So. On 18th April, Jonathan and Jane, owners of the Isis Farmhouse pub — home to the Bastard English Session, and most of my alcohol consumption — sold the establishment to Noreen and Adrian. I have met them. They are folkies. They do a mother of a version of ‘Come On Eileen’. But that is a tale for another time.

I remember the first time I walked into the Isis and thought: ‘This would be an amazing pub for a session’. So much of the session’s success is down to the shape, layout and general war-torn personality of that room.

But at least as much success is down to Jonathan and Jane themselves, who have been not only supporting but promoting the session for more years than I can remember. From that time when the 50 Morris dancers descended on the pub and started dancing inside, to the time when a very drunk and distressed ex-soldier (and all joking aside, with some legitimately serious demons to deal with, I don’t doubt) started to accuse us of being responsible for the deaths of his friends, to the great outdoor Delilah party boat sing-along, to a million and one emotional crises and people storming out in a drunk rage or tears or euphoria or all of the above. Oh yeah, to the time when Hannah and I had our wedding there. Continue reading

The first of this month’s recommendations.

One day I will expound upon my theories of Music vs Fashion Music – although not today. Basically, when I was a kid the music you listened to defined who you were and how you wanted to be seen. If you listened to Sonic Youth you were cool, and you ‘got it’. If you listened to Queen, like I did, you were not, and you didn’t. I don’t know if music is quite so important to kids now, as there’s so much more to choose from so much less money to promote the artists. I imagine it still is, to some extent. Continue reading

Not everybody likes Ben Wheatley and Amy Jump’s adaptation of J. G. Ballard’s novel High Rise. Many critics considered it an ambitious failure. Laura Theis (of Badass Snow White fame) told me she absolutely hated it, and I can see why it can inspire that sort of emotion. It starts with our protagonist living feral in the ruins of a 1970s high rise that has descended into madness, and he is barbecuing his dog. It’s that sort of story.

But I love a hearty tale of a hero’s deterioration into insanity. And when you have a metaphor for the collapse of society thrown in, well… let’s just say you had me with Tom Hiddleston trying to beat someone to death in the building’s supermarket over a tin of blue paint.

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Here’s a story from the beginning of the month that I found absolutely fascinating – almost worthy of fiction:

http://sudoscript.com/reddit-place/

It’s a blog article about an experiment, conducted on the website Reddit. For the uninitiated, Reddit is sort of an internet within the internet: a sort of gigantic web forum on pretty much any topic you can think of, with a ‘sub-reddit’ for any conceivable interest group.

What Reddit did was to give its users a space, called simply ‘Place’, where for a limited period of time they could each draw one pixel, and then another, and then another.

Here is a time-lapsed video of what happened:

But really, it doesn’t mean much until you read the article, which tells a great story in a great way.

It’s called When Pixels Collide, and I would add the subtitle: or How I Learnt To Embrace The Void.

My real name is not James Bell, but James Baldwin. Not a lot of people know that.

And I changed it for a number of reasons, but one reason was that there was someone who had already made that name famous, and I had no desire to try to compete for it. The other one, James Arthur Baldwin, was like my relatives Stanley Baldwin and Rudyard Kipling in the fact (and perhaps only alike in this fact) that when I was young I got the sense that grown-ups generally didn’t really approve of him, but I was never quite sure why. I feel I have a clearer picture on all of them now: Stanley Baldwin is still seen by many as being an appeaser to Hitler (don’t get my father started on this!), and Rudyard Kipling… well, read the poem White Man’s Burden if you want a jumping-off point for that debate. And my namesake? He just didn’t believe. He didn’t believe in the dream, that soon black children and white children would be joining hands together and singing in the spirituals of old: free at last, free at last, thank god almighty, we are free at last. Continue reading