4 Peaks Challenge

In mid-May, in the 48 hours between midday Thursday May 12th and Saturday May 14th, I completed a grand adventure for a great cause. The Lighthouse Charity supports the entire UK construction industry:

Summit of Ben Nevis, Thursday afternoon

Summit of Helvellyn, the small hours of Friday morning

Somewhere on Snowdon, Friday afternoon (at the summit I was in no mood for photographs)

Ferry from Holyhead to Dublin

Bottom of Carrauntoohil, Saturday morning

Summit of Carrauntoohil, Saturday afternoon

Meeting Irish Olympic gold medalists at the awards gala, Saturday night

Beyond the Wings April 2022

When I was off booze for Lent, I did weight training at least twice a week. By the end, I was deadlifting almost double my weight. Even after all this exercise I didn’t actually get any lighter (damned Easter eggs).

This fitness will be put to a significant test when I complete the Four Peaks Challenge, for a very good cause. Things that may not be for a good cause, but are nonetheless important to me, include:

Activities

Business is good but could get better. I have made what will hopefully be the first of many video recordings of one of my Chinese lessons. It is for Intermediate reading, and on the subject of myths and legends:

I’m also delighted to announce that I am now set to be published in Litro, a first-rate literary magazine. My first article will be a review of the novel ‘Solo Dance’ by Li Kotomi, and will appear within the next few months. 

Output

Of The Kev songs I’ve written since the launch night last November, this new one (demo here) is probably my favourite. I look forward to recording it in studio:

This month’s miscellaneous cover was ‘Baila Me’ by The Gipsy Kings:

The song is in the Spanish dialect of Gitane, a traveller language that is a mixture of Spanish, French and Catalan. I’ve always wanted to be conversant in Spanish, and every day of this month I have been studying it hard on Duolingo, a website I should have started using years ago.

Wider World

Toward the end of the month, UK Deputy Opposition Leader Angela Rayner was subjected to sexism in The Daily Mail, the nation’s most popular newspaper, accused of crossing and uncrossing her legs to distract male adversaries. The following week, a Member of Parliament for the ruling Conservative Party was reported to be under investigation for watching pornography while parliament was in session. News of misbehaving politicians doesn’t interest me much. Relations between the sexes does.

One of my song lyrics contains the theory that pornography could go the same way as slavery, and our distant descendants may think us monsters for normalising it. I don’t really believe that, but I read a lot by ‘sex-negative’ feminists. In an interview, self-described ‘reactionary feminist’ Mary Harrington has argued that “a measure of sexual repression is necessary in order not to become completely desensitized to erotic stimuli.”

I recently revisited Herman Hesse’s debut novel Peter Camenzind. Having gone to an all-boys’ school and having no sisters, I could very much relate to the early passage: ‘I have always honoured the female sex as a strange and mysterious race superior to the male by virtue of its inherent beauty and singleness of being’.

If I had been alive three-hundred years ago, I may not have owned slaves, or traded slaves, but I would presumably have been in some way complicit in the trade. And I view modern social problems like systemic sexism in a similar manner. A minuscule percentage of people are serious offenders, but everybody is on the spectrum when it comes to being part of the problem.

I have read a lot of feminists who are ideologically opposed to the sex industry, including Julie Bindel, Jo Bartosch, and newly published Mia Döring. I have also read a lot by those on the opposite side of the debate, including Maggie McNeill, Laura Agustin, Camille Paglia and Brooke Magnanti.

Ultimately, I agree with a quote from another novel I recently re-read, Mario Vargas Llosa’s The Notebooks of Don Rigoberto: ‘Ideologies (like feminism) create levelling forms of oppression that are generally worse than the despotisms against which they rebelled’. That is, trying to crack down on something just because it is morally dubious is a slippery and unappealing slope.

Beyond the Wings, March 2022

Well, to quote a character in Alan Bennet’s play ‘The History Boys’: ‘History? It’s just one ****ing thing after another’. When I was a kid, anyone who was old enough to have fought in a world war was already of pensionable age. And I was only seven when the Soviet Union – seemingly the last great opponent of liberal democracy and Western hegemony – collapsed.

It was tempting to buy into the popular misreading of Francis Fukuyama and believe that history was over. But now it is very much back, and unlike our forebears in the first half of the twentieth century, we cannot just go and fight for our chosen cause, since weapons of war have developed to the point that using them is unthinkable.

Activities

One pupil has moved from four to eight lessons a week, so business is good. To boost public awareness, I am still holding twice-monthly free lessons via The Mandarin Club. I also did my first freelance work for a gaming company that translates instructions from Chinese. On the downside, I missed out on several freelance gigs that I really wanted and turned down several others that weren’t quite right.

Since writing is a personal passion project, I am generally reluctant to take it on as a paid job. It will be some time before I have much to show for it, but I have some essays, books reviews, and comedy sketches that I have finished writing and should make an appearance this year.

While applying for a tutoring gig, I came across a quote that I once listed as among my all-time favourites. It is by the Paraguayan guitarist Agustin Barrios Mangore: “One cannot be a guitarist without bathing in the fountain of culture”.

Though seemingly elitist, it is true that one cannot get the inspiration to create without standing on the shoulders of giants. Having been off booze for Lent this entire month, I have read on average over a novel a week. The absorption of great literature will hopefully manifest itself in weird and wonderful ways.  

Output

This month’s miscellaneous cover is ‘Angel’ by Jimi Hendrix, a song said to be inspired by a dream vision of his mother, who died when he was a teenager:

The next The Kev album is coming along nicely. I think I have an appropriate song for near the beginning

and the end

There is a line in ‘Empty Your Mind’ part 1 about helping people forget their ‘grey little lives’. But now the unglamorous lives of ordinary people are being affected by global affairs in ways that are impossible to ignore.

Wider World

At the start of this year, the UK, like much of the rich world, was already destined to face a cost-of-living crisis. Now the war in Ukraine is set to wreak havoc on energy prices. This reminds me of an extract from David Lodge’s 1988 novel ‘Nice Work’ which observes how a housewife switching on a kettle is blissfully unaware of many things:

the building and maintenance of the power station that produced the electricity, the mining of coal or pumping of oil to fuel the generators, the laying of miles of cable to carry the current to her house, the digging and smelting and milling of ore or bauxite into sheets of steel or aluminium, the cutting and pressing and welding of the metal into the kettle’s shell, spout and handle, the assembling of these parts with scores of other components – coils, screws, nuts, bolts, washers, rivets, wires, springs, rubber insulation, plastic trimmings; then the packaging of the kettle, the advertising of the kettle, the marketing of the kettle to wholesale and retail outlets, the transportation of the kettle to warehouses and shops, the calculation of its price, and the distribution of its added value between all the myriad people and agencies concerned in its production.

You can read the whole extract here.

As of this week (April 1st), utility bills here are set to skyrocket, as caused by global phenomena. Unlike a century ago, history has decided to put the pandemic ahead of the major war in Europe. Although those times are no longer within living memory, from what we know about humans and history, the world somehow muddles through and learns as little as possible.

Beyond the Wings, February 2022

I always wondered what it would be like to live through major historical moments. Now I know. It sucks.

Still, we can’t stop living our little lives. Speaking of which, a new song I wrote covers the issue of modern warfare. Here are some things I’ve been up to this month.

Output

I was very pleased to finish my latest Chinese song this month 《某个地方的某个人》, which is roughly my third from last ever piece of Chinese-language song-writing.   It would have been nice to have become more famous and got more media attention over these more than ten years of creating Chinese lyrics, but not being prominent on the radar of the Chinese government has its advantages.

I didn’t bother adding subtitles this time because it is pretty much a translation of my English song ‘Someone Somewhere’.

I also finished two new English songs, ‘Glorious Times’ and ‘Bucket List’ and a new classical guitar video.

Activities

Attempts at getting more non-fiction published this year have been at a stuttering start. I have written an article about Tom Lehrer titled ‘The Twentieth Century’s Most Unassuming Literary Genius’. In March I will rewrite it and try to find another home for it.

Tutoring is still going well but I’m always trying to expand my business. This month, I held two free sample Mandarin lessons and in March will hold one for beginners and another for intermediate readers.

I have also started a new series of covers in which, unlike before, I use a proper mic set-up. The first in the series is ‘Where Angels Play’ by The Stone Roses.

Wider World

One of the most talked about books of the past decade was ‘The Better Angels of Our Nature’, a door-stopper in which psychologist Steven Pinker argues that we are living through a ‘long peace’ and violence has progressively decreased over the course of history. Most of his arguments could also have been made in 1913, before the collective suicide of Europe.

Times change but of course human nature never does. A megalomaniac in charge of a powerful country has started a war for territorial expansion over a historical claim.  This has again been enabled by the West’s complacency.

Somehow Russia, with an economy smaller than Italy or Brazil, has tentacles all around the world. In the UK, the ruling Conservative Party has accepted £2.3 million in Russian donations since the current prime minister took office.

I don’t judge people for getting involved with unscrupulous players. I had my dealings with China (a country that is highly likely to start a war of aggression against Taiwan at some point in the 2020s), but the way so many people have allowed themselves to accept dirty money reminds me of a quote from former Literature professor John Carey: “The face of evil is neither fearsome nor formidable. The face of evil is weak, self-serving, and a bit pathetic. Not so unlike our own.”

Beyond the Wings, January 2022

Having completed Dry January, I got a lot done this month both creatively and professionally. This year I am also going to give up drinking for Lent and Sober October, and maybe in 2023 it will be OYNB (one year no beer).

Activities

To boost business, I have started offering free online Mandarin lessons at least once a month. At the moment, one of the lessons is for absolute beginners and another is in intermediate reading.

I am also hosting various events related to both language and music. Six months’ worth of China Book Clubs have already been scheduled. The next is Little Gods’ by Meng Jin.

Output

When it comes to future albums or gigs, a song is either a show-stopper or not worth including. This month I finished two English songs – one about a lover with a heroic flaw and a mock pop anthem – but will probably rework them later as they are both in the demo stage.

I have also finished a new classical guitar video:

Wider World

The world is watching nervously at the prospect of Russia invading Ukraine. That is, the democratic world. China is less afraid. Although not technically allies, Russia and China have increased military cooperation in recent years. A war in Europe could empower China to take Taiwan while the West is distracted, as the nationalistic blogger Huashan Qiong Jian has said.

Alexander Gabuev, a China expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center think-tank, has said: “If war happens, it will be a huge distraction for the US. For China, that would be an opportunity of the same magnitude as 2014.”

As the recent Peng Shuai episode has shown, the Chinese Communist Party is as autocratic, thuggish, and opaque as it ever was. There are a million things wrong with the West, but when I compare the two, I am reminded of a quote from Clive James, ‘Democracy is even more important for what it prevents than for what it provides.’