Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Memory Fragments of Gen Con

Here it is as I remember it - a lot of this will be turgid or pointless to anyone who has gone to America, or who is American - so most of you.


Airports are bad, Manchester is even more of a glitzy pile of shameless shit-capitalism than any US airport I was in.

JFK is a city of people who are all going somwhere else.

Indianapolis Airport is the nicest.

The sky is actually bigger there, especially in Indiana.

The cab driver on the way to the hotel hung a dangly thing in front of his readout so that people can't see that he is bilking them. It was the most pathetic thing ever, I was going to tip him up to a round 40 anyway.

When I got to the hotel the told me they had fucked up the booking and asked if they could pay to put me somewhere else. My phone wasn't working and I was wasted from air travel. I knew I needed to meet Jacob and the only thing he knew was that it would be in this hotel, so I said no. They upgraded me to a 25th floor corner penthouse for free. If my phone had been working or I had been thinking rationally I would have probably agreed, and not got the Penthouse. I think the per-day cost of that room was something insane like 1,500 or 1,800. I paid 200-300.

Gen-Con is huge, then you realise that the room you are staring at is only one room of the Con, it spreads like a spiderweb of nerds into many of the major downtown buildings, linked by walkways and tunnels, you can cross a lot of Indianapolis without touching the street.

The cleaning staff in the posh rooms of the JW Marriott leave your toiletries in parallel lines, and they won't stop leaving new soap, even though you haven't used the old soap, so theoretically, over time, the suite could just fill up with soap.

I left as big a tip as I could for them but I suspect for that room its still a tiny tip so now they think I am a complete 'asshole'.

Americans say 'bathroom' not 'toilet'.

No-one serving food in the US understood my accent.

Indianapolis has an open Congressional Medal of Honour museum by an unfinished, now ornamental, canal. The museum plays a sad whistling song when people enter. This is not intended to be ironic.

I don't really know who anyone is.

The booth is you want to submit things to next years Ennies in person is at the far left of the hall, in the early 200's.

Indianapolis has a HUGE war memorial, mainly for the civil war. The lamp-posts alone have rings of writhing bears, spikes, alternating gorgonite faces with waving snakes I think? Eagles clutching shields and more radial spikes. In loops beneath the bronze eagles, real birds have nested and the techno-organic street-detritus droops down the almost-futurist Victorian bronze patriotism. (Do Americans say 'Victorian'?)

The monument itself has these massive, I think they are called bass-reliefs? made of broken guns, shattered spears and kindling, hung flags, wild horses bursting out from the centre like someone dropped a Horse Grenade, Buffalo Heads and glowering eagles and I am forgetting most of it.

Zak can appear from anywhere.

The popular audience for RPG's really likes the fucking 80's, and new versions of things they already know.

I still cannot process complex social events, crowds and/or loud noise without having an aspergers breakdown.

Jez Gordon has a warm embrace.

Charlotte Stokely has CHA 18.

If you walk into a State Museum of Modern Art with Zak Smith then yes, someone will say; aren't you Zak Smith?

Perhaps more surprisingly, if you walk into the Kurt Vonnegut Museum with Charlotte Stokely, someone (a hairy guy) will say; Charlotte Stokely, you are my hero.

Christian Kessler has Seen Too Much and seems kinda like an Elmore Leanord character.

Zak never seems to get tired but its almost like he has a Catalapsian Node like a Space Marine; one eye kinda half-closes and he gets a little mentally soggy, as if one half of his brain is shutting down, but he never actually stops.

Zak will make you do the; 'you Sir, do you like games? Do you like D&D?' but with him for some time, even though there is no-one else there to be either attracted or repulsed.

Raggi is still Raggi.

I have no idea who hates who in the Ennies Awards Hall. Apparently everyone hates at least someone, though I'm fucked if I can remember. It is a complex ever-shifting network of resentments.

Ron Edwards seemed nice. I'm not sure he has actually read anything I have written but he gave a good impression of generally knowing something non-specific about LotFP.

Apparently you have to 'play the game'.

I have no impulse control when playing D&D, to the detriment of my team.

I think maybe 3 or 4 women, total, bought copies of Veins of the Earth.

The medal-awarding little girls at the Ennies were very sweet and did their job well despite the strangeness of the situation.

If there is enough stuff in a room, its as if there was nothing in the room.

Indianapolis is based around Convention Culture, meaning that, depending on the time of year, they have their downtown area filled with; Nerds, Racing Fans, Firefighters, Football Players and Fans, and, amazingly; Mayors. Mayor-Con is held in Indianapolis and every mayor from the US goes there. So, depending on the season, the population of that area and the way it interacts is utterly unique.

You could do a pretty good crime show about the Cops who have to Police the 'Con-Town'.

There - I just named the show.

A midwestern waitress in a mid-range diner will do the whole 'well sure you will suger' thing exactly like off the movies. They really do that.

Almost every American I spoke to or dealt with was kind, helpful and tolerant. Almost every American I've told this to was wary and almost suspicious of the information, as if there were some danger of them being tricked.

On our last night, at the 'Red Roof Inn', Jacob Hurst and I saw a shirtless man in the night, leaning into a truck filled with broken mirror fragments. if he was larping Unknown Armies then he was doing it well.

It's possible that everyone in the less wealthy areas of the US is Larping Unknown Armies, it certainly seems as if they are.

The trip back with Condor/Thomas Cook, was SHIT - FUCK THOSE GUYS.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Gen Con

Shortly after I post this I will be off to Gen-Con. Arriving late on the 16th, unless I have fucked up the timing in the transfer in JFK, in which case I will be arriving later.


This is what I look like.




Rules for Approaching Me

  1. Draw your blade with your left hand and lock eyes.
  2. Perform the 9th ablution.
  3. Scatter Salt Before me in a diamond pattern. (Don't break eye contact while doing this.)
  4. As you close the distance, spin a quick 180 to reveal the specially created mask of St Aldhelm (NOT Anslem, too many people make that mistake) and speak his 66th Aenigmatica in Latin.

- I will leaving my laptop at home and using my Mobile to communicate. WhatsApp messages, emails and G+ messages will reach me soonest. Emails will be replied to in minimalist fashion. Texts and calls will cost me money. Reddit and Facebook messages will not be seen.

- No Gifts Please - I'm at my carry-on limit for luggage.

- My gender is the obvious one on sight. (Male). If you want to get funky with the pronouns I will probably just sigh and roll my eyes, I will not take any special offence.

- I am really bad with faces and names. It's highly likely that I will forget exactly who you are. This does not mean I don't value you as a person. If you are worried this has happened its ok for you to subtly weave your name into conversation in the manner of the first page of a 90's X-Men comic:

"So, Storm, who I've know for thirty years, how will we defeat the Sentinels?"

"I don't know Wolverine, who I've also known for thirty years, what about you Scott Summers, my other close personal friend, who some call Cyclops?"

- I have difficulty processing information in complex social situations (like parties) and large crowds so;
  • I will almost certainly have at least one meltdown.
  • If I'm feeling stressed out I will probably try to remove myself from a situation.
  • If you see me trying to remove myself from a situation, please do not follow me asking me why I am removing myself from the situation and trying to make me 'feel better'. I will come back when/if I am ready.
  • If you at any point tell me to 'cheer up' or remark on my visible social discontent, you will be destroyed with immediate orbital bombardment.

- I realise my haircut looks 'a bit fascist', it's just for comfort, and to suit the shape of my square head, not a political statement.

- I'm also probably going to be wearing a lot of black. Seriously, its to hide the sweat from my ripe and decaying body. Its not political.

- I do not want to hear about your political views.

- Regarding sitting in a big block at the Ennies; look you can sit wherever you like but if you are going to the awards ceremony in order to support me, and I don't think this is really necessary to say out loud with my audience but the atmosphere is currently somewhat heady so I am going to make it public and in print;

Treat everyone who gets an award, and everyone in the audience no matter who they are or what side of any internet argument they have been on, with civil respect. Nobody in the room should be made to feel unsafe. If I detect anything to the contrary amongst people who are there to support me, then, regardless of who you are, you will experience and very rapid, immediate forceful and unpleasant confrontation with me directly.

And you will have ruined the night. And nobody wants that do they?

Sunday, 13 August 2017

GETTING CUT IN BITS

Here is a terrible placeholder post where I left the bad spelling in becasue it amused me.

This is based on Zedeks post here -  and Richards comment about 'Partibility' not being a part of the D&D background CulturePool.

So here are some ideas for magical, 'Epic Level' heroes. The GodFighting types, and what happens to them if they die or if they just get sliced to bits, either by a Deamon or as part of a Glorious Sacrifice that Saves the World... Or just becasue they fucked up.



WIZZARD
A book - probably, and a magic animal, like a familiar.
Probably the book and the familiar have different intentions and try to influence their owners to do opposing things. "You have to stop this thing from happening/no you have to MAKE it happen!"
Probably all high Wizzards become frustrating dementia-addled horcruxes on their death and the old spells hang around like feral pets.


FIGHTER
An ever-burning fire, of RAAAAGE! / A magic Shield - maybe thats more Paladin.
A throne of SKULLS.
A majic sword obviously.
Or a loyal yet magic hound like Jake in Adventure Time or that one in the Silmariliiion.
The dog thing and loyal-but-basic-but-still cool animal friend theme would work well here.
Most of the more-practical warrior stuff would fit in well here. What happened to the soul of my 11th-level fighter? Oh a gods wearing him as a suit of armour now.
What I think of more as I play this is that it would be a good idea for a 'Primal' First-Age or Age of Heroes or even Neolithic or Biblical-style game. You could play a game in one of those eras in 5e, but with a low technology level. Then once all the characters die heroically fighting the gods, move to an early modern era with LotFP, so the low power level and grimness of the rules matches the 'fallen world' feel. Everyone feels weaker and less heroic. And the magic thingys the PCs have to find, and even the landscape they have to traverse, is made from their dead heroes from the previous game.
I can imagine a fighter so basic and brutal that one part of them is transformed into a hammer, for the maiming of nerds, and behold, their seperate part is ALSO a hammer, to do exactly the same thing - smash nerd face.


THEEF
A sneaky dimensional portal, one end is hidden and you have to be clever to find it, the other end keeps moving about but its usually in a rich guys bank vault, or somewhere else people don't want you to go.
A flock of creepy birds, like Rooks or Crows.
A secret interdimensional place, like a Tardis or that Harry Potter station.
A fast ship.
Oh god I just re-invented the Black Peal - NO.
A mask maybe? Or a lie? A particular lie that only exists because of this particular thief, and wherever the lie is, the spirit of the thief is also.


CLERICO
A fountain or something that heals the pure.
I feel like this has already been covered by well, every religion pretty much.
It would pretty much depend what god they were into. Something like a huge waterfall might work.
An ever-boiling storm or cyclone for the heavy-metal gods.
An ever-healing bush for the hippy gods.
Widsom fruit for the knowledge gods.


A CONAN
A big valley full of angry animals like dinosaurs because they were so badass when they died the world just crrraccked open and SAVAGERY came out.
Or a really ANGRY horse that is a mount for a god.
Or a fucking insane mountain with snow on top where you can SHOUT AT THE GODS.
Maybe the strength of a Barbarian could become a whole herd of MASSIVE animals like Buffalo, and the spirit could become a harsh north wind or something.
Snow and Biting Wind would be an appropriately Northern-Esque result.


REN-FAIRE
Oh god, I suppose a merry chuckling river or a cheeky monkey or something.
OR an ever-playing viola that can irritate the mildest heart.
Or a foolish dog.
Or maybe a pleasant forest where the 'music' is the wind in its branches?
Or a fucking BIRD.


GALAHAD
I'm thinking sombre protective ghost/magic defensive shield.
Like a Hornburg-style last-fortress. A last-defence-against-evil situation.
An eerie flat lake with strange shadows and possibly a sword-dispensing lady in it.
A Paladin turning into a magic lady and a sword on being bisected feels strangely right. The lady to carry the sword around myteriously, bestowing it on people and then turning up to take it back.
Or a promise. That would be an odd one. Whenever you swear in a certain way or on a certain idea, phrase or object, they are there somehow, incarnated in the oath, and the oath is only possible because of them.


WICKER-MAN GUY
SSSSUUUPPPPERRR.... TREEEEEEEEEEEE!
No forests on Flat Earth Wake UP.
Also maybe a big animal or a whole forest.
Really a druid should just retuuurn to naaaature. Probably become a breeze or grass or something.
Or literally turning into a stone circle, with each stone being a bone, or a place they dropped their blood, like Thors last-three-steps.



JET-LI-GUY
Shit, do you just become pure Chi-Force?
Oh you could actually become a punch, like a literal dragon-punch or Iron-Fist thing where now a new move exists in this reality and any time someone does this particular punch it CANNOT BE BLOCKED except by a defence thing that is also you.
So your chi (aptly enough) seperates into this perfect Yin/Yang thing, accessed through a particular martial form, which can only be countered by its other half. Which might be in the posession of your adopted brother who KILLED YOUR SENSAI.



A STRIDER
A Ranger is a hard one really. Less basic than a fighter but not as froofy as a Druid.
Probably something like a route, a safe journey that connects places and keeps travellers protected.
One part of Strider became the only safe path through the SkullFuck mountains, the other became the trading winds that carry us over the Awesome Sea.
A messanger figure would work as well, like a long-flying bird belonging to a God.



LOVECRAFT FANBOY
Anyone wanking off to Chthulu is going to get eaten by Chthulu. The only thing they should leave behind is a path of temptation and certain DOOM. Like a True Detective mystery or a rumour of perverse and uncontrolable power. The ruins and remains of each Warlock and Sorcerer provide the path of damnation for the next. So maybe the mystery itself is what is left behind, like a pervy Dan brown book. Embedded into the substance of reality itself, something that pulls you into a Ligotti Story.




Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Could you 'Dunkirk' a D&D Adventure?

Chris Nolans film 'Dunkirk' operates across three different but intersecting time periods.

The first is the soldier on the beach, whose story lasts a week.

The second the men in the boat, who's story lasts a day, the last day of the soldiers week.

The third the pilot in the aircraft, who’s story lasts an hour, the last hour of the last day of the soldiers week.

The film intercuts between all of these, transforming them into one story.

So you would need an event taking place across three interacting but generally separate zones of action.

It's difficult to think of anything more perfect than Land, Sea and Air. D&D has its planes of course, and that gives us the perfect method for introducing different time signatures because what could be more intuitive than the land of the Dead having slower time than, for instance, the Plane of Fire?

Lets say a battle on the border of the Plane of Shadow, involving skeletons and ghosts, with involvement from the Plane of Life, or whatever the equivalent of that is in D&D, something involving plants, Dryads, tree-people etc, then finally in the last hour the Plane of Fire comes into contact as the final decider.

And you would need necessary end of the events of the slower time-planes to be in some sense fixed, so that, by the point that the last (fastest) plane comes into action, its actions are still meaningful and will have some effect.

Then we come into the deep problem with all time-fiddly stuff and roleplaying - maintaining meaningful choice. But if the PCs were part of a larger conflict, relatively minor parts, not deciding heroes, then the general structure of the thing could be decided ahead of time and they could still make meaningful choices _inside_ that structure on their own scale of action. Then when we get to the end it turns out actually they were super-important.

So it would go;


  • Death World - Drones in a larger conflict
  • Plant World - Still kinda drones but at least they know more. Might do something useful.
  • Fire World - Actually super-important thank you very much.




So, off the top of my head; Bad Chaotic Death-Lord is besieging a mega-castle with a planar gateway inside, gonna lead his Skeleton Boyz into IRL. 'Good' Lawful Death-Lord is trying to stop him as the main job of being dead is staying dead.

Its a giant attritional WWI conflict with Skeletons digging trenches and huge war machines on each side. The bad guys are aiming for the PLANAR GATE. "If they reach it they will have access to all possible worlds, and be able to re-write history!" And it looks like the Good Guys are losing, or at least being pushed back.


So the scene sequencing might go...



ONE – INTROS

Death - Intro to the attritional Skeleton war PCs are drafted into. Oh gosh look how terrible it is and how fucked we are. The planar fortress has but a week to stand. Things are certainly happening on a GIGANTIC SCALE, in which we are but _drones_. We are certainly minor characters in _this_ conflict.

Plant - "Hey Plant Queen, is me/us those PC's. Remember your ancient agreement with that likeable Death Guy not to allow reality to get skullfucked by Skeleton ISIS? Well the Castle is a day away from falling and we need you help like now!"

Fire - PCs inform Burninating fire spirits about the Castle falling in like, an hour, and they set off for last-ditch special-forces intercept. Grab the PCs on the way there. Or maybe this is an explanation scene with the PCs begging for aid & trying to persuade them.




TWO - THE BIG PUSH

Death – In the middle of resisting a giant assault the PCs find out that those bad-guys are trying to hatch doom-vultures or something. looks like they will be ready in a week. Perhaps someone with initiative and imagination will decide to do something about that.

Plant - Plant Girls arrive at the start of the last day, another chance for a large-scale overview. Yes this does look utterly fucked. But it looks like someone brave has launched a last-minute counterattack towards that Giant Glowy thing which may be the Key To Victory so lets join in.

Fire - Fire Dudes flying about through space. Things at the Reality Castle look utterly, utterly fucked, some baddies virtually at the gate and the counter-attack against the  Big Glowy Thing has stalled with troops pinned down. Better help them out. Look out! Its goddamn Doom-Vultures! Luckily/Unluckily the PCs did/didn't do something about that.



THREE - GONDOR CALLS FOR AID

Death – It’s the last day & someone needs to run for help to the Plant World, maybe the PC's? "We're fucked here, go and call on the ancient Dryad Pact". PC's run off and hopefully end up in the Plant Scene from Section One.

Plant - 'I'm losing too many Root Sisters, go and call on my questionable half brother in the Fire Kingdom". "Go quickly, the castle falls in an hour!" PC's turn up in the Fire scene for section one.

Fire - Ah fuck from up here we can see they have a SUPERDEMON SUMMONING CRYSTAL. We can try to take it out but that would be CERTAIN DOOM. We are going to be extremely reserved and Macho about it.



FOUR - TIME CROSS

Death - It's the big push guys, we need to sally forth and try to take that Glowy Thing in the enemy lines. If we do that then we can win and if we don't, well slip below 50% on Rotten Tomatoes... Who will lead us out of the trenches - probably those dudes!

Plant- I think here Fire and Plant cross times? Maybe we see a fire dude fall out of the sky and have to try to rescue him? But will there be anyone left to rescue? And maybe it’s all pointless anyway? Gasp. Fight your way to the crash site!

Fire - The Fire Dude the PCs are being carried by falls out of the sky, probably blasted by that SUPER DEMON, they already know how long it’s going to take to be rescued as they did that in the last scene so they just need to hold in the impact crater, protecting this wounded guy, until the Plant People from the previous scene show up. Were they fast enough?



FIVE - CLIMAX - UNIFIED TIME

Death - We're nearly there! Despite heavy resistance we have almost reached the Big Glowy Thing, but what's this? A secret SUPER DEMON. If only we had some convenient allies. Gotta hold the line and hope help falls out of the sky.

Plant - We've (probably) rescued that downed Fire Guy, look, on that ridgeline, some familiar-seeming characters locked in battle with a SUPER DEMON - looks like they need some help. Lets go!

Fire - "I might have been shot down by those assholes but thanks to you guys saving me I can get you round the flanks of this battle. While the Skeleton Bros fight the SUPER DEMON and the Plant Girls take it in the side, I can get you to the Big Glowing Thing! And with my FIRE POWERS I can melt the shit out of it!"

Oh fuck its MAIN VILLAIN - right here, next to their Superweapon with everyone present in the same time signature!

And then it’s just a standard fight.


...........................................


I think the only way this is going to work is if the PCs split up, or if they maybe have dual or triple souls due to being actually-alive people and that means different parts of their souls can go to different parts of this fractured reality, like the multi-part souls of Ancient Egyptians, who based their beliefs on Arnold K's Centerra...

There is also the possibility of using D&Ds actually-different realities to have the battle happening across all three planes at the 'same time' but the times themselves are compressed depending on what level of reality they are coming from. Though that would be a challenge to conceive.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Aldhelm Drops the Motherfucking Mic


He wrote 99 riddles but the last one's long.

(Line breaks added by me for ease of reading.)


"The Maker, whose timeless columns lift the world,
The Lord of lands, with reined-in bolts unhurled
As towers turned in spacious skies, created
My multitudes on lands He generated.

I stay on watch (it never helped to doze),
But still I sleep as eyes abruptly close,
For while God rules the world as He propounds,
I too embrace all things beneath its bounds.

No one's more shy than I, nor fears ghosts more,
Though I stay bolder than a bristly boar.

No trophy-taker causes my defeat
Save God, who rules from His high airy seat.
More fragrant than ambrosial scents, (it's true!)
Emitted by a perfume, I can outdo
The scarlet roses, lilies from the yard
As well as, full of sweetness, whiffs of nard,
Though now I rot in filthy, reeking stool.

While God the Archer deigns, by right I rule
The universe beneath the highest star;
I grasp things, gross and graceful as they are.

Behold! I see God's secrets down through sky,
Yet under land foul Hell attracts my eye;
I lived before time, older than the Earth.

Behold! My mother's womb begets my birth,
More gorgeous than gold amulets that glitter,
More gross than thorns, more vile than low-tide litter.

Behold! I'm wider than the limits of Earth's lands,
Yet can be held within a person's hands;
Colder than gleaming frost and winter, though
In Vulcan's searing blazes I may glow.

No nectar on the plate is quite as sweet,
Nor wild gray wormwood quite as foul to eat.

Like hungry Cyclops, I am never sated,
But stripped of food I'd be no less elated.

More swift then eagles, hawks, or Zephyr's wings,
Gross worms, slugs, slow swamp turtles, and those things -
Black beetles spawned in putrid dung - outpace
Me faster than my talk about this race.

I'm heavier than lead - no counterweight
Of stone upon a scale could compensate - 
Lighter than down that makes pond-spiders sprint,
Tougher than flames that spew from bowels of flint
Or iron, softer than a kidney stew.

There are no ringlets on my head to do
Up my high brow with curls or fringe for show,
Though my style lets my forehead's tresses flow
More than a curling iron's crimp allows.

Look, I grow fatter than the greasy sows
With flesh they fill with beechnuts as they eat
While swineherds celebrate their plumper meat.

I'm drawn and pale; fierce hunger tortures me
While I'm deprived of meals of luxury.

I'm sheer. more clear than Titan's orb, I know;
When clouds shed fleece, I'm brighter than the snow,
Yet darker than a dungeons blackest glooms
And dismal spirits Tartarus subsumes.

I'm made with round, smooth form or, to be clear,
Like globes, stars' orbits or a crystal sphere,
And, on the other hand, I'm stretched and spread
Like Chinese silk for robes or slender thread.

Behold with words of wonder; I embrace
Beyond the worlds six zones that measure space.

No life persists below or over me
But God, whose Word controls totality.

I'm bigger than black whales in gleaming waves
And smaller than thin worms that bore through graves
Or motes that shimmering Apollo's glow.

Through lush field on a hundred feet I go,
Yet never trod ground on a walking trip;
This means my insight outstrips scholarship,
Though I have never learned books' precious signs
Or anything of syllables' designs.

I'm drier than a scorching summer sun,
Bedewed and drenched more than a rivers run,
More salty than an ocean wave that gleams;
I flow more freshly than Earth's crystal streams.

Adorned with countless kinds of colouration
That paint the present worlds configuration,
I'm wan and pale; no colour will remain.

Believers: note my words that seem arcane
(Which skilled speech teachers hardly could explain),
And yet no doubting reader thinks them lame.
I ask the windbag scholars for my name.

EXPLICIUNT ENIGMATA 
(THE RIDDLES END)"

From here

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

There's Probably No Pre-History?

I think the term 'Pre-History' should be changed to 'Pre-Record History' or maybe 'Inaccessible History'.

Why?


PART ONE - WHAT IS 'THE RECORD'?

Ok, so what can we agree is history? Let's go through it one-by-one.

Writing - if someone wrote something down and we can get it, especially they themselves were deliberately trying to record their own past, then everyone can agree that yes, this is definitely history.

This is kind of a shit definition since even people who would strongly defend it can probably think of things that are definitely history but that don't involve writing. But it’s also the clearest and most inarguable one that has the most consensus. Like, most people would agree that things other than a painting can be art, but everyone agrees that paintings are art.

Hugh Trevor-Roper, who was a bit of a dick, asked the question "Does Africa have a history?*", which is a typically dickish way of putting it since most people will immediately say "Yes of course Africa has a history, even the non-literate bits that didn't write anything down."

So there is something to examine here in the way we think about the validity of the record. If the subject we are talking about is near-modern people who were non-literate, or mainly non-literate, and who we interacted with in a creepy and colonialist way, pretty much everyone will be willing to say that group has a history, even if it’s unclear to us. We are assuming and accepting the existence of a history which is present but which we cannot directly perceive.

Whereas if we are talking about actual deep-history non-literate stone-age cultures, well we didn't colonise those people and we have no perceivable relationship with them so we are happier dumping them into 'pre-history', which is a slightly different mental category.

(And just to be clear, I don’t think it’s bad to have a ‘hard’ definition that might be unfair or limited in some way. The world needs hard definitions, without them things become a bit of a blur and people don’t even know what they are arguing over any more.)



Oral Stories - still the baseline of intra-person communication for most people on earth. Much more low-fidelity than writing but capable of doing some crazy stuff (Polynesian oceanic navigation, aboriginal Australian stories that seem to record deep-historical geological events). You can run a pretty damn complex society on oral transmission alone. Insanely and utterly near-impossible to ever get an accurate date out of them.



Big Stone Things - If someone spent a lot of time building something FUCKING MASSIVE like a pyramid or a coliseum, then even if it doesn’t have any writing on it, or if it does but we can't really understand what it says. Or if we have sweet fuck all about the exact and specific reasons that it exists (i.e. Stonehenge or anything Neolithic), we still never claim that it is anything except history. Because look at it; its huge and made of stone.


Pictures and Art - Ok but to what extent. So a European oil painting or a Mughal Miniature is history. Are those French cave-paintings history? Probably? How about a piece of bone with cross-hatch scratches and ochre marks? Mmaybe?

That brings us to;


Small Made Things that Probably Aren't Art - An Assyrian clay tablet with a bit of Gilgamesh on it must be history because that’s a thing, and writing, and the writing is itself about past events, making it double-history. History Plus. What about a Greek Cup with some gods and centaurs on it? Ok that's in. What about an unmarked clay cup but the tag on it says it was excavated from so-and-so level on such-a-date in the ruins of Mojinder-Daro? What about an unmarked clay cup? What about part of an unmarked clay cup? What about a single shard of worked clay, but you know where it came from?



Bodies - So a bunch of Iron Age bodies in a bog, with particular weapon wounds and forensically-identifiable damage so we can see that they have been in a battle and estimate the kinds of combat and weapons used; that's almost certainly history. I mean the wounds are a record of a precise series of events. Like words. So they must be history.

That guy that got frozen in ice with his hair and tattoos and whatever. That should be history probably? We can read the wear on his teeth, see the fractures in his bones that healed and puzzle over his tattoos.

Here's a question for you - at what point, from what origins, in what context and of what subject do a bunch of bones move from being a record of history to something other than that? When they are from an indeterminate person? When from a non-human hominid? A near-human hominid that could probably speak a bit?



Genetic History - So this is a very weird one. I suppose we can break it into two parts.

Analysing the Genetics of Old Bodies - This is almost certainly history. We can slot it in as an expansion of or improvement of forensic and cultural Archaeology. If we can look at tooth wear patterns and shards of iron in a wound then adding genetic knowledge to that seems reasonable.

Reading Our Genetic Book - The archaeology of our own bodies. So the ways in which this is like history is that its literally a code - information. An abstract piece of knowledge you can print out on a sheet and which says *only what it says*. Once recorded and understood, the information is the information.

The way in which it is unlike written history is that in using it to build an image of the past, we are creating this imaginary supposition, a winding webwork of descent and change which we try to overlay on, and adapt to, what we know from other sources. The way we interpret this is unlike other forms of historical analysis.






Part 2 -"PREHISTORY WAS JUST A BIG WASH OF PEOPLE BEING HUNTER-GATHERERS."

NO IT WAS NOT AND COULD NOT HAVE BEEN.

First- 

Look at the enormous cognitive, cultural and behavioural differences between people living at a stone-age level of technology in our formally-recorded history. By the standards of 'Pre-History', all these people are simply 'Hunter-Gatherers'.

Hugh Trevor-Roper said another interesting thing, which I've mainly forgotten; "It is not in how they get but how they spend that men show their nature*". Hunter-Gatherers might have done relatively similar things to get their living surplus but they spent that surplus in becoming radically culturally and maybe even cognitively different to each other.

I'm just going to assert at this point that the world had a greater diversity of culture and cognitive styles before the advent of civilisation, with a lower total population, than it did after, and that the growth of civilisation, which has raised the population level, has also reduced diversity of thought and experience.

And I'm not doing evidence because this has taken too long already, because I'm not smart or well-read enough to do it and because it would take years to really do it properly.

So, having blindly accepted that, we now know that 'pre-history' had a great diversity of particular and specific cultures, more than we have now. The societies and groups of that time had specific structures of authority and specific cultural desires. They wanted different things and saw the world in different ways. They had cause to co-operate and cause to compete, and did so in specific ways.


Second - 

There are no non-specific actions in the human past. 'Humanity' never left Africa, particular groups of humans did, and of those groups one particular group must have been the first, and that particular group must have had an authority structure; a way of making decisions. And that means there is a particular range of times and places you could go and see, directly, the decision structures that lead to humans leaving Africa.

You could tell a story about it about a particular group of people, and it would be a true story. We will never know what it was, but the information did exist at one point.

The same is true for every human migration in 'pre-history', humanity didn't cross the land-bridge to the Americas, specific people did, and moved to Australia, and, crucially, arrived in New Zeeland.

And its here that 'pre-history' which I think might not really exist, meets 'history', because no-one reading this is going to tell the Maori that they don't have a history, yet if we go purely by the technological and material record, the colonisation of New Zeeland by the Maori was 'pre-history' even though it happened in near-modern times.

The same with every technological development. 'Humanity' never discovered fire. Specific people did, and then many probably re-discovered it in many places, but these too were particular people. Same with flint knapping or building a particular kind of canoe. Nothing happens to Humanity, humans do things.

And our current global configuration, the way societies work and are laid out, is utterly dependant on these particular actions and decisions made by these particular people.



Part 3 - IS HISTORY THE RECORD? 

(or is History What Happened, regardless of whether we know it or not?)

If History is the record then, logically, we know all history at any particular time. Because we know what we know. We know everything in the record; that’s what history is. Therefore we know all history.

No-one accepts this as reasonable or true.

History cannot be defined simply as what has been recorded.

It might be more interesting and accurate to define it as a process. As the act of remembering, of contextualising and questioning and of searching for memory.

And, if we go back to the beginning, if Africa has a history (but we don't know what a lot of it was), then Pre-History also has a history.

The mistake we have made in thinking about the world is like having a photograph of something really important, and the photo being really blurry and out of focus, and then confidently stating that the events depicted in the photo are 'The Blurred Times'.

"Ah yes, the Blurred Age, things were terribly out of focus then you know. All a big wash of shapeless forms."

Except we know that for the people in those circumstances, things were not blurred. They were particular, individual, highly distinct and mutually consequential. It is accepting our own lack of knowledge about the time as a reasonable label about that time.

That is an insane thing to do.

If I have one central element to my argument its that we should stop accepting the idea of a 'Blurred Age' and instead think about the existence of a specific, unique and consequential series of events which we will never be able to fully access.

The difference between these two modes of thought might seem minor but it changes our moral and intellectual relationship to our own past and our own selves from something comfortable, superior, thoughtless and wrong to one inquiring, curious, humble, ignorant and right.

So there is no 'Pre-History', only 'Inaccessible History'.






Friday, 28 July 2017

John Amery - from 'Traitors' by Josh Ireland

I picked up this book in the Library and idly flipped to an interesting looking chapter.


What I found was rather remarkable. This is a rather long quote, almost the whole chapter, which I hope the author won't be offended by. But holy fuck it is one hell of a Chapter;



"By the age of two John Amery had been considered unteachable. Jack, as he was known to his family, was a promiscuous and unrelenting bully of every child he came into contact with, but was also liable to manifest bizarre and perplexing behaviour - such as arriving at school wearing an enormous necklace of highly coloured wooden beads stretching almost to his knees. At the first sign of trouble he could be relied on to run away. Amery started masturbating at five, as well as acquiring the habit of making obscene drawings of women with breasts. His piece de resistance was to scatter pictures of penises around his nursery for his nurse to find. It was as if he were determined to demonstrate the truth of the belief, held by many at the time, that the children were naturally evil.

At his predatory school, West Downs, he immediately caused anxiety. 'Ideas of right and wrong,' said his headmaster, Mr Tindall, 'seemed to mean nothing to him.' John Amery's behaviour was always shot through with profound strangeness: his sentences sometimes degenerating into nonsense verse, his thoughts subversive and out of kilter with those of everyone around him. he dressed like a tramp, rarely washing and horrifying his parents by sporting a broken-down hat with a large piece bitten out of it.

Amery followed in his fathers footsteps to Harrow, though he wasted little time before making an audacious flit to the Continent. After escaping through the skylight of the family home, equipped with his father's wallet and service revolver, he briefly held a French customs officer hostage at gunpoint. In the hastily scribbled not he left behind he explained that his aim was to make for Lausanne, where he would work as a mechanic (he had recently become consumed by a passion with cars, an enthusiasm that would never leave him). 'In the position of a garage hand', he said on his reluctant return to school, he 'would be his own master, would not be driver and need not do more than he liked'.

The next few years of the 1930's would be punctuated by similar outrages. On a trip to Norway Amery sold the overcoat of a guest at his hotel and used the proceeds to buy the telephonist a gift; another time he tried to stab a tutor who had attempted to force him to take a walk. When caught he either laughed or flew into a violent rage. Amery elevated refusing to show remorse to a point of principle: 'Only saps wait,' was the law he lived his life by.

Amery, who had always given the impression of being older than his years, would regularly escape Harrow to go to London clubs, including Mrs Kate Meyricks infamous '43' on Gerrard Street, and lost his virginity at fourteen. In desperation his parents sent him to a school for English boys in Switzerland. On his return he was found to have contracted syphilis, which he claimed to have caught prostituting himself to men.

Although Amery asserted that his formal education effectively ceased at the age of fifteen, he was nevertheless bright enough to secure a place at Oxford - which he promptly abandoned in favour of entering the more glamorous film world, with which he had become obsessed. His mentor was Reginald Fogwell (telegraph address: 'Attaboy, Piccy, London'), a director with a talent for raising cash to make expensive disasters. Aged eighteen and armed with what he has learned from Fogwell (which was not much; by all accounts he was ignorant of even the most basic cinematic techniques), and an ambition to become the youngest living film director, Amery set up a film company with his schoolfriend David Mure and a couple of other contemporaries. They were joined in the enterprise by 'Count' Johnston Noad, an adventurer who had gained some noteriety in the twenties racing speedboats but subsequently turned to scams and crime. Noad claimed to be the cousin of the King of Montenegro, married a woman sufficiently notorious in the underworld to hae earned the nickname the 'Black Orchid' and, on being convicted of fraud after the war, shared a cell in Wakefield Prison with the atomic spy Klaus Fuchs. Nonetheless, leo Amery laboured under the cruel misapprehension that his son's new friend would be a beneficent influence.

.....................................

(Amery promises a feature film, takes the money & doesn't deliver)

.....................................

The 'Jungle Skies' fiasco was probably his biggest disaster, but its combination of incompetence and almost delusional grandiosity, glued together with low deceit, was typical of his business ventures over the next few years. Attempts to resurrect his film career were interleaved with persistent drunkeness, sexual perversion, dalliances with petty crime (generally in tandem with the count) and the odd desultory attempts to live something approaching a conventional existence. Amery's life was one of furtive deals made in the corners of Mayfair nightclubs, diamonds that were only diamonds if you didn't look too closely, companies that folded almost as soon as they formed, dusty lock-ups filled with French liquor and perfume, bad cheques, bad faith and lies. He had become the kind of fur-coated playboy who drove around the West End in a Rolls Royce with gold fittings but still cadged a pound from waitresses to buy a round of drinks. He lied so much and so often that even those who considered themselves his friends called him the 'Rat'. Before he was twenty he had committed seventy four motoring offences, thinking nothing of stopping his car and leaving it in the middle of the road if he fancied a drink.

....................................

This period gave further evidence of John's mental instability. he was convinced he was in constant danger of violent assault. He remained fixated by his teddy bear, and developed an obsession with his overcoat. He was in the habit of buying an extra seat at the cinema or theatre for it and would refuse to stay in a hotel or restaurant if staff insisted on putting his overcoat in the cloakroom.

John did not recognise what passed for conventional morality in the thirties: he was grubby, dishonest, flashy and cruel, and laughed at the values held by his contemplates (the final straw at Harrow was not, as might be expected, his 'shop stealing, moral breakdown and unsatisfactory work', but his refusal to submit to the prescribed punishment for 'deliberately slacking at cricket' - he had walked a bye rather than run it). On one occasion he pulled a revolver on another driver after their cars had collided. When the other man complained and threatened to call the police, Amery replied, 'We are not ordinary people. You can't do anything to us.'

.......................................

.... he fell under the spell of charismatic French fascist leader called Jaques Doriot. 'Grand Jaques', the self-made son of a blacksmith and seamstress, is many of the things that Amery is not. He is big and strong, his shoulders are powerful. he exudes health and confidence, and loves fighting and women. Amery's new friend is a former communist who at one time looked set to assume leadership of the party in France, but was instead defeated in a power struggle. His response was to launch his own Partie Populaire Francaise (PFF), which rapidly veered towards the extreme right. Doriot's fascist beliefs, a contemporary claims, are just the same he held as a communist, but 'turned inside out'.

Amery finds Doriot and everything he represents irresistible. John discovers that his flesh has changed, that a set of beliefs has slid beneath his ribs and into his soul. It is all too tempting to conceive of John Amery's fascism as being of a piece with the moral squalor that had defined his existence up until this point. But he saw it as good and true. It was not pure - he could never have claimed to posses a coherent set of doctrinally sound beliefs - but it was undoubtedly sincere. His existence was so disordered, shameful and absurd that without this belief in something better, something that gave meaning to his life, his brief spell on the planet may well have been briefer still: long before his encounter with Albert Pierrepoint he would have choked in a pool of his own vomit, or met his end staring wildly in a back alley as a knife sliced through his throat.

Facism allowed John Amery to convince himself that perhaps the causes of his unhappiness and insecurity might be located outside himself - in the actions of the wicked Jews, the exploitative capitalists and the sclerotic governments. It expanded his world - providing a home for his inchoate sense of rage and resentment, his narcissist's desire to be acclaimed - at the same time as it shrank it by prescribing the narrow and rigid doctrines of anti-Semitism and authoritarianism."