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If you could go back in time, where would you go (and why) #Backtothefutureday @History_hit

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This post is inspired by the following #backtothefutureday – what do you mean you haven’t seen Back to the Future? That pinnacle off 1980s film making – by Dan Snow on Twitter (@History_hit):

DanSnow

As soon as I read it, I knew exactly the places and times that I would go. Before I take you on a short tour of the history that I would visit, a quick note on time travel.

A lot of the responses Dan got were along the lines of: ‘I’d warn voters about the oil price crash following the Scottish Independence Referendum’; ‘I’d prevent the Great Wars’ (always amuses me describing them as ‘Great’, my Grandad fought in the Second and it wasn’t that great); ‘I’d kill Pol Pot.’ All tempting prospects, I will grant you, I’ve lost track of the number of times my wife and I have thought ‘If we could go back in time, get to the hospital sooner, would Tristan be with us today?’ Recent theories in theoretical physics have something to say about this.

In the Standard Model of Physics, Time Travel is allowed, at least in theory, if you create enough gravity you can force SpaceTime to bend back on itself and travel backwards in time along a Closed Time Curve (CTC), but inevitably you are going to run a high risk of creating paradoxes: banging your own Mum, killing your Dad etc these paradoxes, it is theorized, would lead to unfortunate things like the unmaking of the very universe, so not cool. For this reason it has always been suggested that Time Travel will always be impossible, even if technically possible. Stephen Hawkings famously threw a welcome party for time travellers on June 28, 2009, no one attended.

Last year, University of Queensland physicist Tim Ralph and PHD Student Martin Ringbauer proposed a new theory, that they partially tested suggesting that – as much as I understand it – Time has a built in anti-paradox mechanism born of Quantum Mechanics meaning you could go back in time, irrevocably change the past but return to the present to find nothing has changed. Any changes that you made, any paradoxes you create, may or may not endure in the multiverse but the present you will return to is the present you left. So there’s no killing Hitler (or your Dad), no banging your Mum to create the paradox of fathering yourself and, closer to home for me, no way to save Tristan’s life.

Kinda cool, huh? If you want to read more on that, here’s some further reading:

Nature: Communication – Experimentations in Closed Time Link Curves
Huffpo: New Time Travel Simulation May Resolve ‘Grandfather Paradox’

Anyway that’s not at all what this post is about, I just find it interesting. Here is, in Chronological order, the points of history that I would visit and why:

The Mystery of Potbelly Hill

In my earliest visit, I would take our time machine to the Southeastern Anatolia Region Turkey and the
rough period of 9130 BCE (Pre-pottery Neolithic A). On a mountain ridge rising out of a flat valley a group of Hunter-Gatherers are quarrying stone, huge quantities of stone. Why they are quarrying stone, what they used to quarry and why they began are not clear to us in 2015, but these hunter-gatherers will soon be using this stone to build a series of 20 stone circles consisting of at least 200 megaliths. I will drop in on these pioneers at 100 year intervals and watch the site become the first of religious sanctuary on the planet with successive generations continuing to build upon this site for 1000 years, until it is abandoned quite suddenly.

12 000 years after my first visit, the remains of this once mighty site will be uncovered by Klaus Schmidt and given the name Göbekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill). Since its discovery, the site has totally rewritten our understandings of when humanity moved from a more primitive hunter-gatherer existence towards society in a form that we can understand today. Excavations continue at the site and create far more questions than we have answers about its builders and the purpose of their building. You can read more about Göbekli Tepe here.

A meeting with the rubber people

Having left Turkey and the mysterious ruins of Göbekli Tepe, now buried by the very people who built and inhabited it for 1000 years, I would take our time machine to Central Mexico and the states that are now called Veracruz and Tabasco. Here, we find another culture closely related to the early hunter-gatherers that first established themselves in the region around 5000 BCE. We do not know what they called themselves but history has named them The Olmec, meaning Rubber People.

Often referred to as the mother culture of Pre-Columbian Central American peoples, everything you probably think came from the Maya – the concept of Zero; the Mesoamerican writing system; the Mesoamerican Ball Game; the Long Count Calendar (of 2012 conspiracy theory fame); and even the very building of pyramids – all originated with The Olmec.

It’s the pyramids that I’ve brought our time machine here to see, you see they simply don’t exist anymore, with the notable exception of La Venta in Tabasco. In the early 20th Century, oil was found in both states and our modern hunger for black gold would lead to the destruction of priceless archaeology and forever rob us of a more complete understanding of Olmec Culture.

I would walk the paths betweeen the first pyramids ever to be built in Central and South America and marvel at some of the finest artisans the world has ever known work their wares in precious Jades, Amethysts and Obsidians; take in a match of their insanely violent ballgame in one of the first stadia ever built for sport and follow them as drought and environmental change would force them to move from capital to capital abandoning their previous monuments, often ritually sacrifing the stone back to the earth in the process.

Finally, around 500 BCE, in the last days of the Olmec Culture, I would follow in the wake of their emissaries from the Olmec Heartland along their well trodden trade routes across Central and South America. Here I would bear witness as they continue to teach their advancements to the Maya, the Aztecs and cultures too numerous to name from Southern Mexico all the way through to the Brazilian Amazon.

Paying my respects to ‘Oriens’

Next for our travel through time, I would like to bring our time machine back to the UK and a Villa close to the Roman town of Mancetter about 1600 years ago. This one is different, closer to home, I’ve brought us here to pay my respects. We are here for the funeral of a Roman child.Couirtesy of Archaeology Warwickshire

A little girl, her name lost to history, embalmed using Frankincense and buried with the wealth of a noble lady. Laid to rest in a beautifully worked, lead-lined, coffin with jet bangles on her wrists beside the family villa where she had spent her short life. Her parents grieve beside her graveside, 1600 years separate us, their tears fall from my eyes. Their pain, is now my pain. Her name is Oriens.

I was there when Warwickshire County Council’s in-house Archaeology Team, Archaeology Warwickshire, opened the lead lining of her coffin for the first time in 1600 years. Filled with silt, all that remained of a child so loved: two jet bangles, a few teeth and some bone fragments, everything else lost to the acidic soil she was buried in. I remain very proud to have been involved in giving her the name Oriens and being able to help tell her story to the world.

I wonder if her parents would take some solace knowing that in 1600 years time their daughter would be remembered, that she would have a legacy stretching far beyond their own.

We won’t linger too long by the graveside, we have more to see…

Not all romance with Byron and the Shelleys in Switzerland and Italy

Next, I take our time machine to 1816 and the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. where we are going to hang out with one of my favourite poets, Lord Byron, and some very notable friends.

To say we are joining ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ Byron at an interesting time in his life would be an understatement and a half. Having been the darling of English literary scene since the publication of the first two parts of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812, Byron’s excessive lifestyle had finally caught up with him.

In the previous 6 months, He left/fled England following the rather public breakdown of his personal life. His wife Annabella had quite openly left him, taking away their daughter and was filing for a formal separation on the grounds that Byron was a lunatic who was involved in an incestuous relationship with his half sister Augusta Leigh with whom he was obsessed and that he had the unfortunate propensity for sticking his cock in anything that moved…all largely true. This is not even mentioning the fact he once tried to buy a 12 year old girl for £500. All these things came to a head, with his life imploding and debtors beating a path to his door, Byron decided a change of scenery was in order.

It was only a few months into his stay at Lake Geneva that Byron would meet and befriend fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – another one of my favorites – and Mary Godwin who would be soon to marry Shelley. At the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in June, Byron, the Shelley and Godwin with 2 companions were kept indoors across 3 whole days where they would entertain each other by reading out loud German ghost stories and composed their own. From this literary play, Mary Shelley would form the basis of her magnus opus, Frankenstein – A Modern Prometheus.

Byron rarely stopped still for long and I would follow him from Lake Geneva to Italy, where he would stay until 1823, fall in love with Armenian culture and write prolifically both poetry and none-fiction whilst having numerous affairs with married women in various cities across the country. I would be there when he founded the Liberal Newspaper with Leigh Hunt and Shelley and present at his debauched dinner parties before the dream ended with the death of Shelley in a boating accident in 1822. Two short years later Byron would also die.

This is one of my favorite Byron poems:

WHEN we two parted

In silence and tears,

Half broken-hearted

To sever for years,

Pale grew thy cheek and cold,

Colder thy kiss;

Truly that hour foretold

Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning

Sunk chill on my brow–

It felt like the warning

Of what I feel now.

Thy vows are all broken,

And light is thy fame:

I hear thy name spoken,

And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,

A knell to mine ear;

A shudder comes o’er me–

Why wert thou so dear?

They know not I knew thee,

Who knew thee too well:

Lond, long shall I rue thee,

Too deeply to tell.

I secret we met–

I silence I grieve,

That thy heart could forget,

Thy spirit deceive.

If I should meet thee

After long years,

How should I greet thee?

With silence and tears.

Sir Richard Francis Burton and the Hajj to Medina

From one legendary 19th Century shagger to another and now we take our time machine just a short jump forward to 1851 to join the company of one of my personal heroes: Sir Richard Francis Burton.

If there is ever want to feel like you haven’t perhaps done quite as much as you could with your life, take a look at what Sir Rich was known for: he was an explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He was known for his travels and explorations as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. According to some, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages. Yep, I definitely need to spend less time on social media.

I would join Burton on his most celebrated expedition, completing the Hajj to Mecca and Medina. Although Burton had spent 7 years in India and possessed a highly evolved and intricate knowledge of Muslim culture, this journey was best described as ‘batshit crazy’ even for him. At the time, few Westerners had ever completed the journey largely because if you were caught attempting to do so, even if by some miracle you could convince your captors that you were a devout Muslim they would, in all likelihood, kill you. Burton was an avowed atheist and despite being attacked by bandits en route, managed to complete the Hajj (affording him the right to bear the title Hajji) using a variety of disguises that would not have seemed out of place in a Baldrick ‘cunning plan’.

It is often noted by his biographers that on return from his Hajj and on rejoining the British Army, Burton took the examination to be an Arab Linguist…and failed.

I can highly recommend reading more about Sir Richard Burton and the wiki page is a decent start: Sir Richard Francis Burton  it reads like someone who just got carried away making things up about themselves, only the vast majority of facts about his life are all 100% verified by contemporaries and if anything Burton was known for understating his achievements – presumably just to avoid all other humans feeling inferior.

So I hope you enjoyed my little jaunt through history.

What about you? Where would you go in history and why?

Remember: If you don’t like these thoughts, stick around, I have others…

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Music to F**k to (Or Paul’s Rough Guide to Tricky)

26 Jul

I enjoy a lot of different music, but there are some artists and albums that I’ll always come back to. Tricky is most definitely one of these. I was first introduced to Tricky by my dear friend Will Snow, whilst we were at university and I’ve been a fanatic follower ever since (of Tricky not Will, the judges restraining order put paid to that). Actually, I just wrote that because it sounded funny, not sure (for legal reasons) I’ve been a fanatic follower of anything, but Tricky has always struck me as one of the most diverse and interesting characters kicking around the music industry over the last few decades.

Tricky is Bristol Born, though now LA-based, musician Adrian Thaws. He is often credited, along with Portishead, as being the founder of the Trip-hop genre of music to come out of Bristol in the 1990s. Tricky was part of the original Massive Attack line-up, under the name Tricky Kid, before leaving the group to release his first solo album, Maxinquaye, with vocalist and love interest, Martina Topley-Bird. Since that point, Tricky has released 9 studio albums and collaborated with a diverse range of artists from Nelly Furtado and Paul Oakenfold to the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Alanis Morissette. Randomly, he also appears in Paul Verhoeven’s The Fifth Element, a cameo almost as strange as his appearance on stage with Beyonce at her 2011 Glastonbury headline slot (not sure how/why that happened).

As for the name of this post? I was once drunk (I’m a liar, it’s been more than once) and asked by companions to describe the type of music that Tricky was. In one of my less articulate moments and without thought, my answer: it’s like, music to fuck to.

It’s kinda apt and it stuck. So, here’s my rough guide to Tricky and 10 tracks:

1995-98 The Martina Years

A lot of Tricky’s sexiest and by far the best music comes from this period. Maxinquaye (1995) Nearly God (1996) Pre-Millennial Tension (1996) and Angels with Dirty Faces (1998) can be listened to, in part, as an intimate account of the turbulent relationship between Tricky and Martina, which lurches from deep, soul-quenching satisfaction to icy contempt and hatred.

Martina Topley-Bird has one of the most outstanding voices I have ever heard, a haunting mix of scary strength and broken vulnerability. More often than not it is Martina who does the singing, while Tricky’s voice skulks in the background of tracks, gutturally growling the same words as Martina, but a moment out-of-time. The title of the first track that I’m going to share kinda speaks for itself, from Maxinquaye, Suffocated Love:

Also taken from Maxinquaye, Abbaon Fat Tracks, which contains the somewhat sinister lyrics: ‘I fuck you in the ass, just for a laugh/
With the quick speed, I’ll make your nose bleed’

Taken from Nearly God, You promised me ‘Poems’:

Taken from pre-millennial Tension, Makes Me Wanna Die is one of the most unsettling and yet beautiful songs that I have ever heard. At it’s core, it is simply Martina singing Tricky’s deepest and darkest feelings about her. There is no way you can tell that story and it sound anything other than horrific and it is, in a way, listening to it is uncomfortably voyeuristic but it still feels…Romantic and filled with longing:

From 1998’s Angel with Dirty Faces, the last studio album that Tricky worked on with Martina, the track Talk to Me (Angels with Dirty Faces). Interesting as Tricky’s and Martina’s vocals seem a lot more fragmented, mirroring the distance growing between them in reality, but this track is no less full of longing and lust:

1999 – Present: Post Martina Years

It can hardly come as much of a surprise that Tricky and Martina eventually parted company, both professionally and personally. Initially, music journalists were keen to write Tricky off, reasoning that they had always seen Tricky as a duo with Martina and no more Martina could only mean no more Tricky. This was not the case and in 1999, with relative unknown female vocalist Kioka Williams in tow, Tricky released his fifth studio album Juxtapose with credit to DJ Muggs and Grease.

Since juxtapose, tricky has found several other female muses for his dark love poems and released Blowback (2001), Vulnerable (2003), Knowle West Boy (2008) and Mixed Race (2010). While his output has continued to be adept, sexy, diverse and interesting, later offerings have fallen just short of earlier work featuring Martina Topley-Bird’s Vocals.

Here are some of my favourites:

If ever I accidentally pull my headphone jack out of my phone during my commute, treating my fellow bus passengers to my music, you can guarantee this track is playing. Very, very rude and best described as a 16 year adolescent’s fantasy, taken from Juxtapose, I like the Girls:

By Tricky’s standards, Blowback (2001) was intended to be a much happier album and it was hoped, thanks to some rather impressive collaborations and a more upbeat tone, it would get both more airtime and chart higher than his previous albums…it did not, but still has some brilliant track on it, my favourite being Evolution, Revolution Love:

In 2003, Tricky released Vulnerable which was titled such, by his own admission, because ‘it’s my most honest and open record. On this album, I’ve stopped hiding, and I’m allowing people to see different sides of the real me.’ Vocals throughout are provided by Italian Singer Costanza Francavilla, a long time fan of Tricky who approached the singer after a gig in Rome. Vulnerable remains one of my favourite albums and doesn’t contain anything that could reasonably be described as filler. My two favourite tracks, however are the cover of The Cure’s Lovecats, which Tricky skillfully makes sexier than the original and this track – Wait for God:

Tricky’s collaboration with Costanza only lasted for a single album and 2008’s Knowle West Boy was notable for not having the strong reliance on a female vocalist. The track Puppy Toy, the third single from the album, is pure sex-on-toast:

Tricky’s latest album, Mixed Race (2010), for this fan, is as close as Tricky has come to the sheer brilliance of Maxinquaye. Once again, there is no featured female vocalist; Tricky is fully out from the shadows, where he has lurked and stalked, for so many of his albums. My final track to share is Come to Me:

Listen to some more of my thoughts on music and the evocation of memory.

Well if you don’t like these thoughts, stick around, I have others.

Branches, Seagull, Infinite Storms, Lancelot and Guinevere

9 Jun

The Branch Snapped Off In the Infinite Storm

From these feet begin the unexplored land

Coiling upwards to assault the eyes that hold,

Made profound on account of this heart

Emptied of improbable diamonds

By sleepwalkers’ hands,

All buried at sea,

Eerie as the dreams of ghosts;

As my branch snapped off in the infinite

To seagull begging young is brought.

Downpour comes into my dreams

Yellowed hands and blackened feet;

Free-wheel circular flagstones

Rattle in the throat of night

Tie a sleeping mountain,

This silent body;

The downpour raves

Between your thighs,

Soliloquy of stones and water.

If you liked that one you can listen to it over on my Audioboo

Lancelot and Guinevere

Having an affair

Without ever being in between the sheets

Talk and talk, cross space between often,

But no nearer each other.

Give everything can

While frozen to a line,

The sword that lies in sleep; and watch what cannot

Touch, unspoken as intimacy grows.

It was Lancelot who was bound,

You’re Guinevere, who knows her knight

Is hooked; only she can change the rules

And take her forbidden body to his –

Did she drop a handkerchief or a straight hand to the groin?

Or was the first moment

Lips no longer talking, eyes no longer watching but blurring,

And hands holding onto this moment in another life,

Fate standing there with a new garment to slip on.

All before had been guarded

And reversible

Interchangeable

Dance of friendship,

All now irreversible

Time-chained,

Sequential path of lovers.

It isn’t only armies who burn boats

So that they have to stand and fight.

The gesture tests us,

There on the table is the matchbox we have fiddled and played with,

Emptied

Filled with talk.

OK Guinevere,

Strike a match.

Want to read more?

Go on, you know you do. Find more here:

Without You, I’d leave aborted poem-foetus on the doorsteps of random strangers

Two Poems – I am Parenthesis and Boredom

Without You, I’d leave aborted poem-foetus on the doorsteps of random strangers

6 Jun

MADNESS


We poets in our youth begin in gladness,

But thereof comes in the end despondency and madness

–          William Wordsworth

I am afraid to joyfully dig so deep
(Until the voices sing me to sleep)
But I am suddenly faced with choices
(I am aware of different voices)
At night, with the voices at their most bright
Slip into sleep, sheep into fright.
I feel the tightening of elastic,
Smell slow burn rubber,
Taste the word: ‘snap’
In sanity, like the sea, laps
At introvert, infidel shores
 Below me, madness hangs in stasis
Whilst, I dig around in gladness
Taste happiness and flee from trouble
Waiting to burst that bubble.

 A Song and A Dance

You make the atoms in my bones dance in their spaces

I shake, judder, like an express train. Believe me

The atoms in my bones are dancing in their spaces.

My insect heart, tiny life drumming

its fast metabolic rate in my ear. We couldn’t

make love. I would miss you by lifetimes.

Too quick for a courtship lasting centuries.

Broken down to atoms dancing in my bones by the look

in your eyes. Like the light at the birthing party for stars.

This is longing

Unfixed

As an explosion

Tearing

Through words like fire, breaking everything down

to shaking ash. We have to start at this collapse,

Inorganic

Lives without language – mountains and rivers,

coalescing before language creeps over like foliage

We carry our atoms like memories and when we meet

The atoms in my bones are dancing in their spaces,

Uncrowded by deliberation of slower things.

Two Poems – I am Parenthesis and Boredom

23 Nov

I’m currently working on a number of blog posts, unfortunately none of them are likely to be finished nor edited to the point of readability today. With this in mind I thought I’d use today’s post to share two of my poems with you.

The first poem is called I am Parenthesis and came out fully-formed one morning when I was a student. It forms part of a sonnet sequence, called Moments, which I started at University and have been adding to ever since, one sonnet for every year of my life and always written on the eve of my Birthday.

Moment 2: I am Parenthesis

I am parenthesis,

Curves drawn in freehand

That bend central (spine-like) to stand,

Yet contain nothing.

The sentence is grammatically correct

Without me,

I am an empty bonus.

Nothing

You are a palimpsest

A feint outline of something

I want to see, because

I am a cordon for nothing

And you almost exist,

So, I search to see

A part of you that fills me.

Ends

Quite Recently @Radiovicky recorded me this poem and I loved it! You can listen to her version amongst her Tinyvox Tapes

The Second poem is called Boredom and is a little bit surreal:

Boredom

Fluid inside fluidity

Smoke—distant—ejects lips

Spirals upwards

Wispy, white-on-blue—

You—

The entity observing this

Cease to be

Fluid inside fluidity

Becoming me—

Me—

The being writing this

No longer true

Fluid inside fluidity

Becoming you—

Thought melts through plaster spirals

You imagine were not there.

Floorboards creek to perceptions changing footing

Your eyes are closed, looking

At blue-prints

Tattooing leopard-print;

He escapes before you finish

Diminish? —

We dart with him

To the tranquil within

And there we are stopped—

The spirit adjusts the light of his soul,

Too bright;

Betraying hidden might.

He shades his whole,

Leaning his wasp gently against our leopard.

We prepare with lies,

Echo infant cries.

His mandibles trace possible patterns,

Lost and gone amongst lantern-light.

You incite

Silently,

Everything about yourself.

The spirit watches us leave,

Wishing us health.

I think that he will grieve

That this day we had course to leave,

Though I simply perceive—

Time elevates at rest

A room

Four, torn walls;

Carpet alive,

Mirror hive

Reflecting that within

Monsters eating at skin.

Place?

Why, of course, the face

Where they eat what is best,

Whilst time elevates at rest.

We found it impossible to be bored

When with that smoke we fully explored.

Ends

If you enjoyed these, you can hear me reading some more of my poetry over on my Audioboo:

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