Wednesday, 22 May 2013


"Americans have many questions tonight. Americans are asking, 'Who attacked our country?'. The evidence we have gathered all points towards a loosely affiliated group of terrorist organisations."
- George W. Bush, 2001

In April of this year, two pressure cooker bombs went off in Boston. As soon as reports were released, many people started, under muttered breaths, to say the word 'terrorist', or 'terror attacks', or - even more amazingly - were able to pin-point the exact colour and beliefs of the person or persons they supposed were responsible. Of course, as we all know, a few days later we found out that the two men suspected of the bombings were in fact white, and our fears of any possible terrorism that might have occurred were assuaged. As we all know, people with white skin simply aren't capable of bringing about terror, so it seemed we all got off terror-free.

Three years earlier, in 2010, a man named Raoul Moat shot three people over the course of three days and sparked a manhunt across the north of England. People in the area obviously felt less than safe, what with a crazed, armed man being on the loose. It wasn't news across the whole world, and the people in the area seemed resigned to the fact that they weren't even terrified by the whole ordeal. After all, he was a white man.

Today when I came out of the cinema and was picked up by my Father, I was told instantly that there had been news of a 'terrorist attack'. Instantly in my mind I had a vision of what had occurred - presumably, an Islamic fundamentalist had strapped a bomb to his chest and committed another underground train full of people to an early grave. I was only half right, of course, but it was my instant reaction that bothered me a few minutes later, when I realised what had happened inside my head.

When I asked him, my Father said that the last instance of a white man being called a terrorist was during the IRA bombings in the eighties. He was right, of course, about a nation being held in fear by the potential of being killed indiscriminately on their way to or from work - and that, we decided, was the definition of terrorism. That was a certain solidarity to start with, knowing what the word meant. The question was, how had I jumped to such an easy conclusion?

In a 2010 report into hate crimes against Islamic people in our country, researchers wrote that "anti-Muslim violence in the UK is predicated on the rhetoric and practice of the 'war on terror' that George Bush and Tony Blair launched against 'an evil ideology' in the aftermath of 9/11." The rise in Islamophobia in my mind is rightly attributed to Bush's speech after the bombings. I don't know about other people, but after growing up through the war in the Middle East, I read the word 'terror' in my head with a ghostily familiar Texas drawl.

Whilst the murder committed today fits all the predications of an extremist Islamic attack, what worried me about it more than anything is that by it being a murder committed under those circumstances, it became a terror attack. We were meant to be terrified by it. Simply by using one word, Bush and Blair's propaganda of times gone by was given a new edge, a fresh revamp, and we were kicked into being reminded that 'Terrorists are still among us'.

I am unaware of what terrifies me more. Am I more terrified by the fact that racism can be encouraged by the use of this one word? Or am I more terrified that people are so... well, dumb, that by having the word 'terrorism' thrown at them they can jump into action. In the report mentioned above, an incident was described in which a woman wearing a burqa was punched in the face by a random man in the street and declared a terrorist. And indeed, after today's murder, anti-Muslim protesters fled to the scene in order to shout racist rhetoric, chug beer, and sing songs underlining their hatred and ignorance.

What do I want people to get out of this article? Well, I hope it encourages moderation in the use of the word terrorist. I hope it helps people realise how one word can change their mind on a topic. But more importantly, I want people to know that if you blindly call something terrorism in front of me, I will vomit on you.

Monday, 20 May 2013


or 'how sad your 18'

I got excited for my eighteenth birthday the way I get excited for most events nowadays - slowly, in a sad and dreading build-up for days and days spent telling my friends that I was turning eighteen and that it was going to be awful - and then, the course of the penultimate evening as a seventeen year old: all at once.
The reason for my dread, I still think, was a viable one. After all, eighteenths are just another birthday, if you don't take into account the amount of things which you suddenly become able to do - such as, for instance, be incarcerated in a maximum security prison. Besides that important cultural point, turning eighteen is very much just another brick in the dreary wall of getting slowly closer to the inevitable end. The light at the end of the tunnel, it has been said, is a train. Stop me if I'm sounding too sentimental.

All this would be fine, however, if it wasn't for all the people who suppose that it is something more than a milestone on the way to heavens door. These are the people, God damn them, who look deep into my soul with worry whenever I mentioned that I was dreading turning eighteen. I'm very sure they  probably thought I was coming down with some sort of neurosis for not welcoming the HM Prisons invitations with open arms. Of course, I exaggerate - but they are guilty of the same crime.
On your eighteenth birthday, due to the huge amount of cultural emphasis put on it, you are expected to have (almost by law it seems) the most improbably wild time possible, mainly through the taking of previously illegal drugs known as 'alcohols'. Of course, what with me being the rugged urban outlaw that I am, I was already well acquainted with these drugs. I knew what they had to offer and I felt as though I was left with some great tradition that I had to carry on. The fact that I did indeed get very drunk and am in fact writing this with a hangover lying ruefully on my head, is entirely irrelevant to the journalistic integrity of this piece. My night in the Ham and Blackbird was purely investigational I tell you. The fact of the matter was, I didn't like that the birthday card I received from my dear sweet Grandmother was emblazoned with an illustration of a man running drunkenly from pub to club to pub to neon club. That, my friends, is the Death of Innocence.

So there I was, the afternoon before my birthday came stumbling around the bend, stood at a bus stop, attempting to figure out why I was dreading it's arrival so. A friend turned up. She inquired as to why I looked so glum, and so I filled her in.
Now, at first, she did indeed look shocked. And then, in a moment of realisation, her face reformed to the face of understanding. Alcohol, we asserted, was more fun when it was illegal. When what you were doing was perfectly fine within the eyes of the law, all the thrill of the matter was taken out. Not only was the arrival of this symbolic number the Death of Innocence - it was also the death of something much less simple, but much more enjoyable. Not only was this the representative of our common desire to rebel legally, it was a milestone of the government telling us it was suddenly OK to not be OK.

The event started the evening before, sitting with my parents in the living room with a cider. Living room. It made sense that what with the imminent arrival of the children on my actual birthday, we should relax and open my presents the night before.
I'm not a materialistic person, as has been evidence with several weeks of industrious throwing out. This presents an obvious challenge for people who wish to buy me gifts on birthdays and christmasses, but considering the very small amount I had said regarding my wants and needs, my parents did extremely well. I was succinctly pleased with the gifting. But there was a third gift - one which I had been waiting for for almost seventeen whole years.

The 'eighteen years box' is one of the unspoilable highlights of turning eighteen for me. On my first birthday, my parents asked members and friends of my family to provide objects with which to fill the box. It included various things - a journal documenting 1996, a membership to a stamp club I did not know I was a part of, my brothers first failed driving test and a mile-high pile of birthday cards.
My first birethday cards. Slugs and snails and puppy dogs tails, that's what little boys are made of. A simple time where every card I received wasn't encouraging me to get pissed. There were more important things to attend to, such as teddy bears playing trombones or soft-pastel drawings of happy rabbits. And the badges. So many badges. One today! One today! Me! One! Today! It was curious to remember blue hills. I may not have been happy - children are never contented - but I was one. Shit mattered.
Retrospection continued the following morning with a visit to my Nan. There was a cake. We hugged. I blew out the candles whilst people sang happy birthday and everything was good again. Even the candles had their smell. I was one year old again. She gave me the card on which a man stumbled from bar to bar. Sent me on my way. Young Emma gave me a card the envelope of which read 'LEWIS (how sad your 18)'.

Another card I received reads: '18 Year Old Buys First Legal Pint: Asks For Usual!'. It reflected, in a perhaps unintentional way, the fact that I had indeed already bought pints. But I must admit, there was a certain happiness to be found in flashing my credentials to the Polish barmaid.
The drunken night which ensued was littered with small acts of rebellion, almost as an elegy to rebellious youth. We jumped over fences. We jeered playfully at the Chinese takeaway ladies attempting to hold a straight face for the phone-in customers. I bought Sainsbury's Basics Cider for one (hopefully) last time. I mumbled incoherent thanks at the kebab van owner. 
How sad I was 18? In the morning, very much so. The hangover came almost as a holy ritual and I knew it was my job to sit it out. My brother - also on a hangover - seemed almost sad that due to our states we wouldn't be able to go out for that fabled brotherly pint. But it was no matter.

As my hours of eighteen rolled on, I found myself chewing the mandatory chewing gum and sipping at the compulsory seltzer that eighteen  years and one day finds you with. Without any seeming inclination, I moped around the house and kept myself busy. I tidied my sock drawer. Applied for a job in a bar. Got some work done. All without pomp and circumstance. I didn't even post a Facebook status.
It was strange. Too good to be true. Almost on cue, I was beocming an adult. Was I hungover? Evidently so. Did that feel like it was it? Not so much. As the day rolled past, I asked myself if this was eighteen. If this was adulthood. I wanted some sort of conclusion for this essay. But no. Time is not conclusive, and whilst it may heal all wounds, it does not answer all questions. At least not if you rely on trivial dates such as birthdays.
A year, I thought. One year of eighteen left. And then I could figure it out. The Big Day. A Day of Cards. How sad your 18. I'll have the usual mate.

Sunday, 19 May 2013


Thoughts on old and new on my new old typewriter.

It is an understatement to say that at the time of writing this, the word 'hipster' is not one that many people wish to have attached to themselves. The word itself conjures up imagery of boys and girls in vintage clothing stores discussing albums of which you have never heard, pawing woefully between racks of clothing and sipping occasionally from their ethically sourced caramel macchiato, so much better than 'that immoral crap they pedal out to the drones at Starbucks, maaaaan.'
Indeed, despite being a style defined more by the ideology of simply doing things before they become cool (hence, I believe, the 'hip' in 'hipster') an entire cultural language seemingly apart from this ideology has been attached to the word hipster. Hipster. Hipster.

As an effect of the conjugation of these two philosophies, the word hipster has become a derogatory one, with an entire slack-jawed MacBook pawing archetype assigned to it, just like any other comedic stereotype. It seems to be, from a very superficial perspective, that as soon as 14 year old girls begin donning thick-rimmed glasses and declaring themselves 'hipster's, any historical meaning to the word in question becomes lost forever.
The earliest use of the word, to my undernourished knowledge, is in the novel On The Road, by Jack Kerouac. The book was introduced to me by a certain Mike Woodfine, a man who incidentally does not implore the usage of 'the H word' in much the same way that the British Nationalist Party doesn't like the use of the word 'racist'.
In the book, a road-tripping tale across America, Kerouac makes several mentions of the hipster breed, but interestingly never makes any effort to explain what they were like. Forever moping in the corners of bars, we're never given a proper explanation of what the word meant to people at the time, but the absence of this explanation is key - it tells us that even in the genesis of hipster, an image was already held in the minds eye of the populace - Kerouac didn't explain what the word meant simply because he rightfully assumed people would already know. It wasn't a character he created, just a cultural referential code. The question is; was it still derogatory then?
Logic dictates that it did not hold the same cultural values then - unless the hipsters of Kerouac's gneeration sported turn of the century garb in an attempt to get that 'vintage' feel, the addition of cultural coding such as vintage clothing and a love for coffee and obscure bands has been a recent assertion in the eyes of society.

But as much as I would love to get stuck into researching the etymology of the hip kind; I must first admit that I began writing this essay with a slightly different agenda in my mind. That is, a defensive agenda. A reason why this would be a defensive essay is obvious, and that would be that it was defensive of myself - that I was offended that I fit the stereotype of a hipster and wanted to spend some time standing in front of your view of my retrospective wardrobe and commit to paper a bullshit argument about why I am not a hipster.
However, this is not the case, as considering I am writing this on a typewriter whilst wearing corduroys that no place sells anymore, this is probably - if not anything else - a documentation that proves that I fit the hipster stereotype like a glove, my hip credentials like a drivers license made of pure pretentiousness. No, today I write in defense of something else entirely - the hobbies and various lifestyle choices which have become untouchable by people under the fear of being labelled a hipster themselves. In particular, I speak in defense of the world of vintage.

A few weeks ago now a very special object came into my possession. The object was an Agfa 35mm film camera. Being a photography student myself, it gave me an abject fascination from the moment I laid eyes on it. Dated around the late 1950's, the camera was the mechanical and physical embodiment of everything I had learnt about photography.
Besides the wonderful magic of a chunk of time that had been perfectly kept, the camera was a tool of learning. It adjusted everything I knew into a way that suddenly made so much more sense. I guess the easiest way to explain what it felt like is through the metaphor of looking at a family album for the very first time. The faces of dead relatives make you think about the ones which are still alive in reverse order. You suddenly become aware of who gave your mother those eyes you had seen hundreds of times and you realise that years before your birth someone came to that assertion in reverse. Hasn't she got her father's eyes?
It's a shame I thought, that out of not wanting to be branded a hipster, I had neglected to invest in one of these beautiful machines. I felt guilty, in a way, that social ruling had held me back from learning about the past in this new way. I was unsure whether to be angry at myself or at others.

And now, as I think about times gone by on the most auspicious of times - my turning 18 - I bash away at the keys of my Brother typewriter. The typewriter; the honorable bicycle to a laptops supercar engine. The smug face of the cyclist as he feels the wind flow through his hair. Each slam of the keys sounding like a booming footstep down a hall of literary greats. On the walls looking down at me are the faces of men and women who have slammed these keys before, who have endured the wails of their neighbours protesting the clack of keys carrying on late into the night. Writing never felt so loud. It never felt so pulsating and angry beneath my fingers.
In the same way that holding the machine in my hands has taught me what was in the minds of the men who created the first computers, the machine has lent me to a world I had only read about before. In the same superficial way I had ran my fingers over the camera and given myself over to a time gone by, this beautiful machine has allowed me to play writer. Tonight Michael, I am Hunter S Thompson. Tonight Michael, I am Gay Talese. Tonight, Michael, mon cher, haven't you heard? I'm Tom Wolfe.
Balls to hipsterdom. In my bold typeface with my clacking tonight I am lost in fantasy land. It's a stronger pill than anything sold in any nightclub bathroom my friend. I'm no hipster, nope, not today. Tonight I am the greatest damn writer ever to have lived.