As part of the Great Clear Out, boxes full of things are being dislodged from their dust foundations and unlidded.

It would be great to announce the uncovering of some neglected but promising manuscript of a novel, an unfinished play, pretty fragments of verse, all ripe for renovation… there are many shards, but a well-decorated commode was still a commode.

I am quite taken by some of the clippings I’ve acquired, including this, from Vox magazine:

May 1994. I think it’s the slightly distrustful tone combined with wide-eyed wonder at the strange promise of the future.

You’ll soon be able to buy standard sized, five-inch discs that will play music and VHS-quality pictures (with the right system from Amiga, Macintosh and so on, of course).

Amiga, Macintosh and so on, of course. Never mind the march of technology – 24 years later, the very notion of wanting to keep something you’ve paid for seems quite retrograde.

So, yeah, it’s mostly going in the recycling.

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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.”

Eurovision is broadcasting this evening, normally a must-watch, but we have no TV this year. I wrote this 12 years ago, please bear with the slightly ponderous sub-academic vibe. Edited for semicolon use.

Visions of Europe
The Eurovision Song Contest 2004

Once more a carefully orchestrated attempt to bring together the peoples of the northern single-figured longitudes. Once more the TV screens glow in Eurovision. It’s a hopelessly hopeless and dated concept, peddling tat tunes that even the makers of Pop Idol would probably have a hard time tolerating, sung by identikit babes and David Gray balladeers, all ground out in a framework of drink-shiny bonhomie, mutual backslapping and strategic voting… but this view belies the reality. Through the layers of Formica, Eurovision is a reassuring throwback/continuation of a pan-European ideal of community. More than that, it transcends its own perceived cheesiness through the gleeful self-awareness of the participants.

Participants includes the commentary, provided in Britain by Terry Wogan, may choirs of angels sing his name. During the long night’s festivities he was always close to the microphone with timely sneers, lyrical exegesis and predictive scoring, often with a kind of eerie Nostradamus-level accuracy. Essentially, Mr Wogan plays the role of the drunken uncle passing scathing comment at the wedding party with all the aplomb of a genuine genius drunken uncle; however it is clear that he, like the contestants, like we, bothers to turn up because he actually likes the whole pseudo-embarrassing rigmarole. Pseudo-embarrassing because it’s meant to be profoundly dislikeable, and powerfully uncool, and yet it is massively endearing, and popular. It’s the faded romance of Vienna, the look of Berlin in a spy film from the sixties: the word ‘Eurovision’ has a cosy air of nostalgia swinging from its faded signage, like ‘Transworld Consortium’, all beautiful semi-utopian futuristic aspiration and simultaneous clunky anachronism and complete inadequacy to confer meaning.

More importantly, especially in the face of institutionalised Europhobia attempting to convince the people of Britain that all Europeans wish to move into the spare room and maliciously straighten bananas, it gives us a valuable taste of what ‘being in Europe’ is really like. The shared sense of trotting out these dismal songs has become a kind of exercise in onedownmanship. It’s clear that Terry is not the only person to see the Eurovision experience as a great opportunity to take the piss out of the neighbours, getting hopelessly drunk on their retsina, dancing on the lawn at three in the morning before turning down a nude sauna with the Jonssons from number six.

None of the participants, I believe, think they’re creating important or lasting works of art, although there has to be a collective desire to unleash another song with the Ikean efficiency and sheer majestic visionary splendour of ABBA’s ‘Waterloo’. About halfway through the voting, as Terry trenchantly reminded us, it was clear there weren’t going to be any prizes for template tampering in Turkey. The songs were mostly disco-lite stompers for the clubs of the north west, or hopeless sub-Bryan Adams balladeering (UK, I’m talking to you), or Wogan-baiting chicks in leather bikini outfits (eventual winners Ukraine).Host nation Turkey’s attempt at a kind of Manu Chao-meets-The Offspring ska-punk, complete with tartan trews and large tattoos, was at least a diversion from the standard synthed strings and guitar miming. The singer’s best contribution was raising the blood pressure of the producers, responding to the surely stoned Green Room interviewer woman’s ‘anything to say?’ with a shouted ‘peace , love and respect!’

Ultimately, though, the contest tries to transcend these problems of the real world. The aim is a kind of family variety show in which something surprisingly nice might happen but essentially it’s all about the taking part. Of the 36 participating countries, sensibly only 18 were actually allowed to take part, thus lessening the possibility of a country receiving no votes at all. Indeed, despite the generally uninspired performances, the vibe was all Big New Europe handshaking. It was a far cry from the pointed politics of last year’s contest, where Iraq-bound UK got nul points. Such antics were put aside in favour of a kind of reassertion of familial fairness. We watched in horror as the voting drew to a close and ‘plucky’ Norway were still floundering on zero; in popped the Swedish jury with a lagom three points and no one went home empty handed. Terry Wogan, mad with Bailey’s and feigned boredom, presumably went off to consume some strong black coffee and then frug with the Jonssons. We marvelled at the distraction and uncorked another bottle of Spanish red, toasting community.

An email from the school librarian informs staff that full access to JSTOR through SharePoint is now available again.

Again? I didn’t know we’d had it. No matter. Such joys! Barely control my fingers as I click… Can it be..?

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…’tis true!

Well, there goes the afternoon.

Four boxes of comics to sort out this evening. See what’s for keeping and what’s for redistribution.

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Factor in distractive reading and this job may be finished by Sunday…

Reader, I must apologise for being somewhat dilatory in my quest to bring novel items to the Mortal Bath. To paraphrase both Margaret Thatcher and Prince – and you don’t get to hear that very often – we are a father, and she’s the most beautiful girl in the world.

Thusly, reader, bear with. I do have a few up-to-date articles in the taps but can’t promise a publication date, as we’re baby busy… and these DVDs of Fringe won’t watch themselves, obviously. Anyway, to help sustain my throughput ratios, I have been ransacking the archives.

When I first started exploring the world of self-publishing, I was inspired by zines and writing about zines, writing about music, dancing about architecture, as I’ve detailed in previous posts. My first effort was nine issues of a zine called ‘Thingy’, between 1996 and 2003. Of variable size and quality, more of an annual, really, ‘Kind of like a stoned Reader’s Digest, yeah?’ as I termed it at the time.

The name was intended to indicate the wide, vague and catholic selection of content, and was only partly chosen for its properties of innuendo. Alright, it was pretty much completely chosen for its properties of innuendo. “Have you seen Markwoff’s Thingy this month?” etc. Heh – what can I say? The foot of Python, and for that matter the thingy of Blackadder, have always loomed large and influential.

Looking back on my output when 23-ish-years-old, there is much that is dissatisfactory in Thingy. That vagueness of the title is reflected in the quality of much of the writing, which is often slap-dash and lacking polish. I am also struck by how far I am from many of the preoccupations, how much closer I am to some (in understanding and affection), but mostly I’m struck by the shoddy construction. [Michel Roux voice and emphasis:] “It’s awful!”

However, some of the pieces still make me chuckle, and need only a little grinding and sanding. On a semi-regular basis, then, I shall present some of these Thingy items as archive pieces. As Ben Six suggests in a recent space-filling retrospective, maybe not something of which to make a habit – although, as an aside, I would probably be quite happy with a reputation as the ‘Status Quo of blogs’. It would mean that I had at some point in my career done something in writing as simple, direct and awesome as this:

Ladies and gentlemen, the Quo.

Anyway, that’s the preamble. First up (for ‘Thingy Thursday’? Or ‘Fingy Friday’, more accurately, given the tardiness?), I offer a speculative fiction double feature of that great Lost Civilisation sitcom, Graham and Santha.