What I Did In 2021

It is minus many degrees outside, the temperature of another planet. Or of Canada, the realm to which I now inexplicably owe allegiance. It exists as a vortex of concrete and ice crystals, a climate which drives a man to pull on long johns in the morning, snapping his whole body with the brutality of whiplash into middle age. This is what I have done, it is where I have gone. The hot days of youth, sitting under volcanoes and collecting street cats from jungle climes, are long gone. My right knee makes a creaking sound every time it bends, like the wooden beams of a listed building late at night. I find this sound, to my surprise, more pleasant every day. I refuse to examine why.

Here are some things I did in 2021.

Worked on a game released by Devolver Digital

April 19th - Deconstructeam's new game

De Tres Al Cuarto is a pixel art deckbuildish game about two struggling comedians working the holiday crowd on Menorca. It’s part of the Essays On Empathy collection by developers Deconstructeam and published by Devolver Digital. I worked as an editor to look over the script. The writer, Jordi de Paco, walked me through what he’d written and explained with rare and merciful clarity what kind of editing he wanted. They needed it done quick, which is where being a dirtbag journalist comes in handy.

There had already been passes and reworks, so my job was somewhere between sub-editing and proof-reading. Since the story is set in Menorca, parts of the dialogue needed to remain flavoured in Spanish. I’d been living in Basque Country almost three years by this time, and could subject many victims to ropey Castellano, so I understood the motive. It was a great gig. I was able to set aside whole days with a kettle on repeat and simply do what I do best. That is, the bloodthirsty butchery of words.

Designed a few levels

June 17th - before and after - finished today

I got into level design as a hobby. A hobby because I feel too deep in the word swamp to pursue an actual career in it. Even so, I have a recurring fantasy of interviewing for a level designer job. Not a fantasy about having the job, or performing the job. Not a fantasy about walking nonchalantly through a brightly coloured office, where the art team throws scrunched-up concepts of doorways at me in frustration, as I sit down to create another nine-lane mash-up of de_dust and that one level from Disney’s A Bug’s Life for the PS1 where you have to climb the huge beanstalk, with zero checkpoints between the bottom and the top. No, it is just a fantasy of answering questions about how qualified I am to do such a job. In this fantasy, I receive neither acceptance nor rejection. It just kind of evaporates when I spill tea over my thighs.

Anyway, I built a multiplayer mansion arena in Halo 5’s map-builder, Forge. It is trash, terrible, right-angled to death, an incoherent farce of shapes. No one is allowed to play it. It ought to burn. But a good learning exercise.

Feb 28 - terrible lighting

I made a single player castle level for Quake using the Trenchbroom level editor. It’s about a monster having a birthday party. It is fine, a decent first effort. Too big, too open, underpopulated, ugly as a sack of pugs thanks to Quake’s original “vanilla” textures. But you can play this one. Others have, and they rated it “OK”.

bigboysbirthdayparty10

I made a sci-fi corridor sketch, also in Trenchbroom, using some better textures by noted Quake mapper Ben “Makkon” Hale. It is both the most generic and the prettiest of all the things I ‘ve made in Trenchbroom. You cannot explore it, there is nothing to kill here.

june 19th - better sci-fi corridor

Most of my mapping time has been spent on the level below, however, a brutalist sci-fi recreation of an old hard drive I removed from my computer in July. It is stupid, it makes no sense, I’m sick of looking at it. It has interesting geometry that might make a nice museum, monument or art gallery, but the openness of the drive’s topside was naturally unsuited to a single-player Quake level, so to make it playable I had to get creative with the encounters, while also creating interiors and deep subterranean chasms.

Quake - hard drive

In the end, I chalk this one up as a failure. But I toyed with Makkon’s textures, practiced the level editor, and made fun video flythroughs, which is what matters. You can’t play it yet, but it’s more or less complete. You can play it now by downloading it from Quaddicted. After playtesting, some final tinkering, and a handful of positive responses, I’m now happy enough with this. (But also glad to be able to move on to the next project.)

Wrote some games

April 15 - shovel mech pixel art

The mental schism which cleaved the brains of humanity during the pandemic has dealt its blow to me many times over. The spectre of productive hobbyism cursed me with many small projects designed to numb the fear of ongoing societal collapse. Thus I suddenly decided I needed to learn Ink, the quasi-coding language of narrative design, and underwent a burst of writing interactive fiction. Ink is amazing. I still can’t harness even a snifter of its potential but what I’ve been able to make was fine and a whole lot of fun.

One night, for example, I made a tiny, prototypical horror game set in a dank cave. In the blackness lurks an nonlookuponable beast, the description of which is partially randomised. What one player might guess is a dog-like fiend, another will imagine as a tentacled terror, depending on the imagery and descriptive snippets that appear in the gloom, all according to mysterious rituals you follow. In short, you click on words to see more words. It’s a piece of junk, as interactive fiction goes. But when I was done making it, I looked at the rando-gen creature and thought: “I made a monster”. It was a darkly pleasing sensation.

March 28th - I made a monster!

Mostly though, I wrote sci-fi shorts, all set in a solar system banjaxed by humanity, in the year 2999. They are called Scalene, Daylight Savings Crime, and The Last Anarchist. There’s not much crossover between these stories but they all exist in our borked future. They’re narrated from the point of view of The Gleam, an ancient being or quantum mega-computer (who knows?) that lies undiscovered in our solar system. It observes people or robots from afar, and you get to decide how those people or robots behave, such as when furious lawyer Jyoti Lungshanks spits in the courtroom of a hundred-headed machine judge. You should play.

For one story The Gleam is absent. In Shovel Mech, you play Jaqui, a 50-year-old hacker who’s been sentenced to shovel snow on Mars alongside a decommissioned war Mech. For that, I messed with fonts and figured out how to display a big red button (you should totally press it). It’s my only interactive fiction piece worth expanding, I think. Whether I do that or not depends on how much of my brain leaks out of my ear from Omicron and other horrors awaiting me in the impending annual gauntlet of folly. I haven’t revisited Ink in a while, aside from building a joke game a few weeks ago. So I’d need to refresh my memory to do my Martian prisoners justice.

Made podcasts

BC-logo-colour-16x9

Hey Lesson, the silly but educational podcast I started last year, continues. There is no stopping it. I’ve spoken to a mythbuster who performs sting operations on mediums. Then there was a NASA astrobiologist who explained what alien life would look like. Or the wildlife photographer who told us what trying to survive in the arctic is like. Most recently, I interviewed Scott Manley, YouTube rocket man, about artificial gravity. There were lots more, and I have the next few episodes already planned.

The episodes had to become monthly due to how much time they were taking to organise, record and edit. I learned the hard way that if you want to do a weekly (or even fortnightly) podcast, you typically fall into two categories:

  • a big, high production, radio-style show, with a large team of researchers, editors, and presenters, funded by advertising
  • 2-3 friends who are able to meet and talk about something in a casual and non-scripted way, planned, recorded and uploaded with minimal editing and fuss, sometimes completely unfunded

Unfortunately, Hey Lesson falls in the goblin zone betwixt these two. I often have a friend join me to chat in a casual way, but it also has an interview component that requires research, organising calls with busy experts, and editing it all into a tight episode with sound effects and music, while eliminating as many “ums” and “ahs” as possible. I do all this myself. It’s doable! Just not every week.

Even with the slowdown, there have been some cracker episodes. Here’s one where I showed an interior designer a house I made in The Sims 4. She was not impressed.

Started drawing again

One day in January, I took a loose page from among the detritus of my flat and drew a cartoonish picture of my wife. She was sitting on the sofa, playing the Nintendo Switch, against a backdrop of dusty bricks that made up our apartment’s wall. Somewhere around the 75th individual brick I realised how focused and content I was. I had not drawn anything for 15 years.

page 1 - february

In the hormonal murk of my school years, my best subject wasn’t English, it was art. I liked to draw eyes. One day in art class, I drew a close-up of a skeleton’s hand that was, like, totally sweet dude. My teacher saw it and convinced me to surround it in scrunched-up crepe paper as a “mixed media” project. From the moment I placed the first few scrunchballs onto the page, I knew it was a mistake. And yet I kept gluing them down, excreting bright papery warts onto what was, as far as I was concerned, a gothic masterpiece. I did this because I was instructed to do it. I ignored my gut. I looked at the piece one day and saw only skeletal knuckles buried in a mess of shitty toilet paper, the gluey smell of countless hours wasted. I never finished that piece. One year deep into my GCSE, I dropped my favourite and strongest subject. I don’t regret it, most of the time.

page 2 march

In January this year, after I drew my wife as she gleefully terrorised Ganon’s minions for the nine millionth time in her life, a familiar skeleton-rendering urge crept into me. I’m pretty sure it had been bubbling for years, gurgling up every time I saw one friend posting her art on Twitter, her birds and blowfish making leap after leap of progress as the months passed. The colours bolder, the lines neater, the creatures happier, little smiles to match my own every time I saw these illustrations and thought: “Look! Someone’s doing it! Someone is getting good at something!”

page 3 - november

Finally, I bought a sketchpad, expecting it to sit under a pile of magazines and never get used. Until one night I typed into YouTube: “how to draw head”, and the algorithm unto which we all pay tithes of attention took me on a crash course of drawing for the next 11 months. I drew every few days (except for one month in which I inexplicably did nothing and don’t remember why). I’m still going, haven’t given up (yet). Progress is slow. I have trouble with proportions because I get impatient. I elongate legs, I make blimps of shoulders. But I’m getting better, brick by brick, eye by eye.

page 4 - december

Wrote about video games

As is my grim wont. As is my punishment. I wrote more than the dustbunny of articles which follows, but please treat this selection of reviews as my list of favourite games of 2021, in no particular order.

Deathloop
Halo Infinite
Splitgate
Death’s Door
Inscryption
Chivalry II
Subnautica Below Zero
Hitman 3

I didn’t write about it, but City of Muse is a free game. It is a short, beautiful, understated call to action, and a little unsettling. It goes in the list as well.

Despaired

Lots of things did not go well. The above highlights are a proud glaze on an otherwise bland and anxious life. Not pictured: the slumps, the torn paper, the implosive depressions, the squares of red warning on budget spreadsheets, the abandoned projects, the discarded obsessions, the moving countries, the periodic desire to get shatterblasted, stotious, numbnered, the need to sleep all day, the failure to sleep at night, the to-do lists, the 1am emergency vet visits, the visa applications, the fevers, the washing up, the dead relatives, the coughing world.

*

The snow refuses to disperse. The country into which I have descended, like a too-curious ferret down a hole, has as its principle the following characteristic: resistance. Everything is slightly reluctant. The drawers in my kitchen open with the frictionful scrape of wood on wood. Static shocks are routine. The smirking men who run the corner shops will not lower themselves to suffer English consonants. The roads are perpetually closed for a kind of construction or deconstruction which only appears to be performed at 4am in the morning by fluorescent ghosts rumoured by all to be members of the mafia. No, the snow will not melt today, nor tomorrow. Why should it? At some soon-occuring midnight the world will tremble gently, on Tom and Jerry tiptoes, into an increasingly cybernetic flu-future, the dreadyear 2022. I will be among the last to follow, sighing as I clomp over the threshold in loud, frosted boots.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Good things I wrote in 2017

eu4-castle-big-2-620x336

I discovered the bookworms too late. They had eaten through a large cross-section of World War Z and several Spanish language text books, so I could at least tell their tastes were varied. Still, their appetite wasn’t sated, which is why my sole copy of the Costa Rican constitution was also found devoured, long streaks of absence interrupting the founding principles of José Figueres Ferrer’s fresh democracy. I frowned at the squirming yellow worms. I was sad to lose the fundamental legal keystone of the tropical country I’d been living in for a year and eight months, the country I would soon be leaving, but I got on with the job. I saved what books I could and packed them in a plastic wrapper. I managed to save 2666 by Roberto Bolaño. But perhaps there were eggs in the spine.

When our bags were packed, we were ready to leave Central America. My girlfriend picked up the cat, a runt she found roaming the streets of San José, begging in its own feline way to be adopted and brought to Ireland, and caged it in a tiny jail cell especially constructed for airborne cats. We threw the books and the bags and the clothes and the cat into the back of a taxi, and left.

“I have written some OK things this year,” I thought.

* * *

eu4-castle-2-1-620x320

A war in a Polish castle. The deputy editor of the website for which I write could not stop laughing as he proposed this idea to me. “Would you like, heh heh heh,” he said, like some rotten NPC. “How would you like to, haa haaa ha ha…” Eventually the proposal came: would I take a trip to Poland for four days and enclose myself in a 13th century castle with upwards of 40 men who all want to kill each other through their computers? I said yes, of course.

comedy-night-1-620x320

A Ridealong. I’ve slacked off on this series of misadventures but managed to spit one out. I took a comedian called Glenn Moore into the hellish dimension of Comedy Night, an online game where players take turns to do stand-up comedy routines. I chose Glenn because I know him from university and once made him stand in front of a camera and say unfunny things. That is another story, nevertheless I felt the need to make amends. So I took him to a racist underworld and made him perform jokes.

15sailaway

Sailing the Northwest Passage. Games let us live out our wildest dreams, like going insane from loneliness on a cold boat while sailing the frigid and treacherous route from Greenland to Alaska. My virtual ship, the Bluster & Guesswork, was a taciturn and apathetic vessel, but we eventually understood one another.

geraltthumbsup

A podcast. This is not writing and therefore unworthy of your attention. We revived the RPS Electronic Wireless Show. It’s still one of those “what have we played this week” podcasts but we try to keep to a theme. It takes a lot of work but I hope folks get some pleasure from zoning in and out to our chatter as they drive home from whatever clandestine task their handler has given them this week.

25preya

One-line summaries for a summer sale. I liked writing these. There’s an art to the TV guide blurb that I’ve long admired. Punchy entries that reduce an entire 30 minutes to a single sentence. A classic example being the entry for episode 1 of series 2 of the prison sitcom Porridge: “Fletcher and the gang are shocked to discover there is a thief among them.” I didn’t write anything as good as that, but I had my fun and that’s all that matters.

tortals1

Diaries are still fun. Not content with last year’s robotic daddying in Stellaris, I tried to coddle the galaxy once more as a race of sentient turtles who lusted for a multicultural paradise. I claim moderate success.

absolver-plans-1-620x317

I liked a lot of games. I liked the warring of Northgard and the double-jumping of Dead Cells. I lost clumps of my hair to Opus Magnum and grew them back in the restorative glow of Steamworld Dig 2. I punched up in Tekken 7, and was slapped down in Absolver. There are more but those are my favourites.

podpic10-620x320

Some games vexed me. Rokh was the worst game I played. But there were others that left my brain fizzing for mixed reasons. Rain World‘s malicious menagerie was equal parts fascinating and frustrating. Pyre’s netball didn’t win me over, even when its horned demons did. Basically, I admire these two as works of art but I wish I had enjoyed them more as games. Then again, games are dumb as shit. Maybe it’s enough to admire the way lizards move.

* * *

There is sleet falling outside, real sleet. I have 2666 by Bolaño quarantined in a plastic bag in the garage of my parents’ home, next to some suspicious claw hammers. For all I know, the bookworms have followed me back. If I open this bag of books and discover that they too have been ingested by the hungry larvae I had once believed to be entirely fictional, I will be sad. It has been a big, burning bookcase of a year, and it would be troubling to lose another tome.

But it wouldn’t be a disaster. In a cardboard box lined with a hooded sweatshirt lined with fleece, the runt cat my girlfriend stole from the hot streets of Costa Rica lies, I assume happily, in the aura of an Irish radiator. It is possible she has brought parasites of her own.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized, Work!

Good things I wrote in 2016

freegames_june11_2

I spent Christmas amid the dog hairs and beer bottles of my ancestral home, a place and time which would have given a more pensive mind the chance to reflect on a dauntless year, but gave my mind the chance to swell on pints of Smithwicks and the odd blast of gift-triggered serotonin. I also got the chance to meet my three-month-old Nephew for the first time. He did not cry when I held him, which I found endearing and suspicious.

Last night, I arrived back in Central America, where I saw Orion had once again fallen on his side. At the top of my street, the porter welcomed me by picking up a clipboard and revealing a handgun beneath it. The magazine had been ejected and lay beside the gun, with a single golden bullet protruding at the top, like the glinting nib of a ballpoint pen. “What’s your name again?” he asked, smiling and squinting at the clipboard.

Outside my apartments, there was black dust everywhere, a messy film I have come to recognise as responsible for the fifty-five sneezes I endure daily. It comes from the volcano Turrialba, whose consistent eruptions 33 kilometres away cover everything for days in a pathetic ash. At this point, I discovered I had forgotten my keys and I sat down in the black dust, waiting for my girlfriend to rescue me. I took off my my hoody, undid two surplus buttons on my shirt, and rolled up each leg of my jeans.

“I have written some good things this year,” I thought.

* * *

wurm1

The Ridealongs. I went flying with a real pilot and stalled 2000 feet above the ground. I roamed through Minecraft’s most offensive server with an archeologist-of-sorts. There were many other ridealongs but my personal favourite was when I explored an abandoned MMO with a player who was once a King of the whole virtual land, but had become reduced to a tiny farm and a stolen horse.

whoswho_main

A War in EVE. Some days, as a games journo, you log in to your various dripfeeds of cyberknowledge and see a single article being passed around like a clandestine floppy disk, over and over again. Look, someone says, Andy Kelly has written about videogame toilets. Or Christian Donlan has wirtten about a 3000-year-old Egyptian board game. When you see this, you understand that this writer has won Twitter today. But some days, if you’re lucky and you work hard, you’re the one on the floppy disk. I felt like that when my story about EVE Online’s revolutionary casino-fuelled war went up. It might be the best bit of games journalism I’ve written, or maybe just the one I’m most proud of.

pe_software10

Premature Evaluation. I took over this weekly column in the daily thunderstorms of July, and proceeded to fill it with stories of me being terrible at my one job: playing games. This one about management sim Software Inc was probably the most fun to write.

stellaris_june11_1

Keeping a diary. Diaries are the thing I like to write the most. Take an appropriate game, explain the systems and features briefly, then set out to achieve something difficult or weird in-game. In Stellaris, I was a race of human-loving robot father figures. In Rimworld, the manager of an ill-fated desert hotel. But a lesser-known game gave me the most satisfaction to write about. Hackmud was an excellent, complicated multiplayer hacking sim that saw me become both the worst gambling kingpin and a sentient newspaper algorithm.

freegames_sept3_3

Free Loaders. Every week I slap this up, a short list of free games. It’s something I look forward to, because writing it has become an weekly exercise in describing concise things concisely. It’s sad to see a lot of good stories and games still going unnoticed in the deluge of 2016 but also understandable. So I did a list of the best of this year’s freebies.

* * *

My girlfriend has rescued me. I’ve finally made it back into the house, where we will eat pizza and exchange presents while suffering guttural and dark laughter at Charlie Brooker’s annual news roundup. Outside, tiny motes of black dust are still falling, like invisible snow.

 

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

How (Not) To Write About Videogames

WRITING

It is a question that has tortured many. Just how do you write about videogames? Well, do not worry. Writing about videogames is easy. All you have to do is avoid cliché.

So, here are some words and phrases that you should consider carefully. Sometimes, they are worth using because everyone knows (or seems to know) what they mean. Sometimes, you should delete them. But you should always think about it.

The Big Ones

Immersive. My childhood home had an immersion heater, which meant that any time you wanted a shower you had to put on the immersion and wait 100 hours for the water to heat. Does that sound immersive to you? Games that are immersive take you into their world and away from your own. Immersive is what all games want to be. But very few actually are.

Intuitive. A game is never intuitive but parts of it can be. Intuitive controls are great. But an intuitive user interface is boring. Intuitive fighting mechanics may sound excellent but describing the sound of a breaking bone as a punch connects to the ribcage of your foe may read better.

Games are often deep. How deep? It is difficult to say. Depth of a game is hard to measure because those who explore such depth can easily become lost. It is possible they are trapped in the game’s living, breathing world.

Gameplay annoys a lot of journalists. Arguably, it fills a gap in language for the concept: “moving bits of a game”. Players miraculously appear to understand what it means, even if editors and angry columnists can’t agree on a definition. If you don’t want to type gameplay, you can use mechanics. But you’ll just be replacing one overused word for another, slightly less overused one.

Visceral is a joke word. When a journalist uses the word visceral, they mean that the game is not very good. Or that the trailer for the game is not very good. Or that the marketing department for the game is not very good. Usually, when something is visceral it is an…

Experience. When was the last time you had a truly visceral experience? You probably earned some experience points. That’s fine. But filling a sentence with abbreviations like XP may have an effect on the reader’s AP and cause him to write to his local MP.

OR HERS. Do not assume the reader’s gender.

Content is important. If a game had no content it would be a completely empty game and the player would be discontent. Games with lots of content or even downloadable content are highly sought. If you are stuck, another word for content is stuff.

Marketing Loan Words

IP means Intellectual Property. Everybody loves new IP, and fresh IP is just as good. Established IP is a stonker because nobody can destroy it, not even with guns. If an established IP gets big enough, it might become a…

Franchise. The best franchises release new content onto the market for loyal consumers every year. If they did not do so, the loyal consumers would be not only discontent but also disenfranchised.

The Next Gen is what everyone was waiting for in 2013. It is currently 2014. Next Gen hardware is available now from certain retailers. But it is not yet current gen. That’s the last gen. To afford Next Gen hardware you may need to…

Monetise. The process of monetisation is going to increase your position well into Q1. Then you will be in a truly great position for Qs 2, 3 and 4.

Some other things you should probably avoid:

To be clear/Let’s be clear/Let’s be absolutely clear about this
This is a phrase used mainly by politicians who want to emphasise a point, in order to bolster the lie they are telling. When you use it, you sound like David Cameron.

Possibility space
What is a possibility space? I guess it is a space in which things are possible. There is another word for this. A space.

A not small amount of X / Not unlike Y / Not unenjoyable
A large amount of X. Like Y. Enjoyable.

Going forward / Going forward in this space
This is a phrase used by managers and people whose job is to boss others. It means ‘in future’ but also includes some vague implication of progress. The speaker believes this lends them a sense of authority and foresight. After all, they have seen the space into which we are going forward. Maybe it is a possibility space. Hopefully it is not an impossibility space. In reality, the person who says going forward is usually the asshole nobody wants to follow, forward or in any direction.

Note: To my shame, I have used some of these words and phrases myself. I hope to be forgiven someday. Until then, I can only post this as a guideline, so you can learn from my mistakes. The list isn’t a complete one. As always, break any rule of language if it makes you laugh.

2 Comments

Filed under Damn youse, Work!

On Scratchcards: The Correct Way To Scratch

scratch-1

[There is an audio version of this essay available here and on YouTube]

Scratchcards – the most worldly and humble of the lesser gambles. Although I am far from being one of the people who are inexplicably and tragically addicted to them, scratchcards nevertheless maintain a power over me. I was talking about them with some friends recently and concluded that my enjoying a scratchcard has more to do with ritual than money. Although, let’s be honest, like all forms of gambling, the money is at the nucleus of its strange charm.

I like scratchcards because there is a very particular method of playing a scratchcard, which goes far beyond the simple physical act of searching for gold beneath the layer of coarse latex, scouring away at that grey scum of possibility. No. The correct – the ONLY – way to play a scratchcard is to adhere with fearsome loyalty to the Caldwell System of Gambling, which I will now describe.

Firstly, you must buy a scratchcard only as an impulse, when buying other things. Arriving one day at the checkout, with your hands full of milk, bacon, chilli-coated peanuts, you will glance absent-mindedly at the stand of colourful cards and be immediately shaken with the intense feeling that you are alive and that nobody can stop you from winning everything. Although, that is not to say you feel confident. This is a feeling more wistful and playful in nature than confidence. It stands to reason that what you are feeling is a sense of fatefulness. If you are an atheist, this is the closest you will ever come to detecting providence in your life. Put down your milk for a moment.

Now the decision comes: which card to choose? This is a simple matter. Do not make the common mistake of believing the £5 scratchcard is in some way superior to the £2 scratchcard, itself more honourable than the £1 scratchcard. This is wrong. All scratchcards were made equal, except the ones with money in them, which have been made rich. The people that create these cards have the most beautiful name – the Scientific Games Corporation – beautiful because such a name is one more glinting jewel of evidence that we live in the Future and that dystopia is redundant. In any case, the Aryan myth of the £5 scratchcard’s nobility of breeding probably stems from the increased odds of winning. However, as we shall see, these odds (fluctuating approximately between 1 in 4 to 1 in 3.5) simply do not matter, as success is mostly incidental to the following proceedings. In fact, to the untrained eye, the Caldwell System appears to want nothing to do with winning. The process can be more likened to ‘having the craic’ or perhaps theatre. Remaining mindful of the excess of customers forming behind you (carrying their milk, bacon, chilli coated peanuts) you should therefore choose the scratchcard with the most modest character, invariably of the £1 variety. This is a part of the story foundation process. If you should ever win big (the Top Prize on these purple ones says £100,000) you will want the story to begin thus.

YOU: I won £100,000 on a scratchcard!

MOTHER: Good God! Was it one of thon £5 behemoths?

YOU: Nay. Twas but a quid. A punt in the dark.

MOTHER: The purple ones! You don’t say?

YOU: I do, I do.

MOTHER: You are a meek one, to be sure. You won’t forget your roots as a rich man.

YOU: I certainly will not.

However unlikely this scenario may seem, it is important to stay honest by buying only the £1 cards. Any other species and a win – no matter how great – is inevitably  polluted by the grandiose gesture of spending five whole pounds on a single card, not to mention aligning yourself with the Übermensch bigotry of the more unsavoury scratch theorists. No. You will recognise the card for you very easily. The £1 cards are plain of colour and font, simple of conceit, sometimes adorned with ungainly mutant scrawls masquerading as cartoon pigs. You should buy only one.

The following phase is difficult for those to whom it does not come naturally. You must put the scratchcard into your back pocket (this is very important) and, as soon as possible, forget entirely that it exists. The reason the back pocket is used and not the front, despite the obvious disadvantages, is that, above all, the principle of fatalism must follow the course of this card for as long as it remains unscratched. This means putting it in your back pocket to allow for the slim possibility that bodily motion will cause the card to slip out unnoticed on the pavement, in the restaurant, in the restroom. Yes, you will lose the card in this case – but this too is a part of the process. Like I say, this phase is difficult for many people to grasp but allow me to put it to you like this: have you ever found an un-scratched scratchcard lying on the ground? (On the pavement? In the restaurant? In the restroom?) Did you pick it up? And did you smile to the blue and white canopy above you as if the sky itself had provided the card? And did you spare a brief thought for the man or woman who adhered to the back pocket routine, understanding all the while the possible costs? If the answer is ‘yes’ then you will understand this adherence to karmic fate – it is an almost Eastern feeling of universal destiny and the acceptance that one is subservient to Events. This includes losing the scratchcard, which you have anyway entirely forgotten about. Never mind, for someone else may find it and win, while the world spins on.

Some time later (days, a week?) something will occur or some words will be idly said and your brain will crack like a sparkplug. The scratchcard! The sensation of reaching into your back pocket to feel the thin sliver of theatre and hope and finding it still there, with all its attendant possibilities, is remarkable. Do you see now? It is for this intense (if short-lived) smile that the previous phase is indulged. This is an important point: the practice of deferred gratification can apply even to the gambler. A person imbued suddenly with a fateful and dreamy impulse at the checkout can also contain within them the most wonderful cornerstone of discipline – a calm forgetfulness. Only now, when the mixture of remembrance and delight has compelled you into your back pocket for the card, is it time to scratch.

The mathematics behind the scratching drill itself are difficult to describe in any brief way. You should be aware that this is a very precise, mechanical operation. The preparations are the easiest part to detail. You will need to find a penny, or a two pence coin. It is IMPERATIVE that you use only these coins. No other coin will do. As an American or other nationality, the smallest equivalent denomination is to be used. The reasoning behind this is similar to that which prohibits the purchase of £5 cards under the system. In fact, a disdain for all ostentation (buying multiple cards, scratching them with gaudy £2 coins) runs through the whole process. Scratching with your house key or car key is certainly out of the question. Using your thumbnail or fingernails is allowed but only if they are not glossy with bright paint or adorned with tiny jewels. However, should the fingernail paint be flaking off, days or weeks after application, then by all means: scratch away. Ignore these caveats and conditions at your own peril.

Get your brown coin or plain fingernail ready. Many minds will have tried to reduce the optimum order of scratching to its base mathematical formula. Yet, there is no perfect ‘Tic Tac Toe’ solution to these flaky grids, and the system I am prescribing cannot be said to be perfect by any means. Nonetheless, it is rooted in a simple emotive idea: that you must keep yourself in suspense for as long as possible, especially while scratching. In the spirit of this suspense, it is perhaps wise to put down your coin so that we may take some time out to describe the ‘Ten Percent’ rule.

The ‘Ten Percent’ rule is simple. If a family member is in the room when the scratchcard has been remembered and retrieved, then etiquette demands that you agree to give them ten percent of the winnings, should Fortune rule in your favour. However, they should refrain from demanding their cut outright, as it is impolite. Still, it is equally, if not MORE offensive to play the card without any comment at all, or with a brusqueness that implies you did not care who won anything. Please practice caution if there is more than one family member in the room, as things may become dangerous.

Now that royalties have been mostly covered, the scratching can finally begin. Take the brown coin, or unembellished fingernail, and scratch the card’s grid methodically, taking time to consider each revelation separately. Remember that suspense is the key to the technique.

scratch-2

Since there are likely to be onlookers and the process involves a certain air of theatricality, it requires statements be made (“Let’s do this thing!”), updates be given (“Oh! We have two £1000s!”) and summaries be provided (“Okay, we’ve got a £10 and a £100 as a possibility”). This is all not to mention the final flourish when the last possible digit is scratched and revealed, which should always be accompanied with a gambler’s battle-cry – a guttural, growling “come ooonnnnNNNNNN!” descending to a “NNNAAaaghh fuck it” when loss is incurred.

scratch-3

Should you win, remember to honour the Ten Percent rule, but beyond that the celebration is yours. I know of no process for winning, nor for being rich. Fate has either delivered you to riches, or placed you back in the line for the checkout. If you have lost, look over your card one last time and remember the final act of the ritual, more important than any other. You must tear the scratchcard directly in two.

scratch-4

The Tear is colossally significant. In this way you have dismissed it all. You have dismissed the riches, the consumption, the possibilities. All the energy of the process may have led up to the point where a gruff cry of hope resounded throughout your home. Yet a shrug and a single swift tear is all that is needed to dispose of it. Do not tear the card again, into quarters – you do not need to. Once is OK. The cars, the holidays, the clothes, the things. They are not for you. You did not want £100,000 anyway. This is perhaps the most necessary part of the process. The final salute to Fate. At the end of a scratchcard, as in all of life: remember the Tear.

1 Comment

Filed under Essays

On Craic: I’m Telling You, There Is No Word For ‘Yes’ Or ‘No’ In Irish

This essay is mostly about the 'craic', not to be confused with the 'cráic'

This essay is mostly about the ‘craic’, not to be confused with the ‘cráic’

At school I disliked learning Irish. Mostly because the teacher was stern and angry. When I discovered that he moonlighted as Santa Claus in a local shopping centre at Christmas, I was pretty much done. He clashed with my traditional concept of a kind and joyous St Nick, so that was me finished with Santa and, subsequently, the Gaelic tongue.

Not that I would have necessarily carried on learning it anyway. Gaelic as a language was so obviously ugly, guttural and unwieldy that everything sounded like it was the same foreign, unpalatable dish of intestinal slop. With its ‘fuinneog’s (windows) and ‘peann luaidhe’s (pencils) it isn’t a language that appeals to vain schoolboys, unless those vain schoolboys are fans of Lord of the Rings for whom Elvish proves too tricky. As a teenager this dislike was compounded by the observation that everyone associated with the language was infested with patriotism or an intense religiosity – and often both. Since the time of the Celtic Druids, Ireland has been the victim of a priest class who interfered with superstition in the political and social life of the country. Inevitably, this religious influence has found its way into the nation’s dictionary. The Gaelic language shares with Arabic, among others, the puncturing of sentences with religious sentiments. You can’t even formally say ‘dia duit’ (hello) without technically having just said ‘God be with you’. (The characteristically verbose response to this welcome is to say ‘dia is muire dhuit’ – God and Mary be with you).

But then I got a bit older and, maybe, a little more forgiving of spiritualism. I still find the priest class to be a void of moral authority – but I no longer extend that lack of credibility to the Irish language, even if it does pay homage to a Christian god every once in a while. As an adult, I’m interested in the language, not because I think it pleasant – it still sounds brutally unattractive – but because its quirks and cogs more than make up for its uninviting tone.

For instance, there are no words for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in Gaelic. It’s the truth. If you want to answer somebody in the positive or negative, you actually have to refer back to the question itself in the form of a positive or negative statement. So, when somebody asks you ‘ar mhaith leat cupan tae?’ (would you like a cup of tea?) you cannot just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’ – there simply aren’t any words for that. You have to keep up the chatter by answering: ‘ba mhaith liom cupan tae’ (I would like a cup of tea) or if you’re feeling lazy you can reduce this as far as ‘ba mhaith liom’ (I would like) but absolutely no further. Never mind the possibility that you could just answer with the word ‘please’ and nod your head – because this course of action is just as long-winded by English standards, requiring you to say ‘le do thoil’ (literally: with your will).

The concept of possession is a similar peculiarity. The common way of saying you can speak or talk in Irish is to say ‘ta Gaelige agam’ which means ‘I have Irish’ – as if you carry the language around with you in your bloodstream as a kind of benign infection. This possessiveness doesn’t restrict itself to pursuits of knowledge, obviously, but becomes more confusing when talking about things which actually are attached to you. To say the colour of your hair is black you would say ‘ta mo chuid gruaige dubh’, which translates to something like ‘my share of hair is black’ or ‘my portion of hair is black’. The same goes for teeth: ‘mo chuid fiacla’ (my portion of teeth).  This word ‘cuid’ is used when there’s an indefinite quantity of something in the world over which you do not have full ownership. Which makes it seem like hair is only ever spoken about in its ethereal Platonic Form, and it is everybody’s ‘share’ of it which differs in colour, probably according to personality. All of this adds to the impression of exuberance and lengthiness which the Irish language leaves on the non-speaker.

The suggestion is that, historically, the Irish people often had nothing better to do but talk to one another, and as a result have developed an unusually long-winded mode of speech. To adopt a single word for ‘yes’ or ‘no’ during a conversation with me as an Irish person would be bordering on rudeness – I would instantly accuse you of ‘being awful short’ with me. You impolite fucker.

Of course, if I really did want to call you an impolite fucker ‘as Gaelige’, I would literally be lost for words. This is because there are no swearwords in Irish. Like ‘yes’ and ‘no’, they simply don’t exist. Every Irish teacher I have had has been adamant about this point, even proud. Although if you turn on TG4 – the Irish language TV channel broadcast throughout Ireland – you’ll probably discover the occasional soap opera character saying ‘cac naofa!’ (holy shit!) or even ‘bud ceann’ (dickhead). Strictly speaking, these aren’t swearwords either, because the words involved are the anatomical words. ‘Bud’ is the word for penis and doesn’t really hold the same forcefulness as ‘dick’ or ‘cock’. ‘Cac’ is likewise closer to the English word ‘poop’. All this means the words are funny in their own way, but it’s a silly kind of humour as opposed to anything tinged with anger or playful aggression. (If you’re curious, the Irish word for vagina is ‘pit’ – pronounced ‘pitch’ – and you can have as much or as little fun with that factoid as you like). Ultimately, if the English language is a vulgar one, with all its ‘cunts’ and ‘shits’ and ‘bollocks’, then Irish is a prudish language, in which it is impossible to summarise your absolute distaste without seeming like a clown yourself.

At least, it is impossible to show your disdain for someone in any terse way. Once again, the talkative nature of the language comes out. Should it be necessary to curse at someone, you would have to do just that – curse them. There are any number of websites that will tell you the phrases to use in these circumstances: ‘Imeacht gan teacht ort’ (may you leave without returning), ‘go n-ithe an cat thú is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat’ (may the cat eat you, and may the Devil eat the cat), ‘Go mbeadh cosa gloine fút agus go mbrise an ghloine’ (may you have glass legs and may the glass break). Sadly, such elaborate cursing is more common as part of the explanation of the ‘no swearwords’ rule. You’d be hard-pressed to actually hear an Irish-speaking person say these things. They’re far more likely to simply switch languages and swear at you in English, possibly because – as the film Lord of War pointed out to us – people tend to revert to their first languages in moments of pain, frustration or ecstasy, and the first language of many Gaelgors, though they might be loath to admit it, is English.

Of course, it is the opinion of many linguists that language is a malleable and generally untameable thing, and although swear words might not be recognised by purists, that doesn’t mean they won’t find their way into the language. Any language is in constant flux – always evolving – and new words will insert themselves into our vocabulary as irrustobabrously as they please. It’s just that, so far in Gaelic, no swearwords have seemed to stick. Possibly this is because forceful swearwords are a very English Thing. And the Irish are nothing if not ‘Not English.’ The language’s dislike for English loan-words or general English influence is noticeable in the creativity with which such loan-words are destroyed. When the escalator was invented, there was no Irish equivalent for the word, so it became the barely-altered ‘escalator’, pronounced esh-cah-lah-torr. But this was much too close to English for comfort and was soon replaced by an Irish substitute – ‘staire beo’ – which literally means ‘living stairs’.

Which brings us to the unusual case of the word ‘craic’. The origin of this unmistakably Irish word isn’t Irish at all, but Anglo-Saxon. ‘Crack’ was a slang term for ‘news’ or ‘gossip’ in England as far back as the 19th century and only became really popular in Ireland, primarily in Ulster, in the 1950s. As late as the 1970s it was still spelled the English way in songs and writing. For whatever reason the word has recently been Gaelicised and then re-borrowed into English, giving the distinct impression that it is an Irish word through and through. Most young Irish people today are convinced of its Gaelic purity. If you’re English, why not try writing ‘what’s the crack?’ on your Irish friends’ Facebook walls, and when they indignantly try to correct your spelling, you can give them a lesson in etymology. Your Irish friends will be very grateful for this.

That being said, craic is now an Irish word, simply by virtue of its quintessentially Irish definitions. It no longer simply means ‘news’ and is distinct from English counterparts. You can still ask somebody ‘what’s the craic?’ to ask what the news is, but ‘having the craic’ has come to encompass a wider concept of ‘good times’. A direct English equivalent doesn’t exist. Having ‘fun’ is too frivolous and civil, while having ‘a laugh’ is close but still too limited in its meaning. ‘Banter’ is sometimes put forward as an equivalent, being a similar mixture of conversation, joking and story-telling. But this doesn’t work either because there is a subtle difference between the two – banter involves jibes and insults and is more frequently practiced between work colleagues, who might not necessarily have been friends otherwise. Whereas real craic is more common among very close friends or family members, contains a lot more story-telling, anecdotes, reminiscing and fewer jibes at each others’ expense. Banter is essentially combative – craic is essentially co-operative. When having the craic with your friends, you ‘pass’ the laugh on to somebody else, who then keeps it ‘flowing’. When indulging in banter, you ‘serve’ a laugh like a tennis ball and wait for the rebound. Neither of these concepts is restricted to one culture – there is English craic and Irish banter – but my experience is that each culture appears to prefer its own particular blend.

Craic can also extend far outside of a single group in a way that banter cannot. Say a group of young men and women (mostly English-speaking but culturally Celtic) gather in a house for a drink. They sit in a circular fashion, enjoying the chatter and tales and generally catching up with whatever misadventures have occurred. At this juncture there is ’some craic bai’. This is not a diminutive phrase. ‘Some craic’ is still a good amount of craic. But it’s at this point the drinks are finished and the group must move from the house to another venue, almost certainly The Pub. Here, the group will undoubtedly split off into several cells, mingling with the other patrons and night-outers. Intermittently, these cells will meet up or run into one another, trade members and generally shout amusing things. Of course, the other patrons and groups in the bar have unwittingly brought their own craic to the bar. The usual effect is that all the craic becomes compounded until somebody stands on a chair or something and gives an impassioned speech about nothing in particular and everybody laughs and shouts ‘yerrrooo’. It can now be said that the craic is ‘mighty’. It is no longer simply a conversational concept, but an atmospheric one. The danger now is that somebody ‘kills the craic’ by saying or doing something sorrowful or aggressive. But for the sake of argument, let’s say this doesn’t happen. Instead, somebody’s cousin arrives through the door with a violin and a friend of his follows with a bodhrán (an Irish instrument – a handheld drum). The bar is small but packed and yet somehow there is room for the cousin and friend to sit on a stool in the corner and play what will be referred to tomorrow as ‘a blinder’. When the music reaches its peak and everybody is enjoying themselves – but not necessarily dancing – it can then be said that the craic is ‘ninety’. This, the consensus goes, is the craic at its absolute peak. If the craic has ever passed this point, it has never been documented or recalled. Thankfully, ninety is the optimum level of craic. Craic is at this point an atmosphere and, simultaneously, an experience. The craic cannot be killed at this level – it will only fade away slowly. Furthermore, it continues to exist as a moment in history long after the fact.

Retrospectively, you might expect the craic to be nullified by the force of the resultant hangover – but this is not so. Craic is simply cemented and preserved by a hangover, so long as the hangover is sustained by a large enough group and the night’s oracular chronicle set straight. The previous night’s craic now exists outside of space, time and the group(s) in which the craic was conceived. At this point, the craic has ebbed gently and the language used to refer to it must be reflective and respectful, usually in the manner of the previous night’s pre-drinks. It hereafter reverts to its conversational form. The collection of young men and women have had ‘some craic bai’, which, as I have said, is quite some craic, let me tell you.

*

With thanks to Colly Madden for the language lessons. Most of the Gaelige here is Ulster dialect.

8 Comments

Filed under Essays

The Not-Quite-Underclass of ‘Sheila’

*

I once went to a pub in Battersea with my girlfriend of the time, who had worked behind the bar. She introduced me to her friends who were working that night and to some of the regulars.

I met a girl who had had a kid in her teens and who later rejected an offer to study at Oxford because they were snooty to her in the interview. Instead she decided she was going to be an air stewardess because she had developed a fear of flying after being on a plane journey that nearly crashed. She said she wanted to get over that fear.

I met a guy, pulling pints, who moved from South Africa with the love of his life, who later abandoned him to the English weather, leaving him only his clothes and the mutual tattoo they got dedicated to each other on his hand, which read “Two against the world.”

And I met an old man, who was dying. He consistently refused to go into hospital and get treatment for his illness because his wife needed his care, since she was even more ill than he was. An old man to whom the pub and the people in it were his only leisure.

*

It’s been a while since I wrote about a song that really gets to me. Sheila by Jamie T is a song that really gets to me. Periodically, I will listen to this song and, for all its twang and catch, a lump will form in my throat. A sadness, a little tumour of melancholy. Because Sheila to me is not about the amazing music – the steady rhythm, the coalescence of Jamie’s register and the quickfire, bleeping melody (which my big sister insists is some sort of homage to Disney’s ‘Under the Sea’). To me it’s more about the characters contained in the lyrics. Sadly, thanks to Jamie’s hasty vocal style and the shadow cast by the great music, so few people have ever stopped to listen – to notice the tragedies unfolding underneath the brilliant, flippant tune.

Sheila is a song populated by shades of London’s not-quite-underclass. Boisterous alcoholics, jilted drug dealers, addicts, abused daughters. Not every hue of the downtrodden is depicted but neither does it need to be. In Sheila three tragedies are laid out, like bodies recovered from the sea, and analysed with a forensic focus so sharp that it would rival any lauded book of short stories.

Take Jack – a.k.a “Smack Jack the Cracker Man” – whose drug dealing and dodginess (the result of being “dealt some shit hands”) has led him to a life of lonely bitterness, whose only viable way out of a spiral of misery would be the direction, fortitude and love of a decent woman. Sadly, his romantic interest, Lisa, has only gone and had a child with another man. Now Jack dives head first into a deep pool of drink and resentment.

“Well done Jack, glug down that cider,
you’re right she’s a slut and you never fuckin’ liked her.”

His friends are likewise gone from him, being “dependant mans upon the heroin” (pronounced by Jamie with an incredible broadness – “her-oh-waan” – to rhyme with the name of Jack’s old mate Dan). All Jack thinks there is to life now is getting into fights and buying the cheapest clothes he can without endangering his ability to get “glad-ragged up” in an attempt to pull – always unsuccessfully. The only girls that hang on his shoulder are “fag-hags” who have no intention of sleeping with him and who he ends up resenting as “slags” just as much as he resents his old girl Lisa.

The most tragic thing about Jack is that if he’d take the time to look around, he’d see every other fella in the Wetherspoons as identical to him, stumbling down the same bitter, woman-hating hole.

“But this sounds original, superficial’s the issue,
for one dear Jack, there’re 35 doppelgangers.”

Jack is simply joining the ranks of the unhappy alcos and drug users.

Then there’s the Sheila of the title, whose penchant for soap-like drama leads her on binge after binge of alcohol-fuelled misadventure. She is confident, loud, coquettish, a leader among her friends. She can talk to anybody, so well versed is she in London’s spidery dialects.

“Her lingo went from the cockney to the gringo,
Any time she sing a song, the other girls sing along,
and tell all the fellas that the lady is single,
fickle way to tickle on my young man’s ting.”

She brings to mind a vision of a loutish student, friendly to those on her good side, cutting to those on her bad. But ultimately, like so many of Jamie T’s characters, she is also crippled by her alcohol abuse. We are often told that all good tragic characters in the Shakespearian mould have a fatal flaw. It just so happens Sheila’s is melodrama. It’s no coincidence that the chorus starts with her dumping her beer (Stella Artois) over the head of her current love interest.

“Sheila goes out with her mate Stella,
it gets poured all over her fella,
cos she says ‘man he ain’t no better,
than the next man kicking up fuss.’”

Reeling from this drunken argument she stumbles down to the banks of the Thames, falls in and drowns. With a bleak sting of humour, Jamie addresses her weakness by lamenting that nobody heard her screams.

“I guess the carpet weren’t rolled out.”

She is not one of the C-list celebrities she tries so hard to emulate. Sheila is ordinary and thus unworthy of the attention of the media. This is a story that won’t get told in the papers. Only in songs.

But the most difficult story to handle is the third – that of Georgina. Her tragedy is the most innocent and her own character the most blameless of all the darkened semi-hooligans that swagger through the streets of the Jamie T-verse. It’s also the easiest story to understand. Out of respect or kindness, or maybe ‘just because’, the singer dispenses with his more cryptic rhymes and sings her tale in a much more linguistically lucid way. It’s probably worth just quoting in full.

“So this a short story ‘bout the girl Georgina,
never seen a worse, clean young mess
under stress at best, but she’s pleased to see ya,
with love, God bless, we lay her body to rest.

Now it all dear started with daddy’s alcoholic,
lightweight, drinking down, numbing his brain,
and the doctor said he couldn’t get the heart there started
now beat up, drugged up she feelin’ the strain.

She says in a rut ‘What the fuck I sposed to do
suck it up, start, stop, keep running through?’
True but you try, it ain’t easy to do,
she been buckle belt beaten from the back like a brat.

Dunno where she goin’ but she know where she at,
so Georgie, it’s time to chain react,
but the truth is you know, she probably fought back,
tears stream down her face,
she screamed away,
‘When I fall, no one catch me,
alone lonely, I’ll overdose slowly,
get scared, I’ll scream and shout’.
But you know it won’t matter she’ll be passing out.”

Georgina’s story is brutal. Her alcoholic father abuses her until the day he dies of a heart attack. You might think that as the victim of parental abuse she might find some relief or at least some freedom in the death of her abuser. But he is still her father and the death weighs heavily on her. She becomes strained and drugged up. On anti-depressants or something less legal, we are not explicitly told. But her sensitive nature, history of abuse and inclination to stress and tearfulness suggest the former. Eventually, she commits suicide by overdose. And as sad as this is, Jamie’s final word on the matter are as sardonic as they are sorrowful. We can practically see him standing by the ambulance, shrugging dolefully.

“I say giggidibigidiup, just another day,
another sad story, that’s tragedy,
paramedic announced death at 10.30,
rip it up, kick it to spit up the views.”

*

On my last visit to that bar in Battersea with my girlfriend, the dying old man, convinced that he would never see her again, gave her his necklace to remember him by. I walked away and left them alone to speak, under the cover of a trip to the toilets. Mostly, I did that because it felt like a private moment. But also because if she had started to cry, I would have nearly started bawling myself. And I don’t intend to do that in a bar until I’m a lonely old lech.

Later, after I had been sitting quietly among them, listening to the chatter, gossip and reminiscing, my girlfriend had me alone and asked me what I thought of her friends. I didn’t have to think for very long before saying, “I love them.” She seemed surprised and asked me why. “Because they’re…” I thought for a while. “I don’t know. Because they’re real.”

I’ve always had this feeling like I don’t know any real people. That I’ve been sheltered from the harsh reality of people who “dance and drink and screw, because there’s nothing else to do”. And it’s my own snobbishness and shyness that is to blame, really. But sitting in that bar, I felt like I had infiltrated a reality that was beyond Dickens or Orwell. That there was more character in ten square feet of that pub than I, or anyone else, could ever put to paper, no matter how colourfully or plainly we wrote.

And that’s why I love Sheila by Jamie T so much. It feels like he has done what I couldn’t fathom. In just over four minutes, he has musically presented the character and sorrowfulness of London with a richness and depth that rivals great theatre, if not life itself. It is a song that I genuinely rank alongside Dubliners for giving me a window into a world where fiction can be as hard-hittingly real as waking up in the morning from a demented dreamscape. A world where colour exists but only among dominant shades of grey. Where sadness is a blessing. Where people are defined by their strengths, yet made real by their misfortunes.

17 Comments

Filed under Essays, Music