The Swipe Volume 1 Chapter 18

You’ve probably noticed I bang on a lot about the garden in the weekly preamble. It’s not just because I have had an epiphany at the feet of Saint Montague of Don and have become an acolyte in the ways of compost and seed rotation. There are clear benefits to the life of a writer in spending time in the garden. Exercise is good for the soul, and the mental peace it engenders can settle the questions I have about a plot point or character quirk. I’m certainly not the only writer to see the similarity in what happens through the seasons and the creation of an artwork. Austin Kleon, for example, is on the money when he compares writing to the old gardening truism of Sleep, Creep, Leap. If nothing else, it’s a creative act TLC and I enjoy together out in the fresh air and greenery, which has to be a good thing, right?

This week: a couple of drinks, some positive thinking on AI and considerations on the concept of penguin.

Wherever you are, whenever you are, however you are, welcome to The Swipe.

Rob is reading…

Richard Deacon’s A History Of British Secret Service. This is full of fascinating historical nuggets on how this country gained its reputation as spymasters. The birth of cryptography (which of course has impacts well beyond joe country) and the behind-the-scenes shenanigans which arguably had more impact on the current geopolitical landscape than more obvious and noisy conflicts make this a completely compelling read. Written in 1969, so the impact of the computer and internet age don’t get a mention. Nonetheless, an essential read to understand some of the secret history which has brought us to where we stand today.

Rob is watching…

Citadel on Amazon Prime, which is utterly ridiculous but a riot. A very different spy narrative to the one above. I wouldn’t take any insights on the recent state of global play from it, but the notion of two huge multinational organisations duking it out over who rules the world with no real national affiliation seems like a fun pole to wind a conspiracy theory around. Worth it just to see Stanley Tucci and Lesley Manville chewing up the scenery.

Rob is listening…

To TribalNeed, who redefines what you can do as a busker. I love the build he makes from a very simple six-note idea. At one point, he seems to be playing exclusively for the four kids cross-legged on the sand in front of him who are laser-focussed on everything he’s doing. The mob of dancers are just peripheral. Content warning for didgeridoo.

Rob is eating…

Asparagus. The window has opened and the good British stuff is in the shops. Cook it gently in a shallow pan with a little butter and water until bright green then enjoy simply with some bread or as a side for fishy protein. Like hot cross buns at Easter or Christmas mince pies, I overindulge while the season lasts. It’s one of the flavours which acts as a harbinger to summer. Go on, dig in!

Like many fiction magazines, Clarkesworld has had issues with the flood of barely-‘written’ submissions from ChatGPT instances to the slush pile. At one point, they had to close the gates on unsolicited entries. To their credit, they are making a stand against the onrush, doing so with humour and grace. This story in the current issue from Naomi Kritzer takes a markedly positive spin on the role a rogue AI could play on our lives.

Better Living Through Algorithms

This next one, fair warning, is a bit creepy and sad. As an insight into how weird Britain can be at times, though, it’s a great read. Who knows what inspires the actions of The Somerset Gimp?

The Somerset Gimp

Brrr. I need a drink after that. Let’s go on a quest for the perfect New York Happy Meal. No, we’re not heading off to Mickey D’s. This is a far more civilised proposition. Although it has the potential to slide gently into chaos…

The New York Happy Meal

While we’re at the bar, I am conflicted by The Carousel. It contains a lot of the booze which I enjoy, but in combination? I’m really not sure. There’s only one thing for it. I’ll have to go in. As an aside, congrats to Richard Godwin for using this booze-bomb to celebrate the 100th edition of his newsletter The Spirits. His ten rules of cocktail making are essential reading.

The Carousel

We’ve spoken before about how the Batman model is not a good method for fighting urban crime (or more specifically, the root causes therein). But as actual billionaires like our pal Elno are starting to bleat about how we need a caped crusader to clean up the streets, it’s worth restating the bleeding obvious. Hilarious as it would be to find the CEO of Twitter hiding in back alleys dressed in black leather ready to jump out on muggers (sorry if you just got a flashback to The Somerset Gimp) it’s another example of extremely rich dudes refusing to take any sense of responsibility for their power and instead indulging in childish fantasy. And I say that as a fan of The Man In Black.

We Don’t Need A Batman

Back to the garden. Please spend a little time with Elizabeth Blackwell and her Curious Herbal, a truly innovative (and ahead-of-its-time) botanical classification which has the advantage of being informative and truly beautiful. I would cheerfully print some of these out and hang them up on a sunlit wall.

A Curious Herbal

Let’s face it, a great part of our interaction with the rest of the world now takes place using a keyboard. That’s how I’m talking to you right now. The act of typing should be second nature to us. So why are we so bad at it? Is it really the fault of auto-correct or are we, however unwittingly, moving towards a post-literate method of communication?


(Sidebar—journalist Mic Wright has started prefacing his work on Conquest Of The Useless, written increasingly on assignment on a phone, with the statement ‘typos are a political act’. Casey Lewis ends each edition of After School by saying ‘all typos are intentional to make sure you’re paying attention’. Something is going on.

Fast And Sloppy

Steven Wright has written a book. I think you already know what it’s going to sound like.


This is a big one. Our communication (or lack of it) with other members of our tribe have a lot to do with common ground, on basic things on which we can all agree—or at least understand the basic context. If, as researchers at the University Of California in Berkeley have discovered, we are having trouble with that, then what hope do we have in finding consensus with the important stuff, like climate change?


The Concept Of Penguin

Lastly, Michael Marshall Smith tells us a great story about his neighbours—or does he? Unlike a lot of writers, he is embracing AI in ways which give me hope. It helps, of course, that he’s always been a forward-looking and thinking kind of guy. AI is here, and it can be a force for good or bad. It’s down to us to figure out which way the story goes.

Liz And John

Let’s Outro. We’ve played The Decemberist’s Don’t Carry It All before. This version, busked on the streets of Manhattan by lead singer Colin Meloy, seems to cut to the heart of the message. It’s one of my favourites. May it serve as a reminder to all of my lovely Readership to take care of each other, ask for help if you need and take a break if things get too much. I’m here if you need me. This I swear to all.

See you in seven, true believers.


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Writer. Film-maker. Cartoonist. Cook. Lover.

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