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Shameless Self-publicity

11 January, 2017 (14:38) | Books, Writing | By: Ian Burdon

As I’ve mentioned before, I have a story being published at some indeterminate point in the near future. You can read about it at this link. I know it’s getting closer because (a) I’ve had the edits back and (b) I got an email today about publicity when it comes out–essentially my role, amongst other people’s, in making sure potential readers know about the book so that they can buy it.

The email links to this blogpost at Fox Spirit Books. It is very sensible and I understand what it’s getting at. If I have a problem, it’s that if someone persistently promotes their work to/at me on Twitter, I reach for the ‘mute’ button.

So I’m pondering the dividing line between reasonable and unreasonable promotion, and obligations to the other writers and the publisher, given that Twitter is now the only social media platform I use.

We are rooted, we are your children

3 January, 2017 (10:35) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

Union Canal at Ratho

Union Canal at Ratho

We went out for a stroll yesterday, a start to working off the festive chocolate glut. It wasn’t a huge walk, just three miles alongside the Union Canal from Ratho, but it was enjoyable.

It’s a while since I/we’ve been there. Some new houses and a marina on one side of the bridge caught me unawares, but on the eastern side, the one we walked, the only change was a path has been laid to replace to previous muddy track. The narrow boat owners weren’t out on the canal, but canoeists were, powering their way through the murky water.

It wasn’t especially busy, but there were a pleasing number of friendly dogs looking for ear scratches and chin rubs.



Bird life was unexciting, and there was no sign at all of aquatic life until, towards the end of our walk, a handsome pair of goosander put in an appearance.

Unfortunately there was no room at the Bridge Inn for lunch.


For some reason, not long after the bells  at New Year, I found myself pondering mortality and transience. Partly, I think, this came from an awareness that the older one gets, and with each passing regular ‘event’, the shorter life seems; partly also it was because of the death of my uncle over the holiday period; and partly it came from reading Adam Rutherford’s A Brief History of Everyone Who Ever Lived.

Perhaps it was thoughts of transience, or perhaps it was just getting round to it at last, but for whatever reason I spent last night working out the basics of Robin Dransfield’s Fair Maids of February, one of those songs I come back to again and again and again.

From the darkness of winter, the first flowers to venture
And now you’re lying beneath the snow

Fair Maids of February are snowdrops.

The song covers, or hints at, a lot of things, and I catch different resonances every time I listen to it or read the words. Robin and his brother Barry, individually or as a duo, have so many good songs.

Winding Down the Year (2)

31 December, 2016 (19:02) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

Happy 2017 to all (?) my readers.


(i) Be kind
(ii) Look for beauty

The rest will be what it will be.

Winding Down the Year (1)

30 December, 2016 (11:21) | Uncategorized | By: Ian Burdon

As 2016 crawls off to the knacker’s yard, I’ve had this running around my head:

A Great Disturbance in the Force

28 December, 2016 (15:39) | Rants | By: Ian Burdon

When Princess Diana died in 1997, colleagues and I discussed the reactions to her death. We agreed that she seemed to have married into a shitty life and it was sad she died young in that manner, but we weren’t in floods of tears, we didn’t buy flowers to leave in the park, and it didn’t disturb our emotional lives at all. This wasn’t an exercise in cynicism, it was just that she wasn’t known to us personally and personal grief wasn’t involved.

Wind forward nearly 20 years to 2016 and the roll-call of the fallen, most recently Carrie Fisher, whose death was announced yesterday. In the case of Carrie Fisher, of course I regret her death and have empathy and sympathy for those who knew her; but all year, as public figures have died, my Facebook timeline, when I had one, and my Twitter timeline have featured people declaring the depths of their sorrow at individual deaths in ways that veer towards the mawkish, featuring photographs of the deceased with strap lines attesting to the lachrymose desolation of the poster. These are not from friends and family, whose grief is understandable, but from normal punters. Ms. Fisher is the latest to trigger such reactions.

I don’t get it. I don’t understand why people want to make a public display of emotional inadequacy: what do they want, a medal?

Carrie Fisher: RIP

Can You Hear The Music?

26 December, 2016 (23:22) | Sense8 | By: Ian Burdon

Another Christmas gone.

Our Christmas was pretty much like we’ve done for several years now–I make my mince pies on Christmas Eve, then make dinner on Christmas Day, and then flop somewhere and snooze. That’s pretty much how I like it and, so they tell me, it’s how everyone else here likes it too.

The only thing different is this year I didn’t watch the Dr Who Christmas edition when it was broadcast (I was snoozing) and, so far, still haven’t watched it. I’ll get around to it sooner or later.

However I did watch the Sense8 Christmas Special on 23rd December and have watched it again twice since. I’ll probably watch it some more times too. You will gather from my watching it three times already that I enjoyed it, and that it was a joy for me to reconnect with the characters. The special served to move the stories of the characters forward and also to set up some themes for season 2, which appears on Netflix May 5th (Will experiencing some of Angelica’s memories and Jonas’s explanation quietly did that).

If you’ve seen my three previous posts about Sense8 you’ll know that I love this show for many reasons, and I enjoyed the Christmas Special for those same reasons. The core reason is the way the hand-wavy science-y  stuff about being senseate and psycellium and shit does its heavy lifting in the outworking of the core metaphor via the interplay of the characters, rather than being front and centre as techno-babble. This alone makes Sense8 more interesting than 99% of so-called sci-fi on TV (or in the cinema, for that matter). The other core reasons are the commitment to “show don’t tell” and the emotional engagement I have with the characters.

The Christmas show wasn’t perfect: I think it suffered a little from being a stand-alone episode, particularly in some of the early pacing. Also, to these British ears some of the dialogue seemed over-written. But these are niggles rather than substantive criticisms. As ever the show brought big smiles to my face and, once or twice, some pressure behind my eyes (often involving Sun Bak, but also, surprisingly, Bug).

Anyway: this is how senseates celebrate their birthday–no napping on the couch for them.

In The Realms of the Unreal

20 December, 2016 (17:40) | Brexit, Dead Water | By: Ian Burdon

Somewhere around 1979 or 80, I read Paul Feyerabend’s Against Method. I got to it by a roundabout route: his How To Be a Good Empiricist was in a Philosophy of Science tutorial reading list, and I was sufficiently intrigued by that to read more of him.

Against Method is not without its critics, some, though by no means all, of whom understood what Feyerabend was getting at. It’s a while since I last read it and the detail fades, but I do recall the thrust of one of his core suggestions: that Galileo succeeded in the long run not because he had better arguments in the abstract, but because he was better at arguing.

A similar analysis can be made of Martin Luther, often said to have sparked revolution when he nailed his theses to a church door. That’s not really true: his theses were in latin and unintelligible to most of the population. He really got motoring when he pointed out, during a period of significant local economic trouble due to widespread crop failure, that German money was lining Italian pockets.

This has been in my mind for a lot of this year in the context of Brexit and the US election. It will also be important if we ever have to endure another Indy referendum here in Scotland. There was an assumption on the part of the ‘Remain’ side and the non-fascist part of America (and remains an assumption of the “No” side in Scotland), that it is enough to present facts and arguments to convince the ‘other side’ of the logic of your case, at which point they will shake your hand and thank you for correcting their misconceptions. They will not.

Analysis and logic are important, but they are not sufficient; in fact they are easily sidestepped by portraying them as the nit-picking pettifoggery of “experts”. The SNP understand this, as does the loathsome Farage. For those of us who value an open, inclusive society, we need positions and arguments that appeal to people’s emotion and instinct, not just their minds.

And they need to be memorably expressed in no more than 140 characters.



The Book of the Faces redux

4 December, 2016 (21:39) | Facebook | By: Ian Burdon

I deactivated my Facebook account on 18 November. I went back on briefly on Friday/Saturday just gone to let people know that I’ve gone, then deactivated the account again.

Effectively that’s 16 days without it; I haven’t found its absence a particular wrench and I don’t feel any inclination to dive back into it. The brief time I was back on did not incline me to change my mind.

So this year I’ve deactivated Facebook and completely deleted my LinkedIn account. The latter led to an immediate and drastic reduction in spam mail with no balancing downside. I’m still active-ish on Twitter, but dip into it rather than have it permanently on. I had an email discussion with a friend in the US, who has also cut her Facebook use back to the bone for much the same reasons I’ve walked away. I wrote (slightly edited):

I remember when the big thing was Usenet and email Listservers; then along came pioneers like Friends Reunited and My Space, then online forums and Google-Groups, then Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Now there’s a whole eco-system of new sights and apps. I don’t use, but millions of others do. As each new wave comes along, the old ones die off, and I wonder what the future is for Facebook. It has the momentum of its huge user-base of course, but I’m not convinced by its chances of longevity, and wonder if it will go the way of MySpace.

It also occurred to me that I have a number of friends who have never used Facebook at all and for whom this is all completely by-the-by.

A Farewell to facebook?

27 November, 2016 (20:57) | Dead Water, Facebook | By: Ian Burdon

I’ve been on Facebook for a while, I think since around 2009. I am now in my second week without it. My account hasn’t been deleted, but I have disabled it so I don’t show up there if anyone looks for me. Click on the Facebook link to the right and you’ll get a ‘Page Not Found’ message.

The reason I did it was simple: I opened my account up over breakfast one morning, scrolled back through a few entries, and decided I didn’t want to see any more of what was there. I’ve always said I liked Facebook because I could keep in touch with friends and relatives and post photographs, etc., but the scrolling list of memes and stupidity that morning repelled me, especially the political stuff from either side of the Atlantic.

Signal:Noise was unacceptable.

I’m not going to make any grand claims about how not being on Facebook has made me happier–it’s only been a few days so far after all, but the absence of it as a distraction is a very pleasurable experience. I’ve done more with my time, even if that ‘doing more’ has largely been reading and thinking about writing (and seeking publication). I’ve also started thinking about 2017 and what it may bring, and in doing so have been playing guitar more and cleaning up my old SLR cameras, readying them for use.

I don’t know whether I’ll eventually just delete the Facebook account or leave it in permanent suspension; it still has some uses, I think, so it will stay for a while. I am sure, though, that I want to reclaim my life, and especially want to reclaim my creative life. The creeping ubiquity of Facebook, or at least the way I used it, interferes with that and so, for now, it has gone.

Trumpety Trump Trump Trump

9 November, 2016 (19:56) | Brexit, Dead Water | By: Ian Burdon

On 3 November 2004, on an old blog that no longer exists except on my hard drive, I wrote:

The history of the twentieth century was the history of the rise of America: the history of the twenty-first century will be that of its decline and fall. The hope has to be that it doesn’t drag the rest of us down with it.

Although that was written with all the portentousness that a blog can entail, I still hold to that view, although I’m more inclined now to think of a general decline of the West. The election of Trump is an indicator of that, I think, as is the self-inflicted headshot that is Brexit. Moreover, it isn’t clear that the European Union has the stamina or wherewithal to survive either. Given Mr. Putin’s machinations of late, we might approach the close of 2016 contemplating the so-called winning of the Cold War by the West.

How will future generations regard the decades post WW2? As Zhou Enlai is supposed to have said about the impact of the Paris riots of 1968: “it’s too soon to say.” I’ve seen a lot of despair around today, and no doubt there will be a lot more in days to come. I’m not optimistic about what Trumpism will bring, but neither am I apocalyptic.

I have a western perspective on this because that is my culture and upbringing; Trump represents a set of values I find abhorrent within that culture. But it is not the only perspective.

Perhaps a better historical focus should start from the perspective of the cradles of our civilisations: Mesopotamia, Africa, China, and all points in between. But this would require us to take an internationalist view, and popular feeling is running against such a thing. Trump and Brexit represent species of exceptionalism, and we’ll get nowhere unless we can change that.