‘And so we return and begin again…’

Been a minute, folks… but I’m back. Part of this has been a series of woes with my former web hosts – fuck you very much, FatCow, and bless you Kay Orchison for saving my ass – the rest.. well, you can read about that below: this is the newsletter I just sent out.


IN WHICH YOUR NARRATOR BECOMES A VERY DULL CYBORG

(Trigger Warning: Descriptions of surgery and depression.)   

Thanks so much for sticking with me post-GDPR purge, after an absence of… oh shit, that long??

Well. Honestly, I had a good reason…

Basically, I was losing the use of my hands throughout 2017.

It started near the end of 2016. Kept up most nights with shoulder pain. Went to the doctor when the pain started to get worse and carry on through the day; I was also beginning to experience numbness down my arms and into a couple of my fingers. The doctor – a chap half my age, with the cheerful arrogance only an English public school can inculcate, told me it was “posture”: subtext, “sit up straight and get some exercise, you fat old man”.

Within the next couple of months, the numbness had spread to most of my fingers on both hands, and the chronic pain was joined with sudden shooting pains from the neck down to the fingertips. (On the 0 to 10 pain scale doctors use  – where my 10 is “waking up after the second debridement for my gangrenous foot, screaming like lava was being poured into the wound as soon as the general anaesthetic wore off” – the shooting pains were an 8, and happened daily at random.)

A better GP saw me, thankfully: he immediately put me on the waiting list for an MRI and started me on fentanyl for the pain. Not a fan of opiates, but I accepted them eagerly.

My last newsletter went out 5 October ’17. At that point, I could no longer hold a knife safely enough to cut vegetables for cooking, and I had sunk into the worst depression of my life.

All I could see was what I was losing. Typing became nearly impossible; clumsiness was my norm. I’ve done some martial arts: I could no longer make a fist. I picked up some stage conjuring skills in my youth, literal legerdemain: I could not even hold a coin securely. When I touched my wife’s skin, I could barely feel her.

Day by day, my life… emptied.

The MRI happened a couple of weeks before The Indelicates’ October Ritual: an amazing event that I was honoured to be involved in, and one where the magic (mental and/or otherwise) was just enough to carry me through.

The diagnosis: two ruptured cervical discs, complicated by bone spurs growing into my spinal nerves. Basically, early onset arthritis had eaten part of my spine and was now chewing on my central nervous system. I was put on the urgent waiting list for spinal surgery.

The surgeon in Leeds was very clear on the possible failure modes of the operation, to the point of bluntness. Though the odds were below 1%, the first three on the list were:

Death; paralysis from the neck down; mutism.

This did not improve the depression, to put it mildly. I spent the next two months basically preparing to die. Badly. (I’m not a stranger to fear, for one reason or another. This was worse: a constant dread, empty and cold. The light fading from my life.)

I had the operation on 11 December. That morning, I held my wife as close as I could manage – her patience and love for me throughout was the only thing that let me hold myself even slightly together.

The nurse came to get me, walking me down to the operating theatre. I felt like I was on death row. But I put one foot in front of the other, all the time whispering to myself the prayer which has been my saviour for much of my life:

I must not fear

Fear is the mind-killer

Fear is the little-death which brings total obliteration…

The surgery is called anterior double discectomy with fusion. The surgeon cut my throat on the right hand side at the front, tilted my head back to open the entry wound wide enough for access. My larynx was clamped and pulled to one side – hence the possibility of mutism – my spine revealed, the broken discs were removed, replaced with sheets of titanium. The two vertebrae were encased in a web of more titanium and held in place with what’s basically a Meccano bar screwed to the front of my spine.

I woke up slowly in the recovery room. I could speak. I could move my fingers and toes. I was lucid enough to explain to the nurses what Fortean journalism is…

Within hours of the operation, the feeling began to return to my numb fingers. I was discharged the next day, already better than when I went in… apart from the spectacular scar across my throat.

I recovered well; did my physio and rested lying flat and still like a good lad. By mid-January, I was almost back to my normal self…

…and then my wife and I fell to a flu which lasted four whole months. Just over it now, mostly.

So, that’s where I’ve been. Shit, as they say, happens.

Some time back, I was involved with the nascent Grinding movement: the community of DIY transhumanist experimenters partly inspired by the Warren Ellis/Ivan Rodriguez comic Doktor Sleepless. I have now finally become a cyborg… of a very commonplace, mundane type. No extras, no upgrades. But I got back most of what I thought I had lost forever which, frankly, is far better.

The tech which really helped me through this was all external. As I could no longer hold books in my hands, I got a tablet holder with a gooseneck attachment, which I clamped to the headboard of my bed: this, along with a Bluetooth mouse, let me read ebooks while flat on my back. The other device which helped a lot was my smartwatch: earlier in the year I finally surrendered my beloved-but-obsolete Pebble Time and got an Android one. The cheapest one on the market, the Ticwatch E, which is no worse in the most important area of battery life than the more expensive ones. The voice-activated Google Assistant became a new limb.

While I was down, a lot of interesting things have happened in the aftermath of the work I’d done earlier that year: the Discordian/Wonderist current has grown mightily – Salena Godden’s poem ‘Pessimism Is For Lightweights’ (a philosophy which I struggled to maintain throughout my problems, usually not that successfully) has become both a rallying cry and an installation at Bristol’s Arnolfini Gallery (an old haunt of mine).

Tomorrow is the first anniversary of John Higgs performing the talk which gave that poem its’ name at the Cosmic Trigger play’s last night, and of my closing ritual for the event which birthed Wonderism. As a celebration of this, Daisy Campbell is sharing the video of the Alan Moore/Adam Curtis panel which happened between those two, only to subscribers to her newsletter. (Sign up here. Trust me on this, it’s something to see. cosmictriggerplay.com, bottom of the home page.)

The next event from this gorgeous and insane crew is Catch 23 in Sheffield: a one-day event on 7 July, along the lines of the Super Weird Happening in Liverpool last April Fool’s – 14 hours of wacky fun, great music and as much Wonderism as you can handle. It will mark my first public appearance since the op. I’ll be holding an upgraded version of my Defence Against The Dark Arts introductory workshop – times like these, kit which is needed more than ever.

(Oddly, Sheffield is hosting my only other gig booked this year, an event by the British wing of the IOT. I’l be talking about pop culture belief systems, and the cunning-craft of Hookland. More about that soon, I hope.)

As for the Brexit curse? Well, you tell me…

I read a lot while I was infirm. Most of it was fairly light fare – a shitload of daft action-packed urban fantasy and thrillers. I only read one book twice: Nick Harkaway’s astonishing novel GNOMON, which you really should have read by now. If not – fix that. It’s the most mind-altering work of fiction I have read since The Invisibles.

Also watched a lot of telly – one thing I enjoyed more than I thought I would was the adaptation of Richard Morgan’s Altered Carbon, the first episode of which aired on my 54th birthday: some of the changes made for TV worked really well for me. I loved Chris Conner as the hotel AI Poe, and I had one of my getting-wisdom-from-pop-culture moments from the combination of Quellism and the Envoy training, as personified by Renée Elise Goldsberry’s performance as Quellcrest Falcolner: I see a strong connection to the cunning-craft, and have found a kind of Zen strength during my recovery, in her phrase;

We are Envoys, and we take what is offered.

(And while we’re on the subject… I’ve also been inundated during my recovery with ideas and pieces of prose for my long-delayed book on pop culture belief systems, New Gods and Monsters, which is, finally, an actual work-in-progress. The book couldn’t be written until the Trumpian era, with its twisting and the orthodox religious resistance to the postmodern killing of the Grand Narrative: now, it has an ending.)

Oh, and THEY SAVED THE EXPANSE!

That’s about all I can manage right now. Thanks for reading… I hope little intervenes before the next time.

Long Live The NHS.

Overdue update

Blimey, it’s been a long time since I updated this blog! There are all sorts of reasons: quickest way to sum these up and give you a clue as to what I’m doing next is to reproduce my latest newsletter

CATERWAULING 17 June 2016ce

In which your narrator reboots after a crash

I am truly sorry about the gap between the last newsletter and now.

Basically, I did a lot of things, was too busy to write about them during them, and then fell over hard afterwards.

It’s something that never used to be talked about much concerning the effects of chronic illness (in my case, over a decade of Type II diabetes) – your body simply has less ‘energy’ to go round. Doing things, especially things involving a lot of travel, becomes incrementally difficult. Activists on these ‘invisible illnesses’ have come to use the metaphor of ‘spoons’ to describe this effect. I did a load of stuff, then I had no more spoons.

Here’s the things I did…

2nd of April was the marvellous Spirits Of Place event: hosted and envisioned by John Reppion. I was on the bill with some remarkable people, talking about the power of landscape, especially that of Liverpool and its environs. My talk, ‘Where The Buddleia Grows’ was on liminal spaces in urban magic, and seemed to go down well. You can read the text version over at Medium. Was an honour to be in that crew: meeting old acquaintances such as the great Ramsey Campbell and making many new friends. I also took advantage of the chance for a serious night of drinking with my partner-in-crime, David Southwell of Hookland fame.

On the 23rd of April, headed to That There London. I was called in to assist with a public magical working for Daisy Campbell and the Cosmic Trigger troupe: the immediate reason was that the gang were about to submit their bid for Arts Council funding for a second wave of the play next year. As a token of public interest in support of this, a Indiegogo was set up for that day to sell 123 tickets to the last London night of the show (which will happen, with or without the funding… but obviously it’ll be a lot easier with), and of course the first thing Daisy wanted was a ritual to nudge this result. In the middle of Hampstead Heath. The spirit of Eris was fully manifested (in the sense that a shitload of things almost went too wrong but not quite) and the Mischief was Managed. By the time we’d got a couple of rounds in at a nearby hostelry, those tickets had all sold. Took a little under three hours.

(I also got to crash at Daisy’s mum’s flat: which had that specifically odd sensation of sleeping in the home of a former Bond Girl.)

The last weekend of April, brought the extraordinarily fun and gorgeous Hebden Bridge Burlesque Festival. This 4 day event brought the cream of international performers to our little town & its environs. (This event is so inspiring that I wore four different outfits, none of which was in black!)


So many amazing acts; including our town’s first Naked Girls Reading event, where our own Heidi Bang Tidy read one of my wife’s blog posts about working with the Hebden flood food relief, which had all of us, including Kirsty, in tears.

The peak was the glorious Perle Noire: seeing her perform was like watching the child of Josephine Baker and Eartha Kitt dance her exquisite arse off. A gracious woman, both on stage and off (had the chance to pay our respects in the pub after). Yet another triumph for our local community, and further proof that not even a flood can keep this town down.

The week after that, I went back down to the Smoke, to see one of the last performances of KEN: Terry Johnson’s play about his friendship and working with the late, great Ken Campbell, with Jeremy Stockwell in the title role. As Ken was a big influence on me in many ways (from seeing his staging of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy at the Rainbow in 1980 to being the officiant at Daisy’s impromptu wedding at the Find The Others festival in 2014), I had to go. Not only were the play and the performances splendid, but I met two long-lost friends from the HHGG fan club ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha that I was an early member of! (And there was this whole part after the show involving naked people and psychedelic UV body paint. You had to be there.)

The next day was the pleasant change of going to a Treadwells event that I wasn’t actually speaking at: a one-day conference for the launch of the book The Secret Lore Of London. Christina and her gang always put on a good show, and this was no exception: the highlight for me was meeting John Constable aka John Crow, whose extraordinary shamanic and poetic work in, around and for the spirit of London’s lost was inspiring.

A couple of days back home, then down to Brighton for three days. The event I was going to was the Odditorium’s ‘Adventures On The Edge Of Culture’ for the Brighton Fringe. This featured my dear Daisy again, along with John Higgs, Melinda Gebbe and Alan Moore. This was as fascinating as you’d imagine… and then Higgs was kind enough to introduce me to Alan as a colleague.

Alan was utterly lovely. Listened to my somewhat burbling words, shook my hand 3 or 4 times… and then, when I said “there’s so much I’d love to talk to you about” said, “oh, we must go out for a drink next time I’m round your way”. Which, as it turns out, is fairly often. So, that happened.

The rest of the evening was spent nattering with Daisy & the crew (Alan had to make an early exit), which gave me the chance to natter with parts of that tribe I’d not spent as much time with as I’d liked before – people like Greg Wilson and Kermit Leveridge.

Day after was spent with my dear friends from that area that I’d not been in the same room as in years; my ex Lucy (one of the folk Neil Gaiman based Delirium in Sandman on) and her husband, the writer Adrian Bott. A fine reminder that time and circumstance don’t always triumph over love and friendship.

And then I got home and basically collapsed for a couple of weeks.


I have some spoons now. Here’s where they are being used…

Spent today doing final proof-reading of my next Darklore article, for the upcoming ninth volume of that ongoing Fortean compilation: an adaptation of my Treadwells talk on SF & fantasy’s influence on paganism and modern magic. And I just found out it’s right in front of a piece by Alan Moore… (Mine mentions him and Grant Morrison in the same breath – what could possibly go wrong?)

Tomorrow, back down to London to meet up with more of those old ZZ9 people. Folk there I’ve not set eyes on in a quarter of a century or more, so that’ll be interesting.

On the 23rd of the month, I will be getting a new tattoo: the White Horse of Uffington, inside of my right forearm. The timing of this upon the referendum date is not coincidental: seems the perfect time for an old cunning man like me to reaffirm his bond to Albion at a time when fascist and xenophobic forces are trying to make my land into a place of fear, suspicion and hatred. (RIP Jo Cox: she was MP for a nearby community and someone who clearly had no time for fear and hatred. May she be remembered for that, and not the manner of her death.)

Next week, Hebden Bridge is having an extra Christmas because the flood buggered up the last one. Following that, back Darn Sarf: I’m giving a talk on the 27th at the first Art Arcana event, BORDERLANDS, organised by the immersive theatre/ritual troupe Foolish People: tickets are free if you want to pop along, but do book first. My talk is called “Betwixt And Between”.

Following this is Festival 23 on the 23rd (natch) of July and surrounding days. It’s going to be an incredible weekend, and the latest culmination of the 23 Current I’m honoured to be a part of. I’ll be doing a reading of selected works and teaching a workshop in Defence Against The Dark Arts 101. Say hi if you come along!

Thank you reading, and for your patience in my absence! (Now over 500 subscribers.) You can leave any time you want, of course… but hopefully I’ll have more to tell you, and more spoons to jingle.

 

 

The start of the end of the world, and I feel fine…

I suddenly realised I’ve not posted this auspicious(ish) year – at least, not here – so it’s catch-up time, folks!

Happiest bit: I was asked to join the staff at The Daily Grail. So now I’m a contributing editor at TDG, mostly so far working the media angle (my review of the semi-sucessfully realised found-footage show The River can be read there.

This means that between the DG work & some actual professional writing I’ve got going (NDA’s, and it’s not that interesting, really), I’ll have less time to produce work for some of the other venues. I DO however plan to get more of the Mason Lang’s Film Club pieces to Weaponizer as soon as I can write ’em.

Other events recently have been less fun. Both Kirsty & I had vicious illness over Xmas – I’m only just recovered, she’s still wiped out by it. So in a sense, it did us a favour to turn down the people who were about to buy our house (they were obnoxious dicks who tried bullying my lawyers & estate agents to drop the price at the last minute). Luckily, we got a better class of buyer (not mad, which helps) who offered out original price. But… they can’t move until July, so we’re stuck in a mostly-packed house for 3 more months. At which time – Goodbye Bristol, Hello Hebden Bridge! – and not a moment too bloody soon.

And my decree absolute came valid last month. I’ve been unmarried (reasonably effectively & near-painlessly), so that’s done. Recovering from the actual marriage… that’ll take a while longer.

That’s all the news fit to rant for now… but there are Plans Afoot.

Watch out for The Tribe of the Strange. 

Back in Black (and Blue)

Here’s why there’s been such a gap since last post, why writing’s taking ages generally and… well. A big part of why I’m me, really…

I get shy about remarkably few things. I’ll happily tell tales of wild sexual exploits and magical combat engagements, as true as I can (some of those stories get... involved.)

The thing I get most shy talking about is the state of my health. And it’s only after seeing the bravery and skill with which my beloveds Kirsty Hall and Jolane Abrams have come to deal with their own illnesses – and especially Kirsty’ brave, heartfelt blogging on how her Chronic Fatigue Syndrome’s affected her life and art practice, and Jolane’s ayahuasca trip reports (hers always aimed at healing herself and others) – that I’ve come to a point where I can accept my health issues, and even talk about them… hopefully not quite to the lengths many in middle-age seem to want to!

I’ve never been a fit lad – at school I was ‘The Odd Boy who doesn’t like sport’ of the Bonzo Dog song. Half-blind every summer with hay fever, I sat on the sidelines & read scripts for Drama club. (With inevitable consequences re. bullying.) After a childhood on the low, badly-fed end of poor working class, brief jobs then dole… not a lot of healthy choices. I did study martial arts for a time in my 20s – and ironically it was a much later dojo accident 6 years ago, resulting in a bruised foot that turned to gangrene, that led to the next discovery – of my having type-2 diabetes.

After they scraped the pus and rotted flesh from my double-sized black and green right foot, twice (delightfully, the term for this op is ‘debridement’), the resulting rather cunty-shaped wound was left open to granulise – repair from the inside out. This resulted in near 3 month in bed with a fucking great crater in my foot that went down to the bone.

You want pictures? Perverts…

My right foot, in 2004 – about 2 weeks post-ops

They pulled 6 feet of bandage out the hole after first op, like a magic trick.

So, that was 6 years ago.

One thing they don’t tell you about diabetes generally is that has so many knock-on effects. Such as weakening immunoresponse so that the smallest cough virus (man-flu, if you insist) elevates to full flu.

And, when like last year I got yer actual H1N1 Swine Flu… that was me flat out for 3 months. I got over that, but the diabetes ain’t going away any time soon, I still get bugs real easy – and now I’m informed I have a bone spur in one heel (also something diabetics are prone to). Fixing that, short of an op (had too many in past 6 years – on foot, tendon sheathes in hands and mutant wisdom teeth buried in my jaw – ta) recovery means reshaping my gait, using shoe inserts designed to shift how my feet land. Knock-on effect of that – knees having to learn new ways to bend, are beginning to weaken.

Recently I got to the FUCK THIS SHIT stage with it all. My bad health gets in the way of so much – wanting to write more, share my ideas with fellow minds, go places to do so or just to meet friends…

So I’m working on this, big-time. Slow but strong. Grinding. Finally, I feel freed from the odd geas I seemed to pick up young, that self-work using magic was somehow cheating. So I’m doing little healing workings to help me either fix what I can or strengthen what I can’t fully fix. Since I throw a bunch of imagery part-derived from Wilhelm Reich (orgone-visualisation stuff for one) I’m calling the work Blue Grinding.

I WILL to be well. I will be well.

So… that’s why there’s not been much going on here for months. Not just my health, but that of so many people I love, has been at risk for months – some very seriously but, thankfully, not many fatally.

But the Blue Grinding is starting to take effect. I’m well enough to walk a bit more (hoping to travel to London for a day soon) and those flu-bugs are finding me harder to riddle.

And the more well I am, the more I want to do.

This is not intended as a pity-party, or a call for “there, there” replies. It’s a statement that I want to do more, be more active, write more, share more with my remarkable friends and people yet to encounter. That, ill or not, diabetic or not, part-lame or not…

I’m Back. In Black. (And Blue.)

Thanks for reading.