A long time ago I used to post videos from rides I did with Zorro out around the place. It was pretty fun but after he retired I haven't really got back into it with Iris. Sari has though and that has inspired me to get back and start taking some video when we go out together, so if you want some of those old-school over-the-ears-cam adventures in the Surrey Hills, you might find them on her Vlog page.
I mean I bet you're following Mulography already, right? But just in case.
Over the years I have grown a lot less sentimental over things
- perhaps time's endless telescope has shown them to be temporary, perhaps I have stopped believing in any kind of magic that endures in objects. I think that part of it is that after moving from a house to a flat, we threw away so many things that I once thought precious and ultimately not only did I not mind, I actually felt lighter for it. The other part is that being sentimental over objects is really being sentimental over the time that they remind you of and although I still treasure memories and photographs of the days when I was younger than I felt, the truth is that since Sari and I have been together I have never been happier. The past is less precious to me than the present right now, and that is something of great and appreciated value in its own right.
However this bridle is the one I bought eight years ago at the Worlds Greatest Horseman event in San Angelo, Texas. The bridle I took with me had fallen to pieces the second time I got bucked off ( on my first day riding colts ) and I needed something better. It was the simplest design they had and I picked up the bridle and a thin snaffle bit ( I am quite a believer in thin bits, because most horses don't have much space in their mouths, I also believe in not using both reins at the same time for the first few years of your horse's education. ) and then spent an entire evening trying to put them together because of a stupid little loop of latigo leather that holds the bit in place. It took me so freaking long to sort out and I swore I would never remove the bit as long as the bridle lasted.
Talking to Steve about it later that year I said I preferred the chicago screws it uses in other parts, but he observed he's not a fan of those as they tend to fail when you least want them to.
Well, in the long run he was right. You can probably see the red bit of latigo leather I have holding the bridle together where two screws fell out during the last clinic with Steve. They work but they're far from beautiful and I had to acknowledge that it might just be time to retire the bridle. I have a replacement, which is similarly utilitarian, but has neither annoying bits of fine leather nor chicago screws, but the truth is I will miss this bridle. I have used it with almost every horse I have ridden in the time I could even approximately call myself a horseman. It has been a lot of places with me and it also marks something else, a moment when I stepped out on my own in to buying riding gear without advice or consultation from anyone else, the first bridle I ever got because I thought it was the right tool for the job.
So I'll go and cut the bit free now, and tomorrow if we ride out I will be using my new bridle, and Iris will be quite as good as she ever is, and I shall be quite as good as I ever am and the reins will be a familiar weight in my hands and really, things will be much the same.
Also that magazine in the picture is a very good magazine. You should subscribe to that magazine.
I am not tremendously optimistic about tomorrow's election. And by "not tremendously optimistic" I mean that I am deeply pessimistic. In fact the only way I can see it going is the turkeys voting en-masse not just for Christmas but for some kind of special extra-Christmas where every family has to eat three turkeys.
I am among the most English people I know and being aware where I came from was very important to me when I was younger. Now, though, I don't feel that same connection. I don't feel like this country has much interest in people who want the world to be a better place or who care about the positive qualities that once made us great, instead of jingoism, penny-pinching and xenophobia.
I can quite confidently predict that after this election we will have a Conservative administration who will work hard to erase their predecessor's short tenure upon the title as "worst ever government of the UK." Of course, they may be able really hang onto that title for the long run if they can just ensure the break-up of the union, which is not far fetched given how badly they have handled Northern Ireland and Scotland so far.
I increasingly think about leaving the country- it feels as though the British people have voted for failure and if I want to be a success along any axis I probably won't really be welcome here anyway. If you're not failing and making everything worse, you're not part of the new British experience I guess. We have had a plan for a while to move west when we have a little money in the bank so I can buy the time to make some software and start doing something more entrepreneurial, but lately I find myself looking wistfully towards mainland Europe as well. Learning a new language would be tough, as would uprooting to a new country, but perhaps it would be worth it to be living somewhere that wasn't awful, where the people don't endlessly vote to make things worse for themselves and everyone else.
We're back from a long trek across the country to ride in a clinic with legendary horseman Joe Wolter
and it was about as good as one could possibly hope for.
I'm not going to go into a lot of detail on it right now, I'm sure Sari will have more to say later and these days a full write-up is more likely to go into the magazine
( we actually have an interview/feature planned for a couple of issues time ) but I do want to talk a little about one core theme that was very directly significant to Iris and me.
Joe talked early on about the horse's self-preservation, how important he feels it is to compromise on that - if the horse thinks they need to look around and check out what is going on, that's alright. They need it. If they spook just go with them, but then start offering some direction so that you're going together and you can help them out without forcing your decisions on them. I realised that because Iris stops so well I have been shutting down her spooks thinking I was helping her to understand they were unnecessary, but really that was just locking that bad feeling inside and making it hard to feel she was allowed to go forward. She was getting more anxious and harder to ride in new environments and I think that by not just letting her move out a little more and going with her I have been making that worse.
Yesterday, during the last afternoon of the clinic, we were doing some work around the outside of the arena ( Iris preferred to avoid the edges most of the time because the world was out there and there is a lot of it and it's all rather bothersome to a grey mare ) and Joe was asking us to work on doing the slowest possible walk and then speeding up. I asked Iris to slow down as we came around past the audience - it's an exercise we use from time to time, so she is fairly good at it - but something spooked her and she sprang off to trot most of the way around the arena. After about three quarters of a circle she found a place where she felt safe enough to walk and she immediately dropped into the slowest walk I have ever seen or experienced a horse doing, it would be easy to think she had stopped if you couldn't feel the glacial drift of her balance forward in between extraordinarily stately steps. It was unbelievable.
The thing that chokes me up every time I think about that is that she knew what I was asking her for
and she just needed me to go with her first because she just couldn't do it there
- when I let her take me somewhere she felt safe she tried her heart out.
She has always been trying that hard for me. I just needed Joe's clear, patient, teaching and his explanation of how every time our horse offers us forward movement it is an opportunity. That finally got me to a place where I could give her the chance to show me.
Because, as one friend observed on Facebook, we don't like having free time Sari and I are now magazine proprietors. If you follow herecirm
you will be more than clear about this already, but just in case you missed it, you can now subscribe to Horsemanship Magazine
as produced by us!
Although I do say so myself, it is pretty good - we've tried to get a balance of excellent writers and horsepeople involved and our goal is to move the magazine from it's hitherto-successful "broad-yet-shallow" philosophy towards something a little more detailed and in-depth. Obviously there isn't a proven market for that except that many of the people we know around the community did subscribe at one time and found it a bit shallow, so maybe there is something to be said for it...
You can find more on the website above ( work in progress! ) or on our Facebook page
and if it's a thing you are interested or a thing that someone you know would be interested in, please give a thought to subscribing.
A few weeks ago I posted about my adventures in music
and how much a part of my life it has been.
We've finally got the tracks through and they're sounding pretty great- you can listen to them here
and they will be appearing on all the usual digital services in the next few days. Please do give them a listen, I have never been more proud of any art I have created.
Well our government voted to begin the process of leaving the EU, which I suppose that we knew they would in spite of all the hopes one might have that there was something that could be done to prevent it. I was angry with them all over again. Angry with our main opposition party for not doing their job and opposing anything whatsoever angry with the government for the disaster they have created.
Since the referendum and perhaps doubly in the last few weeks, I have been angry and sad about the state of politics the whole time. It's easier to be sad about it, because that just sits there like a rainy day, while the anger roils and tumbles inside me and makes me want to create terrible furious music or become a politician just so I could kick their laughable parties to pieces and turn our pallid faux-democracy into something that could actually benefit the public. Imagine being in a country where people felt their voice counted enough that they didn't have to tear their own economy to pieces in the vague hope of someone somewhere noticing they existed?
There is a lot that would need to be changed, and although I have thought about politics for a long time I am also not a big fan of working in London or meetings or any of the other things that seem to go with the field. That assumes that I could get myself elected, which would be a little implausible in itself although I think the speeches and talking with people parts would probably be easier than the parts that needed me to be organised or fill in forms. Those would be rubbish.
So yesterday I was feeling sour and resentful and angry but for some reason I listened to this old song and it made me feel better. They are just clueless really, just stupid people making terrible decisions because it's the only way to further their craven self-interest. Most of us didn't vote for them anyway, just a few people who were lucky enough to be in the right constituencies, so if they're massive dolts it is an entire national system that enables them.
It's not a political song, but maybe anything can be political when you're in the right mood.
When I was sixteen, four of us went around to our friend's house. He had a drum kit and we had guitars and a keyboard, so we shut ourselves in his room and started playing together. As far as I can remember we mostly played Enter Sandman by Metallica, maybe a Levellers song and we made up a riff of our own. It was, I daresay, somewhere close to the worst possible sound. I had never felt so unbelievably cool as I did right then. I was in a band
. The next few weeks I did every job I could persuade my parents to pay me for, sold some belongings - including selling my nice guitar to my brother, if I recall correctly - and bought myself a bass and amp. One of our guitarists was substantially better than me, the other was probably not as good, it seemed natural that I would be the bass player. Our friend with the keyboard, which was not of absolute utility, became the singer by default.
Now, I'm not going to say that the Way Out Exits were the best band in history, but I can definitely say that we believed
ourselves to be the best band in history. Our singer was seldom entirely in key, the rest of us were seldom in time and our drummer was incredibly good and kind of kept everything together musically. Inexplicably we never achieved the fame that we felt we deserved, but until we went off to university that band was core to my identity and the closest I have ever been to cool.
In the intervening twenty four years, I have almost always been in a band of one kind or another. As far as I can tell The Patient Wild is the eighth band I've played live with. I have written songs and worked with autocratic songwriters. Recorded an album that you can still find in the bargain bin if you are super lucky ( or still on Amazon aparently
) and probably played somewhere between one and two hundred gigs. It's been pretty cool.
This weekend we recorded a final set of songs with The Patient Wild. The best band I have been in by a broad margin and ( with the exception of those heady early days ) probably the most fun. We're a little older, musically confident and we know how to be a band. I am playing lead guitar and appropriately enough I'm playing that nice guitar I sold to my brother way back at the start. It is a real pleasure to play with this team, but there are babies and more on the way, our drummer is moving to Cardiff and we have barely played in the last year. This weekend was our chance to get the songs that we care about most, our latest and best, recorded for posterity and for us. We did an amazing job in terms of getting everything down in a very limited time and I'm super-impressed with everyone's performances. Listening back to the vocal takes it sounded pretty great even ahead of mixing. We won't hear the final product for a while, but I think it's going to be something special.
And you know what? I think that's it for me with bands. I've had a great time, but I don't need it any more. I'm too old to care about being on the scene, schmoozing promoters or struggling to play a gig every night that god sends in order to get on the bill for better shows. This is part of the reason that music is a young person's game. Also having skirted the edges of the music industry, I wouldn't want to get any further into it. Even if it wasn't dying under the weight of the idea that music can and should be free, even if every band wasn't desperately struggling to get their voice heard among the tens of thousands of others, the industry itself is cruel and seems inordinately packed with terrible people. It is an engine that runs on crushed dreams, trying to sail a boat across a lake that has almost totally dried up.
I'll still play music- I enjoy writing and composing, writing and arranging for the podcast is a real pleasure and I have no doubt that Stu and I will collaborate for a long time, but unless some extraordinary offers show up I doubt we'll be taking it live again. We've done that. We were good, sometimes excellent, occasionally spellbinding, but in time playing to the band's partners, two other bands and a promoter on a Tuesday night in Basingstoke? I think I've done that enough for now.
I've been thinking a lot about politics over the last six months, as you might imagine. My political leanings are towards thinking that other people are mostly trying to do their best and that if you treat them fairly then the world could be pretty good but apparently that goes against the prevailing worldview right now.
One thing that I thought, growing up in the nineties in my privileged corner of England and later in Wales, was that there were battles that had been won. That racism and misogyny were still present, still a real problem, but that tides had turned. I might have believed that the arc of history bends towards justice, if you will.
I don't see that any more. What I see is that anything positive that one can create for society is a sandcastle, that it must be constantly shored up against the endless tide of darkness that would overwhelm and swallow it at the first opportunity. Battles aren't ever truly won, you just win a reprieve, a little time to shore up your foundations, perhaps to build the walls a little higher. We are fighting a relentless evil that cannot be defeated only turned back and briefly subdued because at its heart it is an idea, a story about how the past can be recovered, even if that past never happened in the first place. It is an insidious desire for the impossible and as long as people are willing to strive for it, to consider themselves superior to others for any reason aside perhaps from their own achievements and actions, that tide will keep rushing back.
I think about this a lot. I think about how it ties into the stories we have told, the ideas we have of ourselves. I have thoughts that wander between social theory and mysticism about how these things connect together, but I find myself also thinking of something a posted a very long time ago, a brief conversation with Carausius.
What I have learned however, is that words mean nothing. The only thing that can change the world is action. It needs to be the right action and it might need words to support it, but the action is what matters.
On Thursday I posted episode twelve of our podcast Crudely Drawn Swords
and it is going pretty well so far. We've now got a handle on the game we're playing and I feel as though we've managed to create a fun balance between ridiculous antics and grand adventure.
The great thing is that we've got a lot of really good feedback, people who aren't familiar with this style of podcast are surprised how enjoyable it is listening to other people playing a game. People who have listened to a few Actual Play shows think we're up to standard - obviously I am biased, but I would say we're as good as any I've heard, with the exception of Friends At The Table
which transcends game podcasting altogether to just be the best thing one could possibly listen to. We're not there yet, but its nice to have a target. When I'm editing I often find myself crying with laughter at the quality of the ridiculousness on display. It turns out that the theory that if you have a collection of sufficiently funny and imaginative people that matters more than the structure they are working in, is pretty much right. So far a little over 500 people have listened to episode one and although that trails off somewhat, in the next couple of days we'll top 2000 total listens. That is approximately two thousand hours of our antics being listened to.
I have had to teach myself to process and edit voice recordings, to arrange strings and use linux midi tools ( which I've got better at as we've gone on, so I'll probably have to revisit the original theme ) in addition to getting better at running the game. As you might expect, hearing every word you say repeatedly is a good way to refine your storytelling and to pick up on every irritating mannerism.
So if you haven't given it a listen yet, I can confidently say that the first season will reward you, but if you want a more competent jumping-on point Season 2 will start in a couple of weeks. You can listen on Soundcloud
or just search for "Crudely Drawn Swords" on iTunes or your podcast client of choice and we should turn up. The only proviso is that it's perhaps a little bit sweary and disreputable for the kids. That aside, it is our attempt to bring joy to everyone.