August 26, 2004

Round the Orme (or what I did on holiday part 1)


Uttunul peeps through the clouds in North Wales

(Click on images for absurdly big versions if you wish....)

Why do the British ever feel the need to leave Britain to go on holiday?

The kneejerk answer is 'the weather' of course, but that begs too many questions about how it was that we were persuaded that the ideal holiday MUST entail cooking on some beach like a greased chicken on a barbecue. (Did Francis Bacon ever do any paintings of sunbathers, or was the spectacle of slow-burning meat so self-evidently monstrous that he didn't feel the need?)

I have always been delighted by Deleuze's disdain for 'travelling'. Deleuze talks of 'Oedipus in the colonies' : i.e. the westernized subject wandering the globe and projecting its own neuroses onto the rest of the planet, which serves as their unwitting backdrop. The only travels worth making, Deleuze rightly insists, are intensive journeys - not voyages of the self, but voyages out of the self.


The 'home of Alice', the Liddells' former residence on Llandudno's west shore, with the Great Orme in the background

If the nineteenth century British seaside holiday was an essentially proletarian experience, then the late 20C/early 21C package holiday is bourgeoisifying even if it precisely involves the most lumpenized behaviour. One of the most pernicious evils of contemporary BritKapital is to have lured the proletariat into limiting their potential to the pursuit of lumpen hedonism. The 90s downward trend towards laddish sloppiness and beer-fugged levelling is bourgeois through and through (the whole culture has now become a student Union, with don't rock the boat undergrad fave rockers providing the cabaret); the most vibrant proletarian cultures have always been aristocratic in the Nietzschean sense, peacock-proud, ultra-competitive, super-refined, intensely Arty. Look at photos of 60s mods in tailored Italian suits and compare them with the street scene out of your window now (teenagers in that most depressing of all youth uniforms ever, fucking tracksuits for chrissake) and weep.

As a child and pubescent, holidays meant an escape from the relentless pyschic warfare of the 'bog standard' (= fascist regime) comprehensive in which I was brutalized (btw there's an hilarious but no doubt libellous account of that school here (scroll down to Things to Demolish: Garendon High School. ). Holidays presented the luxury to become-child and become-animal again, to read comics and to dream dreams, to engage, in short, in the kind of intent wonder that the vicious one-upmanship of pubescence scornfully forbad.

uttunuloid desolation.JPG

Uttunuloid desolation

Even then, my love of the British landscape was inborn and unflinching. It was with Kevin-the-teenager huffy reluctance that I was dragged from holidays on my beloved East Coast (in Felixstowe, with its rabbet warrens and deserted, rusting World War II pillboxes and tank traps - a landscape, I would later recognize, that was uncannily similar to that in which Tarkovsky's Stalker was set; in fog-shrouded Harwich, as damply grey and sinister as Lovecraft's Innsmouth) to interchangable package holidays in Europe. And the fact is, while every British holiday destination burns vividly in my unconscious, all of those European holidays blur into one for me, one endless beach of anonymous hotels and coach trips. (I make an exception for Italy, which is the exception to every rule).

So now I am in North Wales.... and an overwhelming sense of the inexhausibility of the British landscape (s)wells up in me again. Both the crowded rat maze of the metropolis, and the genteel, manicured Brimstone and Treacle Daily Mail fascism brewed up in the ever-so-polite ruthelssly privatized suburbs feed the fevered fantasies that the country is full to-bursting at the seams. Come out here though and you're astonished at the space, the solitariness, the Uttunuloid desolation....


Wales... whose tree-crowded hills breed female sorcerers and wise women (Morgana le Fay*, Rhiannon) as easily as the flat grey heartlands of the English industrial revolution produce mongers of commonsense, plain-speakers, utilitarians and empiricists. Wales... which, it is no suprise at all to learn, gave birth to one of Lovecraft's principal inspirations, the darkling genius of the black mountains, Arthur Machen....

see webbed footnote below

And Dylan Thomas, the only Dylan whose words I have ever cared about.

We listen to the 1963 Richard Burton BBC recording of Under Milk Wood over and over again while driving through the Welsh landscapes that inspired it. (Thomas was born in Swansea of course, much further south, but still...)


Burton recording Under Milk Wood (Burton is possibly the only human being to smoke more than glueboot)

Is there a passage in Brit Lit that more effectively, more necromantically summons the teeming unlife of the British landscape than the opening of Under Milk Wood? Only Shakespeare, surely, or perhaps the opening of Great Expectations, with its marrow-dampening twilit mistiness (a passage, incidentally, that Beckett is on record as having very much admired).

Thomas' words - particularly as incanted by Burton, who was born to read them - make your whole body tingle. An exhilarating rush of oneiric slowness as the poet pans across the sleeping town, its 'houses blind as moles/ though moles see fine tonight / in the snouting velvet dingles)', before ushering us on a whistle-stop tour through the inhabitants' dreams (thumbnail sketches of the soul, as Thomas knew equally as well as Freud).

Under Milk Wood boasts all the inclusive ambition of Joyce's Ulysses - the generous hubris of wanting to see the whole world in the events of a single humdrum day - but it is genuinely inclusive in a way that Ulysses, with its high-culture hermeticism, would never be. Thomas both speaks about and to the 'ordinary people' he writes of (and in doing so, gives the lie to the very notion that there are 'ordinary people').

Captain Cat is UMW's Leopold Bloom... the town's blind watchman and toller of the bell... Milk Wood's Outside, its Ulysses returned from over 'the mermaid-whispering water'... visited in his sleep by all his dear departed companions...

Come on up boys.... I'm dead....


A better comparison than Ulysses might be League of Gentlemen. What is Royston Vazey if not an English (per)version of Thomas' collection of human curios and grotesqueries? Milk Wood's butcher Benyon ('a finger in his mouth, but not his own'... 'She likes the liver Ben'... 'She's ought to... it's her brother's...' 'And now I'm going out after the corgies with my little cleaver...') is surely the prototype of the League's sinister Hilary Briss and his 'special stuff'...

Thomas .... who never learned Welsh, but who instead made sluggardly empiricist English sing with celtic exuberance, writing Welsh in English, minoritizing the master tongue that robbed him of his own.... who didn't airbrush out all the muck and massified mess of modernity in order to produce a refined and therefore lying lyricism, but, like Mark E Smith or Luke after him, constructed his poetry out of the tin-cans and brand-names of postwar consumerist Britain (although for Luke and MES, consumerism is a given, whereas for Thomas it was something that Britain was limping towards from out of rationing and austerity...)

deganwy sunset.JPG

The view from our flat (no, really)

So we're here in Deganwy, literally a stone's throw away from the Conwy estuary that leads out to the Irish Sea. The Great Orme - I'm not sure if this is counted as a hill or a mountain, its name apparently derived from the Norse for 'Sea Beast' - is 45 minutes' walk away along the beach. At its edge, the Penmorfa hotel, the former family home of the Liddells, the most famous of whom, Alice (later Alice Hargreaves) may or may not have been a major influence on the production of Charles Ludwidge Dodgson's illustrious work of psychedelic reason and who may or may not have rambled across the Orme with the clergyman-author.


The hotel is on Llandudno's west shore... the rocks on the beach leading up to it eerily reminiscent of the skulls of the victims of the Khmer Rouge.... Cut across to the north shore, to the resort proper, and you find a testament to the Victorian taste for elegance, its frontages and labyrinthine retail arcades preserved in tact.

Llandudno: sedate but not sedated. A haven for the very old and the very young. Teenagers gratifyingly boxed into a tiny zone of controlled raucousness and mammal frenzy.

Mick 'the Accordion' Edwards appearing here regular

Wonderlanduddno - probably the finest gift shop in North Wales

Professor Codmans Wooden Headed Follies


yes, yes, a Punch and Judy show, and not some Postmodern, Simpsonized meta-take or PC-mellowed travesty, but the old wooden carnival, in all its cruelty, grotesquerie and violence (clubs, nooses, gallows)...

and look, look, Mr Zak in marketing who'd just like to bounce a few concepts around, look at the way the kids are rapt, almost apoplectic in their participation ... BEHIND YOU, they scream --- really scream --- as the ghosts, alligators and demons silently menace ---- look Mr Zak, THIS is interactivity, not pushing buttons to navigate through some ROM menu -----

punch and judy.JPG

Heronbone heaven out here: after Luke, Craner and Undercurrent have helped me pull the videodrome implants out and nudged me a step towards ILG, I can now begin to see birds and animals not as some background blur but as incredibly detailed machines ...

2 gulls.JPG baby gull.JPG

Gulls rule the roost

Heronbone heaven out here.... splay-footed heron gulls rule the roost --- nomad birds--- alternating between a gliding or standing uttunulic stillness and a swooping predator Djynxx hyperspeed, with nothing in between --- catatonia and rush, as D/G say of the nomads.... Their whole body seems designed to show off their majestically bigged-up chest... Air-and-marine monarchs, uncowed by humanity...

We feed them and they arc and wheel and cry.... and then, if you hold out a chip, they will actually swoop and take it out of your hand... Sheer exhilaration as you feel the compacted power of the bird's body for a moment... it all happens in a djynxx-cut, too fast for Human OS to process: you see the gull hovering, micro-calculating its line and then - bang, literally before you know it, the chip is gone or cut in half....

What could be wrong with this non-carcinogenic, non-resource-wasting joy?

Well, up till then, we hadn't noticed this....

Don't forget: there's always something wrong with joy from the POV of h-OS (especially if it doesn't give you cancer or involve your squandering your resources).

Wherever animal-becomings happen, h-OS sends out the police...

A sour-faced h-OS securo-cop berates us. 'You're not feeding them are you? It makes them attack people...'

(Later, my Dad says: yes, and why might birds attack human beings? Could it have something to do with the overfishing of their food source?)

In any case, I get a gratifying image of Llandudno transformed into a real-life sequel to The Birds ---- the victorian seafront completely overtaken by predatory gulls, rivet-eyed gazing down from every roof ----

gull1.JPG gulls in full cry.JPG

Gulls mass menacingly on Llandudno seafront

Couldn't Conwy council turn it into an attraction? The whole resort a kind of ongoing theme park attraction: see if you can eat your ice-cream cone before a gull snaffles it ----


What Llandudon might look like if too many people feed the seagulls chips

Out on the beach, stumbling over wet rocks in a bid to walk around the Orme head (I give up and relent soon, realizing that I'm in danger of playing the part of Bumbling Urban Bumpkin in Casualty --- funny how in moments like that, you fear videodromic humiliation more than for life and limb lol), I hear a shuffling sound behind me. Three spiral-horned mountain rams, about six feet away, are put to flight... Once mollified, they are possessed once again of that uttunuloid calm which is their birthright, their black gaze deep: the paradox of serene sentience.

Welsh witch webbed footnote

A testament to the incantatory power of Welsh language... Stevie Nicks' legendary song of femintense flight was not originally about the goddess of Welsh legend. Stevie says that she chose the name because the word was so evocative... Only later did she find out about the Welsh sorceress-deity...

* I was under the impression that Morgan, Arthur's half-sister, was Welsh, but haven't been able to definitively confirm this. She was certainly celtic, and we should bear in mind that there are both Welsh and English versions of the Arthurian legends. According to this source, MLF gave here name to 'the mermaids of Wales called Morgen. The treachery of these aquatic females was so renowned that storytellers carried the fame of these demons as far as Italy, where mirages over the straights of Messina are to this day called Fata Morganas.'

Posted by mark at August 26, 2004 12:42 PM | TrackBack

Re: SR and the cult of the inner bloody kid.

Leaving aside the issue of Disney and worries about cultural infantalisation, is there not an analogy between the Opie-esque celebration childhood lore and, say, Paul Weller's take on C20 black american music? Assuming that these things do no act as blank canvases onto which any old thing can be projected, what might the common forces of 'vitality' be?

A Walter Ong answer might be to do with the proximity to primary orality. A Hakim Bey answer might be to do with the proximity to uncommoditized play. Both are simplistic, but both have the virtue of focusing attention away from notions of raw naturalness and onto questions of the cultivation and suppression of different forms of inventiveness, and of the deskilling (lumpenization) of cultural life.

Posted by: rx at August 27, 2004 12:13 PM

b-b-but mark, the 1960s mod = soulboy's dad!
they are the same thing.

Posted by: stelfox at August 27, 2004 12:14 PM

It's distressing but today's tracksuit uth are the logical update of the 60s sharp mod: note the uniformity of the brands, the fact that tracksuit trousers are worn tight and hoisted up so the socks and the (probably black) trainers are visible (unlike, say, the lazy baggyness of hip-hop backpackers). In such a "fix up look sharp" culture it's the same desire for mod's individualist uniformity but in fashion's all-too-dominant comtemporary leisure fabric (speaking of which when will the hegemony of leisurewear end? it must be two decades old now). The scooter is the vehicle of choice. Even musically there's the same slavish devotion to American music (hip-hop/r&b) as the mods had to soul... That the source for the look is the sports shop rather than the tailor is a wider point about our BritKapital times....

Posted by: Murray at August 27, 2004 02:41 PM

re sunbathers - understandably, this seems to be one of morrissey's preoccupations/favourite metaphors for vacant consumer passivity since moving to LA - reaches cosmically scathing apotheosis in Vauxhall and I's "The Lazy Sunbathers" : "The sun burns down/to the planet's core/but it isn't enough/they want more"

Posted by: undercurrent at August 27, 2004 07:19 PM

Seagulls are truly the most simutaneously vulgar yet marvelous living creature. The bloodcurdling gargle skwark that they invaribly use to anounce thier majestic soaring entrance, thier gangland turf teritoriality, thier effortless adaptation to the industrial world (including an inovation that's existance I have a bet over with a friend of mine: an unique ability to digest, and aquire nourishement from, fag butts).
Those blackheaded gulls who freneticaly pivot about in the water, a floating flock of whom looks like Come Dancing relocated from the pier into the sea, fantastic.

Posted by: Karl Kraft at August 27, 2004 07:53 PM


Posted by: mms at August 27, 2004 10:58 PM

the tracksuit of choice round my way is very baggy. (and made by akademiks)

Posted by: luke.. at August 28, 2004 10:10 AM

the theoretical paradigm of choice round my way is very fluffy. (and made by academics)

Posted by: undercurrent at August 28, 2004 07:10 PM

Seagulls are not fucking marvellous. They're terrifying!

Posted by: oliver at August 30, 2004 12:25 AM


Soulboys bear the same relation to mods as Eric Clapton did to Delta Blues: i.e. soulboys retro-petrify a particular cultural moment into a fetishized and invariant 'Style'.... Mods were modernists, soul boys were PoMo Retro....

I've no problem AT ALL with Wigan Casno soul speedfreaks --- it's the don't scuff my loafers or muss my cappuccino foam Soulc!alists I have always detested....

Murray, good point about the continuity between mod and tracksuits... still doesn't stop me being depressed by it though.... doesn't matter how much money has been spent on tracksuits, they always look cheap and nasty....

Posted by: mark at August 30, 2004 12:26 AM

excellent piece of interesting action.
can the author post a self portrait?

Posted by: hawkeye at August 30, 2004 03:19 PM

no way --- like any sensible person, I hate photos of myself --- and you've gotta maintain some mystery y'know --- don't want to disappoint ppl lol

Posted by: mark at August 30, 2004 03:23 PM

in t.h.white's "the once and future king", morgan le fay - the Queen of Air and Darkness! - is from the orkneys (as are her children sir gawaine, sir gaharis, sir gareth and king arthur's son-and-nemesis mordred, he of the somewhat giveaway name)

she/they are also more proto-celtic (ie semi-pictish) than celtic if i remember correctly (well, gawaine is very scottish hair)

grebt (uber-carmodian) book on the difficult conflict between welsh modern, welsh ancient and the distorting presence of the english overlords as yearning sightseers and fetishisers of the bad-in-the-old = the owl service by alan garner ("she wants to be flowers but he keeps making her owls" says huw the flitch)

Posted by: mark s at September 1, 2004 02:19 PM

Alan Garner --- fuck yeh.... I assume Garner's the reason that Robin Carmody's blog has its name.... Mark if you could be persuaded to expand this a little into a post, it would be a very welcome contribution to the kollektive!!!

Posted by: mark at September 2, 2004 04:52 AM