Gets My Vote

Saturday 12th July 2014. I watch Rebels of Oz, an excellent documentary on four Australians who influenced cultural life in Britain: Clive James, Germaine Greer, Barry Humphries, and Robert Hughes. There’s some 1960s footage of Ms Greer taking on Norman Mailer at a panel event in New York. The same event appeared in another documentary the previous week, one on the New York Review of Books. Then, the focus was on Mailer versus Susan Sontag, with Greer seen smirking quietly next to him. It’s a reminder that footage can only ever tell a truth, not the truth.

Robert Hughes was known for his TV series on art, The Shock of the New. But what shocks me is that he is shown wearing a double-breasted suit jacket over blue denim jeans. I wonder if being Australian helps.

* * *

Sunday 13th July 2014. Evidence of aging. At the Assembly House pub in Kentish Town, I pick up a leaflet for one of the events at the Forum, the venue across the road. It’s called ‘Indie Daze’, and is a day-long bill of different bands. All the performers are of a certain vintage, with their artistic zenith circa 1990. There’s The Wonder Stuff, The Popguns, The Flatmates, Jesus Jones, Power of Dreams, Darling Buds, and Ned’s Atomic Dustbin. Two of them are doing that common practice of performing an old album in full: Jesus Jones are playing all of Doubt, while Power of Dreams are doing Immigrants, Emigrants and Me.

What intrigues me about this leaflet is how some of the bands have accompanying photos of them now, looking older (they must be all approaching 50 by now). But others, like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin, use a photo from over two decades ago. I wonder about the reasoning: would a recent photo would be a kind of fraud, given it’s all about the songs of their youth? Or was it just a case of being unable to get new photos made in time?

I rather enjoyed the records of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin at the time, despite the polar opposite in their look to mine. They were a group of shambling, hairy and beery young blokes, and I was… well, not that. But I bought their debut album, and loved it for its vulnerably simple melodies, with a second bass guitar giving them an underrated, New Order-like sound. The Popguns, meanwhile, were much closer to my world aesthetically, on top of their fizzy and friendly guitar pop. Out of all the ‘Indie Daze’ bands, the Popguns are the only ones I still listen to.

* * *

Monday 14th July 2014. To Bildeston to see Mum. I stay over, sleeping in my childhood bedroom for the first time since Dad died. Mum offers to give me a file marked ‘Dickon’, full of school reports and other clippings, which she and Dad kept over the years. But I’m uneasy and decline. I’m uncertain enough about who I am now, let alone who I used to be. I don’t just mean that I need to get some sort of secure career going now, though I do mean that as well. Next visit, though. Little steps.

* * *

To get there, I take the Gainsborough Line train from Marks Tey to Sudbury, always a pleasure. A single track on a rural branch line, just the two carriages – though today they’re packed. The first stop, Chappel & Wakes Colne, forms part of the East Anglian Railway Museum. Vintage carriages and centuries-old waiting rooms suddenly appear either side of the modern train. After that it’s Bures, a village bisected by the Essex-Suffolk border, then it’s over the Stour river into Suffolk, and so to Sudbury.  Twenty minutes in all.

‘You missed the alpacas,’ says the old lady in the seat facing me.

* * *

Mum and I watch the DVD of the National Theatre’s 50th anniversary gala, along with the documentary that accompanies it. A highlight for me is Joan Plowright, reprising her speech from Shaw’s Saint Joan on the stage of the Old Vic, just as she did in 1963. There’s also a scene from Alan Ayckbourn’s Bedroom Farce, which I didn’t realise had supplied Dad with one of his in-jokey catchphrases. An older couple have a light snack in bed before lights off. This turns out to be pilchards on toast, the only thing the husband can find in the larder. The wife is sceptical at first, then takes his offered plate and tucks in. ‘They’re quite pleasant, aren’t they?’ she says. ‘They got my vote,’ says the husband, munching away. Tonight Mum tells me that she and Dad saw a 1980s TV version of Ayckbourn’s play, and it’s this particular line that Dad seized on. After that, whenever there was a situation requiring Dad’s approval, he would often say, ‘gets my vote!’ So now I know.

* * *

Tuesday 15th July 2014. Bildeston. Mum and I visit the Museum of East Anglian Life, in nearby Stowmarket. Neither of us have seen it since its renovation in 2012. The museum is centred around Abbot’s Hall, a handsome eighteenth-century manor house, which hosts a permanent exhibition about local history. George Ewart Evans, the author of Ask The Fellows Who Cut The Hay, gets a whole room, his notebook on display a la British Library. But there’s also his big manual typewriter and his unwieldy reel-to-reel tape recorder, both making a mockery of today’s nimble devices. Writing used to be such a muscular business.

The temporary exhibition is Escape to the Country: Searching for Self-Sufficiency in the 70s. It’s a wittily designed show, with lots of beige and orange in evidence, and caption boards in that same kitschy typeface that the band Pulp used. But there are some serious themes here too. It illustrates how the Summer of Love generation wanted to embrace rural traditions as a lifestyle choice, and as a reaction against the suburban sprawl. There’s a still from The Good Life, reminding one how that popular TV sitcom was also a satire about a real social concern.

One photograph is of the residents of Old Hall in East Bergholt, a proper commune where I once stayed as a teenager. It was just like the Swedish film Together: canteen meals for twenty at a time, farm animals and allotments out the back, rooms rather than flats. And rotas on the wall, with everyone having a different job to do on different days. I remember a TV crew filming the rounding up of the livestock, and the producer telling me it was for a documentary on a brand new channel – Channel 4. So that dates my stay to the summer of 1982.

[Postscript: Rachel Stevenson writes to say that she visited Old Hall in 2013, and wrote about it in her blog. The link is: http://millionreasons.livejournal.com/2013/04/23/]

On the train journey home I make a point of looking out for the famous alpacas. And there, a little south of Sudbury and east of the railway track, is a field of the uncommon mammals in question. They resemble llamas which have shrunk in the wash.

* * *

Wednesday 16th July 2014. To the ICA for the film Mistaken For Strangers. It’s an unusual film – a rock documentary that is really a study of two brothers. The band it depicts is the US group The National, whose work I’m not familiar with, but who seem to be a bit like the British band Elbow: a genre I call Pleasant Enough Men With Beards. In the film, the serious and sensitive singer Matt Berninger hires his jokey and more uncouth brother Tom to be a roadie on their new tour.  Tom is more interested in making a film, or drinking the rider, or disappearing with people he meets, or doing anything other than his job. And so the film he makes ends up being more about him, and his odd-couple relationship with Matt. I love the title in particular, which certainly applies to me and my brother Tom. But it also reminds me how pairs of brothers, even quite different brothers, tend to both be unconventional and artistic, rather than one being artistic and the other being more drawn to, say, finance or law.

* * *

Friday 18th July 2014. I’m listening to the new Morrissey album, World Peace Is None Of Your Business, while reading about the events in Ukraine and Gaza. Morrissey’s arch take seems grimly relevant. There’s WW1 events everywhere at the moment, with it being a hundred years since the shooting of Archduke Ferdinand. ‘The War To End All Wars’. And yet here we are, still getting out our missiles. The sickening pointlessness of the attack on flight MH17 feels different to any Cold War incident, though. It could be the incident to end all such incidents. I think. I hope.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
break

The Schriftstellerin’s Stick

Saturday 5th July 2014. Thinking about the event at the Barbican centre the previous evening, I recall something about the interval. Myself and Ms C had ventured off together to use the toilets, and naturally had to split up when we reached them. The event wasn’t particularly female-heavy, yet outside the ladies there was a queue of a least a dozen women. Outside the gents, no queue whatsoever.

Riddled with guilt at this oversight in what is meant to be a modern building, I offered to escort Ms S into the gents to use one of the available cubicles there. She declined, but I like to think that had she agreed none of my fellow males would have protested. At such instances of self-evident inequality, sharing the Gents with women is surely the test of a true Gentleman. And if any of the men did protest, I would have flung my arms to the air and said like any good academic, ‘But sir, all gender is performativity! Go and read your Judith Butler! But wash your hands first.’

In my case, I often feel like a fraud having to declare a gender full stop, purely in order to use the loos. My fear is that once through the door firmly marked Gents, I will be questioned on my knowledge of football, cricket, cars, sharks, beards, and Jeremy Clarkson. And I will be found wanting.

* * *

I spend the afternoon picking up books on literary camp. At Birkbeck Library I find one of Brigid Brophy’s two studies of Aubrey Beardsley, plus Moe Meyer’s The Politics and Poetics of Camp, which seems to have been a set text for a Birkbeck course in the past. The giveaway sign for this is seeing a whole batch of duplicate copies on the shelf. Then to Gay’s The Word bookshop in Marchmont Street, to ask the staff about their own suggestions. I come away with Lovetown by Michal Witkowski, an example of contemporary Polish literary camp.

In Gordon Square I look at a new piece of public art. It’s one of fifty fibreglass ‘book benches’ which have been installed around the city, and which will stay there until the Autumn. They are a project by the National Literacy Trust, called ‘Books About Town’. Each sculpture is the size of a park bench. It is shaped to resemble a book lying open on its side, then painted to illustrate a particular book. Sometimes there is a connection with the location. Gordon Square was once the address of Virginia Woolf, and this particular bench depicts Clarissa and Septimus from Mrs Dalloway. The artist is Fiona Osborne from One Red Shoe, who also painted the Dorian Gray Olympic mascot sculpture in 2012. Her Septimus has a touch of Wildean beauty about him too: the archetype of the doomed boy.

I get into a conversation with a Woolf fan, Alison, who’s come to see the sculpture along with the dozen other benches in Bloomsbury (there’s a map online). She tells me that the bench celebrating Orwell’s 1984 has already been vandalised and is away for repairs, barely a week after it was installed. For a novel that champions acts of rebellion, this rather smacks of irony.

* * *

Monday 7th July 2014. To the Hammersmith Apollo for ‘Stand Up Against Austerity’, a comedy benefit. It’s in aid of The People’s Assembly, which organises protests against the current government cuts. The evening has an old-fashioned left-wing activist feel to it, and is hosted by Kate Smurthwaite. She isn’t entirely joking when she kicks off the night with  ‘Let’s have a revolution!’ The acts are all pretty well known in the world of British stand-up: Jason Manford, Shappi Khorsandi, Francesca Martinez, Marcus Brigstocke, Jeremy Hardy, Mark Steel, Jen Brister, Stewart Lee, and Jo Brand. I’m impressed by Jason Manford: I’d always thought of him as more of a mainstream, middle-of-the-road laddish comic. But clearly his heart’s in the right place. Or in this case, the left place.

Stewart Lee opens his set with an excellent topical gag. It riffs on the most common thing people said after Rolf Harris’s conviction, while alluding to today’s rumours of a well-known Tory MP from the 1980s, who’s thought to be connected with various sexual allegations of his own. I’d better redact his name, in case.

‘I do hope [Dreary 80s Tory MP] hasn’t done anything bad. I’d hate to have my childhood memories of [Dreary 80s Tory MP] ruined.’

Mark Steel must be about as old as Jeremy Hardy – indeed I saw them both (and Jo Brand) at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1988. But where Mr Hardy jokes about the aging process, Mr Steel seems entirely unfettered by time. He has exactly the same manic energy he had in the 80s, running around the stage and spitting out his anti-UKIP rants with barely a pause for breath. I envy him for this, just as I envy him for his red velvet jacket.

On the tube home, I bump into Russell T. He’s just been to some dinner event with none other than Nigel Farage – the very man who was a butt of so many of the jokes at the Apollo. It transpires that Mr F really does like his drink, even when (as tonight) he dashes off to do a late night interview with LBC, several glasses of wine still sloshing away inside him. So all those photos of him holding a pint of beer are not just a pose after all.

* * *

Thursday 10th July 2014. In the afternoon: to the Prince Charles cinema for Bad Neighbours. It’s a broad Hollywood comedy. A thirty-ish couple with a house, proper jobs, and a new baby have their life made hell when a gaggle of noisy students move in next door. There’s some laboured gross-out humour which seems a bit old hat now, and it’s never clear who the film is meant for – former students who are settling down into parenthood, or current students who want that sort of humour now. It’s a shame, because otherwise there’s a witty enough comedy of manners tucked behind the slapstick. Rose Byrne in particular is superb as the new mother, who finds it hard to deliver the phrase ‘can you keep it down?’ in a way that won’t make her sound like a spoiler of fun. Which is, of course, impossible.

Then by way of contrast to the National Portrait Gallery, for Virginia Woolf: Art, Life and Vision. Somewhat fewer slapstick sight gags there. I suppose this represents the person I’ve grown to become – the sort of person who goes to a Virginia Woolf exhibition – and on the day it opens, too (I couldn’t wait). It’s quite busy, with a mix of all ages and genders. There are some shocks. The first exhibit is a large photograph of Woolf’s Tavistock Square flat in ruins, after it was bombed during WW2. In amongst the debris her fireplace can be seen intact, with its Vanessa Bell decorations exposed to the open sky. Then the show works in refreshing Orlando-esque time travel: the fireplace appears again in a Vogue article from the 1920s, then it’s straight back to her childhood, and then forward again into Bloomsbury, via lots of beautiful Hogarth Press first editions. I am stopped in my tracks by a photograph of the 13-year-old Virginia, dressed in mourning for her mother.

At the other end of her life there’s the letters she left before her suicide (‘I feel certain I am going mad again…’), along with her walking stick, which she usually took everywhere. This was a message in itself. When Leonard Woolf came home and saw the stick left behind, he knew at once what had happened. Had she survived her depression she would have discovered that she’d escaped another fate too. There’s a copy of a Nazi wartime instruction book, listing the names of over two thousand British politicians and writers who were to be taken into ‘protective custody’ in the event of a German invasion. The book is open at the entry ‘Woolf, Virginia: Schriftstellerin’. Authoress.

***

Friday 11th July 2014. A journalist from Q magazine emails, asking if I’d like to be interviewed for an article about the ‘lost tribe’ of Romo. I decline politely. One reason is that I have enough trouble recollecting the specifics of the present (hence the diary), let alone those of the distant past. As it is, I spoke to a newspaper for a similar piece a few years ago, and winced at the dismissive agenda which my words were used to endorse (it was the equivalent of ‘Romo: mostly harmless’).

But my chief reason is really this. If I’m going to rake over those particular coals, I’d rather do so for a stand-alone article about Orlando, and not for another huddling of the band under the wider umbrella of Romo. I feel Orlando did good work, and it wasn’t just us who thought so at the time. We won two Singles of the Week in Melody Maker, plus we released an album which received 8 out of 10 from the NME. There’s modesty, and there’s arrogance, but then there’s also being fair to one’s achievements. Why shore up unfair narratives against your own work?


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
break

Animal Hospital with Eric Gill

Tuesday 1st July 2014. To the Phoenix cinema in East Finchley. I see the film Chef, starring Jon Favreau, who also writes and directs. It has a similar ambience to Fading Gigolo, in that it’s a labour of love by one unstarry-looking Hollywood type, who has asked various more starry friends to appear in back-up roles. Just as Fading Gigolo had John Turturro supported by Woody Allen, Sharon Stone and Vanessa Paradis, Chef has smaller roles filled by Dustin Hoffman, Scarlett Johansson and Robert Downey Junior. The ludicrously pretty Sofia Vergara is also in both films, playing the lumpen hero’s lover or former lover. The lead casting of Chef is rather more believable than Fading Gigolo, though. Whereas Mr Turturro seemed an implausible male escort, Mr Favreau makes an entirely convincing chef. Not least because he’s put on a fair amount of weight since he starred in Swingers – something that his own script makes jokes about.

The plot isn’t much – a top restaurant chef quits his job and runs his own sandwich van instead – but the detail is very up-to-date, particularly the depiction of the way Facebook and Twitter have become woven into lives. When a character in Chef writes a Tweet on a phone or laptop, a little input screen appears around their head. Once they click on ‘Post’, the floating screen turns into a tiny Disney-esque cartoon bird, which then flies off to do its work – or do its damage.

There isn’t much more to this film than an expression of Mr Favreau’s passion for good food, but it’s probably the happiest-feeling film I’ve seen in a long time. For all its slightness, it makes the East Finchley audience applaud at the end, and that doesn’t happen very often. The Phoenix cinema café has even changed its usual menu to match the film: it’s currently offering the same Cubanos sandwiches that Mr Favreau makes.

* * *

Wednesday 2nd July 2014. Hottest week of the year so far. Today I take advantage of the British Library’s air conditioning, skulking in the Rare Books Reading Room like the delicate object I am. I’m researching definitions of literary camp. One I’ve found – in Gary McMahon’s book Camp In Literature – contrasts camp with nineteenth century Decadence. Decadence is more about indulgence to the point of decay, while Camp blooms. Thus Dorian Gray is mainly Decadent, while Aubrey Beardsley’s art is mainly camp. His laughing fat woman on the cover of The Yellow Book is very much not heading for decay or doom. She’s taking on the wider world, and here to stay. Thus, she is camp.

* * *

Thursday 3rd July 2014. I’m standing at the bus stop in Muswell Hill, wearing a cream jacket and tie plus my near-matching new linen trousers, which I purchased cheaply from Uniqlo, on Oxford Street. At the bus stop, a woman passes me and remarks, ‘You look cool’, without stopping. I say thank you, though I do so warily, bracing myself for a mocking follow-up. I’m too used to people in London being sarcastic about my appearance. There was the woman who once blew a kiss at me from a passing car window on the Archway Road, only to shout back ‘NOT REALLY!’ as the car drove off. Or the young man at a Notting Hill bar who once chatted pleasantly to me and asked for my phone number, only to then send a series of insulting text messages after we’d parted.

I contrast this with my two trips to New York. There I also received unsolicited compliments from strangers, but ones which were clearly sincere from the off. Londoners are rather more mistrustful of each other than New Yorkers – the lack of speaking on the Tube being a good example. With guns banned, Londoners take instead to fearing words.

So when it comes to this latest surprise compliment offered to me at the Muswell Hill bus stop, my instinct is to put up my guard. But I have to assume the woman meant her compliment sincerely. I thus try my best to cover my instinctive wariness with enough outward signs of graciousness. Perform, perform, perform. All life is acting work.

* * *

Friday 4th July 2014. Rolf Harris gets five years in jail for assaults on young girls. Unlike that other children’s entertainer Jimmy Savile, who always had his rumours, Mr Harris seemed like a manifestly good man. Or rather, he did a very good impression of one. I was in the audience for the 2012 TV BAFTAs, at which he received his Fellowship award, the highest accolade one can get in British TV. It’s for a lifetime’s ‘outstanding and exceptional contribution to television’. But now I learn that the award has a condition attached. This week, BAFTA issue a single sentence as a press release:

‘The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) has made the decision to annul the BAFTA Fellowship bestowed upon Rolf Harris in 2012, following his conviction.’

So BAFTA giveth, but BAFTA can also taketh away.

I’m curious about the Orwellian effects of this. I was definitely at the 2012 ceremony, and the award was definitely given to Mr H. But today, all the articles on the BAFTA website related to Harris have been either updated to mark the annulment, or removed altogether. Any URLS which once linked to interviews with him now redirect back to the website’s front page. Such is the modern extent of disgrace – URL redirection. Today, the 2012 Fellowship is just listed on the BAFTA site as ‘n/a’.

As someone who believes in trusting the art not the artist, I’m uneasy about private disgrace being extended to undermine public achievements. But then, I suppose Rolf Harris is not, say, Eric Gill. Mr Harris’s programmes were ephemeral, not made to be repeated forever (which is now just as well), and they were very much based upon his chosen persona of someone to trust around children. Eric Gill, however, who made lasting and beautiful sculptures in public while committing bestiality (and much besides) in private, did not present Animal Hospital. Still, this news proves that to be given a BAFTA Fellowship is not just to be told ‘well done’, but also ‘behave’.

It used to be the case that whenever one spoke of meeting a TV celebrity, the follow up question was always, ‘were they nice?’

Now it might be, ‘did you have any idea?’

***

Evening: to the Barbican with Ms Charis and Ed, for a Neil Gaiman event. Gaiman is accompanied by the Australian FourPlay String Quartet, who use the classical quartet set up in an unusual and versatile way. There’s lots of rhythmical scraping, strumming and slapping, the cello often becomes the equivalent of a bass guitar, and the viola is sometimes played like a ukulele. The main piece of the evening is ‘The Truth Is A Cave In The Black Mountains’, a Gaiman long-ish short story (or a ‘novelette’, as in shorter than a novella). It’s a kind of Walter Scott fantasy tale, about a Scottish dwarf from the Lowlands travelling to a cave rumoured to be filled with gold. Mr G reads this beautifully, while FourPlay perform a soundtrack and illustrations by Eddie Campbell are projected on a screen.

FourPlay also play a short set on their own, including a cover of the Doctor Who theme. And as well as the main piece, Mr Gaiman reads some shorter stories: the older one ‘The Day The Saucers Came’ plus two from his Blackberry project, A Calendar of Tales. ‘July’ is set on the 4th of July, making perfect sense to be read tonight, while ‘October’ is my favourite of the evening, about a genie whose liberator doesn’t actually want the usual three wishes.

But more unexpectedly, Neil Gaiman also sings. He gently croons a couple of arch songs, with FourPlay as his backing band. One is his own ‘I Google You’, which is the sort of thing I imagine Tom Lehrer writing now (if he hadn’t retired). Another is ‘Psycho’, which could be a Magnetic Fields ditty or possibly one by his wife, Amanda Palmer. But in fact, thanks to Google (what else), it turns out to a Leon Payne song, first recorded in 1968 by Eddie Noack. Elvis Costello has covered it too.

Afterwards: to the Phoenix pub in Cavendish Square for drinks until midnight, where I meet Tom with members of his new band, Spiderbites. Something the Edwards brothers have in common: we both shun our natural brown hair. Tom’s hair is now pink, while I’m freshly re-blonded.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
break

Be Somewhere Else Now

(Apologies for the slight lateness of this week’s diary. I have had to deal with one of those Trojan viruses that get inside computers. Not by the acceptance of a wooden horse but by the promise of a video of a funny cat. Probably. So this entry is brought to you by the programs Malwarebytes Anti-Malware Scan, and AdwCleaner Adware Removal Tool.)

Friday 20th June 2014. In the evening: to Birkbeck in Gordon Square for a talk by Hari Kunzru. This is one of the advantages of choosing contemporary literature as an option in an English degree: the authors are often available to come to the college and answer questions. Even better, you can have a drink of M & S wine with them afterwards. Little chance of that happening with George Eliot.

HK talks about cosmopolitanism, as in people becoming global citizens. He suggests an alternative term, though, ‘rootlessness’. A refugee, meanwhile, can be regarded as ‘a cosmopolitan without money’. He’s not so keen on the message of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, which looks for connections and harmony in a fragmented world. ‘Too resolved’, says Mr Kunzru.

(Stuart Nathan writes: ‘rootless cosmopolitan’ was also once a pejorative code term for ‘Jew’. It was intended to be subtly insulting. ‘We have no national loyalty and we infiltrate cities’. You see it in journalism from the 1890s to the 30s.’)

I’m reminded of the line in The Importance of Being Earnest: ‘The good ended happily, and the bad unhappily. That is what Fiction means’. Except now that’s what Commercial Fiction means. The good not ending happily, on the other hand, is what Literary Fiction means. This is not to say that such fiction should be depressing, though: Mr Kunzru’s own novel Transmission has scenes of laugh-aloud comedy.

I’ve just finished American Psycho, by Bret Easton Ellis. It’s clearly an important novel, but more than a couple of times I’ve felt like saying aloud, ‘please don’t make me read the next bit’.

* * *

Saturday 21st June 2014. To the Whitechapel Gallery, for the Chris Marker exhibition. I’m restless here, because his masterpieces are not stills or artworks but films like La Jetée, which is projected on a huge screen. Such films really work better at a film festival rather than a gallery space. However, I like his colourful designs for travel books about different countries, each cover with a pretty girl of the relevant nationality. Marker was clearly passionate about the faces of pretty women: much like Vermeer, in fact. There’s also a room full of old monitors and TVs showing different videos on a loop, which irritates me, as it’s become something of an art gallery cliché. That said, one is a late 80s pop video I recognise, even with the sound down: ‘Getting Away With It’ by Electronic. I hadn’t realised until today that Marker was the director.

Next door is an exhibit I prefer to anything in the Marker show, perhaps because it’s more physical and site-specific. It’s Continuum of Repair: The Light of Jacobs Ladder, by Kader Attia. A room-size shelving cabinet of books surrounds a smaller glass cabinet of scientific curios. At the centre, the visitor climbs a set of steps to discover an illusion of an infinite ladder, created using mirrors and fluorescent tubes. The gallery captions make no mention of Borges’s ‘Library of Babel’, but it’s a perfect illustration. I still love the simple magic of creating infinity by turning two mirrors against each other. That’s the great thing about infinity: the pleasure is endless.

* * *

Sunday 22nd June 2014. Across the road to the Boogaloo, for a gig by Martin White’s Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra. As was the case last year, about two dozen musicians are crammed into one corner of the pub. Mr White is on the Boogaloo’s upright piano, backed with the MFMO on violins, cellos, brass, woodwind, drums, plus electric bass. Fosca’s Kate Dornan is on tuba, while the bass is played by Rhodri Marsden. The guest acts on this occasion are Chris T-T (who once gave Fosca a lift home), and the 90s band Dubstar. Or rather, singer Sarah Blackwood and guitarist Chris Wilkie playing the songs of Dubstar, specially arranged for this mini-orchestra.

I was something of a Dubstar fan in the 90s: the last time I saw them was at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in 1998. Today I can’t resist writing down the songs as I recognise each one, just like I did in my music fan days: ‘The Self Same Thing’ (a superior version to that on record – they should record it), ‘Elevator Song’, ‘My Start In Wallsend’, ‘Not So Manic Now’, ‘A Northern Bride’ (a b-side), ‘Wearchest’, ‘Stars’, ‘Ghost’, ‘Disgraceful’. Afterwards I chat with Sarah and Chris, and also with the guitarist James Walbourne, here for the birthday of ‘The Rabbi’, one of the Boogaloo’s regular characters. JW turns out to be a fellow Sondheim fan.

* * *

Monday 23rd June 2014. I bump into Ben Goldacre, he of Bad Science fame, outside Highgate tube. Ben G turns out to be a fellow Momus fan. This is how my unplanned encounters often play out: discussions of paths crossed, then of shared acquaintances and shared tastes, then realisations of coincidence. It’s probably possible to play Six Degrees Of Dickon Edwards.

A favourite word of mine is ‘anhedonic’, meaning an inability to take pleasure in things. With supreme irony, using the word gives me pleasure.

* * *

Tuesday 24th June 2014. To the ICA to see Fruitvale Station.  It’s a dramatisation of the last day in the life of Oscar Grant, an unarmed man shot dead by the police in 2009, while in the Californian railway station of the title. Although this incident triggered various protests and outbreaks of rioting, it’s not so well known to Londoners, perhaps because the city has two similar incidents of its own. There’s Jean Charles de Menezes, the Brazilian man killed at Stockwell tube in 2005, and Mark Duggan, whose shooting in Tottenham in 2011 sparked off that year’s London riots. The bulk of Fruitvale Station  is just about a man going about his daily life – the point being that his killing is made all the more obscene by his sheer ordinariness.

Grant is no saint – he’s been in prison and is shown dealing drugs, albeit on a very minor scale – but he’s also shown to be a loving father and kind to strangers on the street, and even kind to stray animals. In this sense, the film is quite an innovative protest: it suggests that real people are rarely all good or all bad, and that situations are always more complicated than they seem. All this helps drive home the point that it’s probably not a good idea for the police to always carry guns. Perhaps this is obvious, but while such incidents still happen, films like this are important. If nothing else, it depicts everyday African-American suburban life, which is rare enough in cinema. And it also teaches this train-loving Londoner that the ‘BART’ is a type of connecting service on the Californian coast, similar to London’s Overground. It stands for Bay Area Rapid Transit.

* * *

Wednesday 25th June 2014. An aphorism by Don Paterson, which hits home:

Well, critic: fair criticism. But at the end of the day, she did; you didn’t.

(from The Book of Shadows, 2004)

* * *

Thursday 26th June 2014. The British Library’s ‘Treasures’ exhibition now has slightly different manuscripts on display. Gone is Angela Carter’s Nights At The Circus. In its place is a page from her Passion of New Eve instead. The notebooks of Beryl Bainbridge and Wendy Cope have been similarly usurped. Now there’s Hanif Kureishi’s diary, plus Olivier’s screenplay for his film of Macbeth, which was never made.

* * *

Friday 27th June 2014. There have always been film posters on the Tube, but in the last couple of years something’s changed. The quotes of praise can now be from members of the public, often on Twitter. ‘Brilliant! – @emmasmith1978’. It’s not just popcorn films, either. On the foyer wall of the Barbican Centre are projections of Twitter praise for Fiona Shaw in the stage play The Testament of Mary. Many of these quotes could well be made up, or planted by publicists. But then, professional critics are no strangers to bias either. Regardless, the phrase ‘everyone’s a critic’ is more true now than ever.

* * *

In Muswell Hill Sainsbury’s. A few days after England crashes out of the World Cup, there’s a rack of forlorn-looking England flag merchandise, all marked REDUCED TO CLEAR. Car flags, bunting, air fresheners, cups, plates. Prices from 9p.

Next to this is a display of more hopeful-looking pots of cream, branded with tennis balls, all set for Wimbledon. Thus the world turns.

* * *

Saturday 28 June 2014. One feels surrounded by festivities, or at least reports of festivities. If it’s not Glastonbury or the World Cup, it’s Pride. Despite bouts of rain, the Soho streets are choked with LGBT revellers. Old Compton Street is impossible to walk through: a mass of bodies, across road and pavement alike. ‘Rather Be’ by Clean Bandit blasts out from several bars as I pass – this summer’s ubiquitous dance hit. Charing Cross Road is closed off to provide a space for ambulances. As I walk down Manette Street, two green-clad paramedics run past me with an empty stretcher.

On Charing Cross I have to squeeze past another crowd, this time not for Pride but for a protest against animal cruelty. Outside the Chipotle Mexican Grill restaurant, activists are chanting: ‘Meat is murder! Stop the slaughter!’

* * *

I’m having problems with procrastination. One tip which many books suggest is to say to yourself ‘be here now’. It’s meant to bring a wandering mind gently back to the work in hand. Only this is unhelpful to anyone who remembers the British music scene in the 1990s. ‘Be Here Now’ just make me think of the third Oasis album, that defining symbol of Britpop excess and indulgence, where all the songs were too long and too over-produced. It’s a manifestly bad piece of work. So to say ‘be here now’ as a motivational tool is to say ‘think about that bad Oasis album’. It’s not helping.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
break

Full Course Thinking

Saturday 14th June 2014. A line from Woolf’s diary rings true at the moment:

‘What a born melancholiac I am… The only way I keep afloat is by working.’

I do have work to be getting on with – reading set texts for next year, starting on the final year thesis. But now there are no external deadlines to shape my time. I have to admit that this week has seen me struggling to not fall back into thoughts of despondency. On top of which, there’s all the football.

For lonely souls who do not care for football, there are in fact two types of loneliness. The usual kind, and the additional kind that comes with the World Cup. But defeated by the tournament’s ubiquity this week, I decide to try and join in for one night only. I watch England v Italy in my Highgate room. Or rather, I half-watch it on one computer window (as I have no television), while opening another window for Twitter. In the latter I post my baffled thoughts and read the live Tweets of others.

Fairly soon, I find the comments on Twitter are infinitely more interesting than the game. When there are goals, I miss them. So it is clearer than ever that my heart is not meant for football, and I must learn not to force my heart where it does not want to go. I certainly don’t begrudge something that brings happiness to so many others. Though in the case of the England fans, the happiness seems to quickly turn into masochism (indeed, England are knocked out of the cup during the first round).

The players this year are forced to wear dayglo coloured shoes, due to some sort of sponsorship deal. Sometimes a player wears a deliberately mismatching pair. This is meant to be a fashion statement, but instead it makes the sweaty millionaire in question look like a primary school child on his first day, still learning how to get dressed. In my case, the shoes just remind me that I need to stock up on highlighter pens.

As it is, I’m not really cut out for Twitter commentary either. What one is really meant to do is set up the home computer screen so a social media window is visible alongside everything else. Yet I can’t do this – I prefer switching between full screen windows, using the ALT and TAB keys. Perhaps this says something about the way my dyspraxic brain works. One thing at a time. Full course thinking only, rather than a buffet.

* * *

Sunday 15th June 2014. Father’s Day, the first since Dad died. I am reading about the fire at the Glasgow School of Art, where the Charles Rennie Mackintosh library was destroyed. A line from a Laurie Anderson track comes to me. It’s about her father, but it applies to my feelings about Dad as well:

When my father died it was like a whole library had burned down.

(from ‘World Without End’, on the 1994 album Bright Red)

I find a photograph of Dad standing in front of his Warholian collection of kitschy found objects. He displayed them in the living room using an old Post Office sorting cabinet, mounted on the wall. The names of the postal areas were still visible on the pigeon holes. The photo is from December 2009.

Brian Bib Edwards 08 08 14 c

* * *

In Hyde Park, I accidentally find myself surrounded by a dog show. It’s a muggy day, and I’ve decided to walk around the perimeter of the Serpentine by way of exercise. The dog show is in the grassy area on the north bank known as The Cockpit, where the Rolling Stones had their 1969 concert. There’s a series of tents and stalls selling dog-based wares, plus a couple of enclosures in the middle for canine parades and sports. One sport is Flyball, where the dogs jump over a series of little hurdles to collect a tennis ball from a box. The dogs do the actual sport very well, though they are less proficient at lining up quietly next to each other while awaiting their turn. The queue for Flyball is a mass of angry barking.

A sign by one stall: ‘Where Your Dog Would Choose To Shop’.

Another: ‘DNA Testing For Dogs’. This turns out to be a way of discerning the mix of breeds in a mongrel, rather than a doggy version of The Jeremy Kyle Show (which I would definitely watch).

The dog show is called, inevitably, ‘Hyde Bark’.

I walk from the Cockpit up to Victoria Gate, to try and see the Victorian pet cemetery there. It turns out that the cemetery is closed to the public, and is now part of the private garden attached to Victoria Lodge. An email to the Royal Parks reveals that one can book an appointment to visit the cemetery, but only at the cost of £60 an hour, for a party of six or less. And that’s assuming the residents approve the visit.

As it is, it’s possible to see a few of the hundred or so pint-sized gravestones from the Bayswater Road, if one peers through the hedge hard enough. Of the dead pet names I can make out, Spot seems to be very popular, followed by Rex. The words ‘dear’ and ‘little’ are everywhere: ‘In Loving Memory of Dear Old Spot’, ‘Dear Little Dick’, ‘Muffin, aged 15 years’, ‘Sweet Kitty Rose, Inseparable Companion for 11 and a Half Years’, ‘Dear Little Sally, Very Lovable Little Yorkshire of Florence C. Vary of Westminster’.

* * *

Tuesday 17th June 2014. To the ICA to see The Man Whose Mind Exploded. It’s a documentary about Drako Zarhazar, an elderly and eccentric man living in Brighton. His unconventional appearance – tattoos, shaved head, piercings, cloak, a moustache coloured by black poster paint – is accompanied by severe retrograde amnesia, the consequence of two road accidents. He can remember being a dancer and a model for Salvador Dali, but he cannot remember what’s been said to him a couple of hours ago. The title alludes to the way his mind has ‘exploded’ across his council flat. Drako’s rooms are packed with home-made mobiles, as in paper ones that dangle on strings from the ceiling. There’s memos and ‘to do’ messages, along with photos from his own past. But the far more attention-grabbing ones are the expressions of that other, more resilient part of the mind that exists beyond memory – sexuality. Whether attached or unattached to handsome male bodies, or aroused or unaroused, images of men’s dangly bits dangle everywhere.

George Melly once said that the waning of his sexuality with old age was like being unchained from a madman. In Drako’s case, his accidents have already left him unchained from memory, so his sexual urges have instead become something to cling to, like a guide dog of naughtiness. One scene that gets the ICA audience laughing is the reaction of a teenage plumber’s apprentice to Drako’s décorations. It’s a twist on the storyline of old porn films: a plumber comes to install a new fridge. Only this is real life, and the plumber’s mate looks utterly terrified.

Drako himself appears nude towards the start of the film, sitting on Brighton beach and discussing his tattoos. As the opening credits roll, the director Toby Amies appears from behind the camera, revealing that he too is nude. This scene means that The Man Whose Mind Exploded has something in common with Monty Python’s Life of Brian. They are both films where the director’s bare bottom makes a cameo appearance.

* * *

Wednesday 18th June 2014. I walk through Jermyn Street. The metal studs on the wide stone window sills outside Tesco, intended (they say) to discourage the loitering of aggressive drunks, have now been removed, following a public outcry. This started with the circulation online of a photo of similar studs, installed outside a block of flats in Lambeth. They were referred to as ‘anti-homeless spikes’, and were used as evidence of London’s architecture hitting a new low.

This was despite that (a) they’re not sharp enough to be spikes, and (b) such studs have existed in London since the 1990s. But somehow there was something man-bites-dog about the issue, because the Lambeth photo went viral. The Jermyn Street studs quickly became highlighted too, then newspapers got involved, and then politicians got involved. Our beloved Mayor issued a public condemnation of the studs, though he did so while ordering some anti-riot water cannon in the same week.

The latest Big Issue cover reads ‘Still angry at the anti-homeless spikes? Buy this magazine.’ I buy my copy from the vendor outside Euston station (older man, weathered face, Scots accent). There are rows of studs there too, on the ledge of the Number One Euston office block. The Big Issue article explains how the tackling of homelessness is rather more complicated than just removing a few studs here and there. More money needs to be put into shelters, and more housing full stop needs to be made available to those in need, as opposed to those out to make money.

Still, the studs at Lambeth and Jermyn Street will not be  missed. As I pass the Tesco window sills today I see office workers and tourists sitting where the studs used to be, quietly eating their lunch.

* * *

If you enjoy reading this advert-free diary, please help to ensure it keeps going by using the PayPal button below. Many thanks, and may good fortune go with you as you saunter.





Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
break

MC Escher’s IKEA

Saturday 7th June 2014. To the new Foyles bookshop at 107 Charing Cross Road. It’s a few doors down from the motley warren Foyles inhabited from the 1930s right up until last month. Number 107 is a more uniform space, being the former home of the St Martins School of Art, which is now at King’s Cross.

I’ve read that the old Foyles shop might become a hotel. Right now it’s a desolate shell. A lone security guard stands behind the glass doors, surrounded by bare walls and cardboard boxes. Despite the notices on the windows, some confused-looking people – possibly tourists – are banging on the door. So he spends much of his time passing on the same piece of information, via a combination of mouthing and waving: ‘GO NEXT DOOR. IT’S NEXT DOOR. NOT HERE. NOT ANY MORE.’

As I understand it, the actual amount of books on display is more or less unchanged. What’s different is that Foyles Charing Cross is now a lot better organised, more spacious, and more opened-out. It’s a bit furniture store-like, I suppose, complete with the smell of sawdust, but it’s still pleasingly labyrinthine too, with fixed staircases rather than escalators. MC Escher’s IKEA.

Ray’s Jazz shop is tucked away inside, with signs apologising for the late arrival of the shelves. The café on one of the upper levels has yet to be finished, but I can go up to see the space anyway, where there’s a superb view over the Soho rooftops.

A central London property turned into a huge bookshop rather than luxury flats is no small event. Foyles are not in it for the money. They see a future in physical bookshops, even now, and I salute their optimism. Blackwells across the road is closing, blaming the Crossrail development, while the excellent Foyles branch in St Pancras has had to close, apparently for not making enough to meet the lease. However, a branch of Hatchards is now to open in a different part of the station, so the day of the bookshop isn’t quite over yet.

Today there’s a long queue to get into Foyles, and the shop is soon packed. There’s the excited atmosphere akin to an Apple Store opening, if not quite on the same evangelical level (which would unnerve me).

Something else I admire, which it’s hard to think of other companies doing. Foyles are not only aware of the somewhat ‘mixed’ reputation they had under the eccentric Christina, they are even happy to single it out for customers today. One table labelled ‘Honorary Mentions’ displays novels that allude to the shop, and not always positively. From JM Coetzee’s Youth the display highlights this quote:

[Foyles] has proved a disappointment. The boast that Foyles stocks every book in print is clearly a lie, and anyway the assistants, most of them younger than himself, don’t know where to find things. He prefers Dillons.

* * *

Sunday 8th June 2014. To the Camden Head for ‘Z List Dead List’, a comedy show comprising mini-lectures about obscure historical figures. I go by myself but bump into Cat Rogers and her friends. Afterwards we go for drinks at The Spread Eagle in Parkway.

At Z List Dead List, the regular host is the very funny Iszi Lawrence, whom I adore. The guest speakers are Kate Smurthwaite, who does Mary Reed, a cross-dressing pirate; Pete Johansson, who does Pierre Trudeau, the Canadian Prime Minister who once dated Barbra Streisand; Tracy King, who does the Pompeii banker from the Cambridge Latin Course; and Richard Herring, who does Felix Yusupov, assassin of Rasputin. I find Ms King’s talk to be the funniest, despite her not being a proper comedian – she’s actually a producer of computer games and animations. I vote for the pirate woman, but Pierre Trudeau triumphs.

* * *

Tuesday 10th June 2014. To the Prince Charles cinema to see The Wind Rises, the latest animated film by Miyazaki. It’s set in the 1930s, about a young aviation engineer whose successes with the Japanese Air Force are marred by his wife’s tuberculosis. The moral question of a peace-loving person using his talents to aid warfare isn’t really addressed, though Miyazaki – himself a pacifist – makes it clear that all planes are beautiful in their own right. I think of Dad, another pacifist who liked tales of warcraft, and who would have loved this film rather more than me. War or no war, I’ve never found aviation history all that interesting. Still, like all Miyazaki’s work the film is aesthetically sublime, and the ending leaves me tearful.

* * *

Wednesday 11th June 2014. I receive the last mark for the third year of the BA English course. It’s 79, for a Fin De Siecle essay. So I’ve achieved what I was hoping for: a clean run of ten First Class marks throughout the year. Four of those were even High Firsts, ie postgraduate quality, something I never thought I’d achieve this early on.

The only competition is with oneself, of course. So this is rather a big deal for me. Last year my marks were constantly up and down. But now my highest essay mark in years 1 and 2 – 75 – has been my lowest essay mark in year 3.

It hasn’t been without obstacles, either. The work became more difficult (four modules rather than three, all at level 6 difficulty, as opposed to level 5 last year). Plus Dad passed away in February. It’s Father’s Day this weekend. I wish I could tell him how I’ve done.

The secret behind this improvement is, I’m afraid to say, very boring. It’s putting the hours in, and then spreading the hours across as many days as possible, so you don’t go too long without doing that kind of work. A couple of tutors have now approached me to consider doing an MA. Assuming I can get the fees covered by some sort of scholarship (which now looks possible) I think that’s what I’ll do. Till then, I have one more year of the BA to concentrate on.

* * *

In the evening: to Birkbeck in Gordon Square once more, for a talk by the writer and illustrator Joanna Walsh, aka Badaude. She discusses her stories in the collection Fractals, along with the campaign ‘#readwomen2014’, which she instigated to encourage people to read more female authors.

I ask Ms W about a tale of gendered publishing that’s always fascinated me: how Joanna Rowling was forced to adopt the androgynous ‘J.K.’ by her publisher, because they believed boys didn’t read books by girls (so much for Rosemary Sutcliff). She even had to invent the ‘K’ part of her name, because she had no middle name in real life. Ms Walsh points out how the recent Hunger Games books sold in huge amounts to boys, despite the author’s name being Suzanne Collins. So things have changed for the better there.

* * *

Friday 17th June 2014. Every time the World Cup comes around it seems more popular than ever. This is despite the inelegant millionaires of the England team still refusing to be any better at kicking a ball about than me.

[I write this up on Saturday afternoon to the sound of football too. A couple of boys are kicking a ball about in the road, despite cars passing every few minutes. I’m tempted to open the window and shout, ‘ISN’T THERE ENOUGH FOOTBALL ABOUT ALREADY?’]

Today I’m standing on one of the Northern Line platforms at Euston. As usual I glance at the dot-matrix board, which says how long the next train will be. Something new today, though. The bottom of the board clears, indicating that it is probably about to flash the words ‘NEXT TRAIN APPROACHING’. In fact it announces the latest score of Mexico v Cameroon.

 If you enjoy reading this diary by a slightly acclaimed yet penniless writer, please help support it, and indeed him, by using the PayPal button below. Many thanks, and may good fortune go with you as you saunter.





Tags: , , , , , ,
break

Gary Kemp’s First Wok

Saturday 31st May 2014. To the New Rose pub in Essex Road for Taylor and Sam’s birthday drinks. I chat to: Ella & Kosmos, Sarah Bee, Andrew Mueller, Suzanne, Seaneen & Robert, and Richard. The New Rose is something of a rock-fan compatible bar, with used festival wristbands dangling from the ceiling. It encourages festival goers to stop by on their way home from Glastonbury or wherever, and promises them a free drink in exchange for their wristbands.

* * *

Sunday 1st June 2014. To a birthday picnic in Regent’s Park (or THE Regent’s Park as it’s officially called now), this time for Martin Wallace. Martin sends me an invite in the post – first class, too. I recognise the illustration he uses: Mia Farrow in Broadway Danny Rose. The weather is sunny, the park teeming with picnicking people, wandering toddlers, panting dogs. I’ve known Martin on and off since – and we work this out today – 1995. It was at Erol Alkan’s indie disco, ‘Going Underground’, at Plastic People in Oxford Street. Since then he fronted the band The Boyfriends, and more recently did the very same course at Birkbeck as me: BA English. He finished it just as I was starting. We bumped into each other in the student bar on the day he had his final exam. Since then we’ve stayed in touch, and he’s given me lots of invaluable study advice, which I in turn pass on to my classmates, ‘paying it forward’, as they say. Some things haven’t changed, though: we rave about the latest Morrissey record, ‘Istanbul’.

* * *

Tuesday 3rd June 2014. To the ICA to see The Punk Singer, a film-length documentary. It’s about Kathleen Hanna, who fronted the Riot Grrrl band Bikini Kill in the 1990s, and then the electronic group Le Tigre after that. The topics discussed are deserving of a much wider audience than fans of Ms Hanna’s music. For instance, there’s the various issues of women in music, not just as artistes but as audience members. It reminds me of the clichéd media image of female fans at rock festivals – a girl sitting on a boy’s shoulders in the crowd. Every year, the press coverage of Glastonbury seems to include such an image. There’s rarely any asking of why it is a cliché. No addressing of how women might have a hard time getting a decent view of the band.

But Ms Hanna was known to stop her own gigs and demand that the men get out of the way and let the women move down to the front. The gigs are now over twenty years old, yet the idea is still provocative and relevant. Everyone with the slightest interest in rock and pop music should see this film.

Here’s a quote from Ms Hanna which stayed with me:

‘When a man tells the truth, it’s the truth. But as a woman, when I go to tell the truth, I feel like I have to negotiate how I’m perceived.’

I don’t think that feeling is limited to the world of indie bands.

* * *

Wednesday 4th June 2014. I read The Year of Reading Dangerously by Andy Miller. It’s a guilty pleasure: a book about books which I read when I know I should be instead reading the very books he discusses (ie good novels). The idea behind this one is that it’s an account of finally tackling all the classics Mr Miller has lied about reading for so long: Anna Karenina, War and Peace, Middlemarch. Much of Mr Miller’s childhood and taste is close to mine: he includes his schoolboy Puffin Club bookplate, which gives me a Proustian shudder, and is a fellow admirer of Sondheim’s Sunday In The Park With George, though he goes on the defensive about liking musicals (no need; be proud!). I am even familiar with ‘I Start Counting’, a Basil Kirchin song from a Truck Records compilation, which Mr Miller uses to wake up to.

After conquering his self-prescribed list of books, he says it hasn’t necessarily made him a better person; all that’s changed is that he can say he’s read those books. And being well-read is certainly no protection against literary errors. ‘Reader, I married him’ is not a quote by Jane Austen. It’s from Jane Eyre, by Charlotte Bronte. Mr Miller has got his Janes in a twist.

* * *

Thursday 5th June 2014. Something of an Edwards family day. In the morning I am a guest on my brother Tom’s music programme for Soho Radio, which broadcasts on the internet from a café on Great Windmill Street. Tom’s remit is mainstream rock, metal, goth and punk. I wear the Sebastian Horsley suit, partly because it plays up the Soho factor, but mainly because SH was more into that sort of music than me. So in tribute to him, I play three of his favourite songs, as listed in some editions of Dandy In The Underworld: ‘C’mon and Love Me’ by Kiss, ‘Double Talkin’ Jive’ by Guns N’ Roses, and ‘Personality Crisis’ by the New York Dolls.

Here’s the other songs I play, comprising my own favourite noisy records:

- My Bloody Valentine – When You Sleep (their concerts can damage the ears, yet their records can soothe and even heal; a friend used them to recover from a mental breakdown. She could only listen to MBV. The comfort of white noise.)

- Dressy Bessy – Girl You Shout! (love the muttered ‘sorry!’ at the 2.55 mark. More records should apologise for themselves.)

- Xiu Xiu – I Luv The Valley OH! (the volume of the screamed ‘OH!’ still impresses)

- Nirvana – Sliver (my idea of heavy metal; love how the guitar noise at the beginning always comes in at the moment you least expect)

- Pale Saints – She Rides The Waves (femme sweetness in butch noise)

- David Bowie – Queen Bitch (how an influential artist is himself a praise singer of his own influences – Velvets in this case)

- Dinosaur Jr – Just Like Heaven (the most irritating ending in rock)

- Bikini Kill – Rebel Girl (which opens The Punk Singer)

- Dresden Dolls – Girl Anachronism (my idea of a favourite ‘goth’ song, I suppose)

- Pixies – Gigantic (by coincidence, Tom was going to play this anyway. We are Pixies-brothers!)

* * *

In the evening: to Carlyle’s House in Chelsea for a talk by my mother. It’s on the story of quilts and the art of quilt-making. The evening is a marriage of two worlds for me, as the event is organised by Suzette Field of the Last Tuesday Society, who have booked me as a DJ on countless occasions for the last few years. A third world is present too, in fact, as I am still wearing Sebastian Horsley’s suit.

I’ve been reading about ‘female only spaces’ on Twitter, and Mum’s event reminds me that the issue is not new in the slightest. Women have used quilt-making as a way of securing time away from men for centuries. The only men in the audience are myself and Russell Taylor, Suzette’s partner. Mum is an engaging and eloquent public speaker – indeed, she’s done this sort of thing all over the world for years. I don’t know if TED Talks have quilt makers, but if they do, they need to book my mother.

Carlyle’s House is a painstakingly preserved Victorian home, once domain to Thomas Carlyle, he of the London Library. Who to compare him to today – a public intellectual who had the great and the good to tea? A more party-giving Will Self? Clive James? Melvyn Bragg? Certainly if Carlyle were alive today, he’d definitely have his own TV chat show. It’s a reminder that a house has a third use these days, after a machine for living in and a machine for making money (at the expense of those who just want somewhere to live). It can also be a vital machine for teaching, in this case about the way we used to live.

At the talk, the National Trust custodians serve wine. But they only allow white wine, not red, and you can’t take drinks into the upstairs rooms. So I have yet to visit the upstairs rooms.

* * *

Friday 6th June 2014.

To Ronnie Scott’s for a lunchtime event about Soho and songwriting, part of the ‘Soho Create’ festival. David Hepworth interviews Gary Kemp, the songwriter of Spandau Ballet, and Tim Arnold, once of the 90s band Jocasta, and now a devoted songwriter about Soho per se.  Mr Kemp says that he was the lead actor in a Children’s Film Foundation film, long before he was a pop star. I look this up afterwards – the film in question was Hide And Seek (1972).

A quote from Gary Kemp at this event: ‘I remember when I started mixing with middle class boys. It was when I saw my first wok.’

* * *

I receive two further marks from the  BA English course, both of which finish off their respective modules. For my piece on Jane Austen and William Beckford, I get 77. This makes an overall grade of 76 for the ‘Romantic Age’ half-module: a First. For my essay on Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled and the film Inception I get an 80, making my overall grade for the ‘21st Century’ module also an 80. So a First there too.

I just have the last ‘Fin De Siècle’ essay to come back and that will be the whole third year graded. I know I shouldn’t judge the year until I get that last mark. But I’m very, very, very pleased about it so far.

* * * 

If you enjoy reading this refreshingly advert-free content, please consider donating below. Help the penurious Mr Edwards feel he has Worth.





Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
break

A Noted Woman Of Noise

Friday 23rd May 2014. The results of the local elections are in. My ward’s three seats (Highgate ward, in Haringey) all went to the Lib Dems, just as they’ve done for decades.  But it’s a more impressive feat this time, given the party’s current lack of popularity nationally. A post-election map of Haringey usually has a block of red to the east (for Labour, where the wards are poorer, such as Tottenham), with a block of yellow to the west (for the Liberals, where the wards are wealthier, such as Crouch End and Highgate).

Today the block of red is still in place, but the block of yellow is covered in grey. The western wards’ council seats have been split between different parties. Only one ward has remained yellow: my own Highgate.

So low is the Lib Dems’ popularity nationally that their leader, the aspartame-like Mr Clegg, is fighting off calls to resign. But around my street, they could set fire to kittens. They’d still get on the council.

(That said, in the 2012 mayoral election, my ward chose the Tories’ Boris Johnson over the Lib Dems’ Brian Paddick. The unconvincing Mr Paddick must have been a loyalty too far.)

Am more pleased by the result a few blocks away, in the other Highgate ward; the bit of Highgate that falls under the boundary of Camden Council. Camden’s only Green Party seat is there, now retained by Sian Berry. The three Lib Dem candidates all came last. It’s a very London feeling: the reverse of anything only a few streets away.

* * *

I’m walking through the reception of Birkbeck’s School of Arts, Gordon Square, when one of the porters calls out, ‘Thanks for the mention in your diary!’ This is Bernie, who retrieved my lost sheet of essay notes the other week. ‘I don’t know where you find the time to write it,’ he adds. I blurt out something about it being a hobby. Like indoor rock climbing, only more strenuous.

* * *

Saturday 24th May 2014. I’m reading All She Wanted (1996) by Aphrodite Jones, lent to me by Becky Boston. It’s a ‘true crime’ book about the Brandon Teena case, the story which was then turned into the Hilary Swank film, Boys Don’t Cry. According to Ms Jones, there’s no evidence that the name ‘Brandon Teena’ was properly adopted by Brandon himself, despite its usage in the film, and in Ms Swank’s Oscar acceptance speech, and indeed on Wikipedia today.

What is definite is that at the time of his murder, Brandon was living as just that, ‘Brandon’. He tried to avoid referring to the ‘Teena’ on his official ID whenever possible, sometimes pronouncing it as the more male-sounding ‘Tenna’, but only when questioned. So my feeling now is that it might be more respectful to refer to him as ‘T.R. Brandon’, or as the one-word name of ‘Brandon’, a la Morrissey. Still, ‘Brandon Teena’ at least signifies maleness, and that’s the main thing.

* * *

Sunday 25th May 2014. I stay up and watch the European Parliament election results come in. The UK map turns UKIP purple. It’s the first national election for about a century where the triumphant party is neither Conservative nor Labour. This is meant to signify an ‘earthquake’ in British politics, but in fact 65% of the electorate didn’t use their vote at all. It’s a landslide for indifference.

In order to feel less depressed, I tell myself the purple bits on the election maps are really a victory for Barney The Purple Dinosaur. The children’s TV character, who just wants to hug everyone.

Still, the Greens have added a third MEP to their two. The Lib Dems, meanwhile, only just hang onto to one.

* * *

Tuesday 27th May 2014. To the ICA to see the film Exhibition (£3). The screening is packed. This is rather apt, as it’s such an ICA-compatible film that it even has a scene set in the ICA cinema. In a dream sequence, Ms Albertine is seen attending a Q&A there, in which she is both onstage being interviewed, and in the audience watching herself. If there’s an award for Most Arthouse Film Moment In An Arthouse Film, that has to be a strong contender.

Exhibition, as the name suggests, is an arthouse film about actual artists and their actual house. The musician Viv Albertine plays a Cindy Sherman type, all performance and props and use of her body, while Liam Gillick (an artist in real life) plays her live-in partner, who does something unfathomable involving computers. Tom Hiddleston also pops up briefly as an estate agent, in a film that couldn’t be further from The Avengers and the Thor films if it tried.

Apart from the ICA scene, the main location is the couple’s modernist-style Kensington home, one with sliding panel walls, plate glass windows and polished wooden floors, the kind that forces visitors to take their shoes off on entering. For the most part, the film is the house: a minimal story in minimalist architecture. The soundtrack delights in ambient noises – footsteps on floors, doors opening and closing somewhere out of view, making the house into a speaking character.

The irony about Ms Albertine’s character is that her art may be about exhibiting her body, but she herself is withdrawn and non-communicative. Before the film begins, there’s a trailer for a documentary about Kathleen Hanna, the American punk singer. The trailer is stuffed full of women’s noise and women’s voices. Viv Albertine is a punk rock woman too, being the guitarist in The Slits. Yet you’d never know it from her performance in Exhibition. A noted woman of noise, steeped so entirely in silence.

* * *

Wednesday 28th May 2014. I sit in the Barbican centre, reading. Opposite me is a group of young students playing about, possibly drama students on a trip. More girls than boys. They must be over twenty years younger than me, but I recognise certain types that existed when I was their age, and which presumably will always exist. There’s the class clown – stealing girls’ bags and running around with them (‘Kevin!’). After that he sits down and plays that slapping game with one of the girls. It’s the game with the hands pressed together as if in prayer, daring the other to move first (what was that? did I ever do it?). Another girl is doing kung-fu kicks in the air. Two more slide down the bannisters.

Then there’s the class Casanova, a confident boy with perfect stubble who seems to be holding a girl on each knee. And the class Ophelia, a hippyish girl who sits on the ground far too quickly – despite the filthy carpet  and the perfectly good spare seats. There’s also a butch girl in a black t-shirt and Trilby hat, marching about purposefully with a hand-rolled cigarette in her lips, looking for somewhere to smoke.

Then I notice them staring at me staring at them, and I move. To use their slang, observational diarists are the worst.

* * *

I am invited by Shanthi S to the Genesis cinema in Whitechapel, there to see Fading Gigolo. The cinema is so cheap – £3.50 for a new mainstream film on Mondays and Wednesdays. So we use the money saved to have an equally cheap meal at a Chinese restaurant, a few doors along the Mile End Road. Shanthi brings her friend Rosie, who runs a vintage clothes stall. She loved Under The Skin, not least because, like Scarlett Johansson, she too is a woman who drives a large van around. Full of vintage clothes, rather than naked Scotsmen, though.

Fading Gigolo is written and directed by John Turturro, who stars in it alongside Woody Allen. The story is very unlikely – Mr Turturro is an escort for various glamorous women – and it doesn’t quite hold its funny bits together with its more serious bits – Vanessa Paradis as a widow, whose depression is healed by Mr Turtorro. But the funny bits are very funny indeed, most of them given to Mr Allen.

* * *

Thursday 29th May 2014. To the Birkbeck student bar in Torrington Square, for end-of-year drinks with some fellow students: Elton, Finola, Ralph, Tim, Kerensa. The bar’s on the fourth floor, and we go outside onto the open-air terrace. Though the sun’s out, we have to use several piles of napkins to mop up the rainwater from the chairs. I seem to be the only English student present to not have done the Milton module, which the others all rave about. Three years as a literature student, and I still am no closer to feeling well-read. Always more to read. Always more to feel behind about.

* * *

Friday 30th May 2014. I finish reading Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis. The passages on drink and hangovers are superb, as are the sudden fantasies of violence against those who irritate. But it’s not quite the comedic experience I was hoping for. Perhaps because I have little sympathy with a teacher who hates teaching – I feel more for the students whom he lets down. And yet I’m keen to read more Amis, for the prose style and the wit, if not for the cruel characters.

I also want to know more about Michel, Professor Welch’s effeminate writer son with ‘long pale hair’, who only appears right at the end. In the introduction to the Penguin Modern Classics edition, David Lodge comes close to apologising for Amis’s treatment of women, saying the character of Margaret would effectively have her own story told by the next generation of female authors. But I want to read Michel Welch’s story too.


Tags: , , , , , , ,
break

Choose Your Own Adventure

Saturday 17th May 2014. Hot and sticky in London. The British Library café is still very busy: lots of students testing each other on their revision. I’m polishing my final essay for the year, adding a few more secondary references, checking the whole essay ticks the right boxes, and then just re-reading it for grammar and general flow. I’m forcing myself to do six drafts this time, one draft per day. Whatever the mark is, at least I know I’ve put the hours in. It wasn’t so long ago that I left essays until the night before the deadline. That’s simply unthinkable now.

* * *

Sunday 18th May 2014. The Boogaloo bar now has a little den in the back yard, decked out entirely with references to the Tony Scott / Quentin Tarantino film True Romance. It’s called ‘Alabama’s’.

* * *

Tuesday 20th May 2014. To the Barbican to see the The Two Faces of January. A mere £5 for students on Tuesdays. It’s my first visit to the centre’s new Cinema Café building in Beech Street, two blocks away from the main Barbican complex. The venue consists of two cinema screens (officially the Barbican’s Cinema 2 and 3) and a large, not-too-trendy café. There’s plush high-backed chairs and sofas, and lots of tables for laptop users. And indeed, for exam revision groups, of which there’s several in evidence today: young people huddled over textbooks and ring binders.

It’s warm weather, and I watch The Two Faces Of January in Cinema 2 while wearing my cream linen suit, now getting somewhat threadbare and needing replacing. As it happens, the main character in the film, played by Viggo Mortensen, wears exactly the sort of suit I’m after. I miss whole sections of the plot due to staring at the suits. But that’s as good a reason for seeing a film as any.

It’s a very old fashioned film: a Patricia Highsmith adaptation, set in 1962 across Athens, Crete and Istanbul. The usual Highsmith elements are present and correct: morally dodgy men in sunny locations, arguments that quickly turn into violence, crime as a kind of filler for holes in masculinity, and subtexts of male-on-male obsession. The only 21st century thing about it is the warning of adult themes on the BBFC certification card, which precedes the film:

12A: Contains infrequent strong language, moderate violence & scenes of smoking.

* * *

Wednesday 21st May 2014. I finish and deliver the essay, thus ending my college work for the third year. The courses I chose for this year were all essay based, with no exams whatsoever. I don’t miss exams in the slightest, but I do miss the sense of a dramatic finale that they can create.

At Birkbeck, all essays have to be delivered electronically, via a link on the college’s website. But most of the tutors still ask for a paper copy as well. The student must print one out and take it to a special post box, being a slot in the reception of the Gordon Square building. And this is the case for today’s final essay. So I do get a little sense of an ending after all – it’s the moment when my fingers let go of the envelope when I drop it into the post box. Gone. Done. Third year over.

I now have no deadlines hanging over me for the first time since December last year, and won’t have to think about new ones until October this year. So I’m looking upon the next week or so as a proper holiday. Albeit on a budget. I have no money to travel, so it has to be a holiday in my own bedsit, punctuated with the cheaper pleasures of London. This suits me fine, though. Free time can be luxury enough.

* * *

In the evening: I attend a free Birkbeck event at Waterstones bookshop, Gower Street. It’s a talk with Travis Elborough about his various non-fiction books, including A London Year. The host is Joe Brooker, one of the head tutors on my English programme. He comments how A London Year might be best read by using the index in the back to choose different themes, rather than reading it linearly from start to finish. Though he doesn’t use the term, to me this makes A London Year a good illustration of the city as hypertext. Hypertext is now woven into so many day-to-day lives that it’s easy to forget about its usage as a metaphor. It’s the navigation of a large mass of material by cutting a path through the layers, pushing through the text via a lateral dimension.

On the Web, the hypertext element is the choice of one’s own reading path by clicking on links. Likewise A London Year, when read via choices made in the index, and likewise London itself. You have to take your own forked path through the many worlds and layers of the city, in both space and in time. Piercing the palimpsest.

Perhaps my own generation might think of hypertext theory in relation to those Choose Your Own Adventure books of the 1980s. You didn’t read them from start to finish; you chose links to different sections, and so produced your own text. What, after all, is the appeal of London but as a giant game of Choose Your Own Adventure?

***

Thursday 22nd May 2014. Heavy rain and thunderstorms. Possibly because it’s World Goth Day and Morrissey’s birthday.

I go to Jackson’s Lane Community Centre to vote. Two elections this time. One is for the European Parliament, one for local councils. I am the only one in the polling station. On the internet and in the news it feels like everyone is interested in politics. When you actually go to vote, it feels like no one is.

* * *

In the evening I go to the Muswell Hill Odeon for The Curious Incident of the Dog In The Night-Time, one of the National Theatre’s ‘Live’ screenings. It’s my first time to such an event. For the last few years, the NT has teamed up with cinemas to screen live broadcasts of their plays at the South Bank. Or in this case, a synchronised repeat screening of a past live broadcast. It’s an inspired solution for those who like theatre but can’t make it to the NT, as there’s the theatrical sense of a shared, one-off experience to the screenings. It’s not quite like being in a theatre, but neither is it a normal trip to the cinema.

In this case, the recording of the Curious Incident play is from 2012, during its original setting at the NT’s Cottesloe space. The audience are arranged on tiers, looking down onto a stage in the round.  The play uses a lot of choreography aimed at a vertical view, to such a degree that at times it’s like a scaled-down Busby Berkeley film. The stage is marked out in tiny squares like a maths exercise book, and there are so many intricate projections and lighting effects – not to mention live animals – that the technical rehearsal must have gone on for days. The recreation of the A Level Maths question from the end of the novel is quite brilliant – a seamless blend of acting, direction, animation and sheer nerve. Mum has gone to one of the screenings in Suffolk, so we discuss it over the phone afterwards.

* * *

Late night: I watch a little of the election coverage on TV. Some election-speak: ‘No overall control’. It’s one of those phrases which I feel is somehow criticising me personally. Like ‘approval needed’ at the supermarket.


Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,
break

The Best Thing About You Is That You Remind Me Of Me

Friday 9th May 2014. This week’s work: drafting the final essay for the third year. For me it’s the most difficult part of the process, the writing from scratch. Once it moves into the editing and polishing side of things I’m far more confident.

When I edit, it’s like the text has been supplied by someone else – the Dickon Edwards of a few days before. This Dickon used to get upset when Dickon The Ruthless Editor butchered his work, cutting whole paragraphs and moving them around. But now he accepts that his raw creativity must look its best for the reader. Perhaps in my case editing is like putting an awkward body into a nice suit. With a bibliography as a pocket square handkerchief.

I’ve tried to bring this latest essay right up to date by discussing The Grand Budapest Hotel. Wes Anderson’s film uses a triple frame device about authors. The effect lends credibility to the surreal tale which takes up most of the film. It’s the storyteller as authority figure, which goes back to the Canterbury Tales, the Arabian Nights and the Indian Panchatantra before that.

One theory why the ancient love of stories-within-stories went out of fashion is the Renaissance’s focus upon the individual, as a unified, separate whole. What’s changed now is that people are encouraged to see themselves as splinters of a community again, albeit the virtual community of the internet. Instead of nested narratives we have networked narratives. One especially sees this on Twitter, where the urge to ‘retweet’ takes us right back to sharing tales around the campfire. Except that the campfire is now the size of the world.

* * *

To the basement of the Atlantis Bookshop, in Museum Street, for a private view. The exhibition is Stephen Harwood’s ‘Visions of England’. The paintings are landscapes in vivid and fiery oils. What’s unusual is that Harwood has not visited the places himself. Instead, they are recreations of stills taken entirely from the films of Derek Jarman, particularly The Garden (1990) and A Journey To Avebury (1971). Mr Harwood makes the connection between the Neolithic standing stones of Wiltshire and Jarman’s driftwood posts, punctuating his shingle garden at Dungeness.

The Atlantis Bookshop specialises in the occult. A poster announces that its next event is the launch of a pack of Tarot cards based on the stories of Sherlock Holmes. Fan fiction, just as Harwood’s paintings are Jarman fan fiction. But then, fan fiction is an occult practice in itself: the alchemy of transforming old magic into something new.

* * *

Saturday 10th May 2014. To the National Portrait Gallery with Mum, for the exhibition David Bailey: Stardust. The photographer as party animal. It’s a huge exhibition that takes up the entire ground floor of the NPG. Many of the photographs are blown up to beyond life-size. The one that sums Mr Bailey up is a portrait of him with Salvador Dali. Dali too liked being around celebrity and glamour as much as he did making art, but then party-going is an important art form too, if it’s the right party.

There’s also a magazine cover which puts the young Bailey next to Cecil Beaton, with quotes by each one upon the other. To his credit, Bailey is thoughtful and accurate about Beaton’s talent. Beaton just uses Bailey to talk about himself. ‘The best thing about you is that you remind me of me.’

* * *

Monday 12th May 2014.  I have a phone landline in my home, but like a lot of people I mainly use it for access to the internet. If I do make the mistake of answering the phone, it’s nearly always a sales team. I realise there are services to prevent these calls, but I’ve tried them all. I still get the calls.

The person on the other end always begins their onslaught with ‘how are you today?’ It is the most depressing phrase in the English language. Not ‘how are you’, which a friend might say, but ‘how are you today’. Only the cold world of commerce adds the ‘today’.

I used to reply to this with ‘Well, Dear Heart, the ‘how’ that I am today is considerably less happy, now that I‘ve realised your sole interest in me is for my money, and not, as I was hoping, for the beauty of my eyes.’ But now I just hang up and put on the answering machine.

* * *

Tuesday 13th May 2014. To the Barbican cinema to see the film Frank. It’s my first visit to the cinema (now retitled Cinema One), though I’ve been going to the Barbican centre since a school trip in 1983. Back then, the Barbican’s brass banisters produced a loud crackle of static under one’s hands, something which provided endless pleasure for us children. We were really there to learn about the changing face of London, coupling this visit with one to the Museum of London next door. But the lesson which most remained was that statically charged banisters are a lot of fun. The banisters are now long gone. Or perhaps, long properly earthed.

The cinema screen is on floor Minus Two, on a level beneath the underground car park. As it was opened in the early 80s it makes me think of nuclear bunkers, Protect and Survive, and Threads. I wonder if it was ever on a list of places in which to take refuge during a nuclear attack. It wouldn’t be so bad, stuck down there as the bombs fell. A capacity of 280, a bar and an ice cream kiosk.

The film Frank turns out to be highly enjoyable and inventive, though the ending is incredibly sad. It’s the tale of a young Englishman – based on Jon Ronson, who co-wrote the script – who joins an eccentric American rock band, where the lead singer, Frank, constantly wears a huge papier-mâché head. There’s lots of ingenious uses of Twitter and You Tube – it’s possibly the first film that successfully depicts online life in that way. The young Englishman is played by the likeable ginger boy from About Time, while the man inside the fake head is Mr Fassbender, who has a track record of playing troubled yet charismatic men – he was Mr Rochester in Jane Eyre. The intrigue of the film is, as the ginger boy says, to work out ‘what goes on inside that head, inside that head’.

At the end, the film announces that it was inspired by the cult comedy-rock star Frank Sidebottom. It should add, ‘but only a little’. As Mr Ronson’s accompanying book Frank explains, there’s also aspects that draw on the story of Daniel Johnston. And there’s bits of Captain Beefheart and The Shaggs in there, too.

The film’s Frank is, like Johnston, a child-like Texan with mental health problems. Sidebottom, on the other hand, was a fictional character from the Manchester suburb of Timperley, played by a man who may have been devoted to his art, but who certainly didn’t live with the head always on. And Sidebottom was as much defined by his nasal Mancunian accent as he was the head.

In 1991 I witnessed Chris Sievey performing Frank Sidebottom for Marc Radcliffe’s BBC Manchester radio show. The head was nowhere in sight. Instead, there was just a brown-haired, ordinary-looking man in his thirties, speaking in a radio studio, albeit with a clip on his nose.

As it is, the real Frank Sidebottom has already appeared in a film. In Filth, James McAvoy watches an old Sidebottom TV show, then impersonates the voice for a phone prank.

* * *

Thursday 15th May 2014. I’m in the café of John Lewis, with its views across rooftops. As I wait to pay for my pot of tea, a man in a suit comes over to the cashier from the table area. He complains that none of the available tables have been cleared of their dirty cups. Moments later, he comes over again, this time asking for a wet cloth with which to clean a coffee stain on his shirt. He adds that this was their fault, as it was caused (somehow) by his trying to move the dirty plates while he was still holding his own tray. Shortly after that he comes over again, this time because his food isn’t hot enough. I look around. There are plenty of empty tables, with no dirty cups on them.

There is a moment when I wonder if he is acting for a hidden camera prank, so great is his umbrage. Or that he is doing it as part of a ‘social experiment’, which is really just a prank with a good lawyer.

When I used to watch those Jeremy Beadle TV shows, I envied the reactions of the people who were duped. Not their reactions as the prank was going on, but their reactions afterwards, the expressions of relief when all was revealed. I wondered if some people reacted more like me. Their confusion might turn not to relief but to even more confusion.

‘You don’t understand, Jeremy. I have a slippery enough grasp on reality as it is.’


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
break