Corona Diary: 1

So, the world changes, irrevocably.

I keep refreshing the news and Twitter until I feel slightly nauseous, my own sense of unease and powerlessness building.  Leah Finnegan’s writing at The Outline seems to be to unusual perceptive and her piece, “The internet is making me sick” was a great read that I recommend you make time for.  There was, quite obviously, something very unusual before this global pandemic about our relationship with the internet, with ‘new’ media, with the social networks.  Much has been written, amongst the chattering classes and by theorists trying to work out what exactly the substance of these changes is.  But now that state of unusual behaviour and its pathology in mental and physical illnesses is in overdrive, with every second a chancee to lever in an update, a hot take, a command or perform some moral piety via a tweet.  The idea that two ideas could exist in the same space is steamrollered by a binary brinkmanship.  The American Id, Donald Trump, rides the wave.

I bought a box of beer online, being as all the pubs are now shut.  I have been working my way through them and trying to review them, and I’ll try to update here.  I checking in to ‘Untappd’ of course, but somehow that isn’t enough.  I need to laboriously detail the drinks in overwritten prose.  I need space to talk about the resinous tastes and bitter hops, the sweet and sour ‘mariage parfait’ of the lambic sour.  I’ll post artful pictures alongside them in the hope that my social cachet and intellectual standing will increase – which of course, it won’t.

I started with an IPA – it was called something or other, I forget.  It tasted fine and wasn’t worth what I paid for it. I can’t really do this can I, in the face of such a huge moment in human history?  Write a beer blog or update people on my DIY projects?  Should I write purple prose, or carve out a novel that tries to synthesize the ‘lessons’ that I am learning?  Is it okay to accept that this is perhaps beyond comprehension, and that the ordinary response is a sort of half-numbness, a slowness and heaviness in thought and action as the genuinely epoch-making actions of lockdown and quarantine bend an entire generation out of shape – perhaps permanently?  I am sure that Frantzen and McEwan are hard at work writing the Great Q-Tine Novel, and there will be an explosion of literature out of this.  But I am not sure I … care?  I feel like we’re getting closer to the truth when I can be honest with myself about this.  But the more truths that are uncovered, the more work that is done here, the harder it will be to row back.


Bono’s Kid

A friend asked if I wanted to go along to a gig later this year. The band that are playing are called Inhaler, so off I went to look them up. It turns out the band are fronted by Bono’s youngest son, who in voice and looks bears an uncanny resemblance to the big man. I listened to the band using a well-known streaming service. They haven’t put much material out but the songs that I did listen to are almost mid to late period U2, although the publicity machine around Inhaler claim the more street-cred generating Echo and the Bunnymen as a formative influence. I looked through the pictures of the Hewson clan, and realised that despite a boyhood mania for U2, stretching to playing their albums on repeat to the extent I can barely listen to them now, I hadn’t ever been remotely curious about Bono’s children. The web of course, has been curious on my behalf and has millions of pictures of them, as they grew up, went to parties, got papped and hung out with other rich kids. The mania over their ‘career choices’ had entire newspaper stories built around them.

It got me thinking about Bono Jr and his bands’ passage to this sound, this delivery, this cadence. The story is familiar enough to echo the lore, plausibly. Four guys meet at a school in Blackrock, Dublin. They make guitar music. They are signed to a deal. How is it possible to have avoided thirty years of music influence and end up sounding like post-POP U2, when U2 went ahead and ditched the experimentation and went solidly for the coin. The hauntology of vaporware, absent. The compression and sparsity of grime and drill, not there. Even the strides that guitar music has made aren’t there. There’s arguably more modernity in the 1975.

It seems all so boring – the band photographed lovingly by Anais Gallagher, daughter of Noel Gallagher, and forming a sort of already finished, already massive, road-ready and heavy rotation ready successor to U2. Rock dynasties. I mean, I guess plenty of young men follow in their father’s footsteps, and not all young men will have Paul Hewson as their father. But it’s an oddly modern tale, Bloomian anxieties of influence without the anxiety, just the cool, calm collected wearing of an inheritance like a comfortable silken slipper.

Some Thoughts on Digital Platforms and Accreditation


I recently spoke to an academic who is a Director of Research for a department at a sizeable institution.  Our conversation was broad ranging – from ideas for books to the notion of not having enough bookshelf space and through to Open Access.  Open Access always seems to come up, because it is, quite clearly, a huge issue.  It’s been over a decade since the initial manifestos and declarations in Budapest and Berlin.  In that time, the journals ecosystem has shifted hugely and the academic books world is now, at the time of writing, also undergoing seismic shifts.  We are seeing initiatives like Knowledge Unlatched gather steam, and fully open access presses like Ubiquity, UCL Press and White Rose University Press.

In the UK, we’ve had the Stern Review, published in 2016, and the Finch Report in 2012.  Both had elements that expressly dealt with open access.  The Finch Report recommended that open access become a central requirement of the (funded) academic output in the UK and the Stern Review dealt with the requirements of the next Research Excellent Framework and how open access might be mandated for inclusion.  So much, so familiar – this is has all been dealt with in so many places, and in so many ways, by the pro-open access lobby and the anti-open access lobby (that feels open access would be a bad thing for an already established publishing ecosystem).

Despite the tenor of the debate, even if the journal is open access, the path to accreditation at promotion panels is clear.  A journal article is put against someone’s name, and they become the Named Author.  An open access book is the same thing: people understand what a book is, and they know that, as long as the book has merit and is not vanity published or plagiarised, that it is a good thing.  ‘How good’ is matter that depends on the prestige of the press, the reception of the book in the outside world, the sales figures it accrues, the reviews it garners.  But we understand it.

What about a 8,000 word piece that goes onto an online platform (either free to access, or behind a subscription paywall)?  How is this rated, and how will this go down at panels?  In their rush to set these sorts of subscription platforms up, have publishers considered that academics might be wary of writing for cash payments, and for their work to be absorbed into a mass of millions of words?  Will these sorts of things be articles that are admissible to the research assessment frameworks that exist across the world?  How are the metrics of success to be extracted – clicks?  Numbers of subscribers (publishers are very, very reluctant to release this information)?  How is the reputation of the subscription platform to be judged – will we need some sort of ISI ranking for subs products?  They are incredibly varied, and it is case of compares apples with oranges for the most part.  This doesn’t even touch on the work that academics put in to MOOCs and online course materials.

I don’t propose to deliver answers here, but it is certainly something that I will be thinking about and writing about in the near future.  Please do get in touch with me if you’d like to contribute to that process.

90s, that thing you Do

When did it start and when did it end, this place inside of me that I call the 90s — as in, the 90s for me is a construct, right, not an actual time and a place (the place inside of me is a metaphorical place, a placelet to go along with the platelets and buy-to-lets that define our time)?  That time and place in real life (“irl”) is easily defined, as in, just look at the clock, and there it is, a range of times, a time span, defined by hours, minutes, seconds, making up a decade.  Even that is debatable.  Time is continuous, time as we know is contiguous units of (arbitrary) discrete intervals.  We know that time is flat, isn’t it?  There is no getting into a lift and heading up to a different floor of time.  I mean, this is me and my brother getting in a lift in an IBIS Budget in Birmingham.  We emerged on the same time plain (Digbeth).


But that prior time — that time of dial-up squawk preceeding my daily mail ‘delivery’, the mounting anxieties of the penny a minute internet bill, the empty places that were soundtracked by songs I listened to on the radio, on borrowed CDs from the library, on tapes – where does that time and place and essence live?  I didn’t know then what I know now.  I didn’t know that Web 1.0 would give way to Web 2.0 will give way to Web 3.0 (computer sentience, the Cylons, our eventual demise).

I mean, the 90s was shit at the time (gel, plastic clothes, Lads).  It’s shit when you look back too (Shed Seven, Sash! and News International).  Is it in me – as in, when I die, if I were to die now – would it be dissipated into nothing? Where do the memories of Shed Seven go?  John Major?  No one knows even now after all these footnotes to Plato.  We’re still on about it, as the world turns to piles of rubble and the cradle of civilization is rocked by the hand of God(s).


Now canned beer is sold at £5 a go and has brand names like HOBO (and my battery hovers constantly in the red zone, flashing, I’m tired, I’m tired).  Progress embraces the weary City folk only to chew us (who is ‘us?) up in a spewing washing cycle of irony.  That is, if (and ‘if’ is a big word) we escape the negative equity and the unjobs, the unpeople that we end up being when we live only to please ourselves and pleasure ourselves, seals, fat and stupid, bathing in the sun-strewn rocks off the coast of a nuclear sadness. Waking up to belief and waking up to believe aren’t the same thing, after all.

No, what we want is something beyond want.  Its to move beyond want without having to go through want.  To be spared even that small indignity of education, progress and learning.  To never have to be humble.  To be born into an Instagrammed picture of a sunset in Malibu or the Maldives.  To be there and suffused in a dim glow of satisfaction without first knowing the lack of that light.  The elders bequeathed to us (who is ‘us’, anyway) a deliberate hebetude of narcissism and New Feudalism.  The poet was right, in a way, a not very ‘satisfactory’ way of saying it : satis factory!, there has been enough commerce.  This is the new World and now we are the Products, the workers and the ones who get to complain into the ether.

The 90s : I, or “Also on the album is Gang Starr’s remix of “What I Am” by Tin Tin Out featuring Emma Bunton”

Even the light was different then: more slanted, more oblique, or perhaps this is just the sepia of the mind’s eye. I’m not entirely sure how widely known it is that Mica Paris did a cover version of U2’s ‘One’. It nestles, remixed by Perfecto, on an album called “90s Remix” that I am currently listening to. Mica Paris was born Michelle Antoinette Wallen 27 April 1969 in Islington, London. How different must her teen years have been to mine, hers spent singing gospel in the early 80s, mine reading sci-fi and writing bad poetry. Islington is pretty different from how it must have been in 1969, too. My teenage years were spent in the strange, oblique light of the 90s. Or perhaps this is just the sepia of trying to remember a time before web 2.0. Everything is sepia if you give it long enough. I’ve given the 90s long enough. Now it is time to try and understand.

Mica Paris released her version of ‘One’ on the album “Black Angel” (this album was Paris’ last album to chart in the UK Top 200 (to date)). It features production from Boy George and Raphael Saadiq. The record label was Chrysalis, and the year was 1998. The fact that 90s boutique remixers Perfecto got their hands on it (or were given it, and told to do something with it?) and the fact they did such a hamfisted job, are both intriguing if not hugely surprising. The melody is reduced to a strange, synthetic appropriation of Edge’s guitar track. Her vocal is overwrought and strangely neoliberal, the soulful original strangled in some yodelled notes that precursor the everyone can be famous histrionics of the X-Factor. Around the corner was SyCo, Gordon Brown, Clegg’s tears drowning truth in a bucket.

Also on the album is Gang Starr’s remix of “What I Am” by Tin Tin Out featuring Emma Bunton. Later, during the year 2013, Mica became a regular guest on ITV’s flagship show ‘This Morning’.

“We” say it’s a New Year

We, whatever that pronoun now means, move into the New Year.  It’s been a ‘festive season’ but I haven’t felt very festive: Black Friday rugby scrums, pointless mark ups and then “sales” featuring yet more scrums and midnight queues for merchandise.  “We” marked Christmas Day and we also observed the solemn drinking bacchanal that is New Year’s Eve.  It is odd to find words so ineffectual against a tide of news from around the world that grows darker and darker.  War continues, and against a backdrop of social unrest and inequality comes the inescapable truth that the 2008 ‘crash’ and its repercussions actually shifted money into the financial elite – the already rich, the tax-evaders, the ‘tycoons’ and ‘oligarchs’, the giant corporations, the grey areas where crime has a face that is bland, often-white, often greying and with a Home Counties postcode on their P60 return.  They got richer.  The middle bit took a pay freeze.  The poor people got fucked and the post-war welfare state was slowly disbanded in the name of ‘Austerity’.

“We” (there is no ‘we’, increasingly) sit here atomized waiting for Houllebecq to be proven right (again) and waiting for Burgess’s future to come into being.  “High Rise” happened soon after it was written (Barbican Tower, perhaps) but only really came true in the last few years with the poor doors and homeless spikes in Zone 1, proud and irascible and unrepentant.

It isn’t even a thing to do is it ; to write a “blog” ; it’s an irrelevance, a fart in the windy dark.


Reading Habits in Publishing


I am reading Philip K. Dick’s “The Penultimate Truth” at the moment.  It’s starting to perk up – Dick’s sci-fi is always laden with vaguely gauche but nonetheless compelling lingo and future slang.  It also has plot twist after plot twist – remorseless in some cases – which perfectly justify his work being in the Sci-Fi Masterworks series at Gollancz.  The completist in me wants the entire series.  The realist in me has read “Valis” and knows that there needs to be a quality control at play.  Not all Dick is good Dick.

Being a Twitter user, I’m connected to a lot of publishing types.  I suppose I follow them out of obeisance to what I ‘should’ be.  My brother recently, and cuttingly, described me as ‘brainwashed’ and there is a sense I think of having been somewhat institutionalized.  I realized that there are so many people in a certain place and rank in publishing tweeting and tweeting at each other little ‘cool’ bits of knowledge, and always talking about what they are reading.  It always something vaguely hip, or of the moment, or shortlisted.   I don’t really read like that, and never have.  I’ll follow my instincts, my urges and read what feels natural.  Admittedly, buying this latest batch of Dick novels (ha ha) came in the remainder section of Waterstones (Gower St, I almost feel compelled to add, to reaffirm my status – this was not a purchase in Waterstones Swindon or Windsor, darling).  But that was part of a malaise that I’d felt for a while that I was just reading reading reading what I felt I had to read.  “The Lay of the Land” by Richard Ford, the third Frank Bascombe book, was huge and sprawling and really needed an axe taking to it on the cutting room floor (to mix metaphors).  I am a huge fan of Richard Ford but the novel spoke of an almost invisible ‘editor’.  Copyedited very finely though – no mistakes.

We live (and have lived for a while) in an era of cultural capital.  There are books on Bourdieu on my actual list.  Oh, I’m reading this, I watched this, I went this play!, and working in an industry like publishing this is constantly on display.  It’s why drinking with the Production department is so refreshing – to have a pint with people who are quite happy to end the night eating cold baked beans out of a shoe.  They also drink much better in quantity and have a generally higher level of anger : not so much micro-management frustration at slipping deadlines but more an incandescent rage at everything that exists.  Production are nihilists and drinking with them is fun.  Editorial drinks seem to slip into a bit of a gossipy soft-soaping that leaves you feeling like someone has covered your head in a paper bag and made you breathe stale air for four hours.  People will moan about ‘systems’ and look back to the glory days and resemble the sad quarterback in the Springsteen song.  Glory days!  Oh they pass you by.