Friday, 27 November 2015

Ten Industrial Albums You Must Own

1. Boing
Cellular Metempsychosis of the Black Angel (1995) 7"
Music and how we listen to it changed the day Boing released this lathe cut masterpiece in an edition of 148 copies in commemoration of Austin Osman Spare's residence at 148, York Road, Waterloo in 1932; or at least it changed for the 146 people who bought a copy. It had already changed for the members of Boing because they'd already heard the record when they recorded it. This was the sound of Boing's fridge humming through a digital reverb for seven minutes whilst David Farnsworth-Toppingham reads some bits out of a library book about Crowley, and the one who used to play tambourine for Flange has a wank over a plate of crackers. What visionaries they were.

2. Eggy Whacko
Facing Downwards Whilst Looking up Slightly When Someone Takes Your Photograph so That You Appear a Little Bit Sinister (1982) C60
Eggy Wacko took their name from details revealed during the 1981 trial of Peter Sutcliffe, namely that the bearded murderer had a fondness for eggy soldiers and that his favourite television programme had been Wacko! in which Jimmy Edwards terrorises young boys' bottoms with hilarious consequences. Eggy Wacko was actually Kenny Bollock formerly of eccentrically named underground outfit It's Just Down There but I'd Give It a Couple of Minutes If I Were You, and achieved minor infamy in industrial circles with Tibetan Arse Caution, a track which features swanee whistle sound effects by Quaker Oats of Thee Magick ov 23. These days Kenny is a Conservative councillor who recently successfully campaigned to have a statue commemorating Margaret Thatcher's victory over the lower classes erected in Thanet town centre.

3. Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band
Brass Accolade (1974) LP
Brass Accolade is a powerful album that captivates the mind with intense imagery of legions of soldiers marching towards battle. While some tracks bring forth the epic atmosphere of a proverbial rallying of the troops - such as the intro March - Brass Accolade  - others evoke images of a grand campaign being fought on the field of battle, such as Theme from Spartacus and Carribean Cameo. The drums scream of militaristic art and the layered synth behind it does a fine job of doing the same whilst texturing the music towards a neoclassical tangent. While some songs exist as a soundtrack for soldiers and the glories and horrors of war, others bring a certain element of mystery and touch base with the realm of occultism, such as the track The Gypsy Trumpeter, which evokes the images of the Third Reich and its secretive occult research group of the same name.

4. Gas Chamber
Rose Scented Tears, Mein Fuhrer (1988) CD
Of all Gas Chamber's classic recordings, this album was arguably the most ethereal and delicate with, so it is reckoned, as much as 25% more acoustic guitar augmenting their customary line up of trumpets and militaristic snare drum. Critics have additionally singled out this collection as simply exploring controversial ideas and imagery to a much greater extent than its predecessor, Reichstag of My Darkest Love, particularly with numbers such as I Saw a Jew One Day and Hitler Was Right (We're Not Joking). Usual terms and conditions apply regarding how you can't mix music and politics, particularly not whilst simply exploring controversial ideas and imagery, because that's censorship which is a bad thing and definitely not cool.

5. The Girls' Fannies
Crying Inside (1985) C30
Some might say an unusual choice given that the Girls' Fannies were so frequently described as a hybrid of early Depeche Mode and A Flock of Seagulls with a hint of Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, but the devil is, as they say, in the detail, and apparently even in the details of every single song following the same four note sequence combined with Barry Fornication's consistently flat foghorn voice always recorded far too loud, and with too much echo even before we get to all those rhyming couplets about how you have to be yourself, and how you shouldn't judge a book by a cover, and how breaking up with a girl is a bit like being an army soldier in a war or something, amongst other allegories so ham-fisted they would have been rejected by 1960s Star Trek for stating the bleeding obvious; but Mr. Fornication briefly played synth for Nekrotic Sutkliffe Korps, and his Wicked Kool label once put out an album by Penis Sektion, so what the fuck - close enough, I guess.

6. Efficiency Unit
PE Teacher of Your Soul (1993) LP
Efficiency Unit's third album really put them on the map with the tender ballardry of its title track, distinguished by that unforgettable shoutalong chorus of reciprocate my animal urges for the future bounty of the race, and of course its bold new musical direction bringing together elements of hardbeat, blokestep, manstomp, and technoOi! No-one believed they would ever better 1989's Work / Obey in their pursuit of ruthless sequencer driven music by which to lift up extremely heavy objects whilst grunting before putting them down again in a different place, but they gave 110% on this one, and went so far that they sort of came out the other side and won a medal for it. That would probably be something to do with having the album released by Rio Tinto-Zinc, which isn't even a record label.

7. Creosote Famelicus
Qui Comederunt Omnes Pies (2007) CD
If it was south-east London's loss to see Smithy's Pie & Mash on the Tower Bridge Road close up shop due to a sudden fall of revenue, then it was neofolk's gain when the fire brigade found themselves no longer able to free Anthony Creosote from the studio in which he had just recorded Ego cum fricta Cogito Sumere, obliging him to go on a diet and record another album seeing as it wasn't like he was going anywhere for a couple of weeks. So here it was, another album of songs from the neofolk Gary Numan in which he did see numerous things described in the sort of terms with which no-one sane has bothered since before the reformation when all them blackies come over bringing foreign words like telescope and Puff Daddy and ruining everything forever, not being racialist or nuffink. There isn't much to distinguish this album from its predecessors, except perhaps that it simply explores controversial ideas and imagery with a ferocity which is unusual even by Creosote's standards, probably because he was gagging for a pie throughout most of the recordings, and the track All Salad Must Die allows particular insight into his mindset during these sessions.

8. Screamer
Rice & Peas (1997) CD
Screamer have never been shy of controversy as is clear from album titles such as Dedicated to Hermann Göring, Felch, and Tits Out For the Lads, although greater popularity has subjected their brand of confrontational electronics to less forgiving scrutiny in recent times, coming to a head with the provocatively named We Endorse the Klu Klux Klan and We're Not Being Ironic album, the attendant press barny being of such ferocity that Screamer's Donald Burns was forced to release a statement explaining that the title We Endorse the Klu Klux Klan and We're Not Being Ironic was ironic. Since then, the release of Rice & Peas, their somewhat unexpected reggae album, at least served to reduce the outrage to a more general sense of bewilderment. Some critics continue to cast aspersions on the sincerity of tracks such as Me Sat Next To One Pon De Bus and Dedicated to Derek Griffiths, but few can doubt that this peculiar combination of raging feedback and rocksteady guitar was breaking new ground when it first came out, even if Donald Burns referring to himself as I and I seems ill-advised with hindsight.

9. Jesus Bandicoot
Going to Church is Shit (2001) CD
Initially dismissed as a Black Sabbath album played at the wrong speed, this was the point at which Jesus Bandicoot really came into their own with their inimitable blend of industrial rock metal guitar and a slightly different sounding industrial rock metal guitar, to which they added a layer of a further slightly different sounding industrial rock metal guitar to transcend established barriers of post-modern irony with the hit single Gonna Industrial Rock You All Night, the first recorded application of irony to the initial irony of the work in question, meaning this actually may as well just be a Kiss album. What set Going to Church is Shit apart from all of the other industrial rock metal guitar records which may just as well have been Kiss albums was Alvin Bungalow pulling scary faces and flicking his tongue out in the video whilst bravely suggesting that TV evangelists and other representatives of established religion were in some cases hypocritical. No-one had ever considered this before. Everyone thought those guys were on the money until Alvin pointed out just how wrong we were. Also, if you listen closely to what is going on behind all the industrial rock metal guitar, you can hear a tape recording of a man saying praise Jesus over and over. No-one had ever done that on a record before. Alvin Bungalow was the first.

10. Thee Magick ov 23
Piper at thee Gates ov Dawn (1988) LP
Whatever you may say about Thee Magick ov 23, they're never predictable, except when one predicts that they will be unpredictable and they do something completely predictable just to confound you, and something completely predictable in a playful and subversive way which explores controversial ideas and imagery. They did it again here, doing the absolute last thing their critics had expected them to do by doing exactly what their critics had said they would probably do having recently covered an entire Pink Fairies album, song for song, more or less note for note, namely moving one page forward through the enpsychlopedia (a word cleverly invented by Quaker Oats of Thee Magick ov 23 by playfully and subversively combining two existing words) bringing them to the first Pink Floyd album, once again reproduced more or less note for note by a vaguely adequate group of session musicians Quaker Oats encountered in a Burnley working men's club. This recreation of an existing album is apparently a magickal act of some sort and is therefore very important, which is why the songs have some of the words changed so as to ingeniously incorporate references to the number 23, and also why there is a tape of a dog eating a steak in the left channel throughout the recording. Thee Magick ov 23 recently took this album to the stage, embellishing the performance with actual magick workings, with Quaker Oats having himself sawn in half during Thee Gnome, only to emerge magickally unscathed into the audience, inviting individual audience members to pick any card from a pack he magickally produced from the bass player's ear before launching into the song Chapter 23. Critics like them, but not a lot, but still the mystery remains as to where Quaker Oats gets his amazing ideas.

Friday, 20 November 2015

Sedona, AZ

I have a theory that modes of human thought are influenced by  geography to a greater extent than any of us may realise. I say theory, although vague assemblage of ideas might be a more accurate term, a vague assemblage of ideas which came to me as I noticed certain stylistic similarities between the art and architecture of the Classic Maya of Mexico and that produced by their very distant relatives across the other side of the Bering Straits in parts of Asia and northern China. The early twentieth century folklorist Donald A. MacKenzie saw clear parallels between Mayan and Asian cultures of such strength as to indicate pre-Colombian contact for which there is unfortunately no worthwhile evidence, despite the protestations of conspiracy theorists. However, looking at the art of the two unrelated cultures, you can't really blame MacKenzie, such is the apparent synchronicity of vision. My idea was that environment might influence thought in so much as that a society which develops in a river valley will yield persons thinking in subtly different ways - in certain respects - to persons of a society developing high on a mountain plateau; and maybe these divergent modes of thought are passed on by whatever mechanism in such a way as to mean that, for example, two very distant cousins separated by many, many generations, when asked to draw a sailor will both independently produce the image of someone who very much resembles Popeye through the inheritance of a shared visual language; and spoken language and the forms it may take prescribe what can be said and how it is expressed, so perhaps similar laws apply to thought and perception.

With no clue as to whether any of this actually applies to anything in the real world, I intuitively feel that environment really does exert its influence on human thought and ways of seeing. Having visited Mexico on a number of occasions, it has struck me that the pre-Colombian Gods - Quetzalcoatl, Tezcatlipoca, Toci and the rest - make perfect sense in context of the environment from which they were born; or specifically, it's easy to see how someone might subscribe to a belief in that particular pantheon whilst wandering around Tepoztlan or Malinalco or Teotenanco, for these are spectacular environments. At least they were spectacular environments in terms of my experience, and whilst my experience may well be the false impression of a visitor whose eyes have not yet grown accustomed to the surroundings as commonplace, I somehow doubt this on the grounds that I continue to be impressed by mountains in a general sense, no matter how many I see.

Certain landscapes, I would suggest, are resistant to ever becoming so familiar as to reduce to wallpaper, specifically those which we usually describe as epic or panoramic by virtue of features which will remain forever at the periphery of human experience, craggy peaks, desert expanse, or great oceans - places we can visit, but upon which we cannot quite make a home, not without significant difficulty. Mountains and the like therefore remain distant, removed from regular human experience whilst providing an ever-present reminder of forces at work with which we cannot immediately identify, and whether geological or supernatural - it doesn't really make a lot of difference. This is why Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstadt painted what they painted in preference to parking lots or drinking establishments at chucking out time: landscape as summation of the sacred.

I've vaguely subscribed to most of the above at least since my parents used to take me on holiday to the lumpier end of Wales as a child, even if I didn't quite have it all set down in such terms. I was reminded of it when I visited Mexico, and again more recently when passing through Roswell in New Mexico. The marshy uplands as one leaves the town heading for Ruidoso, passing through fog sporadically illuminated by distant gas flares all equate to a landscape which seems unusually conducive to belief in extraterrestrial visitors crashing their saucers. If it's going to happen, you think to yourself, then it would make sense for it to happen here.

Of course, none of this accounts for that which is understood by both science and psychology regarding Mexican Gods, crashed flying saucers, or the emotional upswell of feeling which some may choose to describe as religious experience, but then I'm not really talking about either science or psychology so much as the human experience of a subjective response to one's environment, because that is the part which most of us understand, and that is the part from which mythology is born, mythology amounting to an intuitive understanding of one's environment for which the issue of rationality may not be directly relevant, at least no more so than it is to a Bierstadt landscape. Mythology represents neither a scientific discipline nor necessarily an objective representation of what we experience, but it can be helpful in describing what we experience given that what we experience is generally experienced as meaning rather than material substance.

To get to the point, I had enjoyed a memorable fortieth birthday in Oaxaca, Mexico with my friend Rob; and a similarly stimulating forty-ninth - the transitional year, I suppose - in Roswell, Ruidoso, and New Mexico with my wife; and now as I was about to hit fifty, it was to be the Grand Canyon. I've lived in America for nearly five years, and it seemed like due time.

We flew to Phoenix, hired a car, and drove the hundred or so miles north following I-17 up to the small town - or possibly city given my not yet quite having grasped the American distinction - of Sedona. The Grand Canyon is another hundred miles north of Sedona, but my wife had stayed in this place some years before and said the experience would be worth the extra distance, and she was right. Leaving Phoenix, the land was much closer to desert than anything to which I'm accustomed, characterised by scrubby plants scattered across the rocks and sand, creosote bushes and forests of saguaro - arguably the most fundamental of all cacti, the kind we all remember from cowboy films we saw as children, the kind we drew at school based on images from Little Plum or Desperate Dan. The terrain changed as we headed north, switching abruptly to a landscape more closely resembling our corner of Texas with familiar salt cedar and nopal cacti replacing saguaro so completely that it seemed as though we had passed some ancient horticultural frontier which no plant had been willing to cross. I suspect it was probably our elevation above sea level, climbing higher as we travelled north, up out of the burning desert to that which, like San Antonio, is merely scorching.

It being our birthday - my wife forty-four and myself fifty on the very same date - we pulled in at a Denny's restaurant, having heard a rumour of there being free food to be had therein on one's birthday; and the rumour was true so we each had a free grand slam - a dish pretty much constituting the last word in breakfast for those of you still to pop your respective Denny's cherries - which probably represented some sort of seminal moment in the history of mooching.

We got back on the road, resuming our northwards trajectory and gradually acclimating to it still being only ten in the morning thanks to Arizona being two hours behind Texas. The distant mountains grew more impressive, more cinematic as we went on, presumably geologically working towards the general thrust of the Grand Canyon, culminating in a spectacular splash of red rocks as we approached Sedona; so spectacular that we stopped the hire car and got out to take photographs and swear in appreciation, little realising that even this scene would come to appear humble in comparison to that which lay ahead.

Sedona itself nestles amongst red rocks, immense outcrops of heavily layered red sandstone, alternately craggy or made smooth by wind and water. It was like no place I had ever been, and those cowboy flicks of my youth - a good few of which had almost certainly been filmed here - hadn't done it justice. It felt like a rehearsal for the Grand Canyon, also like certain places in Mexico in being at similar distance from anything previously experienced; and similarly remote with mile upon mile of mountain or desert scrub upon which no-one had yet attempted to erect a billboard advertising car insurance.

We found our hotel and settled in, then went back out after a short rest. Sedona, so it transpired, is nothing like a town or city by any European sense, but rather comprises dwellings, restaurants and the occasional store - mostly of adobe - hidden away in upland conifer forest and arranged along a spider web of roads and highways following the canyons and rivers. It feels mostly like wilderness, and each turn in the road brings a freshly astonishing panorama into view. We began to recognise certain flourishes of hill or mountain by shape. Bell Rock is easy to spot because it resembles a bell, sort of; and then there's Snoopy Rock which from one angle roughly duplicates the profile of Charlie Brown's cartoon beagle reclining on top of his doghouse. Another angle reveals Snoopy Rock's close set and top-heavy sandstone columns, features which seemed to justify our briefly rebranding it European Dentistry.

As if all this spectacle were not enough by itself, the terrain is of such quality as to appear in constant flux, changing each minute as the sun drags shadows across the mountain landscape, eventually culminating with evenings of splendour equivalent to epic Biblically themed paintings of the nineteenth century - plunging river valleys sinking into sepulchral shade as high peaks shine like gold in the deepening blue expanse of the heavens.

Pardon my adjectives.

Back in the sixteenth century, the Spaniards inhabiting Mexico  encountered rumours of the Seven Cities of Gold reputed to be found in the north, somewhere beyond the Rio Grande, and being big fans of gold they sent expeditions in search of the same. Needless to say, none of the legendary cities were ever located, and one enduring interpretation of the myth suggests it may have been only a rumour springing from numerous
hopeful Mexica pointing northwards and saying, sure - go that way. Just keep going until you find those puppies. Another interpretation is that the myth springs from a misunderstanding of an early traveller trying to describe the Grand Canyon, and although Sedona isn't quite so far north, it could equally well have provided inspiration for the story.

In the evening we ate at a passable Mexican place, discovering that Max Ernst had lived in Sedona for a while - which makes a lot of sense when one compares the texture of many of his paintings with that of the landscape; and then we retired, exhausted by a twenty-six hour day of which the latter half had been spent in a state of near continuous awe; and here is why I began with a lengthy preamble concerning the influence of landscape on human psychology. Both my wife and myself found it difficult to believe that anyone could become bored of Sedona, such was our reaction to the place. It doesn't seem like one could cease to appreciate the mountains or the canyons or the spectacle of it all, and so it probably isn't too surprising that the town should have become a Mecca for new age types, simply because this is a landscape which demands consideration of forces larger and less easily quantified than oneself. This thought was underscored when we stepped out from the hotel the next morning and found ourselves immediately awestruck all over again, just like seeing it all for the first time.

The new age presence in Sedona manifests as shops retailing crystals, books, and related paraphernalia, or else offering services which probably must mean something or other to those who hand over money for tarot readings, channelling, rebirthing, having their aura photographed or whatever. Ordinarily I might have found such things quite irritating, but in Sedona they are at least an understandable response to the surroundings. One specifically local response to the surroundings is the phenomena of the vortex, or vortices - supposed natural regions of poorly defined energy one may encounter whilst exploring the wilderness. These regions are apparently highly conducive to meditation, and a guidebook on sale at the Sedona branch of Walgreens promises that deep thinkers will experience greater clarity whilst meditating within a vortex. The book contains a map should you wish to go looking for one.

I am a little irritated by this idea. It suggests persons requiring that their powerful emotional reaction to nature hold some deeper meaning. It's someone stood before a scene of sublime beauty  deciding that it isn't enough, that it needs a bit of that old Harry Potter magic sprinkled on top to make it really interesting; but then again, in Sedona it seems all bets are off, and I find myself thinking well, if it works for you, then whatever... It is difficult to maintain one's customary cynicism in such surroundings.

As with Roswell, I can see why people gravitate towards certain modes of thought in this setting, even that certain modes of thought might be considered appropriate, no more harmful than an emotional mapping of the territory, a means of description beyond the dry statistics of geology.

With my curiosity operating at a reduced level of cynicism I purchased several books written by Tom Dongo, a Sedona author who describes innumerable incidences of mysterious forces and encounters allegedly occurring in the region over the past couple of decades. He writes with a pleasant, conversational style and doesn't really seem to care too much who believes him, and whilst I'm not sure I do, neither do I exactly doubt his testimony, peculiar though it may be, and I nevertheless very much enjoyed his books.

Anyway, on the Friday we went to see the Grand Canyon. Naturally it was spectacular, and so much so that no description can really be adequate. It is something one really needs to see for oneself. That said, the Canyon has about it some disconcertingly underwhelming quality relating to its being somehow too spectacular. The Canyon is a mile deep in places and eighteen miles across at its widest, meaning that standing on one side affords a view of more earth and rock than most people will ever have seen and from an angle which may as well be above, and at a greater distance than is generally facilitated by the natural curvature of the Earth's surface; so the view is probably not unlike what you might see from orbit, the novelty being that it's down here and is thus viewed with the naked eye. The result of this is that you can't quite take in what you're looking at, and it's difficult to tell which distant outcrops or peaks are in front of others.

Bess and myself walked along the edge roughly to the point at which the safety rail ends before being driven back by vertigo. We could see teenagers messing around on nearby outcrops beyond the safety rail, taking their selfies on strips of rock four feet wide with a mile drop either side, and the sight alone made us feel ill. The information sheet we'd been handed back at the entrance reported a statistic of around a hundred deaths a year at the Grand Canyon.

We sat for a while, some way back from the edge, trying to ignore the woman on the next bench singing her whining improvised hymn to Mother Earth - sung out loud because presumably the words would be meaningless without an audience to define her deep, deep spirituality as visionary and against the common grain by regarding it as slightly comical, the unenlightened fools. Then we got back in the car and came home, or came back to Sedona given that it had already begun to feel like home; and we both realised that, regardless of scale, the Grand Canyon had been substantially less breathtaking than the place we were staying. Sedona works on a more human level.

On the Saturday we pottered around a couple of sites south of Sedona, the somewhat misnamed Montezuma's Castle and the hilltop fortification of Tuzigoot, architectural remnants of local Sinagua culture of the fourteenth century, and somewhat refuting the received wisdom of pre-Colombian North America lacking anything resembling civilisation.

Then on Sunday we came home, returning to the established here and now. Obviously there was more to it than only that which is described above, and the details of where we ate and what else we did were set down in my diary, but mainly because I am otherwise unlikely to remember any of it given the contrast of the setting in which it occurred. I've lasted half a century, and I've seen the Grand Canyon, and I've probably been changed in some sense by the landscape of Sedona. I probably could have said this in significantly less than three-thousand words, but sometimes you just have to go the distance with your subject, particularly when there's no map which will ever really do it justice.

Friday, 13 November 2015


Photograph courtesy of Michael Hall.

'What are you doing on Tuesday after work?' Marian asked.

'Nothing,' I said, hoping this was the right thing to say. 'Do you have something in mind?'

'My friend Richard needs a hand. We're taking a new fridge over to his house, and it would be great if you could help out. It wouldn't take very long.'

It was early on in my relationship with Marian, and her use of the term friend had not yet taken on the connotations it would later carry. With Marian, friends were not so much people with which you necessarily had anything in common as associates or colleagues, usually people she'd encountered on ISA self-improvement courses. She had friends outside of ISA she insisted, just friends she didn't see for years at a time and to whom she rarely spoke on the telephone.

She had tried to coax me into taking an ISA self-improvement course, but I resisted because I resented the implication that I required improvement by Marian's suspiciously ambiguous terms, and I was reluctant to shell out several hundred quid for something the nature of which Marian refused to describe because it would somehow destroy the magic. I had the impression that ISA was a cult, and this impression had been gleaned from, amongst other things, my phoning up the Cult Information Centre somewhere over in west London and asking them if they thought ISA were a cult.

'Yes,' the man said. 'ISA is a cult,' and he advised me to have as  little to do with them as possible. It struck me as good advice.

Tuesday came, as did Marian's friends in an estate car with a fridge in the back. It occurred to me that my assistance seemed not so crucial a detail as I had been led to believe given that there were three of them, including Marian, and they had already managed to get the fridge into the car so it probably wasn't going to be that big a deal at the other end; but I'd already said yes, and it wasn't going to take long.

True to form, Marian's friends were people she knew from numerous ISA courses. Nadia was a young black woman with a dry sense of humour. She was likeable and funny, and we got on fairly well; from which Marian presumably developed her theory that I have a thing for black women. My guess is that this is probably because I am able to talk to black women without first having to remind myself that they are just like you or I, but black, or whatever the hell it is that first goes through Marian's head when addressing those she would have regarded as inferiors until ISA taught her otherwise.

'I wouldn't have looked at you twice were it not for ISA,' she once told me in defence of the organisation. This was due to my being a mere postman, really no better than a common labourer. Apparently she was now able to see things differently, and it was all thanks to ISA. Had it not been for ISA, I would have been just some shit-thick manually labouring cunt so far as Marian was concerned.

'There are a lot of pictures of Karen here,' she scowled several years later, viewing the photographs I'd taken at the works Christmas drink. Only about six of us had turned up, Debbie, Geoff, Don, Karen, Rich, and myself. Karen was the black girl in the photographs.

'There are a lot more of Don,' I pointed out, 'and in case you're wondering, I don't fancy him either.'

Meanwhile back at Operation Fridge, we all piled into the car, Marian, Nadia, and myself. A person called Ian was driving, and I quickly realised that I hated this man almost more than anyone else I'd ever met in my life. He was a little older than me, past middle-aged and an ex-teacher. He had a broken, abrasive quality about him. He squinted from beneath failed Donald Trump hair with a wrinkled manatee face, and his lips were too large, pursed and acidic like those of an embittered old drag queen confronted with a poorly coordinated handbag. He punctuated his driving with occasional comic observations of a peculiarly joyless kind, like little cocktail sticks jabbed into your flesh. In conversation, his observations were made from the position of someone who knows something of which you yourself are clearly ignorant. It was not difficult to see how he had ended up on the self-help roundabout.

We drove through Brixton, and then Clapham, and then beyond. The three of them talked about ISA, but none of the good stuff forbidden to the ears of outsiders, nothing of what actually went on, just the sort of details I presume were calculated to draw me in.

'What is this again?' I would ask. 'I guess maybe I should give this workshop deal of yours a go.' Except I didn't, because they were children affecting nonchalance whilst discussing the new My Little Pony game, desperately hoping I'll ask them about it.

A new My Little Pony game you say? Tell me more!

The projected half hour was already forty-five minutes and we weren't even there. In fact an A-Z was being passed around, held at different angles in order that its secrets might be more easily divined. Being winter, it was already getting dark and the traffic was heavy. Richard, to whom we were taking the fridge, was their friend, but not so close that any of them actually knew where he lived. This enterprise was taking longer than promised, as tended to be the case when Marian was involved, this being Marian who would agree to meet you at two, turn up at four, and then tell you that you had meant four because when someone asks you to meet them at two, they really mean four. Everyone knows that.

Needless to say, there didn't seem to be much point in commenting upon this change to the terms and conditions, because she always had the small-print to hand.

She said this wasn't going to take very long.

But did I actually say we were going to be back home before nine in the evening, or did you just assume that, Lawrence, like you always do? or else it would be some testy remark about her inability to see into the future, which is why we didn't even have the conversation. It wasn't worth the trouble.

We arrived at Richard's place, evidently a bedsit in a much larger house, a great crumbling Edwardian mansion. It took a couple of minutes to get an answer. It seemed that Richard hadn't actually been expecting us and had been asleep. He emerged blinking like a sort of human mole, a slightly rounded head with hair cut short and a hunched figure. He seemed nervous, but glad to see us, or at least pleased to discover that the day held this particular element of the unexpected. He invited us in, albeit with some reluctance.

His room was at the top of a flight of steps, the way dimly lit by a light bulb somewhere way up near the cavernous ceiling. The place was quiet and damp. Year old newspapers, unpaid bills, and junk mail gathered dust on the lower steps of the staircase.

His rooms were small, just a bedroom with a kitchen at one end so far as I could see. It was stuffed full of books and CDs, and there was a computer and a bass guitar and musical equipment, but otherwise it was nightmarish, a nest made by somebody waiting for death. Newspapers, plastic carrier bags, anything that should have otherwise found its way to a dustbin was trodden flat into a grey carpet. Plates sat upon the floor, poking out from beneath the bed, the remains of whatever he'd been eating slowly calcifying like fossils. Only the computer looked clean.

In the kitchen, three or four inches of grey water sat in a sink which had apparently lost the will to drain, filthy plates lay within at hopeless angles. There was no smell, presumably because it was freezing cold and the only heat source I had noticed was a portable three bar electric fire.

I'd lived in some shitholes in my time, and visited much worse, but this was like nothing I had seen before. I was lost for words.

The three with which I had arrived were bustling around, inspecting the squalor, asking Richard if he thought it was okay to live this way. I felt suddenly uncomfortable, not least because I realised there was no point to our bringing a fridge up here into this room, so clearly something else was happening.

I was introduced to Richard as Marian and Nadia began to wrestle the shit from the floor into black plastic bags. So far as I knew I was just here to hump a large heavy object up a flight of stairs, but I'd noticed familiar titles on the bookcase and amongst those crumbling towers of media piled in the corners of the room, and so it seemed that Richard and I had something in common.

He told me a little about himself. He was about my age and had been in bands. He liked science-fiction. He reminded me of a few people I already knew, such were the common details, and we even seemed to have a couple of distant but nevertheless mutual friends. He wasn't quite a brother from another mother, but within minutes we found we got on so well that it seemed like I should already have known this guy in some capacity, or at least known of him.

It was difficult to square this slightly shy - although not cripplingly so - and undoubtedly amiable man with the conditions in which he'd been living, and the claim that he had not made exit from his own front door in about three weeks. He had problems, as I should have known, and he'd taken an ISA course in an attempt to address these problems. It didn't really look like a successful attempt from where I stood, but in any case this was how he knew Marian and the others. He told me a little of his problems, although I don't recall the details beyond divorce, estrangement from his own child, and a death somewhere in the equation. He was otherwise a regular, thoughtful guy who'd had a shitty break and was yet to fully come back from it.

This was an intervention.

'We look after each other in ISA,' Marian told me as she gathered chipped plates and cups from the floor. 'Isn't that the sort of thing you would be interested in?'

This was for my benefit as much as anything. We had come to bail Richard out, to wipe his arse for him, figuratively speaking. We were here to do that
with which he no longer felt able to cope, because he was lost in his own behavioural spiral, sinking further and further into inertia. We were here on a mission.

Nevertheless I hadn't come to help, I had come to learn a lesson. This was so I could understand why Marian had been right all along.

I shuffled out into the kitchen and began to clear up, concentrating on the aspects of our visit which mattered, namely saving this poor fucker from himself. The rest I would worry about later. I managed to unblock the sink and then clean enough of the kitchen to begin washing the conveyor belt of plates and mugs and knives and forks coming from the other room. I gazed from the window as I washed, out across the damp squalor of ruined gardens and railway lines, but it was too dark to see anything.

Two or three hours passed, and the bedsit was ready to receive the new fridge. Whilst the place remained cramped and depressing, it was at least clean and fit for human habitation. Ian and myself humped the old fridge out into the overgrown garden ready for collection by the council, and then brought in the new one. Richard was close to tears. He seemed overwhelmed that anyone should have done this for him. It was getting on for seven in the evening, and this job of just half an hour had taken five. I had been lied to, and as a result I had spent nearly five hours in the company of one of the most acidic men I've ever met, and yet somehow none of it mattered because some good had come from the day.

Richard helped me move house a couple of years later - specifically helping me shift a couple of massive shelves - and although we never became close, it was good to hear about him from time to time, and to know that things seemed to be working out for him. I guess the intervention had occurred during one of his lowest periods. These days I see him on facebook as a remote presence. I avoid too much interaction because I don't know how he feels about his breakdown, or whatever it was, and I don't wish to stir things up. I don't know how he feels about ISA either. My take on them remains unchanged, regardless of good deeds done by their individual members, and I personally suspect that whatever strength brought Richard back from the edge was something he already had rather than something done for him by anyone else; and I could tell him all of this but I don't know if it would really help, or even that my views matter in this instance.

I still have nightmares involving Marian from time to time, and they really are nightmares - usually her passive-aggressiving me into some vaguely suicidal corner - so it's always nice to remind myself that some good came out of it, at least this one time.

Friday, 6 November 2015

Pranky McHoax! fnord 23

I'd had enough of cassettes, fanzines, and all of that shite. It was 1988 and following my exit from Maidstone College with letters after my name, I'd failed to become famous for brooding art of the kind which inspires people who wear black clothes to scowl in nihilistic appreciation. No-one gave a shit about my tapes, including me, and I'd been obliged to take a job with Royal Mail. It paid the rent but left me somewhat knackered and hence lacking the enthusiasm for promoting cassettes which I could no longer be bothered to record. Pranky's letter therefore came out of the blue as a complete surprise. In fact, given the time which had passed since I'd last bothered with cassettes, fanzines, and all of that shite, I couldn't really work out how he'd even got hold of my address.

His name in full was Pranky McHoax! fnord 23.

That was really his name as it appeared on his birth certificate.

Pranky McHoax! fnord 23 was really his name.

It really was his name.

That's what people called him.

It wasn't really his name, but it's what I'm calling him, and for a moment you believed me. I played a prank on you.

Ha ha!

Pranky's letter came out of the blue as a complete surprise, including with it an A5 black and white fanzine folded eight times to the size at which it could have been swallowed by a spy so as to fit the envelope. The fanzine was called Datakill and the print was tiny, each page crammed with information at all angles and in every available space in a typographic style most likely inspired by Skate Muties from the 5th Dimension, an earlier and similarly chaotic fanzine. Each page demanded that I concentrate in order to work out what I was actually looking at, and I eventually discerned fanzine, record and tape reviews - and mostly of the sort of stuff I liked, alongside interviews with the Severed Heads and Datblygu. I hadn't heard anything by the Severed Heads, and I'd never even heard of Datblygu but it all sounded pretty interesting.

I replied to Pranky, thanking him for his fanzine, expressing a regret that I wasn't really sure why he had written to me. I no longer produced anything I could send him in return, and he didn't seem to be looking for contributions even were I to come up with something. He didn't seem to mind, and had written mainly through a love of networking, which reminded me that I had been the same a few years earlier. There were thousands of us, all over the country and even the world, churning out our cranky fanzines and stubbornly esoteric music, all sending each other tapes or photocopied lists of tapes or whatever. Nobody had even considered calling it a scene so far as I was aware, and I was at least glad that it had continued in my absence. Pranky sent me a couple of tapes of Datblygu and some other bands he liked, and I returned the favour, and so we began to write each other long vaguely counter-cultural letters. Pranky wrote in all capitals and often green felt-tip. He used a lot of exclamation marks. He was interested in all sorts of stuff too, obscure music, conspiracy theories, outsider art, and anything generally regarded as weird. He also seemed to be fairly heavily into the writing of Robert Anton Wilson. I hadn't actually heard of the guy, but I recognised certain familiar obsessions in common with William Burroughs, Vague magazine and Psychic TV, not least the supposed ubiquity and possibly mystical significance of the number 23. In fact, thanks to my juvenile overinvestment in the low calorie philosophical musings of Porridge, I had already been bored thoroughly shitless by the supposed ubiquity and possibly mystical significance of the number 23 before I'd even finished school.

Possibly it was the relentless capitalisation, but Pranky's letters always suggested that he was shouting. He seemed loud and enthusiastic, a counter-cultural equivalent of the sports coach in American high school movies taking no crap, pooting no guff, firing off fifteen directives a second, making shit happen whether it wanted to happen or not.

Have you heard this?

Did you read that?

What do you think of this?

Isn't that a pile of shit?

It was exhausting but fun, longer and longer letters zipping back and forth, Jiffy bags bulging with all manner of crap, tapes, fanzines, paperbacks found in second-hand shops spilling out onto the carpet like a mail art version of the scene where they open up the shark and all the money sluices onto the deck, wads of dollar bills still sealed in plastic. I say mail art - which you can look up on Wikipedia if you care that much - although it really wasn't. Pranky seemed to like the term, and I never expressed an objection, but then more or less everything he did was capitalised by his own account, and I mean the subject as well as the letters, and then there were all those exclamation marks seasoning the message whether it needed it or not.


You do????? Wow!!!!! That's amazing!!!!!

In November 1991 I caught a coach from London to Newport, having promised Pranky that I would visit him. He lived in Wales. My family went on holiday to Wales more or less yearly when I was a kid, and I hadn't seen the place in years. The coach journey was uneventful but entertaining, shared with four Welsh teenagers on their way back from Amsterdam and patently hungover. The quietest and most severely hungover of their group was named Dai, and he served as comedy scratching post for the other three on the grounds that he was probably still too drunk to fight back. They spent most of the journey spinning horror stories of what would happen to their colleague at the checkpoint on the Welsh border.

'How many dogs' bums have you got in your bag, Dai?'

Even I couldn't help laughing, but it was nervous laughter. There was something a bit weird about my going to meet Pranky McHoax! fnord 23, and I was slightly scared, imagining a sort of Welsh Jim Carrey shoving fanzines in my face and being four-hundred times more interesting than I could ever hope to be.

I alighted from the coach and Pranky was there to meet me, a quiet little googly-eyed bloke with glasses and a head which seemed slightly too big for his body. He'd driven into Newport to pick me up, and now we drove north to the town where he lived in central Wales. We spent the journey in awkward conversation about all sorts of stuff, obscure music, conspiracy theories, outsider art, and anything generally regarded as weird. It was a lot like reading one of his fanzines, just with less obvious enthusiasm. He lived with his dad, and I slept on the sofa for a couple of days, just hanging out, visiting places, talking about all sorts of stuff, obscure music, conspiracy theories, outsider art, and anything generally regarded as weird. Pranky didn't seem exactly lacking in social skills, but what social skills he had were calibrated to a peculiarly narrow focus. He reported or described things, often in great detail, but it was difficult to tell what he really thought of them, or how he felt about anything. My stay was not unpleasant, but I was glad it was to be only a matter of days.

Pranky's dad had recently retired, and I never quite worked out what had happened to his mother and didn't like to ask; and peculiarly I found it significantly easier to get on with the old boy than with the son. It was the same at work. The older generation always seemed to have more going for them than my contemporaries, and certainly more wit.

'I suppose you think we're all red-faced Taffs up here in Wales, don't you?' Pranky senior observed drily as we were introduced, and  he continued to take the piss out of me for the rest of my stay. Next morning, being first to rise, I found myself temporarily flummoxed by their kettle, a design with which I was unfamiliar.

'Here, let me do it,' sighed Pranky senior shuffling into the kitchen in his dressing gown. 'Bloody genius from London,' he muttered.

Pranky and I shopped for records, purchased dubious second-hand flying saucer literature in Hay-on-Wye, and climbed a mountain. I would have been happier climbing more than one, having been obsessed with anything mountainous ever since those Welsh holidays of my youth, but Pranky didn't see the appeal, I suppose finding significantly less novelty in the geology of his surroundings.

It was a pleasant time, but an odd one, and it was a relief to get back to London and the more familiar territory of our respective letter writing personas.

A second issue of Datakill came out, at least as a somewhat disappointing stack of photocopies in an A4 plastic envelope of the kind purchased in packs of twenty from WHSmiths, and I myself re-engaged with the network as I took to self-publishing my own comics, and even releasing a tape of new music. Meanwhile, having had the flames of his existing obsessions stoked by, amongst other things, certain issues of Re/Search, and keen to break away from the admittedly limited field of the music fanzine, Pranky changed direction, channelling his not inconsiderable energies into Hoax!, a fanzine dedicated to pranks, hoaxes, conspiracies, good old fashioned lies, subversive or otherwise counter-cultural activities, networking, and whatever else he felt like writing about. A lot of work went into the thing and it proved quite popular. It shared some territory with Re/Search, some with Vague, but was otherwise more or less it's own thing and even caught the attention of You've Been Framed presenter Jeremy Beadle, then hosting his own radio show on some station or other. You've Been Framed was a laboured early evening entertainment show in which hidden cameras film the horrified faces of unsuspecting members of the general public as they return home to find, for example, that the greenhouse is full of raspberry jam; and Beadle, the supermarket's own brand Noel Edmonds, was a fan of Hoax!

This is a good thing, is it? I asked in so many words, the patronage of Jeremy Beadle not really being much to boast about, I wouldn't have thought; but Pranky believed otherwise. He'd spoken to Jeremy and they were on first name terms. Apparently the presenter wasn't such a square in real life. He had even been in one of the early line ups of Test Department but had ended up having to jack it in, what with the tiny hand and everything.

Not really.

I just made up that last part. It was a hoax!

Ha ha.

Pranky really did seem to be buddying up with Beadle though. I wouldn't joke about that sort of shit. They bonded with particular adhesive strength over cassettes of prank phone calls.

'Hello, could I speak to Mr. Johnson please?'

'Yes. Who is this?'

'William Burroughs.'


'It's me, William Burroughs the writer.'

'Bill Beaumont?'

'No - William Burroughs.'

'I think you've got the wrong number.'

'I'm not really William Burroughs!'


'Fooled you! Ha ha!'

Pranky asked me to draw a cover for the second issue of Hoax! I said yes, then immediately regretted it when the letter came with a list of forty or fifty elements to be included in the illustration, every possible detail right down to the drawing pins scattered on the pavement. Given that no actual offer of payment had been made, it felt a little as though I'd asked if anyone wanted anything from the cornershop seeing as I was going that way, and been handed a list of parts required for assembly of a basic jet engine. The cover star was to be Bugs Bunny, which was something to do with Pranky's long-winded theory about the cartoon rabbit being a symbol of anarchy descended directly from the mythological Trickster of the American south-west, and the rest was all tittersome references to the number 23, Situationism, phone pranks, and the usual shite which had been getting boring even when clogging up the pages of Vague back in the eighties. I drew the cover, and gave Bugs Bunny realistic human genitals specifically because they hadn't been requested in the long, long list of stuff I'd apparently agreed to draw. I wanted to see if Pranky McHoax! fnord 23 could take the jocular punches as well as he was keen to see them dished out. It turned out that he couldn't, and the cover star's meat and two veg were tippexed out because he couldn't stand to see Bugs humiliated in such a way, as he wrote by way of explanation. I was bemused, but I was even more bemused a couple of weeks later when I saw the second issue of Hoax! on sale at a stall at a free festival in New Cross, and bemused because it was my cover and I hadn't received a contributor copy at that point.

He asked me to draw a cartoon strip for Hoax! I said okay and he sent me a script for something called The Fabulous Phoney Phreak Brothers riffing on Gilbert Shelton's considerably funnier strip subverted to a chucklesome take on pranks, hoaxes, conspiracies, good old fashioned lies, subversive or otherwise counter-cultural activities, and networking. The script was something like fifty pages in length. I drew two panels and came to my senses. I had better things to do with my time.

Pranky began to visit London, usually to attend small press or fanzine events. Hoax! seemed to be everywhere, and the third issue was a big fat thing with a three colour glossy cover of more than a hundred pages. Personally I was finding it less entertaining than it had been, pranks, hoaxes, conspiracies, good old fashioned lies, subversive or otherwise counter-cultural activities, and networking being limited subjects with nowhere interesting to go once you were done tittering; but it was Pranky's thing and he seemed to get a lot out of it, so whatever. Possibly he would eventually reign it in, maybe even move onto something more interesting. He would get the message, perhaps even realising that the rest of us couldn't give a shit about the number 23.

He didn't get the message, and his correspondence became weirder and weirder, larger and larger Jiffy bags mummified in miles of plastic tape the shape and size of something upon which a tramp could reasonably expect to get a good night's sleep. I would hack the thing open, read the letter, and wonder why I should have been chosen as recipient to the rest of it. The tapes would contain interviews or radio features on Manson, Porridge, Robert Anton Wilson, the usual suspects; samples of Pranky's own music, which was actually decent but for laboured titles parenthesised with pseudo-occultural word salad - John Wayne Sleep Gacy Racey Sale-at-Macy's 23 Remix or similar; and the rest would be Cassandra Complex live tracks, Pigface b-sides, Al Jourgensen side projects and others from the industrial rock bargain bin. There was never a real reason to listen to the tapes, or at least not all of the tapes, and the cassettes were too knackered to be worth recording over, and yet some effort had gone into their compilation at some stage, so it wouldn't have felt quite right to just chuck them in the bin. I could have given them to someone else, but no-one would have wanted them, and that was probably how half of them had ended up inside the parcel in the first place. Pranky may as well have been posting me the contents of his dustbin, and sometimes amongst the stacks of paper were reams and reams of surplus photocopied images of the kind which result when a pre-internet fanzine editor is putting together the latest issue of his masterpiece. It was sent with the subtext, here's a pile of random crap - it won't all be of use or interest, but maybe some of it will, which wasn't actually a hostile act, but would have looked more or less the same had it been. Sometimes it took days to recover, to process all this shite.

Please stop, I asked him.

He didn't, and if anything it got worse. Make some joke about Coronation Street containing secret coded messages originated from Terry Wogan and broadcast for the benefit of an alien civilisation inhabiting a planet in the vicinity of Sirius, and the next twenty pages of green felt-tipped correspondence would contain numerous tittering references to the same alongside pages of photocopied magazine articles, books, cassettes, or videotapes rescued from charity shops, whatever the fuck he could find with even the most tenuous connection to Coronation Street, Terry Wogan, or the astronomy of the region around Sirius - VHS tapes alternating episodes of Blankety Blank with alien abduction documentaries. It got even worse when he discovered the internet, then still very much in its infancy.

I had undertaken to start my own religion based upon worship of Ringo Starr, in turn based upon how much I'd laughed when a friend described Ringo Starr as the luckiest man in the world. The religion was to manifest as a series of tracts, of which only one was ever printed, essentially a parody of Current 93 and Temple of Psychic Youth literature spun around the notion of Ringo Starr as an esoteric messiah in the Aleister Crowley tradition. Thee Church ov RINGO was an exercise in postmodern sarcasm and accumulated about twenty or thirty members with fancy certificates and laminated membership cards. Tract, as the aforementioned tract was called, comprised material sent in by whoever felt like sending anything, a disproportionate quota of which came from Pranky, a stream which became such a deluge as to inspire me to disgust for what was roughly speaking my own creation. The straw that broke the camel's back was an eighty page story of generic sword and sorcery presumably nicked from the internet. Pranky had gone through the entire text replacing the name of the main character with Ringo. Seriously, I wondered, what the fuck did he really think I was going to do with this shit?

Amongst the material to be hoovered up by the indiscriminately tittering blender of Hoax! was a whole lot of Neoism which, if it helps, is described thus by Wikipedia:

Neoism is a parodistic -ism. It refers both to a specific subcultural network of artistic performance and media experimentalists, and more generally to a practical underground philosophy. It operates with collectively shared pseudonyms and identities, pranks, paradoxes, plagiarism and fakes, and has created multiple contradicting definitions of itself in order to defy categorization and historization.

This explained much of Pranky's creative output, and also why he asked if he could publish his fanzines under the heading of Runciter Corporation, the name of my own imprint and tape label.

I told him certainly not.

My friend Paul and I had elected to go halves on a mailing address, specifically a postbox with British Monomarks. Paul produced a fanzine called Gneurosis and I had various things on the go, and so we could each pay a tenner or so every couple of months for an address which would appear on all of our works, saving the trouble of angry nutters turning up at our homes, or mail sent to addresses reproduced in the pages of older fanzines going astray when one of us moved. Pranky McHoax! fnord 23 liked this idea and asked if he could make use of our postbox address for some one off undertaking requiring a certain degree of anonymity. Neither Paul nor I had any problem with the idea, so we said okay. Pranky sent the Valentine's Day card, that being his primary intention, and then took to giving out the box address as his own, as though he was sharing it with Paul and myself. He even printed it inside one of his fanzines, apparently missing the distinction that Paul and I were paying for the box address, and paying for stuff to be forwarded from the box address to our homes. Now we were getting shit addressed to him in with our mail, and somehow he had figured that neither of us would mind, or maybe he simply hadn't given it any thought at all.

'Hey there,' I said directly to his face one day, 'you know how you've given out our British Monomark box as your mailing address in the latest issue of your thing?'

'Yes.' He looked nervous, but then he always looked nervous.

'Well, don't fucking do it. I don't want to get your post and then have to forward it to you. I wouldn't have minded so much but you didn't even ask.'

This was unusually direct of me, but the situation seemed to be coming to a head. Everyone I knew was exhausted with Pranky McHoax! fnord 23. He had come down to London to stay for a couple of days, visiting some sort of small press event. This was the third or fourth time. The problem was that, as stated, beyond pranks, hoaxes, conspiracies, good old fashioned lies, subversive or otherwise counter-cultural activities, and networking, he had no interests. He was a poor conversationalist, and if he initiated a conversation the first words out of his mouth would usually be did you know that followed by some wearying trivia involving the number 23, or prank phone calls, or an obscure producer of balls-achingly poor industrial music, or Jeremy fucking Beadle. Occasionally he would hint at a supposed prehistory of reckless abandon, booze, sex, and the sort of hard drugs which made Syd Barrett the lobster he is today - or at least was in 1995 - but Pranky's testimony seemed unconvincing. He may as well have been telling us about his misspent youth as a gunslinger in the old west. He didn't smoke; he didn't drink; he'd sip cautiously at a half of shandy in the pub, and there was no point even trying to cook for him because he had his bottle of coke and his little packet of cheese footballs.

'No, I'm fine, thank you very much.'

For someone so relentlessly fixated on subversive mayhem, he presented an oddly joyless character, a little Celtic tickertape machine dispensing an endless stream of factual novelties, and never really engaging with anything outside his chosen field of tittering subversion; and he got away with it because we felt sorry for him; and here he was once again in my flat, and I couldn't work out why we still knew each other.

I'd had an exhausting day at work as usual, a six o'clock start followed by eight hours of hard physical labour. I had rested in the afternoon, but it was never enough, and all I wanted to do was eat my doner kebab and watch fucking Brookside, my favourite television programme in all the world. Nat Simpson seemed to be knobbing his own sister so far as anyone could tell, Mick Johnson was off his box on steroids, and Jimmy Corkhill had, against all odds, transformed into some sort of role model to the unfortunate Tinhead. It was dynamite, and then came the knock at the door just as the show began.

Pranky had been in town all day, dealing with small press things, noting with not inconsiderable amusement the preponderance of the number 23, and that the 23 bus route goes past Liverpool Street station and Liverpool is the birthplace of Ringo and Mark Pawson said this really funny thing blah blah blah Jeremy Beadle blah blah blah illuminati blah blah blah…

'Listen,' I suggested. 'Do you think you could find somewhere else to stay tomorrow evening?'

That threw him a little. 'Okay,' then he continued to talk bollocks throughout the rest of Brookside.

Next morning he was gone, leaving just a pile of about fifty copies of Message from the Sun God, an A4 fanzine he'd had printed comprising a lengthy rant - a good thirty or so pages - lifted wholesale from some nutcase on the internet. There was no reason on earth why anyone would want to read it, aside possibly from members of the psychiatric profession, and Pranky had paid money to have it printed; and there on the inside cover was the British Monomark box address I had asked him to refrain from using as his own. Maybe he thought I was joking, or maybe he didn't believe the fanzine would generate any mail so it didn't matter, or maybe I had been subject to an hilarious prank. For the next year mail continued to turn up addressed to the Sun God. I threw it away, just as I had stuffed all those copies of Message from the Sun God in the recycling bin rather than, as had probably been intended, leave them on buses to mess with people's minds blah blah blah. He called it culture jamming, because whatever the fuck it was he was doing with his life really needed a special name.

Mail turned up from Pranky himself, a battered Jiffy bag the size of a small suitcase doubtless bulging with Scientology pamphlets and Neon Judgement live tapes. I marked it not known at this address and had it returned to sender.

I felt guilty, and continue to feel some small degree of guilt to this day, although I've a hunch it may simply be pity. Pranky was not necessarily a malicious person. He was just a bit of a bore with poor social skills, and he probably knew it to some extent and couldn't help it; and even if he wasn't intentionally taking the piss, it often felt that way. It's a shame, but the world is full of sad, sad stories, and sometimes when someone is a pain in the arse, the kindest thing you can do is tell them to fuck off.

More than a decade later he resurfaces on YouTube as a stand-up comedian. His routine involves creaking puns made in reference to a series of unlikely objects produced from within a suitcase. The camera cuts to the audience, unfortunately exposing the fact of the soundtrack of uproarious hysterics having derived from a source other than those who sit politely chuckling and wondering if this is what this bloke intends to do for the duration of his act. The funniest thing about the clip is its single response in the comments box:

I have worked with the biggest names in world comedy like Jimmy Tarbuck, Bruce Forsyth and Joe Pascquale but I have never witnessed such talent, timing, original material and pizazz in the one package. Were you beamed down in a UFO from Planet Comedy? You seem to have an unearthly quality. I was pissing in my Armani slacks watching this, it's incredible… the hat out of the rabbit - sheer genius. I can try book you into the O2 Arena and we will take it from there. You are a magic comedian.

Even as I read the words, I weigh up the possibility of Pranky McHoax! fnord 23 having submitted the comment himself from a different account, and that he was absolutely sincere, and just for a moment I feel incredibly sad.