Rage on the Road, Summer 2016

After a few weeks of watching bands, writing, getting ground down by the day-job and wound up by the shit flying every which-way in the run-up to the  referendum on the UK’s membership of the EU, it seems like a good time to let off some steam. I’ve had the good fortune to find a few well-timed events amenable to giving me a slot to air some rage monologues, meanig I’ll be letting it all out on the following dates:

June 26th: York Anti-Fracking Open Mic at the Fulford Arms, York, 13:00-16:00. Facebook event page.

June 29th: Bad Language at the Castle Hotel, Manchester, 19:30. Event page at the Bad Languge website.

July 16th: Irk, Super Luxury, Legion of Swine at the Fulford Arms, York, 19:00. Yes, this is actually happening. Facebook event page.

I still have a handful of the limited, numbered ‘tour edition’ pamphlets of The Rage Monologues in hand. Copies will be available for purchase exclusively at these events. Because literature is the original rock ‘n’ roll.


Rage Cover 2

Keeping Busy: A Week in the Life

Sometimes it feels like treading water. Trying to remain productive over and above surviving the daily grind, paying the bills, the regular essentials like eating and remembering to charge your phone.

Other times, things happen. Life gets even busier, but for the best. I’m not one for a ‘tour diary’ or, worse still, a regular diary, but the last week has been hectic, in a good way.

Wednesday, I made the trip to Leeds to perform at Verbal Remedies. A slightly smaller crowd than in March, they were nevertheless enthusiastic and encouraging, and my set was well received. I sold a copy of the limited, numbered tour edition of The Rage Monologues (almost half of this run has now sold) and got to chat with some really cool people. It was also something of a privilege to appear on the same bill as guest speakers Ian Winter (Hull) and Hannah Stone (York), who were outstanding. This is very quickly becoming one of my favourite spoken word nights going, and the standard of open mic performers is consistently strong. For the second time in two months, I was astounded by Lauren Butler’s lung capacity.

A short clip of my performance of ‘News’ also got shot that night. There isn’t much footage of me reading, and this is probably one of the best yet.

One day, I’ll figure out how to actually embed this video…

Friday saw me take the rage back on the road, this time making the journey to the Scribble night at The Shakespeare in Sheffield. The journey was stressful to say the least: I knocked off work at 3:45 and caught a bus to the station, hopping on the 4:45 York to Sheffield (direct via Leeds) which was due to land in Sheffield at 17:48: ample time to make the 17-minute walk to the venue at my pace. Signal failure at Sheffield meant that we sat at Leeds station for half an hour, during which time I began to regret the chilli-cheese wrap I’d made for lunch. The train stalled again at Meadowhall and we were advised to disembark and hop on the tram. This stopped around every 500 yards, and I finally jumped off at somewhere near but not very near the station at 18:45 in a state of anxiety and bursting with rage. I figured I might channel this into my performance later, and yes, I did, although I’m not sure how well it translated. I’d got the walk from the station mapped out on my phone, but quite lost and with the even scheduled for a 7pm, start, I hopped in the nearest taxi and made it with minutes to spare.

The Shakespeare is an ace venue: the upstairs room is large and a good, plain rectangular shape with good acoustics and the bar downstairs offers 9 hand pumps and more decent beer than even I could consume. It was good to catch up in real life with Rob Eunson and to meet more new people, and while the reaction to my performance (a trio of rage monologues, during which, utterly pumped after my terrible journey, saw me leave the mic and rave manically to the audience, who looked terrified) was mixed, it was a good night. The other speakers were, again, excellent, and besides, I don’t expect rapturous applause and unanimous acclaim doing what I do.

That same day, my first new material in some time hit the market. While my February publication project, Something Must Break / Dream of the Flood, was ‘new writing’ I haven’t had work featured in anyone else’s publications in a year or two. So, for ‘Ambition’, a rage piece I only wrote earlier this year and performed for the first and only timer in Leeds in March to feature in issue 3 of The Curly Mind, the on-line zine curated by Reuben Woolley, a poet I admire greatly, is a big deal. You can read ‘Ambition’ here, and it’s worth having a nose round the other work at The Curly Mind.

Landing home after Sheffield at around 11:30am, it was an early start on Saturday for Live at Leeds, where I changed from writer / performer to music reviewer and landed early doors for some of the bands on at midday, and stuck it out till gone 10:30pm, by which time I’d seen 10 bands play in some five venues and on six stages, leaving myself with pages of scribbled notes from which to chisel a 1,500 word review for Whisperin’ and Hollerin’ by 10pm on Sunday.

Not every week is like this, and I’m now even further behind on my email than ever. But, having started to build what feels like momentum taking the rage on the road, a hometown performance in York in May seems like the way to go, ahead of venturing to Manchester in June.

Who knows, I might even find the time to write some new material before then. But meanwhile, it’s bank holiday Monday, it’s chucking it down and I have DIY to do…


Rage Cover 2

Rage on the Road: Updated

As mentioned in my previous post, I don’t intend to make a big deal of my spoken-word performances this year. I’m not trying to drum up support among those already familiar with my work. Taking turns at spoken-word nights where I can get them is a strategy for reaching a new (unsuspecting) audience. And no doubt scaring / irritating / offending people. But for those familiar with my work who do like the idea of seeing a bloke rave like he’s having a breakdown in front of an audience in the name of entertainment / performance art, prospective dates are as follows:

27th April 2016: Leeds: Verbal Remedies @ Verve Bar, 19:30

29th April 2016: Sheffield: Scribble @ The Shakespeare, 19:00

13th May 2016: York: Speakers’ Corner @ The Golden Ball, 19:30

29th June 2016:Manchester: Bad Language @ Castle Hotel, 19:30


Hopefully there will be more to announce shortly. Meanwhile, here’s a taste:


Torch-ure – Aflame with Ire and Cynicism as the Olympics Come to Town

It’s fair to say that I’m not really big on sport, either as a participant or a spectator. While I used to be good at cross-country running in school, and do enjoy watching a spot of snooker and test cricket, even keeping an eye on England’s international football matches, other sports I frankly couldn’t care less about (and my running days are well behind me: now, I’m as unlikely to run a marathon as watch one on television). I also happen to find athletics particularly tedious, and as such, have always avoided the Olympics. There aren’t that many people I know who seem all that fussed either. However, bringing the Olympics to Britain – by which of course I mean London – seems to have turned half the nation into rabid fans.

And so it ,was that today, at certain points of the afternoon, half the streets in York were closed while the 8,000-mile national Olympic torch relay traversed the city. The day’s section of the relay concluded at the racecourse, where 20,000 people were expected to attend a (free) ticket-only event. As I made my way through the city centre around 4:30, sections of many streets were lined with metal barriers, with people clinging to them in eager anticipation, sometimes three rows deep. They still had another hour to wait, and as I made my way away from the city centre toward my home, the experience was akin to swimming against the tide as people flooded in the opposite direction from the one I was walking in.



A crowd of rabid Olympics fans clamour round a torch-bearer, somewhere in Britain recently

A friend of mine, who I’d chatted with on the bus into town, had looked slightly surprised by my lack of enthusiasm for the event. He was heading for the racecourse. He pointed out that it was a once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Olympic torch in his home city. On disembarking, we headed in opposite directions and I began to wonder, as I passed the TV and radio outside broadcast vans, the police cones, the police constables, the stewards and and PCSO and the gathering crowds, if by heading home and shunning the whole event I wasn’t perhaps missing out. Perhaps it wasn’t that they were all pathetic sheep, but genuinely enthusiastic and interested in the symbolism of the torch, the idea of a community and a nation united by sport. What if they were right, and I was wrong?



Another crowd of hardcore torch fanatics brave inclement conditions to flap flags in Durham

I arrived home and didn’t turn on the television, didn’t immediately flick to Sky News, BBC News or the BBC website for the streaming live torch action and scrolling real-time blog commentary, and didn’t immediately sign into Facebook. I didn’t need to: Mrs N’s Facebook feed was already beginning to fill with images of crowds taken from various angles, and reaffirmed my original belief. I had been right all along: what this ‘once in a lifetime opportunity to see the Olympic torch’ actually represented was just one of infinite opportunities to mill about and crush in with countless strangers all clamouring for a glimpse of something fleeting and ultimately inconsequential – in this instance, one of 8,000 gas-lit ‘torches’ that make up a seemingly endless build-up to a sporting event that takes place every four years that’s cost billions. And will be happening in London.

As with the jubilee celebrations, the idea that the whole nation is aflame with enthusiasm and national pride and is backing ‘Team GB’ and the Olympic build-up, as portrayed by the media is a myth. There may have been hundreds lining the streets in every town and city to see ‘the’ torch (which didn’t really happen for the Jubilee) and thousands heading to the racecourse for the evening event, but if anyone truly believes it was for any reason other than the chance to duck off work early, to say you were ‘there’ and prove it by posting photos on Facebook, or to appease the panic that they might have been missing out on something, then they’re even dafter than the other painted-faced flag-wearing bozos and I’ll happily eat the torch I’ve got tucked behind the sofa ready to flog on eBay at the weekend…


‘The’ Olympic torch. Hand-crafted in ancient Greece and made of real Olympian metal. Yours for just £100,000.



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2011: A Year in Books

When I’m not busy writing, there’s nothing I like more than immersing myself in a good book. In fact, just as I’d describe myself as a compulsive writer, so I’d also describe myself as a compulsive reader. At times, it’s something that can prove to be something of a curse, as I’ll find myself distracted by any text within – or even just beyond – my range of focus. For his reason, rolling news channels can really test me, especially if the screen’s behind the head of someone who’s talking to me.

As a rule, I’m rather a ‘glass half empty’ sort of person, but this year, having found myself required to spend more time travelling to and from places of work (albeit for the same desultory pay-packet), I elected to make the best of a bad situation and use the time in transit to squeeze in a spot of light – and not so light – reading. Here’s a list of the texts I managed to plough through. A handful were re-reads, others were texts I’d stalled on previously and decided to attempt again (successfully this time) and others had been lurking on my shelf for some time. While I enjoyed some more than others, they all had their merits and enriched my life in some way during the last 12 months, and as such, I would happily recommend every last one of them.

Jarrett Kobek – HOE #999

Dennis Lehane – Shutter Island

JG Ballard – The Drowned World

Gary Cummiskey & Eva Kowalska (eds) – Who Was Sinclair Beiles?

James Wells – Hack

Alain Robbe-Grillet – The Erasers

Bill Drummond – $20,000

Chuck Palahniuk – Diary

Frank Kermode – Modern Essays

Mary Beach – Electric Banana

Carl Weissner – The Braille Film

Katrina Palmer – The Dark Object

JG Ballard – High Rise

Stewart Home – Memphis Underground

John Wyndham – The Day of the Triffids

Edward S. Robinson – Shift Linguals: Cut-Up Narratives from William S. Burroughs to the Present

Raymond Chandler – The High Window

Alain Robbe-Grillet – Jealousy

Ed McBain – Sadie When She Died

RG Johnson – American Scrap-Dragon

Mike Meraz – Black-Listed Thoughts

Mark Merlis – American Studies

JG Ballard – The Complete Short Stories Vol. 2

Plato – The Symposium

Roland Barthes – Mythologies

JG Ballard – The Day of Creation

Michel Foucault – Language, Counter-Memory, Practice

Kathy Acker – Bodies of Work

Mark Fisher – Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?

Michel Foucault – The Will To Knowledge 1: The History of Sexuality

JG Ballard – The Atrocity Exhibition

Robert Lort (ed) – Azimute: Critical Essays on Deleuze and Guattari

Chuck Palahniuk – Lullabye

Shakespeare – The Tempest

Stewart Home – Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie

Nick Kent – The Dark Stuff

Valerie Solanas – S.C.U.M. Manifesto

Ivor Southwood – Non-Stop Inertia





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The Changing Face of Consumerism VIII: State of Independence, or, All’s Well at The Inkwell

The seven ‘Changing Face of Consumerism’ articles I ran on MySpace in 2008 and 2008 all shared a common theme, namely lamenting the sad decline of the real – both in media and commodity, with ‘reality’ television being a pisspoor ersatz approximation of any reality I’ve ever known, and ‘real’ shopping experiences being slowly subsumed by the virtual marketplace.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for progress, and have long been a big fan of on-line shopping, being one who doesn’t cope well with crowds or endless hours of pavement-pounding in search of goods, but by the same token, I’m a strong advocate of consumer choice. Despite what the global marketplace on-line tells us, we as consumers do not have infinite choice, not least of all because while some niche outlets fare well on-line, many have gone to the wall because the same kind of corporate giants that slowly erased all of the small independent stores from the high streets of each and every town have steamrollered the little on-line traders out.

As city centres everywhere become identikit clones of anywheresville, so our sense of location becomes diminished: the only thing to differentiate, say, Leeds from Lincoln, isn’t the choice of shops, but the size of each branch, and after a mooch round M&S, Boots, Game and HMV, stopping for a uniform coffee in a Starbucks or Costa before going on to… well, it doesn’t matter. I mean it really doesn’t matter where you are, the experience is pretty much the same. Fine, so you know what you’re going to get, but the experience of discovering a little specialist shop tucked away somewhere is radically different and appeals to a whole range of senses. However hard Amazon try to replicate the browsing experience of specialist independent book and record stores with features like ‘look inside’ and the song snippets you can listen to, in addition to the list of recommendations based on what you’re looking at and what other shoppers have also purchased or viewed that functions as a mimesis of the friendly and enthusiastic guy behind the counter who just loves his books or music and knows everything there is to know, like a living, walking encyclopedia, it just isn’t the same. There’s no substitute for browsing.

And so it was that I was practically skipping when The Inkwell opened in York a few weeks ago. A little shop stocking secondhand books, records (with a few selected new titles), CDs and cards, it’s the kind of shop you used to drop into, rummage around and find something wonderful you didn’t even know you wanted. The owner, Paul Lowman, is clearly an unashamed enthusiast first and a businessman second, and while such a venture is the kind that will never make him rich, and would make many lenders and entrepreneurs alike squirm in discomfort, it’s a shopper’s delight. Perhaps not surprisingly, The Inkwell is aimed at a niche market (by which I mean discerning shoppers: Paul’s philosophy is according to the website, “COOL STUFF FOR ALL!” Popular Culture is about democracy – inclusivity, not exclusivity) specialising as it does in books on music, film and pop culture, with sections on the Beat Generation, Art, Philosophy and a noteworthy – not to mention impressive – selection of pulp paperbacks, all in remarkably good condition (yet reasonably priced, with titles marked up at between six and ten quid).

The vinyl, too, is all in great nick, and the range, though limited, is all about quality and catering to a particular kind of discerning alt/hipster customer. There’s no mainstream pap to be found on the racks: instead, there are sections devoted to Garage, Psych, 90s Indie, Spoken Word / Comedy, and even Burlesque. Yes, if you want the kitsch sleaze of yesteryear, then the range of sexploitation titles in both audio and written media is exceptional.

It’s a tiny little place, made all the more cramped by there being a pair of school desks in the middle of the room, upon which a choice of books are casually laid. It’s all about the browsing experience (they serve coffee too), and an eclectic mix of music is spun – at high volume, and all on vinyl, naturally – on the turntable in the corner by the counter. Of course, it’s simply one’s man’s vision, one man’s obsession made manifest… but what’s wrong with that? But equally, why should a shop such as this succeed in a climate where major chains are going to the wall? The answer, I believe, is simple. In attempting to appeal to everyone, the major chains ultimately cater for no-one. In aiming to cover a vast market based on some kind of assumed generic average consumer and broad populism, the chains become Xerox copies of one another: reliable, perhaps, but ultimately forgettable and wholly impersonal. A shop like The Inkwell isn’t about conquering the world or trying to cater to all tastes: it knows its market and knows it well – because by being the shop its owner wants it to be, it’s catering for like-minded individuals (there’s that word again!). It’s unique in every way, and every item in stock is essentially a one-off. It has the personal touch and is memorable. And that’s why it has a better than average chance of success.

So, on the opening day I left with a brand new hardback copy of Brion Gysin: Dream Machine (a bargain at a tenner given that it retails at £25), a read but respectable copy of The Dark Stuff by Nick Kent (£3) and a vinyl LP – a copy of Fade Out by Loop, again in top condition (EX as Record Collector would have it), for a fiver.

I returned this week and was pleased to see some of the stock had gone and new stuff had taken its place, meaning I was able to add a copy of the original 1971 Olympia Press edition of S.C.U.M. Manifesto by Valerie Solanas to my library. The tenner asking price was more than fair, especially given the condition.

Does The Inkwell represent the vanguard of the counter-revolution in the world of retail? Perhaps not, but I’d like to think that other independent stores will begin to pop up, not just in York, but in every city, and soon. It’s unlikely that this is how the economic situation will be recovered, but being able to rifle some good books and records in a pleasant environment certainly makes these dark times a lot more bearable.

The Inkwell Online is cool – www.ink-well.co.uk – but not nearly as cool as being there.




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Thoughts, Images, Sounds….

I hadn’t been especially late to bed and had slept reasonably well, at least in comparison to the last two or three weeks. I’m not entirely sure why, but I’ve not been sleeping well lately. However tired I am, however much or little alcohol I consume during the evening, whether I go to be early or late, whether I have to be up or not, I’ve been waking up consistently a little before five in the morning. Once awake, I lie wondering how long it is before the alarm (the clock isn’t on my side of the bed, and the hands on my old, second-hand, wind-up watch are not luminous). I’m always aware that I’ve been dreaming long and hard, but can never recall any of the details, and more often than not, even the main body of the dream evaporates on waking. All I know is that my mind has been working overtime and I’m even more exhausted on waking than when I turn out the light – or leave it on, along with the television or radio in an attempt to create a background hum that will induce rest. And while Mrs N sleeps soundly through everything, nothing works for me.

So once again I awoke before the alarm and lay, semi-comatose and half-paralysed, too awake to return to sleep, to dopey to get up and commence any kind of constructive activity. It’s a little like anaesthesia, or how I imagine a Ketamine trip to feel. I haul myself out of bed and make myself ready without breaking free of my zombified state.

I open the front door. It’s light, despite being a minute before 7am. The street is bright and empty. I feel on the one hand that Spring really is just around the corner. On the other hand, it’s cold and silent and I feel as though the end of the world is nigh, or, worse still, that the world ended in the night and I am alone in this disconsolate, pot-apocalyptic northern city. Actually, would that really be worse?

Shunning thoughts of the 2012 prophecy to the back of my mind and plugging myself into my MP3 player – not a slick iPod with infinite capacity, but a 2-Gig Alba purchased 3 years ago from Netto – I head townwards with The Psychedelic Furs’ eponymous debut in my ears.

Walking onwards, ever onwards, and encountering no other pedestian and only a handful of cyclists who speed past me, I kept my eyes open and absorb whatever presents itself. I inhaled deeply and drank in the cool morning, my senses unravelling and my receptors slowly coming to life. The air was cold and clear, the ground dry, a frost on the roofs glinting against the clear sky. A mist hung over the Ouse. The water level was relatively low and the water still save for the occasional ripple of rising fish. Lendal Bridge was reflected almost perfectly, the infrequent cars crossing the bridge also crossing in them inverted version on the water below.

The bus is on time. I take a seat and pull my copy of Chuck Palahniuk’s Diary from my bag. I’ve only been reading it for the last three days (and I only get to read in small chunks) but I’m already 30 pages in. The best thing about the bus part of the journey is that I’ve recently discovered that I can read on busses without becoming travel-sick. Two stops on and I’m compressed into half of my seat as some gargantuan, lumbering, fantasy-novel-reading behemoth had parked herself beside me. Her massive bulk occupies a full seat and a half and she’s still hanging into the aisle, her Kindle e-book reader looking like a PDA in proportion to her colossal, hulking frame. She smells, too. I feel nauseous, but fight the gag reflex in favour of soaking in the details of her pungent wet do aroma, her plum-coloured quilted coat, like a giant slippery sleeping bag. I can hear her wheezing even over the sound of ‘Flowers’. It’s painful, awkward and uncomfortable, but I remind myself, ‘this is research’.

For once, I am relieved to arrive at work.

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Things That the Everyday Folk Leave Behind

So I’ve had a pretty busy time of late, what with a couple of interviews I’ve conducted and am conducting for various publications, not to mention interviews and promo bits and pieces for From Destinations Set which is out on the 28th, and a spate of gigs and a tidal wave of new releases to review (90 reviews this year to date), and as a consequence, the blog’s something I’ve let slide a bit (again).

With so much to do, places to go and people to see, I find I spend all of my waking hours rushing about, and my non-waking hours spent with my mind churning through all of the things I’ve done and have got to do and should have done but haven’t yet. To an extent, that’s pretty normal for me, but lately I’ve been so preoccupied and absorbed in all of this activity that I noticed that I’ve stopped noticing things. This concerns me. I’ve always maintained that being attuned to one’s surroundings is the key to being a writer of merit (and while my merits as a writer won’t ultimately be determined by me, it’s something I like to feel I at least aspire to). Besides, it’s not something that’s entirely optional: drawing on the details and minutia of the everyday is a compulsion, it’s something I can’t help, at least under normal circumstances. Observation, those details of life and snippets of overheard dialogue have long provided me with an abundance of material for my writing, be it fiction or blogs or whatever, Absorbing information from the world around me is integral not only to my work, but who I am. Small wonder I was beginning to feel that the workload was swallowing my life: I was beginning to lose myself.

As a consequence, I resolved to pull myself back to life, and I’ve begun to try to observe my surroundings again. I have no idea why I was remotely surprised by the sensory overload this retuning induced, given that I find the wealth of extraneous information dizzying the majority of the time, but having effectively shut down for a period of time, engaging once again with my environment proved to be an immediate culture shock.

So on leaving the house this morning, I was elated to note that day was breaking. It was the first time in months I had hit the pavement in daylight. The air was cold but still. Birds were singing – something quite uncommon given the density of the housing, the lack of gardens and trees and the large number of brutal cats in the neighbourhood. On arrival at the bus stop, I was amused – and also bemused – to see that on one of the seats moulded into the shelter was a handbag. Abandoned, forgotten. Beside the handbag, stretched and strewn across the next two seats, a pair of tights. I wondered if the tights and bag had the same (former) owner. Must’ve been one hell of a night.

It’s not just physical objects that are discarded at random. Conversations, sounds, ideas, all contribute to the flotsam and jetsam. Before long, I’m on the bus, surrounded by blank individuals. The journey is soundtracked by the album The Disaster of Imagination by Sense of Scenery. It doesn’t entirely drown the chatter of the other passengers. I’m reading $20,000 by Bill Drummond. The sensory overload I’m accustomed to is back. Snippets of dialogue filter into my consciousness, on the bus, at the office. Most of it mere babble, some of it so inane it’s beyond belief. ‘Is she still Spanish?’

I’m being flooded with material, more material in a day than I can use in a lifetime. I pick them all up, all of the bits and pieces, and stow them, ready for when I need them. I never know when I might need that discarded handbag, the left-behind tights, the fragments of dialogue, the half light and the birdsong. I’m living the experience that I was supposed to be creating to an amplified degree in THE PLAGIARIST. It’s not funny any more. This is the world.

I’m back and I’m firing on all cylinders….

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

Notes From a Mountain: Annual Coleridge Kick, 2011

My annual Coleridge Kick began in 1987. My father had a Winter Fell-walking trip booked with a friend of his who dropped out, so I took his place and I got a real taste for experiencing the great outdoors in the kind of conditions that keep most people sheltering indoors or heading off to sunnier climes. I’ve always been a fairly solitary individual, so the idea of spending a whole day out there without seeing a soul was part of the appeal and the excitement.

It wasn’t called the Coleridge Kick back then, of course: that came much later. Although Wordsworth’s association with the Lake District is stronger and more widely known, Coleridge also spent significant periods of time there, and I find Coleridge far more interesting, both as a poet and a character. Despite being one of, if not the first to record an ascent of Scafell Pike, England’s highest peak, Coleridge’s importance in the history of Fell walking is spectacularly eclipsed by Wainright, but Coleridge’s relationship with the mountains has long fascinated me, and I consider the darker, deeper shades of his verse to correspond and resonate with my experiences of the mountains far more vividly than Wordsworth’s.

In the intervening times since that first excursion during the February half-term week, I’ve missed a few years here and there, but have been making the trip each year since the new millennium. It’s pretty much the only time I can truly empty my mind and find a moment of inner peace, and in that sense, it’s become a sort of pilgrimage, a duty I undertake for my own mental health. Immense physical exertion, coupled with a need to concentrate on staying on the mountain while battling with snow, ice, high winds and difficult terrain requires focus, and the mind tends not to wander into the domains of fretting about one’s bank balance or getting churned up over how much you hate your job. Recording my walking experiences directly has never really been of interest to me in the past. I much prefer to absorb the atmosphere and draw on it – or otherwise escape there in my mind – when required. This year, however, I decided that I would record a few notes, not on the summits as Coleridge (supposedly) did, but each evening, at the end of the walk when I would reflect on the day’s walking.

Having been pretty busy over the last few months, I was keen to get out in the open air. The absence of snow or true winter conditions wasn’t going to impinge on my enjoyment or appreciation of the time out. No internet, no television, only sporadic mobile phone signal while on the fells and none whatsoever in the hotel nestled in the Borrowdale valley, it’s like stepping out of the century.


Day 1: 25th January 2011

The Langdale Pikes. 3 summits, relatively low – Pike o’ Stickle, Harrison Stickle, Pavey Ark. Total distance a little over 6 miles. On paper, a veritable piece of piss. In practice, rather different. The simple facts – even considering an extended distance, including a double-back detour, totaling 7.8 miles and a total ascent / descent of a fraction over 3,400ft – don’t convey any of the other factors: high wind, low cloud, rain, wind-chill, terrain that all contribute to the fatigue such an excursion can cause. Having started rather late – a little before midday – and lost time to an unplanned detour, the light was beginning to fade on the final descent from Pavey Ark. The atrociously-pitched path down didn’t help, either.

As the daylight began to fade, I felt myself growing anxious. My ever-present internal monologue, usually a reasonable travelling companion who keeps quieter when hard concentration is required, begins to take over. Today, it makes a fairly rapid transition from a calm but endless narrative to a manic scream as darkness descends. Toward the bottom, I manage to lose my footing on a stone, landing with my right leg halfway underneath my body. I bounce back in an instant and it doesn’t hurt much, and within another few minutes, I’m back at the Dungeon Gill car park, relieved to be down and uninjured, and to have made it before it became properly dark. It’s not that I’m afraid of the dark, I’m just fearful of being on a mountain in the dark. Having emerged from my state of high anxiety, I’m beginning to realize that I really do need to take more steps to address my stress levels. More headspace is clearly required, starting with a few pints, a decent meal and a hot bath.


Day 2: 26th January 2011

Skiddaw via the Edges ostensibly represents a single-summit ridge-walk on the face of it. But this nevertheless comprises lesser peaks en route – Ullock Pike, Little Man and Blakestall. The continuous, straight and clearly-marked ridge path which is, in most places, broad and not too severe in terms of gradient generally makes for comparatively easy walking (although these things are all relative), with the valleys unfolding below from the top of Ullock Pike. There are, however, steeper sections, notably toward the summit. That the ground was frozen solid on this section was frozen solid, thus rendering a purchase rather difficult, was cause for panic and it did extend the ascent time by some minutes, which felt like an eternity as I scrambled, slipped, puffed panted and panicked my way from one moment of paralysing fear to the next. Once over this short steep stretch, I found I was able to feel the joy and elation of being out there once again. I was doing this! It felt good to be alive.

Again, the headline statistics don’t account for elevation – 4,600 of ascent in total, a distance of 9.2 miles and a temperature just below freezing on the summit, reduced dramatically by a steady 35-40 mph wind. It was enough to freeze my beard, with crystals forming on my eyelashes too. Views from the summit were limited by the cloud, but dropping down below the cloud level toward Dash Falls, and sheltered from the winds, the air felt balmy and the grass looked right and fresh.

Back at the hotel with a bottle of Conniston Bluebird by the roaring log fire, having made it down well before dark, I had a sense of well-being. My mind and limbs, too weary for activity, soaked in the warmth and the alcohol. I was in bed by 10pm, although again my sleep was rent with disorienting dreams. It usually takes me a night or two to adjust to a different bed, but the focus and effort of the walking on these trips tend to override that. Clearly, I needed more walking, more focus, more beer, more time in front of the fire.


Day 3: 27th January 2011

The Coledale Round: a pleasant ride-walk punctuated by some dramatic undulations. 9.4 miles, 4063 feet of ascent in total, taking in 6 peaks. Ascending to Grisedale Pike via Kinn is a steady climb until the final section toward the summit of the Pike, when it becomes steep and rocky, and can be particularly challenging in high winds or icy conditions. Today, there were neither, but I still found it hard work. Unaccustomed to walking with a pole, I found the instrument an encumbrance, worsened by the knee injury I sustained on the descent from Pavey Ark two days previous flaring up at possibly the most inconvenient time.

It was cold and windy on the top of Grisedale Pike, but the views – Scotland was clearly visible, including the Robin Rigg off-shore wind-farm in the Solway Firth – more than compensated. This is precisely what I do this for. It’s hard to describe the exhilaration and the ‘top of the world’ feeling such vistas inspire, but it’s a sensation that fills every corner and weaves through every fibre of one’s being.

A brief saunter across to Hopegill head yielded more rewarding views as the sun began to break through, making the relatively easy-going stretch to Crag Hill via Sand Hill all the more enjoyable.  The subsequent summits were equally a joy, until it came to the descent from Sale, when my knee became unbearable and my pace slowed to an agonizing crawl only matched by the searing pain in my joint that rendered flexing my right leg – or putting any weight on it – almost impossible.

This dictated the adherence to the formal route, rather than the preferred extended version that takes in Causey Pike. Stepping cautiously, and, for the most part-sideways and using my pole as a walking stick certainly took the joy out of what should have been a downhill yomp to the finish. Still, I felt I’d earned my pint, and made myself comfortable in the Dog & Gun, Keswick for a while.


Day 4: 28th January 2011

My walking companions took pity on me with my painful and rather swollen knee, and so the planned ascent of Great Gable for the final day was shelved. Instead, leaving the car at the hotel once we’d checked out, we headed over from Rosthwaite to Watendlath, then round Watendlath Tarn, up to Dock Tarn and down through woodland back to the start – a mere 5 miles with around 2,000 feet of ascent in total. Even then, I found some of the going tough, especially on the downward sections, but a perfect blue sky and glorious golden sun on the frosted grass and frozen tarns had an undeniable capacity to lift the spirits.

I hadn’t really given Coleridge much thought over the course of the four days away. I hadn’t tried any insane descents via climbers’ routes using only my bare hands, preferring instead to keep to less risky routes. I might not have composed any great poems, and I’d barely made any notes, but I had managed to squeeze in a fair bit of reading for pleasure – a rare luxury – during the evenings. Returning home meant reconnecting with the things I enjoy about my home life, but also rejoining the world: very much a two-edged sword. I missed the Internet and wanted to escape it in equal measure. Nine-mile excursions followed by local ales and hearty grub, a spot of reading and an early night for a long sleep may be the perfect antidote to modern living, but in or out of the rat-race, life goes on. I’ve got some catching up to do…

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk 

Holy Cow! Failed Attempts to Escape a World Gone Mad

I think it’s pretty well-established that I’m a writer by compulsion. And as a writer, I like to try to push myself from time to time. And so I had intended to try something different, for me, at least, and keep some kind of journal of the last couple of weeks, during which I’ve been out and about and on the road and home only very little. It’s something I’d attempted the last time I came to Stirling a couple of years ago, but ground to a halt after penning my observations of the four-hour train journey and recording a rainbow arching over town on my arrival in simultaneous sunshine and rain.

This time I failed even more miserably. The trouble is, it’s hard to write when you’re actually out and about and living life and gaining the experiences to write about. Rather a catch-22, in short, and introspection can get to be a real drag after a while.

The first weekend of my time away was spent on a 40-mile walk in the Peak District on a variation on the Peakland Piss-Up, detouring via Ashbourne. I generally find such walking expeditions are the perfect way – often the only way – I can clear my terminally clouded mind. Alas, it wasn’t to be, and instead I encountered the first of several examples of social insanity I witnessed over the time.

A small scenic market town, I was shocked by just how chavvy the place is. I mean positively crawling with scabbers on a Saturday night. My feet were killing me and I was ready to drop, but not having a nightclub, Ashbourne’s pubs are the main entertainment, and all seem to put on either live music, karaoke or a disco until the small hours. Not cool when your room is directly above a bar with the worst DJ in the world cranking out chart dance pap. I was reminded precisely why Basshunter’s ‘Pretty Green Eyes’ is the singular most depressing song of the last five years, while The Guru Josh project shook my floor twice (yes, twice!). That anyone could actually consider this a good night out baffles the crap outta me.

I landed in York barely able to work having sustained the nastiest ugliest blisters I can recall: they would have probably been worse but for the fact I had run out of foot surface on which to put blisters by the end of the second of the three days. I put it down to the unseasonably warm weather. Alas, the walking was impediment to any form of writing, and I only just managed to note what beers each of the dozen pubs we called at served for the benefit of my father who devised the walk with a friend of his some years ago.

Still hobbling, I headed off to Sheffield to lead a pair of back-to-back undergraduate seminars on John Donne and the Metaphysical Poets, which pleasingly managed to prompt some quite lively discussion. True to form, I managed to squeeze in an explanation of Marvell’s ‘quaint’ pun in ‘To His Coy Mistress’ much to the shock of a few of my female students, and pour scorn on one upstart who suggested that Donne’s poetry wasn’t relevant in any sense to a contemporary reader.

One day enduring the corporate grind and I was off again, this time north of the border. I’ve attended conferences in Stirling before and enjoyed the vibe, as well as the town itself, despite some very strange experiences with drunken Scots. Arriving on Thursday evening, I was pleased to discover my (very pleasant) B&B, the Auchyle Guest House sits just five minutes on foot from the Settle Inn, Stirling’s ‘auldest’ bar, and the one that most resembles what I recognise as a proper pub. Under new management, it’s not got the range of beers it had two years ago, but the Skye brewery’s Red Cullin at £2.50 a pint was more than adequate.

Friday morning I realize that for the first time in years, I’ve left the house without a notebook, so head into town and swing by WH Smith. £1.99 for a spiral-bound reporter’s pad is fucking extortion, but outside I spy a poster for a gig. I’ve heard of the headliners, Maybeshewill, and quite liked their contribution to the split 12” they did with Her Name is Calla last year. And it was that night! What are the chances?

So, evening’s entertainment sorted, I headed to the university, listened to a lot of very interesting papers (and a few less enthralling), and on the way between buildings en route to the cheese and wine reception (where there was no cheese, much to my dismay), got chatting to a couple of really interesting guy, whom I subsequently discovered was John Lavagnino, the following morning’s plenary speaker, who’s title and abstract had appealed when I first saw the conference schedule. Another chap called Ben who was also cool joined us, and we pondered the hazards of blogging – particularly when one’s blog doesn’t sit too snugly with one’s professional life.

After a couple of plastic cups of red supermarket wine, I made my excuses and bussed back from the university, out at Bridge of Allen, to my B&B near the old town. A quick change of shirt and then back out to the town centre. I arrived a little earlier than planned, so called into No. 2 Baker Street for a swift pint before heading to the Tolbooth, a cracking little venue where I saw four decent bands for £6 and scribbled some notes for the review I would later write.

Back at the conference the next day, I do my best to mingle, which really doesn’t come naturally to me, but I think I succeed in not making too much of a twat of myself to too many people as I jabber on about print on demand publishing and how poor the coffee is. There’s a really strong panel on writing and publishing in the ‘net age that my paper would have fitted well on before it’s my turn. I’m aware of just how many people have gone home already, and competing against two other strong panels, have to present to the smallest crowd of my life.

Afterwards, I go and speak to the guy who gave a fantastic paper on Mark Z. Danielewski and the physicality of books, only to be interrupted by some girl who wants him to contribute to an anthology she’s planning. Which really makes my day. I can’t help but feel that my paper might’ve gone down quite well if anyone had actually heard it, but hey. In a parallel world, there’s a huge audience, it’s hailed as a remarkable work and I’m tripping over people wanting to publish and work with me.

I return to the B&B in a state of bewildered deflation, then head out for a few pints and read the ‘November’ chapter of Kill Your Friends by John Niven, which I picked up in Oxfam about three months ago and has been keeping me amused while in transit since I left the house on Thursday. Then I return to the B&B, finish the book, watch CSI and call it a night.

The following morning I treat myself to a lie-in, despite waking around 5am, check out and get an earlier coach (all trains cancelled due to engineering work) to Edinburgh. A couple of hours there before my train back to York is time enough to sink a pint and write the first section of this piece in the World’s End on the Royal Mile and call into the ever-brilliant Avalanche records on Cockburn Street.

On my wanders round Edinburgh, I see the strangest and most disconcerting sights of the fortnight – a woman wearing a face-mask like it’s Mexico city, and a table set out in the street offering passers-by a ‘free stress test.’ the trestle is covered in copies of books by L. Ron Hubbard, primarily Dianetics, which has to be an even weightier tome than Rowling’s last Potter installment. And people are taking this test! Sitting there, clutching the ‘cans’ that connect the subject to the e-meter and being asked by the robotic, Stepfordian girls running the stall why they think they react in such a way to this and that. Now, god-botherers and ‘gouranga’ merchants are bad enough, but you know things are seriously fucked when the Scientologists – young ones at that – take to the streets and insidiously play on the stressed-out mode of living we are surely all experiencing most acutely in the techno-age and in the middle of a recession as a way of peddling their warped (not to mention money-taking) cult to unsuspecting buffoons, most of whom won’t have a clue who Hubbard is. This actually served to increase my level of stress, so I walked on by as quickly as I could.

Generally speaking, I find that travelling tires me incredibly. Perhaps it’s because I’m one of those people who’s incapable of switching off, and consequently finds themselves inundated with new information that needs to be processed. But more than ever, I find that there’s weirdness wherever you look, and the idea of taking a trip to escape the madness is as absurd as life itself.

The weirdness didn’t even stop there: heading on to Sheffield the following morning to lead a couple more seminars with my second-year undergraduates who clearly don’t give a fuck, the train lurched and then began shuddering wildly. There was a scraping sound as though a tree was stuck beneath the carriage, and dust, stones and all sorts came flying past the window until it finally ground to a halt. People were shaken, unsure if we’d even remained on the rails. Livestock on the track. Now deadstock, exploded over the front and down the sides and pulped underneath a national Express Inter-city. Needless to say I was late for my first seminar, but at least I made it. Who would’ve believed that by was of an excuse? Yes, truth really is stranger than fiction.

It’s good to be back.

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk .