Stark complexity

28 04 2009

I see Starkey was at it again last week.

David Starkey is ostensibly a historian specialising in – oh the irony – the Tudors but seems more intent these days in generating media attention by wresting the coveted rudest-man-in-television-award away from celebrity chefs and lazy back-combed stand-ups back to its rightful place amongst pseudo-academics. Yes: he annoyed me but probably not for the reasons you’d think.

The comments, from last week’s Question Time, that produced the media attention were:

“If we decide to go down this route of an English national day it will mean we have become a feeble little country, just like the Scots and the Welsh and the Irish.

“The Scots and the Welsh are typical small nations with a romantic 19th century-style nationalism.”

Now, as most regular readers will know I am Welsh, and it’s not unreasonable to expect me to be annoyed because, whilst I am not anything like what you would call a nationalist (nor a Welsh speaker), I do identify with my home culture. I am not someone who was just born there; my family is Welsh going back quite a way and Welsh speaking from my grandparent’s generation back. Yet it wasn’t as a Taff I got annoyed. It was as someone who studied history, reads history in my spare time and, indeed, has a passing awareness of the current geo-political map.

The quote was in response to the question ‘should England have a public holiday for St George’s day?’. Wales does not enjoy a public holiday on St David’s day, Scotland does because it has its own parliament (the Welsh National Assembly is not a parliament whatever my countrymen might assert) and Eire is not part of the United Kingdom but a fully independent nation state that naturally has its own bank holidays. Of course Starkey knows this, he is simplifying in order to make a point and because he holds us, the audience, in contempt. We can’t digest complexity.

If Wales and Scotland are feeble little countries so then is England because, just like Wales and Scotland, it is not a nation state. It is one of the countries that makes up the nation state of the UK enjoying its own patron saint (St George) and sports teams and its own share of vocal nationalists. The nation state in which I live is, to give its full name, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Notice there is no mention of England or Wales or Scotland?

The truth is this country was created over thousands of years by many different tribes and emerging fractal kingdoms kicking the shit out of each other, being invaded by Vikings, Irish, Anglo-Saxons and Normans before emerging in its current state. A “United Kingdom” that is actually a “Queendom” and occasional democracy populated by English, Welsh, Scot, Irish, Pakistanis, Hindus, Afro-Brits, Iranians, Iraqis, French, Italian, Serbs, Croatians, Poles – the list goes on. A “United Kingdom” that is so familiar with violent dissent that its citizens chief response to terrorist attack was to go to the pub. It is a dysfunctional, kaleidoscope of cultures banging against each other on a small collection of rocks on the east side of the Atlantic. In short:

We are complicated.

Perhaps it was that complicated nature that led the to the use of the Welsh Not in the eighteenth century and that was still in use into the mid-nineteenth century. A charming practice that involved hanging a piece of wood around the neck of children heard to be speaking Welsh in school until the end of the school day, when whichever poor sod was wearing the wood got lashed. It was such an unpleasant practice that in the mid-nineteenth century government reports into education denounced the practice – in spite of condemning other aspects of Welsh culture. Pesky people blurring the lines again.

Starkey is supposed to be a historian but he seems to have forgotten that history is, at its root, all about people. After all, country isn’t really a collection of borders and land; the nation state is merely a construct of people who share a set of resources based on landmass in order to ensure personal survival through mutual co-operation. History is the record told through recollections and records of events of what went before, people’s stories retold and distilled through the personal bias of the historian or teller but the by-product of people. No people, no history.

People, people, people, you can’t get away from it.

I can hazard a guess as to why Starkey feels the need to be so reductive that he makes himself look like an arse on a regular basis and that’s his weakness in falling for the glass teat’s seductive glow. No, stop – you see? I’m doing it now; I’m guilty of reductive thinking and showing my personal prejudice. It’s not the demon telly. It’s people again. There are a vocal segment of a population (in the sense they devote money, attention and consumption) who crave the simple story: the three act, simple premise, face of a thousand heroes, twenty-four hour news agenda filler, quotable sound bite. Popular media in most of its forms chases this lowest common denominator for the win and that’s all Starkey is doing: trying to get his name and his new series in front of that all-important virally consumptive audience.

It is all about people and, now that I think of it, it’s not Starkey I’m annoyed with. It’s the people that egg him on and – dare I say it – myself for devoting time to him, giving him the attention he craves like the media junky he has become in the drive for ratings.

People are complicated but Starkey is transparent.


26 04 2009

I have spent the weekend doing this:


The scars you see above are from the rewire and central heating installation we did over the last two years, basically we have been existing on half a kitchen. I don’t know how we coped, sometimes we didn’t. Things went smoothly for about five minutes, until we got to here:


Yes: the pipe work is threaded through the worktop. I power-sawed the way through most of the work surface and we are very carefully using a manual saw on the rest. This is a long task. We decided to shift focus to the sink, because that would be easier, right?


Anyway, we got there in the end and G, it turns out, probably has a career as a plumber if she ever feels the urge to pick up a wrench.


It’s been hard but it does feel a bit like we’ve reached a tipping point if only in the sense that we are now full committed to putting the new one in. That’s how I’m spending next weekend.

Friday Flash Fiction: Move On

24 04 2009

This post has moved on (see what I did there?!). You can read it here: The precis follows:

Move on
By Neil Beynon

See the worn stones, uneven and scattered like die cast by the giants.
Let your feet find the path, they do not forget.

Feel your skin raise as you draw closer.
But do not worry: the magic will not hurt you.

…You can read the rest of this post here:

Time spinner

21 04 2009

I really need to get me one.

So the cycling experiment isn’t going so well. I can, it turns out, do the distance without having a heart attack and, most of the time, it is enjoyable. However, it’s not really saving me any money as I seem to be wearing out parts on my bike and most of my old gear has fallen apart. On the time front: it is saving me a bit but only about fifteen minutes each way. Crucially, any more than three days in a row leaves me like a zombie come nine pm and that’s just no good at all.


Still it has reminded me how much I missed cycling and so I think it unlikely I’d go back to not cycling at all, it’s just going to have to be every other day or something like that. We’re on to plan B pretty soon. That being to start running part of the route home before hoping on the train, cruel on the other commuters but it’s the only way I can shoe-horn in the time to get the regular exercise I really need.

On the writing front I am currently focussing on the final tweaks to The Scarred God, reasoning that once this is done I have at least one manuscript I can tout around at cons while I finish the larger task of whipping Forever into something approaching a usable draft. I have set myself a stupid deadline and hoarded my leave so that I can fall off the world for a bit to hit it if need be. Yes: you could say my focus has returned.

Time, never enough of it. This weekend we have a Friday night with friends followed by a weekend of destruction as we rip out the final remains of our old kitchen in time for the arrival of our rather gifted sparky and the bank holiday weekend install. It’s going to be messy, it’s going to be hard, hopefully we’ll laugh and I’m fairly certain beer will be drunk. I shall document the chaos and post any suitably amusing shots on here. Note to self: avoid storing essential plumbing items in bath. Oh and I really should finish that Watchmen review even if it is hopelessly late and redundant.

And after that I intend to have a rest.

Sunday Flash Fiction

19 04 2009

OK, I’m a bit late this week. 🙂

I had planned to post something on Friday but my planned quiet time before work, during lunch and pre-driving back to Wales never really happened. However, I really wanted to get some content up leading to a rash promise to deliver at some point this weekend.

I have taken the page title I have to use in order to get some of my Google tools to work and created a story from the totally incomprehensible gobbledygook it uses as a page title. As a writing exercise it wasn’t completely successful as it reads more like a fragment of something bigger but I still like sections of it and think it’s a vast improvement on the blank page that it replaces.

You can read it here: GOOGLED24C36E6D230D48D. on hiatus

16 04 2009

Yeah, so I cribbed that off Doctor Who but you know unfortunately it’s true. was always a bit of an experiment and it’s just going to require too much time to get the thing off the ground with the number of bloggers I have right now (i.e. me and Abbi). It wasn’t an easy decision (I’m stubborn).

It was being asked – with the best of intentions – if I’d finished either of the two novel length projects I have on the go, and having to answer no,  that really brought home how thinly I am spreading myself. Something’s got to give and while I still have to pay a mortgage it’s going to have to be some of the stuff that isn’t fiction.

Here’s how it breaks down:

– will stay up and I am not giving up the domain. I intend to do something with this eventually, now is not the best time.
– Reviews already on there will stay (I’ll post a full list later today or tomorrow).
– New book reviews (from me) will appear on here as before.

So why am I putting reviews back on The Other Side of the River?

1. I quite like reviewing to help me process what I’ve just read and they really were popular features when they ran on this blog (hence why I launched
2. As I mentioned in the digital 101 series of posts, frequency of posting and reliability of content is important to building an audience online. You can get there posting infrequently but it takes a long time. I already have an audience right here and more people will see the posts.
3. Also, this blog has a *coughs* less formal style that makes it easier to bang out quick reviews. On I found myself trending more towards essays and this made it a time sink.

But, you point out, dude, you’d have more time if you just stop twittering?!

Yes, and that’s why I am time-boxing my time on twitter.  At least until the current project backlog is cleared. However, bear in mind it doesn’t take long to create 140 character tweet and I tend to view my twitter stream as being for fun and information.

Anyway, I just thought you should know.

Eastercon 2009

14 04 2009

I am returned.

The convention was a very different affair to last year courtesy of a smaller venue and a wider distribution of attendees across several hotels but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Good positioning of the main bar between the panel rooms meant that it was fairly straightforward to meet up with people and the smaller venue meant the whole thing was a lot more interactive.

I was pleased to meet up with people I hadn’t seen in a while, make some new friends and put faces to people I had spoken with online but not in person. It also brought home to me how silly it was that I hadn’t finished either manuscript of my novel length projects given the number of industry people in attendance and has reaffirmed my commitment to finishing them before the next one rolls round. Ideally I’d like to have one finished in time for FantasyCon. Today has been spent looking at the amount of work left in both and the optimal plan for dealing with it. I don’t intend to deliberate for too long: it’s time to get on with it.

Other lessons included a determination to get better at saying hello to people I don’t know, signing up to get myself on panels and that I don’t, in fact, look like my avatar. The last one was a bit of a relief. I have a ton of other notes that I’m mulling over – if anything interesting occurs I will post.

Being back in Bradford was strange. In most ways it feels like an age since I was in university and in others it seems like I just went on a slightly long vacation. My brief walk up to and around campus was a lot like that. Whole sections of the campus looked like they hadn’t changed at all since I was there and others had changed beyond recognition – add-ons, new builds and forlorn derelicts waiting to be turned into car parks. I was reminded once again that you can’t really ever go back. And that’s not actually a bad thing.

Also: Omar’s still rules.

Now back to work.

Friday Flash Fiction: Buck

10 04 2009

This post has moved. You can read it here:

This week’s flash fiction. Feedback, as ever, is welcome.

By Neil Beynon

It feels like I’ve been on the run forever. In reality it’s only been a few days and already I’m tired of it. The city is almost disserted, many of the shops are boarded up and construction works lie abandoned as if someone started operating on the city, trying to save it, and then gave up. The wind carries dust on it and whips round the corners of buildings that don’t look like they’ve been cleaned since they were built in the nineteen hundreds. This city bites. I raise my collar and start out across the square towards the hotel.

I can still taste the sugar from that too sweet soda. One more than I should have had and so thick with syrup that I could practically chew it, my heart is racing a little from the E numbers, my mouth covered in a light moss of acidity. Perhaps that is why I feel like the few people I encounter are staring at me, that they know what I am and why I am running. But how could they?…

This post has moved. You can read it here:


8 04 2009

I’m quite relieved it’s Wednesday. Not just because that means Eastercon is just around the corner but because I am now off work until next Wednesday. I need a rest. And that is the plan even allowing for our jaunt to Bradford.

Speaking of which, it’s the first time I’ve been back into the city (I skirted the edge of it last year on my way to Lumb Bank) in about six years. I’m told lots has changed, including – distressingly – my favourite take away restaurant which has now gone and if someone tells me the bookshops gone I may need to lie down. As you can see I haven’t changed that much: my memories always circulated around food and books. I’m hoping the weather will hold but, knowing the city as I do, I’m not expecting it to.

I will hopefully get a chance to do some clean up around here and so you may notice some changes. Then again I may forget. That’s just the way I roll: you never know. It should also afford some time for some more interesting posts. It may mean you also get random pictures of me outside buildings that are of no interest to anyone but me.

For now I must pack.

Brain food

6 04 2009

Some stuff I’ve seen on my Internet trawl today:

1. Quantum Search

2. M-theory

3. Big Brother’s reach may exceed it’s grasp, this be a lot of data. Typically our (UK) government wants to go further.

4. Sure, the link “expired” and was “bought” by a porn company. Because no one in the home office would show interest in porn.

5. Shaun’s Project 52! continues…

Yeah, I have attention issues…