It's been a frustrating couple of weeks working on Snarltooth, my second novel. I've been stuck in a bit of an outlining cycle, and I always struggle to tell when my need to obsessively plan things is work or procrastination. I think I've pulled myself out of the spiral now, and am actually ... you know ... writing the novel. But we'll see if it sticks. If you see me anywhere near a pack of index cards, please yell at me until I put them down and go back to my laptop!
In the meantime, here are five things that made my week :)
The London Games Festival is happening, which sees the city come alive with silliness and shenanigans (two things I am largely in favour of). I particularly enjoyed Now Play This, an exhibition of interactive artwork and outlandish (often narrative-driven) games at Somerset House.
I particularly loved Deviation Game by Tomo Kihara & Playfool. Imagine Pictionary, except all the humans in the room are competing against an AI. The trick is for the (human) drawer to communicate an idea to the other humans, without the AI being able to guess what it is first. The AI mostly kicked our butts, until we started getting more abstract and pun-driven. It was fascinating to be challenged to find ways of thinking which are more uniquely human.
Other highlights of the festival, which you can play online, were The Game: The Game (a feminist narrative game about pick up artists), Corpse Meditation for the Rat Under the Bed and Also the Universe (a moving interactive poem about a dead rat) and Point of Mew (a game about being a cat trying to cheer up a depressed human).
On a related note, if you love thoughtful silliness, and live in Cape Town, please catch my brilliant friend (and I suspect actual warlock) Stuart Lightbody's new show of illusion and espionage, the Man With the Golden Hands, on 3 and 10 May. If you're in the UK, it's coming to Edinburgh Fringe later this year.
2. How to be an Alien
I was recently compiling a list of the best books about the experience of being an immigrant in the UK, I stumbled up on an absolute gem published in 1946: How to be an Alien. George Mikes was an immigrant from Hungary, and his observations about the English are still 100% on-point 77 years later. Even the ones about cars!
If you park your car in the City, the West End of London or many other places, two or three policemen will run up and tell you, ‘You cannot park here! Move along!’ So where can you park? The policemen do not know. ‘Try a place thirty miles down the road near the sea in the village of Minchinhampton,’ they say. ‘Three cars can park there for half an hour on Sunday morning between 7 and 8 a.m.’
I think this may, perhaps, be the most accurate thing ever said about the English:
In Europe people are either honest with you or they lie to you; in England people almost never lie, but they are almost never quite honest with you either.
He describes how the Brits just love a good queue:
At weekends, an Englishman queues up at the bus-stop, travels out to Richmond, queues up for a boat, then queues up for tea, then queues up for ice cream, then queues up some more because it is fun, then queues up at the bus-stop when he wants to go home. He has a very good time.
There's also this zinger:
European men and women have sex lives; English men and women have hot-water bottles.
The whole thing is a hilarious short read.
If you're interested, other books I've recommended for newcomers to the UK are:
- The Life in the United Kingdom guide published by the Home Office
- Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour – Kate Fox
- The Good Immigrant – Nikesh Shukla (ed)
- Empireland: How Imperialism Has Shaped Modern Britain – Sathnam Sanghera
- London: The Biography – Peter Ackroyd
- Notes from a Small Island and The Road to Little Dribbling – Bill Bryson
- Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – Reni Eddo-Lodge
- Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire – Akala
- Scotland: A Concise History – Fitzroy Maclean
- The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot – Robert Macfarlane
- Black and British: A Forgotten History – David Olusoga
Do hit reply and tell me if you think I'm missing anything from that list!
By the way, if you'd like a sneak-peak of some potential covers for my Moving to the UK book, you can spot them here.
3. Bastard Jargon
Nakhane has blessed us with a new album! I've had it on repeat all week. Here's the sublime "Hold Me Down".
4. The family dramas of the 0.01%
I've been watching Succession (haven't we all) and thinking a lot about the absurd amount of power held by a tiny group of billionaires. If you want to augment your juicy viewing with some very nerdy economics reports (oh ... just me?) I highly recommend the 2022 World Inequality Report. It shows that most of the growth in inequality over the past few decades isn't about normal-rich people, it's about the very-extremely-unimaginably-rich grabbing an unprecedented portion of the world's wealth.
The wealth of the top 10% globally, which constitutes the middle class in rich countries and the merely rich in poor countries is actually growing slower than the world average, but the top 1% is growing much faster: between 1995 and 2021, the top 1% captured 38% of the global increment in wealth, while the bottom 50% captured a frightening 2%. The share of wealth owned by the global top 0.1% rose from 7% to 11% over that period and global billionaire wealth soared. With the boom in the stock market, the picture does not seem to be getting better.
The authors makes the point that this is not inevitable. There are very real specific policies that can halt and reverse this trend, like progressive wealth taxation supported by cross-border information tracking to reduce tax avoidance. We have tools, we just need to use them.
Apart from being a moral atrocity, inequality just makes economies less productive. Francis Bacon got it right all the way back in 1625:
Riches were like manure: When it lay, upon an heape, it gave but a stench, and ill odour; but when it was spread upon the ground, then it was cause of much fruit.
5. Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
I don't know how I missed this one when it came out in 2017, but I've been adoring The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid. It's about an underachieving journalist who's offered a career-defining gig: to write the biography of (fictional) glamorous Old Hollywood star Evelyn Hugo, and her scandalous seven marriages. I'm loving the layered story-in-a-story structure, the complex characters, and the mystery at the heart of the novel: why Evelyn has chosen this nobody journalist to tell her life-story to (I'm on marriage number three, and still don't have a clue!).
Sometimes reality comes crashing down on you. Other times reality simply waits, patiently, for you to run out of the energy it takes to deny it.
It's a witty and heartfelt, and I'm enjoying it immensely.
Wishing you both glamour and silliness,