Last year saw a significant spring clean shift in our house. Marie Kondo played a prominent part in that. The idea that one can – “should” – reduce the amount of tat in one’s life spoke to many feeling burdened by material accumulation. We have been conditioned to want and get and keep stuff. Kondo’s notion of making room only for things that inspire joy was a useful starting point for me. Treating the items you do have and need with greater reverence… my clothes now sit in neat and ordered rows, rolled snug, and nestling proudly in their drawers. It does feel better.

Backlash occurred, as it does. Some rejecting KonMari express resentment at the idea that they might be hoarding now redundant signifiers rather than curating a challenging collection of something or other. Mainly booklovers, that.

What about things that don’t spark joy, but are needed? And what is ‘joy’, anyway? It’s always sensible to question terms of reference… I didn’t quite get the book aspect finished.

Backlash following backlash, maximalism is the new minimalism is the new maximalism. Inhale, exhale. The seasonal cycle of must haves and must get rids. Yeah, Marie Kondo selling stuff for you to have in your newly-decluttered living spaces was a hilarious, eye-rolling, predictable outcome. For me, I’d just dug the basic idea and gone with it. There was no feeling of personal betrayal (“Just for a handful of silver she left us… just for a tuning fork rose quartz crystal!”). Everyone’s got a gig of some sort. A Marie Kondo catalogue existing is not an idea that negates the one about getting rid of shit you don’t really need.

Still, if KonMari Method is tainted goods now, other brands are available. Döstädning! This popped up in my timeline today, for some reason I can’t quite place… Well, here we are in March 2020, and many people are confronting their own mortality, and the fragility of our personal ecosystems. This Scandi version seems on message for decluttering in a plague era. Getting rid of shit you don’t really need with a pine box veneer of northern European pragmatism, a found in translation term. KonMari with added morbidity.

Today, we were contemplating being stuck in the house for indeterminate lengths of time. Thoughts returned to what’s on the shelves, what’s defining us with its presence. Associated notions of cocooning… what species of lepidoptera might unfurl its wings from such matter?

Do books make life worth living? For sure, but all these specific volumes?

Just one of five bookcases too. In the UK, outside, while not yet fully sprung, spring – time traditionally associated with cleaning – is uncoiling. Blossom. The leaves are out on the elder. And you cannot take any of it with you.

“We need to start articulating our utopias, articulating what needs to be burned and what needs to be saved.”

Shabaka Hutchings, NY Times interview

The possibilities for glorious rebirth from apparent disaster (and of course the reverse of that, and of course of course all the countless in-between positions) are always present, especially in football. Quite what took us from being 0-1 down and missing a penalty to winning the game 3-2 is beyond me. It was baffling, beautiful and entirely needed.

While Leeds were being the end of me once more, we were attending the birthday party of one of my nieces. Went for a walk along the river before afternoon tea and cake.

In the image here, you can just about see where the level of the river has dropped. The weir a bit further down stream collapsed late last year.

The narrator here says two-three feet; it’s at least six feet in places at the moment. There are no plans to fix the weir as far as I’m aware. It’s keeping the water much fresher than it was, with a faster current, and the banks will cover over again. Today, the air was rich with wild garlic, and there were wood anemones, late snowdrops, early bluebells, celandine.

Plus – keeping a group of 10 kids busy for a couple of hours – the water finding its lowest level has revealed a trove of stuff in the silt. Presumably items thrown off the old viaduct: sections of railway, telegraph ceramics, bits of pottery… as well as more contemporary pieces of junk, like crusty bike frames, an abandoned boom box, fishing rods, plastic bags full of nameless sodden items.

Along the river bank, and along the cycle path that now runs across the viaduct, the trees had made that switch from incipient new growth to plump, visible buds, the colours changing, spring blossom out or arriving. The clocks go forward tomorrow.

Something about all of this going on offers a reassurance that is also baffling, beautiful and entirely needed.

Several rivers round Yorkshire in spate. It’s pretty wild out, been lashing wi’rain all day, closing off a six day week of work and some heavy, heavy shit impacting the hive mind. Been mooching around considering various reference points. So many little signals from people everywhere, justifying their bigotries and confirming biases… those looking for the light, those shutting it out.  Found this in the notebooks. It’s from a while back, I should add… but it seemed apposite.


mental associations on opening this – backing tracks – thunderous music to chant it all down. lee scratch, dusty studio alchemy occurring in palpable subtropical heat. crazed vibrations… woodwork, analogue synths, hand made and placed on to racks with knowing smiles. speaker hum. knotty fingers turn dials. fade up swoosh tape sounds. rumbling.

channeling through the feelings i have… when i sit and let things flow, there’re messages beaming in from i know not where. the voices of the interior. can we call them exterior? they are flowing through my fingers. they may be only from within but that too is without something.

perspective is shifted and squint.

aiwass thin kingggg… these sounds, even in the haze

chaneling voices from other dimensions

when i was younger I had these sorts of thoughts and was overwhelmed. they were too real. they were the sounds of other people, though people I knew. i thought it was telepathy. the voices of others manifesting in my head. they weren’t telling me what i wanted to hear, or telling me malign shit. if i can be honest, all i recall is that one night in particular when it kept me up til 6am it was one of my mate’s voices, and though we conversed all night, i forget what it was.

i think i was seeking reassurance about all the catastrophic mistakes i thought i was making

astral projecting? fixing something? i lack the technical vocabulary to discuss this accurately.

holding those thoughts in check now. writing it down makes it less. the thought of inking it out seemed likely to bring it to reality, but it didn’t, it trapped it there on the page and revealed it for what it was (semi-coherent, clutching at straws). strings of word theory, strung out and round and round, yarns unravelled. maybe there’s an analogue with what circles and pentagrams are about, for those chalking them down to experience. people playing with magic, or the ones claiming they’re doing something real with it. maybe they are. maybe so are the people sitting at their notepads and keypads. we are creating the frameworks within which the mad things we think can take on some kind of meaning. but reading it back, that truth proves elusive.

Best laid schemes oft gang a-right also.

The good news is that the bike was ready for action. As I lifted the solitary item leaned up against it, I’m sure I heard it sigh in an eye-rolling, about-time manner.

Not quite the layers of boxes, tarpaulin, timber, abandoned plastic garden toys and spiders that I recalled. Funny how those little pictures build up in the brain, scenarios expanding and contracting. Proof if it were needed that memory can be contingent and unreliable…

Like, also not remembering to check the weather until exiting the house. Ah, forecast schmorecast, I thought, wiping a stray drop from the screen. Pretty much stopped, hasn’t it? Well, it wasn’t raining at the precise second I left… As I sped off, pedalled and sploshed, I did recall, though, how much I heartily heart being on the bike.

The other good news is, it was chucking it down with some insistence by the time I returned 40 minutes later. Chilly, driving rain, getting fat and slushy… Obviously! So, an elemental giggle at the coincidence of intent and environment ensued. Proper, sock-wringing sodden, endorphin tickled. Just what I was after.

“… the winter’s sleety dribble” indeed!

😁 👍🏼👍🏼

Wednesday this week has been a day of tailbacks, raininess everywhere, brake lights blinking ahead. Stop signals throughout. OK, cosmos, thanks, yeah, I get it.

But, hey, y’know… double rainbow?

Not so bad.

Contains moderate hedge and bird peril.

Half term holiday. The last one of the year, in advance of the bigger holiday in the middle. The half term lengths that Summer had been preposterous, making a mockery of mathematics with a seven/three split. Staff and students alike finished the last week of the seven in a state of wide-eyed exhaustion. Next week, he thought, we return to a nothingy three week session, to be packed with last minute exam revision for those students that just realised this isn’t a drill, gimmicky distraction projects for the lower years, and assorted frantic loose end set text conclusion… all this in between preparing for next year, school trips and celebration assemblies.

Yeah, quite enjoyable,really, but a lot to do. I love having conversations about this with a particular pal of mine, as all he hears is “I have another week off now, then in three weeks I have another long holiday”. It supports his comically reductive line that teachers start at 9am and finish at 3.30 five days a week, sit down to enjoy lavish vacations for months on end, and generally live a cosseted Life of Reilly in the Land of the Cushy Numbers, unlike people with proper jobs. \n

Of course, his pose is marred somewhat by a role as a freelance graphic designer, whose social media updates speak of a life permanently plugged in, yet with ample time to draft epic responses, including well-chosen gif accompaniments; where working from home means every day is by default a day off; his whole calendar a matter of choice, dictated only by how much time one feels like spending on resizing pictures of cartoon teachers to fit the page.

Tee hee! Soon, though, I will in fact be luxuriating in the time-riches of a quite extensive holiday, yes, to be fair. And that means time to get at the garden. There are lots of little jobs becoming bigger jobs by the day: clusters of weeds emboldened by neglect, piles of wood accumulating with no firm designs for their future… and The Hedge.

[FX: Dramatic chords]

The so-called week off so far has been spent locked in combat with an extensive thicket round the perimeter. As regular readers may recall, we rent, but devote care and attention to our fortunate-to-have-it outside space. This hedge, though. 30-odd metres of privet. I am told it was originally maintained at about chest height, but since those fabled times it has transmuted into cyclopean ramparts the like of which might send a rational mind into a fever dream of unutterable intensity. F’tagen. It is my bête vert.

It is also about nine feet high, at least two feet higher than it should be. So shockingly high that I have switched measurement systems in my bewilderment. Most of April and May has been a write-off for good gardening weather, and many of the plants we put in at the start of the year are kind of wheezing their way out of the ground. Two feet of shadow on the hedge side is no help.

Effecting this trim is easier said than done, though. Some of the inner branches are the thickness of the base of my thumbs. Even the electric clippers’ battery has had enough, sending me pithy commentary on the process when it should be charging.

Still, it was progressing… but then, aaagh, I inadvertently exposed a nest with two baby sparrows in it. Rapidly-downed tools, hasty re-covering action, and a rethink. An important gardening lesson learned there: know your local birds’ mating seasons and nesting habits, and check foliage carefully before commencing any pruning.

I’ve started again from the top end, away from the entrance. And, happy ending: the parent birds returned within 20 minutes of the privet toupee being pushed into place.

Time off also means a bit more opportunity to attend to things like writing. The Pomera caught my eye last week, via the Offscreen Dispatch newsletter.

An E-ink Typewriter, a distraction-free composition tool, the spec on Kickstarter says it does calendar and spreadsheets, etc, has lengthy battery life, and comes with spiffy folding keyboard for portability.

It has a pleasingly retro appearance: bit clunky looking and partially techy; portable and does the jobbish? A Psion organiser sort of scenario. They have been available in Japan for 10 years, also a retrograde quality (for people in the west, at least, with notions along the lines of “Ah, Japan! Land of the Near Future!” etc). The kit is priced at an ‘early days of video’ level – something that seems stratospherically high for what it can actually do. The price point for the English version is about £300, which has something of the super keen, well-off early adopters-only about it.

This kind of put me off a little entire amount.

In the skint teacherish absence of shiny fresh toys, then, I’m writing this on a decrepit Asus Aspire One. Eight years old. Intel Atom inside (TM, etc). Weeeell… It’s good for typing on? I can even do spreadsheets, but if I start asking it to do other stuff one might take for granted from even a half-decent smartphone in 2018, it starts freaking out and seizing up, like a middle aged man in the throes of a back spasm. By “other stuff”, I mean run a web browser, for example. An attempted update of Firefox made it wander off into another room to forget what it was doing there for about forty minutes. Chrome fared even worse (still out looking for its car in a neighbouring street, I think). It’s probably for the best. So, here I am using WriteMonkey, which the Acer at least seems able to handle without waving a hand frantically and gesturing vaguely over its shoulder.

This week’s sunny weather and border landscaping saw outside basking prioritised over content consumption anyway. I note with interest that Penelope Lively’s Moon Tiger is up for the Golden Booker prize. The Booker of All Bookers (whatever) is to be announced on 8th July, which gives me time to read the version I have hidden in a box somewhere beforehand, and maybe Midnight’s Children as well, which also sits awaiting interest.

Shelves. I’ve fallen into a nice rhythm with bits of the KonMari Method. “You’ve got to have a system!” (H.Hill) Originally, I had confidently expected the process to be done in a couple of weeks, scoffing at the slow six months suggested in the supporting literature (gleaned from a cursory skim through the website, I mean).

Yet, faced with boxes opened, looked through, deemed essential, re-lidded, then re-opened and re-appraised in fits of ‘No, come on, seriously…’ I have come to appreciate the *extended project-ness* of it all.

A lifetime habit of accumulating tat will require more than a simple act of abandonment, much as I enjoy those. I keep finding books from old flames and forgotten friends, and all those need to be attended to properly. Marie Kondo’s concept of resacralising is an interesting aspect, but, as Edgar Poe suggested, whenever people talk about the supernal oneness, there’s never a word said about the infernal twoness. I’ve found there’s an element of exorcism to undergo as well. Thankfully short on pea soup projectile vomiting, though, at least so far. This is probably because I’ve started with the “papers” bit of “books and papers”, in a somewhat craven act of alphabetical chicanery.

Finally for this week, I’m publishing *just about* in time to share my annual appreciation of the high and windy genius that is The Paragons, “Riding High on a Windy Day”.

Rock never came any steadier. I wear a smile upon my face, anyway.

Super. Saturday, sunshine…

So, scant scribbling, sorry!

Given the ongoing cloud cover in northern Britain, today I was reliant on the handy Phases of the Moon app to let me know there was a new moon this morning. How apposite, I thought, we’re up to N, start of the week… thematic coherence in light of some of the recent posts…

… it was going to be some thing about symbolic resonance, all that. Then I remembered it sounds better in French.

La, la lune est libre, je crois…

(Stereolab – Lo Boob Oscillator)

Today I did behold a lemon and upon its label were there inscribed the names of Imazalil and Thiabendazole. Purchasing this cursèd fruit and spiriting it from the market, I was able swiftly to neutralize it within an admixture of quinine and a reduction of juniper water. Then I did betake to my study to further examine this phenomenon.

I have begun these, my Notes Towards a Grimoire of Contemporary Spirits Whose Powers May or May Not Be Trusted.

1. Imazalil

2. Thiabendazole

3. Triticonazole

4. Tebuconazole

5. Glyphosate

6. Thiacloprid

7. Metaldehyde

8. Cypermethrin

9. Abamex

10. Isomek

11. Kunshi

12. Sokol

13. Tropotox

Let it be known then that their ranks do extend yet further, and while capable each of great boon even so do they offer a bane for their unintended actions upon the other plants and creatures of the air, water, and earth.


On the Rites of the Summoning of the Mouthdaemon, M.S.G.

Having just gone back to work after two weeks off, the mood is positive. This is despite the continuing attempts of the weather systems bothering the UK to impose a pathetic fallacy of doom and angst. Every time it seems to be clearing up some fresh annoyance sweeps in. The reason then, for this upbeat demeanour, in the face of our shit northern climate? It is due to a feeling, actively nurtured, of letting go of some things.

Holidays are a good time to take stock, and Easter holidays are traditionally a good time for Spring cleaning. With a succession of weather fronts Setting In, we were less able than usual to throw open the windows, air the sheets, give walls a lick of paint, then pop down the river to visit a rodent pal.

However, we (me and The Best Belovèd) did spend a good deal of time looking at the shelves, as detailed in the Books post (2nd April just then), and the cupboards, making plans to shed a ton of baggage. This is a fact moonlighting as a metaphor; we have a weight of stuff accumulated, between us. I’m not sure if it’s worse or better that we keep a bunch of extra stuff in an attic space (another dual function phrase).

The precise purpose of holding on to most of it is unclear. I mean – sure, that’s 14 boxes of books… But, that’s 14 boxes of books!

Hoarding is something one tends to associate with those sad cases who are found dead under 50 years’ worth of Daily Mirror back issues, knocked out by a collapsed stack of Dolmio jars, stifled in the dust of a lifetime’s unemptied ashtrays. Not parsimony, not Scrooge McMean avarice… just an inability to shed? Yet here we are, with a bunch of consumer goods, that escape uselessness by the narrowest of annotated margins. Or that vault effortlessly over boundaries of taste and meaning from a realm of slightly boss-eyed whimsy. Exhibit K: a 7″ single of Kylie Minogue’s I Should Be So Lucky, which I am fairly confident I have kept for the sole reason that if you play it at 33 rpm it sounds a teensy bit like Rick Astley:

How we passed the time in 1987.

Happily, there are remedies for this kind of low-level symptom of late capitalism. A few years back I wrote something about psychological benefits found in setting fire to old notebooks. Clearly my sentiment is not so incorrigible that it can’t be combatted with a well-timed radical gesture. …I’m not going to burn all the books! Not that radical. But as the holidays drew to a close, a moment of clarity enveloped the house, and various schemes – and, crucially, motivated enthusiasm – for riddance took hold.

Here’s to the enduring joys of bibliophilia, of record collecting, whatever the little indulgences in items that foster joy and devotion… but here’s also to being able to see and accept when something could quite easily be got rid of, never seen again, and remain unmourned.

“…my god, it’s full of tat.”

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