On the anniversary of what we can say for certain was Shakespeare’s death, 23rd April, The Mortal Bath presents a brief yet helpful guide to some of the Immortal Bard’s greatest works.

Julius Caesar

“Beware the Ides of March”, said the soothsayer, to confusion in Caesar’s train. This cryptic and seemingly inconsequential message means little to a man poised on the verge of wresting total control of Rome’s cutthroat world of salad dressings. Unfortunately, within the leafy confines of the Capitol, feelings of dislike for Caesar run high as his ambitions grow. During Rome’s fine-dining contest ‘A Dish for the Gods’, Caesar falls victim to assassination. The conspiracy is led by his closest friend Bluto, who bludgeons him to death with a can of spinach.

Othello

Also known as Otello, and William Tello in the Swiss version, this tragedy explores some of Elizabethan Britain’s fanciful and often frankly bollocks notions of race. Brabantio’s famous description of Othello as a ‘base Moor/ black enough of blackness that may suffer/ therein or may not a burned hotness’ remains powerful and undiminished centuries later despite being utterly incomprehensible. The plot of the play concerns a luckless general in the Venetian cavalry, recently returned from manoeuvres with the Swiss Navy. Othello falls prey to the machinations of Iago, who resents him for having more consonants in his name. Through a series of diabolical intrigues, and diabolical audience asides, Iago implicates Othello’s wife, Desmonddecker, in an affair with Cassio, Othello’s lieutenant. Othello slays his wife for playing the trumpet in his bed. Cassio has the last laugh as he lends his name to a range of cheap electrical products.

The Merchant of Venice

Shy Lock and his brothers Chubb and Mortice aim to utterly control the slatted blinds market in Italy. In a complex sequence of financial shenanigans, he loans Antonio, who owns a fleet of ships, 3,000 ducats to secure Bassoonio a wife, but insists on forfeiture of the loan being paid in ‘a pound of flesh’. In addition to the problems created by these ambiguous terms, in the event the pound of flesh is devalued in the wake of strikes by dockers and the ongoing Eurozone crisis. Shylock eventually leaves Venice when his Porsche is impounded following a successful counter-lawsuit. Critical arguments regarding Shakespeare’s apparently heavy-handed anti-Semitism have led many to suggest that The Merchant of Venice is better categorised as a ‘problem play’ than a comedy. Yet it was of course the success of this farce that led Shakespeare to compose ‘Good Morning Copenhagen!’, a screwball effort that fell foul of the compositors and was rendered virtually unrecognisable as the unplayable, unwatchable, dour four hour text marathon ‘Hamlet’.

What to say: “The quality of mercy is not strained.”
What not to say: “What’s up doge?”

Timon of Athens

Generations have been charmed by this tale of a lowly meerkat, who fights prejudice to rise to a prominent role in the democratic Greek ekklesia. This play is also noted for introducing the word ‘simples’ to the English language.

Antony and Cleopatra

One of Shakespeare’s more mature works, this is one of a grouping known in the canon as “conjunction plays,” along with Romeo and Juliet, Troilus and Cressida and Titus and Ronicus. The famous couple in this story meet during a time of great tension for Rome; Marc Antony has left his wife, Jennylopia, and has taken up with Cleopatra in Egypt, to the dismay of his fellow Triumvirs Octavius and Lepidus. Lepidus in particular seethes with resentment, although this may be due partially to his having the same name as a virulent skin disorder. It is only a matter of time before Cleopatra and Antony’s relationship collapses under public scrutiny; on Antony’s death, Cleopatra drifts into a bizarre twilight world of insanity, marketing her own perfume, Asp, with which she later drinks herself to death. It is difficult to have any sympathy for the character of Enobarbus, whose name is remembered to this day as a constituent ingredient of Diet Coke. He is viewed as a bridge between the Egyptian and Roman worlds, finally dying when trampled by a cohort taking a shortcut back from Actium. Shakespeare was unapologetic about any of this. ‘I do but write ’em as I do see ’em,’ he told his wife, Anne of Green Gables.

This brief, yet helpful, guide to Shakespeare has been in my files for a long while. I’ve actually lost the hand-written original, which I’m sure had several other works in it, but that’s Shakespeare for you. There’ll be a Quarto and Folio edition.

As well as Shakeymas, I was inspired to dust it off by some holiday homework submitted by a Year 8 class I teach. Asked to research and write about three Shakespearean villains, they all went straight to Google and put in ‘shakespeare villains’. Then they all went to either toptenz.net or Shakespeare Online for their lists of baddies. The top two search results. Then they all picked the goriest sounding villains.

I know all this because a) I checked and b) they all copied virtually the same three sections word for word. Still, at least I got to do a stern address about the difference between creative use of resources and plagiarism. So yes. I do hope that unchecked reference to the aforegoing gets someone’s knuckles rapped for being a lazy sod.

So, the other week I put on a promoter hat and organised this gig:

The image on the poster is off one of the walls at Castle Howard, and I’m sorry to say I’m not sure of the artist (although it is possibly Antonio Pellegrini). For the actual gig, it was great to have my mate L’s band through playing, as well as an excellent other set from Etai Keshiki, with York duo …And the Hangnails offering a really great set of what turned out to be, indeed, heavy blunk (Can’t help myself dept: whimsical mashing of the words ‘blues’ and ‘punk’ which someone had used to describe them). We had a compère and everything.

Aside from the venue business, trite wordplay and some flyering, I took the opportunity to re-animate a zine I shelved a few years ago. The zine is called Conductive Jelly, which appeals to me more and more as a title the more and more I roll it around. Here is an extract from the first Conductive Jelly (2005), explaining the name:

This pamphlet gets its name from the intriguing list of instruments played throughout Matmos’ dizzying The Civil War collection. It’s used on the track “the struggle against unreality begins”. This is what Conductive Jelly #1 was inspired by:

“This song began when our friend Keenan Lawler sent us a recording he had made of himself playing a steel guitar in a sewer pipe underneath Louisville, Kentucky. We liked the idea of “sound in a tube” so we paired Keenan’s noises with the sound of blood in Martin’s carotid artery. To gather that sound we borrowed an ultrasonic doppler flow detector from the Exploratorium, rubbed conductive jelly on Martin’s neck and then angled the flow detector against his skin, picking up the blood flow as interference which sounded rather like a 70’s modular synth.”

[A link I included in CJ1 originally is now broken, but at time of typing you can read about Matmos here: http://brainwashed.com/matmos%5D

This delayed edition of Conductive Jelly had further blurb:

In 2005, Conductive Jelly #4 was supposed to be completed. Musical happenings in Leeds & otherwards, some commentary, some abstractions…

(Conductive Jelly was basically word scribbles inspired by groovy music from the globe and the then music scene blooming algally from LS12 (“Twice as cool as LS6!”). From sound and into text, attempting to bring forth little science fictions, quests for lost civilisations, allusions to the supernal oneness of the spacetime universe and the infernal twoness of quotidian existence here on earth in the early part of the 21st century…

…there was a manifesto plotted, maybe I should have scribbled it down too, but I think it was along the lines of the most music & art (as in ‘This is, like, THE MOST, dad, y’dig?’) being transient, anti careerist, spontaneous livin…

…driving it all was a fear that we might end up like Jonathan Pryce’s character Sam Lowry in Brazil, dreaming of escape to the forest even while being tortured slowly to death because the form was filled in properly…)

…time passes…

…moves to new cities, jobs, schools, came and went… music periodically wafts life into the smouldering embers of hope. Six years later to nearly the day, round the spiral, provoked by a gig in Leeds that put boot to bits, Conductive Jelly is reborn.

The purpose remains to explore strange new soundworlds, all that Star Trek spangled psychotic reactions fiery elephant dung thing, based, at this time, here in York.

I may engage in some future amalgamatification of all blogs, zines and written ventures into some uber-website/book crossover project, but I’m not in a great rush to that. Next week, I start teaching high school English, something I am approaching with approximately equal measures of keen enthusiasm, abject terror, web-based browse denial and an unprecedented – for me – flurry of writing activity.

Meanwhile, here are some photos from the gig. The low lighting and my HTC Hero didn’t get on brilliantly, but well enough to capture the noise & movement, as well as the Red Room/Black Lodge-esque stage of the Basement Bar at York’s City Screen.

Eagles-related discussion. "No, '...AND The Hangnails'."

Castrato Attack Group. Your argument is invalid.

Disorientate the photographer: Etai Keshiki, at the Fenton

Apologies to Etai Keshiki, for whom none of the photos on the night came out as more than a hardcore screamo blur, appropriate though that might be… the photo of EK here is from a gig at the Fenton, which was put on by Big Spaceship Presents. Big Spaceship is well worth a look, as they dig a gargantuan groove. With which I concur, like, the most.

I haven’t written anything for a while, and I’m not sure if my voice is going to sound gravelly or squeaky when it does come out. If I’m croaky or grumpy or boring or some other dwarf, bear with.

Instead of getting straight out of bed this morning, when my brain started buzzing at 05.30, I turned and tossed, trying different pillow combinations. For the first time in weeks, knowing I had a bit of holiday time, I let myself enjoy the wake-up noises. The birds. The way sleeping dreams bring your undealt with waking preoccupations into focus, and also deposit wyrd unbidden shit in front of you with a Derren Brown smile. You go ‘uhh?’ as you wake up and reach for the water with one and a half-eyes open. I wonder why I’m referring to myself in the second person. Distant early morning sound of bottle avalanche into recycling bins outside. It’s echoed a few seconds later by a closer sound a few octaves down, a deeper intake of breath through the nose as J turns over in her sleep. The fridge fanning itself as I sink into the sofa is a little like the five tone synth refrain in the song Come Home by James.

Family and personal matters, musical pasts and future love scenarios surfacing, jumping out of the primordial soup, crouton dolphins… I cannot take any of this too seriously, one of two blue tits just flew into the roof of the balcony, really cracking its head. Flew off tweeting grumpily. Its colleague remained on the feeder looking baffled for a second, and I giggled. Sorry, blue tit! The local birds always set off some latent Basil Fotherington-Thomas whimsy, which is always great for cheering the mind.

Right, wakey. It’s 06.14 where I am. Heat wave weekend gives way to grey Monday skies, as it should be. It looks like it may rain this morning. I came to suddenly about 30 minutes ago, assisted by the precessional cycle of birdsong: an alarum of tits, crows, blackbirds, collared doves, pigeons, sparrows, larks ascending. I’m making the larks up, I don’t think we have any larks.

Larks! I actually woke up from an exciting Inception-esque nested surreality escapade, in which I spotted an old friend I had recently dreamed about and excitedly began telling them about how I’d dreamed about them the other day, and it must have been a sign… We went round the old school, discussing his academic progress, then ended up going to a music festival. DS, if you can decipher any of this collared dove-addled memory game bollocks, and why you might keep featuring in it, get in touch.

Some of it was me mind harking back to some recent massive music broadcast extravaganza or other. Watching Glastonbury Festival on TV, I couldn’t put my finger on what was so awful about it [beat]… Of course, it was the omnipresence, the forced amazingness of it all, the ‘Last Night of the Proms in wellies’ Spiked noted drily. Stuff like the embarrassingly desperate performance from U2, Coldplay’s blandness still ruling the world: a towering, entirely wet latte of decaffeinated syrupy goo… Beyonce and Janelle Monae sort of saving the day for pop (insert diacritics pun here)… but as I woke up it was the apocalyptic tinny radio sound of Jessie J, echoing around a deserted, dried-up campsite, ‘It’s not about the money, money, money’, this unconvincing Kenobi-Orwellian mantra stuck on an increasingly deranged loop, wafting around the discarded tents, spent barbecues, H&M trilbies crushed into the mud, flowers in the dustbin.

Ah, maybe we’ll come back to “the music”. Cultural and metacultural analyses excite me not recently, among the reasons I don’t post as much here. These come from a number of different angles in my polyhedral wonderbrain. Reading too much, for several. I just finished teacher training (woop!), so I’m relaxing by, er, reading more… all over boingboing, 3QD, the Daily Grail, indymedia, TED, like I just worked out what the internet was for. But for my own lack of commentary, as if I owe or anyone requires an apology, soz.

I’ve realised that it’s perhaps just that my filters have improved. As an enthusiastic yet undisciplined zine maker & writer, in the past I felt personally moved to opine at the slightest provocation, often taking as little as months to vent my spleen. Now, though… I can’t bring myself to pass remark on everything that happens in the level of detail I used to. I don’t get as annoyed about ephemeral stuff for as long… and on global issues, say, neo-imperial intercession in Libya, I think I’ve been pretty consistent about the non-value of warring, and I start to feel like a one note samba dancer on a planet full of military two-steppers. As if I owe or anyone requires my opinion in the scheme of things, if scheme there is, if things there be.

All that twopenn’orth commentary nonsense is what I’ve been using Twitter for: look at this shit/shiny, shorturl, grumble/enthuse, forget about it.

Then, ah, then you see, glib Western modernity malaise, then I get all angsty about my lack of engagement. See, music, for a good example, used to be the most important thing in the world for me. My fixes of Select, Melody Maker, NME, my own forays into zines… becoming Audiogalaxy and Soulseek and the other online paradises where musical weed grows by the side of the road. A time of consciousness expansion, a never-ending DMT rush through decades of different sounds, digital cities, skyscrapers of folders, mountains of bits… then proselytised by digital hip priests, academic ruination, the curse of over-reading, Pitchfork-wielding hipster mob at my castle gates… gnashing my teeth in my sleep then waking up to soaked sheets in relief, in realisation that it was all a side-effect of my consumption and computing, coming full circle to love the pop, hate the culture, something like that, allowing that feeling of being lost in music, perking up to get down for a good tune when it happens, but not being so fucking uptight about it.

Happily, along with the wordy tech/esoterica reading, I keep stumbling upon and tumbling into good stuff, through KEKW, Julian Cope, etc. I am slowly making my noise with the world of music again. That rumble in the chest.

Further manifestations of having time for writing will occur, but yeah, that’s how it was this morning.

Imagine our* surprise on picking up the free newspaper yesterday!

The story made for compelling reading.

*Thanks to J for District Line workshop hysteria and doing the fiddly bit with the image software, among countless other wonderfulnesses. xx

Non-soccer fans not wanting to read something all about le foot may wish to look away now.

Today was the official closure of the first Transfer Window of the year in the UK, which was again being treated by the BBC and Sky Sports News (generally the two most reliable sources of soccertainment upon our sceptred isle) as the Single Most Gripping Thing to Happen in Association Football.

Perhaps the nadir of rolling news non-event sports journalism filler, the reportage throughout today was particularly poor. First of all, setting up a relatively recent innovation as something footie fans have been eagerly anticipating since the days of Sir Stanley Matthews is disingenuous and more than a little reminiscent (in its sickly enforced carnival excitement) of the Seasonal Red Cups at Starbucks “tradition” campaign.

Second, the posts on both the Beeb‘as it happens’ and Sky’s Clockwatch took on a tone of holiday camp enthusiasm, the typing on the tickers speaking of reporters all wearing a rictus of desperation as non-event after non-event spattered their empty chat room walls with rotten eggs, tomatoes, shite.

Witness the BBC this morning:

1154: Is it just me, or is one done deal graphic for five hours work a touch on the disappointing side? Worry ye not, though – it just means there are more to come. Plenty more. Is everyone you know getting involved yet?

Glossing over the graphics – technology now allowing us to assign a whimsical little icon for every possible permutation of non-event, such as the flying pig for ‘wild rumours’ – and the concluding plaintive and misguided attempt at whipping up some, any, interest, however, it must be noted that plenty was not forthcoming. It was not, if you will allow some abysmal football-related wordplay, even top ten finishing or relegation battling. Fast forward to:

1701: Of course, there’s bound to be stuff going on we still don’t know about. There’s just bound to be. Or I can just get my coat and leave…

…and you can almost hear the hiss of the toaster in the bath, Brian. At least the BBC were trying to lighten the tone by admitting it was watching-Johnstone’s-Paint-dryingly dull. Over on Sky, the channel that arguably invented modern football and take it VERY SERIOUSLY, in the way that people with buckets of cash depending on the issue will tend to, the tone was much more studied:

15.19 Sky Sports News understands that Valencia midfielder Ever Banega will not be making a deadline day loan switch to Everton.

That “understands” was priceless. It must have been so dismal in the Sky News Room having to cover what essentially amounts to a bunch of faxes being sent between lawyers that any attempt at intrigue was to be encouraged. How do you make nothing happening interesting? Over to Jeff Stelling:

“Exciting news from Merseyside there; our sources suggest that there is confirmation nothing is also happening at Ewood Park – Charlie.”
“That’s right, Jeff, nothing IS happening here in Blackburn. Nothing was rumoured to be taking place earlier on, and we can now verify that to be the case.”
“Great stuff, Charlie! Now, over to Jim at the Stadium of Light, where there’s nothing happening… can you illuminate us, Jim?”

Etc etc etc.

Eventually, it became obvious that the only way to liven up the Traditional Excitement would be to have the hapless hacks at the BBC and Sky covering each other’s updates:

16.55 Sky Sports News believes that the BBC suggests Svensson is NOT going to Bradford on loan, we understand we can reveal.

One could have gone on for, oh, 8.5 hours or something. Easy! Easy!

Full transcript (translation) of “Soliciting Purr” Tape

CAT: Hey… Hey. Hi. Hey, hiya handsome! Mmmm, you’re looking snuggly. You’re so cute, I just want to put my paw on you. Hee hee!

Oh! Is that… forward of me? I’m so bad. [frisking noises]

Mmmm, but you look so good! I just want to rub up against you… would that be okay? Hmmm, handsome?

Oh, I’m so, so bad! [Frisking noises]

But you… you make me such a skittish kitten. Hee hee! Say, that tickles. Mmmm, you make me so… hungry.

Yes, hungry. I feel like I could really… eat something. Hmmm? Whaddyasay, handsome. Something yummy in my tummy?

Oh, you’re so good with your hands! Mmmm, make me so huuungry, hungry to be fuuuull

You know how a tin opener works, don’t ya big guy? You just sink in the teeth and slowly… turn…”

Etc, etc, etc