Sunday, 30 June 2013

Last day of June, last day of Absence

i n t r o

Over the last month I have neglected zines, the blog, and other forms of public encounter. I didn't realise it at the time, but this was a sensible choice as my life had become hectic and my mind consequently frayed. Now on the last day of June I find myself in a quite serene place again, so I can make time to share my thoughts and words and pictures. This is good timing, in that serendipitous sense that always gives me a feeling of joy & connection to the world. Because July is Zine Month (allegedly) with a different zine-like activity to do each day. The allegation and prompts to activity both come from 'Spill the Zines' and are put like this :

So July should feature blog updates from me in line with those prompts, and in line also with my desire to re-engage with things in Newcastle before I take some considerable time away in August & September.

Before June is gone, however, I wish to record a few things I HAVE noticed, have taken part in & have appreciated.

a p r i l

April was all about the travels and the birds again, as migration season returned & I did my usual volunteer shift on Malta. And the late Spring this year (everything 3 weeks delayed, from spawning to nesting to returning from warm climes) allowed me to actually see the British Spring, for the first time in a few years.

I loved it! -I took photos of flowers as they appeared and looked them up in my id book; I listened to the dawn chorus & got closer up to little mammals than ever before. The world is glorious, you know, and it scrapes its antlers off on bouncy birch stands (I've seen them), it has furry brown fur and shiny eyes, and if we stop fucking massacring it, it will constantly return each Spring.

m a y

May included a wonderfully drunken holiday in Manchester, and also some 'After Dark' Zine-making at Gateshead Library as part of the Late Shows. This was a very quiet event, perhaps due to rotten weather, but it was great fun to play with a photocopier, to learn verbatim some youtube rhymes about Harry Potter from 'the youth', and to be with some familiar faces in an unfamiliar (grand & friendly) setting.

My attraction to calm, reassuring and professional library staff continues unabated. I still believe Libraries to be the temples of thought in our culture, and the fact our current so-called government is intent on attacking & demolishing them is merely one sign of its vicious ignorance. (I find that some creatures are so contemptible we need to pretend they don't exist to regain our respect for human society. Luckily, none of them were present).

My participants made about a dozen zines of a dozen pages each. Lovely old Pete contributed a watercolour of the view outside the staffroom window; an unfocussed lad created beauty by repeatedly stamping my rubber stamp; and I had great fun moving library books along the photocopier to create multiple wobbly copies of faces repeating. I am thankful to those friendly contacts who occasionally fetch me out of my inward swamp and get me out onto these public platforms. They are not part of my main trajectory, but they're valuable moments when I get to stick my neck up above the dirty water and see what the rest of this living city looks like.

I turned up to that event fresh off a megabus from Bradford. Bradford is better than Newcastle at the moment - not financially or careeristically or anything like that (the kinds of things that 'matter' to mainstream society) - but in a DIY creative hunkering down and making cool shit happen. I have found there such welcoming spaces, such fresh optimism and faith in zine culture, such obvious little ideas made to happen that for some reason do not in Newcastle.


Perhaps it is because Bradford has had such a hard recent history, every cultural landmark under threat, every commercial edifice abandoned or demolished. There are so many gaps created in the skyline of the city that the remaining streets are starting to look like an archipelago in a gathering white space of sky.

This in fact is how I see the city centre now, and its occupation by DIY initiatives (photography, weaving, exhibitions, 'made in Bradford' handmade selling etc..) : as a beautiful wet grey archipelago, all sculpted with ancient carvings of forgotten industrial gods, dragons and motifs of the moneyed woollen class that built them up.


Now there are clusters of village-ports and the daytrippers arrive at the Interchange or Foster Square docks, sail through these blocks of stone, perhaps to bathe at the fountains for the day and then disappear home at night. Grand coffeeroom balconies at Waterstones (once the Wool Exchange) or Costa feel like the decks of galleons - all they miss are the rigging and the sound of shanties from below. 

But still, despite the demolitions and despite the constantly false promises of commerce and city-wide grand-plans-that-never-happen, there is also more of a nightlife there than in recent years. Pubs seem to be opening, and their little yards are full of drinkers' chatter. The Shoulder of Mutton has not changed, nor the Exchange or the 1in12. And while the Sparrow and other little occupations of the fabric of the old town are still a little dubious in my view, the kind of music and poetic print culture that their inhabitants are producing is wonderful. And better than what Newcastle produces.

The New Beehive is all polished glass and brass and I saw my favourite live performance of the last year in there - and it was free, of course, as were amazing music acts in a half dozen other venues that weekend. Meanwhile that same weekend all that Newcastle (sorry, NewcastleGateshead) could produce was one evening of free (good) music in the Ouseburn, the tokenistic Evolution 'Emerging' evening before the desolate shame of our Evolution Festival. Does anyone remember any more when there was a free music festival every year on Tyneside, before Orange sponsored it and stole it and then turned it round and made us pay to go to it? Is there anywhere less fitting to see a decent band than at their fuckingly horrendous massified dead-atmosphere quayside arena? Or anywhere that shows such disrespect to the human culture (the crowd, the fellow-bands, the followers and the neighbourhood) of that music culture?

Honestly, you need no political education to learn to hate the Corporate effect on the world. All you need is a sensitivity to what makes a gig special and makes you keep going back and yearning for and feeling a part of gig culture. And then you smell the bleach as distant money comes in and trumps your commitment, takes it away, cherry picks the boys n babes of the day and sticks them in a Rod Stewart jacket or whatever the fuck they do to make it all fake and empty.

It makes me angry and I feel no shame in expressing that. And this year Bradford's Threadfest (and its Bradford Baked Zines shop and its alt theatre happenings and its free jazz noodlings and its open art meetings and Jean and Simon and Andy and Howdo?) trumped Newcastle easily. Perhaps those who have moved up here to follow the arts funding stream and pursue that career channel are the poison that kills our creative enterprises? What is it that causes so much ego and possessiveness and branding and fakeness in Newcastle's scene?

j u n e

I've ranted for so long about May that June shall be short : the peak was an amazing week away in Wester Ross - I saw otters, dolphins, eagles, divers, mergansers, ducks and migrating birds and it does not belong to this blog. Work was also marvellous, albeit tainted like the rest of life by some individuals being big old disappointments, projecting their failings too strongly onto the others (always their betters, kinder, more caring, less well-earning).

I failed to attend two great events that I wished to - 'Art, Politics and the Pamphleteer' in Manchester, and 'The Politics of DIY and Self-Organised Culture' in Bradford. I missed out on smaller things too and the sense that I was failing to honour my commitments to projects that others cared about made me hunker down and fulfil those things. Now I can write most of them off. But I do regret that my hope to re-engage with the political and academic understanding of our world remains unfulfilled (I'd also intended to go the 'People's Assembly' leftyfest in London, to critically respond to its speechifyers and platform-builders). The EDL march was also, of course, for so many of us a dismal low-point in the history of Newcastle. Too many things were wrong about it to summarise here, but the grotty act of political policing recorded here should not be forgotten. Though I still have inklings for that side of thought and action, for now I think I've moved on.

Also in June there was the Green Festival. We take it for granted, that it is put on despite the council and the police and all that government infrastructure (never due to it). Those who organise it (I once was one, but haven't the muscle for it these days) have kept it happening despite all that shit. They put their lives through the hoops, waste their time filling in those forms, placating those faceless well-paid bodies, and they wriggle around to alleviate the fears of the modern day - and then they often have to put up with the self-centred disrespect of folk like me who attend. So well done, and thankyou, it was excellent.

The sun shone and by quite simply contributing a bucket of chalk and letting people play, I allowed the people around me create, play, and turn that swathe of tarmac into a temporary imprint of collective energy. Hippy dippy? You bet!
(I took my photo with some of my favourites here).
Hippies often are the ones who make the little things of beauty happen, and we could do with more of them and a gallon-load less of the snobs and hipsters and brandmakers that drift around our world, looking for bits to diss and bits to steal.

f i n a l l y

In this blog post I hope my ire, never short of supply, has not come over as overwhelming. I am as much in love with the world as ever, but the city has disappointed this Spring, when I found my nutrition and the vigour of life elsewhere. So to the survivors who live free of domesticity, I salute you as always. But most of all right now, a hug is owed to those who stay committed to our community and make it better. I am one of your dependents and your neighbour and I thank you.

And remember - July is Zine Month.