Nothing’s ever on

CLICK

“…you. That. Yes, that. The thing in your bloody hand, what do you think I mean?! Anyhow…fuck is it for? All you little bastards have it now – carryin’ it around like it’s a status symbol, or badge of honour, or some rubbish… Does it even do anything? ‘Cos ya seem to walk around the place exactly the same, only with a handy excuse for your inconsiderate bullshit. Fuck is the point?! We never needed that shit…and we would’ve appreciated it a lot more than you if we’d had it! Oi! You kids, come back here, I wasn’t finished…”

-CLICK-

“I didn’t grow up in a ‘neighbourhood’. To be honest, I find it a peculiarly American idea; white picket fences, suburban detached houses, two-up-two-down, kids bicycling to and from school… This was all alien to my upbringing.”

“Murray, are you seriously suggesting that the Republic of Ireland does not have the same notion of neighbourhood as the United States?”

“Look, I lived in a stand-alone house with endless farmland on one side and a dual carriageway on the other. Actually… I tell a lie; the farmland did end…at a golf course. Bordering each of these things were trees, all varieties of ’em. They seemed like a kind of protective canopy to me, a buttressed layer between myself and the outside world…”

“All ludicrous generalisations aside, it does sound like this…insulation…contributed to your fear of the world, and your detachment from…”

-CLICK-

“…come to ‘Handbags at Ten Paces’, the show that allows ordinary people to let loose in a no-holds-barred, full and frank debate with absolutely no limits as to the means they employ! As ever we’re joined by a moderately-sozzled audience armed with rotten eggs and an arsenal of vegetable artillery. St. John’s Ambulance are standing by, so without further ado, let’s meet the contestants!

[applause]

“Allo, I’m Samanfa from Chingford and I’m a Railway Operations and Maintenance Technician…”

-CLICK-

“…this fascinating ‘Public Proposal Saturday’ brought to you by Snickers – not getting hitched for a while? Grab a SNICKERS! – where we’ll be bringing all the white hot wedding-to-be action from this packed restaurant in the Cotswolds. Mark Lawrenson, what do you think?”

“Well this places just oozes romance, dunnit?”

“Unquestionably, Mark. Now we’re all on the edge of our collective seat, waiting for that big moment when one lucky gal in here is going to experience some serious shock and…awwwwww”

“That’s dreadful, Gary-”

“Pipe down, Mark. This truly will be an unmissable event, and…what’s this…THERE HE IS! He’s down on one knee and launching into the shpiel!”

“Oh my days…”

“Quality input as ever, Mark. She…she has her hands over her mouth, she can’t quite believe it…You can tell that she’s absolutely DESPERATE to avoiding crying, can’t you Mark?”

“That’s a face all too familiar to you, I’d imagine, what with your matrimonial situation…”

“Thanks Mark. Well, it looks like the flustered fellow, the proposer if you will, has come to the end of his prepared lines… So what will it be Missy? We’re just going to take a quick commercial break, but then we’ll be-”

CLICK.

kill-your-tv-television

“You’ve probably seen a bumper sticker that says, ‘Kill Your Television’. Don’t bother; corporate-dominated television and radio are busy killing themselves”

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Character Analysis

A curious figure, but with less to him than meets the eye. Arrogant, disagreeable, opinionated, irritable, possessing of a quick temper and a slow wit, this is an individual who since birth has been spoilt and endlessly indulged. As a result, he takes it personally when his audience does not hang on his every utterance, and is most perturbed when said audience has the temerity to consider him a fool. For, make no mistake, behind the bluster and the vocabulary, past the loquaciousness and grandiosity, there is only a simple-minded fool.

He is, by turns, cowardly and then aggressive, sycophantic then insulting, self-hating then superior, loud-mouthed then sullen, charming then dull. Most of all, and with much more consistency, he is lazy. Work is anathema to him, as is charity. Claiming to be motivated primarily by solidarity, his actions betray a total lack of anything of the sort. Simultaneously friendly but distant, he skirts the intricacies of social interaction.

Appearance-wise, he is changeable, however there are some regularities. Brush hair. Defined jaw. Black-rimmed glasses that he rarely cleans. A gaze at once piercing and soft. Average height, though occasionally seeming smaller e.g. hunched over as he often is when walking. He can be canny and yet naive, frustrating those who may wish to pigeonhole him.

The target continues to confound the understanding, examination and investigation of many of our most experienced experts, but he is not worthy of admiration. He is no enigma, no mystery to be unraveled. A confused complexity, perhaps, stumbling into either faux pas or step forward purely on account of fortune. By virtue of dumb luck, therefore, he manages to negotiate the public sphere.

This man is, when all is said and done, a strange case.

52825330_sebastianclare

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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A mossy life

Mossie hated the Child. The Child pulled at his fur, grabbed at his legs, poked at his eyes… The Child was rough. Far too rough. Mossie loved his Master though, and his Master loved the Child. So Mossie bore it all, all the hits and the scratches, all the cuts and bruises, with the loyal stoicism of the most faithful mastiff. His Master was a farmer, and farmers need the support of their dogs. Mossie knew this. Mossie was a good dog. The best.

Eventually, the Master realised that the Child and Mossie were not best friends. This made him sad, but he knew that nothing could change their relationship. The Master decided to give Mossie to the nice little family who lived on the hill overlooking his farm. Mossie did not want to go. Mossie thought that he must have been a bad dog to have been sent away by his Master. However, the fact that he was finally free from the torment of the Child provided some comfort.

In fact, Mossie quickly grew to love his new home. The Children there were much more gentle and endlessly affectionate. Even when Mossie became hysterical during the fireworks of Halloween, the Children would put their arms around him and tell him that everything would be ok. Only when the family got a new puppy was Mossie really scared – this dog was bouncy and energetic, everything that made Mossie anxious. Nevertheless, even as the puppy grew bigger and more enthusiastic, Mossie learned to live with the new addition quite happily. When a third dog was introduced, Mossie was unworried. He knew that this family was a home for all sorts of animals, all of whom would be looked after and cared for.

Time passed, and Mossie grew old. Some dogs die in their sleep, others suffer strokes and must be put down. Mossie was of a different breed; he wanted to disappear, to save his owners from the sadness of knowing his passing. One day, he knew that it was his time. Mossie gave the family house one last loving look, and set off. He didn’t know where he was going. He didn’t know how long it would take to get there. All Mossie knew was that he had lived a good life, with good people, and that he was prepared for whatever would come next.

border-collie-adult

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Seb’s Top 5 Films of 2016

While in 2015 I managed to see far fewer films released that year than in 2014, this past 12 months made even those efforts look stellar. Partly because my partner & I emigrated halfway through 2016, and partly because I had no job & therefore very little disposable income, a meagre 30 movies were seen by yours truly. Bearing that in mind, it’s almost pointless to pick 5 that stood out, ‘cos they’re aren’t exactly up against tough competition. Nonetheless, for what it is worth, here are the ones that I enjoyed the most this year.

The Experimenter

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Part-biopic, part investigation into philosophical questions of obedience, empathy and individuality, this effort from writer-director Michael Almereyda tells the story of the experiments conducted by Stanley Milgram in 1961. Played here with evident enjoyment by the always-watchable Peter Sarsgaard, Milgram wants to know why it was the so many apparently empathic people had nonetheless committed unspeakable atrocities during the Second World War. To this end, he carries out a series of tests aimed at exploring the extent to which individuals will relinquish responsibility for their actions once they believe that a higher authority has deemed such actions necessary. The film brilliantly shows the controversial studies themselves and the subsequent pushback from the scientific community, a response aimed at discrediting the methods and results used. Intermittently, Milgram addresses the audience directly, and it is these moments that really stand out; his ideas on alienation, development, awareness and liberation shine through in an invigorating way. An adroit cast including Winona Ryder, Jim Gaffigan, John Leguizamo and the late Anton Yelchin perform an excellent script; the plot is a precise and the dialogue as punchy as is necessary in a movie that barely clocks in at over an hour and half in runtime.

 He Never Died

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What if the Biblical Cain was condemned to live forever? What would he look like? What would his life be like? This is a darkly humorous, violent and engrossing answer. Henry Rollins, charismatic as all hell but as subdued as you might expect after multiple millenia of existence, plays a mysterious, stoic, undemonstrative immortal just trying to keep his head down until the end of days. Despite this endeavour, he attracts the unwelcome attentions of a bunch of local goons, and the slightly-more welcome attentions of the waitress in his local diner. When his daughter is kidnapped (yes, he has a daughter, don’t overthink it), the jaded Jack has to rouse himself for some serious ass-kicking. Funny, brutal and brilliantly performed – props to Steven Ogg who puts in a wicked turn as the main antagonist – this is a fresh, entertaining, gritty romp.

13th

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Ava Duvernay helms this documentary focussing on the loophole in the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, a loophole that allowed – and allows – slavery to persist in America. Drawing on a wealth of expertise, a whole coterie of talking heads, and the unimpressive protestations of some establishment figures, Duvernay and co-writer Spencer Averick take us through the history of the abolition of chattel slavery and its replacement with the no-less insidious Prison Industrial Complex. The Amendment which supposedly ended slavery is revealed to have had an exemption for those who are convicted criminals, and as this movie makes abundantly clear, the significance of that has echoed down through the generations right to the present day. The criminalisation of black people, the harsh incarceration rates, the war on drugs and the continuing wealth inequality are all examined as 13th shows us the incredible lack of justice in the United States of America. When even Newt Gingrich admits that there’s a fundamental unfairness at work, you know the situation is beyond abysmal. Compulsory viewing.

The Hateful Eight

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Before watching this, there were only 3 Tarantino productions that I had any time for; the fantastic Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs, and the less-impressive-but-still-enjoyable Jackie Brown. Inglourious Basterds I found an incredibly obnoxious, self-indulgent and crass bit of film-making, and Django Unchained was good for the most part before dissolving into utter nonsense pretty much from the exact moment the director himself showed up for his regular appearance. I have yet to see Kill Bill or Death Proof. However! Finally I can add one more to the list of movies directed by Quentin Tarantino that I actually like. Sticking to a single main setting, as in Reservoir Dogs, really helps, it seems; the major action all takes place in a haberdashery, albeit with various flashbacks featuring other locations. Visually, the whole thing is luscious, with the decision to use old-school 70mm totally vindicated. There’s still a momentary clunker – the auteur’s voiceover between chapters is mildly irritating – but the tension and suspense quickly put that to one side. The cast, without exception, are all on top form, and for once there is but a solitary instance to which we can point and say, “Easy on the old corn syrup there, Quentin”. All in all, I enjoyed this a hell of a lot more than I thought I would…which, given that I liked the look of the thing beforehand, is a considerable recommendation.

The Siege of Jadotville

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This depicts the little-known story of a company of Irish U.N. peacekeepers in 1961 Congo who were isolated, surrounded and attacked by a combined force of Katangan rebels and international mercenaries. Jamie Dornan inhabits the role of Commandant Pat Quinlan, who leads his besieged troops in a desperate defensive action, pleading desperately  with his superiors over the radio to come to their aid – to no avail. Of the supporting cast, Conor Cruise O’Brien is portrayed with apt oiliness by Mark Strong, and Guillaume Canet plays the suprisingly-likeable leader of the mercenary group. Fighting to the very last bullet, without losing a man, the Irish soldiers are somehow subsequently seen as failures, the whole embarrassing episode to be forgotten by their country as quickly as possible. This movie plays its part in resurrecting the reputation of these brave men, and shows the dispiriting reality of international peacekeeping, with all the political machinations and political ambitions behind the scenes that wreak havoc on the frontlines. For an avid fan of war movies, this ticks all the boxes.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Blood of the covenant is thicker…

…than water of the womb

You cannot choose your family. Your birthright is a cosmic accident, and whether those who created you go on to provide the best environment possible for your upbringing, your relationship with them will never have been down to any choice on your part. Now, it may be true to say that this is at least partly the case for all relationships; chance is responsible for so much of who becomes your acquaintance, your friend, your lover… Even so, there is actual conscious thought put into the connections you make outside the family unit, and therefore some sort of alignment or personalities.

Man is known by the company he keeps. Doubtless you have heard this saying. The point is that it is easier, and more accurate, to derive a person’s character from their chosen associates than it is by looking at their cousins, siblings or parents. Whether you believe that people change or that a leopard cannot change its spots – whether a person develops over time, possibly in a way that takes them further from their biological origins, or they remain the same from childhood – the fact is that the whole construction of a family is built around shared DNA.

This isn’t to denigrate the family experience. Merely to point out that what you think, what you believe, what you prioritise, what you idolise, what you emphasise…is the best way to seek out company and human interaction. Those who connect with your vision of the world, or even simply like the same daft stuff you do, are the ones with whom you probably will have the happiest experiences. That’s not such an odd thing to believe, is it?

Yet we do hear, particularly over the festive season, about the primordial and overarching importance of family. Indeed, the phrase ‘you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family’ is often twisted to suit this argument – in Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird, Jem summarises Atticus’ belief that, “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.”

That is the kind of idea that I’m arguing against here, I suppose. I love my family – most of ’em anyway, most of the time! – but that, and how much I wish to experience their company, is a choice on my part. Just as it is a choice to spend time with someone else who I love. Your immediate family, if you’ve grown up with them and supported eachother, are bound to have that sort of connection – and to a large extent with me, they do. Cousins and distant relatives though…? Not so much. Is it surprising that, as the youngest of seven children, with a large extended family of aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces and nephews, there is less of the modern notion that ‘blood is thicker than water’ and more of the older, more biblical idea?

I am no Christian, but I do sometimes find myself agreeing with certain passages in its texts or works of its historical exponents. Pick and choose, á la carte philosophy, granted. Perhaps you do the same? It’s hard to envisage someone agreeing with literally every word of any ideology, but apparently there are a billion people who do…or say they do. I digress. One relevant verse is from Proverbs 27:10 – “Do not forsake your friend or a friend of your family, and do not go to your relative’s house when disaster strikes you– better a neighbor nearby than a relative far away.” (New International Version of the Bible)

The point there is that all humanity must be considered your kin, those for whom you are responsible and must help in times of crisis. Of course, you can’t be close to everyone, but the bonds, promises, pledges and ties that you establish with others out of your own free will are the ones you must uphold.

This is not so much an issue for me, a man lucky enough to have relative happiness (if you’ll excuse the pun) with both my own family and that of my fiancé. Think of those who are less fortunate though; whose family members abused them, whose parents would not accept their sexual orientation or gender identity, whose life involved little to no contact with family. The people who could never confide in their siblings, the people who grew up as orphans, the people who were alienated, alone, afraid… Can the word ‘family’, as it refers to blood lineage, have any meaning for them?

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Alternatively, this.

Solidarity. Brotherhood. Friendship. Compassion. Humanity. Togetherness.

These are the principles to adhere to, but not solely towards family at the expense of everyone else. Your family can betray you just like anyone else…or indeed more than anyone else, if you know the statistics around domestic, sexual and other physical abuse.

What do you think? Is blood of the covenant thicker than water of the womb?

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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Dealing with High Stress Triggers in Personal Interaction

This will be quite a rambling post, and for that I apologise; it’s being written at about 6am by a man who woke up a couple of hours earlier and has been unable to return to sleep in the intervening time. So, ya know… Bear that in mind.

As someone who suffers from Generalised Anxiety Disorder, and a person with a great deal of anger – repressed, suppressed, misplaced, misunderstood, bitter and confused – I regularly seem to experience situations in which my temper rapidly reaches a stage where I can no longer control it and I erupt. Much like Vesuvius, but thankfully minus the lava. Whereas others may have a ‘boiling point’ for their rage – in rows they will reach a level of heat that will remain more or less constant over the course of the dispute – I unfortunately will simmer, with the temperature almost imperceptibly rising, until *BOOM* there’s an explosion…whereupon I will verbally lash out at what seems like maximum volume, while making for the nearest exit.

This is, essentially, a tantrum. For whatever reason, my behaviour can best be described as that of a child throwing a class A strop. As a kid, such behaviour was treated as perfectly normal, or at least nothing particularly out of the ordinary. However, the older I have gotten without curbing the tendency, the more repercussions have arisen…partly because of how it negatively affects my own mental health, but also how if terrifies the victims of my ire. In my head, I’m still just a frightened little boy trying to defend myself – but for the recipients, it’s apparently terrifying. That’s the thing I find hardest to believe and come to terms with, incidentally. So why am I still doing this? Why did these tantrums not end when my childhood did? Did I just never develop beyond that stage?

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Certainly, my history is full of these outbursts…even if they have become rarer (and, perhaps exponentially, more dramatic). When I was a child, the youngest of seven, I think I was quite well-known in my immediate family for throwing tantrums and storming off to ‘sulk’ etc. In secondary school, one source for my bullies’ desire to tease me was the endless pleasure they derived from winding me up and eventually seeing me lose the plot. After switching secondary schools, the triggers I had experienced faded away for a very long time – or at least, that’s how it seems in retrospect, given that I would not ‘blow up’ for quite a long time after that. However, in university, towards the end of my studies – unless there are some fits I’m forgetting while compiling this personal history – the problem reared up once more…and I’ve had one or two a year since then, more or less. Why is it that I never learned how to channel these feelings in a healthy manner?

There’s nothing significant in the content of the conversations to indicate that a sudden roaring departure is approaching. In fact, the subject matter is often embarrassingly anodyne; disagreement over the sincerity of the then-fresh presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, questioning of my empathy with regards to a friend’s suffering, differing views on the validity of national identity as opposed to local community, dressing down over inappropriate workplace procedure, debate on the value of ethnic heritage DNA tests… Looking over these now, I’m ashamed that I could let such innocuous discussions develop into a scenario in which my nerves were so frayed that I felt I had to violently let rip in order to defend my position.

The uniting factor isn’t what was being talked about, nor with whom; it was the way in which it was being conducted, and how my psychological warning-system, warped as it is by years or even decades of trauma, interpreted the signals being received. Simply put, in every case I felt increasingly attacked, put down, patronised, dismissed, not listened to, given no value, belittled and, ultimately, helpless. Note that this was not down to the behaviour of the person or persons who then had to face my uncontrollable wrath; these were just the feelings my mind and body were processing during the encounter, and would lead to the crescendo of vituperation. (I hope I’m using that word right, I don’t think I’ve ever used it before)

So how am I going to deal with these stressful situations, going forward? I can’t possibly avoid them; there is no way of knowing which interpersonal communication might trigger me. My fiancé and I have discussed some strategies for taking myself out of the situation before it gets to the critical stage, and hopefully these will help, but there will be times when she isn’t there to assist me – and, in any case, for reasons that are obvious, I need to be self-reliant as much as possible and not be looking for her to ‘bail me out’ whenever I’m reaching fever pitch. The big problem, as far as I’m concerned, is that whatever I come up with just won’t come to mind when I’m in the crucial moment; in those high pressure situations, with all the feelings and emotions bubbling up, with all the heat and anger and defensiveness beginning to take over, there’s very little of the brain that can be relied upon to coolly think about strategies and methods and whatnot. I worry that at these times I won’t be able to bring to mind the ways of dealing healthily with my anxiety, anger, fear and escapism. After all, if I could rationally think in those moments, surely I would realise that none of it matters anyway, wouldn’t I? These things, objectively, are not worth getting in a tizzy over…

If anyone reading this has any suggestions, or has suffered similarly, please leave a comment.

I could do with the help.

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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You Can Almost Smell The History

“As you are all no doubt aware, Alexander ‘Fedora’ Fennerman had two great loves; cocaine, and himself.”

Some of the tourists tittered at this, others merely smiled or nodded.

“He swept across the Rust Belt on his chopper – a huge custom Billy Bike, almost the size of an old Hummer, or so the legend goes – without a thought for the devastation he left churning in his wake. Every night he was starting fights, picking up sex workers for cheap thrills, smashing up motel rooms for the hell of it, and generally enjoying the kind of road trip shenanigans that Americans have secretly – and not so secretly – fantisised about since the invention of the Model T.”

A few laughs. The guide took a moment to compose herself; it was important not to be too jarring in the change of tone at this point. People enjoyed the story, but you didn’t want to appear callous or bloodthirsty. Got to be informative, but respectful. Sombre, but entertaining.

“It was not until reaching Skokie that he claimed his first victim…which surprises a lot of people. Everyone seems to believe that he started murdering folks pretty much as soon as he set off, but that simply wasn’t the case. Indeed, his actions on that particular night in question do appear understandable, albeit unjustifiable:

As Fedora was about to retire for the evening  – accompanied by his escort, naturally, a Miss Carly Hornblower of Bunkie, Louisiana – a group of men, all of the shaven-headed persuasion and with questionable tattoos and, if I may be so bold, with even more questionable politics, began hurling abuse at the working girl. Initially attempting to defuse the situation by sympathising with the misogynistic brutes while nonetheless asking them to depart the scene, Fennerman was unsuccessful in pleading with them to – as witnesses later recalled him saying – ‘Quit blocking my cock’. Eventually the gang grew tired of pummelling him – oh, sorry everyone, I should have made it more clear that their response to his entreaties was one of violence, mea culpa – so they retired to their own individual Motel rooms to sleep off their glorious victory. In this, they underestimated Fedora.

Doubtless many of you know what happened next, but for those who have only a modicum of familiarity with this sordid tale, I shall briefly conclude:

Fennerman, presumably after tending to his own wounds and perhaps taking a restorative slug of bourbon, left the Motel and purchased a ‘Nailcopter’ from a nearby Drone store –  this was when such devices were still legal, you understand – before flying it through one of the thug’s windows and eviscerating the resident ne’er-do-well in a hail of razor-sharp projectiles. Before the screams and mayhem had died down, Fedora was back on his motorcycle; bruised, bloodied, and borderline insane with emasculated rage, he was now totally in thrall to homicidal impulses.

His next five victims were torn apart with a brutality unmatched in the annals of violent crime…but it was that first night which set everything in motion. Imagine; the drone smashing through the glass with unstoppable force, the occupant waking up in a brief moment of terror, the onboard weaponry shredding everything present to pieces, the horrifying scene seared into the memory of all who witnessed it.”

Taking a deep breath, the guide clasped her hands together.

“And this is the room where it happened!”

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“And this is the drone he used!”

Solidarity, brothers & sisters…

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