Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections: Ben Myers

Ben Myers | 12th December 2017

As the year draws to a close, we ask our friends and collaborators to look back on the past twelve months and share their significant moments. From Ben Myers:

Richard Dawson photographed by Kuba Ryniewicz

In 2017 I have held faith that the world has not recently gone insane, but in fact has always been that way. Regimes rise and political careers crumble but the birds still sing. And the little pleasures in life generally add up to big pleasures.

In times of anxiety and doubt I have found myself watching the neighbourhood crows come and go through a hole in the factory wall down my road, and the nesting ravens and peregrine falcons that live up on Scout Rock — a craggy landmark out the back of my house that I have spent the past twelve months studying in great detail for a book project.

Nature nourishes but so does culture and my two favourite albums in 2017 were vastly different yet somehow thematically-linked in their search for meaning and national identity, drawing life down to the ground level of either the clay-and-sheep-dung huts of yore or the concreted sprawl of the urban conurbations. Peasant by Richard Dawson examined the voices and lives of 7th century northern England following the collapse of the Roman empire. Six months on its odd-timings and unique melodies are still revealing themselves, Dawson some sort of inter-dimensional prophet in possession of a keen comic eye.

Brutalism by Idles meanwhile was another very English record, but utterly contemporary and whose sardonic lyrics (“Did you see that selfie what Francis Bacon did? /
Don’t look nothing like him, what a fucking div”) and jagged punk riffs seemed to skewer the misery of pre-Br*xit mania that seems to have gripped this strange and deranged island of ours. It was another timely reminder that our scepticism and humour are two of this nation’s premium assets. We must cling to them.

Honourable musical mentions are also due to the glam-racket of The Moonlandingz, the arboreal kosmiche workouts of Snapped Ankles and perhaps the band of the year, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. They’ve released more good music in 2017 than many bands muster in a whole career. King Gizzard’s work-rate has actually proved to be a huge personal influence, as on an occupational level this year has seen a creative outpouring the likes of which I doubt will ever be repeated, as I have somehow published three novels and one very limited poetry book, and researched and written another. I end the year dazed.

Summer saw the departure of my Grandpa, Ronnie Myers, at the age of 102. Born in one war, cast across the globe to foreign shores in another, I learnt from him that normal lives can be remarkable if you stick around long enough. He also played a minor role in the birth of glam rock by teaching Bryan Ferry mathematics: “Lovely lad, always well-turned out, but a bit full of himself”. I got to celebrate his 100th birthday in a piece I wrote for the New Statesman a couple of years ago.

I’ve been outside a lot. Wandering, looking, touching, swimming, seeing. In early autumn I spent a day with Julia Bradbury, striding across the West Yorkshire moors for a forthcoming ITV programme. A rationed Yorkie saved the day when exhaustion kicked in.

It has been the year of the podcast for me. Backlisted promises to “bring old life to new books”, and every fortnight hosts John Mitchinson and Andy Miller do just that with passion, humour and aplomb. It’s especially essential for those who spend hours in second-hand book shops and I’ve discovered many new reads as a result. S-Town was novelistic in its structure and narrative tangents and completely compelling, while the bite-sized case studies into America’s dark heart in Criminal were perfectly realised; listening to them while walking on the Pennine moors heightened their effect. Adam Buxton’s comedy-leaning podcast provided much light relief, though his recent interview with Syrian refugee Hassan Akkad was deeply moving.

Truly we are in an era of the classic TV drama, which I would pinpoint as beginning in earnest twenty years ago when HBO launched Oz. Much-needed escape has been found in The Deuce, Transparent, Love, Ozark, Snowfall, Game Of Thrones, plus Curb Your Enthusiasm and Catastrophe for lighter relief. I’m surprised the contemporary LA noir of Ray Donovan isn’t discussed more in the UK; it’s worth watching for Jon Voight and Eddie Marsan alone. I also enjoyed Tom Hardy’s grimy historical drama Taboo, which seemed to divide opinion.

I’ve read some wonderful books too, both old and new. Favourites would include: Memoirs Of A Dipper by Nell Leyshon, The Year Of The Hare by Arto Paasilinna, Wild Harbour by Ian Macpherson, Moonstone by Sjon, Owning Up by George Melly, Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett, The Wall by Marlen Haushofer, The Moon Is A Balloon by David Niven, Kingdom Cons by Yuri Herrera, Getting Carter: Ted Lewis And The Birth Of Brit Noir by Nick Triplow, Attrib. by Eley Williams and The Paper Cell by Louise Hutcheson. The spoof Books of the Year list on 3:AM Magazine is very funny.

Walking the hills, I wore though another pair of wellingtons, my eleventh in nine years. An occupational hazard of the full-time wandering daydreamer.


Ben Myers’ novels The Gallows Pole (Bluemoose) and These Darkening Days (Moth) were published in 2017. He also published a poetry collection The Raven Of Jórvíkshire (Tangerine Press.)

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