Plant Milk Review

"a live cow makes a lion salivate, whereas a human just wants to say 'moo' and see if the cow responds.”
– Scott Adams

I've been building up sacrificing dairy in my head: I've been being meanminded. The main thing to say against it is "It takes some getting used to" - and what a contemptible wisp of an argument. (Could also say that the substitutes are twice as expensive, and hard to find, but this is Today and Here.)

All the supermarkets are stocking some bloody odd alternatives these days, even outlets that aren't indecently big. So, what criteria? Not "closeness to cowjuice". Not "nutrition", though vegists do need to think about that more than most.

"Alpro Sweetened"
Base: Soya
Costs: £1.09/L
Tastes: Guchh.
Is: High in protein. Apparently 5% of UK are allergic to soy.

"Alpro Unsweetened"
Base: Soya
Costs: £1.09/L
Tastes: Insipid but much better.
Is: High in protein.
(There's also this tiny carton of soya cream you can get which improves matters.)

"Rice Dream"

Base: Rice
Costs: £1.38/L
Tastes: Curious. Bit sweet. Easily acclimatise tho. I prefer the fortified one to the Organic shiz.
Is: Totally non-allergenic. If you're allergic to rice then you're fucked anyway.

"Sharbat bil Loz"
Base: Almonds
Costs: £1.30/L for ingredients, but requires preparation.
Tastes: Light and nutty.
Is: Authentically medieval Europe. Authentic Beijing. Authentic Iran.

Base: Oats
Costs: £1.10/L
Tastes: Cowy, though the amount of fibre is tangible.
Is: Beta-glucan

"GOOD Hemp"
Base: Hemp.
Costs: £1.70/L
Tastes: Creamy but oily.
Is: Full of omega-3, which vegists find hard to get. As eco as it gets.

"Kara Dairy Free"
Base: Coconut
Costs: £1.29/L
Tastes: Good but plasticy aftertaste. Not very coconutty.
Is: Ok.

Horchata de Chufas
Base: Tigernut
Costs: £1/L ingredients, needs prep.
Tastes: Good. Slightly oily.
Is: Proteiny.


So, not a bad run. Most of these are worth trying, except hemp. Almond milk is best, but you've to make it yourself. Ricemilk with soy cream mixed in is my drug of choice.

Next self-improvement: the slaying of Cheese, and fucking daunting it is too.


hoots min, i'm deid

"It appears, then, that one must either accept patriotism in spite of its undesirable features or place oneself in the role of an outsider, whose claims about the national welfare have an uncertain status. The result for many is a chronic form of discomfort and a hope that the subject of patriotism can be kept out of political discussions".
- Stephen Nathanson

"[Post]modern national culture is the sum of all the interpretations of history by all the people living in the nation. "
- Michael Gardiner

"Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation."
- Alasdair Gray

My attempt to process Scottish culture in its entirety continues, taking in the canon, old shitey forgotten canons, a giant chunk of political philosophy, and a poke of Heideggerian shite. I'm reading about 200 pages a day, working as if not in the early days of a belting migraine. Carving my head into funny shapes:

First lesson: my sheer Scottish ignorance. I hadn't heard of Tom Nairn, James Hamilton, John Galt, Margaret Oliphant, William Dunbar, Tom Leonard, Willa Anderson, Angus Calder, Maurice Lindsay, Ethel Moorhead, Ossian, John McGrath - nor did I know Smollett and Carlyle were Scottish. I had dismissed the Scottish Enlightenment as hyped propaganda. I didn't understand Presbyterianism as a Scottish phenomenon. I hadn't read much with much sympathy at all.

Second lesson: Nationality is fucking complex. As a teen I did have a nasty theory of nationalism:

"Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under."
- HL Mencken

: that it was a crutch, an irrational and dangerous surrender of the self; that nationalists exaggerate difference in order to exclude others; that patriotism was directly related to racism and war; that Renton's soliloquoy was right-on; that Scotland's culture was debased and commercialised beyond repair; that a loud socialist universalism is the way instead. I've been slowly shedding this for five years now. It was grounded in foolishness, embarrassment, and an intolerant kind of tolerance.

Third lesson: Scots theory is actually interesting. The flyting-feuilleton air of it, if nothing else.

Distinctions to be emphasised:

  • Banal nationalism (local celebrities; whisky) v Formal nationalism (the anthem; haggis)

  • Nation ≠ Country ≠ People ≠ Culture ≠ Ethnie ≠ State's interests ≠ Cult of the Past

  • Ethnic nationalism ≠ Civic nationalism ≠ Instrumental nationalism ≠ ...

Essentialist nationalism:
A belonging which depends on a priori things (shared ethnicity, language, geographical location).

a. ‘Romantic’ (racist) nationalism: Hereditary membership. Discussion of identity is moot – since everyone ‘truly’ [British] understands that growing up in [Britain] automatically provides you with your sense of self. Individuals are uncomplicated, unitary, with an unbroken connection with their origins.

Corollary: The ‘authenticity’ of individuals needs to be defended against change and foreign incursion.

b. State nationalism: If you agree with the government then you’re in. (Mussolini, Jacobins)

c. Pan-nationalism: Goal of unifying some Golden Age ethnic block. See (a)

d. Religious nationalism

e. Diaspora nationalism: Emigrant communities’ phantom bedrock. Imaginary.

Modernist nationalism:
nation as a mentally constructed thing. An ‘imagined community’ binding varied people together. Necessarily dynamic (?)

a. Imperialism: Spread [Britishness]! Imagined community of citizens: supposedly values-based. Official nationalism: Elites tried to merge imagined-Britain with the wider empire. Isles extended over absurdly vast cultural space. Britishness as 'civilising' ideology.

b. Post-colonial nationalism: Resistance to cultural domination leads to movement for self-determination vs political domination. (Scotland has elements.)

c. Revolutionary nationalism: ‘Communism will take over a piece at a time.’

d. Civic / Liberal nationalism: Queer beastie. Constitutional statement about national identity; ethnic origin sidelined in favour of tolerance and equality. A voluntary identity. Nation goes on for 'democracy’s sake':

(1) social integration in a liberal democracy requires shared norms and beliefs (or so claims Schnapper)

(2) levels of trust required for democratic politics only attained among co-nationals (or so claims Miller)

(3) Deliberation requires perfect communication, possible only in a shared public culture (so says Barry)

(4) economic viability of specifically industrialized democracies requires one national culture (so claims Gellner)

Postmodern nationalism: There is no one Scottish worldview, no apriori conditions to be a Scot. There is a collective psyche, but it’s contradictory, hybrid and can't ever be wrapped up.


"The rose of all the world is not for me.
I want for my part
Only the little white rose of Scotland
That smells sharp and sweet - and breaks the heart. "
- MacDiarmid

This is still not true of me, nor will it be. But I don't hate the sentiment anymore.

(c) Hugh Ebdy (2011)


Socioeconomic Blues

If anyone ever gives me a lecturing job I am well structuring my course reader around these.

1. Supply and Demand - Hives

2. The Day the Dollar Die - Peter Tosh
(Appeal to post-scarcity society, but I'll use it for exchange-rate theory)

3. Milkshake - Kelis
(erotic capital, I'm afraid)

4. How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live? - Albert Reed

5. Capitalism - Oingo Boingo
(Talking Heads meets Milton Friedman. Well, somebody had to write it.)

6. Taxman - Beatles
(Whinge about progressive taxation. Groovy)

7. Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had - Muddy Waters
(Muddy misunderstands the virtual nature of money. Nevertheless, his very attitude drove the 2008 credit crunch: subprime defaults.

8. Career Opportunities - Clash
(Unskilled labour's mass alienation)

9. I Want It All - Queen
(maximising "rational" consumer - "move out of my way" - to me you have no way)

10. Government Cheese - Rainmakers
(neoconservative anthem. Ironically it was Reagan that launched the synecdoche they despise so much.)

11. Mercedes Benz - Janis Joplin
(the perverse equilibriumless nature of positional consumption.)

12. Soak up the Sun - Sheryl Crow
(Buddhist economics: the restraint of desire as happiness. Spiritual dimension of public goods.)

13. I'd Love to Change the World - Ten Years After
(To illustrate the received view: doomy sneering conservatism. Note weird homophobic verse.)

14. A Study in Economics - Allister
(Bizarre. I think this is what Green Day was always aiming for.)
"say goodbye to everything you think you know" (aye, like compassion and scientific method, when opening your microeconomics textbook)

15. Changes - Tupac
("we can never go nowhere unless we share with each other.")

16. Cut From the Cloth - Evens
(Cultural costs are always externalized)

17. Minimum Wage Is A Gateway Drug - Dillinger Four
(For friends who dropped out "to save up" for uni or for other life-changing soul-cementing things which they never got around to, and won't.)



I reviewed about a quarter of the shows I saw at the Edinburgh Festival. I would just link to the people I wrote them for, but their subediting crushes and banalises everything, so here we are. The deadlines were strict, so these were all pounded out in about ten mins. I'd recommend the exercise to anyone.


Jumping Jesse Jones

One very short route to my heart is cheer in the face of adversity. There's a bucket of adversity facing Mr Jones, as he plays here all month: he plays alone, outside, in a big booze-branded box; half the audience face away, chatting; he also quietly competes with Chapel Street's traffic noise. Playing original acoustic blues, he throws in some slap-bass moves and clattery thrash. His voice is a sweet baritone, but undistinguished. Most of his songs work because, if you master a cliché, it will not offend the ear anymore. A Davy Graham reference - in this town - does him credit, as does a Gram Parsons intonation. His attitude is to Open a guitar-case in hope, and grin at whatever arrives.


Killing Bill Gates by Mechanical Tiger (Free)

Tim is a neurotic minor manager in Bill Gates' charity, scheming to murder him. The main gag is the absurd formality in which his cliched team (Nice Guy, Psycho, and Bitch) go about it. Unfortunately the other jokes are just pop namechecks - Fallout 3, Arnie, Plan B, Cheryl Cole - or limp meme hyperbole - violence to kittens and 'sucking cream from a rectum'. The stage is cramped, so the dialogue relies on stage whispers - characters constantly 'secretly' talking about someone three feet away. (It subverts this eventually, but even then it jars.) There's some ok choreography, some ok monologues, and a lot of naff porn jokes, but this both rushed and plodded its way to its ending.


The Life And Times Of Albert Lymes by Tin Shed Theatre Company (Free)

Hyperactive little one-man psychological comedy. Justin Cliffe offers us a dozen characters who all overbear poor Albert Lyme, a dull neurotic on a very bad day: we're endeared to Lyme because everyone else in his world is so much worse. It's part confession and part pantomime - we're carried along on Cliffe's rapid fire expression. He's indebted to Terry Jones most of all - in his screeching falsetto for women, his explosive gurning, and Lyme's bravura tics. Cliffe rolls well with a couple of mistakes and missed cues - again, moving too fast to linger on them. Some visual gags (a Scrabbleboard becomes a newspaper) and inserted plot holes are also charming. Full of life, but oppressive too.


Constantinople (Free)

Charming semi-historical absurdism from two New Zealanders in togas. They mime, pun and fantasise their way between a pair of characters each - Constantine and his DJ slave, or an insecure horse and his masseur. Their timing is endlessly impressive: several times they rebuild their tiny set in sync. The show jumps out of, and ends with They Might Be Giants' 'Istanbul', and shares its gleeful anachronism. The non-sequitur structure is mostly brilliant - the narrator is marked out from other characters only by his wearing a tie (made of newspaper, a sign, an asp, or a sheet). Their Conversion of Constantine (in the world's first disco, 'Studio LIV') is overlong, and Barnie Duncan's mediterranean accent is sometimes dodgy, but this is wonderful, unpretentious postmodern slapstick.


Traumatikon by Counter-Active

Traumatikon's programme namechecks eleven modernist Names, with Tadeusz Kantor the citation of honour. ("Kantorian" seems to mean repetitive, grotesque, and nonlinear.) It doesn't tell a story. Calling it 'experimental' wouldn't be quite right either, since they're trying to honour forty-year-old work. We follow a restaurant's large macabre cast through their various tics, non-dialogue, beery singalongs and transformations. Characters take it in turns to break through the absurd routine with some Great Change that gives them and us a short reprieve from all the passive horror: a 'queen' becomes Pablo Picasso; a mute is operated on and emerges as Frida Kahlo; a cheery girl channels the goddess Freya in apocalyptic wrath; eventually the grim restaurant itself suddenly becomes a Gorey circus. Traumatikon is cruel to beauty, but if you have patience, and the stomach for masses of irony and black, it's meaty. Meat that's going green.


Cutting the Cord by Flying Eye

Sachi Kimura begins her one-woman show by asking us to mill around onstage. Wrongfooted, we're captivated easily. This is the story of a Tokyo-girl in London - it's actually a composite built from several real migrants' stories. "Sachi" is a solid brick of goodwill, cute as a button - she draws on the walls and spies on us. Her (affected) accent is occasionally problematic, but the rough English is vital to the character: in one skit she rapidly improves it, ending with perfect Newcastlese. She's excellent on the harshness and hypocrisy of nationality and Immigration departments: of the UK Citizenship Test - "I am more Japanese here, but I must also be more British than the British". There's many tiny things executed well; the highlight is an extended metaphor where she, a hermit crab, is stuck between two shells and ostracised by the other crabs. Warming.


Hotel Medea by Zecora Ura Theatre/Para Active

Look at its price (£25, where £7 is the usual Fringe rate). Look at its length (5.6 hours); its start time (11:40pm). But there's more: you will be touched, you'll parade, won't be allowed to be just an audience. The leading lady will kiss you. The men will cross-dress and the women will drink neat gin. Zecora Ura harness the manifold powers of a late night - exertion endorphins; the emotional effects of sleeplessness; chants, and other crowd psychology. They build dreamlike things to replace the dreams we're missing; they will lull you back to childhood; they make absurdity comfortable; they end on the first and strongest narrative device: a real dawn. Hotel Medea blends rave, live documentary, satire, interactive tragedy, and hide and seek. There are hundreds of admirable details, since they use the entire Summerhall building, filling areas with dry ice, strongarming you between them. It is tender, shocking and indescribable. Go; lose sleep over this.


En Route To The Enormous Room by Bald Robin and Mince's Music

Reverent musical of ee cummings' war experiences, staged as a classic BBC radio drama - formal dress and all. To some extent this excuses Leo Robb's overacting (as historically accurate). In hindsight, Cummings' poetry has been demanding musical arrangement - Graham Robb's originals, sung quivering-quavering-timeless by Ailsa Mooney, are great and oddly genreless - neither swing nor cabaret nor dance. His medley of subverted patriotic ditties and 'Madame de la Mort' are particuarly powerful. Unfortunately, the plot and acting combine to make our heroes self-righteous. They tote bravado rather than bravery, even with racism and bellowing irrationality as villains. 'En Route' is noble but simplistic, and so is contained in its line: "I will not kiss your fucking flag!". [Was quite drunk when reviewing this one.]


Debbie Does My Dad by Bobbie Gordon

One-man autobiographical show about taboos and growing up liberal (with a pornstar father). Gordon has to stretch to fill the stage - for example his huskiness when he wants to sound profound, or his unconvincing character acting. The show originated in Gordon's beat poems, and it shows - that familiar spit, inimical to comedy; one's inadequacies swung like a bat. It's Langston Hughes without rhythm, Saul Williams without fire. The main issue though is that the piece uses a confessional format for a man with no sins to offer us. Most of the jokes earn only titters from the crowd, flat and ambiguous as they are. But his thoughts on parenting and gender are sophisticated, and the final skits are better, as Gordon loosens up, declares a new masculinity, and humps the air, into freedom.


Motortown by Exeter University Theatre Company

Danny is a British soldier returning home after a Tour, who suddenly spirals into psychotic freefall. James Dartford, in the leading role, is tense but not really intense, terrible but not really terrorising us enough. The remainder of the cast form a tribunal of scowling sexy things, facing him throughout. A depraved 'philosophical' gunsmith offers Danny a sick ideology: second-hand solipsism. The play climaxes with Danny kidnapping, torturing and murdering a teenager. No logic for the act is in view: the play is muddled, hinting at the brutality of training and war - "I've seen men with their skin all melted" - but failing to cement it. Danny's descent from ordinary aggression into outright ultraviolent ultrabigotry is incomprehensible, and doesn't ring true. Sparse but worthy.


Simon Callow in Tuesdays at Tesco by Assembly
Pauline - once known as 'Paul' - is a bouncy and brittle woman looking after her hostile, ageing dad once a week. It's a long one-man (ahem) show about terrible ordinariness. To my surprise, Callow often fumbles his lines, particularly when impersonating her father. The effects of transphobia play out with all the cliches in place - Pauline lives constantly with the call to justify her self, and often anxiously assures us of her gender. The suffering of bigots, too, is touched on. She dances the pain away - here Callow really gives it some in heels. Two twists come very late, and give rise to the piece's only surprise, and only moment of pure affection. Every Tuesday is the same, and there is no warming reconciliation. Moral but poorly done.


Kev Orkian: The Guilty Pianist

Jongleurs staple ladles on an Eurasian accent and hams out some molto vivace piano medleys. Despite the title there's actually not much piano involved: the set's a series of cheap shots at immigrants, gays, the Swahili language, the women in the audience, and Essex - just like in the good old 1950s. His puncturing of classical airs - he falls asleep during 'Moonlight Sonata' - is charming. He manages to be both camp and blockish, impressively. The short show's only highlight is his comparative history of Western and "Armenian" dancing: the man can move. But otherwise this felt like a showcase for a cheap and nasty old revue. Aims for Dudley Moore but ends up an uncuddly boor.


World Stories From LA by Luna Caps Productions

Arrangement of five short plays sharing a theme in the price of beauty. The set begins with lowest melancholy and gains farce and life with each successive piece. Open on Poe's 'The Oval Mirror', in which an artist's wife is consumed by his representation; then Yukio Mishima's 'Hanjo', which parallels the Poe when the titular lead goes mad from longing, thereby becoming enormously beautiful to the sadist who takes her in. Third up, 'The Blonde' is an outrageous breath of a thing about Stockholm Syndrome and statistics; fourth, a Mexican folktale takes us on a bucolic trip through poverty and witchcraft and love; lastly, they improvise on Hovaness Toumanian's 'The Stupid Man' creating a pleasant shambles while subverting quest parables. The production is informal by necessity - hurrying through four stage changes and five character switches in 100mins, but mostly succeeds.


Dirt by Aireborne Theatre

Magic-realist fairytale telling of bereaved mother Ada's attempt to flee from grief ... and also the incursion of a kingdom of evil Worms. Said worms are the show's jesters and Greek chorus, singing charmingly villainous songs and driving events - like reanimating Ada's dead son as a toy for the Worm King. Laura Marston, as both the Worm Princess and Ada's mother, is properly impressive, craning and straining gymnastically to animate a series of animal puppets - weedling and self-promoting, she'd make a fine Mephistopheles. The ending is suddenly unsentimental, and completely bucks the story arc it had been following, jolting us loose into the venue foyer. Aireborne manage to pull off grisly cuteness better than anyone - and we've had a glut recently.



A Sentimental Journey through Bits of England

Allons! to that which is endless, as it was beginningless,
To undergo much, tramps of days, rests of nights,
To merge all in the travel they tend to, and the days and nights they tend to,
Again to merge them in the start of superior journeys

- Walt Whitman

It is an age so full of light, that there is scarce a country or corner in Europe whose beams are not crossed and interchanged with others. - Knowledge in most of its branches, and in most affairs, is like music in an Italian street, whereof those may partake who pay nothing. - But there is no nation under heaven abounding with more variety of learning, where the sciences may be more fitly woo’d, or more surely won, than here, - where art is encouraged, and will so soon rise high, - where Nature (take her altogether) has so little to answer for, - and, to close all, where there is more wit and variety of character to feed the mind with: - Where then, my dear countrymen, are you going?

- Laurence Sterne,
A Sentimental Journey

Day 1: Aberdeen to Carlisle.

For simplicity I tell people this is my first time in England. The truth:

  • 1991: Visit to Greater London for a wedding. 2 days.
  • 1996: Visit to York for nothing in particular. 3 days.
  • 1999: Visit to Windermere for my gran's Mormon nonsense. 3 days.
  • 2002: Through it on a bus to France. <1 day.
  • 2004: Through it on a bus to France. <1 day.

So actually close enough. Into Carlisle about 7pm. Struck by the sheer amount of brick, especially in confectionary red-white-red-white pattern. Panic rises when the rain comes on: am hungry, alone, and have no idea how to get out of town. Rank my paranoias to pass time: fear of criminal folk (low); fear of sarcastic people (high); fear of illness from rain (med); fear for bike (med); fear for no campsite (critical). Eat in a truckstop, and meet George, a magnanimous gobshite who introduces hisself as a connoisseur of rucksacks, and offers a campsite in his garden within 30 seconds of meeting: "Life's too short to be horrible to people". Sleep in a hedge on an industrial estate instead, for some reason. Possibly manners.

Day 2: Carlisle to Patterdale

Give up trying to sleep at 4am and get on the A6. Leaving, I have Carlisle to myself, sharing only with the odd Stobart man. Scoot around the castle happily. Bike the 20mi to Penrith, get there by 7am, ffffuck. Do not feel remotely good - lurk in the sun, chilled and sick. Seem to eat and drink continuously. Struck by the casual fellowship of the unmotorised: hikers grimace at each other; cyclists always nod. Come upon the absurdly picturesque Patterdale, facing the unspeakably picturesque Ullswater. Every other house is a B&B. Climb two miles up a fucking mountain to reach the Arthurian, the sublime, the baffling YHA Helvellyn. It's empty and unlocked, so I help the recycling man:
TONY: I were a livestockman f' the Earl f' 54 years. ("yeus")
I: What changed?
TONY: Got bored.
Middle-aged hostel crowd are great - we all stink, I trust them instinctively. Shower, pathetic with gratitude - only 28 hours since my last. Giddy with fatigue, I entertain at the dinner table. Honestly not really sure what I was saying to them.

Day 3: Helvellyn to Grasmere

Sit on a crop over the Ullswater all morning. Read Auden ('Paysage Moralise' impresses me into a deep funk). Meet more people - it's just that kind of place. Listen to Some Call It Godcore; perfect. Bike making an irritating noise - sit down to bodge it; it's miraculous that it was running at all; chain had pulled off the deraileur and was only going by cutting a groove into the guard. (Things fall apart, but sometimes they fall into place at the same time.) Up Birkbeck, harrrd. Feel great, have lunch at 1500 feet. Soon after, coming down "The Struggle" (too fast, too topheavy) crash pretty badly, using my skin as a brake.
If I should fall, think of this of me,
That there's some corner of Cumbria road
That is forever Gavin.
Man happens up the road a minute later and kindly offers first aid: through my teeth I fail to express how much this means to me. Limp to Ambleside, brakes on, then on a little further to Grasmere. Have earned my dopamine today. Inexplicably, the hostel has a copy of Jung's Archetypes, and some Sloterdijk in Dutch(!) While wrestling with Jung, eavesdrop on loud Australian girl: "Efter Glestonbury, yea, eeverything was all so 'ohmygod toomanypeople' so we weent to the Laykes...and thain during Paul Simon oi felt railly seack..."

Does everyone's tourism seem contemptible but our own?

Day 4: Grasmere to Kendal.

"The loveliest spot that man hath ever found."
- Wordsworth

Nah, Grasmere's nothing to Ullswater. (see how quickly we become worldly! J later mocks the fact that everybody he knows seems to profess a working knowledge of and affinity for the Lakes.) Sleep is difficult without elbowskin. Go see Dove Cottage and Rydal Mount. I actually gasp once let out of the former, bloody guided tour. Japanese people everywhere. I side with Hunt against Wordsworth: a poet who withdraws from humanity needs to justify herself, and WW has no grounds but beauty for his endless vacation.

Through Ambleside, lunch at the Priest Hole. Struggle the 4 miles to Windermere, and would've done without the wounds screaming. Bugger about for a couple of hours, preparing to seem authoritative rather than bewildered (R and J are coming). He arrives eventually, and we go fail to find a 24hr shop. Camp by an empty house. Criteria:
  1. Drainage?
  2. Windbreak?
  3. Soft ground?
  4. Teen haunt?
  5. Noise?
  6. Legal?
Unsurprisingly, having a tent is an exponentially better way to be.

Day 5: more Kendal.

Woken by a bemused builder at 9am. Neither of us knows what the other is doing there. Day of forced grace - me and R waiting for J. Eat beans by the river, eat Mint Cake (CHRIST) by the Castle. Mint Cake is to meringue what diamond is to coal. It is good indeed to have a companion, but I feel the need to mask my leg-weakness and pain, even so. Jokes are real again! (Donald Trump's helicopter's tapeplayer has one Kraftwerk album jammed in it.) Visit a church (St Thomas'?) - grotesque.


J is late (straight in from Zambia). Eat crap, then go see Half Man Half Biscuit. Hits-laden set, smelly and fun.

We camp desperately, end up next to a railtrack among thistles. Laugh.

Day 6: Kendal to Sedbergh

Dunno how we slept - "Hitchcockian" night. Heat rises to about 28 celsius as we approach the Dales: and it's 18 miles of uphill. J suffers. Reach Sedburgh, where we founder - J's bike is fucked, and the nearest bike shop is Kendal, and you can't take bikes on busses, and (...) Cook dhal in a churchyard, and laugh. J returns to Kendal. Bugger about with some philosophy history - who is the empiricist who connects Newton with Russell (if anyone)? - and go find somewhere to camp. First path we roll up, Ghyll Farm, agrees with grand nonchalance. My heart swells with the kindness, and the £100 view. Wash naked in a stream, good. James succeeds & returns taxied by Mark E Smith, good. Sunburn; ah whatthehell. We eat peas in the pod, good.

Day 7: Sedbergh to Leyburn

Passing a newsagents, note Guardian scoop about Milly Dowler's phone with a theatrical "ffffuck!". See a black rabbit. (So much roadkill in Yorkshire.) Begin the day with a road dispute, I solved. Road to Hawes is beautiful but painful. Seems that every rural Northern town is a "book town". Eat total crap in a coldheart Hawes cafe. It's too hot to work at 2, so we lie in a park. My backpack is too big, but there's nothing I can throw out (only three changes of clothes, for instance). Press on to Leyburn, whose name no one can retain. Laugh. JW cancels our Middlesbrough appointment. We huzzah, a bit. Camp secretly at Stoop House Farm. (Sheep never shut the fuck up.)

Day 8: Leyburn to Ripon (Seven Bridges Valley)

Nice downhill to the A6108. R ill (dehydrated). Heat punishing even at 10am. Spend a nice hour in the shade, texting while R sleeps and J scouts. Ripon, seeped in a seeping cathedral. I am learning to treat churches as a form of entertainment - a vital skill in the C20th, but yielding less these days. RC is good and squat. Light a candle (for gays killed by Christians). Camp by Fountains Abbey, nervily. Make stirfry and inane entertainment - watching a wheel spin. Laugh... Brought Hume's Treatise with me, but I haven't read fuck-all all trip: The habit has been pumped out of me - and anyway the intro's by some snotty '50s Analytic no thankyou very much.

Day 9: 7BV to Thirsk

Yorkshire is fucking huge, but its cultural footprint is very small, somehow. Have breakfast at the Fountains visitor centre. (Eggs benedict is a bloody weird dish.) Don't go in. Back to Ripon to sit out the Ferment (unbearable midday heat). To Thirsk. S'ok - but the Blacksmith's Inn's jukebox, by this, mp3-dead, tune-starved point, is a revelation. With J, pump £5 in. O the fun of infliction. Out. Ask at a farm, who agree reluctantly. Owner looks like Harold Wilson and talks in a way that I adore but am crap at bantering with. Stove soy-bolognese and silence.

Day 10: Thirsk to Malton

First rain during night. R's stuff damp but ok. Task #1: climb Sutton bloody Bank, a job that a bartender last night grinned maliciously at. As soon as we're up, first real rain starts. Soaked to my pants in 4 minutes flat. Hide in a visitor centre, but soon out Into It. Uggggh execrable. Biking fast and risky (13 miles in an hour). Feet three kilos heavier from waterlogging, visibility nought. R avuncular throughout. One facial expression for that hour:


Suddenly dries. Go to Castle Howard, brideshead visited. R and I pad around the ground barefoot and talk metahistory. Lots of pagan biz around. Fear the rain. Drink in Malton's "Crossed Keys", a warmly bizarre, Thai-themed, Medieval-catacombed pub. Tastes of doom, sadly. Laugh anyway. Eat mexican: yaas. J falls off his bike suddenly on the way out, minor but galling for all that. Then R's gear-cable snaps. Thus hunt for shelter early. Find another indifferent farm - J is the first to identify its "wrongness". The doom of canyons. Shave my lips and furrow my brow.

Day 11: Malton to York

Wind torments us all night.
"J: How many stains do you have on you?
"I: Uhh...
J: I've got blood, oil, nutella, paint, suncream, bolognese, pen, grass, savlon and toothpaste on these trousers."
Eat nutella and leave with haste. "Easy" route is hard, uncertain and hit by crosswinds. Tempers fray on all parts. Wash my feet in a river while J goes begging for water and R frowns at the horizon. Called a gaylord on the back road to York (by a stranger that is, not J). Starving, disproportionately weary, and then I drink some off milk. (Veganism is impossible on the road.) Make it though, and eat in a bistro. Doze. Get a fusty 3-bed room. Decor: avocado plastic and forty-year-old taupe. Since I'm a vegetarian, R and J are designated "normals". Go see Potiche and struggle to find late night food again. York is good tho.

Day 12: more York.

Absymal night - feverish, neuralgic, tinnitic, insomniac, gut-rotten. Sleep naked & still boil in my bag. It breaks around 5am, and I collapse. Shitting blood and farting butane. Has been coming for a while, now I think about it. With no destination today, I have time to break down. Breakfast is served by B&B woman's children, ew. Saunter.

J spots a woman having a 'Proustian moment' at a sweetshop window. She's transfixed, mouth slightly open, eyes glazed. We stand a little while watching, before shame overtakes me and I wheel away. J protests that he thought it beautiful but: even so. National Railway Museum is impressive - full of things built for incredible wear, so you can poke and touch whatever. Face off against the most intrinsically evil train in the world. It's while spiritually wrestling before it I work out that I can stop the pain if I don't move and don't breathe. Circle York some more - the conversation unwittingly(?) centring on our futures. Eat in unabashedly hippy veggie restaurant. (Meh.) To the Minster for chorales: a deadening sort of awe. Saw a bouncer earlier who was a human crow - jerky, wary and cruel. The Gabrieli Consort are human eagles (superlative) but also kiwi-birds (full of something larger than themselves). Afterwards, more blood.

Day 13: York to Harrogate.

Pain largely lifts. Change a tyre, read aunt Guardian, and away. Pain returns from exertion. Lunch in Weatherby, where argument about Class vis-a-vis delicatessens kicks off. Also re: ciabatta. A dull town. To Harrogate, full of parks. (To do list: feel good.) Eat bad masala in a park and laugh. Go see Lady In the Van. Theatre is airless and womb-hot. Play's beautiful tho - the soul in question offering a lesson after all. Sleepy, I mistake the interval for the end. Rush out, find a farm, sleep in the calving field. Set up in the dark.

Day 14: Harrogate into Bronteland.

Selfrighteous passerby asks if we have permission to camp: his transformation after being rebuffed is like a balloon farting flat. Just after we decamp, the Rain comes on. A group hysteria comes on too - we dump R's tent, flee back down the hill. Sodden breakfast in Cafe Rouge. More laughter. J leaving on a wet train. Blunder out of town and do 25 miles in 3 hours. Dry in the wind. The Bradford valley is amazing, Italian. Stop in Saltaire for 'lunch' (see photo).

To Bingley, which we soon retreat from, set up on a grand piece on nasty scrubland. I walk a mile and back to buy water. Talk metaphilosophy. Dream about home.

Day 15: Bingley to Littleborough

Wake to find a passing dog has eaten my breakfast. Eat cereal on the verge of an A-road. We climb 1500 feet in two miles - on the edge of the Pennines now. Haworth is bloody dramatic - all 40 degree valleys and Burtonesque outcrops. More bland road towns, and then


A highlight of the whole trip: an incredible, four-mile-long regular downslope to Hebden Bridge. Didn't pedal once. Shower at Todmorden and doze on an ex-golfcourse (what a lovely concept that is!) Power on to Summit Quarry, a stunning but midgey campsite. Tomato is the travel staple for some reason: 5/6 of the meals centre on it.

Day 16: Littleborough to Knutsford

Sheep creep deep as we sleep. It's not pleasant going in these parts - though the sun's not intense, we have to take big roads. Decide to skip urbania - but Oldham train station is no more, so first we look for somewhere not grim to eat (fail, so first Wetherspoon's). Lots of hassle on road. Go to Ashton. It takes us three hours to make our connecting train through Manc to Knutsford. R goes for food, takes 50 minutes at it, which crosses my Gerald Horizon (the time waited after the expected return-time of someone before you assume that massive disaster has befallen them). We are identified by one of J's lovely mates. Sleep in a barn. FTW

Day 17: Knutsford to Helsby

Don't want to get up. Barns be comfy. Sit on a bench in Northwich and watch strange strangers. A Securicor man stops to pet a dog on his way in to Tesco. Stops for an unseemly length of time, really. Helsby is unsignposted. We muddle on. Somewhat frayed again. Arrive at J's house after hours. Shower, eat, miss a window for a Hong Kong internship, poke around. I am three steps into his house before I see a Burial album, to be fair. Up Helsby Hill; it's a chemical, Lemon-Jelly land. J is I suppose only standardly impassive to his parents. Eat cornucopic curry. J drives us to Ellesmere to see Tree of Life, a messy and chewy old thing. Back, we sit around, read existentialists.

Day 18: Chester

Thought process on the cycle route from H to Chester:
relationship between capitalism and love 1: growth and industrialisation invented the concept and supply of "leisure time" - a vital component in gardening one's romantic love. 2: Concentrated mass housing allows couples to separate without the fear of homelessness-or-exile holding them together.

Town's reet nice. J is unerring and charges around his teen haunt in a funny laconic way, but we blunder into the sights anyway: buskers, the weird double-shops, the Cryer, the Cathedral, a Roman, the walls. Refectory is good. Tension flares somewhat over my nonexistent road skillz. Poem for Chester's shot-tower:
and I, a liquid falling,
and morphing (as you do)
and pausing on the water,
sphering, perfect, new.
Good hard towels at J's. More curry, then rush comically around Cheshire looking for J's friends in the old manner, blind guesswork. Nonbonfire party at friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend Howard's. Thus get to see J in his hatching habitat, which is very good fun:

"Buhhhhhhh, mi nam is J. H., I do nut kno bout art or fukkn books."

"This guy had shit himself in the club. But he were so cool about it, we felt like idiots for not shitting ourselves!"

"When in Rome, shit in the woods."

He also gets piled on, in the course of which I clonk heads badly with another of his lovely mates. I'm totally fine, but he got hisself fucked up. Helplessly embarassed. The banter is fast and riotous; I don't keep up. He is forced to be young here. It might grieve me that I exert little of that fresh cool pressure, but nah SUCH LADS

Day 19: Liverpool

Another deceptively aimless day out (aimed well by J). Drives us at length through bewildering spaghetti roads. Knows his history, especially the Beatles tour less travelled. First stop, the Metropolitan Cathedral. It is virtuoso, powerfully unsentimental. Dozens of excellent moments are set into a shocking overarching theme. It is my favourite church. I know this simply cos for once I felt no contempt in it. To 'the Phil', the Docks and the Tate. It's Magritte at the moment, and he is loads of fun. Also the other Cathedral: equally brutalist but less modern, less true. They face each other down Hope Street, and the smaller Metro guts the shit out of him.

Back, risotto trop vert, and to the pub. Meet Cheshtronica supremo TNJX, very shy - well. Moments of pure fun - "Sad or Bad?!" and seven people shouting at a quiz machine. J drives well back well drunk.

Day 20: Manchester

"I can suck melancholy from song as a weasel sucks eggs!"
- Jacques

Roll straight out of bed onto the 1100 train to Manchester. No conductor! Rain forces us into weird cultural junkshop. Buzz about - go to the gay bit for Turing, the crap goth-encrusted cathedral, the cathedralite Town Hall. Try to see Johnny Vegas, but are crushed.

Always so much about soldiers in churches. It's enough to drive you Marxist. Manc Cath claims all of one regiment's late-C20th dead on its wall - though a decent number of them wouldn't have given a shit about Christ. Supernatural insurance has done this world too much harm.

Big public gallery is oddly dissatisfying, but there's a good Turner and some fun contemps. Try to eat in the modish Northern Quarter - no seats in: "Common", "Trof", "O??", nor "Oklahoma", so we eat in a mediocre vegan place. See Craig Charles. See As You Like It, proper good even in the Gods. Another free train back, chatting with a friendly drunk in a borrowed suit.

(The big gimmick of my trip, my personal West of England Honours list, can be found here incidentally.)

Day 21: the Wirral

One last sally. To Jodrell Bank, where we stand for 5 minutes and leave. Am quiet, fatigued in some occluded way. J puts on Beastie Boys and Half Man Half Biscuit in the car; I could just stay in all day. Do plaques for two friends, Peel and Blackwell. Rain is filthy thick. Have a "euphorically" bad time in Birkenhead. Eat in Wetherspoon's, inevitably. Fail to get a present for J's parents.

Internet for a bit, trying to fling myself into a fruitful future. (A press pass to the Edinburgh Festival, and the groundwork for Low Lands, my book on nationality.) Go a to pub quiz, at which J is extremely unhappy. "Which Canada-born Bayern Munich midfielder made his international debut against the Netherlands in 2001?": "WHAT THE FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!". We are not good but are funny.

Moment of poetry in a grim place (toilets of the Belle Monte pub, Frodsham): remarked to J how lovely his friend P is -

J: He is, isn't he? Famously is. He thinks I hate him though.
I: [grandiose] So let him know!

Later learn that P was in the cubicle during this, trying to save our modesty by calling out, but was ignored.

Day 22: Helsby to Congleton

Woken by J having a good idea in the next room. Onwards. (J stays behind.) Back immediately with some nice STEALTH WINE for hosts.

To Nantwich quickly. Cheerfully piece together a lunch of chips and redcurrants. Staffordshire is fucking nasty. Not much thinking or talking involved, just grit teeth and get through it. Make it to Congleton about 7pm, have a drink. Meet our first Great English Eccentric, a rude hag living in a giant scrapheap of fiftyyearold sports cars. Camp in a swamp on top of a hill. DONE.

(Concept without a word: beaux vivant; informal artist; self-artist. Someone who lives according to taste, and unnoticed acts of art. "Aesthete" comes close. What would Nietzsche call them?)

Day 23: Congleton to Ashbourne

Slept about 12 hours in tolerable misery. Spend ages decamping, soggy and grumpy. Less dashing, less swashing. Uphill struggle to Leek for hours - a spry 60 yearold biker overtakes us. Go to a crap cafe who begrudge us a sale. Limp on, fringing the Peaks.

Altered consciousness, really. Focus on ruining your legs. Did about 40 mile yesterday; apparently that was too much. Stop at Ashbourne cemetary (count on the dead for peace). There's a humanising flash of sunlight, but that's all. Drink and chat amidst bunting and Scottish flags (?) Thai restaurant for tea which had the same gorgeous dense sculpted tofu as had in Beijing. Scratch out another mile, camp illegally on a footpath.

birdsong as gunfire
(which it's closer to than serenade)
eternal woodland carnage,
interminable grudge,
the cock a flare up-arcing,
and the warring won't be budged:

wings like old m.g blues.

Day 24: Ashbourne to Smisby

Hypersensitive night - too close to the road, too much stink. Another supermarket-bench breakfast and away. Fatigue lifts. Into Derby on a wave of admiration: bike paths everywhere, big news screen and a stylish contempt for its past. Shower, do cathedral, do pub. It occurs to me that EngSoc are the natural enemies of Philsoc. It also occurs to me that I want to set up a intersociety football tournament. Moment of sublime error when I leave my bike-lock key somewhere. Set the staff of Wetherspoon's searching for it before noticing it myself under the table. We leave hastily.

Except you can't, because the outskirts last 10 bloody miles. Derby hath spread her wings. Along the Swarkstone Causeway, which is a stunning thing to leave in the middle of nowhere. We're almost efficient. Face the first real campsite difficulty - ask at half a dozen houses, nothing. A nice man owns a wee unkempt field, though, and there we are.

Day 25: Smisby to Coventry

People have been good to us on this trip. The only explanation they usually give is "No reason not to, is there?" or "Life's too short to be unkind ter folk." J mocked this when I put this to him, but the point is not that this is some metaethical epiphany, but that tacit proto-principles can support action on their own, and do, and maybe always have.

Back road to Birmingham goes inexplicably easily; daydream all day, replaying the year. Stop in Atherstone and consider the lilies. Make hellish trip to Coleshill train station, which is 5 miles out of Coleshill through industrial hell. We stop in Birmingham for literally ten minutes and go to Coventry instead. Everything's closing as we arrive. Eat Cantonese, enduring the worst that Cantopop can offer. After much blundering, find a weird empty grassland and camp. Toss, turn.

Day 26: Coventry to Callow End

Up in sunshine. R's away today, so I trade my lovely inflatable mattress with him in exchange for the tent. Error expected. To Coventry Cathedral, lock our bikes beneath Satan.

We don't stay long - there's a Christian rock band practicing in the main cavern and I'd be claustrophobic even without the aural cack. Get overwhelmed - there's a Hiroshima exhibit in a side-chapel, and something in me just gives way. I am about as fit as i'm ever going to get; I've got no physical complaints; I've done something grand with my July - but I'm not in good shape, in some important and wordless sense. R away home. I'm unaccompanied for the first time in three weeks; overtones of fear arrive. Push out defiantly for Warwick Uni, a great glass dump of knowledge. I could deal with this for a year; 2013, say. The economists are in the same building and floor as the philosophers, but of course they never speak.

To Worcester by dark, whereupon I'm knackered. Their gallery's crap. Eat trendily (Slug & Lettuce), shower at the leisure-centre with the broken boiler. Rain comes on so I ride around the empty 'Crowngate', their covered marketplace-mall. Well fun. Waves of despair come on - have to bike 4 miles out of town, get a dozen rejections in that space. Find some Commons and collapse. Sleeping on the actual ground is quite a skill - have to work your back into and around all the bumps. Or go mad.

Day 27: Callow End to Stow

Woken by that most powerful of freejazz quartets, dogs screeching in joy near to the ear. Even given that I've an awful unfocussed and heavy feeling, in this, our fifth week of the Road. Get a flurry of texts informing me of the passing of Amy Winehouse. (What's the obscurest celebrity you'd text someone over?)

Make it to Great Malvern running on empty - no water nor nothin. Sit and eat for an hour. Overheard: [patronising] "Darling, you are what you are - it's your genes, isn't it?"
On this spot in AD1211: "Darlinge, you are whatt you are - it be Providence, see you not?"

Nice town, full of theatres and Cryers. Up, up, up to Colwall, which is unspeakably peaceful. Lurk around the Downs School reading Auden. Then away, down to Stow. All the little towns around here are obviously nice, but I can't stand them. Spot something bizarre on a hill. We stare at each other for a bit until I give in.

Wrestle over whether to get a hostel or eat well (both about £16, see). Hostel it is. Can't decide what I want first - a shower, some internet, clean shorts, food, wine, a nap, safety, a giant-ass bowl of cereals, or a little tenderness. Sort out my life; find all these things. My relief is violent.

Day 28: Stow to Oxford.

Bad breakfast and back to bed. Read the hostel's the Female Eunuch all morning ( :o )

Road is easy, or perhaps I'm finally Road Worthy. Into Oxfordshire without breaking stride. Chipping Norton - the dead heart of our media-political complex - shows none of the angry shame expected. Pass Blenheim Palace, the giant-ass pile we gave to Marlborough after he killed all those people for us at Blindheim, Bavaria. Doomed to live/drown in one day of your life. If the man had any sensitivity he'd have fucken ached.

Oxford is crowded, loud, expensive and discordant. "Honey made stone" - no, mead-vomit frozen in place. Tbh I return the impression, being a thoroughly bad tourist - I rush around, frown, steal, piss on Magdalen College and leave. Almost lose my phone - leave it on a bench - which I do feel as a rebuke by the souls of this bloody place. Camp on a farm by Didcot. Farmer banters, but I'm having none of it by this stage (to my later shame). (Want to Stop, but honour dictates.)

Day 29: Oxford to Andover

Heatstress busyness psychosis, eh? Hyperthermic tensomatic kinetic batshit, no? Stop over in Newbury, which is horseracing and nothingness.

Stock reply to crap funeral: "She really loved language."
Stock reply to crap beer: "You can really taste the hops."
Stock reply to crap reply: "That would be an ecumenical matter."

An important thing to know about yourself: you have a limited appetite even for beauty and novelty and adventure. Around three weeks, cynicism and impermeabilty of the soul begin their encroach. I don't find a hostel. The passion with which I want to get on with my life would make Nietzsche proud.

Day 30: Andover to Salisbury

Sick of the same sweat-caked clothes. Sick of a sore back. Sick of shit beard. Sick of focussing on negatives.

The 'Plain is impressive. Ride around the cathedral a few times looking for Jonathan Meades' childhood house (failure). Go down "Endless Street" just to be contrary. YHA Salisbury is pleasingly shambolic. Sit on a picnic bench outside, drink three beers, eat an entire pizza and watch the sunset. Pangs for someone to share the moment with.

Think about prankster philosophers. (As we go, the comic portion of the work increases)

Diogenes --> Montaigne -> Nietzsche -> Derrida -> Zizek.

Day 31:
Salisbury to Elgin

Dorm was incredibly silent for a room of eight men sleeping. Not sure when I decided that Salisbury was the new terminus, but the thought of more south makes me angry by this stage. Go to the Cathedral, and then fuck off out of it.

Book I got at an Oxfam is fairly amazin:

"I beseech you! if ever we shared philosophical impulses, take responsibility for your gifts! Place it in the service of reason, or of the reality of human worth & possibilities, instead of in the service of magic!"
- Jaspers to Heidegger

(Wish I could have as dramatic a conversation about this abstract a thing with as dear a friend of mine. Puh. Stupid, pragmatic, anti-Nazi friends.)

The train undoes a month's work in a quarter of a day.

As is my new habit, take the train to Elgin instead of the bus. Use my Aberdeen ticket to get to Elgin, somehow (conductor possibly saw my expression). Elated, trippy journey home in the dark from Elgin - there's no streetlights on the main road, so every time a car approaches I'm completely blinded. Heidegger in my forebrain and epoché on my mind.

What should they know of Scotland who only Scotland know?