Fish Of The Day

Sunday 10th August 2014. I chat with Mum over the phone. She’s busy, giving classes and talks on quilt making all over the country, most recently at the NEC. Tom has now built her a website as a kind of shop window. It’s her first ever web presence. The URL is www.lynneedwardsquilts.com.

* * *

Monday 11h August 2014. To the Boogaloo to watch Lea Andrews perform with Sadie Lee, as part of the Blue Monday gig night. An evening of seeing old friends. Charley Stone is there, Charlotte Hatherley too. This is my only socialising this week; the rest of my time is spent in the British Library in St Pancras, communing with the dead.

Currently re-reading Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Last read when I was a teenager. This time round I’m older than Winston Smith. I’d forgotten that he has varicose veins; something I’m rather familiar with now. The themes are more relevant than ever, as evidenced by Edward Snowden’s mention of the novel in his Alternative Christmas Message last year. Fear of state surveillance, the removal of privacy, the state control of information, the daily get together to hate something for the sake of joining in (thus anticipating Twitter), war being used to keep populations suppressed, bad entertainment doing the rest of the suppression. Orwell’s prose style surprises me with its simple, unfussy realism. Stylistically, it could be written today. The only 1940s anachronism I pick up is the usage of ‘dear’ by the two lovers.

But slang comes around too. ‘Oh my days’ sounds pure Dickens. I’ve heard it used by all kinds of young people in London now, and by some not so young people too. A friend says it derives from Caribbean patois. So I wonder if it came from the effects of the Empire before that.  I like the idea of slang being exported across lands, passing through social groups, then returning after more than a century, like the orbit of a comet.

* * *

Tuesday 12th August 2014. Robin Williams dies. It’s thought to be suicide. A lot of discussion online of depression and the eternal archetype of the sad clown. My local cinema, the Phoenix, is putting on a screening of Good Will Hunting, as a benefit for the Samaritans.

People on Twitter have taken tribute selfies, standing on tops of desks, holding up signs saying ‘O Captain My Captain’. This is a reference to a scene in Dead Poets Society, the words taken from a poem by Walt Whitman. My band Orlando did a similar tribute in 1996, for the video to ‘Don’t Kill My Rage’. We even dressed as schoolboys and filmed in a beautiful old private school. And we stood on the desks.

I can’t think of the Dead Poets motto ‘carpe diem’ now without recalling a joke from I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue:

Carpe diem: Fish of the Day.’

What a range of work Robin Williams left behind, though. Particularly given his problems. Some roles wacky (Mork and Mindy, Good Morning Vietnam), some serious (Dead Poets Society, Awakenings) some sinister (Insomnia). In theory I should have found his comedy style irritating, but the sheer speed of his invention always impressed me. Completely over the top, yes, but also completely out of the blue. Where did that ability come from? It seemed utterly unearthly – hence Mork.

His big, rubbery, Punch-like features seemed to also fit that other extreme of emotion – sentiment. There’s something very Victorian about that mix; the need to complement the uproarious with the lachrymose. Knowing that Williams was built to erupt into loud comedy made his restrained roles all the more watchable. The energy had to be channelled into reverse. He’s perfect for The World According To Garp, as the quiet centre in John Irving’s outlandish parade. I also like him as the murderous author in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia, or the avuncular gay radio host in The Night Listener (based on Armistead Maupin), or the nightclub owner in The Birdcage, teaching Nathan Lane how to act more manly. In one scene they try discussing sports like heterosexual men. Or so they imagine:

WILLIAMS: (putting on manly voice) Al, you old son of a bitch! How ya doin’? How do you feel about those Dolphins today?

LANE: How do you think I felt? Bewildered! Betrayed…! (looks at Williams, wrist returns to limpness) Wrong response, right?

WILLIAMS: I’m not sure…

* * *

Wednesday 13th August 2014. London begging. On the tube today, a man gets on and promptly goes round the carriage carefully placing wrapped packets of pocket tissues (the Handy Andies type) on the empty seats next to each passenger. There’s also a piece of paper with each packet. Presumably it contains his written appeal for money, in return for the tissues, along with some detail of his circumstances. I say presumably because I don’t pick up a packet, and neither does anyone else. The British are so obsessed with taking the least embarrassing action in public as it is. Added to which, the London tube carriage is a place of non-action, of retrieving into yourself, of trying not to exist. Not the best place to ask for money.

The tissues man waits silently at one end of the carriage for no more than a minute. Then he goes round again, this time retrieving all the packets of tissues and paper notes and putting them back in his shoulder bag. He gets off at the next stop.

* * *

Thursday 14th August 2014. To the Phoenix cinema in East Finchley, for the film Lilting. It’s a low-budget piece in which Ben Whishaw acts his absolute socks off. He plays a grieving gay man trying to befriend the Chinese mother of his late partner. The added complication is that she speaks no English, she didn’t know her son was gay, and she lives in a London care home. Peter Bowles also appears (he of To The Manor Born and Only When I Laugh), playing an elderly Lothario. The film is emotionally tense, yet tender and quiet, and is clearly a labour of love. I recognise one of the locations: the canal towpath near the south end of Mare Street, in the East End.

* * *

Friday 15th August 2014. Today’s new word is ‘hoyden’. It means ‘a boisterous girl’. A dated expression, declares the Concise Oxford Dictionary. I’m introduced to it by a line in Brigid Brophy’s book Black and White: A Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley (1968):

 ‘Are they female fops, these personages of Beardsley’s: female dandies: female effeminates, even? Or are they male hoydens, male tomboys, boy butches?’

The book contains some of Beardsley’s sexually explicit art from the 1890s. More grotesque than titillating, I’d have thought. Yet the British Library keeps its copy of Black and White in the Special Materials collection, the place for anything very valuable or very naughty. As the book isn’t that rare it must be Beardsley’s rudeness that qualifies. To read the library copy a while ago, I had to sit at a special desk in the Rare Books Reading Room, within view of CCTV cameras and library staff. I was not allowed to leave the book unattended, not even to go to the toilet. They might as well call the desk the Table of Shame.

Thankfully, Faber have now reprinted Black and White as part of their Faber Finds series. Today I pick up a copy from Gay’s The Word bookshop in Marchmont Street. I take it home and enjoy it behind closed doors, where the Big Brother eyes of the British Library cannot watch me.


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Waking With Anita

I’ve written a piece in the New Escapologist, issue #8. It’s about Fun. The issue is available now: you can click here to buy it.

***

Christmas and New Year exploits: a lot of essay writing, or essay avoiding. But I still managed to do the following.

Christmas Day 2012: Fed the ducks in Waterlow Park once again (every year since 2001, I think). With Ms Silke once again too, though this year she’s moved. No longer in Highgate but Holloway, and she walked all the way to Highgate and back to do the duck feeding with me. We stood by the pond and drank mulled wine from a flask and ate chocolate reindeer, which looked suspiciously like Easter bunnies in a different foil wrapper. Ms S is still working at Archway Video, but it now looks likely that it’ll close for good sometime in 2013. Physical DVD libraries are struggling in the era of iPads, Netflix, TV catch-up services, iTunes and so on. A lot of Highgate customers have sensed this might be AV’s last Christmas, and have sent the shop a record number of Christmas cards this year. After we fed the ducks, Silke opened up the shop and showed me them all, including a card from Ray Davies of the Kinks. She lent me three DVDs: Cabin in the Woods (because I like Joss Whedon), Die Hard (because it’s apparently a good Christmas film), and Five Year Engagement (because I like Emily Blunt and romcoms).

Saw two of the three. Die Hard isn’t really my cup of tea, and isn’t that Christmassy really. But I’m glad I finally saw it, just in case I turned out to be an action movie fan on the sly. Alan Rickman steals the show, purring his way through the gunfire.

Cabin In The Woods: Loved its quips & sheer nerve. Much closer to Buffy (which I love). Pure Joss Whedon in tone, even though he only co-wrote it. Plays with the idea of cheating the audience out of the ending they think they want. Clever, cheeky, self-aware.

Boxing Day: Lavish meal and drinks in Crouch End courtesy Suzi Livingstone. Chatted to Anna Spivack and Suzi’s New Zealand friend Dianne. Discussion about NZ music: Headless Chickens, Chris Knox. Argument over whether Crowded House count as a New Zealand or an Australia band. ‘Well, the talented ones were from New Zealand…’

Thurs December 27th: To the Stapleton Tavern near Crouch Hill for Alex Sarll’s birthday. Dozens of people there. I ended up promising to attend the Joanne Joanne gig the next day, at least three of whom were at this gathering (Charley Stone the guitarist, Jo Bevan the singer, Other Jo whom I don’t know but who is an excellent bassist). Joanne Joanne is an all-female band who only play Duran Duran songs – but mainly their lesser known, more interesting songs. ‘Because the real Duran Duran are forced to do all the hits.’ I love that the name isn’t just a pun; there really are two Joannes in Joanne Joanne.

Friday 28th: Joanne Joanne at the Lexington: brilliant, particularly on ‘Hold  Back The Rain’, ‘The Chauffeur’ and ‘Planet Earth’. Chatted to Deb Googe of MBV, who says the new My Bloody Valentine album might really, actually, really, no honestly, come back, be released in 2013. Also spoke to Kirsten, Lea Andrews, Katharine Gifford, Kevin Reinhardt, many others. Hung around with Sophia Wyeth as she DJ’d downstairs till chucking out time. Drank  too much and probably annoyed people. Woke up the next day with the amnesia and paranoia of such indulgence. Realised I was sharing the bed with an old Anita Brookner novel, which I don’t remember acquiring.

Other people wake up after a drunken night out having somehow gained a traffic cone or a torn poster from a wall or indeed a person. I emerge with an old Anita Brookner novel.

It’s very good, though: Lewis Percy.

Sat 29th: DJ-d at the Coronet in the Elephant & Castle for the Last Tuesday Society. Was still very hungover from the night before, and didn’t stay long after finishing at midnight. Think they enjoyed my DJ-ing. Had a few drinks by way of hair of the dog, but resolved to take a break after this night.

Monday 31st: Met Laurence Hughes for tea at Forks, on the other side of Highgate hill. Very nice sofas, hand made mince pies, cheap pots of tea. Watched the Jools Hootenanny to see my brother Tom playing guitar with Adam Ant’s band: so very proud of him.

Tuesday 1st: Dinner with Ella Lucas in the Turkish bistro – Bistro Laz – on West Hill. Just what I needed: was going a bit mad with all the essay worry.

Since then, it’s been essay work, or feeling ill (third cold in two months, varicose vein pains), or putting off essay work then making myself even more ill when I realise how behind I am. Thankfully today was productive purely down to making myself a timetable with reasonable goals in each session, then sticking to that.

A wish for 2013? I’d like it to be the year when I finally feel like I’m ‘right’ in my life. (to which a friend said, ‘That’s how everyone feels!’) The college course is great, but it’s not meant to be my whole life. I need to do more – and I want to do more. The trick is to timetable it all. Like this: I wrote ‘9.30-10.30pm: diary catch-up’, and here it is. Seems so silly.

Have promised to lay off alcohol for a couple of months. Teetotal since December 31st and counting.

(Sorry that this is too long. Not sorry that I got it done…)


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On Being An Academic Muse

Saturday May 21st: I manage to honour three invitations in one evening. First: Sam Carpenter’s birthday drinks at The Constitution pub in Camden (7.30pm-8.15pm), then Charley Stone’s birthday concert at the Silver Bullet venue in Finsbury Park (8.45-9.30pm), before heading to the Phoenix in the West End to be guest DJ at How Does It Feel To Be Loved, where I stay till it ends (10.15pm till 3am).

Afterwards: I walk all the way from Oxford Circus to Archway. Nearly 4 miles. Partly because I need the exercise, partly because I’m drunk, but also because I like to avoid night buses whenever possible. I feel utterly safe walking the streets of Central and North London in the dead of night. It’s night buses that can be an ordeal.

Ms Stone’s night  is ‘Charlapalooza’, featuring performances from the Keith TOTP All-Stars, the Deptford Beach Babes and the Abba Stripes, all of whom she plays guitar for.  Her present from David Barnett is a huge poster of her own Rock Family Tree, linking all the bands she’s played in over the years. Fosca is one of them.

Also at the gig are other London Rock Women of note: Charlotte Hatherley (Ash, Client, solo), Debbie Smith (Echobelly, Curve) Deb Googe  (My Bloody Valentine),and  Jen Denitto: once of Linus, now drumming for the Monochrome Set.  Jen D says I’m directly responsible for her being in the MS, via singer Bid’s other band, Scarlet’s Well.

I get a vicarious thrill hearing of friends’ gig-going and gig-playing, as if they’re carrying on with All That so that I don’t have to any more.  From the reports of the Suede shows this week, to news of my brother Tom, who’s currently touring as guitarist for Adam Ant.  I don’t envy his guitarist success (never feeling like a proper guitarist myself), but I do envy his earning a living from doing something he loves, and travelling too. Particularly Paris. The last time I was in Paris was a Fosca gig in 2001 – a marvellous floating venue in the Seine. I have a real urge to go again. Here’s hoping a reason to do so presents itself. Or better still, the money to go there presents itself.

Still not much luck in finding a regular source of income. Offers of work from kind friends keep falling through, from paid blogging to film reviews. I’ve pitched articles to the Guardian without even getting a reply, which makes me feel some random self-deluded lunatic. Maybe I am. But at least I’m a well-dressed random, self-deluded lunatic.

***

Last Wednesday I was invited to Treadwell’s Bookshop, now in a new location off Tottenham Court Road. The event was the reading of an academic paper by Dr Stephen Alexander, titled ‘Elements Of Gothic Queerness in The Picture of Dorian Gray.’ Stimulating stuff, reminding me just how rich Wilde’s novel is. You can link it to so much these days: the tragedy of a young man who doesn’t age pops up in Twilight and the new Doctor Who, for instance. Dr Alexander focussed on the theme of coveting yet resenting objects for their static nature: something that certainly connects with today’s obsession with worshipping the latest version of a must-have gadget. In fact, posters for the original iPad showed Dorian Gray as an example of an e-book to read on it. I’d love to know what made them choose it.

Not only was I delighted to be invited, but it turned out Dr Alexander – whom I didn’t know until now – actually dedicated his paper to me, after my appearance in Eliza Glick’s book Materializing Queer Desire.

I’ve never had an academic paper dedicated to me before. It’s so flattering. And it helps to remind me that I might not be the complete  waste of space the Job Centre insists I am.

Problem is, they’ll say, one can’t earn a living from being a muse.

Well, unless you’re in Muse.

My DJ set at HDIF:

  1. Stereolab: Peng 33 (Peel session version
  2. Carole King: I Feel The Earth Move
  3. The Shangri-Las: Give Him A Great Big Kiss
  4. Chairmen Of The Board: Give Me Just A Little More Time
  5. The Wake: Carbrain
  6. The Chills: Heavenly Pop Hit
  7. The Siddeleys: You Get What You Deserve
  8. Dressy Bessy: If You Should Try To Kiss Her
  9. Camera Obscura: French Navy
  10. The Smiths: Ask
  11. Spearmint: Sweeping The Nation
  12. The Pastels: Coming Through
  13. Le Tigre: Hot Topic
  14. Prince: Raspberry Beret
  15. The Supremes:  Stoned Love
  16. Ride: Twisterella
  17. Stereolab: French Disko
  18. Blueboy: Imipramine
  19. Sister Sledge: Thinking Of You
  20. Nancy Sinatra: These Boots Are Made For Walking
  21. April March: Chick Habit
  22. Shirley Bassey: Spinning Wheel
  23. Gloria Jones: Tainted Love
  24. Mel Torme: Coming Home Baby
  25. Dexys: Plan B
  26. Orange Juice: Blueboy
  27. Blondie: Rapture (a tribute to the real Rapture in the news)
  28. Felt: Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow
  29. The Cure: Boys Don’t Cry
  30. Style Council: Speak Like A Child
  31. Labelle: Lady Marmalade

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A Watched Livejournal Never Boils

As part of my birthday present, Dad sends me a package of old and curious books and bookmarks. One vintage bookmark is an advert for toothpaste (or rather, ‘dental cream’), in the shape of the product itself. Double-sided, too.

The toothpaste company is ‘Kolynos of Chenies Street, London W.C.1.’ I’m looking at this at home when Charley S texts me with a proposed meeting point for tonight, close to where she works: Chenies Street. No signs of any toothpaste companies there today. Just the Drill Hall venue, home of gay plays and BBC radio recordings.

From there we walk to the Artspace Gallery in Maddox Street, Mayfair, to see an exhibition by the Stuckists. Excellent paintings, though frustratingly without any labels to indicate artist or title.

Still, Ella Guru’s Last Supper is unmistakable. It really should be put on permanent display at the Tate Modern, given it’s a chronical of all the Stuckist types – Billy Childish et al.

Close-up detail here.
Annotation by Ella here.

Ella’s portrait of Debbie Smith with her collection of snuff boxes is another highlight.

More at Ella Guru’s site: www.ellaguru.org.uk

Am also impressed by Peter Murphy’s rendition of rock stars in the medieval Russian icon style. He uses your actual egg tempera and gold leaf on gessoed panels.

Taken from Peter Murphy’s website here.

My favourite work in the exhibition is Paul Harvey’s ‘Charlotte Church’ (2006). I love his clean lines style.  A touch of 1890s art nouveau mixed with 1960s psychedelia.

Taken from www.paulharveypaintings.com

***

Charley buys me dinner at Yo Sushi in Woodstock Street nearby, and I do what normal people call ‘catching up’. I’ve learned that whenever you look away from a friend’s blog or Facebook updates, that’s the time all the big events in their life happen. Moving to a new country, splitting up with their other half, getting together with a new one, getting married, getting divorced, babies. Always the last to know. As Del Amitri once sang. I know useless things like that.

If in doubt, I just assume people I’ve not heard from in a while have either moved to Berlin or had children. Or both. Seems to be the popular options.

Today’s lesson: A watched Livejournal never boils.

Also in Yo Sushi, Charley says hello to Rob Ellis, drummer with PJ Harvey and umpteen other notables.

Thinking about trendy musicians in Yo Sushi reminds me of the first time I went to one of these places. It was in the late 90s, in the then-new Poland St branch, as the guest of Nick ‘Momus’ Currie – a lover of all things Japanese – and Anthony ‘Jack’ Reynolds. Anthony kept trying to put the empty plates back on the conveyor belt, to get away with not paying, but was stopped by the more law-abiding (and I suppose, less rock and roll) Momus.

Actually, Momus’s cousin is the singer with Del Amitri. I really wish I knew less of these sort of things and more things that actually mattered.

We talk about the stress and strain of what to do on one’s birthday. Charley suggests I contact Seaneen Molloy, whose birthday is Sept 4th, the day after mine. She suggests we organise some sort of joint party.

***

On the overground train from Liverpool Street to Cambridge Heath, I bump into Marc Samuels. Marc tells me how he’s just interviewed one of his heroes, Andy McCluskey from OMD.  A new OMD album is doing the rounds. Original line-up, a tour in the offing.

In the midst of our 80s synthpop chat, a cartoonishly large spider suddenly scuttles across the carriage floor, prompting a yelp from a female passenger. The doors open at Cambridge Heath, and I expertly kick the blameless arachnid out into the gap between train and platform. The woman smiles at me as I get off. I have the glow of a Useful Gentleman. I’ll be putting up shelves next.

Used to have something of a phobia about spiders. Clearly no longer. Though downing a large bottle of sake helps.

***

Onto Wynd’s Little Shop Of Horrors (11 Mare St, E8) for a private view. Zoe Beloff – ‘The Adventures Of A Dreamer by Albert Grass.’ The moment I enter, I hear ‘Dickon! You know about Momus, don’t you!’

Wynd’s shop has a range of decadent and cult books, including titles from Dedalus and Atlas, plus several copies of ‘Lusts Of A Moron – The Lyrics Of Momus.’ Some customer was surprised that other people knew about Momus at all, hence the utteration.

Also at the private view is Robert V, boyfriend of the aforementioned Seaneen M. So that’s my message to her sorted out.

Zoe Beloff’s show is a sequence of comic book-like panels inspired by one Albert Grass, who apparently founded the Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society in the 1920s. According to Ms Beloff, he tried to have the resort’s Dreamland attraction rebuilt as a kind of Freudian theme park. He also created a journal full of oneiric images, which comprise this exhibition. Just how much is Ms Beloff’s own imagination and how much is Grass isn’t clear. I wonder if Grass himself is in fact her fictional avatar.  Regardless, I like the panels of dreams, particularly this one with a small badger whispering ‘Je t’aime! Je t’aime!’ in Grass’s ear.

Zoe Beloff: www.zoebeloff.com


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