Reflections on my top Spotify plays of 2018

It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for! I wonder why Spotify do this with over three weeks of the year still to go? Perhaps it is so that is isn’t overwhelmed by Christmas songs. And I wonder does the “year” therefore comprise 11 months and a little under a week?


This year I expected (yes, I have been thinking about this) that the influence of my children’s use of our Spotify would become apparent. To a degree it has, with the Greatest Showman soundtrack featuring heavily. I thought I expected George Ezra’s Shotgun to be way ahead of everything else, but it wasn’t.  

The top two are both songs (or perhaps more properly recordings) which I have tended to use to endeavour to get my children (and myself at times) to sleep. Number 2 is a recording by Gordon Hempton, Ocean Dreams, nearly an hour of ocean sound. I have listened to it in full waking as well as as a sleep aid, and it is quite an aural trip:

The number one is Ekkehard Ehlers’  Plays John Cassavetes 2. Based on a recurring sample from the Beatles’ “Goodnight” Again it’s a wonderful listen for non-sleep related purposes also! Here is a video of it on a one hour loop, if you have spare time after Ocean Dreams:

Number 3 is “HImlico’s Map”, with Mick Lally speaking over Shaun Davey’s music. This is the opening of Davey’s “The Pilgrim”, and also the opening of a playlist I put together called, um, The Pilgrim.


Here’s an extract from The Pilgrim sleeve notes:

Himlico’s Map: Colum Cille Leaves Derry. Mick Lally, Narrator and Helen Davies, metal-string harp. Himlico was a Carthaginian who was sent during the 6th or 5th century B.C. to explore the coastline of Western Europe. Although his original report is lost it is thought to form a basis of a poem by Avienus, a 4th century A.D. official of the Roman Empire. An extract from this, one of the earliest written descriptions of the Celts, is followed by three of a number of verses ascribed to Colum Cille at the time of his departure from Derry in the 6th century A.D.

Here is “Himlico’s Map / Colum Cille Leaves Derry” on YouTube, with a fairly trippy visual accompaniment:

OK, I’m not going to go through each one like this… honest. I do think the playlist is a fairly accurate reflection of what I listen to, although I have been listening to quite a bit of fairly honest-to-goodness guitar-based rock lately which hasn’t made it to this (nor has much by way of country, and only a few electronica). I also listen to a fair bit of the Beatles, Sinatra and Dylan, but possibly too diffuse a range of tracks for one to make it. I also have some playlists which are basically multiple versions of the same song or piece – for instance this one of various interpretations of Chopin’s Raindrop Prelude . Quite a few of these versions feature in my annual top 100. That probably pushes the classical percentage, already pretty high, even higher.

Spotify also produce a playlist called “Tastebreakers” which is supposedly “a playlist of songs from genres and artists you don’t normally explore” Whatever about the artists bit, I can’t say that the genres are unfamiliar. A fair bit of jazz, a fair bit of country, a fair bit of soundtracks … it isn’t that far from my familiar furrows.



Apologia pro blogging-vita sua

Apologies for the coinage. I have generally tried to avoid navel gazing too much on this blog; the reader can judge how successfully. However, I have recently been taking stock in lots of ways, including the nature and purpose of blogging.

I started this blog, and my other blog A Medical Education in Summer 2015 very much as personal exploration projects. As I put it on the About page:

Originally I conceived of this blog as an archive of my various writings. In 2015 I met Erica van Horn and Simon Cutts of Coracle Press to discuss (on my part) publishing some kind of a collection of my writing. In the course of a very helpful chat they advised blogging some of my writings as a means of finding a thread between them. This was with a view to perhaps preparing a compilation of writings for publication eventually.

From a very early stage this is not quite what evolved. Both blogs became more focused on exploring new things, rather than simply reviewing past writings.

I had tried various attempts at blogging before – like here and here but none really managed to “take.” Whether it was a tribute to WordPress’s interface or simply just the right time of my life, it did ‘take.’

I also found that the blog helped me explore interests – such as nature, art, religion – that were perhaps a little neglected.

Of late I have noticed some perhaps less positive trends.

Firstly, like many I suspect, I have noted in myself a desire to achieve views and likes. There isn’t really any rational reason for this. I am not selling anything, and am not dependent on social media to boost my business. Indeed, I suspect I would be quite flummoxed by any hint of virality. My hit count is modest enough, to say the least – but it does sometimes lead to a frisson of pride. August, September and October were successively higher and higher in page views and visitors. And there is a certain pleasurable anticipation to this.

This is probably all pretty innocent, but it does carry the risk of posting things not because there is something meaningful to it, but to get more hits.

Secondly, I noticed that I began to post things as much as bookmarks for myself as anything else. This began to include short sections of writings I hadn’t fully read. And unfortunately I began to read with the search for blog-worthy bits in mind.

I left Facebook in 2012 for a variety of reasons (i do have an inactive account now used solely to log into Spotify

Thirdly, and related to the previous points, from an early stage I posted bits of writing by others under the tag “Commonplace Book”. In the early days, I would doggedly type these out myself, rather than cutting and pasting. The original commonplace book concept was a handwritten one, and in a way the manual labour of writing helped make the words more familiar. Typing is not quite as physical, but much more physical than cutting and pasting.

Of late, however, I began to cut and paste bits that seemed “blogworthy.” This feeds into the bad habits above, and is driven by them.

To go back to the positive, one thing I have tried to do in this blog is to highlight places, people, books, fauna and flora that is otherwise neglected. I am aware of the irony of being a piece of digital culture (however tiny) while being simultaneously highly suspicious of its totalitarian, homogenising tendencies.

One of the most rewarding experiences was the Extinct In Ireland posts I did each day in September (full disclosure: I did them in batches and scheduled them for release each day) which lead me to discover much I didn’t know about. I am hoping to do some similar projects over the next while.

I am also hoping to dampen down the tendency I have to enthusiastically repost bits from other blogs, or to turn the blog into a
series of quotes from whatever book I am reading. Either Thoreau or Emerson said “I hate quotations. Tell me what you know.” and while I don’t quite hate quotations, I have begun to see them as potentially pernicious.

Recently I posted a quote from Edwin Friedman, extracted from a blog post by DeForest London. It is a good quote, and one I would stand by posting – but having recently read Edwin Friedman, I find that his work is much more challenging than even that challenging quote indicates.

I intend to only post quotes from works I have either read or are reading actively. I intend not to read with one eye always on what might work on the blog, but post if I later find something going round and round in my mind (in fairness, this was the case with the Friedman quote)

The tl;dr version (cunningly reserved til the end) of the above: I am not going to do things here quite the way I have been, but I am not totally sure what that means. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Fiction (and poetry) update

It’s been a while since I posted a fiction update – Jan 2017 to be precise. The one before that was two years ago. Alas, the pattern of outlets I write for ceasing to exist continues.

Reviewing those last two updates, not much happened. However I have submitted a story and a poem to Non-Binary Review’s anthology of pieces inspired by Dante’s Inferno. And I am trying to think something up for the “Still On Patrol” call I blogged about earlier.

And I have also retooled a couple of stories which have been bounced back a few times by various publications – submitting one to Willow Zine and one to Fabula Argentea. So let’s see what . happens!

“Still on patrol”

I came across this call for submissions for an upcoming anthology by Otter Libris:

There is a tradition in the United States Navy that no submarine is ever truly lost at sea. Those boats and the crews who don’t return to port are considered “still on patrol” in perpetuity. Active duty sailors would never dream of leaving their still on patrol shipmates behind, so every year, usually at the Christmas holiday, sailors manning communications hubs ashore and at sea send out a message. They send holiday wishes for health and happiness to those they know will receive it, and the same wishes to those listed as still on patrol.

What if those submariners who never returned are still out there? What if it’s the energy of the yearly good wishes that keeps them going on their eternal patrol? And what if their eternal patrol protects the living against threats more otherworldly than mundane wars between nation states?

What about other military men and women, disappeared or lost at sea, in the air, or on land? Is there a Roman Legion still manning Hadrian’s Wall? Are there ghostly flight crews who herd hapless aircraft away from the Bermuda Triangle? Tell us stories about military men and women who continue to protect humanity long after they’ve taken their last breath. Tell us what happens when they take the oath to protect their people not just from threats foreign and domestic, but supernatural as well.

I hadn’t come across the “still on patrol” concept before. From Wikipedia, here is a memorial plaque from the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia:


It sounds like an interesting anthology at the very least….reminds me of J G Ballard’s One Afternoon at Utah Beach (the text of which is not, as far as I can find, available online)

You are not a product: Phil Lawton on Dublin as a hyper-competitive city

Back in 2015 I attended the inaugural symposium of the Health Research Board’s Trial Methodology Research Network (TMRN), which I blogged about here. The meeting (which was excellent) was in the Gibson Hotel in Dublin’s docklands. I found walking this part of Dublin somewhat eerie – within a short distance of some of the most deprived areas of the North Inner City we had this rather sterile, pedestrian-free, street-life-free zone.

As it happened, that day I came across a post by my friend Philip Lawton  which helped me understand some of my unease in what is, after all, my native city. I suppose Sue King-Smith’s post on writing in the age of person-as-product brought this back to my consciousness. Anyway, here are Phil’s opening paragraphs:


Dublin is so caught up in a maelstrom of ‘hyper-competitiveness’ that it barely has time to even think about what it is or what it means. At the centre of this is the tech industry, which influences everything fromlivable city agendas to housing discussions. It is a form of competitiveness that is presented in manner that makes it seem almost matter of fact or inevitable. When faced with this, the responses to recent announcement that the up-coming Web Summit will leave Dublin come as no surprise. The common mantra from various media sources (here and here) is one of ‘loss’, ’embarrassment’, and a sign that we must improve our infrastructure to cater for and attract events such as this. In a manner that would seem almost absurd to many, The Irish Times even went so far as to publish an opinion poll asking ‘Is the loss of the Web Summit a blow to Ireland’s reputation abroad’. In as much as such approaches are so dominant, it becomes completely accepted that the response must be for Dublin to reaffirm itself and ‘stay in the game’ or lose out. There is little reflection on what the level of mobility and ‘choice’ afforded to contemporary companies or organizations means for the city and for thinking about long-term sustainable approaches to economic development.

There are a number of factors worth remembering here. For one, the Web Summit is part of a culture of expectation, where every want and need is answered. If not, there is every chance that the relevant companies will move on. This reality is made explicit in this case, with the Web Summit blog stating: “We know now what it takes to put on a global technology gathering and we know that if Web Summit is to grow further, we need to find it a new home. Our attendees expect the best.” Thus, with one foul swoop, the birth-place of the Summit is rejected, with pastures new willing to cater to the wants and needs of the tech world. This is a world that is held aloft as proclaiming the arrival of a new world order of progress and betterment. Although most of us never experience it, it offers a luring image of inventiveness, youth, and progress all framed in a chic background of converted shipping containers and bright colours. Yet, in as much as this industry needs constantly innovate to remain competitive, it makes for a highly unpredictable outcome for host cities.

The Web Summit also forms part and parcel of a form of competitiveness that perceives and believes that any small dent in the shiny and glossy image of the city will end in a catastrophic result. It is yet another element in the firm belief of a ‘trickle down’ approach to economic betterment, even if we don’t know where it’s trickling. It is so normalized that it now presents itself as common sense – ‘we’ must fight for this agenda at all costs because these the outcome is ‘good’. As is nearly always the case, there is little to no questioning of why pursue this approach in the first place and of possible demerits.



 I stumbled across this post randomly.

Just as when reading Adam deVille discussing late stage capitalism, I am not totally sure if “neoliberalism” is quite the right term for what King-Smith describes, but she certainly captures perfectly a certain pseudo-toughness many writers and literary folk affect that masks a sense of powerlessness:


This ideology dominates the publishing/writing ‘industry’ at present (as well as many other arts ‘industries’ and the entertainment industry, generally), where it manifests in many ways, including:

  1. Writers are nearly always defined as individuals, not movements or collectives (if they are collectives, they are rarely taken seriously). Publishers are always looking for the next best seller. Often books that are frivolous novelty items sell better than books that explore the deeper dimensions to society and subjectivity. Writers are no longer nurtured and developed by publishers over time to develop a mature and sophisticated body of work. There’s less capacity in the current publishing industry to subsidise important books that don’t sell in high quantities.
  1. Writers and other artists are always expected to be in competition with each other for the limited paid publishing opportunities available. Writers are told they have to be thick skinned, determined, tenacious and prepared to sell themselves. Writers are told to develop two personalities – a business self and writing self. NOTE: Many mainstream representations of creativity involve competitions of some sort e.g. shows like The Voice, X-factor, So You Think You Can Dance, etc.. Even cooking, which should be a way for people to come together and connect, is now depicted in competitive terms (e.g. Masterchef, MKR, etc.). We consume our culture in the form of competitive battles. Therefore, as a writer, if you aren’t successful, it is because you are not competitive or driven enough.
  1. A writer’s success is largely measured in terms of whether they make money or not. Now, I’m not saying that making a living isn’t important, but the vast majority of writers don’t make a living and for those that do, it’s usually pretty paltry. To measure our success by these terms means most writers feel like failures – even if their work is innovative, beautifully-crafted and says important things about the world

Most writers wear this paradigm and I think it makes us feel very powerless.

Of course, to a certain degree this pseudo-toughness on the part of literary agent is also a defence against being bombarded with not very good work.

My impression is that in the last 20 years or so literary types have become afraid to express anything that even smacks of Romanticism – or indeed a sense of vocation – about what they do. This manifests itself in this kind of rhetoric about “the industry” and a valuing of external achievements – this hypercompetitiveness indeed does deserve some kind of label. But is neoliberalism quite the mot juste? King-Smith’s article is worth reading in full.