The Joys Of Edge Cases

I use the word processor LyX to write my books in, and have done for several years. I’ve recommended it to everyone I can — I believe it’s the best word processor, by far, I’ve ever come across.
However, I’ve just hit on an annoying bug while formatting the California Dreaming book.
In previous books, and even in the original drafts of this, I’ve been italicising song titles, but in this one I’m trying to use Oxford style, just because I use that at work and it’s easier for me to do proofreading if I don’t have to context-switch so much. So song titles are going in quotes, so where before I’d have “One song they came up with was a variant on the formula Brian and Mike had hit upon with Surfin’“, now I have “One song they came up with was a variant on the formula Brian and Mike had hit upon with “Surfin’”.”

Or at least, that’s what I type.
You see, LyX uses LaTeX as a backend, and LaTeX was designed for seven-bit character systems. So LyX converts the apostrophe and double quotes into three single quotes, sends that to LaTeX, and then LaTeX converts that back into double quotes and an apostrophe. In that order.

So every time I have an apostrophe followed by a double quote in my text, I now have, in the output, a double quote followed by an apostrophe.

In a book full of writing about songs like “Surfin'”, “California Dreamin'”, “Everybody’s Talkin'”, and “Willin'” (which has been annoying me anyway. What IS it with 60s songwriters and dropped gs in titles?!). Oh sorry, make that “Surfin”‘, “California Dreamin”‘, “Everybody’s Talkin”‘, and “Willin”‘

This isn’t something that would come up normally, because in normal situations you don’t end something in quote marks with an apostrophe — there’d be a full stop or a comma before it — so it’s a bug I’ve never hit before. But it means I’m having to go through and do a workaround, pasting in a little bit of LaTeX code every time there’s an apostrophe followed by a quote mark (and I can’t even do it programmatically, because for some reason LyX’s search is borked when it comes to quotes).

(The code to use, BTW, is \textcompwordmark if anyone else is having this problem).

I finally discovered the cause of the problem and the workaround when I found the one other person on the Internet who’d ever had this problem, which took a *LOT* of googling (because you can’t use quote marks to search for an exact phrase when the exact phrase you’re using has quote marks). The problem was reported to the LyX-users list, and the response eventually came back:

I do not know whether the problem is worth fixing now, but I’ll add it on the bug list.

That was in June 1999, so I don’t expect a fix any time soon…

NB, I still think LyX is the best word processor I’ve ever come across, bar none. This is the first actual bug I’ve ever experienced in it, and that’s after intensive use for five years. And the number of obstacles it removes when compared with Word or LibreOffice or their ilk make it an utter joy to use overall. Please don’t let this put you off using it.

But I had to vent. Most Word processors are fine for 90% of documents but fail horribly for the other 10% — including most of the documents I want to write. LyX is fine for 99.9% of documents, but failed horribly here because of people who think dropping gs in their song titles makes them look cool.

Still Still Working…

Putting the final touches on the California Dreaming book. I’m hoping a beta version the ebook will be available to Patreon and Kickstarter backers on Wednesday, and at the latest it will be with them this weekend. At that point, this blog will be starting up again properly, with new posts every day. The paperback, hardback, and general-release ebook versions of California Dreaming will be out a couple of weeks later, once I’ve done final formatting for print (stuff like the index).
Bear with me.

Better Days: A Short Story

(This was my first attempt at writing secondary-world fantasy, rather than SF or magic realism, just to see if I could do the genre…)

The sun had hardly begun to poke above the horizon when Surlan was woken from his sleep by a boot nudging him in the ribs.

“Wake up you lazy fool! We haven’t got all day! The market starts in three hours, and there are pigs to load onto the cart,” his master said, as Surlan spat the straw out of his mouth and pulled himself to his feet, his muscles still aching from the last night’s exertions.

Surlan remained silent, knowing that whatever he said would risk his master’s aggression, and made his way over to the pigpen, taking a deep breath as he did, then holding his breath as he opened the door. The stench was still overpowering, but by taking few and shallow breaths once the door was opened, all through his nose, he managed at least to avoid getting the taste of the air into his mouth and spending the rest of the day trying to spit it out.

The pigs were more recalcitrant than usual, and Surlan suspected they knew that the journey would not have a pleasant ending for them, but with a great deal of effort on his part and squealing on theirs, he managed to load them onto the cart before his master completed his breakfast, and climbed into the back with them to keep them calm on the journey, while his master took the reins.

The journey to the market in the great city of Larkster was a long one, almost two hours, and Surlan could feel every bump in the road in his bones. To pass the time Surlan entertained himself by playing his pipe, an old melody he remembered his mother singing to him as a child. “Oh sing my love of Erundel, of lords and ladies fair/Of those who can foretell their fate, and those who do not dare/Oh sing my love of gardens, and sing of better days/Oh sing my love of Erundel, the land where fortune lays”

Erundel is all very well, thought Surlan, but I’m never going to see it, am I? I’ll spend the rest of my days covered in pig-shit. Still, he continued to play the melody, and to imagine the gardens, and the fortune-tellers within them.

When they got to the market, Surlan’s master immediately went to the nearest tavern, leaving Surlan as always to do the actual work of unloading the pigs into the pen, and of trying to sell them to the unimpressed customers. Surlan’s master had always resented feeding his pigs, or his gnome-servant, giving them the bare minimum to stay alive. In the case of Surlan, that didn’t matter — nobody cared if a gnome was too thin (at least, nobody who anybody cared about), but in the case of the pigs that was a different matter. Nobody wanted to buy a skinny pig, but while Surlan’s master knew that as a matter of fact, it didn’t make him any more likely to feed the pigs, and Surlan suspected that when his master came back, drunk and having spent all his money, he would be furious at Surlan’s inability to sell the half-starved animals.

Reflecting on this, he let his mind drift off into the miserable anticipation of future punishment which is the perennial state of the goblin-servant’s mind, only pulling himself out of his misery when he heard one of the pigs squeal behind him in an outraged tone.

Turning round, he saw a tall, grey-bearded man putting a knife into his pocket, and blood dripping from one of the pigs, where the man had stuck the knife to see how much fat was on the pig’s body.

“What did you hurt the pig for?” he asked, sounding almost as outraged as the pig had been.

“I think I hurt her a great deal less than she has been hurt by your neglect, young goblin,” said the man. “Have you even fed her this week?”

“Were it up to me, sir, these pigs would be the fattest and best looked-after on the market,” replied Surlan, hurt at the implication that he was at fault. “Tis my master who decides what to feed them, not I.”

“Then perhaps it is your master, and not the pig, I should have stuck with my knife?”

“I wouldn’t like to say, sir.”

“No, but your face says very well. What’s your name, young goblin?”

“Surlan, sir.”

“No last name? No, I suppose your master wouldn’t have given you one, any more than he gives you shoes for your feet. Well, I’m Marunel, and I am very pleased to meet you.”

The old man held out his hand, and Surlan looked at it, confused.

“You’re supposed to shake it.”

Surlan took the hand in his own, and shook it from side to side.

“That’ll do, I suppose,” laughed Marunel.

“Marunel… that’s an Erundel name, isn’t it?” asked Surlan.

“It’s not a name, more of a title, but yes, I’m from Erundel. How did you know that?”

“Oh, my mother used to tell me stories about Erundel, about how the magicians there can see their own futures, and how if you look in the Moream river you can see your whole life laid before you, from birth to death, but that as soon as you look up from it you forget it all, and…”

“Aye. Aye, I suppose she did, looking at you. You’re of the Beloddin tribe, from the looks of things. Lots of them in Erundel, and no doubt they stay in contact with their fellows.”

“Those of us who are allowed, sir. Since my bondday, I haven’t been allowed to speak to any other goblins.”

Marunel looked thoughtful for a moment. “Tell me, Surlan, do you like your work?”

Surlan laughed. “You don’t like work, sir! That’s why it’s called work, and why men have goblins to do it for them!”

“I thought as much. In that case, how would you like to work for a wizard instead of for a pig farmer?”

“A wizard? That could never happen. There are no wizards in Larkshire!”

The grey man raised his knife, still dripping with the pig’s blood, above his head, and from it came a glow that rivalled the sun, even though it was midday.

“There are now.”


Surlan had been apprenticed to Marunel for almost a week before he asked the question he’d been worrying about every night.

They were sat by the side of a river, and Surlan was throwing pebbles into the water, listening to them splash, and breathing in the smell from Marunel’s pipe. The old man looked relaxed for the first time since they had met, the stern look gone from his face, and so Surlan managed to gather together enough courage to speak.


“Yes, Surlan?”

“When are you going to have me do some work?”

“What do you mean?”

“You have shown me how to hold a knife, and how to gather herbs, and how to tell the mushroom that allows men to visit the heavens from the mushroom that will make you throw up all night. But you haven’t had me do any work! I thought I was to be your goblin-servant?”

“Oh you are! But I can cut my own toenails and build my own fire. I don’t need you for such trivialities. If I wanted someone to fetch and carry, I’d call up a spirit. They’d do it more quickly than you, and wouldn’t eat half my food.”

“So what do you need me for?”

“I don’t need you. But I want you to help me with my work.”

“What work is that, master?”

“I want you to help me die.”

“Die, master? You want to die?”

“I don’t want to die, but I don’t have much choice in the matter. I’m grown old, and my body is weary, even though my mind is as active as ever. I shall die, and you shall take my place.”

“Take your place? How can I take your place? You are an old man, and I a young goblin. You are you, and I am me.”

“That is not important. What is important is that you pay attention in your lessons, and you learn the difference between deathswort and lovebane. One will add flavour to your beer, and the other…”

“Less tasty?”

“Let’s just say no-one has ever had any complaints about its taste.”

And with that, Marunel was silent again, and Surlan returned to throwing pebbles in the river, looking at the ripples spreading to the shore, and the smaller ripples they made returning to the site where the pebble had landed.


“This one?”

“The ox.”

“And how do you say it?”


“Very good. And this one?”

“The plough.”

“And how do you say it?”


“So when you put them all together, they say?”

“S… u… rlaonn… Surlan! It’s my name! How does the paper know my name?”

“Because I put those marks on it. The paper knows your name because I know it, just as you know how to read it because I knew how. I’m putting my mark on you, slowly, too.”


The old man and the young goblin travelled for many weeks, and Marunel shared his knowledge with Surlan as they travelled. Surlan’s feet became calloused from the walking, but his legs grew stronger, and his chest filled out, as he finally had a master who would give him enough food, not just to live, but to thrive.

And Surlan was thriving not just physically, but mentally. Marunel gave him lessons every day, on the habits of the birds, and the uses of plants, and then finally, as they were walking by the banks of a stream, he taught him the most important secret of all.

“Do you wish to know how we do it, we of Erundel? How we perform our magics? How we predict the future?”

“More than anything. I could wish for nothing more!”

“Oh, I’m sure you could, and no doubt will. No man — or goblin — is ever satisfied with what he has. He always wants just one thing more. No — don’t look disheartened. That’s a good thing. The day we decide that we have enough is the day we start to die. One must always want more, or one starts to settle for less every day, and soon one is settled in the grave. Give me your hand.”

Surlan held his hand out, obediently.

Marunel touched it, and Surlan felt as if a wave had washed over him, crushing him with its weight. He gasped for breath, Marunel let go, and the pressure vanished. Surlan wheezed, struggling to suck in the cool, clean, air.

“That was the no-time. The land of Erundel itself stands outside of time, and those of us who know the ways of the land can use the no-time in which the land sits to change things. Not all in Erundel can do so, but those of us who have the gift, as you have, can make the world very different. Look at your reflection, for example.”

Surlan looked into the stream, obediently, and gasped. And so did the young, strong, man whose reflection Surlan saw in place of his own.

“Do not be alarmed. ‘Tis only a glamour. Your own magic is sustaining it now, and it might be advisable for you to do so. Erundel is a better land than Larkster, but it is still a land of men, and goblins may be tolerated, but they are not loved.”

And Surlan wept, to know that even in the great land he had dreamed of since hearing his mother’s song, he could never be himself. But he contented himself with the knowledge that his new master was, at least kinder than the old one. That might be enough.


The city of Erundel, when they finally arrived, was everything Surlan’s mother had told of in her songs. The streets were wide and filled with people, but they were smiling and content, not the sour-faced denizens of Larkster. The town smelled of bread — every baker had his windows open, and the smell was enough to make Surlan salivate, for while he was now well fed, he remembered in his bones what it was like to be hungry. And everywhere there were trees and flowers, and it seemed to Surlan as if the whole town was made of music. This was what contentment felt like, he realised. This was what it meant to have a home.

Surlan’s new home was a room above a shop, where Marunel plied his trade. The sign on the door said “Erakoi and Son, Wizardry and Enchantment”.

“Master, why does the sign say ‘Erakoi and Son’, when you are Marunel?”

“As I said, Marunel is a title, not my name. It means ‘blessed one’, and it’s a term of respect. It’s what they call all the highest wizards, though I am the only wizard of that level at present.”

“So are you Erakoi or his son then?”

“Neither. The shop was called that long before I was apprenticed to my master, who said it was called that before he was apprenticed to his. None now know who Erakoi was, but the name stays as a mark of respect.”

Life settled into a simple routine for Surlan, who Marunel introduced to each customer as his apprentice, and who was then allowed to deal with those customers on their subsequent visits. Most of their problems were the same — they wanted a hair-growth charm, or a love potion, or the health of a loved one to be restored — and these Surlan could supply from the bottles full of liquids whose contents Marunel had shown him how to mix.

But sometimes there were the special customers, those who wanted to know the future. Only those with the sight — the sight which Marunel had granted Surlan with the touch that also granted him his glamour — could tell true fortunes, and to do so they had to look in the Erunethe river, whose bank ran past the back of Marunel’s shop. One with the sight could look into that river, and see the future, and speak it to those who asked, but the second the seer looked up, they would forget what they had seen.

In all too many cases, those whose fortunes Marunel told had walked away before he lifted his head. Many soon died, and not all of natural causes. The first time this happened, Marunel was almost willing to give up magic forever; by the tenth, his heart had hardened.

But one who never asked for his fortune was Marunel, who apparently knew that his death would arrive soon. A few months after they arrived in Erundel, Marunel took to his bed, and remained there, growing frailer by the day.

One day, Marunel called Surlan to his side, and whispered “Let me show you who you have been serving.”

He waved his hand, and there in the bed, instead of an old man, was a wizened, decrepit, goblin, so wrinkled it was almost impossible to believe anything that old could live. And then the goblin waved his hand, and Marunel was there instead.

“You see now why I chose you as my apprentice. You reminded me so much of myself. We goblins have to hide ourselves, but we can still do much good in the world. I want you to remember that. The shop is yours now, and you will have to help the people of Erundel. Take care of them.”

And with that, the old goblin died. Surlan sustained his glamour until he was buried, so the people of the city would not know the truth. Marunel deserved that much.


And Surlan did help the people of Erundel, and saw them grow old, and die, and their children take their places, because goblins live a long time when they are well fed and not kept as servants, and wizards also have long lives, so a goblin wizard will have a longer life than most. But age and infirmity come to us all, eventually, and after seventy years Surlan knew that soon the time would come for his own death. He needed to make preparations, so he went down to the Erunethe river, to look in, because while he would forget what he saw there, he might still glean an idea of how he should prepare. He looked in, and saw his own reflection.

“Ah. Of course.”

Surlan looked up from the river, already forgetting what he had seen there, but knowing what he had to do. He had to return to Larkshire, the land where he’d grown up. Erundel was his home, but it was not the only home he had. Before he died, he had to see the land of his birth again, and maybe revisit some of those places he had visited with Marunel, in happier times as a youth.

So he left Erundel, and the Caves of Wonder, and he left the Moream river, and after many weeks’ journey he found himself in Larkshire again.

It had changed a lot since he was a boy. Everything was grubbier, and duller. The people were smaller, and the little hamlets he passed had become run down to the point that they were little more than a few collections of mud huts. He recognised nothing, and began to think it was a mistake ever to leave Erundel.

He had almost decided to turn back when he came to another town, little more than a crossroads with a tavern and a market. And there he saw a young goblin boy, tending the skinniest, most wretched-looking pigs he had ever seen. He took out his knife, and stuck it in one of the pigs, to see if it had any fat at all. The pig squealed, and the goblin turned around.

“What did you hurt the pig for?” the young goblin asked, his face contorted with anger and shock.

“I think I hurt her a great deal less than she has been hurt by your neglect, young goblin,” replied Surlan. “Have you even fed her this week?”

“Were it up to me, sir, these pigs would be the fattest and best looked-after on the market,” replied the goblin. “Tis my master who decides what to feed them, not I.”

“Then perhaps it is your master, and not the pig, I should have stuck with my knife?”

“I wouldn’t like to say, sir.”

“No, but your face says very well. What’s your name, young goblin?”

“Surlan, sir.”

“No last name? No, I suppose your master wouldn’t have given you one, any more than he gives you shoes for your feet. Well, I’m Marunel, and I am very pleased to meet you.”

And Surlan the goblin, who was now the man known as Marunel, smiled at the boy who was to be his new apprentice, and thought to himself about the better days that lay ahead for him.

Still Working…

Just so you know I’ve not abandoned the site. I’m just still working on the California Dreaming book, adding in the extra stuff that didn’t appear on the site. It’s turned into a much bigger task than I ever imagined when I first Kickstarted it — I suggested then that it would be about 50,000 words, the same as my previous music books. The ebook version I sent to Patreons and Kickstart patrons in December had already reached that, and the final thing will top 90,000 words.
That may not sound like a lot — it’s a medium-length novel in length — but every one of the eighty separate essays in the book requires separate research, fact-checking, and multiple listens to the song in question (or in some cases the album it’s from). It’s turned into a quite massive undertaking.
And at the moment I’m finishing that off, completing the thirteen essays that haven’t appeared on the site. There are whole extra threads of this giant tapestry that I haven’t put in yet, and I’ve generally left the more difficult stuff til last. For example, I need to deal with Lowell George & The Factory, and with Fraternity Of Man, to properly show the path between the Gamblers (the first band in the book), the Mothers of Invention (who turn up in the middle), and Little Feat (who turn up in the last chapter) — this is an essential part of the “plot”. But there’s a lot less to say about Don’t Bogart That Joint than there is about Good Vibrations, which means I have to work harder.
Every essay is also getting rewritten — usually only slightly, for stylistic consistency and to remove redundancies, but sometimes extensively, where the original was inaccurate (like the one on Woodstock).
I’m hoping to have the final thing done by the end of the month, and then I can get back to blogging properly, but this is one of those “the last 20% takes 80% of the effort” deals…
I hope it’ll be worth it, at least for those of you who like my music writing. For the rest of you, once this is done I can start talking about comics and politics more for a while…

Brief Note Re: Possibly Stolen Passwords

A website I used to use, a decade or more ago, was hacked today, and it turns out they’d been storing passwords in plain text.

The password I used for that site was — *I think* — a throwaway one I used for lots of low-value accounts and still occasionally used (until today) when I needed a password for something I wouldn’t be accessing much.

So while I’m pretty sure nothing important has been affected (and I’ve just gone through the twenty or so websites I use the most and made sure I’m not using that password on any of them) just to say:
The only social media sites on which I am at all currently active are Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr. Any profiles I have on any other such sites are not used.
I do not currently post on any message boards I posted on in the past.

If you see any strange activity which appears to come from “me”, please do let me know…

Ereaders with Buttons?

Does anyone know of a currently-available ereader which meets the following criteria?
Actual eink ereader, not a cheap tablet
Not made by Amazon
Has buttons
Ideally under £100

I’m currently using a recent Kobo, but I’ll be passing that on to Holly as her ereader’s broken, and I’m wanting to buy a replacement for myself. The Kobo, however, is infuriating, as it *only* has a touchscreen interface, no buttons. This is a real problem when it comes to reading books with footnotes, as the action for viewing a footnote (tap your finger on the screen where the footnote is) is the same action as bringing up the menu or turning the page.

I’ve been unable to find any ereaders other than Kindles, currently in production, with any physical buttons. I don’t want a Kindle because I don’t want to encourage Amazon’s monopoly/monopsony on the ebook market.
Any suggestions? (NB if you bought your ereader more than a year or so ago, it’s probably not on the market any more…)

ETA — for those also looking, I eventually bought one of these. The built-in bookstore and dictionaries aren’t in English, but I don’t use those features anyway, and the rest of it seems precisely what I want.

Corbyn Explained For Foreigners

A couple of people have asked me to talk about Jeremy Corbyn here, to explain his election as Labour leader for people who aren’t in the UK. I’ve so far resisted doing so, because I have a lot of friends who think he’s the Messiah, and a lot who think he’s Satan, and almost all of those people take any disagreement with their stance as being a personal attack (if you’re not one of those people, then I’m not talking about you). But I’m going to try to explain here what’s been going on for those of you who are very confused by references you’ve seen on Twitter and so on.

To get my own biases out of the way first: I am a member of a political party other than Corbyn’s. I think that the Labour Party, of which he is now leader, is a fundamentally corrupt, irredeemable, organisation, but that he himself is a principled man. I don’t share all his principles, but he is closer to me on many issues than the other people who were leadership candidates for his party. I think him being leader of Labour might end up being good for my party in electoral terms, and almost certainly will end up being good for the country’s political culture, in that it will shift the Overton window to the left, which it needs. But fundamentally, he’s the leader of a party I disagree with, and their leadership election is not my fight. That said, now the explanation:

Jeremy Corbyn is the latest example of what Charles Stross has been referring to as the “Scottish political singularity”, although really it’s a British-wide constitutional crisis. Britain’s constitution, its electoral system, and its parties, are all proving increasingly unfit for purpose, and it’s becoming very apparent that centrist triangulation, which had been the principal electoral strategy for the last few decades, is not what a plurality of the voters want,

Any political story you’ve heard from Britain for at least the last decade is a variant on this — people want something other than centre-right authoritarian politics, but we have a system (both an electoral system and the systems in individual parties) which produces that no matter what the voters’ wishes. The rise of UKIP in the polls, the huge gains by the Lib Dems up to 2005, followed by the coalition and the Lib Dems’ huge losses this year, the AV referendum (which we lost, but still got a higher percentage of the vote than any party has in decades…), the Scottish Nationalists getting nearly every seat in Scotland, the recent Scottish independence referendum, and the forthcoming EU referendum, all come down to this. No matter who you vote for, you get a government that supports cuts to the welfare state, tax cuts for businesses, government surveillance of everyone at all times, and so on.

My own party, the Liberal Democrats, is, hopefully, moving away from that consensus again (it always disagreed with it, but the previous leadership tried to compromise with it as much as possible, with disastrous results in the most recent election). But both Labour and the Conservatives have remained firmly committed to it, with only very slight details of emphasis.

The next thing you need to know is that the Prime Minister, in Britain, is not a directly elected position. Rather, it goes to any MP who can get a majority of the House of Commons to support them — usually this will be the leader of the largest party, so at the moment David Cameron is leader of the Conservatives, who have a majority in the Commons, so he is Prime Minister. This is important — we do not directly vote for the head of Government, and actually the only people who have a say over it are MPs.

Different parties handle the choice of the leader in different ways. The Conservatives, I believe, still leave the choice just to their MPs. The Lib Dems and Greens have a democratic vote among their members. Labour have tried various different ways of choosing their leader, but last time the election caused such controversy that they instituted a new system this time. Any member, or registered supporter who paid £3 (about $5), could vote for the leader. However, to stand, the candidate had to get nominated by a significant number of the Labour MPs, to make sure the leader would actually have the support of the party in the Commons too.

Three centre-right bland authoritarians all stood — Yvette Cooper, Andy Burnham, and Liz Kendall. These are all people who are absolute standard identikit politicians, and it was widely considered that the contest was really between Cooper and Burnham.

But while Labour is currently a centre-right authoritarian party, it *used* to be a socialist one, and several of its older members joined when it was. These socialist members take it in turns to stand for the leadership, not expecting or even wanting to win, just as an attempt to push their party slightly to the left — these are the equivalents of the candidates who stand for the Presidency just to get in the debates and push their one or two policies.

This time it was the turn of Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn has been an MP for thirty-two years, but has never before stood for, or even considered, any other role within Parliamentary politics. He has served his constituents well from the back benches, and spends much of his energy on things like the Stop the War campaign.

His candidacy was seen as a joke by much of the party, especially the Parliamentary party. He didn’t even actually have the support of the MPs who nominated him — many did so while saying they didn’t support him, but “wanted to see a proper debate”. The idea was that Burnham or Cooper, with their smart suits and hairstyles and government experience, would easily defeat a sixty-six-year-old bloke with a grey beard, and in doing so would show that centre-right authoritarianism is still best.

But they hadn’t reckoned with the fact that this time, unlike the others, it would be the choice of the members and supporters, not the MPs, that would decide matters, and that after two massive election losses when led by a centre-right authoritarian the members were quite keen to vote for something that wasn’t that.

MASSIVE numbers of people joined Labour or registered as supporters, making it (at the moment) a truly mass movement for the first time in decades (I suspect that many of them will let their membership lapse, but who knows? At the moment predicting anything is impossible…). Fifty-nine percent of the voters in the leadership election voted for Corbyn.

So what we have now is an interesting, completely unpredictable, situation. Labour now has a leader who has said that Karl Marx had a lot of interesting things to say, thinks it might be appropriate to try Tony Blair as a war criminal, wants to get rid of nuclear weapons and leave NATO, wants to nationalise major industries, chairs the Stop the War Coalition, has expressed support for terrorists who have attacked Britain because they’re fighting colonial oppression, and once signed an early day motion looking forward to the extinction of the human race because of its cruelty to pigeons.*

That leader has the massive, overwhelming support of the party membership and active supporter base, but many political commentators are arguing — maybe correctly, who knows? — that those are the only people who’d support a party led by him, and that the other one or the other one or the other one, with their distinctive policies of all being exactly like each other, would have been more popular. Maybe so — certainly I don’t have my finger on the pulse of the electorate at all.

But he doesn’t have the support of any of the MPs in his party, who mostly supported the war in Iraq, support continued privatisation and marketisation of public services, and in general are in agreement with the right-authoritarian consensus. He can’t even appeal to party unity, because he’s spent the last thirty-plus years sat at the back attacking his own leadership on every issue.

So Labour now has a leader who can’t lead their MPs, and whose MPs don’t want to follow him anyway, but who is massively popular among the people who do the door-knocking, leaflet-delivering, ground activity on which any political party actually depends for its survival. But *many* of those people are people who’ve only recently joined, who have spent time in several other parties (as an example, Cory Doctorow recently talked on BoingBoing about how he may join Labour as a result of Corbyn being elected leader. Doctorow has been in the Lib Dems and the Greens previously.) — those people may not be reliable in the long term.

So, interesting times. There is literally no way to predict anything in British politics any more, except that strange things will continue to happen, because we have a system at the point of catastrophic failure.

Frankly, the whole political singularity is making me ill from stress, and I wish that people of every party would see sense and introduce elections by STV, which would fix about half the problems and mitigate many of the others. But until they do, politics will remain chaotic, in the mathematical sense, and Corbyn’s election as leader is just the latest example of that.

*These things are cherry-picked examples of Mr Corbyn’s more extreme views — some of which I agree with myself — to point out the distance between him and his party. They’re not meant to be taken as me mocking him, for the most part.