#49 Lacock Abbey – Fortress of orthodoxy

View of Lacock Abbey from the south on a sunny summer day.

I went to Lacock yesterday with the kids, my partner and her kids.

I ended the day writing this to the National Trust complaints board:

Dear Madam/Sir,

I am writing in response to surprisingly hostile and aggressive behaviour from a member of staff at Lacock Abbey this afternoon. The incident was witnessed by my two young children, my partner and her son, as well as other visitors.

Having enjoyed the grounds, my family and I entered the abbey via the exit. This was an honest mistake, easily made, but what followed was utterly unacceptable. 

The steward in the room – Denise – strode across the room and demanded we leave. I was taken aback at the bluntness of her tone, and asked why it wasn’t acceptable to continue around the property from this point. We were told it was ‘prohibited’. I asked why, and was met with a hand being pushed into my side as Denise immediately lost her temper. 

Would she have done this if I had perhaps been one of the more genteel visitors?

I asked your employee to stop shoving me and to get out of my personal space. She backed off, with an ironic apology aimed at visitors around us.

I remain stunned at the fact that I have been shoved and insulted by someone who managed to summon moral indignance at being asked if it were possible to walk around the property in a different direction. 

I asked Denise if she would find it acceptable if someone invaded her personal space.
Her response? 

‘”I’m British. I live here, so I’m already in my personal space.”‘

I find this to be a particularly revealing and unpleasant conflation of hostile nationalism and interpersonal respect. 
As she has shown herself to be a singularly officious and self-righteous individual, I have no doubt that this employee will already have mounted a vehement and aggrieved defence. However, even though I have a shaved head and was wearing a pair of trainers, I have the right to be unmolested, and be treated with the same degree of courtesy as any other of your members. I happen to be British, but deplore the thought that someone from another country might be treated to this type of petty conservatism. 

That someone entrusted with dealing with the public can summon such disproportionate fury at the notion of walking the abbey in a different direction is laughable. That this person would then immediately resort to shoving, hostility and implied racism is deeply offensive, and calls into question Lacock Abbey’s judgement in employing such a person. 

I would like an apology, and assurance that this type of assault is prevented from recurring. If I do not hear from the NT, I will pursue this matter further.

#25 Only lovers left alive


I love films.

Like most people, I’ve no idea how many I’ve seen, but films influence my life, they enrich my cultural references. I’m getting older and I’ve noticed my hit-rate- the ratio of films watched to films enjoyed- is diminishing. It may well be that I’m slipping predictably into the role of a grumpy old man, but it could also be that the quality of films (or at least, the films I watch) is in decline.

Take Only lovers left alive as an example. My girlfriend and I attempted to watch this a few weeks back. The reviews had suggested that this latest offering from Jim Jarmusch was worth seeing…

-[a]retro-chic haute-hippy vampire flick [which] gets its energy from the sulphurous chemistry between Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston

(Peter Bradshaw- The Guardian, 20th February, 2014)

Just when it’s time to call a moratorium on vampire movies, Jim Jarmusch has to go and make a good one.As unlikely as it sounds in the era of “Twilight” and its defanged imitators, Jarmusch’s “Only Lovers Left Alive” proves there are still new sights and sounds and meanings to be derived from the conceit of characters who rarely sleep, never die and feast on the blood of others

(Ann Hornaday – Washington Post, 17th April, 2014)

You can see how we might have got the impression that this was a decent film.

It begins with a record spinning on a record player. That is, a piece of retro vinyl revolving on a retro turntable and then… … hey, why not guess what camera shot Jim Jarmusch uses to introduce the two protagonists from this point?

Go on.

Remember, the first shot is of a record going around… and around… what cRaZy thing might you do??

You got it! Tilda Swinton and Tom Hiddleston are segued into the shot… r o t a t i n g. I know, A-mazing, never saw that coming:

I think it’s reminiscent of a Kula Shaker video from the 90’s. Or something by The Beatles, The Stones, The Charlatans, or any vaguely rock/psychedelia band from the last half a century. Except done badly. And interminably.

Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is dressed like Jim Morrison (before he got tubby). He’s topless, wearing rock-y, possibly leather trousers, lying on a giant chaise longue with a lute on his chest. A lute. There’s lots of old amps and bits of chintz about the place.

Tick- visual shorthand done.

Eve (Tilda Swinton) is wearing a kaftan/dressing gown and is passed out at the foot of a bed with a psychedelic throw on it. Got it? She’s a bit of a hippy.

Tick- again.

So, characters established. That’s all we need to know. And actually, come to think of it, in terms of narrative, characterisation, character development, crisis, resolution. Plot. Any of that stuff, you might as well stop here because this film doesn’t trouble itself with any of it. It is entirely superficial. Any meaning you might hope to extract from the film can only be derived from the look of the piece, which is a haphazard construction of cliches. Some of the reviewers are well aware of this, and have seen to find it laudable. Stylish. Clearly, I’m not a fan. But I have gone through the painful process of watching some of the film again so as to make a more reasoned case.

First of all, characterisation. Take, for example, the character of Adam. Essentially, Adam is presented to us as a tortured musician. He expresses his immortal existentialism through his art. We see him appraise a rare electric guitar in an early scene by looking horizontally up the fretboard. Tom Hiddleston then further reveals his hilarious lack of axemanship when he takes about thirty seconds in which to construct a chord (D minor) and strum. Later, he mooches about his bijou studio demonstrating a further range of skills he fails to convince us of by:

  • robotically tapping cymbals
  • experimenting with sound by hitting guitar strings with a drumstick. This farcical scene was one of my favourites and brought back fond memories of The Fast Show’s Jazz Club

Tilda Swinton’s character, Eve, is largely conveyed through her face. Her already enigmatic and expressive features have been over-intensified through matt-white make-up and massive black contact lenses, so that she seems like inanimate clay. Like Morph.















Then the script.

When John Hurt scuffles into a Moroccan cafe to meet Eve, she says,

          So, how is the fabulous Christopher Marlowe tonight?

Clunk. Character name explained.

Jim Jarmusch wrote the screenplay. I’d like to say it’s shit, because it is. But mostly, it’s just incredibly mundane. Good actors (Tilda Swinton and John Hurt are good actors) are made to look clumsy and laboured because the words they have to deliver are hackneyed and were construed in a stagnant mind bent on stealing ideas.

I’m not going to go into more detail because, frankly, it’s not worth it. I’m writing this because I felt that I should redress the imbalance of criticism. Having started it, and having forced myself to re-watch sections of the film, I have to admit defeat. It’s too painful.

If you’d like to watch the film, I recommend watching it in digital format and skipping through at least x5 speed. You’ll pretty much get the gist of it  and, this way, you get to save that extra hour and forty five minutes for other things, like living, being creative, or even just sleeping. Almost anything you could find to do with your time, including staring blankly into nothingness, would be way more meaningful.


                                                                                                                   Oh God, how can this film be so shit?












#14 OM ugh

OM stands for Orgasmic meditation.


There are OM classes locally (around Bristol and world-wide) that couples can attend.

OM is a meditation, equally powerful for both partners — only the object of focus is the clitoris.


Women lay down, supported by men and OM branded pillows in the church hall/community centre and have their clitorii massaged. Collectively.

When I heard of this, I was disturbed for a number of reasons. Call me a prude, but never has it occurred to me to take my girlfriend out to meet a bunch of strangers and massage her clitoris. I thought that was called dogging. It’s not really crossed my mind to meet up with friends and do it, either.

I’m not against the idea of people engaging with their sexuality to enhance their relationships and sense of self- these are clearly good things. If I felt that something was up in that department, I would definitely want to sort it out.

My negative reactions are based on:

1. The sense that there seems to be a growing consensus that doing your washing in public is not only a good thing, but also intrinsically beneficial/therapeutic.

2. That sex is being turned into a commodity again. That people’s insecurities/dysfunctions are valuable income streams.

Let’s look at 1 first.

When I discussed the public nature of the sessions with my girlfriend (purely in the name of research, things are very nice between us, thanks), she suggested that this group exposure of your intimacy could lead to banishing any damaging, dysfunctional feelings that sex is a dirty, sinful thing. A process akin to confession or an enema. This has some credibility, particularly in British society where we are supposed to be repressed in these matters. However, I would suggest that there is something sexy about naughtiness, that transgression is a turn-on.

What is possibly more concerning is the assumption that doing something in public makes it transformative. Are we to imagine that the adulterous wife baring all to Jerry Springer and the cameras is necessarily changed? Most participants seem to lack the decency to find the process embarrassing, so how far is it likely that they have the moral imagination to move forward from the experience? Put another way, what is to be gained by wanking your missus off in front of an audience, even if they aren’t supposed to be looking? Not having been to an OMing session (sorry for my lack of professionalism, I just don’t want to), I’m not able to say what the demographic is, but there must be a certain amount of exhibitionism going on. The sort of purple-wearing,wholesome folk who might hover on the fringe of a wife-swapping sesh. More linseedy than seedy.

Surely, focussed, reactive counselling from a genuinely qualified practitioner coupled with an honest commitment to personal growth might be a more productive way to overcome sexual anxieties.

2. Take a look at this:


According to the OM shop, Orgasmic Meditation (OM) requires supplies. You’d be best advised to spend $184.97 on various cushions, otherwise sold as The Signature OM Kit. If you’re feeling less flush, you really should fork out $29.99 on that Strokers kit, because clearly Every stroker needs a strokers kit. Worryingly, I have dabbled with a bit of stroking myself, without the kit. Now that I’m better informed, I realise how inadequate this has been. I will get tooled up with: 1 Strokers Bag, 1 OneStroke Lube (full-size), 3 OM Towels 3 Vinyl Glove Sets. How many of these can they have sold?

I have a friend who used to run marketing workshops for companies looking to advertise their products in more engaging, leftfield ways- he called these sessions Quirkshops. I have a tip for those entrepeneurs looking to gain a broader market share for OM. Be honest. Re-brand, and call OM experiences what they really are: Jerkshops.

#13 Stornaway

Somehow, it’s was always with a sense of slight embarrassment that I used to like bands like Stornaway (and previously…Mumford & Sons). It’s nothing to do with their lack of accomplishment as musicians; both bands are characterised by interesting arrangements and intelligent, poetic lyrics. Or is it anything to do with the fact that last year they were on trend. It’s more the feeling that both bands were formed out of- shall we say- comfortable backgrounds. Not that a comfortable background is a bad thing (it’s not as if they had a choice in the matter), I come from a not dissimilar background. It just seems that both bands are woven from the same, organic cloth of new-folk/vintage. Several of the men (they are all men) in their bands wear intriguing moustaches; they all exude a non-threatening bon-homie. twatsI can confirm this. At last Thursday’s gig in Bath, Stornaway‘s front-man had several mildly amusing anecdotes. These came in handy in winning over the crowd, because his band had come on half an hour late. They also treated us to several mid-show sound-checks and pauses. The anecdotes were some of the most memorable parts of the evening. I’ve already forgotten one of them.

I’d booked tickets for the gig some months back. There are two or three Stornaway tracks that I like, one of which I really like. Here comes the blackout is a song I’d immediately admired when I first came across it five or six years ago, when I’d encountered it on MySpace. Then, Eric Matador was the nom-de-plume of the lead singer, Brian Briggs. Brian’s voice can be extremely clear, piercing yet sweet. At the right pitch- somewhere in the high tenor register, he regularly hits his sweet spot and lifts a tune into something nearly rapturous. It can seem effortless. Certainly, his lack of effort was very much evident at tonight’s gig. The band spent most of their one hour on stage farting out pop-y, uninteresting shit from their latest album. I would say that 60% of what they played was of the same standard as your average 90’s top ten single

I can’t remember what their first song was. I wasn’t anticipating being motivated to write about the gig in advance. Whatever it was, the only moment worth recording was that it involved the least perceptably useful member of the band whacking an already shredded tin djembe inaudibly and for no conspicuous reason. Daft, pretentious and musically pointless. Not exactly a win.

That the band thought this was a good idea does not exactly commend their good sense. If you were to put their lyrical output through a computer for vocabulary/parsing analysis, it might produce data like this:

Modal phrases

your blue eyes, conkers shining, Atlantic ocean, mermaid fellating a flute (last one made up)

This bucolic-nautical fixation provides both their initial point of interest and subsequent descent to tedious triteness. Tellingly, the same malaise befell my relationship with Mumford. It’s alright, I’ve moved on. Their very best song, Here comes the blackout, is a genuinely enigmatic song. Its homely percussion line (chopping vegetables, apparently), and sparse, acoustic arrangement are combined with a dark-edged, contemporary terror-threat metaphor that gave the impression that there is/was a genus of brilliance in this group. It’s not conspicuous in many other of their songs

#9 Brizfest – a field and a fence

What makes a festival?
I thought it had something to do with celebration, wonderment, communion.
Actually, it requires:

  •  a fence (preferably more than one, arranged concentrically)
  • a field
  • more than one stage
  • a bar (doesn’t really matter how many/how well set up)- once people are inside the festival, they will queue for as long as it takes and pay whatever you want to charge
  • lots of recycling facilities for people not to use
  • some music
It’s been a while since I last posted something, and I feel I should write something more penetrating than moaning about Brizfest-
Beardyman was impressive, Sheelanagig  have the klesme/dub/folk/ceilidh whirl, yet quickly fade to background noise (Is it just me, or is a band comprised of just excellent, co-ordinated and polished musicians boring?)
                                   – But, it wasn’t great.
What I did learn/appreciate was that dire situations in life are almost completely surmounted when accompanied with a wonderful person.
A wonderful person could feasibly be anyone that has:
  • a ready laugh
  • a unique mind
  • a healthy amount of cynicism combined with enough optimism/faith in humanity not to despair (e.g. at the crapness of Brizfest)
  • an eye for opportunities of escape
Marriage is one way we can try to ensure we have a wonderful person on hand to get through the drudgery of existence.
Divorce is what happens when you discover that your wonderful person has become just someone else in the same queue as you.
Good friends do not suffer this problem of expiry.
If the wonderful person happens to be beautiful, then that is a small miracle.