Saturday, July 30, 2005

it could be you

Mr Philips by John Lanchester is a novel about a day in the life of a middle-aged accountant. Not a common premise for a book, admittedly, but it's a wonderful read nonetheless.

This section I particularly loved:

It came up one morning a few months ago, when they were all sitting around before the monthly progress meeting of the Accounts Department.

'Hang on a minute,' said Abbot, the youngest of them. 'The odds against winning the Lottery are fourteen million to one, right?'

'The odds against winning the jackpot,' said Monroe in his Aberdonian voice. 'Six divided by forty nine times five divided by forty eight times four divided by forty seven times three divided by forty six times two divided by forty five times one divided by forty four, which is 0.00000007151 or one in 13,983,816, usually referred to as one in fourteen million. So if the prize is greater than fourteen million quid it becomes a rational bet as supposed to just a stupidity tax.'

'Assuming all the money goes to only one winner, which you can’t assume,' said somebody else.

'Fourteen million to one that you’ll get all six numbers right,' said Monroe. 'There is however another risk here which affects the likelihood of winning. Does anybody want to tell me what it is?'

Mr Phillips, who knew the answer because he had heard Monroe on the subject before, kept silent so as not to spoil his fun.

'No takers. All right. The additional factor that needs to be taken into consideration is the chance of being dead by the time the Lottery results arrive — since, obviously, the chance of dying in any given week is much, much higher than that of winning the Lottery.'

There was a pause, the sound of six accountants sizing up a mathematical problem in their heads.

'What’s the death rate? How many people die every week?' said Austen.

'According to the relevant Government agencies,' said Monroe, 'the population of England at the time of the last estimate was 49,300,000. The previous year, deaths totalled 526,650. The death rate per week was therefore 10,128, rounded up to the nearest cadaver. Using these data we find that for an Englishman the chance of dying in any given week is therefore 0.0002054, or one in 4,880.'

'So your chance of winning the Lottery,' said Abbot at his calculator, 'is, er, 2,873 times worse than your chance of being dead by the time of the National Lottery draw.'

'But we’re assuming you buy the ticket at the start of the week,' Monroe went on. 'In other words, if you buy your ticket at the start of the week and hold it until the draw, your chance of being dead by the time of the result is much better than your chance of winning. But most people don’t buy the ticket on Sunday, they buy it in the middle of the week before the draw, and so their odds are better. If you buy your ticket at four o’clock on Friday afternoon your chance of not being dead before the result must be significantly improved.'

They were already doing the sums.

'Assuming the deaths are spread evenly over the calendar – '

— which Mr Phillips didn’t feel you could assume. Surely more people died in winter and at weekends, of drinking and fighting and the stress of being cooped up with their families and so on? But he didn’t say anything -

'That means that the chance of dying, for a random member of the population, is 0.0107 per year, or 0.0000293 per day, or 0.00000122 per hour, or 0.0000000203 per minute. In other words each of us has a 1 in 49,200,000 chance of dying in any given minute. So in order for the probability of winning the jackpot to be greater than the chance of being dead by the time of the draw one would have to bet no earlier than,' Monroe tapped some figures into his Psion Organiser, 'three and a half minutes before the draw.'

'Christ,' said someone.

'But that’s averaging the risk out,' Monroe continued. 'Obviously a nineteen-year-old girl who doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, has no familial history of anything and whose great-grandmother is still alive at the age of 102 is more likely not to be dead than a sixty-year-old chain-smoking alcoholic with a Private Pilot’s license. We’d need to get hold of some proper actuarial tables,' he concluded, giving the word 'proper' a discreet but very Scottish emphasis. At that point Mr Mill the useless departmental head came into the room, the conversation petered out and the meeting began instead.

Monroe, however, did not forget. About two weeks later a notice appeared on the board in the company canteen saying ATTENTION LOTTERY GAMBLERS, and below giving a break-down, along the lines discussed, of the averaged-out risk of being dead compared to the chance of winning the Lottery. The table gave a time after which the chances of winning the Lottery were better than those of being dead by the end of the week.

Under 16

1 hour 10 minutes
1 hour 8 minutes
51 minutes
28 minutes
11 minutes
4 minutes
1 minute
24 seconds

Thursday, July 28, 2005

this is a serious notice

Does the inclusion of the line 'THIS IS A SERIOUS NOTICE' make a notice more or less serious?

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

letting the terrorists win

It wasn't the death toll that shocked us about the London bombings. More people than that die in UK car crashes every week. Even the appalling massive toll of the Madrid bombings pales when you find out that the same number of Spaniards are killed by cars every ten days.

It's the not even just the reason for the death toll, the deliberate cruelty of it. A big part is that it was all over the media in such detail that we had no choice but to really feel it.

Blair condemns it, despite being directly responsible for exactly the same thing. Explosives going off randomly in a city, killing whoever was unfortunate enough to be nearby, in an attempt to use the violence to force social and political change.

One person I said this to told me I was 'piggybacking my politics' on to it, using a tone which made it clear he thought I was well out of order.

The implication was that opposing and being revulsed by bombing Baghdad, Kabul, and a dozen other cities that never get a mention on the news is somehow just an intellectual point-scoring game, whereas the London bombings are something more real, above political concern.

This basically says that Iraqi, Congolese, or Afghan deaths aren't as real and worthy of grief and outrage as the London ones. We have a word for such ideas; racism.

I think it's just that my critic had never properly considered, really imagined, what it must be like to be in the marketplace when a B-52 lets its payload drop on it. If there's any good to come from the London bombs, let's hope some of it will be a heightened awareness of what bombing actually means.

Be it Baghdad or London, from a plane or on a train, all bombing is terrorism.

There have been a couple of public demonstrations of solidarity in London, as there was in Madrid, and numerous 'you don't scare us' pieces written, like this.

Despite appearances, they are not really addressing the terrorists. They are for the benefit of the writer and those in London who want to carry on. We cannot seriously think the terrorists' aim is to make everyone in London too scared to leave the house. They are, therefore, doing it for other reasons.

Other recent terrorist attacks have been from those wishing to sow a sense of insecurity among the citizens of the city concerned because of its occupation of holy lands, and to widen the rifts between the decadent and the devout, to stop Islam from fitting snugly in the west.

For all the 'we'll pull together' spirit, since 9/11 there can be no doubt that there is indeed greater mistrust of muslims. In the days after the London bombings there were random vandal attacks on British mosques.

This is compounded by the heightened racism in Britain. I seriously doubt whether Jean Charles de Menezes would have been followed and shot if he'd had blue eyes and blond hair.

Additionally, the popular idea that the bombers are evil - that because their means are unjustified they are therefore without reason - fuels the dehumanising, and the wider racism. In taking this stance we do our bit to increase the divide and, as Gyrus says, prevent ourselves from finding solutions.

Public discussion on the crucial issues here is crippled, as ever, by basic logical errors. We conflate the condoning of terrorism with understanding terrorism. As anyone will agree (in any other context), understanding a problem is pretty much a prerequisite to solving it; therefore, in this simple, scared way of thinking, our fear of capitulation to the forces of barbarism instantly scuppers any chance of moving past this dark phase of history.

It's not just the overt racism of the mosque vandals that needs to be opposed, but the more subtle racism that allows us to think fifty people killed in a Baghdad bomb is no big deal, and nothing to do with us.

The key element of the London solidarity vigils, yet it isn't really being pushed into the public arena hard enough, is that London is a wilfully multi-ethnic and multi-cultural place, and that's the way we want it.

For all the demonisation of the Republicans during the Irish Troubles, we always understood they had reasons, and there weren't random attacks on Catholic churches. This led to a cessation of violence.

This time, much of public opinion is pushing the other way. It's this lack of understanding and deepening of racism - rather than not catching a bus - that is letting the terrorists win.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

cosmic lube up, blasted gonads & teenagers on glue

The rapidly increasing pace of technological advance is dizzying at the best of times, and even those at the heart of the engine sceptically wonder where it might lead.

The few people who actually understand nanotechnology have a hard time explaining to the rest of us just what the hell it is. One of the most common fears is what has been termed a 'grey goo' incident, where the nanotech mutation of the structure of matter chain reacts and turns vast amounts of the substance of the earth into something completely different.

The grey-goo theory is a real life extension of Ice-Nine in Kurt Vonnegut's novel Cat's Cradle. Ice-Nine makes water freeze at a much higher temperature. The military think this'll be great for getting soldiers through otherwise impassable swamps, muddy battlefields, etc. Some Ice-Nine hits the oceans, which then turn solid.

There's a similar level of perplexing scientific jiggery-pokery in the idea of non-Newtonian slip. Isaac Newton's understanding of physics declared that the harder you push, the more resistance you meet. So if you slowly push your palm into the bath, there's less resistance than if you push it in fast.

Yet the makers of Liquid Silk say they have non-Newtonian slip - the harder you push, the easier it gets. As baffling as nanotech, but without the prospect of rendering all the earth a ball of amorphous mush.

I'm sure that messing with the fundamental nature of cosmic matter mixed with lubed-up slippery sex could give me a witty quip for this headline - something about a Liquid Silk/Ice-Nine scenario - but unfortunately I'm on funny prescription drugs that impede my wit, so you'll have to put it together yourself.

Universe 'too queer' to grasp

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

Elsewhere in the news, you've gotta ask, hasn't the guy suffered enough already?

Five years for shooting self in the testicles

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = = =

We have heard a lot about youths being on glue, but this next story is more about glue being on a youth;

Teenager found glued to lamppost

My favourite line from this story being the concluding one, 'The North East Ambulance Service said it did not know how the youth ended up stuck to the post.'

Monday, July 18, 2005

hot monoped on biped action

Following on from the smuttily ambiguous signs mentioned in a previous post, we go one better with this sign seen on a door in central Leeds.

Some employers pride themselves on offering great facilities to their staff. Free drinks machines, on-site gyms, decent veggie options in the canteen.

But few can go to the lengths of a certain Leeds recruitment firm.

The facilities on offer behind the door appear to be a reciprocal fondle in the pelvic region; bipeds fondling the arses of monopeds, whilst monopeds grope the groins of the bipeds.

Friday, July 15, 2005

make poverty history

On the Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh a guy was handing out A6 flyers. No organisation or author credited, just the text:

Over the past few hundred years, while our standard of living has improved, living conditions for millions of others have become worse and worse. This is not a coincidence. Our standard of living depends on other people's poverty.

Nearly everything we take for granted in our modern lives depends on an economic system that keeps millions of people in poverty. Can we manage without state-funded health care, free education, public transportation, pensions, benefits, well-stocked supermarkets, clothing, reliable cars, modern technology, entertainment?

If impoverished labourers abroad were suddenly paid the same as labourers in Europe, would we still be able to afford our clothes, our cars, our mobile phones? Could our government still provide services we think we can't live without?

Each of us needs to ask ourselves, 'can I really live without poverty?' That may seem like a strange question, but there is one thing that the G8 members know and that we are trying to deny; we depend on the current system of poverty for our very way of life. Bush, Blair, me, you - we all depend on a global economy based on unfair global distribution of wealth.

If we somehow managed to wipe out global poverty tomorrow, would we be ready to face what that actually means in our daily lives? It's easy to stand up and tell the super-rich that it's their responsibility to eradicate poverty, but what responsibility do we have? Are we not consumers living off the world's poor and keeping the G8 in power?

If we want to end poverty today we have to be ready to fundamentally change our lifestyles today and every day. Today we join thousands marching to end poverty, but what will we do tomorrow or next week? What sacrifices will we make in our daily lives?

It's time to stop blaming others and truly take responsibility for the global community we live in. We can live responsibly and fundamentally change the world. We can find alternative solutions.

If we want the G8 to end world poverty, we need to show that we are ready to make sacrifices and to live differently. If we change our lives, we can begin to change the lives of others.

Monday, July 11, 2005

the g8 protests: what & why

As the campaign's gone on I've become less clear about what Make Poverty History actually stands for.

The slogan itself is one of the most radical ideas ever said by someone credible. Yet, just as we may say we want 'no war for oil' but by our oil-thirsty lifestyles we demand the war it requires, so we find poverty distressing but are not prepared to give up the 'rights' and comforts that can only be made possible for us by the poverty of others.

But at the very least it's about making trade fair, more and better aid and dropping the debt, right?

I really don't know any more. The larger NGOs and Bob Geldof and Bono are so in bed with the G8 leaders that it's impossible to tell. They are saying that the Western governments are doing great things when in fact they are doing nothing of the sort. They praise the leaders and the deals they make when these will undoubtedly cause millions of the poorest to suffer further.

I do not doubt their sincerity and commitment. I suspect they know the deals on the table aren't enough, but believe that railing at the politicians from outside won't change them so they need to go into the lair. I suspect they think that a little flattery will make the politicians deliver more. I suspect they are very wrong.

The politicians only appear to have done anything, they gain all the kudos they desire from Geldof and Bono, and then carry on.

Geldof and Bono have totally undermined the good work they have done in the past, they are actually reinforcing the things they seek to destroy. Rather than them using the politicians, it has become the other way around.

When the Make Poverty History march in Edinburgh was called by people who praise plans to cut essential services from the poor, when there was a banner on it saying GOOD WORK MR BROWN, I really wasn't sure I wanted to be a part of it.

At its heart, the Make Poverty History approach has the belief that if we only appeal to the humanity of the G8 leaders then they will make the changes we desire.

There are several things fundamentally wrong there. Firstly, it's not up to the 8 men. They are merely the front-people for governments, who in turn are the political wing of certain vested interests. The 8 men are merely team mascots. They do not get to turn around the will of private capital, even if they actually wanted to.

The idea that they will change the current system if we point out its unfairness has the obvious flaw of ignoring who it is that built and maintains that system, who are actually better informed about how it works than anyone. Their power is entirely drawn from disempowering others, it is built on poverty and cannot exist without it. Asking the G8 to tackle global poverty is the largest attempt in modern times to get turkeys to vote for Christmas.

Make Poverty History acknowledge this, saying, back in 2001 the governments of the eight wealthiest nations on the planet said that they were going to do something about it - in what was seen as a breakthrough, they promised to halve world poverty by 2015. Four years later the world is failing dismally to reach those targets.

How do we seriously believe anything different is likely to happen to the promises this time round?

The increase in aid takes it back to levels last known in the Reagan/Thatcher years, scarcely dizzy heights, but that's not the point. The real point is that it does so not as real aid, but as conditional aid.

The conditions include opening up the receiving country to foreign private capital, so that any profitable business has its wealth siphoned off to the richest (ie Western) countries and corporations.

Foreign capital will improve its profits by exploiting natural resources as cheaply as possible, and by using inappropriate farming methods to produce our cash crops, taking away subsistence farming and the ability of the poor to feed themselves. Inevitably, in order to maximise profits - which board members have a legal obligation to do - our corporations will then drop the prices paid for the cash crops and impoverish the poor even further.

The aid conditions also include privatising state industries, meaning that prices will go up and those who don't have the money to generate profit - the very poorest - will not be able to afford the clean water, the education or the health care. This is effectively deliberate killing.

This 'debt relief' will only happen after a country has done these things. Until then, we will continue to squeeze them as they do all this selling-off.

And to think this debt relief/aid package is sold to us as something benevolent.

Poverty was one of the key issues Mr Blair said this G8 would address. The other one got even less results. The meaninglessness of the G8's communique on climate change is reflected in the acidic analysis from the usually less partisan BBC.

The second thing that is fundamentally wrong with the 'ask the G8 nicely' approach is that it respects and entrenches the power structure, leaving us lying pleading from the floor as they tower over us. The existence of power structures is in itself the core of the problem.

This was one of the most refreshing things about Hori-zone, the activist village in Stirling. We not only got together to sort out action against the summit, but we did it in a democratic way. Protesters often get asked 'you're against all these things but what are you for?'.

The short answer is to look at how Hori-zone worked. Three thousand people, about two dozen languages, no leaders, no policing. Everyone there with passion for the issues, but coming from wildly different backgrounds and motivations. All of the issues to be worked out about the running of the site and the organising of the protests were done on a spokescouncil consensus system whereby every concern is heard, everyone is listened to on equal terms, and yet it doesn't have to take all day to get anything done. A synthesis of the best ideas emerges.

We reach consensus rather than having majority votes which subject the minority to the tyranny of the majority. It was a living example of things that are desirable but supposedly not possible due to innately nasty human nature.

The long answer requires the questioner to see what we do the other 360 days of the year. I was in Scotland with doctors, people running housing co-operatives, recycling schemes, composting schemes, people who employ themselves as part of workers co-operatives, writers, rehabilitation workers. We all do positive things to make change and put the changes we want to see into action in our own lives.

The BBC's report on Hori-zone is fair enough, for a short mainstream media piece.

On a loop of land made by a riverbend just outside Stirling, the way the site was loomed upon by the Ochil Hills and the William Wallace monument only added to the undercurrent of a medieval battle camp.

Here's what it looked like from the Wallace monument

About three thousand people were camped, laid out in areas, 'barrios' mostly by geographic origin of the campers. The site was phenomenally well organised, not just in terms of provision of water and food, but going as far as medics and, for several hours a day, a staffed NHS portacabin.

Despite there being around 11,000 police involved in the operation to stop the protests (and none of them running their campsite, so they were outnumbering us by more than four to one), we outwitted them time and again.

The thing that always foils the police is not just their top-down organisation that is unwieldy and discourages any lower ranks from expressing good ideas, but also its flipside, their stoic refusal to believe that we do actually work autonomously, with horizontal power. They always want to find the Grand Masterplan, the Ringleaders, the Commanders In Chief.

They did actually arrest several people in the back of a van at one of the G8 protests, people who had two-way radios and marked maps. They told the media (who of course obligingly passed on the story) that these were the ringleaders they'd been looking for. I do love it when the media use phrases like 'anarchist leaders' without any hint of irony whatsoever.

What didn't get reported was that the arrested people were medics with maps of medic points around the protest, and were all released without charge after a couple of hours.

For months there's been talk from police and mainstream media about the anarchist plans to hold a three day riot in Edinburgh. This led to the main part of the police numbers being deployed there on Tuesday night.

I'm reliably informed that the Daily Mail said that groups of protesters would be hiding up in the hills overnight in advance of Wednesday's opening of the summit, and would come down at dawn to block the roads and railways. Seems the cops don't read the Mail or, if they do, like the rest of us they don't believe a word.

But that's exactly what happened. All through Tuesday daytime and evening groups secreted themselves away around the Ochil Hills. The Metropolitan Police took over operational control at midnight Tuesday, and just as every football fan hates Manchester United for their swollen-headed swaggering and disproportionate attention, so other forces hate the Met. This isolation was compounded by serious rain that made spotter helicopters unusable.

At 3am Wednesday in a scene described by one observer as reminiscent of a Lord of The Rings battle scene, a massive black bloc massed and left the Hori-zone to pipes and a lone drum, fighting their way through police lines and out on to the M9. As the day got going, other stretches of the motorway, along with the A9, minor roads and the railway were blockaded.

Whilst the 8 mascots could certainly be helicoptered in for photo opportunities, their delegations, translators, catering staff and whatnot could not. With different groups coming on to roads from different places, as one was cleared so another emerged, and no road was kept open for any long period.

Just as police were moving in to clear some of the remaining black bloc from the M9, a kids and disabled bloc came from behind. The police really don't like this set up - it's known in the force by the less than tactful term 'Blakelock sandwich' - and they swiftly parted to allow the protestors to mix, leaving ample opportunity for the black bloc to leave the area unhindered.

The roads continued to be blocked until dusk, the Canadian delegation reportedly never left their hotel, access to several key hotel towns was blocked.

There seems little doubt that the first day could not have gone ahead in any real sense. This is the first time such a blockade has worked at a G8 meeting.

This is an astonishing achievement, especially for protesters outnumbered four to one, facing cops armed with huge budgets and millions of pounds worth of technology, backed up by secret services. It seems to me the biggest single piece of direct action in the UK for many years. Around the world, people did their own actions against the G8 too. But it all went largely unreported because there were no big riots and London won the Olympic bid that day.

The next day, having failed to find the mythical Edinburgh riot, police blockaded the Hori-zone. The Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army went and formed a line in front of the police, stopping and searching people's minds for dangerous weapons or feelings. I confess to being initially sceptical about this lot. Clowns are unsettling and creepy. But they have used their skills to excellent tactical effect on protests, and play a good role in keeping authority unsure of what's going on, messing with their control.

Being tired from the day before, plus freaked by the news filtering through in random and seemingly unbelievable fragments from London, a cross-site meeting emphatically did not want anything that could turn into a ruck. The police maintained their presence all day, occasionally trying to escalate the situation by baiting in riot gear, refusing to allow the NHS staff on site, doing illegal searches of people, but the day passed off peaceably.

The G8's power isn't to be tinkered with, it is to be opposed. There is no asking them nicely, no way their power can be maintained while justice is done. The G8 is an obstacle between the world we have of inequality and injustice, and the world we deserve - and can manifest - of peace and sustainability.

So in blockading the summit we voice our opposition, we declare our will to remove such obstacles. We reclaim the power these leaders have taken from us. We withdraw our consent, we show the injustice and destruction are not in our name. We inspire others around the world just as we have been inspired by other protests and revolts. We let people know that there are other perspectives, and if they agree then they are not alone, that the world we dream of is more possible than we might have dared to believe.

Friday, July 01, 2005

glastonbury aftermath

Oof, I'm in a right flap this week, but have just about squeezed the schedule to do a quick posting. Having legged it from the remoteness of Atlantic-fringed western Scotish isles to Glastonbury with only a day in between, I've only had a few days to sort out my life before I'm off for another week to the G8 shenanigans.

I've not told you about the delights of Islay and its whisky and all that, but it'll have to wait cos I really want to get a quick Glastonbury review done.

The first two days were sunny enough to give me a tan like Andrew Ridgeley, but the rain and flooding is the story the outside world got.

And really, it was absolutely fucking it down. Eight hours of thunder and lightning right over the site, pouring onto hard ground. One camping field was half a lake with currents visibly running in it, which was sealed off after the water upended some portaloos and made the whole place a biohazard.

As with the tree-protest camps, the media image of joyous mud soaked people is baffling to those watching from the comfort of their sofas. Yet every festival has that picture of someone brown all over except for the wild eyes and pink mouth, having a whale of a time.

I consciously thought that as I watched people boisterously grooving outside a food stall to You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet, how it looked like hell and even describing it would sound awful. Yet it was utterly magnificent.

The positive energy, the phenomenal determination to be really fuckin having it was everywhere. I spoke to people who'd lost everything they'd brought except for what they stood in, yet were unfazed. They'd got new sleeping bags, were crashing in marquees and carrying on.

Suffering simultaneous sunburn and trenchfoot is unlikely, but this year it was undoubtedly some people's fate.

After that one deluge there was no more rain and the festival just got on with itself.

I seemed to have a lot of bump-in magic with me this year. I randomly saw lots of friends I'd not seen in ages, as well as coming across artists whose sets at Glastonbury have impressed the underwear off me in times past, like the greatest protest singer of our age David Rovics, bluegrass metal masters Hayseed Dixie (more of them later), and it was great to personally thank Mitch Benn for single-handedly saving the festival and our sanity in the muddy years of 97 and 98 by standing in for the multitude of performers who didn't turn up at the Cabaret marquee.

Also, on Sunday I saw a white Land Rover coming down one of the main paths generating this strange shouty pool radiating from it as it passed people. I watched and as it neared I recognised the passenger as being Michael Eavis and instinctively gave him a cheer and raised my paper cup of hot spiced cider in a toast to him. Eavis was grinning broadly and waving.

Once he'd passed I realised that my response was the same automatic reaction everyone else had and it explained that weird noise that had followed it down the site.

So, although it's really not what most of the festival is about - merely what most people have in common so what gets talked about the most - what of the music?

I saw Justin Sullivan of New Model Army play the acoustic stage. After you've written a couple of hundred songs and been going 20 years then come out with an acoustic set, it's OK to be a bit reflective, to do it sat down. But not for Justin. Like TV Smith, he still keeps on the same path he set out on with the same momentum, always the real deal. The fire, the righteous anger and the fury are as strong in him as ever, the soaring voice as full of focus and purpose as ever, his legs bouncing, as if the songs prowl in him like caged big cats waiting for a chance to leap out and attack you.

It was a sprint from there to the Pyramid Stage for The White Stripes. This year for the first time I'm a mobile phone owner so I could be guided air traffic control stylee to meet people there, although the last bit needed the tall people near my friend to look round and shout 'Oi! Man in a tiara! Over here!', which is exactly the sort of line that's commonplace at Glastonbury and utterly weird elsewhere.

The White Stripes kicked a trouserful of ass. The noise that comes out of them is astonishing, Jack playing a Kay guitar - a piece of shit that you get for 30 quid from a catalogue - and using the abominable shreddy scratchy tone that makes it so dreadful to great positive edgy effect.

Jack twitches and lyrics burst out of him in a way that gives you the clear impression that he's got some high-pressure lunacy inside that he's barely holding in. He doesn't stop moving around the stage, changing instruments, constantly rolling and fizzing.

Their music is deceptive; it sounds simple with the blues riffs and Meg's 2/4-time drums, yet simple does not mean predictable, and there are little subtle twists throughout that keep it fascinating. Likewise, Jack's use of language makes it all sound like 19th century American folk songs, even though it's all very 21st century. A great band at the peak of their powers, exactly what you want to be seeing headlining Glastonbury.

Saturday night I was on the receiving end of numerous donations of recreational pharmacology and, as last year, spent the night grooving to fabulous Northern Soul in the Diner in the Lost Vagueness field. The best part of a thousand people, all exuberant enough as it is, dancing like bastards to the most uplifting soulful dance music. There is nowhere on earth I'd rather have my dancing legs on.

Northern Soul DJs can sometimes be a bit funny - it has its elitist enthusiasts who refuse to play classics thinking them too obvious. But at The Diner they do what I do when I DJ this stuff and mix it all up realising that the ones that everyone can sing along with do a job no other record can, plus they pull in peripheral genres like primal rock n roll, doo-wop and 60s pop. And frankly I can't enthuse enough about a DJ who, when I asked if they'd got Cool Jerk by The Capitols, played it next.

On the way down from the chemical orbit we repaired to Lunched Out Lizards cafe in the Green Futures field, open 24 hours and serving all manner of soothing and restorative herbal teas with mellow music. About 8am and in ambles Keith Allen. He's always given the impression of a man who's carrying a party with him wherever he goes and he loves Glastonbury so it's really no surprise to see him here, up all night, in a bolero bullfighter outfit, with a half-empty well-nursed bottle of Strongbow that's clearly been on as much of an odyssey as him tonight.

His performance in The Bullshitters, The Comic Strip's pisstake of The Professionals, was wonderful and I rewatched it so much that I can still recite much of the script. However, when he's been up all night on who knows what and is nuzzling in to his companion on the rugs of a chillout cafe he really doesn't need some random munter telling him he's a comic master, so I just carried on watching the world go by until 9am when it was time for my shift on the stall that was the whole reason I managed to get into the festival in the first place.

Seize The Day were as brilliant as ever. They still do many of the songs I saw them singing ten years ago and have heard several times during festival season every year since. Yet they always play with the same passion, the same drive, every word still meaning all it ever did; uncompromising, compassionate, militant, humane political bards for the essential co-operative politics of the 21st century.

On Sunday my dream ticket kicked in; the sun baked all day so the mud dried and I lay in the summer sunshine listening to Van Morrison. You really don't need to watch him, just lie back and let the sun warm your face as the music rolls over you soothing you to the core. Then he was followed by Brian Wilson.

I've seen him several times and am still amazed by his band. You stand there watching and cannot understand how this music is coming out. The music is so blended, all as one piece as music was before you got all clever and could figure out the separate instrumental parts, like a cloud rather than a Meccano construct. But the greater amazement is for the singing. How do a small group of humans open their mouths and make that noise?

Brian is still very much the musical director and he can still sing like Brian Wilson too.

His SMiLE gig last year was literally jaw-dropping for me. I just gaped as my mind was blown. I've always found the surf songs a bit daft and one dimensional, as if George Harrison in 1971 was doing Cry For A Shadow. But out here in the Pyramid Field on a sunny afternoon they were ideal, everyone singing along as loud as they could, so warm, so inclusive, so up.

Top marks went to the two separate groups of people who'd brought surf boards. They carried them like pall bearers through the crowd with a mate stood on top. The wilfulness, the half a second of idea versus a shitload of organisation, it really made me laugh. Even smarter than the banner I did for Simple Minds in the mid 90s; remind me to explain by posting a picture of that soonly.

A wind down then Tori Amos in the Acoustic Tent. Such incredible presence, every song swirling around the keyboard and filling the tent, prickling your heart. Except for the inspired and incongruous cover of 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin' Groovy). In fact, it was something of a weekend of odd covers with The White Stripes' Jolene, Justin Sullivan's Masters of War and Elvis Costello's You Really Got A Hold On Me.

But biscuit takers on that front were Hayseed Dixie. American bluegrass band, as good as you've ever seen bluegrass played. I saw them with a mandolin player friend - proper one, got an album out, makes a living from it and everything - who said she'd never seen mandolin played that well. Yet Hayseed Dixie are, as they phonetically imply, a metal covers band. Highway To Hell, Ace of Spades, War Pigs, Fat Bottomed Girls. Storming stuff.

Couldn't get over to see 2ManyDJs as the missing out of Saturday night's sleep hit me like a frying pan round the head.

As I said, the music's not really what it's about. But the great humour and little weirdnesses that combine to make the bulk of the experience are difficult to convey as individually they don't sound like much. Except for that guy doing the peep show; in the middle of a field with a mike and amp he calls out to you to come see the show. There's a box about a metre cubed on legs, and you look into the eyeglasses and click! it opens and there's, well... imagine if Jim Henson had made a puppet of Thora Hird in a Moulin Rouge outfit impersonating a sheela-na-gig.

Sticks with you, that one.

Another week-long break now as I pootle to the G8. I'm really not sure about joining the march thingy. With Geldof and Bono heaping praise on the G7 deal that will make things far worse for Africa's poor, I'm not actually sure what the march stands for any more.

Still, there's lots else going to be going on that I'm damn sure I will be proud to be a part of.