Parasol Post is closing its doors. No longer will letter boxes up and down the country (nay! across the world!) be assaulted with its peculiar mixture of surrealist rants, Zoe and Ronan references, finely-tooled communism (with interchangeable heads) and weird tales of alcoholic excess dressed up as quasi mystical "deep nasal hydration". We tracked down Rob, one of those responsible for such rum goings on and got him to confess nearly all.
The interview took place in a secluded glade that lies on the outskirts of one of the many gardens in the Red Republic of Parasol.
I'll just put the blanket down here and then we can kick off. What was Parasol Post? What is this obsession with parasols anyway?
Parasol Post (PP) was a sort of cheaply (freely) produced newsletter / zine type thing which ran for about 20 issues from November 1997. The original 'print-run' was three! One was for me, one for the late Nick Lee-Overy (who was already going under the name of Oberon Bystander due to an earlier 'game') and the other was for a girl called Anne Currie / Susie Derkins with whom I worked and who shared my interest in Forteana, bad poetry and the quirkily surreal.
The original inspiration for the brolly angle came from Anne telling me of a childhood desire / daydream to play in an inverted, red-plastic childrens' umbrella. The image this conjured caused me to write a 'bad poem' about such brolly-dwelling.
At the same time an article appeared in Fortean Times about setting up your own country, which inspired me somewhat. Nick and I conjured up a Parasol mythos in the pub and he added his beer-fuelled thoughts about the Harmony of the Deep-Nasal Hydrator...
What were the ideas behind setting it up?
I'm one of those people who loves getting things through the post and collecting books / zines / newspapers. For many years I collected 'sectariana' of all varieties from demonstrations and actively pursued information on all the various bubbling and mutating grouplets of the left and anarcho milieus. (The book I wrote as a student - 'The Joy Of Sects' was never published!)
Somewhere along the line I came upon the London Psychogeographical Association and the Neoist Alliance as well as your Turbulence and AAA stuff.
I was interested in the alternate realities / ironic myth-makings which were opened up and attempted to fuse and impregnate my own mythologies, which lead to our crude and unfocussed pamphlet about the founding congress of the New Lettrist International.
Getting the internet at work enabled me to follow up the AAA and immerse myself in a network / mail-art / zine culture. I produced PP primarily as a means of introduction and exchange, and was pleasantly surprised when it began to be listed as a zine in its own right in various publications.
Then people started to send ME stamps and cash and tapes and CDs AND to submit poems, texts, fiction and art-work at an alarming rate. I had enough slack at work to publish virtually everything sent in and tried to do so as quickly as possible
Why is it stopping?
Zine production is a very elastic thing - the more you produce the more feedback you get the more pritt-sticks you get through and the hotter your photocopier gets and it begins to take over your life! But, seriously though, if Parasol Post was an attempt to fill a gap in my life by cocooning myself in a mythology, ultimately the iron-logic of 'reality' reasserted itself on December 16th 1999 when the break-up of my ten year relationship with Angela coincided with the death of my best friend and collaborator Nick.
The latter interfered with my ability to cope with the former and vice-versa. Things slid a bit. Correspondence went unanswered, mailing lists were rarely updated...
I managed to get a last issue of PP out, very late, fighting against apathy more than anything else - almost a case of fulfilling contractual obligations. But there will be other publications in the future, although I do not currently have photocopier access!
Would you regard this as a tendency for successful zines to end up becoming akin to an obligation, or having a job?
Even though we never asked for a fixed donation or specified 'subscription rates', I always found myself copying up back issues along with reams of other peoples newsletters and stuff to send to people who had sent me cash or loads of stamps or some obviously well-produced and therefore costly publication.
It was never an 'obligation' in the sense of pain-in-the-ass since I always enjoyed it. However at one point I was receiving two or three packages a week from one guy and then follow-up letters saying 'Why did you not respond to the thing I sent yesterday. Did you receive it?'
I suppose some zines do become a real job - e.g. Fortean Times now has a full time staff but came from humble origins. Others, such as my fave poetry mag 10th Muse, are funded with council grants or whatever which certainly impose a degree of obligation. We never got to that stage...
I would imagine that the fact that you never produced another issue of the magazine format Turbulent Times gave you a few twinges of 'guilt'. But I think you probably give your self a brisk rub-down with the thought that you are able to give 'value-for-money' by regularly updating your website. Which is nice.
Yeah, it does feel a bit like you're letting people down when they send things like CDs or Books for review. But I guess that's part of the game isn't it? We've all sent off for things and not got them - and got things we didn't ask for. I think that getting guilt tripped about not being efficient, not making deadlines and not providing "value for money" kind of defeats the object of doing this sort of thing in the first place - i.e. for fun, not for profit
Any thoughts regarding the state of "the small press" scene and the web? Is the end in sight?
The small press scene is a vast and amorphous entity, which suffers from the fact that 99% is hidden, like icebergs. You have to really get into it discover what is really there. Publications like Light's List and the Small Press Guide are really useful but no substitute for taking a chance and responding to the tiny flyers various networkers cram into soiled envelopes.
A lot of publications may have recently migrated onto the web but there are still a lot of sporadic, toner-drenched offerings out there. I think a lot of the problem with internet-only publishing is that you don't get the feedback and contributions. I'd far rather send out a bundle of papers with a personalised, hand-written note to a chap in Portugal or Blackpool or wherever, than email them with an invitation to follow a link...
Having said that, I followed a link from a link from a link and found myself emailing one Zali Krishna about his excellent Iotacism site. He sent me loads of text and artwork contribs for PP, his music tapes and a lovely paperback book all about umbrellas. We have since met up a few times and collaborated on some projects and I published the paper version of a pamphlet (Art, Muzak, poetry & The Land On Four Stilts) for him...
Following on from that - what's your view of the mainstream media (you were quoted in the recent Face article about pranks/hoaxes) - it seems that topics like psychogeography, multiple-user names, etc are occasionally "hot" and these are also things that you've covered...
The Face article was not TOO bad as these things go (The Wire's article at the same time was better though) but their Student Journo seemed intent on writing what he thought his readership wanted to hear - not what 'we' were actually telling him. So it came across as a little condescending. Not that that matters, I'm reasonably thick-skinned these days!! He had an angle he thought was interesting but was not an 'insider' and that's the problem with big circulation magazines - the audience is very diverse, they may buy it for a number of reasons and the journalists have to be able to turn out copy which is digestible by the greatest number.
The best thing about alternative media is the ability of the readers to engage with the contributors and have a meaningful dialogue (or trialogue or quadrilogue as others join in) which actually goes somewhere and motivates people. It's much less hierarchical than the news-stand magazines.
I've lost count of the number of articles on Luther Blissett, the AAA and psychogeography in the mainstream media which COMPLETELY miss the point. Only Fortean Times (formerly small press, now mainstream) seem to do it at all well and I think that's because the editorial team have a particular critical mind-set, are not judgmental or condescending and are actually INTERESTED - not time serving-careerist hacks.
The overly serious one: How did your politics inform the way that Parasol Post was produced/distributed and the content, etc - if at all?
I generally had a policy of printing anything that came my way, if it interested me. I did not want to make too many concessions to what 'other people' might or might not understand - but most issues of PP were accompanied by personal communication with recipients anyway. It was a very personal thing, sort of 'I've been reading this or discussing these concepts. You might be interested too, if not it's no skin off my nose...'
As for my politics, I've 'always' been a lefty so the Republic of Parasol was always a Red Republic - in some senses I envisaged it as a kind of Utopia, a William Morris meets the Wizard of Oz. Many of the contributors were not overtly political at all, some were, in a fairly loose anarcho-liberal-lifestyley way. I don't imagine many were Blairites as they don't have poetry in their hearts or beauty in their lives or passion in their bellies...
As for production/distribution I didn't have to pay for photocopying, only postage, but I got more than ample remuneration for my expense from the Potlatch of stuff I got in return. The Parasol AAA t-shirt made for me by Simon of AAA Exit was my garment of choice last summer. It's a little faded now.
Well that's EXIT for you, isn't it? Blaggers and Rip-off merchants to man - I hope they didn't try to flog you any of their knock-off watches. Are there any contributions to Parasol Post that particularly stand out as your personal favourites?
Andrea Mubi of Grupo Attanziale Psicogeografico (probably spelt that wrong) wrote an anti-money article which was an extension of our early piece on anti-cash vouchers in his GAP Times which I got him to translate into English and put in an issue of PP. I got a great article on Mad Pride from Simon Morris and Mark Reeve did an excellent obscene short story for our Luther Blissett special. Also for the Luther issue, Zali Krishna wrote Luther into some of his ever-ongoing disjointed sagas. There was also an excellent letter from the Equi-Phallic Alliance, which I could not even begin to fathom, and Stewart Home let me publish an interview which had not previously been published in English, which we detourned a little to fit into a story format...
What have you learnt from doing Parasol Post?
How to steam (unfranked) stamps from envelopes.
Any production disasters? Ever get caught abusing the photocopier at work?
Not really. Usually second print-runs would come a cropper because some pritt-sticked (? Pritt-stuck) bits would come loose or fold over but I seldom copied more than 100 at a time so it was no problem. I was always fairly open about copier abuse and if anyone ever looked askance I'd bung a couple of quid in the till.
Your colleagues sound very understanding! I've generally had to stay late, get in early or sneak about in the dark at weekends to do that sort of thing.
Do you have any plans for future projects we should know about?
Possibly, I don't know. I'd like to do stuff on audio cassettes (or even CDs). Probably a spoken word version of PP (text-to-speech synthesizer software). I'd also like to do music or sound-collages but I can't play instruments- Nick was always into the idea of doing a sort of folk songs of Parasol tape (he COULD play guitar) but we never got round to it. These days a lot of my corresponding is by email and discussion lists - very easy to do at work whilst my job is not so busy. Actually, I'm now very into the idea of producing a Plagiarists newsletter.
Ah you just can't leave it alone, can you?
And it's virtuallly complete! I have SOOO MUCH time on my hands but no copier!!! I've also registered with www.xdrive.com for file space (only 35mb at the moment) to which I can upload loads of text files, poems, pictures, MP3 speech files etc. all of which can be accessed by anyone who logs in:
- username: parasolpost
- password: post
Then they can print it all out and assemble as they see fit!! So it's a kind of half-way house between a website and a cut-and-paste paper-zine. Which suits my purposes...
Rob's eyes misted over at this point and he stared into the distance, contemplating some of the other residents of the Hub practicing their ornithopter ballet moves. We carried on chatting about zines, scenes and the meaning of life whilst slowly hydrating as night fell.
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