Overweight, In There

Magnetom TrioI had the great pleasure last week of being inserted into a powerful toroidal magnet for science. Some charming psychologists asked me (me!) to be part of a control group having their brains studied while making decisions. Apparently the non-control group were ‘business leaders’. Do they make decisions in a different way to the rest of us? I don’t really care, which is fine because it’s not my experiment. All I cared about were the words, ‘It’s on PhD funding so we can’t pay you anything, but you can have some photos of your brain’. Who would say no to that?

So I was denuded of anything vaguely metal, laid down on the gurney, had my head clamped and wedged in place, and rolled into the little mouth of the Seimens Magnetom Trio fMRI scanner. I then picked playing cards for an hour. I almost fell asleep (it’s surprisingly soothing/boring in there). I was then let go.

anatomical-148-1As I stumbled out of the machine room I asked my experimenter whether the most basic of facts had been confirmed: was there a brain in there. (I hadn’t expected there not to be, but you never know.) She said I did have a brain. She said I had quite a large brain. She went on to describe it as, and I quote, ‘Chunky’. Chunky!

Ladies and gentleman, it has been official proved by a real scientist: I have a fat brain.

anatomical-148-2I had hoped there might be one part of me that was still slim, streamlined and gorgeous after all these years, but it seems the inside is just as fat as the outside now. If only I’d done more brain exercise early on. But, heigh ho.

(I was in a Brewers Fayre [sic] on Monday night, next to a Premier Inn where I was staying between Book Week visits to Northern primary schools, and I noticed that my cutlery was stuck together… magnetically. I thought for a moment my fMRI adventure might have given me Sir Ian McKellen-like powers of magnetic mastery, but upon further trial and inspection nothing else stuck together. I think I just got two attractive bits of cutlery, like you sometimes do.)

Here’s a piece of new and unnecessary music to take my mind off it all.

Did You Pack Your Own Luggage?

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Fizzlebert’s Better Than Fish

Fizzlebert FishThe newest instalment in the ongoing series of Fizzlebert Stump adventures, book three, Fizzlebert Stump: The Boy Who Cried Fish, has just come out.

I discovered, while writing the first two books, that my favourite character was the sea lion, Fish. Not only is he charming, perpetually hungry and dialogue-free, but he became (inadvertently) instrumental in Fizzlebert’s getting out of sticky situations in both of the previous stories. When it came to writing book three I was determined not to let him steal any more scenes, fish or escape plans. Any problems in this one Fizz would have to solve himself. So I came up with a plan of my own.

Fish would go missing. Fizz could go looking for him. That way Fish could be absent for almost the whole book, and yet be highly present too, because it’s all about him. He’d be happy with that. (In Iris Murdoch’s novel Nuns And Soldiers the dog Barkiss is equally present while absent (I think that’s the only thing the two books have in common, but I like to mention Iris whenever I can). In that book though Barkiss strolls in, unruffled, on the last page. Does Fish reappear/get found? You’ll have to buy my book to find out.)

This was the tricky third novel, but with help, notes and a stern gaze from Kate Paice, my Bloomsburian editor, we managed to whip it into something like a novelish shape. She let me keep my Shandy-esque blank page to draw your own fish on, but made me add a villain to the plot. (It all turned out okay, and when you add in Sarah Horne‘s delicious drawings you won’t be too disappointed (assuming you’re a child reading the book expect a fun and funny adventure romp with a subtle Lovecraftian undertow) (if you’re an adult reading it expecting Chekhov then it won’t meet your expectations (it’s not in Russian, for a start)).)

Anyway, I only mention this over here on the ‘grownup’ website (the kids’ website is here) in order to mention a few special offers I’ve set up for people who want to buy more than one of my kids’ books at a time. They’re here. (Basically it’s cheaper if you buy more (any mix of titles) and I’ll sign them.)

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Two Ways To Begin

IMG_0557(This picture of Susan, asleep (left), has nothing to do with the post, but they always look dreary without a picture – words, words, words – so there you go.)

Just before Christmas I was tinkering around with an old piece of music which had always annoyed me. It had been enjoyable enough but cluttered, long and confused. So, I stripped it down, cut a bunch of stuff out, re-orchestrated it and am now much happier with what’s left.

It’s just like editing a poem: dump anything that gets in the way.

(And increase the prominence of the pitched percussion.)

One thing I dumped was my memory of where the title came from. I know, as usual, I nabbed it from a poem somewhere when I had to fill in the space on the file to save the thing (I have a feeling it might a McGough one) but simply can’t remember. If you recognise the phrase, then jolly good.

Unlike much of the unnecessary music I put up here, this one has a key and a beat and cute melodies and it even swings a bit (possibly it’s a bit Penguin Café Orchestra-ish). It’s possible human beings might even like it, but, realistically, I wouldn’t expect too much.

Beginning In A Language I Can Trust (new 2013 version (3:54))

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Beginning In A Language I Can Trust (original 2010(?) version (5:28))

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Desperately Situating Erica

IMG_0306Some years ago, in the autumn of 2010, I was some sort of Poet in Residence at the Cheltenham Festival of Literature.

My job was to use the Festival’s Twitter account to get suggestions from the public and use them to write ‘an epic poem’. It let them use the not-word ‘Twitterature’, which made them feel all zeitgeisty and happy.

Even though, back then, no one understood how Twitter worked or what it was for, I did manage to gather a handful of ideas, possible titles and names of pets (cats, dogs, greenfinches and others) from people (by using Facebook) and wrote some odd little bits and bobs, none of which really fulfilled the remit (for example, these things).

(What did we learn from this? Possibly: don’t ask AF to do something if you expect the thing to be done to be the thing you expect to be done and not something else entirely.)

Anyway, three and a half years on, I’m going to present one of these odd little poems right here and right now for your listening pleasure. It was written from a title someone suggested (which now appears as the ante-penultimate line of the poem, so as not to spoil the ‘joke’). The poem is slightly bleak and does involve a little cannibalism.

Erica’s Desperate Situation

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Look Out For Firemen, When Appropriate

Scan_20140106When I was a teenager, back at the start of the 1990s my friend Dan had a brother called Rob, still does. Rob was a key member of (as far as I can tell) just about everything musical in Horsham from a few years before (by which I mean ‘a few years before all the bands of my peers, which I knew at the time’). He made serious pop music with The Gits and wonderful moving funny pop music with Voice Of The Rain and silly Goonish silly surreal pop music with Businessmen On Bicycles. I used to buy the homemade cottage industry tape cassette albums as they were released and crib copies of albums from years gone by. It was all good stuff. It and Jethro Tull and (later) Zappa soundtracked my adolescence and onwards.

There are several Businessmen On Bicycles tunes which are earworms in my brain to this day. I won’t even name them here (I won’t say ‘Hat On The Rails’, for example), just in case they creep inside your skull.

One of my favourite things was a little 1990 album by Jon E. Parker & The Sessionaires called The Sunny Sessions. It was full of funny, silly, almost Cutlery songs and song(ish)es that delighted me.

I’ve carried these songs and this music for twenty-odd years (and for twenty odd years) almost as a secret. Dan knows about it, and whoever I put tracks on compilations tapes for over the years might know a song or two, but I don’t know anyone else who’s heard this stuff, this strong stream in the soundtrack of my life.

So when, last autumn, Rob e-mailed and asked if I would write some lyrics to a piece of music they had for a brand new Jon E. Parker & The Sessionaires project it was a little like being asked to collaborate with Ian Anderson. (Well, maybe not quite that exciting, but still I was honoured and happy to. (Look a video!))

Rob needed words about Firemen. (I was busy writing the fourth Fizzlebert Stump novel at the time, so I said ‘I’ll do it when I get the chance.’) That afternoon I wrote words about Firemen. And then, at some point, we recorded me sprechgesanging them and then the Vigiles EP was released on Bandcamp on Christmas day as a free/pay-what-you-want albume-ette. Go download it now.

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Nothing, Like Something – The Album

Something Like NothingEvery now and then, for very little reason at all, I like to make things I’m in no way qualified to make. And so it happens I can present to you a little album, a programmed sequence, of unnecessary music, just in time for Christmas and well before the new year.

It’s a mix of pieces originally appearing on this website, with some brand new previously unheard pieces, mixed and ordered in such a way as to be quite lovely (for a certain value of lovely and only if you like this sort of thing).

(The cover was designed, as were my previous album covers, by my good friend Dolly Dolly, whose brand new anglo-surreal spoken-ish word-ish dramato-musical first album Antimacassar is just out.)

The album is called Nothing, Like Something (click the title-link to open the appropriate Bandcamp page (where you’ll also find the poetry album Cats Are Better Than Fish), which is a quote from Philip Larkin’s poem I Remember, I Remember (from the 1955 collection The Less Deceived). The poet is with a friend in a train. They pass by, unexpectedly, the town of the poet’s youth. He imagines all the things he didn’t do there: And here we have that splendid family // I never ran to when I got depressed, / The boys all biceps and the girls all chest, / Their comic Ford, their farm where I could be / ‘Really myself’. He doesn’t much fancy the recollections, fantasies, lacks thereof and the poem ends:

‘You look as if you wished the place in Hell,’
My friend said, ‘judging from your face.’ ‘Oh well,
I suppose it’s not the place’s fault,’ I said.

‘Nothing, like something, happens anywhere.’

I don’t think the album’s quite so solemn-disappointed. I’m rather fond of it, and though it might not all sound jolly to you, I think it has sunshine in it. Already, before I had a chance to write this little post you’re reading, some nice person I don’t know, have never met and who owes me nothing has written a positive mini-review-ette of it. Which was kind of him or her.

The track list is as follows (with links to where the pieces that appeared on here originally appeared):

Nothing, Like Something

1. But There Are Millions I’d Forget
2. Another Extensive Trip On Horseback
3. I Came Down From The Mountain
4. Aubade In 12
5. Flesh Melts To Honey
6. He’s An Ogre, Really
7. It’s Been 65 Million Years And The Dead Are Still Dead
8. Later You Must Learn To Creep

(If you dare to download the thing there are some spacey mellow extra tracks, not worth the entrance money but entrancing all the same.)

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Impatient To Share: Secrets, Carpets

Susan & II know it’s sometimes difficult to listen to my ugly and unnecessary instrumental music which no one asks for, so I’ve picked a quite short piece to point at your ears today.

(Also, why I’ve offered a picture of me and Susan dancing in a time storm in my study -something to satisfy your visual needs?)

It’s an odd little thing called Impatient To Be Loosed Out Of The Dark for several muddled instruments, also struggling with slight xylophonous blurring in a time storm of their own.

If you must know the story of what’s happening: Three carpet salesmen meet in a souk. They set down the carpets they are carrying and discuss the almost ineffable secrets of their hearts over mint tea. Salesman number one is in love with his neighbour’s mother. She rarely visits. Salesman two is afraid of the dark. He has a large collection of nightlights. Salesman three shuffles and stretches his bare toes nervously in the deep pile of his carpet as the music ends.

Impatient To Be Loosed Out Of The Dark

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No Water Anywhere, I Drunk It

stripes - lyme regisFor anyone reading this blog instantly, then you’ll be aware that tomorrow is National Poetry Day, and that the theme is Water, Water Everywhere…

For those of you reading this sometime off in the future, first may I say, ‘Hello,’ and comment on how well you’re looking, and secondly say, ‘Don’t worry, my friend, most of us are there with you.’

Since I’m going to be in a school shouting at children in a warm and friendly poetry-flavoured manner, I’m posting my minor contribution to the splendour of National Poetry Day here, early and entirely off topic.

In fact, it’s not even really a poem by any stretch of the imagination, just a thing that may have been made within hearing of poetry, but certainly won’t be invited to an anthology, a reading, a slam or a literary festival (which are the poem equivalents of parties, possibly).

It’s Easier To Do It That Way

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September Song

result of robot dance mishapI thought, here at the start of a new month, at the beginning of the inevitable plunge toward autumn, I’d glue an odd lively little musical adventure onto this website, in lieu of having anything more appropriate to offer. So, here is a thing for you.

Two mediaeval robots have a stately, courtly, dance-cum-interview during which weighty matters are discussed and several resolutions are agreed upon. A chorus of witnesses sort of keep the beat. (Centuries later, I discovered one of the mediaeval robots abandoned and rusting on Lyme Regis beach, but that bit of the story isn’t in the music here presented.)

Her, True And Faithful

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Little Boxes, Little Boxes

A Man In Hull Town HallYou know when you’re supposed to be doing something else, something vaguely important but which might be the tiniest bit difficult, so instead you spend your whole day writing some music to go with some pointless words in order to make an entirely unnecessary sort of song(ish) thing that no one at all is waiting for?

Well, that was today, and so I present, in lieu of the children’s novel I ought to be writing, a new song(ish) thing. (Plus a picture of the statue of me that they erected in Hull’s City Hall for a reason that escapes me right now. (As it happens, that was a lie. It’s not me, just a forebear (possibly (though, probably not)).))

Self Portrait In Box

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