Just another WordPress.com site

Latest

Barbarians at the gate

It’s a little-known fact that Robert E Howard (of Conan fame) invented the literary genre of Sword’n’Sorcery – or Heroic Fantasy if you prefer. As a keen young writer for the 1920s boy’s adventure magazines he tried his hand at any manly genre that he could sell a story in. You can try his collections here, of which I prefer his historical fiction during the Crusades. I’m not sure if he’d gotten hit hard at one of his regular fight club nights at the local meatpacking plant or was divinely inspired but he had a gem of an idea. Why not combine the historical actioneers of Sabatini and Dumas, tales of dashing derring do, with the supernatural horrors of Lovecraft and Stoker? The modern fantasy was born and Solomon Kane it’s first hero.

Great stories. A dour 16th Century English puritan swordfighting his way through Romania and Africa to right wrongs and bring death to evil doers.

“It hath been my duty in times past to ease various evil men of their lives – well, the Lord is my staff and my guide and methinks he hath delivered mine enemy into mine hands.” – Solomon Kane

As the genre gained popularity it finally produced it’s killer app – Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. I personally find the Tolkien brand much too beardy and verbose. It’s like the creation of an alternate universe with it’s own mythology has superceded the purpose of telling a crackingly good story. Once Tolkien tilled that soil we’ve had to put up with ham’n’eggers like Robert Jordan and the ilk producing multi-volume sagas without crossing out a single sentence in their life. Ah well, at least the occasional George R Martin and Brian Lumley dragged themselves above such dross.

But I digress. The most interesting side to LoTR is it’s real-world inspiration. Compare the map of Middle Earth with the real globe*

The Shire is middle England, probably Kent. Here dwell delightful little Hobbits who are blissfully unaware of the real dangers of the world. Major drama in the Shire is when the Sackville-Bagginses steal your best turnip before the Flower Show. The narrative arc of LoTR is three Shire natives being pulled into an adventure across Middle Earth where they eventually see the world for what it really is – very dangerous.

The Elvin paradise of Rivendell is Scandanavia, a last bastion of an elder race shrinking under outside pressure as the population seeks to escape West (to the USA). Like the real world place it is crumbling under outside assault and the great genetic lineage being corrupted and dying out. Heading south we get through Germany and France (Rohan) which are the industrial and cultural centres of Middle Earth where real men live until we get to the outer perimeter of the world of men, Gondor. The two towers are Israel and Istanbul, last outposts against the malignantly evil muslims orcs. From even further south (Africa) come the dark-skinned mercenary armies to aid evil against the Men.

Pretty striking parallels really. It’s no surprise in the movie that all the good guys have white skin and the bad guys are all dark orcs. When the Hobbits finally return to the Shire they feel alienated. They can’t unsee the world as it really is, they can’t go back to the blissful ignorance of little Englanders. They know that Hobbits can only live their rural ideal because the rangers patrol the hinterlands and a deadly struggle of border defence is raged thousands of miles away, completely out of the sight of those who chose not to know.

“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.” George Orwell.

Thus considered, LoTR is a prescient takedown of the progressive/liberal alliance that seeks to destroy England. The Islington socialists are Hobbits (and in Polly Townbee’s case, she really is dumpy and hairy) who willfully refuse to recognise the structures that need to be in place to insulate Western European civilisation against the barbarians at the gates. Like the Hobbits, they even mock the rangers that keep them safe, putting on airs and graces. I’ve travelled to Istanbul and personally witnessed the eddy and flow as the tides of Islam push against the frontier of civilisation. I’ve read the history of the crusades. I know about the siege of Vienna.

And thus I have undying respect and gratitude for those rough men that protect the life I hold dear. God Save The Queen.

* The point is even more obvious if you consider the first ever Heroic Fantasy kingdom by REH. Conan was born in Newcastle, near the Picts of Scotland. Aquilonia is France, Zingara is Spain, Stygia is Egypt, Kush is Nigeria, and so on out East.

Refilling the war chest

Over the past two years I’ve barely lifted a finger. I can’t remember what it’s like to wake up early and board a rush-hour Underground train with all the shambling grey men struggling to open their eyes, drained masculine women reading chic lit with tacky fluorescent cover art. The rat race is an odd thing, a wholly artificial creation.

Work hard, earn status increment, worry about year end bonus, pay tax…. year after year after year. That’s not for me.

Regular attendees at the Count’s table will be aware that I’ve lived the past two years all across God’s green earth. Like a campaigning army, this does require some funding. Smart men have control of both their top and bottom lines. On the expenses side I’ve pared things down, downshifted if you will, so that I can maintain my monthly rooms in London on just one day’s salary. I believe in simplicity. While jetsetting the world as a corporative executive I became accustomed to First Class long haul and five star hotels. It’s a pleasant way to live. If you fly on Saturday to begin work on Monday morning in a different timezone then you really do appreciate the comfort of a flat-reclining airplane bed and a room at the Tokyo Imperial or the Santiago Intercontinental. It rejuvenates the body as much as it pleases the ego.

I once sipped a whiskey in that chair

It’s also utterly unnecessary when you’ve remodelled your life to claim all your time as your own. The world doesn’t care if you fly a Singapore Airlines Airbus A380 or a cramped Ryanair jet. You can pick up a nice private apartment on Airbnb for £30 a day in most European countries thus relieving yourself of the £150+ burden a hotel will place upon you for a room you’ll barely see (Cervantes tip – Just buy a coffee in the lobby bar of the city’s best hotel and you’ll find yourself equally welcome to bask in classy surroundings as if you were a guest).

So now I live an almost spartan existence. Everything I own fits into a tiny storage unit, less than a double-bedroom’s worth. I no longer collect Stuff. I buy quality when it suits me and no more than I’ll need. The bottom line is small.

Still, I do require a topline so I recently made a decision between Plan A and Plan B. The former is the lifestyle of true geographical and financial independence acheived by earning passive income streams. I toyed with this idea but it’s not as easy as Tim Ferris makes out. I refuse to dabble in the murky world of affiliate marketing and selling of empty promises. Such nefarious behaviour would hurt my vibe and intrigue. Although I’m capital rich I see no good traditional investments in the stock market as I believe we are in the early stages of a decade-long depression. The market will shuffle sideways like the walking dead if not simply fall. So Plan A is out.

Fortunately I have a real career and great resume so Plan B is to contract three months a year and use the accumulated loot to live the lifestyle to which you see me accustomed for the other nine months. A perfect marriage of tax efficiency and retaining my mastery over my skill set. It was with this in mind I attended a recent job interview. I think I’ve only had two interviews my whole life where I didn’t get a job offer, so my spirits were high. Only 24 hours after sending recruitment agents my resume and I’m walking into exactly the kind of role I want at a rate 25% higher than target.

The frame is crucial. I don’t need to work and I don’t need the money. Although I’d like a job and this one interests me, it’s not my only option. That said, nobody wants to hire an inflexible egoist who has disappeared up his own arsehole with a frame so brittle he won’t allow any bend in it. All the interviewers really want to know are:

  • Can I do the job
  • Do I want to do the job
  • Am I the kind of person they’d like to spend time with

I like to enter every environment as the best-dressed person there. I respect men who have good aesthetic style, are physically fit, and carry themselves with appropriate professional decorum. I hold myself to these same standards. So I bought a new Saville Row style suit and had it tailored to perfection, and some Italian leather shoes. I feel good. A strong intitial presence.

God Save The Queen

My body language is a balance between alpha (cool guy, can’t be pushed around), sigma (independent) and beta (reliable, polite). I make good eye contact but don’t get into any eye challenge battles. Then I let them talk, let them invest, while I nod my head thoughtfully and make listening noises. I answer every question concisely. They try it on a little with frame control and trying to make me chase (e.g. “Your resume isn’t as strong as what we’d usually accept for this role”) which rolls off me without ever changing facial expression or knocking my voice off its politely formal tone. I show a little warmth and a smile where appropriate.

Within ten minutes they are selling me on why I should join. After half an hour as I walk out they are seeking to befriend me. It’s in the bag. As it should be – this is a company that meets all my requirements (professional, talented, flexible, high salary) for the type of work I like, and I tick all their boxes.

Funding is secured. The legend of Cervantes lives on.

Blogging Hiatus

Chaps, I’ve not really gotten round to posting in the past couple of months. A lot has been going on – starting work, busy with girls, travel etc. This blog is not dead. I fully intend to come back to it as soon as I can make some time.

Soviet life

It’s a little-known fact how much of Britain’s intelligentsia were either Soviet agents or outright apologists from the 1930s right up to the collapse of the Berlin Wall. For example Nye Bevin, one of the heros of the 1930s Labour Party, stood up in parliament to praise Stalin despite the Ukranian Holomodor having already been exposed. Trade Union leaders and party officials were often paid off by the KGB. Peace movements actively tried to leave Britain defenceless against Soviet invasion and the pivotal industrial actions were attempts to bring down British government and replace it with socialism.

Needless to say, the Left doesn’t like to talk about its squalid history.

An 18 year old boy who isn’t a socialist has no heart. A 30 year old man who is still a socialist has no brain.

I was something of a leftie in my teenager years, quite naturally. The experience in childhood of having all your primary needs met by others, being exempt from earning a living, and just left to focus your attentions on your personal development. By the time a child reaches adulthood he’s had years of free schooling, free healthcare, free lodgings, presents at Christmas… is it any surprise he is reticent to go into the big scary world and suddenly stand on his own two feet? An integral part of becoming a man is to cut the apron strings, undergo a rite of passage, and then make your own way in an unforgiving world. Socialism is a negation of manliness. Deep down in the Id, teenage socialism is a wish for the easy life of childhood to continue.

My socialism lasted until I paid tax. Nothing sours idealism like suddenly becoming one of the suckers who has to pay for it. I tend not to argue with socialists anymore because they simply can’t see the horrors it causes. Living in a leafy English suburb insulates you against it’s bleak crushing monotony and for all it’s faults, Britains constantly meddling socialists haven’t succeeded in destroying our social structures. Britain is still a nice place to live.

But when you travel you really feel socialism. The greatest cure for socialist idealism is to visit a former socialist country.

I was in Cuba earlier this year and it’s a festering shithole. There are remenants of prior glory everywhere in the colonial architecture, wide boulevards, monuments but it’s like a neutron bomb went off in 1959 and they haven’t been repaired since. Locals still fly around in 1950s american cars chugging with truck engines. The Havana city hall has unrepaired broken windows everywhere and many streets are full of beautifully made old town houses that have degenerated into hovels. Cuba is ruined by communism.

A few weeks ago I was visiting friends in Lithuania. Usually I set up rooms in the beautiful Old Town but I took a chance and booked an apartment in the Vilnius suburbs. Good grief, what an education that was. If the old town is the cultural centre, drawing in the more affluent and worldly Lithuanians, then my suburb is the normal life that remains, the average Lithuanian citizen. Miles and miles of decrepit tower blocks designed to a formula that had all the life knocked out of it. There’s no feeling of spontaneously evolving organic society here, just a pre-fabricated one-size-fits-all imposition where all the streets look the same. The country has recovered well from communism and attracted lots of foreign investment and free trade so this isn’t a Cuba-esque tale of woe. But I imagine thirty years ago these same suburbs would be bleak, hopeless, soul-sucking hellholes.

After the fight I looked like the other guy you should’ve seen

There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Ana’s that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands’ necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge. – Red Wind

Possibly the coolest modern First Edition collector’s book is a copy of Goldfinger signed by Ian Fleming to his friend Raymond Chandler. It recently sold for £40k and is now offered for double.

Fuck me. Epic cool.

Chandler is the king of hardboiled crime fiction, my favourite of the three subgenres* of detective novels. It always starts the same way with morose private investigator Philip Marlowe sitting in his office, feet on the desk and a quart of whiskey in the drawer. A shifty floosie comes in to ask for help without giving a straight account of herself and over the next 200 pages Marlowe dredges the cesspools of 1950s Los Angeles streetlife taking a few beatings, turning down a few come-ons, until gradually piecing together a mystery that would’ve been a whole lot simpler had his client just told what she knew.

There are few better writers of quips and comebacks than Chandler. The pages crackle with intensity.

“Tall, aren’t you?” she said. “I didn’t mean to be.” Her eyes rounded. She was puzzled. She was thinking. I could see, even on that short acquaintance, that thinking was always going to be a bother to her. – The Big Sleep

We sneered at each other across the desk for a moment. He sneered better than I did. – Farewell My Lovely

I hung up. It was a step in the right direction, but it didn’t go far enough. I ought to have locked the door and hid under the desk. – The Little Sister

When I read him I’m furiously commanding my subconscious to store and catalogue all the one-liners for future use in conversation. It’s futile. I’ve only ever used one, when being threatened on the phone – “If you listen carefully, you can hear my teeth chattering”.

The genre was mostly invented by Dashiel Hammett with his Continental Op short stories that have aged remarkably well. Hammet worked briefly for the Pinkertons as an operative and it’s likely where he picked up his sharp dialogue, unromantic colouring of people’s character, and the technical details of investigating. Thus his stories feel real. Where Chandler completed the picture was adding dry humour. Lately I’ve caught back up with the Hard Case Crime series which carries the banner into the current era. These paperbacks are pumped out once per month with new lurid covers. Unbelievable as it is to me, the editors seem to share an identical taste as I’ve never been disappointed in a single one of the fifty I’ve read so far.

I plan to read one book per week this year. It’s important to pursue your hobbies for the pure leisure of it, without a care for if you are advancing yourself in a self-development-y sense. So I’ll read the classics, I’ll read science and history, but I shall also read whatever I damn well please no matter how little it contributes to my ongoing project of knowledge accumulation.

A man shall have his fancies.

* The other two being Police Procedural exemplified by the likes of CSI, and Locked Room Puzzles exemplified by Agatha Christie. But that’s for a different post.

Immerse yourself

It’s Saturday afternoon in a quiet corner of London’s most peaceful borough. All week now unseasonably hot sunshine has roared down to assault the pasty skin of the natives (well, the few Londoners who were actually born in England). Yesterday I picnicked in Regents Park by the lake, nibbling on homemade sausage rolls brought by the fine young English filly I’ve been seeing lately. Today both Dante and I have patches of sunburn and a lazy demeanour.

We are lying in garden hammocks under the horse chesnut trees. It won’t be long till all the conkers have fallen to the grass and we can begin the annual house conker competition. Dante is wearing a panama hat and making gin pahits. We’ve decided its 1935.

Recently I discovered a personal pattern in my hobbies to synchronise my media. Let’s imagine I’m reading a memoir of a South African mercenary, learning about life in the Liberian civil war. A good book is immersive and makes me want to experience more of the world the author is painting. What to do? Naturally I found a video game that closest represents the vibe (Far Cry 2) and listened to the music he casually mentions. Then I’ll dig around for movies of chaotic warzones in oppressively hot climate such as Apocalypse Now or Beast of War. This will often kick off a mini-cycle of interest until I’ve learned and felt alot more about this little corner of life. Then I move on.

Other examples:

  • Bioshock kicked off an art decor interest that had us listening to 1940s jazz, smoking cigars in dark lounges, reading old magazines and books such as Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead.
  • A few Hard Case Crime hardboiled novels switched me on to LA Noire, LA Confidential, and drinking neat whiskey in the middle of the day.

So right now Dantes is dipping into W. Somerset Maugham, an imperialist writer of the early 1900s who regals his audience with short stories of empire and the indolent, self-satisfied, interesting characters who always have an anecdote or two spare. Hence the panama hat and gin pahits. It’s sweltering hot now.

I fancy a game of billiards. Perhaps we’ll be bathed and dressed for seven, then a slap up meal at the Savoy and a rubber of bridge in Mayfair.

While I show you what a real man looks like….

Jobbers fascinate me.

Ok, back up. Hold on. Let me explain a jobber. And no I don’t mean a wet paper ball that you throw from the back of the classroom at the blackboard. As with everything in life, it can be explained by the concepts of professional wrestling…..

Let’s first break the kayfabe and acknowledge that inside the ring it is a co-operative activity in which two athletic performers act out a series of moves to progress towards a predetermined ending (called a “work”. On the rare occasions where no winner is planned, it’s a “shoot”). If you didn’t already know this, perhaps you’re reading the wrong blog. Professional wrestling companies are faced with a surprisingly intractable problem: how can you persuade large audiences to pay money to watch a contrived “fight” between two co-workers? It’s tough enough for boxing or MMA promoters to do that with real fights.

The answers are found in pantomine. The pro-wrestling industry structure blends together the lessons of travelling carnivals, pantomime, and soap opera so that you have four levels of show:

1. Weekly digest: Every week there is an edited highlights show broadcast on free-to-view television on a slot watched by children, such as the Saturday morning Superstars Of Wrestling I used to devour as a child. This is the “roper” (in hustler parlance) which draws a steady stream of new interested viewers and introduces them to the characters and the storylines. It’s always a few days after the event and teases more than it shows. This is so you upgrade to the…

2. Weekly live content: At least once a week on subscription cable is the standard show (WCW Nitro, WWE Smackdown etc) where all the wrestlers have normal matches and progress storylines (“feuds”). These shows are in themselves satisfying with full live matches and bring in revenue for the company (and likewise involve high costs to create steady new content). However, one thing you will never see is the matches you really want to see – the payoff bout between two stars that settles a feud. They’ll almost fight, often interrupting each-other’s matches with sneak attacks (“run ins”) or mouthing off until friends drag them away (“a pull apart”). This is because the 6 week storylines are all designed to naturally reach their climax at the….

3. Pay Per View event: This is the big moneyspinner that you’ve invested six weeks of your life anticipating so you can invite your friends around, crack open the beers, and enjoy four hours of highly scripted entertainment that is the pro-wrestling equivalent of a porno money-shot compilation in which all storylines are resolved, good triumphs over evil, and a clear champion is crowned.

That’s the 6-week structure to the industry and in the spaces between these TV programmes are the off-TV “house shows” which function like a rock band on tour, pulling in money from live gates and on-site merchandising. So we have a basic ecosystem in which free shows attract new viewers (without this the industry cannibalises itself like boxing did in the 1990s when all the stars went exclusively to PPV) and the subscription shows monetise them, with the PPVs creaming off the most-dedicated. In the 1980s it was common for performers to be wrestling six nights a week sometimes crossing timezones. A punishing schedule and the reason so few of them live beyond 50 years old after succumbing to a cocktail of drink, painkillers, and leisure drugs.

But what of the performer hierarchy?

Well, PPVs need heroes to bring in the money and we call them “babyfaces”. Think Hulk Hogan, Steve Austin. Most feuds involve a babyface being sneak-attacked by a viscious good-for-nothing (“heel”) until he decides to sort him out and restore karma to the world. The goodness of the babyface’s heroism is in direct proportion to the dastardliness of the heel’s villiany. This brings the most cheers (“pop”) when the hero openeth the can of whoop-ass.

Consider the problem – how do you prop up both the hero and the villian so both are credible opponents?

Enter the jobber.

Just as in professional boxing where a prospect can only advance to a TV-marketable 20-0 record if you have perenial losers willing to diminish their own records for a payday, in wrestling you have jobbers. A jobber is the opponent who agrees to lie down for (“put over”) the wrestler who is being pushed towards stardom. At the entry-level of the pro-wrestling TV food-chain that’s the anonymous little guy in dorky trunks who gets squashed by the famous guy on the Saturday morning show. All the stars feed on these jobbers to rack up wins and in the case of the heel, an aura of invincibility.

For one performer to win (and thus build his reputation) another must lose. If you keep having stars pair off in the weekly subscription shows then you can diminish one guy for every guy you elevate – which is bad for business. Hence pro wrestling relies on a steady stream of jobbers.

The unsung heroes of the industry.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 50 other followers