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I said it 'might' be the last one for a while. 'Might'.

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July 2021

One For The Road...

I know what you’re thinking. At least, I know what I would be thinking. What, already? You’ve been gone for like 10 minutes. You gave this big emotional speech, let the wild boar loose in the headmaster's office and then left the school in a Porsche on fire, and now you’re coming back and sitting another year? Yeah, I know.

Thing is, it wasn’t that I didn’t want to write any more newsletters. It was more that over the years I had put this pressure on myself to hit that deadline every month, and I didn’t want it hanging over me but what was potentially a very intense and even disruptive time.

Which, yes, was intense and was disruptive. My father died a few days before I became a father for the first time, and there have been house moves and heatwaves and you name it.

And even though I’m not going to go into the specifics of it, I feel like I learned all sorts of interesting things. And I always liked using this newsletter as a diary of sorts. And also, I enjoy writing them. They're fun. And also...

People always used to say to me: oh it’ll all change when you have kids. You won’t be able to keep doing music when you have kids. You won’t have the time for anything.

And I’m keen to prove that wrong as soon as possible.

Yes, you need to be seriously organised with your time to keep doing passion projects after you become a parent. But you need to be seriously organised to keep doing passion projects into your 30s and beyond. Parenthood just dials it up a bit.

So, for the time-being at least, I'm back. Next month, who knows.

First off, I skipped the Bastard Online Session in July. We're going to try to do it again in August. (I say 'we' because this is a collective decision with H, as she'll need to cover my childcare, which I would normally be doing at that time!)

And I thought I wasn't going to have time, or bandwidth, to do my usual recommendations. But then I started to think about it and... well, what do you know. More YouTube highlights, and a whole bunch of movie trailers that I've really enjoyed recently. I can't vouch for the films themselves, but the trailers look great...

Shall we?

Recommendation

YOUTUBER BETS PHYSICS PROFESSOR $10,000
A Physics Prof Bet Me $10,000 I'm Wrong

This is everything I love about YouTube.

Veritasium is an hugely popular YouTube channel about science (with videos getting tens of millions of views), and its creator Derek Muller recently made a video about an invention: a cart with a propeller that can (allegedly) travel downwind faster than wind speed.

A physics professor at UCLA tweeted to him that his video was scientifically inaccurate, and that it wasn't actually travelling faster than windspeed at all.

They (amicably) argued back and forth, and eventually Derek suggested they make a bet. For $10,000. The professor agreed.

(They also got Neil deGrasse Tyson and Bill Nye to witness this bet, who are the most famous science communicators in the US.)

This video shows Derek's attempts to win the bet, using scientific method in its purest form: making a replicable experiment that proves his hypothesis beyond a shadow of a doubt.

And, just to make this even more YouTube, he inlists the help of an engineer, YouTuber and former Miss World contestant: Xyla Foxlin. Together they try to build a 3D-printable model that will settle the bet.

If you're interested in science, or - hey - even gambling, this is well worth checking out.

It is, yet again, an example of the kind of story that I only ever find on YouTube.

Recommendation

THE 'FREE BRITNEY' CASE
Ronan Farrow and Jia Tolentino Explain the Britney Spears Case

For around 20 years, Britney Spears has been kind of the butt of the joke in popular culture. Like Lindsey Lohan, Amy Winehouse and a whole host of other young female celebrities. (I kind of despair at the fact that, after 20 years of bullying from traditional and social media, there's suddenly this collective realisation that maybe this is not okay, but hey.)

But in recent years, there's been this 'Free Britney' phrase that's been banded around, particularly on social media.

Which sounds kind of absurd. What, is she a political prisoner, suddenly?

No, she isn't. But the more the story is being revealed publically, the more it's looking not a million miles away from that.

13 years go, when she was going through a custody battle with her kids, her parents had her put in a 'conservatorship' – basically a guardianship for someone who is unable to look after themselves. This happened pretty much overnight. Since that time, she has been battling to get out of it, and... it looks pretty horrific.

Ronan Farrow (who was so instrumental in bringing down Harvey Weinstein) is now reporting on this story, so you know it's pretty dark.

This video is a conversation between him, journalist colleague Jia Tolentino and podcast host John Lovett, about the scary scary world of American conservatorships, and how if Britney Spears had been arrested holding a severed head in one hand and an axe in the other (this is the example they mention in the programme) she would still have more rights under the US constitution than she does now.

And... a few years ago I would have fooled myself into thinking, "Well, this sounds like an American problem, doesn't it? This isn't the kind of thing we do here, is it?"

But now it seems to me to be... hard to describe – part of what feels like a cultural disease, which is as prevalent in the UK as in the US.

Recommendation

'LEAVE HER JOHNNY' BY THE LONGEST JOHNS
Leave Her Johnny | The Longest Johns | Mass Choir Community Video Project

Still ain't done with Shanties!

This from a while ago, but it's good wholesome stuff.

PROMISING NEW TRAILERS...

Recommendation

THE CARD COUNTER (TRAILER)
THE CARD COUNTER Trailer (2021)

Right, let's get down to the whole host of films that I would love to see in the cinema but am still not really comfortable actually going inside a cinema to see...

Paul Schrader wrote the script for 70s classics like Taxi Driver, and has recently turned his hand to directing.

From what I can tell, in his latest film, Oscar Isaac plays a troubled Iraq veteran (a guard at Abu Ghraib?) turned professional gambler persuaded into revenge against his army superiors.

It looks like a dark, twisted, angry political thriller.

Which I am very much here for.

Recommendation

THE NORTH WATER (TRAILER)
THE NORTH WATER Trailer (2021) Colin Farrell

I'm very much getting Moby Dick vibes from this TV series about murderous arctic whalers in the 1850s.

It looks like a dark, twisted, angry nautical thriller.

Wait, I'm noticing a pattern...

Recommendation

MIRACLE WORKERS: OREGON TRAIL (TRAILER)
MIRACLE WORKERS OREGON TRAIL Trailer (2021)
Daniel Radcliffe, Comedy Series

Then there's Miracle Workers: Oregon Trail.

That Daniel Radcliffe. A while back he appeared in the TV series Miracle Workers in which he played a minor bureaucrat in Heaven, trying to stop God (played by Steve Buscemi) from destroying the world on a whim.

Clearly the cast and crew had so much fun that they came back for a sequel, but with a totally different story in a totally different setting: Miracle Workers – Dark Ages. This time Radcliffe played a weak king in a brutal Game of Thrones style medieval land.

It feels a bit like a rep theatre, with the same actors playing vaguely similar comedic roles in new situation after new situation.

I haven't seen any of this new series, but I think the trailer looks great, and I love the fact that Radcliffe seems to be having so much fun toying with his typecasting.

Recommendation

GHOSTBUSTERS: AFTERLIFE (TRAILER)
Ghostbusters: Afterlife - Official Trailer (2021)
Paul Rudd, McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard

I'm not a superfan of Ghostbusters. (In fact, I think parts of the original movie have aged rather badly.)

But this is a really good trailer.

And I'm not recommending the films here, because they're not out yet so I obviously haven't seen them.

But yeah, this is a really good trailer.

Recommendation

ARMY OF THIEVES (TRAILER)
Army of Thieves | Official Teaser | Netflix

And... yeah, there was a Netflix movie that recently came out — Army Of The Dead — in which a group of mercenaries break into a casino in Las Vegas to steal a ton of money from a vault.

Oh, and Vegas is overrun with zombies.

Apparently one character in that (a nerdy German safecracker called Dieter) was such a hit with the audiences that he now has a prequel all of his own.

I haven't seen Army Of The Dead, and even though it does sound like my kind of party, I might do, or I might not.

But again, we're not talking about the actual movies here: we're talking about the trailers.

And the way this trailer riffs off Wagner's The Ride of the Valkeries is something else.

Upcoming Events

Friday 13th August

Yeah baby. Back in action.

These are online versions of the Bastard English Session which has haunted the Isis Farmhouse Pub in Oxford for over a decade now.

You simply click this:

And then enter the password, which is:

  • bitshowy

And a reminder of the New (well, now Old) Bastard Protocol:

  1. If you’re performing, you’ll need to change your Zoom settings to ‘Use Original Sound’.
  2. It’s a one-at-a-time performing thing, and I have to mute everyone during each performance (because of audio lag) (and also, because I get an enormous kick out of it).
  3. Feel free to use the Chat function throughout!
  4. Also, I find all Zoom calls weirdly tiring, so feel free to hide your video, and wander in and out.

Dear Diary...

Each monthly newsletter I've always ended with the What Have We Learnt section, and actually I'm going to pretty much skip straight to that, because I feel like that's the interesting thing at the moment.

But first, now I'm a parent I'm faced with that dilemma (well, for some it's a dilemma, and some it's just a question) about how much you show (literally and figuratively) your children online.

It’s tricky if you kind of keep a public diary, because it’s obviously such a crucial part of your life.

Then again, I feel it’s still fundamentally an incredibly bad idea.

So, as always, I’ve come up with an idiosyncratic solution.

Going forward, I have decided to pretend that I have eight children: Ace, Gonzo, Diana, Julius, Beyoncé, James Jnr., Pod, and a child I’m only going to refer to with a sixteen digit serial number.

So What Have We Learnt?

Let’s go through this in reverse chronological order. Let’s talk about house moving, let’s talk about parenthood, and then let’s talk about grief.

Moving House

Surprisingly, this was the thing that broke me. Perhaps because it happened last. Perhaps because it’s not something I’ve done much, so I wasn’t properly prepared for it.

Firstly, I’d forgotten how physically exhausting it can be. Wake up, then flat pack, childcare, flatpack, childcare, shift furniture in and out of cars, go to bed…

Secondly, I’d forgotten how difficult it is to get stuff done, because you have no idea what box that really important thing you need right now is in. Also, it takes at least a week for Internet to be reconnected, and that alone nearly killed me.

But the thing that really surprised me was the heartbreak.

As the art and the little trinkets that we’ve been living with for the last however many years have finally been taken out of their boxes and put in the new living space, it starts to feel like a home again. But when we moved from our last home into this series of blank empty rooms… it was the strangest sensation. It felt like I had abandoned a whole bunch of really loyal friends. Like I ditched all of the toys in Toy Story 3. Even going back to the area just filled me with sadness. A really overwhelming sadness, like the breakup of a relationship.

And considering there had already been sadness that month, it all felt a bit much. Even going back to the area just wrecked me.

I still live in the same town that I was born in and grew up in, so I’m never that far away from my childhood home. And going past there now, it’s weird – I kind of feel nothing. As if technically, I still live there and always will.

So I suppose I’ll come to feel something similar. But… yeah, it really surprised me.

Parenthood

If you’re thinking of having kids, here are the crucial things you need to be aware of:

  • Kiss a full nights sleep goodbye, because you will never have another one in the rest of your life. You will spend your time sleep-deprived like a prisoner of war.
  • Also, don’t expect to have a social life. Or career progression.
  • Women: expect to get labyrinthitis, amnesia, food poisoning and a visitation from three ghosts over consecutive nights.
  • Men, expect your genitalia to fall off within the first six weeks, followed by a gambling problem and then financial ruin.
  • But, y'know, it's magical...

Which is a roundabout way of saying this:

Ever since I was a boy in school, there have always been people ahead of me who have tried to fill me with scare stories. You think GCSEs are bad? Wait till you get to A-levels. You think A-levels are bad? That’s nothing on the pressure of University. Enjoy University while it lasts, because the real world is going to hit you like a freight train.

It’s all bullshit, frankly.

And especially with becoming a parent, I’ve found.

The truth is that people’s experiences vary wildly.

And also, you’re not some passive leaf blown through this by the wind. You actually have a lot more autonomy than you might think you do. You can spot problems on the horizon, and resolve them before they happen. And the problems that do come your way will almost always be manageable in the moment, and then you forget them.

And yes, you might have bad luck. Your experience of becoming a parent might be traumatic. I know people for whom that has definitely been the case.

But your next experience of crossing the street might be traumatic. Life is always precarious, and big problems can come out of nowhere. And I tend to find it’s the polar bear you don’t see that gets you.

I’m not saying parenthood is a breeze, but it’s not some whole other level of stress and difficulty that marks the end of your old life irreperably. Or at least it isn’t for everyone.

This may not apply directly to you – you might know you don’t want to have kids – but there’s still probably something you want to pursue in life that people want to discourage you from in bad faith.

Basically, either way, don’t let people harsh your life buzz. You’re smart, you’ve got this. I believe in you.

Grief

I feel properly ashamed by not having got in touch with people I know who have lost loved ones throughout the pandemic.

Initially, I felt I didn’t have the bandwidth. Then, as time passed, I felt I’d missed the moment. Then, as more time passed, my guilt made me procrastinate even more.

And I’ve been reminded of this as people have passed on their condolences to me when my father died.

It also struck me that I tend to get the experience of grief wrong. I tend to assume that everyone who has just lost a loved one is feeling deep sadness at that moment.

When it happened to me, however, the sadness happened long before, when I realised my father’s health was in clear decline. It happened afterwards, at the funeral (which is what funerals are for, I suppose – to give you the time to feel sadness). And I think it will continue to happen, particularly in dreams.

But when he was actually dying there was a maelstrom of logistics and decisions and coping mechanisms to grapple with. There just wasn’t room for sadness.

And when space was finally cleared, it actually wasn’t sadness that filled it, but anger.

I think this is a very common experience which I hadn’t been aware of. I didn’t feel angry at him for dying, which is a feeling I think some people have. The day he actually died, I had a big angry argument with pretty much everyone around me. This overwhelming sense of just finally having had enough of everyone’s bullshit.

Which passed.

Kind of.

I’m still about 36% more angry than I normally am, now that I think about it.

Yeah, it’s been a month of not realising that I’ve been struggling to cope until long after the fact, and how angry I am is basically the barometer for how well I’m (not) coping.

I mean, it’s also been kind of a long year.

In Conclusion

It has been a long year. Highs and lows.

But over this last month (I feel like a month in the pandemic counts as a year in ordinary times) I’ve found myself frequently thinking about the poem that is read each year at the anniversary of the Catweazle Club, and was read at our wedding:

Nor greed nor fear can tear our faith apart
When every heart-beat hammers out the proof
That life itself is miracle enough.

Actually, I feel like I’ve spent so much time focusing on the big Life & Death manifestations that I’ve become a bit oblivious to the world around me. I feel like I’m still living in semi-lockdown.

I’m dimly aware that it’s kind of Vaccines vs Variants right now. And it may be a while before we can safely be in the same space together, singing and painting and plying our trades like the poem says. But we’ll meet again – don’t know where, don’t know when. But I know we’ll meet again, some sunny day.

I’m looking forward to it more keenly than ever.

Ask me things

If you have any questions then seriously, do please drop me a message using one of the pretty social media buttons below. About the recordings. About the folk session. About life. About the universe. Anything except child #8576338756498931. This is the only picture you're gonna get...

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  • Click on the images to see the originals. (It just means less admin for me this way.)
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