Wednesday, 11 November 2015

Have I escaped the world of corporate ghosts?

I think I'm on the right track here - in terms of wellbeing I'm back to the high levels I was at during my MA. The key points:

Scheduling and structure

Only working three days a week is ABSOLUTELY AMAZING and I'll avoid ever going back to five. But in the first half of the year I didn't schedule my free time, so I became a little bit idle, reliant on my mood-on-the-day as to whether I did anything useful (when I wasn't up to my neck in the football takeover thing).

After visiting my academic friend in Belfast in August I was inspired to start scheduling - from now until Christmas, each non-working day is dedicated to study, making music, brewing, tapestry etc. Sure you have to move them around sometimes or miss the odd one, but it makes a huge difference.

Hard limit of three drinking days a week (Mon-Sun)

This was imposed by my wife after I slipped down some stairs in a pub and hurt my back. Three days seems easy, right? It's amazing how quickly you realise the "exceptions" that you are always making. For this there are no exceptions, not Christmas, not visiting relatives, etc etc.

I'm actually aiming for more like one day a week (Saturday), but the hard limit has made it easier for me to say no, and I lose less time to drinking and being hungover. In the first week or two I fell into the obvious trap of "making the most" of my drinking days, but now it's levelled out and I am definitely drinking less.

Easy job for decent people

I essentially work for private sector people who believe in the power of business to do good. I am more interested in how you make the private sector less powerful, and how you rewire enterprise to force businesses to do good (e.g. social enterprises, co-ops, B Corps - creating a legal obligation to deliver social outcomes).

So I probably won't stay around forever, but I'm working with people who are broadly on the same side, and the mood music of the office is all about celebrating shit like microfinance, ethical investment, big corporations doing cool, vaguely socially progressive things etc. And the work is basically quite easy and almost entirely self-directed.

Also, it's only just occurred to me that there's a really obvious link between my academic interest (object-oriented cultural democracy, pub preservation and community ownership) and my comms work interests (social enterprises, co-ops, non-profits - essentially what happens to pubs when people successfully preserve them). So this will hopefully give me a bit of direction in developing my "Plan B" career (comms) alongside my "Plan A" career of academia.

Progress on other fronts:

Tai Chi / Taoism

I've re-taught myself the Chen style 18 form and do this around three mornings a week on an outdoor tennis court at the Recreation Ground. Aiming for six mornings a week. It's annoying not to have a teacher but I don't have much choice in Bath, no-one teaches Chen style. Still reading Taoist texts regularly, usually when I come home for lunch.


Jess works Sundays till 10.30pm and I used to get bored and end up in the pub. Now I go to my mum's house, watch the Sunday Politics and work on the tapestry - I keep it up there in a frame. It's like 5% complete, it will take me forever but I'm enjoying it. Good to have my mum there to give me tips e.g. start with the boldest colours and do the white thread last.

Spoiler alert: the finished product. So far I've done almost all of the red thread.


I've been dragging my feet on this, partially because of the costs - I was supposed to do my first brew last Saturday but I'm missing a brew pot. Next payday I'll order one online (they're about £45) and then book something in the diary. Part of the problem is that I've already decided that I'd rather make cider, but I've already spent £120 on beer stuff. Obviously I can do both!

just need one of these

Reading Japanese novels

I finished Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetralogy - holy shit. I needed a bit of a breather after that so I've read stuff like Dave Eggers' The Circle, will read some Miranda July and some novels a friend got us as a wedding present next. Also I've picked up the academic reading so novels have been crowded out a bit. But in the New Year, I think I'll go back and read Kawabata. I miss the feeling of being connected to deep underground lakes.


I've been making fragments of music and sharing them online with my old guitarist. He has a baby so hasn't got round to looking at them yet, but it's an enjoyable process to pick up a guitar and write stuff. If he ends up not being able to work on it, I might join the local samba guys. Ultimately I don't really like making music alone.

Home fermentation

Still make sauerkraut on a regular basis, it's just a normal part of my life now. Haven't pushed on to kimchi or other things so far. Happy in my sauerkraut groove.


I'm about halfway through Bruno Latour's back catalogue and am taking proper notes etc. Loving it, nothing calms my mind more. Possibly because I work in PR, I have come to think of academia as the "real world" and the everyday world as the "unreal / bullshit world". Thinking hard about stuff because I really want to understand it gives me the same kind of endorphin rush I get from exercise.

Once I've read him and Antoine Hennion (sociology of taste), I'm going to start planning a "popular academic" blog on the sociology of pubs and beer. Probably get that going around April or May. I think the blog will be a good way of imposing discipline and will also serve as a calling card when I eventually seek PhD funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (or possibly the Arts and Humanities Research Council, or CAMRA, or English Heritage etc etc).

Essentially it will be a proto-literature review, doing 300-400 words on how different sociological perspectives could be applied to pubs - where they sit within the academy. I also want to do some light-hearted research tasks like a taxonomy of online opinions about pub preservation, and testing whether people are more likely to say "thank you" when leaving a pub if it's a free house as opposed to a tied house.


Hmm. Working on the football takeover ticked this box for a while. I was then going to do a TEFL and teach immigrants, but I can't afford that for now - will probably take it next autumn.

Since then I've offered my services to the local co-op pub and the Women's Equality Party (of which I am a founding member - I went to their launch in Bath and I just couldn't not join). I also plan to join the Historic Pubs group of the local CAMRA branch, to support my academic goals. And I've been invited through work to take part in a local group of charity people, a kind of think tank or something.

Was tempted to sign up to be a National Trust volunteer - one day a week physical labour building stone walls etc. But that would be really miserable in bad weather. Need to think more about this in the New Year.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

18 Form

This is the form that I'm rocking these days, mostly from memory, down in the Rec before work:

I think I've mentioned it before - it's a shorter, more compact form that I think I could eventually rebrand and sell to goal-oriented Westerners. Doing it mostly from memory / video at the moment though, which is annoying, I miss classes but there's no Chen style in Bath.

My tapestry is finally in a frame and ready to go. I've started to go to my mum's house on Sundays when Jess is working. Otherwise I just go to the pub all day.

Nearing the end of Yukio Mishima's Sea of Fertility tetralogy - I repeat my recommendation for this.

Jess and I (mostly Jess) organised this exhibition:

My coffee's ready, I have to go.

Monday, 6 July 2015

I flew on a Dreamliner

It's a new kind of plane.

Virgin Atlantic VS001 from Heathrow to Newark Airport. My grandfather died after a short illness - he had been suffering from dementia for two years - and I bought an incredibly expensive ticket to go to his funeral in New Jersey.

On planes they now let you watch the TV even when the plane is landing and taking off. I can get a little nervous right at the end of a flight as the plane descends so I listened to 'Thunder Road' as we came down over baseball diamonds and water towers.

Me and my cousins

I don't have any photos from the trip - my phone died on the way out and I didn't bother recharging it. I didn't do much, just hung around eating lots of food and watching TV. In America people send gift cards for food delivery to your house if someone dies. My favourite were the fruit bouquets:

I ate so much fucking food. There was nothing else to do.

It was nice hanging out with my cousins although it made me feel old in a new way. I have 15 of them on my mother's side, there is a cluster of them between the ages of 15-22. I could tell that I'd definitely switched to being considered an "old person". It took a few days to really break the ice with them - they are all really close, they have their own stuff going on. Also I've run out of "story", temporarily at least - my next story will be having kids, as far as the family is concerned. The younger ones have all of these potential stories ahead of them. People's careers are basically tedious by the time you get to your mid-30s, unless you do something really radical.

I'd like to move back to New Jersey, but not really.


Most of my family are observant Catholics, except for one aunt who is evangelical and one who is a practising Buddhist. My mum has got pretty heavily into it in the last few years as well.

I grew up a Methodist-inflected atheist and have had little exposure to American Catholic traditions. I felt something like an anthropologist during the wake and funeral, observing some strange exotic tribe. The wake was the day before the funeral, on Friday. My grandfather was laid out in an open casket in a room with muted decor and piped organ music. I had never seen a dead body before. We stood and sat around that room from 2pm to 4pm while even more second cousins and friends came to pay respects. For many this involved literally kneeling in front of the body and praying. Otherwise we just stood around and made small talk. At one point I had to go get a coffee just to take a break.

the funeral home in Woodbridge, NJ

Then we went to a restaurant and ate banquet-style on long tables. I can't go into normal American restaurants now without thinking about Ramsay's Kitchen Nightmares. There was a hilariously overworked waitress in her 50s serving us, with a real New Jersey accent. "Be a dear and count how many people are here". We ate a 5-course Italian meal and then headed back to the funeral home (in Woodbridge, New Jersey) for the second viewing. This is for people who had been working. It went from 7pm to 9pm. My brother then drove us back one hour in the rain to Bedminster, New Jersey, where we were staying with my eldest uncle on my father's side. I had a can of Bud Light with my brother and my cousin Lorraine and watched the late night talk shows.

The next day we got up early and went back to the funeral home. This was the most emotional part of the experience. My uncle, who is a priest, said a final prayer and each immediate family member went to the casket to say goodbye (I did not, I hovered near my mother). Then they closed the casket.

The six eldest grandsons had been chosen as pallbearers (I am the eldest). The funeral home people talked us through it. First the coffin was wheeled on a gurney to the hearse, all of us placing our hands on it. Then we lifted it into the hearse. It was really fucking heavy. 

it wasn't all of these steps, just ones at the very top - there's a driveway you can't see

Then we drove in separate cars to the church. It was 9am. The pallbearers went to the hearse and slowly rolled the coffin out on rollers. I was at the front right, gripping it with two hands. We held the coffin at waist height, not on our shoulders. We rotated 90 degrees and walked up the steps of the church. Once inside we placed it on the gurney. After the service we did the same in reverse.

The service focused a lot on my grandfather's strong Catholic faith and how he imparted this on his family (as well as more traditional elements of a eulogy). My cousin who is an opera singer sang all of the hymns - it wasn't a singalong like in Protestant churches. Most people took communion. 

After this came the repast - I guess what in the UK would be called the wake? We went to a very tired-looking function room type place and had brunch. Do you know those function rooms that smell of gas from the little heater things? Like the breakfast room in a hotel or B&B?

The brunch made no concession to the idea that brunch food should be somewhere between a breakfast and a lunch. It was a lot of breakfast food and then a lot of lunch food. I basically ate two meals in one sitting. People started to lighten up towards the end. The cousins were playing with the really young cousins under a table in the corner of the room. Everyone eventually gravitated towards it, onto the 'dancefloor' section. They took a bunch of pictures - my grandfather had ten children and they are rarely all together.

After this we drove back to my maternal uncle's house, where my grandmother now lives. I picked up a case of Yuengling Lager, my grandfather's favourite beer. We sat around and ate, took a nap on the big American black leather sofas, watched 22 Jump Street, played a parlour game and then my brother drove us back to Bedminster again.

New York City

The next day I went to the East Village with my cousin Lorraine, saw Ian McKellen and Derek Jacobi in the Pride Parade, ate some Basque food in a place I saw on Time Out "Cheap Eats" but somehow spent $85 and was still hungry, ate some dumplings in cheap and good Chinese dumpling shop with lots of passive-aggressive signs on the wall about the queuing system and how the takeaway would inevitably not be as good as eating in because it would cool and congeal ("food chemistry we can do nothing about") so please don't leave negative reviews online unless you've tried the noodles first within 15mins of receiving them, went to a craft beer bar and drank a lot of good craft beer, went to another bar where I spoke to a lesbian pilot about music theory and bass guitar and was fake-congratulated by a gay man for being married ("security!"), then I was at Penn Station having a beer and a slice, then I was at the airport, unable to finish a Palm in the airport bar while trying to get interested in the Copa America semi-final, then on the Dreamliner, asleep.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Catching my breath

Hello - everything is different since last post.


I have a new job that I really enjoy. I only have to work three days a week there. It is a brand agency that suffered a midlife crisis and is now trying to only do good things. I am doing their comms, so it is essentially an in-house role i.e. no dealing with clients. They are all nice people and sometimes a little dog comes to the office and I can play with it. The offices are 5mins away from my flat.

the street where I work


My entire life since January 2 has been consumed by my involvement in a community buyout of the local football club. This has been worthwhile in many respects - I am now friends with an extremely famous British film director, for instance, and will soon get to meet a cult figure in football management at our prospectus launch event - but has clouded out everything else and created an enormous amount of stress, to the point of being physically debilitating, from worrying about the responsibilities. A doctor actually prescribed me beta-blockers to deal with late-night panic attacks - ever taken these? They literally slow down your heart and you can't feel your legs. However I have 'given notice' and will stop working for the bid Tuesday next. At this point I'll have time to really get myself on track.

potential new friend

Not that things are bad now, things are good, just a little bit day-to-day. I like a nice weekly routine and am building towards it. I work three days a week and yet don't seem to get much out of the spare time - haven't made sauerkraut for ages! Once the football thing is over I'll get back to work on the important stuff - sort out the tai chi (not going to the guy in Bristol anymore, it's too far), tapestry, brewing etc. I'll probably do more blogging.


It's a lovely town really. I've figured out a good circular walk that takes about an hour and half. I used to walk for hours each day in London and I can now scientifically confirm that it was keeping the weight off.

I like being closer to nature. I mean look at this picture. This is Lansdown Crescent, part of my walk. Those are SHEEP in the foreground. We have sheep just wandering around here.

The canal is great for walking as well. We're looking after our friends' houseboat from tomorrow until Thursday, pretty psyched. Then on Thursday we're going to the Royal Bath & West Show, which I predict will be fucking sick.


Without anyone really encouraging me, without having read about it in the Guardian or on a cool website, I have ended up actually genuinely preferring scrumpy farmhouse cider ('real cider' in CAMRA parlance) to normal cider brands like Thatchers or Stowford Press. The gateway was Honey's Midford Cider, which is made near my mum's house. It had a clean design on the pump clip and had an 'accessible' taste. It also made me feel like I was on drugs - specifically, codeine, which I starting taking in 2010 after getting really bad back pain, and then used the leftover tablets to treat hangovers. It's a warm, fuzzy, "everything is right in the world" feeling. 

Then my mate Rory, who lives in a camper van, came to live in the West Country for a bit. He has no money so we got into a routine of getting into the camper van on a Friday night, driving to a farm shop and buying loads of cider, poured into plastic milk bottles straight from the barrel. We would then park up in some field or another and drink cider, cook farm shop sausages and play charades. I should really do a whole post about Rory and his camper van, it's a thing of beauty. We're camping at Bath & West in it. If you have instagram look up 'seasidechancer' and follow his adventures, I'm in a lot of them.

But anyway the interesting point is that different ciders affect you in different ways. There is a notorious local scrumpy called "Cheddar Valley" that makes people violent. We also found from experience that "Black Rat" cider makes you a bit 'chopsy' as we say here - not violent, but a bit snappy and wired - and then gives you not just a hangover but also a full-blown comedown that can last up to two days. I can however recommend "Black Bat" cider which puts you in a cheerful mood, with little after effects. The hangovers don't tend to be too bad, possibly because of the lack of preservatives. I mean this is folk science here, this entire paragraph is probably bollocks but, you know, 'knowledges' and all that.

I don't know who these people are, this is just a generic shot of the sort of farm shop we go to. You can see the plastic bottles stacked by the barrels. I have actually tried the "Kingston Black" cider on the far right barrel. You can really taste the peel in that one.

I was in the Bell Inn on my own on a Sunday (Jess works on Sundays) and I tried to buy a pint of normal cider. The barmaid looked me up and down and asked me if I liked real cider - they had some in the back. People can actually tell that I like scrumpy just by looking at me.

Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Update from Laura Place

Hi all, just made some sauerkraut, first batch in my new place, thought I'd give you a quick update, interspersed with videos to maintain your interest.

Tai Chi / Taoism / Scholarship

Tai Chi is going well, really like the teacher. First whitey I've had teach me for any serious length of time, and he's really good - funny, likeable, focuses a lot on basics, not a hippy though. Encourages a lot of class interaction, the 90mins flies by. Good lad. Plenty of space to practice at home as well, that's always an issue. This video is what I'll be learning - believe it or not, I have actually learnt this and forgotten it, I used to do this in Hong Kong all the time after work, getting bitten by mosquitos and shit:

I have a little man bag that I take to and from work. On the way out, I read Taoist texts and contemplate the scenery. On the way back it's dark so I play Mario Kart on my Nintendo DS.

As far as scholarship goes, I've just started reading Latour's We Have Never Been Modern. Enjoying it so far! Will probably take about a year to read his complete works, then I'll start working on a PhD proposal - no rush to start it, but I want to continue acting as though I am an academic even if I don't take my PhD until my 50s or 60s.


Fucking awful, spacesuit couldn't really take it. Terrible cultural fit generally and one manager is particularly toxic. Found out that the last two PR hires left after two months! I expected it to be like Hot Fuzz, i.e. that it would all be very amateur and the work really 'local' and pointless, but that everyone would at least be chilled out and self-aware. Not so much.

Anyway I won't bother with details, but I'm already starting to apply for other stuff - this time, outside of the private sector. It was just getting to me too much, but as soon as I decided to start applying for other stuff, the anxiety lifted and I can face going into work again. I also watch sumo at my desk after the boss leaves for the day. Go to 6:55 for today's best bout:

Tapestry / Brewing / Music / Reading

Tapestry being held up by equipment issue, I need to get a frame off my mum. Bought my brewing kit! Need to just research a little to make sure I don't fuck up the first brew, or at least, don't give away mistakes cheaply. And buy a big pan. Turns out my neighbour is a professional brewer with the Wild Beer company, which could be helpful.

Haven't set up music recording kit yet but have been writing songs in my head - seeing my guitarist on the weekend to talk about what he wants to do, have kind of been waiting for that before pressing forward. Still reading Runaway Horses by Mishima, and also have been watching Civilisation on DVD again.

I started to worry about being behind with various projects but then I thought 'fuck it', I'm basically just rolling along until Christmas, rolling like along the bottom of the sea when a wave knocks you over and the waves that come behind it keep rolling you, underwater but towards the beach... I have two weeks off from Dec 19th to sit up on the shore and shake the saltwater out of my ears, no problem!

Thursday, 16 October 2014

We have a new place

It's Laura Place, about 300m down the street from where I first moved to in Bath in 1988:

Haven't actually seen it yet, Jess did the deal, moving in Sunday. Come visit!

Best thing is that it's near the Holburne Museum, which I used to hate as a kid but like now. It's just some colonial dude's collection but there's some fun stuff. Al was writing in his award-winning Yorkshire blog about the appeal of small museums, this is one of those - there are some genuinely terrible paintings where the artist has gone back and changed the head, or added a child to a family portrait, which is interesting from a social history perspective.

They also have some good Imari porcelain - stuff made in Arita, Japan for the European market and exported via the port of Imari, hence the name. There are also really bad renderings of Western paintings onto custom-ordered porcelain plates where the Japanese artists have become flummoxed by different artistic traditions of perspective etc. The V&A would have quite understandably binned them for space reasons, so I wouldn't have learned that fact.

I don't have a complete understanding but there's some interesting stuff about how the fortunes of Imari porcelain rose and fell because of economic and technological factors: first the Chinese got their act together and started trading internationally again, undercutting the Japanese, and then a factory in Meissen figured out the 'hard paste' technique that had been kept secret by the Chinese/Japanese - leading to situations where English porcelain makers were copying Japanese styles that had been 'Westernised' by the Japanese for export in the first place.

So yeah, let us buy some furniture and then come down!

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

First tapestry completed


Got this starter kit for my birthday just to learn the ropes - finished it over the weekend. It's as relaxing and enjoyable as I expected:

The next one is a "proper" one designed by Kaffe Fassett and manufactured by the Ehrman people.


Made way too much sauerkraut - it's going a bit dry in the fridge, two cabbages' worth. Using a smaller jar now. I tend to drain a completed sauerkraut batch and keep the brine for the next batch, if that makes sense - I don't eat it right from the fermenting jar.  Might need to rethink that if it goes dry. One good thing was, I used one white cabbage and one sweetheart cabbage, interesting flavour. I told my grandmother I was making a batch and she advised adding a few whole peppercorns.


Living at home is pretty good although I can't get a moment's peace. Just about managed to get through 20 pages of The Pasteurisation of France by Bruno Latour before my concentration was ruined for good and I decided to have a little blog instead. I read somewhere recently about silence being the most jealously guarded commodity of the rich, or something. Not anyone's fault, just thin walls and doors. I'm being very well looked after though, Jess is cooking every night and getting up at the same time as me (around 7.15am) to make me an egg on toast.

Jess is really enjoying her job at the Little Theatre in Bath so we've decided to find a flat here rather than Bristol - my office is right next to Bristol Temple Meads station so it's no problem - the commute in is actually really beautiful. 

Bath Spa to Bristol Temple Meads

The issue was really the money, it's £1500/yr (although we get 3% cashback with our new joint Santander account) but it's worth it for Jess' peace of mind - she's been juggling studying with all kinds of crazy jobs for three years now, when you get a good one that pays OK and doesn't take it out of you too much mentally, you have to keep it. 

They're all really nice there, it's a Picturehouse cinema but it's only part-owned and everyone there from the manager down hates the Picturehouse - Jess has been told off for trying to sell memberships, they genuinely thought she might be a spy from head office when she started there! So far I've seen Two Days and One Night, Pride and A Most Wanted Man and can recommend them all, especially Pride, which could have been terrible in a BBC/Richard Curtis/Guardian way but is actually very sensitively done.


Tai Chi starts tomorrow. Scoping out rehearsal studios in Bath to spend a few hours working on some songs - no hope of getting anything done here. Will buy basic brewing kit with first paycheck in October. Probably playing a little bit too much Minecraft. Drinking levels still too high but trending downwards. Spacesuit intact. More later.