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"Didn't Happen" Twitter in a world of fake news

Every Christmas, something special happens on Twitter. No, not the annual ‘man called John Lewis replies to tweets about the John Lewis Christmas ad’. Nor the tedious ‘is Die Hard a Christmas movie?’ discourse. I’m talking about the Didn’t Happen of the Year Awards, aka DHOTYA.

This online competition is run by Twitter handle @_dhotya, an account that joined the site in January 2017. The purpose of the account is to highlight made-up stories by other people on Twitter and call them out for their fabrications.

A typical example might involve a mum or dad on Twitter sharing an anecdote about their child, who happens to express wisdom beyond its years, usually with some socially progressive angle (kids asking particularly astute questions about Trump for instance). Or it might be a made-up tale about heroism in a shop, where the author tackled some injustice. And then everyone in the shop applauded. Or it might just be Olly Murs telling his followers about a non-existent shooting in a John Lewis.

There’s a great deal of catharsis to be had in calling out these behaviours. It’s satisfying to identify something as fake, and there’s a sense of internet justice when people get called out for their untruths. Twitter operates as a meritocracy, with the ‘best’ content rising to the top. People who try to game the system through inauthentic tweets specifically crafted to ‘win’ feel like cheaters, and exposing them as such looks like a valid way of restoring the natural order.

And yet, there’s something sinister about the DHOTYA. Some have accused it of encouraging public shaming and dog-piling behaviours. And more specifically, with a large number of the stories it shares coming from women, there’s a worry that all the apparent fun and games are simply masking toxic misogyny. So, are these worries concerned? And is DHOTYA a hero, or villain? Let’s decide.

Everyone agrees: fake news is a real problem

We’ve increasingly seen politicians willing to simply tell barefaced lies to win elections. And nobody’s been able to quite say how much influence the made-up stories your aunt is sharing on Facebook are having. Fake news is more or less commonplace online.

Just last month, the Conservative Party rebranded its Press account as ‘Fact Check UK’ during a party leader debate. They only ended up getting a slap on the wrist from Twitter, but the outrage on Twitter at the time was phenomenal. This was actual fake news in the truest sense, happening in real-time. The Conservative Party Press Twitter account is not a fact-checking organisation and it had no right to do so. You could say that it knowingly and deliberately misled the public during the debate – especially as RTs from the account into your timeline didn’t include any indication of the source.

So with lying Tories, Trump being Trump, and Russia employing a literal troll army to flood the internet with lies, what’s our defence? The answer, so far, has been to try and call it out.

Calling out fake news

To be fair to the social media platforms, they’re getting better at this. Facebook will now tell you in a post when it contains claims that have been refuted by independent fact-checkers. And Instagram has joined the party too, apparently having just started to hide images that it thinks have been photoshopped.

And then there’s Snopes. Once the ‘Urban Legends Reference Pages’, Snopes has grown from being a ‘does the Mothman exist’ site to an increasingly important combatant in the fight against online fake news. It now describes itself as ‘the internet’s definitive #factchecking resource’ and does a great job of calling out mistruths on both ‘sides’ of the argument.

What makes Snopes different from the ‘Didn’t Happen of the Year Awards’ account then? They appear to operate the same function – calling out lies on the internet. But they feel different, don’t they? And it’s probably down to who they’re targeting.

Does DHOTYA have a problem with toxicity?

Vice has done an excellent analysis of the people targeted by DHOTYA. Their finding?

The single highest demographic accused of lying by the account is ordinary, non-famous young women, at 115 of 257 victims – 44.8 percent of all people accused. This is over double the amount of ordinary young men called out, at 57.

And taking into account that 93% of the account’s followers are male, the picture doesn’t look good. The story looks like ‘young men not believing or respecting young women’ and has echoes of the same toxic masculinity that means police don’t take reports from women as seriously as men. The same culture of disbelief that stops victims of sexual assault from coming forward.

There are other clues too. The annual competition runs in a league format that uses the same language and structure as a football league. The account has a standing arrangement with Betvictor for a betting market around the contest. The language and culture of football banter is prevalent, and we all know how that ends And the behaviour of the people who follow the account is concerning.

Look underneath almost any anecdote posted by someone on the internet, and you’ll see people tagging @_dhotya. There’s relish and zeal in tag-snitching someone to the account’s attention, and clearly, a lot of it isn’t good-natured. In I-D’s analysis of DHOTYA, they noted a tendency of the account and its followers to focus on socially progressive, predominantly left-wing liberal issues. Content like this:

So the narrative is against DHOTYA

That this is toxic online behaviour of the same flavour as 4chan trolls and right-wing misogynists. Although it’s clearly a greyer area than that. I’m sure a lot of people follow the account just for the schadenfreude of watching someone get called out for trying to pull a fast one. And the account’s owner has always defended it, saying that it picks the accounts to highlight without prejudice.

But then, when the account is run as a competition, open for anyone to vote on, the consequence that account has go beyond just the intentions of its author. If right-wing trolls (or just meanies in general) hijack the votes then that’s bad. And the author should take some responsibility for that as the platform-provider.

At the same time though, the claims that the account isn’t prejudiced are at least somewhat credible. It regularly calls out men too – with Vice’s analysis showing 112 men targeted, vs. 145 women. And DHOTYA regularly ‘punches up’, taking on the rich and vain – people who are fair targets for a bit of ridicule.

And more broadly, there are stories that we absolutely should be calling out when we see them. The worrying trend of anti-vaccination stems from absolute fake news linking it to autism, and it is correct to confront anyone who chooses to claim otherwise.

Twitter, and truth in comedy

I want my dream vision of Twitter to be a reality. I want it to be a content meritocracy where people are trying their hardest to educate and entertain others. Twitter at its best is the weird celebrating the wonderful, and vice-versa. But the fact is, there are bad agents on there, trying to game the system. (From Vice, again: ‘The Sad World of Adults Pretending to Be Kids for Retweets’).

Is that a bad thing? Who does it hurt if I make up a story about my son spouting Marxist ideology? Or claiming to have seen an ironic sign at a polling station? That’s fine, right?

Yes! Most entertainment is fiction. Go and watch any stand-up comedian and you’ll hear stories from that’ll be at least enhanced, if not outright fabricated. This, in particular, used to bother me and I even ran my own Twitter account for a while pretending to ‘not get’ people’s fake jokes.

But now… I kind of get it? I’ve done stand-up myself, and done my share of comedy writing. The truth isn’t always that funny; it’s usually quite boring. And when we come to tell each other stories, objective truth is always lost as we prioritise what’s meaningful in communication.

So why not just let people enjoy things? Because we’re also all natural critics! We form judgements on everything and it’s natural to be kind of a hater sometimes. We might also want to ask the question of whether anything should ever be beyond criticism (but that’s a question for another blog post I think).

For now let’s just say that enjoying things is fine, and not enjoying them is fine too.

In conclusion: DHOTYA = mostly harmless?

I’m choosing to still follow the account. Although we live in an age of vanishing nuance, I think it’s possible to follow an account and enjoy some of the content while regarding it as problematic. (Whereas I don’t follow, say, Glinner or Gervais).

Social media isn’t just a big part of my personal life, it’s also my job. And part of that has been creating social media guidelines for my workplace. These exist not just to protect the company from its employees (we trust them, don’t worry) but to highlight to folks the dangers of participating in the online social media space. I point people towards Jon Ronson’s TED talk ‘How one tweet can ruin your life’ – taken from his excellent book So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed – as a source of case studies about the worst that can happen.

If you haven’t read the book, I highly recommend it. And although the book doesn’t cover this topic specifically, I think it goes to the heart of the matter nicely. That real people are affected by pile-ons on Twitter, and mob justice isn’t fair.

Let’s run the argument…

  1. We value truth.
  2. We value justice.
  3. Some people do not share all our values.
  4. We’re willing to concede (1) for entertainment.  ((I see you sharing The Daily Mash on Facebook)
  5. People on Twitter exploit (4) for their own ‘gain’.
  6. Because of (1) and (2), it follows that we call out (5) when we see it.
  7. (1), (2), and (6) are not inherently contradictory
  8. But (6) goes awry because of the influence of (3).
    [As an aside at this point, (8) vs (2) explains the backlash we see against (6).]
  9. We can call out (8) while still participating in (6).

And so I think that’s the answer. We know that the online world is becoming increasingly fake. Politicians lie, influencers sell us manufactured lies, and people on Twitter make up stories for likes. Calling it out is our best, and only, defence. 

And we can do so while being decent human beings. The DHOTYA account and its followers sometimes fail here, so let’s call them out too. Seeking the truth doesn’t justify misogyny let’s just be just as hard on that too.

Virgin Media support sent me the weirdest email ever

So if you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably seen that I’m having a bit of a row with Virgin Media at the moment. It’s separate to the row I had with them back in 2017 about something else, but it covers much of the same ground.

Long story short, I’m moving flat next month and I’d like to bring Virgin with me. The tool to check if I can do that doesn’t seem to be working, so I’ve been some after some clarity about exactly what the deal is.

My first point of call was to contact the “moving team” who would apparently do a manual check on my behalf. What I got in response is one of the strangest customer service emails I’ve ever received, and definitely something I think deserves a thorough examination. Because that’s where I’m at with my life.

(And maybe we can take away some wider lessons about the importance of clarity in customer service comms while we do it).


The email from Virgin Media support

I’ve blurred out the name because I don’t want to blame the agent here. Although if this agent isn’t constantly screaming “WHY DO WE DO THINGS THIS WAY, WHY OH GOD WHY” then frankly I’m a little concerned. But no, this clearly stems from broken processes and systems. No good system should let this happen.

Let’s start at the top then! What makes a good subject line?

  • Something that makes me want to read the email
  • Something that gives an indication of where the email is from
  • Perhaps a summary of the topic

Basically getting right to it. A good subject line here might be “Sorry, we can’t come with you for your move!” or “It doesn’t look like you can get Virgin Media just yet”.

Instead, Virgin Media have gone with an email that has apparently been forwarded twice already. And is all in capital letters. And tells me nothing about what the email says (can I get VM or not?)

It also uses the word “SERVICIABILITY” which is:

  • The least friendly word they could have picked
  • Not a word

Did they mean serviceability? Why say that anyway? Even “availability” would be better – I know what that word means. And it’s a word.

We then have 8 line breaks. I don’t know why. To leave me in suspense? What email tool could they be using for this?

Note: this came from an individual’s Virgin Media address too, so it’s possible they just did this all themselves. But this seems like a pretty standard email to send out. Surely they can have templates. At the very least templates that don’t begin with 8 line breaks.

We then get “Hi,” in tiny blue font. No name or anything. Just hi. Then another 7 line breaks. We’re 16 lines in and I don’t know anything.

The email then continues in a completely different font and colour. I kind of liked the blue! But mixing it up is fine too, I suppose. Keeps it interesting.

“Sorry, your home isn’t in a Virgin Media area”. There’s the subject line! Buried like thirty lines deep.

(Note that they’ve said “We checked your post code” twice now. In two different ways. I don’t know why).

Next up: “Here’s the good news” followed by “Hang tight – we’re redirecting you!”. No clue what’s happening at this point in the email. The use of headers is a bit bewildering. At least they’ve tried to use some kind of structure, but it’s just made everything super confusing. But what follows is even worse.

An entire sentence is repeated. “You can still get a great broadband, TV and phone package” – just there… twice! Once mentioning USwitch (last mention of USwitch in the entire email, by the way) and once without. The “button” that apparently leads to USwitch is nowhere to be seen, and the email instantly veers to talking about Simplifydigital instead.

A highlight in the next bit is “click the link below” where “link below” is in blue, but not a link. It’s like they’ve seen links before in other places and know they’re usually blue. But they don’t know how to actually make links so they’ve just added one underneath instead. Baffling.

Another 10 line breaks and we get the sign-off (not in the screenshot).

Wow. Needless to say this email left me very confused. I wasn’t even sure it was legit. I tried asking Virgin Media and they didn’t seem sure, especially since they’re obsessed with telling me that they (the internet company Virgin Media) “don’t use email“).

It’s not just disappointing, it’s shockingly bad. And it makes such a poor customer experience. I have no confidence in the answer I got, I definitely don’t feel like I’m cared about as a customer, and it really damages the brand.

What could the email look like instead?

Well, firstly I’d have it properly branded. Coming from an “” email address or something. And using a consistent font size and colour. It could look like this:

Sorry, your home isn’t in a Virgin Media area

Hi Richard,

Thanks for asking us to check if you can get Virgin Media at your new place.

We’re sorry to say that we haven’t connected your new address to our network just yet. We’d absolutely love to soon though, and we’re connecting new homes as quickly as we can.

We’ll be sorry to lose you though. You can visit our friends at USwitch here to see which other companies have got you covered instead.

When we get to your area, we’ll drop you another email to let you know. We’ll even throw in a £50 welcome back bonus if you come back.

Until then, thanks again for our time together. It’s been great having you with us.


Team Virgin

So yeah basically something like that. Maybe with some more line breaks in it.

checking in on my own mental health – 2019

A year ago I wrote this. It’s kind of an inventory of all the things in my life that have an effect on my mental health, and an interesting snapshot of where I was at twelve months ago. I found it helpful to write at the time, almost as a form of therapy in itself – just laying everything out there and saying “this is what it is”.

So a year on, I want to do it again. This week is once more Mental Health Awareness Week, which our government in their infinite wisdom have marked by turning on a green light.

Which brings me to the first thing to talk about…

Brexit, and general cultural uncertainty

What the hell is going on in the world? Like, seriously: what’s happening?

It feels like we’re stuck in a perpetual catch-22. Impossible situations, political stalemates, the absolute certainty that nothing we can do will ever change anything.

We’re hurtling towards a climate rebellion, but the biggest issue of the day is how many ovens you should have in your house. (The answer is one, of course. Who has FOUR ovens?)

Sure, these are things that are mostly disconnected from our lives. But it’s a backdrop. And if the big things are so uncertain, what are we meant to do? And will there even be a planet left in 10 years time?

No to mention the last season of Game of Thrones being a complete and utter disappointment. A decade of our lives wasted.

We may not feel it, but we’re experiencing existential trauma on a daily basis. No wonder I’m so tired.


I’m well! Well enough, at least. I get the odd cough and cold, but typically I’m not in a bad state.

I’ve started experiencing a couple of mysterious symptoms recently though. Like perpetual jaw ache, and weird, dry rashes on my hands. But I don’t think I’m sick, I think I’m stressed out. I sleep and eat ok, so I don’t know for sure.

I also worry about my weight. It’s been steadily going up since the start of last year. I’m still not overweight by any stretch, but I keep catching myself in mirrors, or see pics of myself and not liking it. Especially around my face, like the cheeks and chin. And my stomach is getting bigger – I’m literally balancing my laptop on it now to write this. A stomach should never be able to be fulfil the function of a lap.

But at least my arms haven’t fallen off.

Living situation

I’m in the same flat I was a year ago, which is great. I love where I live and I love the place we’ve got.

Unfortunately one of my housemates is moving out soon, which means either moving to a new place (not ideal), or finding a new person to move in (even less ideal, if they’re a randomer). That’s throwing some more stress onto my plate of course. Moving to London was one of the most stressful experiences of my life, and I’d rather not have to go through any of it again. Even though it would be easier now that I’m ‘here’ already.

But I like my housemates. And I like my housemates’ friends and partners. So all good.


I’m at the same place I was last year. Which is good! I like it there. The people are nice, and it’s an exciting place to be.

Is it a relaxing job? Not always no. And I’m not the best at enforcing my own work/life balance sometimes. I stay late too often, not even getting much done when I do. It’s almost like tearing myself away is giving up somehow. I dunno – room for improvement here.

And there’s been stressful times, especially in the last few months. My job involves trying to keep an impossibly-large number of people happy. And ‘caring too much about keeping everyone happy’ might just be my single greatest character flaw. So when I can’t do it, or don’t manage it, that really upsets me. Especially when a lot of it cascades at once, and you just feel like a bit of a failure.

Hopefully I’ll grow more secure and confident with time” I wrote last year. Have I? In some ways, yes! I take a more active role in things than I did before. But I’m not a natural leader, stepping up to things doesn’t come naturally to me. That said, I’d set myself goals around things like public speaking that I never thought would be possible, so never say never.


I’m currently with someone I really like and is making me happy. We just spent about two weeks straight together, which was very nice.

They’re into board games and movies and games and comedy, which is all I could ever ask for. So even when I’m not feeling my best, I have someone to support me. Which means a lot.


The fam seem cool I guess.

I’m a bit worried about my aunt. She’s gone from ‘annoying aunt’ status to ‘ok actually not well now’, which has been hard. It makes spending time with her difficult and sometimes resentful. I don’t think I had a very happy Christmas in 2018, partly because of this (but also because I drank so much beer it cramped my legs up and I couldn’t walk).

Other family stuff is fine, or I simply don’t think or talk about it.

Social Life

This was my big deal last year. Parties and being social and the associated fear and anxiety. Does this still happen? Yes. But is it a major problem in my life? Not as much.

In the end, the CBT did help overall. And I also just grew into my own skin a bit. I think I’ll always be a bit of an outsider. Mainstream stuff usually doesn’t bother me to much (except Game of Thrones, where I STAN AN ICON… sorry I don’t know what that means either). But also I’m quiet, I take time to warm to people. And too much people-stimulation simply tires me out. I like to get away and just be by myself sometimes. And that’s cool.

If anything, I’ve gone quite far the other way. There’s been stretches of weeks where every night there’s been “a thing”. Like maybe a work social followed by a film the next night, then dinner with uni friends the next night, then comedy the night after that, and a work event the next day. In isolation these things are fine, but I do struggle when it piles up. Even if each thing is something I want to do and have, in fact, chosen to do. I do find myself simply tired of stuff, the very things I moved to London to do more of.


I feel better when I’m being creative. That can be messing around on Photoshop, writing stupid stuff on the blog, or trying to tweet something so mad that even I wouldn’t retweet it.

And I’ve found a great outlet for it this year through stand-up comedy. I did a course for five weeks at the start of the year, culminating in a showcase for at my favourite comedy pub: The Bill Murray.

That was really fun. I’m seven real gigs in so far, and I’m trying to keep it up. It’s a tiring hobby though – late nights in far-off pubs. And you have to bring someone with you, who’ll patiently sit though two hours of people-that-aren’t-you to listen to your same five minutes they’ve heard before. Anyone that attends comedy gigs as a ‘bringer’ for their friends is a saint in my eyes.

It’s a lazy trope, but it’s true: that stand-up is kinda like a form of therapy. A confession to strangers about your deepest flaws, worries, and fears. I talk about my anxiety in my stand-up, about the things I’m scared of. “I don’t like feeling like I’m under suspicion – it’s why I’ve never won a game of Cluedo in my life” quips on-stage Cook, someone who genuinely pretends to be bad at walking when behind someone at night, in order to seem less threatening.

So yeah, comedy is good and telling jokes is great for your mental health. More comedians than you think struggle with this stuff (and everyone thinks every comedian is secretly depressed, so there you go). Come see me sometime!

I’m also working on an exciting podcast project. It’s about friendship and mental health, but that’s all I’ll say about it for now…

Mental Health

Am I good? I don’t know.

Ostensibly, yes. I’m not on medication right now. And I’m not in therapy.

But I don’t feel good. My phq-9 score hovers around 13, marking ‘moderate depression’ and I strongly identify with the “feeling bad about yourself” and “little interest or pleasure in doing things” parts.

I’ll still feel quite down a lot of the time. But I’ll more commonly just feel kind of blank. Like spaced out, and not feeling anything. Like a numbness after being over-stimulated. I think it’s probably coming from the work stress.

I have a worrying amount of symptoms from the ‘signs of burnout’ list I just googled. Which seems bad. But I think that word sums up how I’m feeling now. A mix of tired and disinterested. I’m bad at taking time away from work, so often I’m just operating in a near-constant daze.

I think I need to take time for myself more. To properly sit and think about what I care about right now, and what I’m doing for me. But it’s hard to do that when so much is happening ALL THE TIME.

Like my phone notifications are the worst. There’s been so many times I’ve been thinking about something when a notification comes in, then another, and another. Your train of thought is constantly interrupted, with things that all demand your immediate attention. Too many WhatsApp groups or people bothering me for stuff. I just want everyone to leave me alone sometimes. But also I don’t want that. Not really.

Am I feeling anxious? Of course. Anxiety practically defines me, and I’ll never beat it. I can just learn to live with it.

But I’m ok

I’m happy enough most days. I really can’t complain about my situation when so many have it so worse off. And I recognise my privileged position – that at least some of my worries are borne from the lack of not having to worry about so many other things. I have my health, and some wealth, and work, and all manner of advantages.

And things are on the way up, probably. At least, better than twelve months ago.

Let’s just see what happens over the next year. Let’s keep an eye on each other, ok?

Elegiac Stanzas: Literary references in British Sea Power’s early discography

I’m a big fan of the local library
I just read a book
But that’s another story

So declares Yan Wilkinson in Who’s In Control, the first song on British Sea Power’s fourth album, Valhalla Dancehall. And as the very name of that album suggests, British Sea Power are a band more than comfortable with a literary reference. In fact, from just classical mythology alone they’ve drawn upon Zeus, Hercules, and the Trojan War. Listening to British Sea Power, isn’t just listening to music, it’s an education in the arts. Like reading a truly great book, it’s fun on its own, but when you dig into what it’s drawing on, you get something truly meaningful.

One of the reasons I love BSP, and maybe the reason they get a bit overlooked, is that they pick unusual things to sing about. When most bands are singing about love and relationships, BSP have sung about the history of artificial illumination, the smallest church in Sussex, and the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich. You know, standard fare. And throughout these explorations, they pepper eclectic references. And if GCSE English taught me anything it’s that lots of references = very good. Or at least, it makes the songs richer than your standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus-chorus affair.

Which brings us to this. For years I’ve wondered about collecting the references I’d unearthed. And finally, I’ve actually got round to doing it. I’m focussing on the first album – The Decline of British Sea Power – mostly because I know it best, but also because I think it has the highest density of these references. And I’m grateful to various contributors across the internet for helping me to fill in the blanks on some of this, especially the folks at, the Salty Water BSP fan site, and the stark-raving mad bunch on the BSP forum.

TDOBSP is also a masterpiece of an album from start to finish, musically as well as lyrically. It’s broadly about…. remembrance?  At least, that’s my interpretation. As the quote on the front of the album says (from Thornton Wilder’s The Bridge of San Luis Rey): “We ourselves may be loved only for a brief time… Even so, that will suffice… There is a land for the living and a land for the dead.

The album cover of The Decline of British Sea Power

Angular guitar riffs meet Russian literature

The album opens with forty two seconds of gregorian chanting. Because why not. But after that, the first line – spoken, not sung – is:  “Oh Fyodor you are the most attractive man”. Oh hello, Russian author FYODOR DOSTOYEVSKY, on this nondescript 2003 indie rock release, what are you doing here? The song is Apologies to Insect Life, and the song supposedly draws inspiration from Dostoyevksy’s Notes from Underground – but I don’t know enough about to get the specific references.

It’s a Pixies-inspired clangy anthem that builds with frenetic energy that spills over to the next song Favours in the Beetroot Fields, supposedly an oblique reference to the dispensation Field Marshall Montgomery gave his troops to seek ‘favours’ while stationed out on the front.

BSP & Betjeman

The title of Favours in the Beetroot Fields partially echoes The Licorice Fields at Pontefract, by former poet laureate John Betjeman. Is it a deliberate reference? Possibly not. But we know it’s at least knocking around in the BSP subconscious from their appearance in the BBC documentary Betjeman & Me, in which they perform a reading of Pontefract and discuss Betjeman’s penchant for larger ladies.

Betjeman’s roots spread throughout BSP’s work, but more in tone than outright content. Betjeman’s playful poking at sensibilities pops up in a lot of BSP lyrics. And I have a strong suspicion that the song Lucky Bicycle (which you’ll be lucky to find anywhere) is a reference to the line from Myfanwy. where the poet writes of how his beloved rides around the city on a bike and he cheekily declares: trace me your wheel-tracks, you fortunate bicycle!

Shakespeare and sci-fi

The fourth song on the album, Something Wicked, is probably the best example of the album’s themes. It compares and contrasts various symbols of nature that have been co-opted by mankind for military purposes (the Oak Leak Cluster as military award, the use of camouflage) concluding that “your works of nature are unnatural”. The title is an almost-too-obvious reference to the witches of Macbeth, who foretell the bloody events to come in their warning to the king-to-be.

Something Wicked features some of my favourite lyrics on the album, with a couple of my favourite lines being:

And the lake was clear as crystal
The best tea I’ve ever had

There’s no such thing as a filler lyrics for BSP, and I choose to believe that these two lines are a reference to The Shining Levels by John Wyatt – a book about a man who ends up living in isolation in the Lake District (the shining levels of the title being the lakes themselves). That BSP apparently almost named their album after the book is also a strong indication. A highlight of the book is when the protagonist adopts an injured baby deer and nurses it to back to health. The same little lost roe deer from No Lucifer from their third album? Probably!

But as well as the Shakespearean allusions, Something Wicked could also be a reference to Ray Bradbury’s novel Something Wicked This Way Comes. Again, we know that BSP are fans. Their song Georgie Ray off Valhalla Dancehall, is loosely based on Bradbury – as well as George Orwell – and their fifth studio album Machineries of Joy is the namesake of a collection of Bradbury’s short stories.

The idea of British Sea Power being science fiction fans may seem odd, so let’s acknowledge that. So far we’ve brought up mythology, Shakespeare, poets, and nature – none of which suggest an interest in either science or fiction, particularly. But there’s an interesting link here, which gives some more context to other parts of The Decline Of…

Remembering Geoff Goddard & Joe Meek

At university, BSP were friends with a chap named Geoff Goddard. Despite working in the catering department at the University of Reading, Goddard had a celebrated past in the music industry, working with artists like The Tornados and Heinz. Most notably he worked with the producer Joe Meek. Meek’s album I Hear A New World is one of the most incredible (viz. weird) half hours of music you’ll ever listen to, and has been cited by BSP as an influence on their own work. And together, Goddard and Meek created hits like the chart-topping Telstar and Johnny Remember Me. So is it any surprise, then, that the fifth track on TDOBSP is called, simply, Remember Me?

Before moving on, take a moment to appreciate the video BSP made for Remember Me, where they bring to life iconic London statues to belt out the most anthemic track off the record.

The Lonely & Larkin

The seventh song on TDOBSP – The Lonely – might also be the saddest. Hauntingly beautiful, it paints a picture of isolation, of long evenings spent hunched over a keyboard playing music. Just look at how beautiful the chorus is:

I’ll drink all day and play by night
Upon my Casio electric piano
‘Til in the darkness I see lights
But not candelabra
But things from other stars

Oh, did I mention that the song is about the late Geoff Goddard? Yup! It’s a tribute song to the friend-of-the-band, which makes it all the more heart-wrenching. As a portrait of a genuine person by someone who deeply admires and respects them, it’s deeply moving and genuinely poetic.

And there’s a touch of another poet at work here. Compare Philip Larkin’s Aubade:

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:

It’s not so much a paraphrasing as an out-and-out reworking of Larkin’s original. But it’s far from plagiarism. BSP use reference as the basis for originality, not as a substitute. And I like the idea that BSP are Larkin fans. There’s something a bit punk about Larkin and the idea of a bunch of angry young men studying his works and then blasting them out on stage seems fitting.

See also “it deepens like a coastal shelf” as Larkin’s description of misery in This Be The Verse. I think Larkin was talking about the shallow portion of a continent that is submerged underwater (thanks Wikipedia), but I can hear it ring in Oh Larsen B, from BSP’s second album, an ode to Yan’s “favourite foremost coastal Antarctic shelf”. (A song about the collapse of the Larsen-B ice shelf, of course).

Now That’s What I Call World War One Joy Division

We need to talk about Carrion, the 8th song on TDOBSP, and my favourite British Sea Power song of all time. I think it’s about a shipwreck, judging by some of the lyrics and the fact that the British Maritime Museum had some of the lyrics up on a wall for a bit. It name checks Scapa Flow and Rotherhithe, has a bit about the devil in it, and the refrain is about hair pomade. So basically a perfect song.

As well as being a piece of poetry in itself, I think Carrion has some interesting war poetry allusions in it. In early live shows, the song was preceded by clips of the classic war film A Matter of Life and Death or the audio of “Returning, we Hear the Larks” by Isaac Rosenberg. There used to be a great clip of this on Youtube but I’m having real trouble finding it – if anyone out there has it I’d be truly thankful!

Returning to the text itself, as it were, the line “Can stone and steel and horse’s heels / Ever explain the way you feel?” seems to me to be a TS Elliot reference. His Triumphal March is an inventory of the instruments of war, beginning with “Stone, bronze, stone, steel, stone, oakleaves, horses’ heels”. Oh, and there’s those oakleaves again from Something Wicked.

Do you like my historic rock?

Let’s march on to the end of the album then. At just under 14 minutes, Lately is the climax of the album. The lyrics require close interrogation, and a lot of it I can’t place at all. The song breaks down both lyrically and musically to the end, with Yan just screaming variations of the same line:

Do you like my megalithic rock?
Do you like my prehistoric rock?
Do you like my teutonic rock?
Do you like my priapic rock?
Do you like my neolithic rock?
Do you like my sterile rock?
Do you like my megalithic rock?

We’d see this again in the title of their third album – Do You Like Rock Music? But the song begins a lot more sedately:

Lately, you seem like another language
Are you in trouble,
Are you in trouble again?
And you know how they say,
The past, it is a foreign country
How can we go there,
How can we go where we once went?

Very typical BSP; themes of memory and isolation. And of course “the past is a foreign country” is a quote by LP Hartley which in full reads: “The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.” But it’s interesting that BSP would explicitly call this out as a reference (“you know how they say…”). Reference itself as a form of remembrance.

I really like this verse too:

Replacing Hercules, with the heroic sounds of Formby
Remove the tunics touch, stood aside from the putsch,
Stood aside from history

There’s the Greek mythology, with the heroic athleticism of Hercules ironically displaced by the saucy northern entertainer George Formby. Then there’s a bit I assume is a Hitler reference with the Putsch.

But BSP could never stand aside from history. They’re too obsessed by it. The ringing from ten minutes of guitar feedback has barely dissipated when the final song of the album begins. A Wooden Horse may be the closest that BSP come on the record to writing a traditional love song. “When wooden horses were in use / I would have built one / And left it for you” sings Yan. But even this sentiment is framed within the context of Greek mythology and history. They just can’t help themselves.


So what does this all mean? Just because BSP have written an album densely packed with literary references, both oblique and obvious, does that alone make it any good? Well, of course not. Other bands have drawn upon history and literature in their music; The Decemberists deserve an honourable mention here for being particular great.

But the way that BSP have done it is unlike anything I’ve ever seen any band do. And it’s not just the scale of it, or the way it’s made me obsessively crawl over every word, and spend hours researching this essay over an entire Easter bank holiday weekend.

What makes the album great is the way that these references reinforce the theme. As we’ve said, this is an album about remembrance, of looking back and appreciating. The album is called ‘The Decline Of…’ for a reason. We look back with fondness at things in the past, but we also displace the old with the new. We reject old myths for the modern, we reject the natural for the mechanical, we forget people and things.

In referencing the obscure and the forgotten, BSP make us remember. Geoff Goddard died in 2000 but he lives on in the music he left behind, and in our remembering him through BSP’s music.

Returning back to the quote that adorns the cover of the album..

We ourselves may be loved only for a brief time… Even so, that will suffice… There is a land for the living and a land for the dead

100 ways in which life is like a box of chocolates

Forrest Gump’s mother is quoted as having said that life was like a box of chocolates because “you never know what you’re gonna get.” This is demonstrably false. Chocolate boxes typically come with liner notes detailing exactly which chocolates you’ll be getting. And even if you lose that, or it doesn’t come with one, it’s very unlikely you’ll encounter anything wildly different to the kind of chocolates you’d expect to get in a box of chocolates.
But the simile itself is a promising one. “Life is like a box of chocolates…” It’s just let down by the resolution. We can do better. So, here’s one hundred other ways in which life is like a box of chocolates.
  1. It makes a lovely gift.
  2. It may contain nuts.
  3. Not everyone likes the coffee options.
  4. Old people won’t let go of them.
  5. Melts in the sun.
  6. Sometimes there’s another layer underneath the first one.
  7. More expensive after Brexit.
  8. Really tasty.
  9. Too much can make you sick.
  10. Makes you fat.
  11. Comes in all shapes and sizes.
  12. Superficially different, but all the same on the inside.
  13. We’d be better off without it.
  14. Worth a bit less after Easter.
  15. Bad people don’t like the dark ones.
  16. There’s a lot of wasted packaging.
  17. It’ll make your teeth fall out.
  18. Looks nice with a ribbon on.
  19. I’m always happy to have one.
  20. They are both featured in the film Forrest Gump.
  21. They are both associated with Coronation Street.
  22. Both are in the title of this blog.
  23. They are words in the English language.
  24. They contain both vowels and consonants.
  25. I regret attempting to write a list of things that link them.
  26. No refunds.
  27. People come back from holidays with them.
  28. Philosophers debate their meaning.
  29. High sugar and fat content.
  30. I like them.
  31. Enjoyed all across the world.
  32. You shouldn’t let anyone shame you for having one.
  33. At least hundreds of years old.
  34. Excessive amounts are bad for you.
  35. Gives you spots.
  36. Can eventually make you depressed.
  37. Go great with milk.
  38. Best stored in a cool, dark place.
  39. Found in abundance at airports.
  40. You can find the best in Belgium.
  41. Improves with age.
  42. A common craving.
  43. Most people only get one.
  44. This list is about them.
  45. Historically related to the Aztec Empire.
  46. Very romantic.
  47. Poets write about them.
  48. Can’t think of one for this number.
  49. This is number 49 in a list of things relating them.
  50. The film Amelie is kind of about them. I don’t know though, I haven’t seen it.
  51. Precious.
  52. Beautiful.
  53. Makes people happy.
  54. Can make you feel guilty.
  55. The exterior doesn’t always reflect the interior.
  56. Starts off well-ordered, but ends in chaos.
  57. Runs out eventually.
  58. Ultimately just a bundle of chemicals.
  59. Accept no substitute.
  60. Best shared.
  61. You can really overthink them.
  62. Can seem dark sometimes.
  63. Nothing to be afraid of.
  64. Knows no language or borders.
  65. Filled with fudge.
  66. Just a little bit chewy.
  67. You can’t put a bit back after you’ve taken a bite.
  68. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
  69. Not to be taken too seriously.
  70. Lots of fun.
  71. Surprisingly expensive.
  72. But don’t worry about the cost.
  73. Sad if empty.
  74. Turn it upside down and everything falls out.
  75. Some are bigger than others.
  76. Don’t compare yours to anyone else’s.
  77. A terrible thing to lose.
  78. It’s never too early in the day to enjoy some.
  79. Pairs well with red wine.
  80. At Easter, the village vicar will attempt to link the two in their sermon.
  81. Money can help you acquire more.
  82. People want to know its meaning.
  83. Can take you by surprise.
  84. My guilty pleasure.
  85. Enjoyed all over the world.
  86. The source of countless arguments.
  87. Worth celebrating.
  88. Non-vegan.
  89. Suitable for vegetarians.
  90. Just really nice.
  91. Some people spend their whole lives looking for one.
  92. Non-Recyclable.
  93. Bad for the environment.
  94. Heavily taxed.
  95. A luxury.
  96. The rich have it better.
  97. Dogs shouldn’t eat them.
  98. All too fleeting.
  99. Unlikely to survive above 100 degrees celsius.
  100. Not waterproof.

Review: The Dark Tower; The Wind Through the Keyhole – Stephen King

It’s a Stephen King novel everyone! Yay. I actually really like Stephen King.

This book is supposed to be part of the Dark Tower series that I really love. It’s set between books five and six of the series (where’s there’s this weird unexplained shift in tone and location) – so it’s King going back and filling in a blank.

But really it’s not part of the series at all. It’s about the characters from the series hiding in some building from a storm, whilst Roland (the hero) tells them a story. That story is about him going off to kill some shape-shifting monster when he was younger. Ok, now bear with me because it doesn’t stop there.

In that story, Roland tells yet another story to some king he’s protecting. Yup, it’s story-within-a-story time! Thankfully that’s as far as it goes, Inception-wise, but it’s kinda dumb. There’s no big revelations about Roland from his past, and the bottom line story (which takes up most of the book) doesn’t really tie into anything else. It’s a nice little story by itself, but the whole framing around it is kinda pointless.

Btw, this is just a little reminder that Stephen King literally wrote himself in as a character in the Dark Tower series. Not like as a character that looks like him, but as real life horror writer Stephen King. Roland and the gang have to visit him (and save his life ofc) to stop him from stopping writing about them. Yup.

(Still recommend the entire Dark Tower series though).

So back to The Wind Through the Keyhole. Yeah it’s pretty fun. Lots of magic and stuff. If you don’t like King you won’t like this, but if you do… you probably will.

I do, so I liked it!

Rating: 5/5

Content Updates

This post is entirely for the benefit of Matthew Mittal.

New short story here:

Play I wrote here:

That is all thank you.

My favourite 404 error pages

404 pages are a fun thing, right? They’re those pages you get on websites when you type the URL in wrong or there’s a dead link.

They’re a good opportunity for companies to be a bit playful, or for bored webmasters to do something interesting for once. And I’ve been doing some research on them recently and thought I’d share some of my favourites.

Basically a fun game to play ends up being ‘pick a company with a website and see what their 404 page is.’

Sadly, this doesn’t work for Twitter and Facebook – you just get some random profiles 🙁

But anyway, I’ve got a KILLER idea for a 404 for – so stay tuned.


It’s a great time to be alive. Everything you could ever want is now available. In box form.

It all started with Graze. Healthy snacks sent straight to your door. Compellingly convenient.

Of course, Graze didn’t invent postal subscription servies. LoveFilm are due a debt of thanks too. But they don’t deliver things in boxes so let’s forget about them for a minute.

These days, it seems like you can get a box full of anything. Think of something, and there’s a box for it. Here are some of those things:

The list goes on and on. And it gets really weird.

It’s interesting to look as this as the same shift we’ve seen in physical retail, viz. from an “ownership” to an “access” model. Case in point, nobody buys DVDs anymore (I hope); you just go and see what’s on Netflix and watch that. You pay Netflix every month for access to movies, relieving yourself of the burden of having to store a Netflix-sized library of physical disks in your home. Same for music with Spotify. (Woo, Spotify).

It’s almost just like adding another outgoing to your monthly budget (well, it literally is I suppose). We’re already familiar with rent, which is just access to housing as opposed to ownership. Likewise with internet, phone bills and water – we pay for access to these utilities. Annoyingly, gas/electricity is still provided by usage but I suppose that makes sense since are you physically consuming something and usage can vary drastically by season.

There’s no reason that “subscription” couldn’t eventually become your primary method of consumption. I’d pay my rent and so on, then my monthly “Food & Drink” bill, provided to me by a single company according to my need. Hopefully it wouldn’t necessarily be served in a cardboard box, but you can see what I mean.

This would help enormously with people on a budget, I think. Knowing up front how much you’re spending on food is an essential part of budgeting, and having it as a simple flat rate every month would be really helpful.

But is there something intrinsically worthwhile in the old model? Are some things irreducible to a boxscription? The way things are going would suggest not, though it seems likely that there’ll be some consumer resistance and the revolution will be a slow one.

When ‘out’ shopping you are an active agent, making decisions for yourself about yourself, picking smart offers and acting on whims. Giving this up to an external agent feels a bit like surrendering control of your life. But does it really matter, if we still have the choice about who we’re surrendering control too? (There’s enough competition in the boxscription industry to allow this). Losing that choice can sometimes be liberating.

So my overall point is that this future isn’t necessarily a bleak one. Having our daily essentials packaged and shipped to us in a small box every week might appear to be the apex of the consumerist nightmare dreamt up by Huxley and others, but it’s not so scary.

And that pants subscription looks REALLY useful to be honest.