunity has been missed and we really do need to rebuild and stick with one man's idea for at least a couple of seasons; you can't judge business plan before it's had a chance to see if it works and that's usually two years. I like the idea of a Spurs in 2016 that consists of 50% home grown talent and 50% quality players who are seriously challenging for honours, through hard graft and team work, not just because the owner can dip into his pocket and buy a fix - lads playing for the badge. Whether Mauricio Pochettino is the man, I don't know. I kind of hope he is, the club has a reasonably dignified history with Argentinians. 

Spurs fans and Daniel Levy have to give him two seasons - minimum.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

A Very Long and Winding Road

Over the last few weeks, right up until today, the much-maligned British summer time (deceased) clung on for dear life. October was unusual in that it allowed me to do something that I tend to feel is limited to the months of May to September (but never guaranteed) - sit in the garden and do some work.

We find the media obsess over heavy rain, excessive snowfall and high winds and when conditions are right - drought. The fact that October 31st was the warmest day in the UK for that day's history ever, probably should have garnered more comment; it was, after all, nearly 4 degrees warmer than the record and it was the warmest day in October - right at the very end of it. Pretty much as bizarre a weather event I've seen for a long time. No crashing and banging or human interest, so it pretty much got breezed over in favour of some shite Farage was spouting, no doubt.

The year before I got married - 1986 - was a weird summer; it was reminiscent of 2012, in that it was crap and this was highlighted by the fact the hottest day of the year - 30.6 degrees - was registered on October 1st. I always thought that was a strange one, especially as it fell a couple of weeks after the autumnal equinox; but 24 degrees six weeks after the sun shifts in its equinox deserves putting to memory.

The month following my mum's death in 1998 was another one of those anomalies. February 1998 recorded some of the highest temperatures for that month ever, with five days in the middle of the month averaging 18 degrees and I remember walking the dogs at the time, wearing my old check shirt and no coat or jacket.

It's terribly anal that I remember shit like this, but I've always been a weather bore and I function so much better when the ambient temperature is higher than 15 degrees. I was miserable in the winter even before I heard about such things as SADS; it was something that bugged my old man and I suppose I 'caught' it from him.

The irony is that my 'condition', the COPD prefers the weather when it's cooler and there's more air circulating, which is why I seem to de-age about 10 years whenever I go to the seaside (and why this preamble has meandered around like a drunken Geordie in the Big Market). And that is one of the reasons for this bit of boring weather lore...

2014 hasn't been a good year for my family and friends - deaths, cancer, debt, unemployment and many other travails have been inflicted on my little sphere of people and, of course, there's been my own summer of physical upheaval.

It started so brightly too...

I'd made my mind up long before I started to attend the COPD clinic that I was going to get myself fitter this year; that meant more exercise, more walking and ensuring that core muscles were toned to enable me to breath and function better. Last winter's lack of breath-taking (literally) cold days meant that I went into 2014 having not suffered a winter of bad colds and chest infections; yeah, I had bad days, but what are bad days when it's all about adjusting to new ways of living? Plus, my condition might kill me, there are people all around me fighting tougher battles. Some perspective and humility is the order of the day.

I abandoned the COPD clinic not because I was already considerably healthier than the octogenarians all attending, but because on July 1st I thought I'd dislocated my shoulder and the three weeks or so I figured it would take to heal meant the clinic would have run its course. The shoulder was the tip of an iceberg of shit that seemed to descend throughout the summer - some things make even nice weather immaterial.

With friends and family faltering around me, the wife really struggling to cope and so August was effectively a shut-down month for me - if my battered body could have got into a foetal position it would have, I'm sure. My business suffered; my personal life was in the toilet and I started smoking again... It was short-lived, but it was still a few weeks off the wagon and instead of the wife hating me for it, she took her ire out on others.

Sunshine is my God. It doesn't really matter if its freezing cold, if I can feel the sun on the back of my neck it tends to bring a smile to my face and October was good in that respect, because as long as the sun shone I got things done.

I finally decided at the start of October to go and see the doctor about my shoulder; it was three months and it was getting much worse; almost to the levels it was prior to my operation in 2009. It surely couldn't still be the after effects of the presumed dislocation. The doc didn't need an x-ray machine or MRI to know that the 'pop' we heard in the vet's wasn't my shoulder dislocating but a ruptured tendon (why is it called ruptured when it means detached?) and the upshot there was lots of physiotherapy until they decide that it isn't going to miraculously reattach and then I'll have an operation to sort it. In the current NHS climate I might get this done before I die.

Even with this hindrance, me and the wife managed to get lots of things done during October that made her feel better and no longer dreading Christmas as much as she was. It's still no where near perfect with uncertainty surrounding my brother's illness, my inability to identify appropriate Chinese printers and just everyone I know sitting around seemingly waiting for the next wave of shit to hit.

I was driving to the Leamington Spa comics convention on October 18 - a day that would have been memorable for its summer like temperatures had it not been consigned to just a mild day by Halloween's unusual heat - talking to Colin, my oldest friend and helper for the day. It was on this trip I told him about our plans, still very embryonic, but what we're aiming to achieve in the next THREE years.

During our week's holiday in Dumfries & Galloway at the start of September, we both realised that us and the rat race were coming to a head. I'd been sold on the idea of moving to Scotland 20 years ago, but we shelved the idea when we realised that the only way we'd be able to do it it was when we were old and would we really want to be in a more isolated place when our need for emergency services grew each extra year we lived?

Plus the idea originally seeded itself when I worked in comics and it seemed the ideal way of escaping. When we ventured back to D&G in 2012 (because it was free holiday accommodation and we needed a break), I never expected it to to have transformed as much as it had, but we were holidaying in a different part...

The wife and I, Roger and Barbara did west Dumfries in 1998 - the year mum died and we all agreed that even if the shadow of grief hadn't been hanging over us at times, it still would have been one of the worst holidays we'd ever had. we'd done west Wales in a monsoon; North-west Scotland at the start of its winter and Cornwall at its worst; all of these holidays urinated from a great height on our week in Ballantrae. The accommodation was grotty, the 'town' of Ballantrae was a bit like Corby's Kingsholme Estate-by-the-sea and, seriously, Robert Louis Stevenson must have seen the name on the map and thought it would make a good name for a smugglers' tale, because if he's gone there the story would have been called The Master of Someplace Else...

We vowed never to return and to be fair we've been back to D&G twice now and never gone anywhere near the desolation and despair that greets anyone venturing within 10 miles of Stranraer - a sink hole town and as salubrious as a bucket of cold sick (or at least that's what it was like 16 years ago, it might be the Cosmopolis of Southern Scotland now for all I know). We soon realised that everywhere has its own shit holes and we avoid them most of the time, so we can avoid them even easier when we're on holiday.

We both fell in love with this part of the country and our holiday in 2012 - a fantastic week when the rest of the country was wading around in wellies watching the Olympics - was made more intriguing when we met a woman from the East end who came up to Kirkcudbright (pronounced Ker-koo-bree) on holiday 30 years ago and never went back; she kind of inspired us.

We got back to Northampton and for two weeks we dreamt of moving there; but it was vague and general dreams, nothing specific. The rat race returned and the idea, like so many dreams, went on the back burner.

We went back this year and I was filled with trepidation; I don't know why because the week we had was possibly the best week the wife and I have had for a couple of years; but you know what they say about looking forward to things? The dread I felt was because I so desperately wanted to have a great week; as I wrote back in September, I wasn't disappointed in the slightest.

The subject of moving there was always close to the surface and Shortie was now looking in estate agent windows as much as she was looking at tourist knick-knacks and shortbread. On our last day, we went to our favourite pub, ate some great food and drank some excellent beer; we sat in the garden - rain had been forecast but it was warm and sunny; the barmaid said they pay as much attention to the weather forecast as they do Westminster politicians. We struck up a conversation with a couple from Newcastle who had up sticks and moved to a place called Bar Hill - literally the one jewel in our 1998 holiday - and bought a two bedroom cottage for £40k. Yes, your eyes didn't deceive you - forty grand.

Then we came home and I decided that as I know my wife extremely well the easiest thing to do would be to let her have all the ideas. Let her take the initiative - if this was her idea she'd be up for it.

We worked it out that at the current rate, if we sold our house for its market value we'd have something in the region of £100k in equity and for that kind of money you could buy something akin to a posh house; for £40k or £50k you could buy something that gave you a safety net.

Before you start pooh-poohing the idea, the wife spent a week looking up houses and the amount under £80k that you could literally move into tomorrow was astounding; the property market there is dead - houses are selling for £60k that sold for £80k in 2008. You don't buy property here for investment reasons, not unless you're brain dead. Because there is no 'real' work or careers up there, no one can afford to buy houses - unless they have some money behind them. Yet, there's load of jobs, if you want to work part time or seasonal and if you haven't got a mortgage...

There's a lot to be done and one of those things is me getting a part time job in the New Year. For Borderline Press to work and possibly be viable enough to move to a cottage in Scotland, it needs to make money, generate money and produce the 2015 schedule without the hiccups we had in 2014; that can be achieved better by me taking myself out of the equation and doing it part time; I mean it's not like it's a full time job even at the busiest of periods and some intelligent holiday booking will enable me to dodge any bullets.

The house we live in is in good nick, but needs cosmetic work doing to it to realise its potential and that needs money we haven't got, and I'm going to have to have another op on my shoulder - I'm a realist, that could take a lot longer now we have an NHS being primed for privatisation. Perhaps having it done in Scotland might end up being the best solution. We're not ready yet, but we have a goal now.

Unfortunately, because all my silver clouds tend to come with fully-formed black linings, I did my back in at the start of the week. The first cold day, I stood up wrong (I'm presuming) and twang my back went. Down the left hand side, which suggests the inactivity because of my shoulder has affected the rest of my back. A mate of mine said 'Well, you are a wreck generally', and I can't argue with him... I'm thinking that living down here has a detrimental effect on my health at the best of times and I kind of think if I need to be crocked, I'd rather be crocked in a picturesque place, near the sea and on the doorstep of a mycological cornucopia.

Anyhow...

Effercio et Ineptias
  • It's all change at the Lithuanian house. For the last three months one of the two adults have had their parents living there - odd people, look totally out of place - anachronisms would be a good description. They disappeared at the weekend and have been replaced by the mother of the other - the infamous masturbating woman in the window - who disappeared about six months ago and is now back (and the phrase 'mutton dressed as lamb' is almost a compliment, because it's more like 'Old goat dressed as embryo' - women in their early 60s should not wear puffball skirts and low cut tops - there should be a law against it!). There is also a young couple staying there; where they are sleeping I have no idea, but there does seem to be a revolving door policy there (there is also a rumour circulating they are Albanians and not Lithuanians).
  • The road is being dug up (obliterated) by pipe layers and parking is at an absolute premium at the moment. I can see anger rising, especially as I am in a very unhelpful mood at the moment.
  • The new neighbours continue to be lovely, although Sam has been dicing with death by beating me at my one Internet game. As I explained to him, if he wants us to continue being friends and for me to be his Max safety net, he needs to ensure that he never beats me again. I was, of course, joking, but he's not been even close to beating me since. Good lad.
  • We're in for more changes; two families have moved out in the last week and have To Let signs up; but nothing - absolutely nothing - can beat this: Less than 8 months after Fishwife and Fat Lass moved out, the houses either side of their new place are up for sale. I mean, if you were looking at buying a house and the houses either side of one were both up for sale, you'd have to wonder if it was a coincidence or if perhaps the neighbours had grown tired of a constant 50 decibel commentary about poohing and chicken shit.
  • Fuckwit and The Purple Moose (her new nom de plume) continue to subvert the benefits system while living an increasingly curious existence. The wife reckons one of them might be working because they leave the house early every day. Me? I see far more sinister things - child slavery, goat porn, UKIP branch meetings, discount shopping...
  • ???
  • US TV worth watching: The Leftovers was great and bleak; it also had a scene in it I could not watch; I had to cover my eyes, it was that horrific!
    Resurrection is considerably better and weirder than you might expect and is one of those shows that you expect will end up being formulaic and dire and yet continually mucks about with your expectations. It is hard work at times though.
    The Walking Dead has been a revelation so far this season, with four top drawer episodes that have actually taken it to another level.
    Sleepy Hollow had a great first season, but with popularity has come some mediocrity - the main villain seems to have been de-creepified and the way the Headless Horseman has been 'developed' just adds unwanted baggage to what was a great show, but now is just average.
    There's also a load of rubbish that I have to admit to loving the first two episodes of... <scorpion>; It's a great show and I love it. It's the A Team meets Big Bang Theory, it's riddled with clich├ęs and stereotypes, is questionable in its source material and I just think it's great fun, even if no one else does.
  • The nectarine tree which almost died because of some late April frosts, now looks like it's been time-shifted from June to November or vice versa; everything else in the garden seems to have prepared for winter, yet odd fruit tree just sits there acting like its Spain. Weird.
  • The apricot is no longer. Bummer.
  • It's official - the UK has shite potatoes now and no one (except a dodgy company) sells decent spuds any more. It's all your fault for wanting uniform dullness in your shopping bags!
  • There are less than 8 weeks left of this year, therefore if you haven't let me down yet there's still time! There are a few people out there who as yet haven't; but there's also 8 weeks for repeat offenders to have another go.

    Friday, October 03, 2014

    The Annual Mushroom Report

    This is a Charcoal Burner, a purple
    (but sometimes green or even brown) russula
    which is also quite edible. Avoid red and pink ones.
    It was forecast. This autumn would be exceptionally good for mushrooms. Experts, mycologists and foragers have been saying this since July and despite nearly 20 years a forager and amateur mycologist, I really don’t understand why. Apparently it’s all down to the weather and that’s what has confused me. My most bountiful forays have been following rain, in damp and mild slightly autumnal conditions. These have been as early as June and as late as the clocks going back. We’ve had a succession of dry autumns, stretching back to the late 1990s – September; mid-season really; has been more like August for more than 10 of the last 18 years.

    Wood mushrooms with dog in background.
    Years where we’ve had plenty of rain have yielded little; years when we’ve had a lot of dry weather have also been the same; in fact, my enthusiasm for mushroom hunting has waned over the last few years despite going to all the usual haunts. It had a going through the motions feel and four six of the last 10 years I have had nothing to dry out for the winter. This also coincided with my interest in collecting mushrooms via photography; all those fantastic shrooms that you can’t eat but look fabulous.

    Horse mushrooms will also grown
    near woods just to confuse the issue
    A perfect example of a Horse mushroom and how it can
    vary from places it grows; Notice how it has a yellow tinge?
    However, this doesn't stain yellow and smells of aniseed.
    This year, the first mushroom – a wood mushroom – appeared in August. Odd buggers, look just like their counterparts – the horse mushroom – but have a ring around the stalk and for some reason never taste anything like the horse, which is one of the prizes of the season, but has been conspicuous by its absence for a few years. Wood mushrooms are the poor relation of the agaricus family (the one most closely related to the shop staple) and grow in or near the Yellow Stainer – called so because if you run your thumb across it it stains a vivid – and I mean vivid – yellow; almost fake. These give you the shits and probably the vomits too. A caveat to this is the fact the wood mushroom is pretty much as white as snow and smells of aniseed; the horse mushroom can go a yellowish tint, but as part of its aging process rather than through marking it and the tint is more like a creamy yellow than a citrus one. Also the Stainer smells strongly of carbolic and kind of dissolves into a yellowish grey mush when you fry them.

    One of the largest fruiting bodies - the Dryad's Saddle
    That was really about it and despite reports in the paper confirming the forecast, my usual haunts were as dry as a bone and unlikely to yield much more than a grass fire. Brackets started appearing and in a big way. A monstrous Dryad’s Saddle was found up in a copse of woods near Moulton Park and I found Chicken of the Woods – fresh and new – for the first time in ages. This is pretty much the easiest mushroom in the world to identify. It grows on trunks of trees – chestnut, cherry, apple, oak, ash and a few others. It is bright yellow and looks either like someone has attempted to fill a hole in the tree up with bright yellow Styrofoam or like fans of bright yellow, possibly ornage, structures that can be as big as five feet. It’s a vegetarian’s dream mushroom. Young and fresh it is like a standard shroom, but with a bit more bite and a couple of days old and it looks and acts like a really healthy alternative to quorn chunks – it absorbs flavour, imparts its own and is as versatile as, well, chicken. It’s difficult to mistake.

    Chicken of the Woods - can be bright yellow
    As is the Beefsteak fungus, also grows on trees, looks like someone has pinned someone’s liver to a tree – seriously. It acts like a lump of offal, has a slightly metallic taste (if not cooked properly) and I haven’t seen one this year; but I’ve seen all manner of birch polypors, horse hoof fungus and a whole bunch of things I’ve never seen before.

    Shaggy parasols give some people wind
    Then Scotland came along; at the end of August and three days before we went there it had been raining. The night before we went into the Galloway Forest Park it also tipped it down. I was armed with my knife, but I expected little – my expectations have been lowered, as I hinted at above.

    A Parasol mushroom - pretty distinct
    and quite sublime to eat
    Once upon a time, for a few seconds, every so often, I would harbour the ambition of becoming a full-time professional wild mushroom picker; but research has led me to discover that this is a small and very closed shop and is unbelievably self-regulated. If you took a perfect specimen of a cep, or a morel, or a Piedmont Truffle (which apparently do grow here), a selection of the best eating and drying mushrooms you can find and showed this all to a top chef, he would salivate, he would agonise, he would look lovingly at the specimens, he might even want to buy them; but he doesn’t know you; he doesn’t know how regular you will be; how much you will scrutinise your pick, because even clever sods like me get fooled (and the lesson there is always ‘if in doubt, don’t.’) and unlike say blackberries or heritage apples, these babies can kill or poison you. Law suits would be bandied about like confetti.

    One of the real prizes - a cep or penny bun
    (photographed by me, this year, in Scotland)
    However, walking into this tiny fraction of forest near Newton Stewart, was like my first trip into a comicbook shop or a trip of dreams. You couldn’t look for seeing them; they were everywhere – edible ones, poisonous ones, ones I’d only ever seen in books in a landscape that was almost surreal. It was a place you could understand would make people uneasy – it was like Christmas for me. I couldn’t be all the places at once and I was aware I had a wife and four dogs with me, so I just walked along, snapping some, picking others; doing something I rarely do in Northants – becoming choosy about what I picked.

    The Beechwood Sickener - it's not edible!
    A couple of weeks ago, someone asked me if I had any idea of what the percentage of edible mushrooms to poisonous ones was. That would be impossible to answer even at the end of a season, because you simply have no idea. I heard a mycologist suggest that less than 1% of all mushrooms are seen by humans; but equally, I’ve always been told that mushrooms tend to grow along paths – human or animal – and not in the deepest and darkest depths as you might imagine. On the evidence given by this patch of Galloway forest, mushrooms grow everywhere.

    Poisonous or hallucinogenic? Fly agaric - the reindeer's fave 
    As for specifics: boletes, aminitas, lecinum, suillus, lactarius, russulas, there literally was everything; well, almost everything that would grow in these conditions. You’re just as likely to find boletes growing out in meadows and under oak trees, but you’re unlikely to find something like a chanterelle or hedgehog fungus anywhere other than northerly forests and I saw evidence of the former, but nothing worth keeping. It should be noted that humans are not the only animal to eat mushrooms, but we are the most susceptible to the poisons. A slug will happily munch its way through most of the poisonous aminitas (death cap, fly agaric), as will squirrels, deer, badgers, foxes – anything omnivorous or vegetarian will have a nibble on a shroom.

    In one part of Glentrool, we found an area the size of several parking spaces, just covered in fly agaric – that red mushroom with the white flecks on the cap; the ones that Laplanders feed to their reindeer…

    Cortinarius purpurescans - edible,
    but, you know, so is dog shit...
    This is an aminita - it's probably 'The Blusher' one of the
    few edible varieties, but like the cortinarius above,
    there's a lot of 'edible' things...
    I estimated that there was maybe £3000 worth of prize edible mushrooms in the tiny bit of forest we visited; the problem is mushrooms and their growing isn’t anything like a fine art. The top mycologists and hunters will not and cannot tell you when something will grow until there’s evidence of it growing. In many ways it isn’t an exact science and it also varies from different parts of the country. Scotland was awash with them, but 300 miles south, with bone dry soul and warm temperatures and the pickings have been slim. A couple of my usual haunts had evidence of Saffron Milk Cap, the only edible and easily identifiable of the mainly unpleasant lactarius family and cortinarius – not at all common – especially the purpurescens, which is reported to be edible as well as bright purple. I’ve never fancied it. 

    One of many 'jelly fungus'
    grows in dark woods and glades
    In Northants there is very much evidence of mushrooms, but there is also evidence of how you can never tell when they might appear. The decaying Saffron Milk Caps probably appeared within a day or two of my last visit to their location; they are a long lasting mushroom and can be a fruiting body for up to a week before they start to break down. Plus, if something is ready to ‘bloom’ I don’t think it matters what the weather conditions are like – it might help improve the overall quality or size, but if it needs out, it will out.
    This is a Silver Birch Bolete -
    it is edible, but so is snot

    In the two weeks or so since returning from Scotland, I’ve seen nothing to suggest a bumper season; in fact, there’s nothing but the remains of what was possibly a short-lived burst around the end of August. 

    Not a great example, but if you ever see a shroom
    that is yellow and plum coloured, it's called,
    colloquially 'plums & custard' - it gives you the shits.
    Two things this autumn has seen – the appearance of rarities and the disappearance of the usual suspects. On the bright side, there have hardly been any lepiotas (parasols) so far (so I remain optimistic about that) and any hopes for a burst of agaricus activity before long is down to how long before the first serious frost and we probably need some rain. The problem now is the rain is on the way, but the season is almost over and the first serious frosts will kill most of the late summer, early autumn mushrooms off. The forecast is for some wet and then cooler weather; there might be a twist in the end of this summer's mushroom season, or there might be another damp squib. We shall see.