Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Hair of the dog...

I'm wheezing like a geriatric, walking up what feels like Everest. I just stare down at the cobble stones and try to forget the hangover that threatens to send me tumbling back the way I came. The aptly-named Steep Hill is the last thing I wanted to tackle today, especially alone with a DVX camcorder and tripod getting me down.
Well, I say alone - I've been left to it with my heavy equipment by my pal, Nick, who's too 'busy' in his perusal of the antiqual boutiques and restaurants. His flamboyance makes him forget his manners sometimes, but that's what makes him fun to have around.
As usual, I say 'fucking this' and 'fucking that' too much and tweed smiles of Lincoln's better half drop as they silently judge the invading hoodie. I'm hardly wearing trackie-bottoms tucked in socks, but I wouldn't expect them to know that: they can barely see beyond the high street.
I haven't even got a story in mind, yet. Coming up to the Cathedral Quarter seemed a little more original than joining the swarm of my peers on the Brayford fighting for scraps: "Look, there's a swan with a limp! Do you think we could go with that from an emotive angle?"
So, I thought I'd try my luck up top. But, the sweat's getting in my eyes now. Nonconformism is the bane of my life.
We get into the main square and I hang my head for a moment.
"Eh! Hari's over there! Come on, you pussy."
I look up and the girls are sitting outside the pub, sangria in hands. Why that seems appropriate on a windy day in March, I don't know. Then again, it's not exactly conventional someone to be in this much turmoil as I am, on a Monday afternoon.
"Sam's inside," Hari taunts, "We were just about to ring you, but you really look like you don't need to be here."
Sam clearly has other ideas as I see him come out the doors with two pints and a jack and sambuca.
"'Saw you through the window, you looked like you could use these," he laughs in the same pitying way as Hari, "Hair of the dog and all that."
I've only known him six months, but already Sam's like my brother. He knows I'd never turn down a drink with him, regardless of how many we put away together only the night before. Naturally, the shot goes down the hatch first. I wince and gulp, but apparently it's going to stay down. Listening to my friends chatter and sipping on the pint of Stella, I look out into the square absent-mindedly. Never so much in my whole life have I wanted a story to come to me.
Moments later I spot potential aggravation. A van has got jammed in a turn down one of the quarters narrow roads, much to the following driver's annoyance. After slamming his horn a dozen times, he struts over to give his worth to the van-man. Both out of their vehicles now, the angst is almost at breaking point, after some harsh words lead to the them standing toe-to-toe, fingers jabbing each others chests.
Two things spring to my mind at that point: how quickly can I get this camera set up and will it appear ethical filming someone getting their head busted? Probably not for the latter, but it's here on a plate and crime sells news copies. Damn. As I'm trying to make my mind up, one of them storms back to their car looking like a man whose balls have shrunk at some point in the exchange of threats. Every now and then you come across someone you realise you shouldn't have fucked with. He throws back a rushed "prick" in consolation.
I sigh. I find it funny how nowadays I look for these kinds of moments to erupt. Always on the lookout for a bit of action to report and shaking people down for valuable information, in journalist mode. I like it in a way. It makes my life feel like a sort of film noir.
As I drain the last of my drink, it's a welcome surprise to me that I feel slightly healthier. I'm not sure whether the irony of that is more amusing or worrying. I see Sam finishing his fourth in the time it has taken my current fragility to let me take down one. He's obviously starting to get a buzz on and I know it won't be long before he gives me that look that says, "Things are going to get heavy tonight. And you know you're coming with."
I'm starting to contemplate taking the easy way out. I could just go and get a few shots the cathedral and put a creative spin on whatever the latest news post on their website is. Still, I hate being predictable. I may be last-minute, but I'm an egotist and like my work being recognised for some unique talent or other. Battling with my conscience rarely goes well.
"Fancy another shot, mate?"
"Huh, what?" I look up at Sam, "Errr...Yeah. Yeah, go on then..."

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Pure Gonzo...

You know, I think I may have had it right the first time around. I altered this page so as to appear more professional. Whereas, for a long time, it was dedicated to relaying the acts of carnage of myself and acquaintances of mine, I recently punted an attempt at a more sophisticated approach. Articulate I believe I can do; sophistication? Never.
Therefore, changing my blog to a literature review was a bad idea. I do love to read classics and I do believe all in which I've said in previous posts, but right now I'm boring myself to tears. I can't do serious. And if trying to accommodate lecturers, employers, whoever, in the bid to sound more professional means writing in a tone that is wholly unnatural to me, I can tell you right now...Fuck that!
The idea of these pages is so we can develop a style of our own that will make us unique and entertaining. Well, trawling through previous posts, would be enough to stick the noose around zebedee's neck.
My last blog may not have been totally 'professional' (god, I'm sick of hearing that word), but it was a sickening read that was way more enjoyable than the current unenthusiastic drivel.
I'm not a critic, I'm a journalist. And a pretty twisted one at that. And I'm going back to what I love to write - aggressive social commentary. With that, I can infuse a literary vibe so my dream of one day being a Journo-come-novelist can start here. So disregard anything else on here that might sound well thought out, planned and wrapped up in a pretty pretentious bow and stand by, Lincoln, for some obscene spitting, shitting and kicking because this is it...This is pure gonzo.

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Review: 'The Rum Diary' by Hunter S. Thompson

The Rum Diary
By Hunter S. Thompson
Bloomsbury Publishing, RRP £7.99, pp 224

Hunter S. Thompson’s long-lost first novel, written in the early 1960s, by no means portrays naivety, but gives us a rare insight into far more youthful and - let's not say innocent - aspirational style of writing for him.
Although The Rum Diary still boasts Thompson’s obscene nature, it is not nearly as ostentatiously outrageous as his widely celebrated Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, in which is so hardcore  the pages themselves tend go out of their way to jump out and ‘slap you about a bit.’
You’d be foolish to think, however, that the story's lack of psychedelia abandons it as a softcore romp in comparison to Thompson’s usual literary pornography. It is still written in the same fast-paced, shit-kicking style that we have so admirably come to associate with him.
The title itself suggests Thompson’s love for inebriating substances - in him we trust to name his earliest published work, after a journal dedicated to the consumption of hard liquor.
It is often overlooked that this novel was in a way, a Gonzo novel in its early development as style. Therefore, what is so fascinating about this novel is its element of semi- reality centered around his reporting work in Puerto Rico.
Based on the island of San Juan, Puerto Rico, during its economic Yankee ‘Boom’ of the post-war 1950s, Thompson’s protagonist and itinerant Journalist Paul Kemp leaves New York, after accepting a job at The Daily News, a small English newspaper. In good-old Hunter S. Thompson fashion, however, this book quickly turns into a tale of perverted individuals, immoderate violence and alcohol-fuelled lust. What’s more, it is a story of pessimistic cynicism and fear of going “over the hump”: a sign of Thompson’s constant torment at his youth slipping away.
The book unravels as we follow Kemp through the half-native/half-American inhabited San Juan, as he desperately tries to figure out which steps to take next in his life. You're led to believe that he was once a grab-life-by-the-balls kind of character in his early days. Kemp still sometimes seems to possess a classic devil-may-care attitude, but now life has petered out at the ripe old age of thirty-one, after too many years of worthless jobs and meaningless frolicking on the road. 
The island becomes his purgatory and only intensifies his anxiety over his dead-end lifestyle. The place’s raucous inhabitants and maddening “goddamn  heat” forces a realisation from a withering arrogance, that you can only live your life on the basis of single serving jobs and one-way tickets for so long:
“I was a seeker, a mover, a malcontent and at times a stupid hell-raiser. I was never idle long enough to do much thinking. At the same time I shared a dark suspicion that the life we were leading was a lost cause. It was the tension between these two poles- a restless idealism on one hand and a sense of impending doom on the other- that kept me going.”
The plot lies in Kemp’s darkening mood as his excitement at landing in a tropical paradise surrounded by new opportunities, eventually turns into an inescapable hell where he is surrounded by “phonies and pricks:”
“When the sun got hot enough it burned away all the illusions and I saw the place as it was- cheap, sullen, and garish- nothing good was going to happen here.”
Kemp’s only break from reality is the infallible supply of rum on the island and the messy characters that he shares a few shots with.
The book contains a good range of characters, but all them become a pain in Kemp’s arse in some form or another and add to his ever sobering thoughts as they inspire and depress him at the same time.
There’s Lotterman, the hot-headed and completely corrupt ex-communist owner of nespaper, who’s constantly talking about phonies or nuts in a town where, apparently, you can only survive if you’re a con man or crazy; the psychotic and totally bizarre Moberg, who enjoys urinating on photocopying machines in drunken frenzies; Yeamon, a stubborn and violent thug who tugs Kemp head-first into a world of terrifying nights that include conflict, murder and vicious police brutality; and Sala, who takes the role of Kemp’s best-friend and would shoot everyone “if only he had a god-damn Luger.”
All of them, uncoincidently, are money-hungry alcoholics who find themselves drawn to the flexible hours and pay of freelance journalism and in some part are the swine of the earth, under Kemp’s silent scrutiny:
“Some of them were more journalists than vagrants, and others were more vagrants than journalists – but with few exceptions they were part-time, freelance, would-be foreign correspondents who, for one reason or another, lived at several removes from the journalistic establishment….. Puerto Rico was a backwater and the Daily News was staffed mainly by ill-tempered wandering rabble. They moved erratically, on the winds of rumor and opportunity, all over Europe, Latin America and the Far East.”
Collectively, they all contribute to Kemp’s increasingly obvious paranoia that the unknown key to contentment that he has been chasing all these years is swiftly becoming out of reach, and his unsettlement that the island will be his downfall is racing to catch-up with him.  
His unease reaches breaking-point when he finds himself ensnared in a perilous love-triangle with the sweet but seductive Chenault and her boyfriend, the repressive Yeamon. Unsurprisingly, after years of living the greedy freelance journo lifestyle, Kemp finds himself lacking in willpower:
“And then in the back of my brain a little melodramatic voice was saying, ‘And this concludes The Adventures of Paul Kemp, the Drunken Journalist. He read the signs and saw it coming, but he was too much of a lecher to step out of the way.’ Then I was stepping out of my shorts and into the shower with Chenault, keeping my eyes tightly shut while my soul fought a hopeless battle with my groin."
For every action there is a reaction and naturally Kemp’s immoral acts leave him fighting for his freedom and sanity, as the risk of DTs is ever present with the right number of shots and he suffers “an idle tension that builds up in places where men sweat twenty-four hours a day.”
If there is one aspect that will find criticism within this book, it’s that although it ends with an exciting and unforseen climax, it does so rather abruptly and leaves the reader hanging in a fashion that is not altogether pleasant - likely that Thompson's distractable self found a later and greater project and did not quite put his heart into the ending this one deserved. By "project", I mean probably mescaline.
Despite this, Thompson’s Hemmingwayesque style and vividly dark and cynical sense of humour make’s this novel one sure to never collect dust on your shelf, if only for the stoical Paul Kemp who could possibly be the most charismatic fictional character since James Bond. A man that's found the perfect balance between hardly working, incessant drinking of cheap rum and the ability to charm rich women into one-night stands.
If you’re looking for a hilarious read, packed with shameful laughs and impure sex, as well as a thrilling climax, then The Rum Diary is perfect for you to forget about the tediousness of your everyday life and indulge yourself in warmer and seedier horizons that we all secretly wish we could set sail for. It’s enough to want to make you pack your bags and catch the next flight heading to the Caribbean. Better stop at the off-license for some rum first, though.

Saturday, 25 February 2012

A homage to my idol, Hunter S. Thompson...

I recall within my first few weeks of enrolling at the University of Lincoln, a lecturer of mine telling us that a key part of reaching our goals as Journalists was to decide who, ultimately, were our personal heroes in the field. By realising what they had achieved - and how - we could be motivated and follow by example...A sound idea.
While some around me struggled to think of enough names of notable reporters to aspire to and others (unfortunately, friends of mine) were still determined that they were going to be Batman, I knew my hero immediately.
Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) was an American journalist and author and has been a huge inspiration to me since I was 12yrs old. Ever since I picked up his novel, 'The Rum Diary', I've wanted to get into Journalism. It was an anarchic and cynical creation, and remains, to this day, my favourite book.
As a journalist there's no doubt he was big fish come the 1970s. He worked at many of America's most prominent magazines, including what had to be the coolest of the cool: Rolling Stone.
During this time he was one of the forerunners in ushering in the New Journalism movement which was more literary and subjective and changed the face of western journalism up to now. He once stated, “So much for Objective Journalism...With the possible exception of things like box scores, race results, and stock market tabulations, there is no such thing as Objective Journalism. The phrase itself is a pompous contradiction in terms.” This being a notion I share.
His masterful creation, known as 'gonzo journalism', pumped psychedelic colour into news coverage and involved him as the primary character for any story, spouting his own depraved and exaggerated thoughts of people, places and events that were deemed newsworthy by his editor. It's no secret that his writing was influenced by copious amounts of LSD, mescaline, cocaine, you name it. But by fictionalising his findings slightly, he wrote truer than any other sycophantic, favour-seeking reporter that's writing by a biased framework. He called Nixon a "phony and a prick" and called the Bush-Cheney admin a bunch of "crooked war-mongerers". So what? Nixon was a corrupt bastard and Bush only cared about drinking Iraq dry. Would a Sunday paper publish this today? No. But, there was a time when Thompson was respected enough to get his violently critical slurs published. Today, much of his style may be called unethical or irrelevant. Why, because he told things as they were? I tell you, if more reporters were to give you a glimpse of reality, rather than what they were told to pass off as reality, there'd be a fucking uprising.
Thompson will open your eyes to a lot of shit that's flung at you from the higher tiers of society. His work is extremely antiauthoritarian and holds dear a sense of radicalism. Most importantly it teaches you that there's nothing unintelligent or immoral about being radical. And I do not use this word in a political sense, as he very rarely preached his political views. His works teach more of a mantra of living radically and by doing so, no authority or law can stop you by acting on account of what you feel to be right or wrong.
His books are entertaining, funny as hell and callously chaotic. They will literally give you the urge to jump on the next flight to the US and drive around the Nevada dessert in a rented/stolen car in the search of good peyote. He wrote about these kinds of things like they were what he did for fun at the weekends. And why I love him as a journalist? Well he could act as illicitly and depraved as he liked from dusk till dawn, and still go and get it all published in the nine-to-five hours. And people loved him for it. And they looked to him for a morsel of truth. And he gave it to them. That is so fucking righteous.

Books and articles I recommend by Thompson:
- The Rum Diary
- Hell's Angels: The Strange and Terrible Saga of the Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs
- Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas
- Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail
- The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved
- The Gonzo Papers.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Flat Earth News...Obviously.

Sticking to my short-lived journalism roots and concerned for my future in being a reporter with some integrity, here's a suggestion and review. I think many will agree with me that Flat Earth News is an essential read. I said I would propose books on here that will both enlighten and entertain, and when it comes to being blind to the hocus pocus scare-mongering and bare-faced lies of the news media, I think far too many people are ignorant to the full extent of things. If you'd like to see how and why the news media is used as one of the main agents of exploitation and control in society then read this book. The "liberated ones" are bound and gagged as much as the rest of us, and just as corrupt as their masters.

Flat Earth News
By Nick Davies
Vintage Books, £8.99, pp 420
The Earth is flat. If Nick Davies’ shocking revelations on the reliability of our news sources are correct, when it comes to public knowledge, nothing is certain, and it could well be.
As his title suggests, Davies exposes the “falsehood, distortion and propaganda” that is rife within today’s media and reproaches the tendency in which it often goes unquestioned by those who partake in it, until somebody proves it to be false – a backward process.
Davies is a multi-award winning investigative journalist – an expert in exposing the dirty dealings of powers-that-be. No holds barred, he breaks the long-standing taboo of turning on Fleet Street, and holds the entire Fourth Estate accountable for its crimes.
His attack is mainly focused on the UK’s newspaper industry, its regulators and the PR agencies. The latter flooding the newsrooms with unoriginal and often inaccurate press material; contemptibly popularised by Davies, in a word, as ‘churnalism.’
In a profession, where the “first obligation is to the truth [and it’s] first loyalty to its citizens” everyday Journalists shame their code of ethics and mislead the public with tainted and fabricated information, to the extent where we have become “a society which has started to lose contact with reality”.
Davies’ sources appear both valid and reliable and measure the true extent of corruption, ignorance and intellectual repression in the newsroom.
He demonstrates how the forces of commercialism have turned journalism into “a profession so damaged to the point where most of the time, most of its members are no longer able to do their job”.
This is a vital read for anyone working within the news media, but will evoke a degree of self-loathing and powerlessness as an industry puppet. Ironically, it will leave unable to tear your eyes away from front to back, as with masochistic awe you continue to discover how depraved a rabbit hole a supposedly noble profession with idealist intentions has tumbled into.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A more professional start...

Now then, I have decided to wipe my blog of the previously incriminating posts, so to speak, in order to go for a more professional approach. This was once a diary about the depravity of friends and I, as we rampaged through Lincoln's high street was fun, but the novelty has worn of a little and it's time to start taking my work seriously.
Not that this is now to be a severe and crucial voice on global issues. I'm no Nick Davies...Yet. So, I've decided to start out small and write about something that I really care about - Literature. For many that know me, a quiet read seems in complete contrast with my usual activities, but these people could also tell you that I'm virtually an insomniac, and this fits in with their picture of me. But, whilst I come alive at night, I reflect in the daytime. Rather than stumbling back to my bed at 5am and sleeping until sun goes full circle, I drink coffee, break out a Dumas and compare personal adventures I've had that night, with those of Edmund Dante, as imaginations entwine.
Many of the things I know now I've learnt from books, not school. And I read a lot. Didn't pay much attention at school though. Funny how many exams you can still pass when you learn the things worth knowing, instead of simply memorising a monotonous and restrictive syllabus. However, I digress. See, this is how it is. Knowledge is sacred to me because I detest ignorance. That is why I love to read about everything and anything I can: fiction, philosophy, history, astrophysics. Journalists become opinion-leaders. However, your opinion can never count for anything if you've not studied the full facts of an issue. Reading a newspaper and spewing out homeland propaganda that has almost been bred into you, does not make you a journalist as far as I'm concerned. Not a good one at least. You must go to as many different sources as you can to find the truth. Or what you perceive to be the truth. Never forget that books and journals are a form of media also. They're more than important. And if I'm being honest, you're likely to understand a more accurate interpretation of the world by reading Harry Potter, than by reading the Daily Mail. *Stifles a laugh* Sorry, just had the image pop into my head of Princess Di putting the cruciatus curse on an asylum seeker. But seriously, you're better off reading a penguin classic.
All I'm saying is, even the most wondrous and fictitious books can provide insight that is just too true. And I personally think too many people spend time playing xbox and taking the word of an exploitative social system, rather than trying to find some perspective in the written words of history's true genius'.
So, if you will allow me, I will suggest and review books/writers on here that, for one reason or another, I consider to be important, entertaining and great.