What you think about cyclists

When no-one’s looking, here’s what you really want to do to smug cyclists, making you feel guilty about your unnecessary driving:


And everyone agrees with you. Who wants to cycle to a gym? There’s a huge free car park!



Cities, culture, capital, migration.


This history of capitalism co-incides with the history of human migration from rural to urban, from areas of infrequent exchanges of capital to dense nodes of interaction.  Look at a satellite photograph of streetlights at night, and you’ll notice how the most brightly illuminated are the wealthiest places – and the most popular destination for migrants, acting rationally as they seek work and livelihoods.

And thus it has always been ever since the early modern period, when mercantilism began together with its infrastructure: banks, central banks, mints, factories, mass housing, mass transport, mass education and mass hygience.  “Cities are Good for You“, as Leo Hollis tell us.

Over 50% of the world’s population live in cities, and this is rapidly increasing.  In Europe, rural areas are dying: parts of (mostly rural) Romania and Bulgaria are predicted to lose 50% of their populations by the end of the century.  In the UK, many villages are “dormitory towns”, stuck in a cycle of decay where services are unsustainable due to population loss married with unaffordable house prices.  In China and India, rural to urban migration continues its inexorable growth.

At the same time we witness a global homogenisation of culture.  Is this a co-incidence?

Of course not – “urban” culture is capitalist culture: mass produced pop or its tinged sub-genres of R&B or hip hop, with its easily-consumed nuggets of downloads, concerts and merch; endless re-franchising of plot and a production line of genetically enhanced actors in films; a melting pot of “foodie” cuisine rehashed in the pidgin global English in chain restaurants and their spin offs from Perth to Dubai to Moscow to Durban.

“Traditional cultures” are rural, obviously.  The endless concentration of labour in cities destroys them and concentrates wealth in the owners and shareholders of those brands, franchises and platforms.

We also see a boom in “artisinal” traditional crafts: micro breweries and distilleries, vanity publishing, crowdfunded theatre, homegrown.  I don’t see these as sustainable, or creating genuine competition – the global conglomerates will simply purchase any small upstarts (think Tyrells, Green & Black).  They’re all pretty much exclusively “posh”: high-end, expensive, low volume.

As I hinted in my last post – this is where “progressives” often get confused.  Maybe the most effective resistance in reaction against this blandness is Brexit, Trump, One-Nation, The Freedom Party in Austria, PiS in Poland.  These movements are coalitions of the right and what was previously known as “the working class”.   Those who call themselves “progressives”, and who identify themselves as “left wing” or “liberal” are also the principal consumers of this global culture – the theatres, the cinemas, the restaurants, the ballet, the ubiquitous Christmas markets, the 90% of sales from 10% of goods whether they be in bookshops, Spotify or the uniform of branded hoodie and smart-casual shoes.

Labour movements around the world are dead.  The socialist parties in France, in Greece, in Spain and Italy have been decapitated.  Trade Unions are no more.  Wage growth is no more.  Traditional cultures are no more, and villages will soon be no more.

The working class betrayed itself by using debt to pretend it is bourgeois, because bourgeois has better production standards, prettier faces and faster beats.  Capitalism has headed off the urban poor at the pass – maybe we should walk the other way and take back our ancestral homes, our ancient customs and rituals of hearth and village green.  Capitalism concentrates wealth (“capital city” is not a co-incidence); maybe decentralisation is our best bet at redistribution.

“Progressives” and totalitarians.

It’s quite unusual in the current atmosphere to find an article written by a woman which doesn’t put the boot in.

As a reward, I actually read this article by Rachel Cooke. She asks “are we going to outlaw love affairs now?”, in an article examining the increasingly totalitarian approach western society seems to be taking towards deviance, despite a concurrent fixation of corporate and mainstream culture to be “inclusive”.

This contradiction is possible because the people making these accusations of harassment and offence and blasphemy can’t be bothered to think too much.  Yes, the powerless are fighting back – but that doesn’t mean they’re automatically right.

Sensors and GPS coupled with block chain technology could mean that any minor misdemeanor is punished automatically by charging our bank accounts or alerting our insurance providers.  It sounds effective and fair and efficient – but do we really want to live in a world where no-one is capable of doing anything “wrong”, when “wrong” is subjective and political?

I also think that the drive towards “morality” – from the alt-right evangelists in the USA to anti-abortionists in Poland and Northern Ireland to drug-busting Duterte to emigrant-stopping Orban – is the same drive that sees righteous people calling themselves “progressives” call for the kind of moral censorship that Cooke writes about in her article.  Censorship is censorship, whether it comes from the right or the left.  Totalitarianism is totalitarianism, whether of the fascist or communist kind.


“Cause the world needs more lawyers”

Image: Summit Entertainment 2016

Have you seen La La Land?  I found it profound.  It speaks about capitalism itself, and a thought experiment I’ve been trying out on friends:

Imagine an Ayn Rand-inspired world where there is no public subsidy or taxation to incentivize or disincentivize purchasing, and where employees keep 100% of their wages.  Would the resulting purchases be a complete reflection of what society valued most?  If we wanted something, we would buy it.  If we needed something, we would buy it.  If we didn’t, we wouldn’t.

What would become of art?  Museums and galleries, concert halls, theatres and opera venues would close overnight.  Those institutions are usually heavily subsidized, even despite expensive ticket prices.  We don’t value the high production costs highly enough, despite our bourgeois pretentions of sophistication.

Yet the message of La La Land is “follow your dreams”.  In response to Mia’s protestation that she should have done something useful with the last six years of life rather than chase an acting career, Sebastian tells her sarcastically, “’cause the world needs more lawyers”.  Whatever the word is for irony that isn’t ironic – fact? – Sebastian is spot on.  Actually, the world does need more lawyers, and it needs fewer actors.  Why?  Because administration to manage the complexity of protecting capital has ballooned with the concentration of wealth.

The real irony is that the very ubiquity of art and the very glibness of messages such as “follow your dreams” has cheapened it so much that it has become commonplace.  Art is free: on Spotify, on Pinterest, on YouTube and everywhere: it has been reduced to background for our conspicuous consumption.  It’s clickbait, it’s ‘send us your email address with your competition entries’.  It provides context for our purchases – I’m a goth, so I must buy these clothes and wear my hair this way, not that way.   Art is dead other than the high-end kind, which is more about capital and tax efficiency than supporting aspiring art graduates.  Published writers make far less than the minimum wage on average – “follow your dreams” is a route to starvation, and freezing on the streets.

We seem determined to ignore the ugly realities of capitalism, or turn those ugly realities into beauty, because the alternative is acceptance that Things Can Certainly Not Get Better.  From the opening dance of drivers stuck in a traffic jam, La La Land shouts capitalist realism – if only we workers opened our eyes and saw traffic jams, unemployment and poverty for what they are: failures of our democracy and of our society, of an unsustainable increase in living standards for two generations paid for by fossil fuels, colonialism and exploitation that we pretend no longer to tolerate.  We understood that workers in the Soviet Union were fed lies and propaganda, so why is it so hard to accept that Hollywood is our equivalent?  La La Land hides this message in plain sight.




Fear of ghosts.


I know posting this image is unfair: it is so ubiquitous that it is entirely unsurprising.

But I couldn’t help but wonder if the woman is listening to Fear of ghosts by The Cure:

and the further I get
from the things that I care about
the less I care about
how much further away I get…

I am lost again
with everything gone
and more alone
than I have ever been

We all do it.  I do it.  Endlessly scrolling through irrelevant content, somehow missing the fact that it makes no difference.  Again, as I’ve posted before, the content is not important. We do it to avoid other people because we are petrified of having to interact with each other.

In the 2000s I used to hear all the time about “Anti-Social Behaviour”.  Now, despite being more connected than we have ever been – whether measured through transport modes and nodes, whether through telecommunication types and interactions, whether measured through the number of people we claim to know – we are also more alone than we have ever been.

That is not a paradox because of vanity: we measure our success in how important we are, how popular we are, how busy we are.  The further we get from the things that we care about, the less we care about how much further away we get.

Modern pilgrims

I studied medieval history at sixth form college.  After starting the course, a book called The Medieval World appeared on my father’s bookshelf.  This was odd, I remember thinking at the time, because my father preferred more recent history.  It stayed there on the bookshelf, unread.

Only now, 24 years later, I realise that my father bought it for me – but never told me.  So now I’m reading it.

It features chapters about different sections of medieval society – monks, merchants, mothers, soliders.  I imagine there’ll be a chapter about pilgrims.

Pilgrims went on journeys to see relics, on the offchance that they’ll be on the receiving end of a miracle.  Despite arduous journeys full of lice, dyssentry, banditry and interrupted sleep on meagre rations with no employment, pilgrimages were a triumph of irrationality: none of that mattered.  What matters was that they had a shot, because there were no other chances.

Think about that: what matters was that they had a shot, because there were no other chances.

Apply the same logic to people who buy lottery tickets, or gamble, or pile up enormous debts on credit cards and consolidated loans.   In post-crisis UK, what matters is that we have a shot because there are no other chances.

The surprising mosaics of Birmingham.

Each time I stumble across this mosaic in Birmingham city centre I’m a) reminded that I’ve already seen it b) confused as to why I’ve forgotten about it and c) notice that it is disintegrating rapidly.  There are several of them in the city centre – they were usually in the many subterranean walkways under the ringroad; sometimes redevelopment of those walkways has meant the mosaics have been relocated, most notably the JFK memorial and the Great Western Railway mosaic.

The Horsefair mosaic is no doubt waiting its turn for some redevelopment scheme to pay for its repair and relocation.  No doubt they represent a problem – they remove too much active frontage at street level – no shop windows, no office doors, no advertising space – and putting them above street level brings additional problems.  At least they’re still here – I remember the murals on the walkways around the Bull Ring which only survive in photographs now.




Silent blogging, coming to a cinema near you.

What can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must pass over in silence.  – Ludwig Wittgenstein.


I didn’t want to write anything in this blog as it’s about vanity and silence – but how does one blog about silence?

All utterance is ego: I want, I need, I think.  We speak to fill silence and awkward pauses, we speak to demark our territory as if it’s temporary aural graffiti.  We attach so much importance to utterances (“but you said!”) and yet silence is also unforgiveable.  Chat and the ability to hold an interesting conversation is considered “good value”.  Conversely, someone who turned up to a dinner party and sat there in silence would be considered rude.  As a result, it’s an endless game of non-fatal Russian roulette – condemned to speaking to avoid the rudeness of silence; condemned to be an egotist, talking about ourselves, speaking words, words, words.

Theodore Zeldin wrote a book called Conversation about the power of conversation to break down barriers, explore new territory, realize new things about ourselves.  Zeldin’s organisation has spawned “conversation dinners“.  But in my experience, most conversations are 80% talking and 20% listening from one person – in other words two people in a conversation ends up wanting to squeeze 160% talking into the available space.  We don’t do a lot of listening.

Everybody wants a record deal. Everybody wants to be naked and famous – Tricky

And everyone thinks they have something to say.  Everyone does have something to say because we’re all individualists now.  I do.  So I blog.  Can everyone read all of what everyone else has to say?  Of course not – we’re too busy saying stuff to read it.  But is any of this content useful?  There must be an immense amount of duplication at any given time, but also throughout the history of thought itself.  In other words, it’s not the content.  We just want to say something.  Say anything.  It’s an impulse, a survival instinct perhaps, against the fear of being no-one: our digital footprints become us, like a CV but with less room to blag.  If it’s not on Facebook, did it happen?  Will an agent stumble across this blog, or someone’s YouTube uploads or instagram photographs and offer us a lucrative advance?

No.  The likelihood of someone using the information we willingly and voluntarily disclose about ourselves to defraud us is much, much higher.  Amazon, Google, Facebook, WordPress and the rest are actively scraping content and scanning sites right now at our expense.  Vanity outdoes reason every time.

I have a sensation of what I want to say – but no utterance I manage ever comes close.  Any utterance is doomed to be a pale imitation of what I had in mind.  It takes concentration and hard work to craft and recraft words, music, painting into that original inspiration.

Are we trying to do too much, be too much?



Delivering love, unconditionally

I’ve always had a theory that one reason why teenage girls get pregnant in the face of financial insecurity and the impact on life prospects is in order to secure the unconditional love of another human being – presumably because it is so hard to come by in their lives.

Reading about the volume of internet sales and the subsequent demand for cardboard, delivery vans, warehouses and air freight, I had a similar thought about internet shoppers:

In the absence of love from our lives, and of people who may buy or send us gifts, do we compensate by sending presents to ourselves?  No wonder household debt is now higher than it was immediately after the 2008 financial crash – giving a bit more love rather than spending it on junk might be way to ease the risk of another recession.


The inauthenticity of authenticity.

The authenticity of failure; or, the inauthenticity of delicatessens in Birmingham.

Is it surprising that what magazine editors and PR people like to call authenticity looks similar across the globe? From Williamsburg in New York to Fitzroy in Melbourne to Peckham in London there are an awful lot of people being authentically artisanal, local, independent and counter-cultural.  There are even more people who can no longer afford to live in those places.  So how can it be? Maybe authenticity is merely a set of tropes to increase prices and exclude the urban poor, hiding behind masks stolen from the urban working class.  Maybe, just maybe, “authentic” doesn’t mean what people use it to mean.

These days we insist on authenticity.  Politicians are told to be more like ordinary people: Donald Trump made his apparent outsider status a key part of his election campaign.  We want to keep it real.  Locally-sourced, “natural”, “traditional” food, drink, clothes and even cosmetics (because 18th century peasants genuinely cared about what they stank of); musicians, event organisers, hoteliers and bookshops all try hard to market themselves as the real deal: “independent” has become a magnet of discerning cash.  The anachrony of all of this authenticity stares awkwardly beneath every advert, flyer and website.

Meanwhile, society simultaneously seeks out ever-diminishing returns on the cheapest rates for housing, transport, fuel bills, insurance, banking – all those invisible purchasing decisions we can keep hidden from view.  These savings free up the cash to buy more authenticity, those purchases that display something of who we are: so we can pay £32 for a 750ml glass of imported beer (At the Draft House in W1, in case you don’t believe me) from a menu written in authentic calligraphy.

Authenticity costs because authenticity is a perverse form of capitalism.  It’s the cost of inefficiency.  Whilst hand-reared cows may be far more sensitive on the environment, may be far more humane, create more pleasant work environments and whatever other myriad benefits it may bring, if we care that much about those things to pay three, four or five times as much as an “inauthentic” equivalent, then why on earth do we carry on in the other 99% of our lives to destroy the environment through our homes and cars, support inhumane practices with the rest of our purchasing, fail to join trade unions and vote for governments that would try far more systematically to regulate for pleasant work environments etc?

The answer is in the same way that no-one actually reads poetry or blogs, no-one actually cares about what authenticity is meant to be authentic to.  “Authentic” is simply a badge that whacks up prices for us to wear on our sleeves in order to display our assumed identities: or more specifically, our purchasing power, and therefore our wealth and status. It has nothing to do with being true to our sense of belonging, identity, personal history or roots. Our real selves are shit-scared, traumatised, insecure and miserable: but to admit that is to be weak, and to be weak makes us prey.  So we create alternative assertive, positive selves through our social media profiles, with our tattoos, with our slogans on T-Shirts, with brands, with our commodities, commodities, commodities, to mask the stench of our real selves.  £32 craft beer is the equivalent of powdered wigs from the 18th century.

To me, authentic should mean indigenous culture.  Working class culture.  Proletarian culture.  As in the contemporary cultural expression of the majority, of the average – not as in authentic jellied eels or authentic folk music from the fields in the 1920s or bread baked in authentic ovens from the 1800s.  Authenticity is not nostalgia, it’s what the kids are up to now.

Authenticity is honesty.   We now – at least in this endless hangover from the 2008 financial crisis – still have access to unsustainable personal debt to mask poverty, decay and catastrophic insecurity.  Car loans, mortgages, credit cards, store cards, student loans, personal loans, inter-generational loans (“the bank of mum & dad”) are all sky high because we can no longer afford the lifestyle we want and the world would experience catastrophic recession if we stopped buying stuff we don’t need.  Debt is dishonesty.  It masks capitalism’s increasing failure to provide education, healthcare, peace, security and clean air and water.