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Roadmap Four: On Noise and Silence

I’ve touched on this before but if I had to look back on my school reports one word would stand out. ‘Unassuming’. I went merrily through my life thinking that was a good thing. I wasn’t the sort the person who’d try to skewer the pigtailed girl on the front row by chucking a compass. I’d sit there quietly. Sometimes with my arms folded. It wasn’t until decades later when I was chatting to a colleague that this bubble was burst. We were talking about our schooldays and I mentioned that this word always kept cropping up, almost like a label. They said that perhaps ‘unassuming’ was teacher shorthand for ‘sits there gormlessly without saying anything’. This was so true. I was the sort of kid who’d readily believe everything they said. The moon revolves the earth – fine, let’s move on. I didn’t think to ask why or whether it will ever stop.

I wouldn’t say that my childhood was blissful, it just happened. I don’t inanely look back and say they were the best years of my life. However they probably do inform a lot of my adult behaviour as direct reaction. I used to hate talking about myself but now I am more relaxed. If someone asks I take it as a sign that they are interested in what I create. It’s a natural urge not an interrogation. I think my initial reticence came from how talking was framed in English lessons back at school: it was all about what excites you or what you enjoy doing. It was all about ambition and happiness. As a born apathetic soul this was so strange. I also got bogged down with wondering what would interest other people. Nowadays I just jump straight in. I don’t say that in a reckless way – I don’t lose sight of what is right and wrong. I’ve just learned that candid is king. And so is darkness I guess. If I feel it is part of me it gets written down.

Anyone who has read my zines and blog will know that I often talk about my brother John. How he developed multiple sclerosis in his early twenties and became confined to a wheelchair. How the illness took him and then his life. Sometimes I think it’s easy to forget how much of what we do is automatic. How our lives are a series of reflexes. Or is that too simplistic? I’m not sure which ability he lost first? Walking? Swallowing? Talking? How speech therapy turned into looking into alternative methods of communication. How his shaking stopped him using most keyboards. How pointing at letters turned into silence. After that it just came down to instinct and empathy. Not thinking for him but asking what we’d want in this situation. He’s safe but what more could he need? To watch crappy daytime TV? To listen to The Clash? To be left alone?

I’ve always found it interesting examining John Cage’s composition ‘4’33’. How people scoffed at a piece of orchestration that was ‘just’ silence. First up is it’s length. We are used to one and two minutes silence in times of mourning. When we feel it’s justified. For war heroes and untimely deaths. How long a wait before silence becomes uncomfortable or threatening? I’m not sure if it’s as a result of life with my brother but it’s never bothered me. That absence of words. I do know that other people struggle. They need to make polite conversation. John Cage’s point was obviously that there is no such thing as silence; something always fills the void. People are prone to fidget and cough. I’m typing this in relative quiet but I can hear my fingers on the keys, the computer’s fan and the muffled sound of cars driving past. There’s an air of hum which I’m putting down to my tinnitus and not my neighbour’s lawnmower. If I switch everything off I’m sure I would hear my heart beat,

There are times where I enjoy silence. There are times I prefer to have some sound on in the background. It isn’t fixed. I’ve always been drawn to the motorik sound of Krautrock. That wave of throb. Those times at gigs when the music is so loud you can feel the reverb pound into your internal organs. There are times when noise consumes everything. I always struggle to read and listen to music at the same time. It’s almost as though my eyes cannot cope with the distraction. I wouldn’t say that silence is something that I actively seek out. Or that I need for cathartic rebirth. Let’s face it Mindfulness is nothing without meaning. I’m not sure if this is a good thing but I often associate silence with prayer. With offering things up to God. With incense. Silence or parroting things that I didn’t really understand. Or when it comes to the home; misbehaving, being scolded and sent to my room. Silence as atonement for my sins.

I guess it comes down to choice. We associate silence with solitary confinement. The change of behaviour that comes from being left with our thoughts. My brother had no say in the matter. I can change things by the press of a button. I can block out the natural world. Silence is something we do to protest. Silence is something we get sponsored for; one pound for each minute of compliance. Sometimes silence is all we have. Silence is something that comes at the end of the day when everything is done. When everyone is going to sleep. Silence is more positive than noise? Silence equals regret or death. Noise is about disturbance or breaking someone down. Noise is indistinguishable. Just a hubbub there at the other end of the spectrum. Noise is what comes when people collide. When we realise we are incompatible. Noise is the language of strangers. Noise in the form of screams appears when all hope is gone.

Epilogue: This seemed to jar as part of the main piece but one of the most powerful films I’ve seen is ‘Tribe’. The story takes place in a Russian boarding school for deaf children. With no subtitles and a dialogue entirely in sign language it could be quite alienating. Despite the brutality it is such a poetic film. How it’s possible to understand everything that going on without words. How it draws you in. How the slaps as they move their hands, which break the silence, become almost hypnotic.

I think it’s a similar thing with music. I realise that there is a subtle distinction there. Music can be abrasive and abstract at times. And confrontational, see Suicide’s ’23 Minutes Over Brussels’. However it does tend to be about being transported away rather than someone inflicting pain. This track came to mind over things like MBV, Sigur Ros and Throbbing Gristle. I’m imaging a post apocalyptic world where everything has gone. We’ve destroyed ourselves or the machines have. I’m not sure what sounds if any will remain?

Ben Frost – ‘Theory Of Machines‘.

Written as part of Amy Tempest’s Roadblock creative prompt series over one day in April. Prompt Four: ‘Noise/Silence’.

What Is A Zine? Whatever You Feel It Is.

I felt now would be a good time to provide an update on all things zine in my world. It wasn’t sparked by Moxie but by going through my photo archives to see which images I hadn’t used. And deleting a few torso shots that I’d missed. In the past I’ve tended to delete these images once they had been issued. As part of the process but also because I didn’t want to feel the urge to create anniversary editions at a later date. I wanted permanence once they’d come off the photocopier. I was also struck that I’ve actually traded all of my available items. I think I worked out that I’ve created around one hundred and fifty issues. You can file me under ‘pretty prolific’. I love the fact that they are held by people all over the world.

When I started my ‘Torso’ zine there was a lot of fumbling around in the dark. What exactly do I want to focus on? How abstract / out there do I want to be? Will people be okay with the nudity? Although I’d created a zine before, this project started in earnest after going to a craft session which was mainly attended by disadvantaged teenagers. We all created a basic zine template and apart from the compilations I’ve never changed the style. Recently I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned along the way. There is no doubt here that I will probably contradict myself within the first few statements. But if you want to know how I made it slightly up from the bottom of the zine heap then read on. I kidding there. Most people have still never heard of me!

I’m pretty useless at explaining how to make a zine but there is an excellent piece on Creative Independent here

Know your audience: Most ‘how to zine’ guides say that your zine’s subject should be something that has broad appeal. I’d just like to put on record that that’s bollocks. Well okay it really depends on what your ‘model’ is. I know my zine cost nothing to produce unless I put a value on my creativity ergo I like it be free where possible. And before anyone says that isn’t me underselling my worth. Although I have created for many a zine fair I wouldn’t entertain tabling at one. Mainly because I know that some people may have reservations about my imagery. I really don’t need the hassle and I don’t want anyone to feel awkward or be triggered.

My ‘readers’ have nearly always come to me or I’ve made an assumption. When I started out I used to pounce when people liked my Instagram posts. It was an easy way in and it kind of took away a bit of the ‘well they won’t be expecting this’. Now don’t get me wrong I always give warning. I also leave it up to the zine library to decide how they feel best to catalogue. I’m just a bit more ‘this is how it is’ nowadays. I’m not looking to win hearts and minds or make them see men differently. There’s now a lot more experimentation rather than sticking to a body positive message. I’m not saying that’s a good thing it was just the way it went. Somewhat organic. Somewhat when I hit brick walls. Changing along the way as I became more in tune.

What do you want to say? – There’s nothing wrong with freestyle or silly but most of the zines I love are those where people talk about making sense of themselves. This doesn’t have to be navel gazing or full of self loathing. That said, never forget rule number one of zine club: want to create a zine? – then just go for it! Last year I read a zine called ‘Barcelona 2013’ as part of the Salford Zine Library cataloguing exercise. To say it’s a travelogue is perhaps underplaying how great it is. It’s about discovery. It’s about the heady rush of new romance; two girls in love. It’s about acceptance and loss. It’s about not knowing where you’re going but not really caring. It made me wonder what happened next to the two of them.

Having nothing obviously ‘political’ / forthright to say shouldn’t be a barrier. I’m hoping to review a few zines over the coming months and there won’t be a diatribe in sight. I haven’t decide what these will be – I do know a couple: Warglitter’s ‘Lovercase’ and Rabbit In Bloom’s ‘Tinderness’. If you want me to review yours give us a shout though it won’t be a straight “I like this *insert heart emoji*” affair. I will in time look to writing about other things. I often joke that I will stop once I’ve created a zine about Bananarama’s first two albums. There is no up from there! It’s just that I know I’ll be able to talk about the power of pop, growing up and sexual awakening. The chaos and harshness of the Eighties heard in the opening lines to Rough Justice: “The young don’t grow up / Well not in this life / Big mouths and money / Win every time”.

Do you really want to be a capitalist whore? – Most ‘models’ say that you should sell for three times what it costs to produce. I’d add a couple of caveats there – there’s probably a ceiling to what someone is willing to pay if it’s a standard b&w repro. Admittedly some people will pay more for exclusivity. Or if you have included merch like badges or patches. I can remember watching a doc on DIY publication which was interesting but I was struck by one comment where they said that their print run was one thousand copies. Now I understand it was about creating enough money for them to carry on for the next year or so but that’s almost legit publishing territory. The most I’ve ever done of mine is twenty and that was only because I thought the first batch had gone missing. Maybe I’m not ambitious enough?

I think you learn over time how many you are likely to sell. And that number increases as you become known. But before you pick up a pen in anger you need to ask a few questions: is your zine a one off or do you see it as a series? If so do you have enough content or know where you are going to take it? Is it something you’ll be doing on your own? How are going to print and distribute? All of those questions will have a bearing on how you go about putting it together. You may feel it’s easier to submit to another person’s zine rather than create your own? For me it’s always been a combination. There have been times when what I’ve wanted to say didn’t really fit in with my zines so I submitted it to other people’s. It’s freeing in many ways.

So what comes next?: Well I would still like to get a Lancashire LGBT zine off the ground and perhaps a zine focusing on the societal and environmental issues here in Pendle. The problem I have here is that it is very much reliant on the passion of other people. I am doing a call and response type project at moment. This will probably turn into one main zine and a separate one where me a friend will write about family, the different societies we live in, grunge and the apocalypse. Yes really and no, not in any particular order. I just wanted to create a zine about connection and how we lose touch. Do we still have the same friends since the internet has come along? Where did our old friends go?

This weekend I am going to make a start on cataloguing the zines I own. I’ve mentioned this before but the ultimate goal is for these to form part of Burnley Zine Library. Hence why I’m keen to get them in order and then do a micro review. Be honest and empathetic. Talk about how they make me feel. I sort of agree with the idea that you don’t particular need to be au fait with the subject matter. It’s about the writer themselves. How they draw you in. Their creativity and what they are willing to reveal. It’s about experiencing other people’s lives. In a world of fake news and conspiracy it’s also about showing the truth. Seeing who believes and wants to join you on your journey.

My zine ‘A Year Of Solitude’ will officially be available when I can sort out a print. I’m hoping to create a zine for July’s IZM and ‘Circa 2021’ when I turn fifty in November. A fifty year old male zinester? Who would have thought it!? Long live the old breed. You can read more about me in Weirdo Brigade’s interview here.

The Light Before Lockdown

This blog is one bit of my response to Claire Warmsley Griffiths’ ‘The Light Before Lockdown’ project prompt. It was written over two days: 30th Nov and 1st Dec. I don’t think there’s a need to know the questions she asked mainly because I’ve only skirted on them. When I think of postcards I always think of my step mum. When I think of her I think of my mum and the understandable animosity between them. How they once fought in the chemists on Arthur St. I think that was the first time I saw my mum’s fury. Her violent tears. Despite that I always find some warmth when looking back. I wonder how we’ll look back on the year just gone? Are there things that we’ll remember other than the pandemic? AN Dec 2020

There’s a box upstairs which is full of postcards that were sent to my step mum. They run from the late forties to the early sixties. They are mainly from her husband at the time. I don’t know anything about him if I’m honest except that he loved motorbikes. I’m assuming he used to travel with work as they are from all over the UK. What I find interesting, apart from the affection between them, is that they are sometimes from places that you wouldn’t expect. Dead end towns. Places you wouldn’t expect to have postcards. As I write that I realise it’s quite a dismissive thing to say. It’s not meant to be. If anything the postcard is the perfect medium for our thoughts. There is only a certain amount of space. And we nearly always slip into hopeful mode.

It was this wistfulness I tried to embrace looking back on 2020. Now okay I know that it’s impossible to ignore the pandemic and trust me I won’t. I think things stopped for me when the call to work from home came. It threw things into the air. I’m a strange person. Socialising kills me sometimes, it’s in listening to the lives I others I know I’m so different, but through interactions come the ideas. Sometimes it’s just a phrase I take. Sometimes it’s twisting what someone has said completely. Sometimes it’s osmosis. Their lives soak into me and appear as my words. That’s not to say that I don’t have my own story. I just worry sometimes that people want more than the thoughts of a bashful smalltown boy.

So what I have missed during lockdown? I’ve missed rummaging around in charity shops. Flicking through the battered vinyl records to see if I can find anything that will take me back. To those days of Jane Fonda workouts and Pick N Mix. Greenham banners and first kisses. I’ve missed being amused by how many albums Mrs Mills seems to have made. Though I do love the fact that she seems to have been embraced. Was it the variety of the music halls they craved? Did it take them back to a simpler life? I miss the cramp that comes from crouching down too long. A sure sign I’m becoming old. I miss wandering around aimlessly. I miss the dance floor and northern soul. The style of the Indie Couple. I know it will all come back eventually.

The last gig I can remember being at was the ‘Sick Of Being Normal’ punk event. I liked the fact that a bunch of punk descended on a library. I did plan to do a review but the photos I took are still undeveloped in a disposable camera. It felt like the right medium at the time. This idea of not knowing what the end result will be. Struggling to see and not being able to retake. A bit like life itself sometimes. How often do we get the chance to change first impressions? That’s always been the appeal with the photos I take. Showing real life. That’s not to say they can’t be abstract and dreamlike. After all being northern doesn’t have to be about carrying all you own in a Kwik Save carrier.

My step mum took thousands of photos. Most mean nothing to me, some mean everything. My dad’s scarred ‘going out’ face, unable to stop the bleeding post shave. Photos of the cuddly toys she won in the raffle. Toys that became surrogates given pride of place on an armchair in front of the fire. Her photos record moments. How we’d sometimes uncomfortably slow dance to ‘Simply The Best’ at the end of night when, post stroke, my dad became unsteady on his feet. How it would’ve broken my mum’s heart if she found out. Nights out which made me lie. Made me imagine and learn empathy. “What! That cow who took him away from us?!” Thankfully that never came. Life is less complicated now that they have all gone and I find myself alone. Sometimes their shadows come back and I find the need to write. It’s always the same; part nostalgia and part making sense.

My next gig is meant to be in the back room of the Castle Hotel in Manchester. I’ve always liked the crush, sweat and reverb of the place. How will I find it in this new world of ours? The fact that touch has become fearful. Will I even go? I think it will be taken out of my hands. Who wants to be the first band to kill someone? I’ll miss walking through the neon city with ears ringing. Feeling in the moment. Feeling glad to be alive. I’ll miss the bus drive over through impossibly beautiful countryside so different to the concrete here. Villages like ‘Loveclough’ – even their names seem magical. I’ll miss checking into a cheap budget hotel and the twenty four hour a day ambulance sirens. I’ll miss wondering whether I’m going to survive the night. And then not really caring.

And that else? I’ve never been one for the multiplex until I became friends with Christina. I love the fact that we have such different tastes. I enjoy having to be positive about throw away films but even I struggled with the Dumbo remake. She didn’t like it either. I love and have missed being in her company. I see this as a counterpoint to films I now watch online at the Pendle Social Cinema. Films for which the word ‘cerebral’ was invented. Films where people talk in different languages. I like the fact that they are often just as bad as Dumbo. I love the discussion even though I’m the least opinionated person on this planet. The five words that used to make me to have cold sweats?: “how do you feel about..?” I love the fact that I’m comfortable enough to say nothing at times. I love the fact that it makes me comb my hair even though there is no real need. I at least look human on a Thursday night.

It’s hard putting this year into words but it’s been one of connection and not of disappearance. It’s a year where I’ve realised that the outside world doesn’t realise that living on your own is often a preference. That loneliness and being single are two separate things – you think I just sit in a darkened room doing nothing? I love the way that my friend Lyn texted for the first time in a while at the weekend. She’s always been there for me since that time things really did become too much. Is that really twenty years ago? Maybe that’s something for another day? I love the fact that she forgot my birthday. She’ll ring me in a couple of weeks feeling all apologetic. We’ll laugh. I know full well she’ll forget it again next year. I love the fact that this is the last year of my forties. That’s when my life will begin.

Although I create zines and send these around the world I feel the urge to make and write postcards in the new year. Perhaps you’d like to receive one? I’ll tell you more things of home and perhaps ask the odd question of you. Not prying more wanting to know about the light that fills your life. What are you looking forward to? We can talk about our pasts. How as a kid I used to look at the aerial on Graham’s electrical shop and wonder if they were communicating with aliens. How I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have been the only boy to think that. How all that is still in me and appears given half the chance. I’ve started to realise that perhaps it’s not what people write that matters just that they found the time. To slow down and take notice. Of themselves, others and what surrounds. To tell us about the weather with them. How their families are growing. Who they are missing. And those adventures that sometimes come along. Little things that seemed to matter before life became wired.

On Openness, Adventure And Nudity

A few years ago I wrote a, now deleted, blog post about the programme ‘The Great British Skinny Dip’. I kind of wanted to talk about nudity in a body positive way but address certain issues. I’ve decided to re-write it. Ask the same question: will it ever be acceptable to appear naked in public or will it always be deemed as obscene? Nov 2020

Channel 4 have done two programmes on naturism that I’m aware of: ‘My Daughter The Teenage Nudist’ (2012) and ‘The Great British Skinny Dip’ (2017). The first one is by far the most interesting. The second one I found bizarre but as a writer it was its ‘what the fuck’ aspect that made me put pen to paper. The story of an organisation trying to entice in new members but caught between two stools. Having to appeal to those who may see naturism to be about openness / healthy lifestyle whilst going for those of a hedonistic bent. ‘This is me’ vs thrill seekers. I pointed out at the time that those two tribes may want completely different things.

I think my reason for deleting the original blog was that I felt it was a bit mean towards British Naturism. Not the organisation per se more what they felt constituted a good time. It was diet of barbecues. It was a diet of visiting tourist attractions off season. It was doing stuff I don’t want to do in the first place but naked. It was very domestic and ordinary. There was no warmth and dare I say it there was very little laughter. Nothing that touched on the absurdity of life. Now okay, I didn’t delve any deeper and other things they put on may appeal more. I think for me personally it comes down to one thing. Appearing naked is cool but not if it’s organised and sold back to me.

I was reminded of all this after watching Hannah Maia’s excellent documentary ‘My Big White Thighs & Me’ at the weekend*. Hannah’s film isn’t about naturism but about the joys and adventure that open swimming brings. However there was a brief scene where Hannah and her friend are shown from the back walking naked into the water. It isn’t explained; it doesn’t need to be. From what has gone before we know it’s about her being comfortable with her body and also with her friend seeing her ‘imperfections’. It’s about having fun whilst feeling liberated. It’s just two friends going for a swim enjoying each other’s company.

The idea behind ‘The Great British Skinny Dip’ was to take a naked swim and try to give it a community appeal. A mass event where families could take part. But, as they found out, you are battling an awful lot of barriers. There will always be a stigma attached to an adult being naked in front of a child. There are an awful lot of folk who don’t feel comfortable looking in a mirror never mind being naked in front of someone else. And then there’s the weather. It’s something I may have done though I’m pretty ambivalent. I’d probably put it in the same bracket as camping. I get the great outdoors aspect but not much more than that. If you fancy trying to convince me you know where I am. We can take the plunge together.

I’ve spoken about this before but I’m pretty sure mainstream views on nudity stem from two things: we equate nudity with shame / sin (Eve in the Garden Of Even) or only see it as a prelude to sex / titillation. We also take too much notice of social media. Touched up bodies. Most of my work features degrees of nudity. Some of my friends have seen my zines, some haven’t. Some think it’s artistic, some think I’m a sexual deviant. I’ve never tried to influence. It wasn’t about keeping it hid in some circles I just had a pretty good idea who would be supportive. I’m proud of what I produce and that’s the main thing. I’ll keep going until my creative energies die. Trying to blur boundaries all the while.

A final thought though: is it better for us to continue having this ‘strange / strained relationship’ with nudity? Baring all is often what we do when we want to make a statement or protest. Or get our fifteen minutes of fame. Pick your oracle: Femen, Victoria Bateman or Erica Roe. Would we just want it to be par for the course? In many ways the programme fell down because so many of the members chose to have their faces pixelated in later scenes. What was sold as wholesome took on a sense of embarrassment. I do not want to be identified. As someone who leads a compartmentalised life I understand that but it appeared seedy. If you’re going to do something then embrace it fully. Do it without compromise**.

After watching Hannah’s documentary I was tempted to take a few more
‘Wild’ photos – it’s been on hiatus for twelve months mainly because I felt I’d said all I wanted. Besides there haven’t been any zine fairs what with the pandemic. These images may just stay as they are and not turned into a zine. Give me a shout if you want the full set. Like her it was a case of slipping and sliding as I went to a place I hadn’t been since childhood. It was cool to just take time out of my working day and have a walk through the woodland. Scrape my skin and get stung by the nettles. Listen to the brook. It made me feel giddy. I like to feel the resulting images are art and not troubling.

* You can watch Hannah’s film here. I wrote a few words about it which can be found on IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/review/rw6299290/?ref_=tt_urv

** I’m being a bit of a hypocrite there as I occasionally obscure my penis and my face. I would say though that I only usually do it when I’m talking about censorship or duality. I will admit though that sometimes it actually looks better that way. Let’s face it penises are ugly!





A Year Of Solitude

I’d always intended to create a follow up to last year’s ‘A Year In The Wilderness’ and at the end of October I finished final edit. This new work is called ‘A Year Of Solitude’. The idea was for it to be quite an insular take. Not to neglect the lush outskirts completely but to give it a more domestic feel. Home is always a difficult thing for me to write about. Home as we stand means being safe from the pandemic. Home in the past was more a place of disillusionment. Now don’t get me wrong my life isn’t that of misery lit. It’s more full of impossible dreams. Wanting to escape but not really having the confidence or means.

I’ve read a lot of commentary on the pandemic. People who say that the cruel climate has made it impossible for them to concentrate. “It takes all my time to survive I cannot contemplate writing / creating art“. I understand that. I attended a talk by the writer Elif Shafak who said that you have to be a sociopath to say that you haven’t been touched in some way. To see the death toll rise but to remain passive. For me it’s been suffocating at times. It was that aspect that I wanted to touch on. How the four walls have closed in. How being in one place made things that I’d usually throw away gather around me. Clothes, cutlery and wrappers becoming flotsam and jetsam. And how my healthy diet took a nose dive.

But conversely how soaking this up became catalyst. In many ways it is also an indication of how comfortable I am now of me as a person. I don’t feel the need to rush out and buy soft furnishings. I don’t feel the need to deny who I am. But that in turn becomes a double edged sword – not needing to moderate to fit in brings with it the darkness. Old wounds start to reappear. The times in my life when the self loathing grew and I didn’t have anyone to talk to. Scrap that, I did but I didn’t feel comfortable approaching anyone. How do you put it into words? Older me can, younger me couldn’t. I guess it comes with experience / world weariness?

The zine mirrors the last one in design and number of pages, thirty six in total. All the images were taken at home or on strolls around my home town bar two. These were taken in Blackburn town centre when I was there for the Kick Down The Barriers exhibition. I wanted to retain the nude imagery of my ‘Torso’ zine though kept very much to a minimum and from a distance. I like to think it adds to the vulnerability. There are two ‘promo’ copies in existence. One a copy of the original template and one a printed off scanned copy. I felt I needed to change one of the images after viewing. I’m all for leaving in mistakes but it was just too saturated. You can see it below.   

Above all else I wanted it to be raw. ‘Daughter Of Winter’ is about my fiend’s toxic relationship with their mother. How their mum was cruel because in her eyes their birth had been a hindrance. She wanted to feel free not spend all her time changing dirty nappies. There’s pieces about my stepmum feeling isolated after my dad’s stroke. Him in hospital, her alone. And my thoughts on clearing his house when he died years later. Why do I know so little? My parent’s divorce turned us into strangers. My mum tried to make me see him as the devil incarnate. I was more understanding and she could never forgive me for feeling that way.   

So what does the coming year bring? Well I’m just putting together another issue of the main strand which if memory servers is #24. I can’t see me doing many others but I will definitely do one for IZM and a ‘Circa’ to record how my body looks. I’ve going to make a slight tweak to this account which will allow people to subscribe for bonus content. I turn fifty next year so I’m hoping to do weekly posts starting in the first full week of January. I’ll also be looking to ask people to be part of the selection process for my next book’s imagery. Turn my archive over to other eyes and seeing where that takes me / us. It’d be cool to have have you on board.

‘A Year Of Solitude’ will be available at That 0282 Place (upstairs at Burnley Library) when things get back to normal. Or directly from me, just give us a shout: nicholas563@btinternet.com If you’re one of the people I’m regularly in touch with who live abroad i.e. non UK I’ll make sure you get a copy at some point. 

The People’s Museum

I’m paraphrasing a misremembered quote here. It goes something like this: there are two types of people. Type 1: those who know nothing about history. Type 2: those who know loads about history but spend all their time passively writing about how we never learn from history. This post is about a photo I submitted to KDTB’s Exhibition at Blackburn Museum. My history? It brought with it quite a melancholic feeling. How can I write about an image when I don’t know all that went on? Can I be upbeat about an image when I know the heartache that came later? Oct 2020

It seemed like quite a straight forward request. The artist William Titley has put on an exhibition where the curated items are things sent in by the public. His request: if you had to choose one item which represented you as a person what would it be? A prized possession? Something whimsical or passed down? Something worthless but which means the world to you? I have no idea how museums are usually curated – I often find them staid with too much taxidermy – but William’s vision appealed. This idea of a community expressing who they really are rather than it being a straight, predetermined ‘this is who we think you are’. It’ll be interesting to see if this ends up being more authentic.

So what to submit? That first 7″ has long since traded in for something new. That fancy tie-dye t-shirt that I wore to death at college has been recycled. What do I have other than certificates? I have thousands of photos. When my step mum died I took in her photos that span from her being a young woman in the late 1940s right the way up to her time with my dad. I have my mum’s photos which again show her life and the special occasions. But also sad ones when my brother’s illness came. There is often one thought: who are these people and what happened to them? I often don’t know. Is a photograph anything more than a paused moment? I picked one photograph and wrote down my thoughts:

“Although this polaroid was taken when I was a toddler it wasn’t until I was in my late thirties that I first saw it. It was taken when my grandma visited from Canada – I’m assuming she came to see me as latest addition to the family? It was taken by my Auntie Mary who left most of them with us but took this with her as a keepsake. It is one of the very few photos of all three of us together. It was sent on to me by the guardian who was dealing with her belongings when she died. I don’t recall my grandma coming over again so this would the only time we met. I have many thoughts now: doesn’t my sister look young? Why does it look like my brother is trying to escape the frame? Can you tell from this how we would disintegrate later on? I often wonder that. Can we look at a photograph as a moment in time or is it forever marked by what came next? My parents’ separation. My brother’s illness. For me if differs from image to image but I feel real warmth with this one. I’m just not that sure about my outfit!”

I’m not sure when my auntie Mary emigrated. There are pictures of her here at the illuminations in the late fifties so I’m assuming it was in the early sixties when travel became affordable. I also don’t know what took her away. I know her and her husband worked in nursing so perhaps they answered a call? Canada wants your bedside manner. Maybe they saw more opportunities across the Atlantic than in Barrow-in-Furness where they lived? Maybe they craved somewhere slightly less isolated? I don’t know whether they ever regretted their decision. I know she came back at least twice to visit. Once shortly after I was born in 1971. And once much later during those strange times we lived in fear of the Millennium Bug. We met by accident that time. Maybe that’s a story for another day safe to say that family had become much more complicated by then.

I’d take my mum’s friendship with my auntie as being something that cordially spanned my childhood but then disappeared. I have no idea how often they saw each other before the move. Or if they got on. My distinct memory though is of my mum getting those blue air mail letters from the post office and writing about what had been going on. What I was doing at school. But after I left school what exactly do you say – how many different ways do you say: no he isn’t married yet? Actually I’m not sure when they stopped? I think they kept going post my dad leaving which must have been awkward. Maybe they eventually found they had nothing in common? Or ran out of things to say. Isn’t that often the case?

It’s one of the main reasons why I love creating zines and then doing the snail mail thing of writing an accompanying letter. Sure it’s about friendship but it’s also about understanding and imagining the place where the other person lives – both visually and socially. I haven’t been abroad in years but each time I create and send I get a ‘postcard’ back. It’s somewhere I have travelled. It feels wankish to call it a twinning but it’s like finding a common bond. By sheer fluke I’ve just sent a package to someone who lives in the same place as my auntie did, Oshawa. Now okay it’s probably changed a lot but it feels like I’m connecting with both of them in many ways. I’m excited as to what I will find out.

What I can remember most about my auntie is that she always sent literate presents: a set of Disney encyclopedias when I was younger and then later Pearl S Buck’s Book of Christmas. I also remember her sending a compilation of Dickens’ Christmas novels. It was as though she wanted to encourage me to read. Perhaps this could be you? It’s hard knowing what I think of her as someone I hardy met but I love looking at the older photos of her. Wild hair like young Ellie in the film ‘Up’. They scream I am what I am and don’t give a fuck. When she developed dementia I think it killed my dad in many ways. He found talking to her extremely difficult . As though he’d lost touch with the person she once was. His big sister.

I think in the end I can only describe what I see. Place photographs in their own bubble free from the future. I love this one. My grandma just stood there as though she’s is impervious to what is going on – or is that a smile I see? My sister looking so young and at the centre. Feeling maternal towards me. My brother almost out of shot – is he trying to race off back to his bedroom where Roxy Music await? What with lockdown our hairstyles are almost the same – I have become clone. I cannot remember living in this house on Heyhead St but I often walk past it on the way to the park. It doesn’t bring back memories of the pebbledash, of texture, but of get togethers where we’d reminisce. Take the boxed photographs out of the cupboard and look back. Perhaps take more.

I’m not sure when my grandma died but it was pre my teens. I know that she lived into her nineties but nothing other than that which is sad. My sister became a teacher in a rural village school. After many years living in Italy post retirement she has returned home. I’d tentatively describe her as bohemian. Perhaps free spirited is better? She rocks! I’ve spoken about my brother many times. He developed MS in his early twenties, became confined to a wheelchair and died about ten years later. There’s obviously much more to him than that but this is a blog and not a memoir. So yeah here is an image from much earlier in our lives. Slightly awkward but aren’t they always? It perhaps shows an idyll that never existed. I’m not sure if I have the precise words to describe how it makes me feel. It makes me feel human.

Postscript: a childhood friend recently posted a photograph of us as kids. One of my brother’s friends often does the same – how they used to hang. In many cases I’ve never seen them. They show tribe. There is a sense of belonging. I’ve often wondered if there could be some kind of photo amnesty where we regularly share these memories. Could we create an alternative history from snapshots we thought were lost? At any rate it would be cool to let some more out into the digital world. See what it makes of those hazy days.












Who I am / Who am I? #lockdownexhibition7

This blog / photo exhibition / collage was inspired in part by the track ‘Identity’ by Xray Spex. Are we comfortable with how we look? Will we ever truly become or belong? Do we try all we can to disguise who we really are? In the end I only used one full manipulated photo but others became keys. The collage is primarily made up of the results of Google searches asking the questions: “what is manhood?” and “how will I know if I am gay?” Plus other things I had lying around. Ephemera. Discarded parts of me. SAN August 2020

I wouldn’t say having a sense of ‘identity’ is something that consumes me. In fact I’ve never been that keen to paint myself a certain way. My ‘Torso’ zine and associated art comes from wanting to question the images of masculinity in mainstream media. Type ‘normal man’ into any search engine and see what images come back. They won’t be me i.e. fortysomething, flabby and childless. They’ll be athletic, virile or the sort that inhabit ‘Marley & Me’ type films. Proud from the neck down, dead from the neck up. Or is that me being bitter? We are force fed stereotypes but think about it: why shouldn’t an OAP be portrayed as amorous instead of decrepit? Is it that we are in denial? What I do know is that me as a half-life person is restless. I want to move, refocus and move again. I want to confound.

I’m not sure where that desire comes from? If I look back on my life it’s hard to highlight anything that set me apart. Do I even have one unique characteristic? There’s a great piece on Jarvis Cocker by Julie Burchill (I think) on the sleeve notes to their ‘Countdown 1992-1983’ comp of pre Brit Pop era tracks. She recounts how when she first met him he looked so out of place wearing charity shop hand me downs and velvet flares. Like someone who refused to believe the Seventies had come to end. A few years later and with retro / glam being back en vogue he suddenly found himself as unlikely style guru. Now don’t get me wrong I will never be as cool as Jarvis. For him it was about making a statement – I am outsider. I used to be so passive that everything washed over me – I still am in some circles. I needed to be told what to do. I stayed where I was out of fear.

But why so fearful? Perhaps a schooled belief that different was bad? My parents had a set idea of which careers were suitable and I was definitely a conservative teen. It was all attainment and keeping up with the Jones. Even if the Jones were cunts. Although I always knew I was good with words I never considered ‘author’ as viable option. Or anything else creative if I’m honest. I plumped for science which left me cold, baffled and miserable. But I stayed silent instead of changing tack. Who wants to be labelled ‘failure’? I ended up bunking off college more often than I went but it was never questioned. No MIA letter home which I would have to deny. All college did was make me adept at killing time. I would leave home as though nothing was wrong, head to the arcades and wander aimlessly.

I’ve always been comfortable with meandering along but I don’t think it is a pig headed reaction. FUCK YOUR RAT RACE! I didn’t wake up one morning and start swimming against the tide. It was it mixture of circumstance, your options are limited when you have little money, and a what’s the worst that can happen attitude that only came once I hit my thirties. I often fail. I am contradiction and the more I develop my art the more I find that’s an interesting place to be. It isn’t a case of never wanting to stand up and be counted. It’s just that I don’t really know what is expected. Like what exactly defines me as male, bisexual or working class? A prick? An attitude? Lady Gaga on heavy rotation? Dirty fingernails? Are there points which overlap? I’m not entirely sure and somehow I don’t think my bathroom mirror or society will provide answers either.

The ‘Identity Session’ – Some images from my bathroom Aug 2020.

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The ‘Identity Session’ (Adapted Versions)

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‘Do You See Yourself?’ collage for #lockdownexhibition7 created 08-Aug-20 can be found here —> Identity Collage
Many thanks to @sophieparkerdesign for the spark as ever xx.

 

The Fever Dream #LockdownExhibition6

I watched Virus Tropical the other week. It seemed alien in many ways but I felt an affinity in others. Like the main character religion was to the fore throughout my childhood. As a child I was offered nothing but things which would cause me to stand still. They gave me labels which never seemed fit or I did my best to scribble out. They gave me sums and rote commandments. Sacred hearts and woe betides. I can’t remember if I had any dreams? Vivid colours that contrasted the greyness of what I saw in the everyday. They were probably the same as everyone else’s. YOU MUST BE SOMEONE. Strive for a life of houses and fucking. You can get where you want as long as you measure up. If you don’t then you won’t exist. If you don’t well it’s going to be long, hard life.

As an adult I often head to places with only a vague idea of where they are. And this in itself doesn’t scare me because there is no real risk. But this sense of feeling / getting lost or going round in circles is a recurring theme in my dreams. I think it comes from my introverted nature. Unlike my childhood I now thrive on being out of place. Not being apart from everything just thinking: “I haven’t done this before but I’m going to do it now”. I don’t think much has changed. I’ve just learned to realise that all people have the same insecurities. About their lives and bodies. About where they stand. I just knew I needed to strip things back. Lose all the needful things. Lose the pretence and appear naked.

I’m not sure how I feel about dreams as a psychic concept. This belief that they are just a way of processing events. An overspill of cerebral energy that needs to find earth. That needs to play itself out. When my dreams come they are always populated by people I’ve known. Family I haven’t seen for a while. People living and dead. There is no fulfilment or settling scores. I never see an idealised version of myself. I don’t see a life with all the kinks removed. There is always a huge degree of domesticity. As though reality is never far away even with all the barriers removed. I have no dreams of saving the world. Nor do I ever find redemption. Some times they are nonsensical or sexual in nature. They offer nothing more than repetition. Often, like myself, they disappear without trace.

For me there are two true states: inert and transient. Neither really appeal and I probably find myself flipping between the two. I switch between placid and perverse. I want to defy and rip up. I want to be honest. That is always the objective of my art; to talk about wantonness and the signs of destruction. To talk about the passing of time. How our lives have lost meaning. We don’t feel content so we run away both physically and spiritually. To where there is warmth. To where there is less pain. To where there is nothing. Maybe dreams are the buffer? Fanciful and there to stop us tip over the edge completely?

These photos were taken at the end of June. Although there are signs of things getting back to normal I am still tied to my home most of the time. Maybe that is what these images stem from? From this isolation. From not having the lives of others to act as catalyst. From knowing that something invisible may kill me. But fearing that these four walls may do the same. This is what I wanted to touch on. The darkness and the fleeting nature. I often position my naked body against abstract. I also often use a mask in my work. It is to give a faceless fluidity. The version that only comes out in my imagination. Quite nightmarish I guess. But not something to be shunned. My dreams will come and go. They are scream. They are folly. They offer nothing but echoes. Of the past, present and future. All imperfect.

Two new zines out now: ‘IZM July 2020’, which most of the following images form part and ‘An Invisible Man’ which is a sneak glimpse of a project I’m working on with Heloisa Silva an artist in Brazil. Come say hello if you want free copies: nicholas563@btinternet.com
Words and images created for #lockdownexhibition6 on a theme of ‘dreams’. Again many thanks to @sophieparkerdesign for the opportunity.

The Fever Dream

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Human / Nature #LockdownExhibition5

Here is my latest work for Sophie Parker’s Lockdown Exhibition. The link should take you to my first ever e-zine. I wanted to talk about this belief that our fall from grace came from one bite. How come Eve wasn’t thrilled when she gained knowledge but just became embarrassed because she was naked? At the end of this blog I’ve included a few images that didn’t make the final version. I doubt most people will be familiar with Brierfield but the woodland is on the outskirts of town. It’s almost like it forms a boundary between two worlds. The industrial and the rural. Both eating away at each other. Like I say in the intro I’ve always found the woods to be both magical and threatening. Where will I end up if I hack through. Will I become lost? Will I find a new Eden? AN June 2020

This New Eden Issue Link

#lockdownexhibition5 Theme: ‘Nature’
@cavedweller71
@sophieparkerdesign

Artwork from the previous exhibitions can be found here:

#lockdownexhibition
#lockdownexhibition2 ‘Bodies’
#lockdownexhibition3 ‘Imperfections’
#lockdownexhibition4 ‘Self Love’

A Different Eden – ‘This New Eden’ (Lost Versions)

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Androcles Press: Other Output October 2018 –

I felt it best to keep this separate from the blog post about my Torso strands because that was already over eight thousand words as it stood. Plus these in the main deal with completely different topics. These ones are concerned with local history and seeing places / people in a different light. The main aim for any of my zines is always to document the changing landscape. To preserve views which may be taken down at any point. And to question. What gets lost along the way? And how do we feel about that?

Arndale Issue 1 (October 2018) Flip: photo of ‘Seek Ye The Lord’ poster – who’d be a town planner? There’s a documentary that I’ve posted before which shows the vibrancy when Nelson town centre was redeveloped in the early sixties: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9B4_FS7sqRo You get a sense of how futuristic The Arndale must have appeared. A brave new world. When did the decline come? Maybe in the late seventies with the motorway? Or with a bus service that gave people an opportunity to visit the city instead? Or with sky high rates? Were the seeds sown when the outdoor market went?

The photos I took weren’t of the Arndale shops themselves though I will return to them eventually. I may also visit the other ones throughout the northwest. The photos are of the old bus station and the stair wells. The multi-storey car park. The signage warning against ‘loitering’ and unruly behaviour. This idea that the youth should be feared and moved on. I love brutalist architecture as much as the next man but let’s face it it became an eyesore. I obviously didn’t realise that a few months after printing off this zine there would be reports that the car park was to be demolished. And now it is but rubble. I hope the zine gets across the strange beauty of the place.

Bureau Issue 1 (Spring 2019) Flip: ‘Fucking Beautiful’ collage – never officially released though I did send a promo version to CF. An issue made up of photos taken at the Obscura Darkroom re-launch at The Bureau on Fri 15th March. I was in the process of trying to get hold of the artists to see if they’d be happy for their work to be used when the fire happened.

Library Issue 1 (July 2019) Flip: Abstract ‘shadow’ triptych – created to mark the opening of That 0282 Place Arts Hub. With this I wanted to show how the perception (libraries are quiet and inert places) is different from the reality (libraries bring hope and fire). They are about community. I wanted to show how they inspire. How Burnley Library was a catalyst for my art. It is quite an abstract zine but I like it that way. It features the scrawled graffiti on the outside stonework, the colours of the corridors and of course the books that offered escape for some. Libraries will always be more about the people who go there. Anything bound is incidental.

Library Issue 2 (July 2019) Flip: photos of ‘poppies’ installation – The images follow on in the abstract style of the first issue. This one was inspired by Nelson Library. Obviously Nelson is slightly different in that it has both the war memorial and scout statue outside so the issue became about remembrance. It features the free written piece ‘Falling Silent’ which tries to draw comparison between the hell of physical war and the loneliness felt by an old ex serviceman.

0282 Commune Issue 1 (July 2019) Flip: sketches of gasometer redesign by Manchester Uni architecture students. I’ve always written about my hometown of Brierfield but I was commissioned by Moz at 0282 to come up with a series of zines focusing on all of the local towns. Is there something that ties them altogether or are they all pretty unique? It’s well known that the Wikipedia entry for Brierfield once contained a lie that Smith & Nephews with its belching chimneys was the inspiration behind Mordor. It stayed in for years. I’ve always wondered what people would include if they tried to make a visual depiction? I wanted to skew the idea it had to be the lion at the cenotaph or mill buildings.

0282 Commune Issue 2 (July 2019) Flip: ‘Burnley Life’ abstract – When it came to this series I wasn’t too worried about retelling a straight history. To me Burnley’s is about a sense of belonging whether it be the Turf Moor terraces or the Angel’s dancefloor. I’ve found that a good way in is always the town’s motto, in this case ‘Hold To The Truth’. What is the truth? That these days will soon be our past. They’ll fade and become memory. Fade and become tinged. What will people remember of the them? I think they’ll look back and hopefully recall the days they tried to make a difference. And who was with them. It features images from Bank Hall Pitch and the Ghost Train at the May Day Rally. Make of that what you will!

0282 Commune Issue 3 (August 2019) Flip: Aretha / Miles album covers (close up detail) – Done as a freebie for when Moz DJed at the Blues Festival. What I should have said at the start is that this is my perception rather than social commentary. The one for Colne is perhaps the most personal issue. What do I think of when it comes to Colne? Easy, being a teenager and tri-skating at Colne Sports Centre. How my life was becoming an adventure whilst at home things were completely different. See ‘Wallpaper’ issue below for more details on that front. It’s an issue about feeling alive when other things in your life are casting dark shadows.

‘Commune’ has gone on a bit of a hiatus what with one thing or another. Hello pandemic. But the ones for Barrowford and Padiham are done. They just need assembling. Nelson’s will recount the story of the Baptist Church Sunday School teachers who drowned on Derwentwater at the end of the 19th Century.

0282 Openings (Versions 1 and 2) Flip: Sonny J Barker’s KWIR Exhibition collage (Version 1) and Torso dd/mm/yy Issue 15 collage (Version 2) – Again this came from just wanting to create something for the ‘Openings’ art event that could be given away at That 0282 Place. It compiles free verses from the Torso zines with unissued photos, mainly of street art. It was also a way of spreading the word about the intention to re-open Burnley Zine Library. It a zine about how easy it is to get started when it comes to creating art. Humble brag: I’ve done over a hundred zines in three years. It’s just me, my imagination and mobile camera, some scissors and a means a reproduction. It doesn’t have to cost £££ and there is so much power in doing it yourself. Top tip: don’t wait to be asked.

0282 Literature (October 2019) Flip: Christiana album back cover (detail) – Another That 0282 Place giveaway this time a posthumous ‘record’ of the Literature Festival. It feature images taken over the weekend along with two free written pieces on the subject of ‘anarchy’. Yes, it can be about ripping it up and starting again. But it’s also about saying that there is only going to be change if we learn to switch focus. There was a really fascinating talk on the Brontes on the Saturday. There must have been around thirty women in the audience. I didn’t know anything about any of them but I’m sure if we got talking they would have stories to tell. Maybe progress comes in telling those rather than focusing on what we already know?

Wallpaper ‘A Portrait Of A Life Cut Short By MS’ (October 2019) Flip: photo of weathered ‘Lava / Ignite’ poster – At the Literature Festival I saw the poet Amy Lee Tempest who spoke about depression, same sex love and Multiple Sclerosis. I’ve written about this before but I wanted to use photos of her performance, the poems hung like wallpaper from the ceiling, with other fragile imagery to talk about my brother’s struggle with the illness. The isolation and feeling of drowning. The coldness of his room. The sound of the ventilator. The smell of the potions that the nurses used to treat his sores. Looking to expand this soon.

‘The Splintered Door’ Selected BHSG Poems 1951-1960 (April 2020) (Double sided) – This was done for the cancelled Northwest Zinefest (Burnley). It’s a promo to highlight an ongoing project to compile the art and poetry from the Burnley High School for Girls annuals. These date from when it was opened, well when it became separate entity, right through to the Seventies. Again under the auspice of That 0282 Place it echoes other projects in saying that this material may not be of national import but it is of value. It shows hopes and dreams. It shows how schooling and our social mores have changed. It’s an engaging snapshot of how we used to live.

‘An Invisible Man’ (July 2020) Flip: Distorted shower room image – I’ve always liked the idea of collaboration but felt it needed to be for the right reasons. As lockdown started I wanted to create a zine about Covid-19 but not focus of the disease per se. I was intrigued by how an invisible and non-discriminating killer has in turn made us invisible. Over time it became more about persecution. I thought it would be an interesting idea to talk to other people from different backgrounds and genders as contrast. At present it is just me and Heloisa Silva an artist from Brazil. It may be expanded further. ‘An Invisible Man’ just acts as a promo which includes a couple of my written pieces and additional photos.