Aug 2, 2018 at 1:11am

Stirchley Fields

I swear, this heatwave has made Birmingham look like it's in another country. Which I guess, climate-wise, it is.

Aug 1, 2018 at 8:48pm

The joy of successfully holding a rabbit

Every Wednesday morning, Fiona and/or I go to Fat Fluffs rabbit sanctuary to volunteer. We've occasionally helped with cleaning and such but this is a more role-based thing where we're doing health checks and being a more regular presence there. Today I was on my own and in the last hour was asked to show three teenagers, who were visiting on a school trip, how to pick up and handle rabbits. Their job was to collect a rabbit from its hutch, carry it to the office and place it on the scales. Pretty basic, except rabbits don't often like to be picked up.

The big difference between a rabbit and, say, a cat or dog, is a rabbit is a prey animal. It has evolved to avoid being caught, and if caught it will do its best not to be eaten. So if the rabbit has not been trained to deal with human contact they will see being picked up and carried to be akin to being snatched up by a hawk.

Which means I had to show these kids how to pick up a rabbit. Would you like to know how to pick up a rabbit?

The best practice way, as espoused by Mary Cotter in her classic series of videos with rabbit-mad Amy Sedaris, is to spend ages calming the rabbit before doing a special move. I have never managed to get this to work. Ever. And at the sanctuary, where there are a lot of rabbits some of whom are very skittish, it's not too practical.

I just found Hayley's guide which is closer to my technique but not quite what I do. Still, there's a lot of good stuff in there. I hadn't seen Hayley's videos before so will be spending some time with them.

My technique is as follows.

  • Decide which hand you want to hold the rabbit with. As I'm right-handed I want the rabbit to sit on my left.
  • I lift the rabbit gently with my right hand and manoeuvre it's arse into my left palm.
  • My right hand then moves up the rabbit, positioning it's forelegs and head in my left elbow. It has the option of burying it's head in there or looking around.
  • If the rabbit is calm I can hold it one handed, using my dominant hand to open doors, etc. If it is agitated I gently place my right hand around its chest like a seat-belt to prevent any leaps.
  • At all times the rabbit is held securely but gently. I don't put pressure on any fragile areas, like the spine. Ideally the rabbit is simple resting on my arm but if there's any pressure, to prevent scrabbling, it's on the limbs.

So I'm showing these teens how to pick up rabbits and the two girls get it immediately, because for some reason girls handling small animals is a normal thing in our society, but the boy is struggling. He dangles the bun like a cat, then he gets his hands confused. It's not going well. But then he gets it. He's picked up and is successfully carrying a rabbit. He's weighed the rabbit and picked it up again. He's returned it safely to the hutch.

He had such a smile.

I don't know why these kids come to the sanctuary to help out. Maybe it's a community badge for some CV-building school scheme. Maybe they're troubled kids who are being socialised themselves. I have no idea, nor do I need to know. But it felt really good to help that lad learn to do something so simple and so rewarding.

On my way out I said to Chloe, the boss of the Fluffs, that I just needed to say bye to my kids. "Your kids?" she said incredulously. Yeah, my kids. We'd been through a lot together.

If you're a friend of ours and would like to come along one Wednesday morning to help clean out the hutches, and in return cuddle some rabbits, let us know as there's always plenty to do there and space in the car.

Aug 1, 2018 at 1:24am

Spider Sunset

Taken on Kerry's allotment, where we have started having sunset chats. It is unsurprisingly quite hard to focus on a spider in a breeze.

Jul 31, 2018 at 3:05pm

Daisy Eris Campbell's guide to artmaking in a world of chaos

Circa 2001, when I was having a non-malignant cancerous growth removed from my face right next to my eye, which I'm only now realising could be seen as literally creating a Third Eye, I was reading The Illuminatus Trilogy. It's a big book so I read it in a lot of places, but the main place I remember reading it was a corridor at Birmingham Eye Hospital, waiting for an appointment with an eye specialist to see how they might cut what was essentially a root out of my face without damaging my other two eyes.

(My Third Eye hole is about a centimetre across and was covered with a flap of skin taken from my forehead. It's usually obscured by my glasses. Here's a photo of it.)

I'm far too much of a skeptic to believe that reading that book programmed the next couple of decades of my life, but I'm open to composing a useful narrative along those lines, a disposable fiction if you like. Because watching Daisy Campbell, daughter of Ken Campbell and, along with Pope Higgs, current bearer of the Discordian flame in the UK, felt strangely autobiographical in ways I'll maybe account for another day.

It's also interesting to note that I saw her Cosmic Trigger play in the months before Instructions for Humans, intended to be a landmark show in my emerging artistic career, opened and decided to integrate Robert Anton Wilson into the fabric of the work, from training an AI on his texts to placing a Golden Apple on the gallery shelves. This could be considered an explanation as to why I'm totally confused as to what the fuck happened, what it all meant, and have been unable to fully account for it in the 7 months and counting since it closed. Maybe I opened a door to something beyond consciousness. Or maybe I just fucked it all up.

When I occasionally talk about magic, Daisy's life experience, recounted in this talk at a Robert Anton Wilson event, is what I'm talking about. It's about seeing patterns in the chaos and going with them. I'm good at seeing patterns. I'm not so good at going with them. Or rather I go with them but I then panic as to What It All Means, when the fluctuating, fungible, subjectivity of it all is kinda the point.

Anyway, watch the talk, ignore the enthusiastic camerawork, stick with the bits where she seems to ramble because they're the best, and remember Alan Moore's advice: art and magic are basically the same thing, but then you've got high-art and high-magic and that's when you don't know what the fuck you're doing.

Jul 31, 2018 at 12:41pm

Bonfoton's €27 Camera Obscura lens

Chatting with Jonny G about a potential collaboration putting lenses in one of his and Dale H's sculptures I find myself looking for examples on the image search engines and stumble upon this, which looks like an Abelardo Morell, but isn't.

It's an image made with a Bonfoton lens, made by a small Finnish company and sold for €27. I've immediately ordered one, of course.

It's a plastic lens with a clip-on frame, intended to fit on a hole cut in a pull-down blind or similar. The view outside the window is then projected onto the walls of the room, upside down because light travels in straight lines.

What's cool about Bonfoto is these kind of lenses are hard to get hold of at reasonable prices. A lens like this that will project a sharp image on the wall opposite a window (4-7 metres away) is effectively a very weak magnifying glass, and there's not much market for those.

The weakest we've been able to buy at consumer prices are +1 closeup filters for under a tenner. They max out at 78mm diameter and project at around metre, which is good for small chambers but not for rooms. Nice and cheap though.

If you want a longer throw, you're looking at bespoke lenses, either getting a batch of cheap ones made of plastic or a single expensive one made of glass. For the Birmingham Obscura we went for the latter, paying £500 for an semi-retired man to hand grind an inch-thick slab of glass. It's gorgeous, but it's definitely a one-off, given it took him 6 months and he's the only person doing this kind of non-scientific work in the UK. (Lenses for science cost insane times more, as you'd expect.)

The Bonfoton lens seems to be a relatively mass-produced plastic lens which won't have the optical sharpness of our glass lens but that won't be a problem. When mine arrives I'll let you know how well it works. And then I may order a dozen of the things!

Jul 31, 2018 at 1:05am


The first issue of The Beano was published 80 years ago this week. Martin Rowson's tribute in today's Guardian cartoon is quite divine.

Click for the full thing.

Jul 30, 2018 at 3:14pm


Like many cities, I'm sure, Birmingham has an underbelly of instrumental rock. Prefix it with post- math- motorik- whatever-, you know it when you hear it. I heard it today from Matters who, judging from photos, are not from the generation I was listening to a decade ago, though the similarities are there. I like them a lot.

Like most bands of this ilk they revel in obscurity with no information on their website. Just three people making a nice noise. And that's more than enough.

via Stan's Cafe's blog.

Update: friend Julia, who knows all these youth, says "it’s Stuart from Them Wolves and Craig from Mayors of Toronto and Brid from Do Make Say Ink." Local supergroup then!

Jul 29, 2018 at 10:16pm

DoodleChaos's Line Rider compositions

Line Rider is an old game where you draw lines and then see if a character can sled down them using basic physics. Like all these things it's been appropriated by people with a bit too much time and somewhat divergent brain chemistry with delightful results to sync the routes with music.

I particularly like those done by DoodleChaos which are particularly inventive. They're nice because while they don't work like musical notation at all they look like they might, lulling you into a sense that the rider is creating the music somehow. But mostly they just tap into the same warmfuzzys as the music synchronisation in Baby Driver.

(No spoilers in that clip)

DoodleChaos also has a really nice line in 2D Rube Goldberg machines which, of course, sync to music. This is quite something and the ending had me sniggering out loud.

Jul 29, 2018 at 7:09pm

Should we bloggers own the fuckawful state of news media?

Roy Greenslade is one of those old guard media types - edited the Mirror in the 90s - so his survey of what happened to the dream of the news-based internet is worth a look. It's not pretty.

Blogging has been an important innovation in undemocratic societies where press freedom has never existed, but its impact in terms of the national news agenda within the developed world has been minimal. As for the founding of news providers at local level – the hyperlocals – this proved to be a false dawn.

In other words, MSM has not been superseded by the growth of an all-singing, all-dancing, truth-telling, fresh, responsible, informative, unbiased alternative media. Instead, what has taken hold across the net has been the opposite, based on the surfeit of fake news: a nasty, brutish, hysterical, intolerant mob proclaiming extreme opinions marked by racism, including both antisemitism and Islamophobia.

I was part of that hyperlocal revolution, working with Talk About Local and helping a number of sites start. Created in Birmingham was seen by some as a best-practice case study, and for a while there I was a bona fide consultant.

While I like to think I had a critical view - I remember sitting at the back at some barcamp-type affair cringing as folks attempted to universalise some personal experience or other - I have to own my enthusiasm for citizen journalism. I came from the DIY media culture and had seen it work. I saw a real case for connecting people beyond the constraints of traditional media as being a good thing.

And then it all went to shit. I blamed the marketing people and the celebrities, because I didn't like them, and that was probably unfair, although they were awful. But while we were all guilty of naivety in the face of too much Kool Aid, I think the cause of the mainstream media's decline and the rise of toxic online media is fairly simple.

As a local blogging microsleb I was invited to the launch of the Birmingham Post & Mail's new offices. They had a whole floor at the top of Fort Dunlop with hundreds of desks. We were shown the new newsroom, but I noticed it only took up a small area of the floor. The rest, a good 80%, was for the sales and advertising departments. News might have been the vehicle on which money was made but the money was not made from news. They were an advertising company. And I feared they couldn't see it.

Of course, Google and Facebook are now the advertising companies, and I fear that while they know it, we often can't see them as such. Hyperlocal blogging wasn't a threat to the traditional press, nor was it its saviour. It just flourished for a short while in a temporary void while the real business shifted.

In hindsight it's pretty obvious. But the news media believed its own hype and didn't realise what business they were actually in. And now, on a local level at least, there's nothing left except a load of local forums, funnelling ad money to Facebook by fuelling anger and intolerance.

I feel I should own my part in this. But I also feel to do so would be to buy into the myth that people like had any part it in at all.

Jul 29, 2018 at 2:38am

I have become Stewart Lee

Stewart Lee's Content Provider standup show is on iPlayer for the next month, so consider this a heads up for those who like Stewart Lee.

A decade or so back I saw him and realised my writing style at the time was weirdly similar to his standup. Those Lee and Herring shows from my youth had programmed me well, and this kinda pleased me.

Lee's schtick, if that's the right word, is that he plays the character Stewart Lee on stage, and that this character is an unreasonable, dogmatic, arse of a man, exaggerated for comic effect.

Watching this show, which I'd intended, but failed, to see live, I was struck by how weirdly similar I am to the character Stewart Lee, how much I identified with this monster. I'm not sure if this pleases me.