Mind The Westwood
Sunday: Mother’s Day. Chatted on the phone to Mum in Suffolk (Dad recovering from a sudden drop in his condition last week). Bought Mum a Chet Baker CD box set from HMV Piccadilly. It’s a kind of double souvenir of history: a recording of the past, purchased in a shop that will also shortly be a thing of the past. Certainly the last time one can buy a CD in Piccadilly Circus.
My brother Tom, meanwhile, has appeared in Guitar Player magazine, talking about playing with Adam Ant.
London still freezing. Spent Sunday reading Toni Morrison’s Beloved for the college course.
Discovered Somerset House’s newish East Wing cafe. It’s open late even on Sundays, provides free refills for pots of tea, has nice staff, and lots of seats. CD music playing – techno-y instrumental fare- not too annoying. Hardly anyone about today: the ice rink has gone, but the lit-up summer fountains aren’t yet in place.
Also spent time in the ICA café. In the ICA, one often sees a few obvious-looking tourists on the way back from Buckingham Palace, who just come in to use the toilets. At the moment such tourists have to walk past an enormous Juergen Teller nude photograph of Vivienne Westwood.
A sketch of me from 2003, by Jason Atomic:
Credit: Jason Atomic. http://jasonatomic.co.uk
Travis Elborough tells me that he found a passage in my diary from June 2002 which now seems to anticipate the social media saturation of 2013:
‘When I first started this diary in 1997, when the Internet was in black and white, when you could leave your wife unlocked and still get change from a fiver, online diaries were a comparative novelty. I was even something of a Minor Internet Celebrity by default. But now these things called “web logs” or “blogs” (I do hate that word) are everywhere, and everyone is crying out like at the end of Death Of A Salesman: “ATTENTION MUST BE PAID.”
‘Before the Internet, people knew full well they were simply one of billions. They just didn’t let it bother them too much. Now, they go to their computers, log on, gaze out at a sea of a billion faces and find out to their horror that the world doesn’t revolve around themselves after all. And it terrifies them.’
Mr Elborough has an intriguing new book out: London Bridge In America. There are reviews at his website: http://traviselborough.co.uk/
, college reading
, jason atomic
, somerset house
, spot the Sherlock quote
, travis elborough
Fanzines Full Of Women
I’ve written an article for the New Escapologist magazine, issue #8. It’s about the increasingly troubling nature of how to be happy when you’re a fortysomething non-conformist man (for want of a better epithet), via the Beach Boys, Stewart Lee, and Top Gear. You can order it here:
Recent outings: Saturday 8th December was spent visiting the Queer Zine Fest in Kennington. I was surprised that paper fanzines were produced at all in 2012, never mind zines with queer and feminist themes. As I discovered, there’s plenty of people making such zines, and plenty more keen to buy them: there was a healthy amount of attendees at the festival.
I wanted to buy and read pretty much all of the zines on display. Even though some of them were quite old – 90s back issues of Girlfrenzy for example – the majority of offerings were written and printed in the last year or two. So I decided to implement a rule: try and buy the latest zine on each stall, until I run out of money. My favourite is probably the Patricia Highsmith zine, Strangers In A Zine, but I also liked the concept behind Binders Full Of Women, a womens’ poetry anthology in the shape of ring binders, each with a different handmade cover. The title was a reference to a rather infamous statement made in October by the Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. I loved the contrast between this seemingly redundant format of expression – the paper fanzine – and the quotation from the world of 2012 politics.
For more on Queer Zine Fest (which will return next year), go to:
Today: am struggling under a heavy cold that I’ve had on and off for three weeks: possibly two different colds in tandem, if such a thing is possible. The work required for the college course has become particularly intense. I’ve found that as soon I’ve got to grips with the reading for one of the three concurrent modules, I’ve trespassed on the time I should have spent on the reading for the other two. The second year of a course is akin to a Difficult Second Album phase: the novelty has worn off, the freshness has gone, and one is left trying to remember how to do it – whatever ‘it’ is – all over again.
In the first year, the course felt more like a single concern that happened to be made up of three modules; now it’s like trying to juggle three demanding projects at once. And then write essays on top of that. I also have a couple of projects that are meant to be my ‘real work’ at the moment: a little book on Polari someone else has asked me to write, and a book I’ve asked myself to write. But time leaks away at the cruellest of speeds whenever one wants more of it. I find I barely have enough time to do the college course. Or at least, do it well.
Tuesday 11th December: Along with some fellow students, I attend a production of The Tempest, at the Lion And Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town. The venue is new to me, despite having lived up the road for eighteen years. It’s certainly invisible from Kentish Town High Street: one has to walk down a quiet residential road and look for a pub, then look inside the pub for a theatre. The company, Grassroots Shakespeare, gets its actors to direct themselves; there’s no single director. This means Prospero seems to be from one imagined production (Northern gangster – a kind of whispering Yorkshire De Niro), Ariel from another (loud, wacky, Batman costume, a bit Jim Carrey), while Miranda could be in a more traditional BBC Shakespeare in the early 80s, and so on. Still, it’s never dull, and when the song Full Fathom Five is followed with a rendition of Lionel Richie’s Three Times A Lady, no one is in the least bit surprised.
The Ninth Week
The college course is into the ninth week of its Difficult Second Album phase. Tonight at Gordon Square we discussed Goethe’s Sorrows Of Young Werther, and the nature of solipsism in literature. This reminded me of a philosophy joke:
Q: How many solipsists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: One. He holds it still and the whole world revolves around him.
An email asks me to elaborate on why I called London “the most complicated metropolis on earth” in an entry about the Mayoral election.
I suppose I was thinking about its organic patchwork of buildings, where the streets – in defiance of Mr Bono – are a clutter of historical names, compared to the tidily numbered grids of New York and LA. How it has medieval streets (streets older than whole countries) as the addresses of very modern tower blocks, like the Gherkin on St Mary Axe. And how it’s constantly struggling to stay a modern metropolis on top of all this history – coping with old streets not built for new traffic, trying to bring its ancient Tube and rail networks up to date with the rest of the world, all of that. There’s also the complicated social structure, with its extremes of wealth and poverty often squeezed together on the same block; the problems which gave rise to the riots in August 2011, while elsewhere in the city luxury flats are continued to be built, purely to make money rather than actually house people. These are difficult problems to solve, because it means stepping in and forcing those who have wealth, property and power to give some of it away. And there’s a big palace with a Royal Queen in it. Who is in charge, and yet isn’t in charge. It’s hard to explain why. Everything just about manages to co-exist. Just.
So I think that’s what I mean by complicated.
A new take on old history. During a lecture on Chaucer, the tutor points out that the Peasant’s Revolt isn’t called that any more. It turns out that it wasn’t all about peasants (there were rival factions of noblemen involved too), and they didn’t technically revolt. Instead, it’s now called the 1381 Rising.
That’s the trouble with learning facts: you have to check they don’t change behind your back.
Notes On Wanderlust
Managed to get up at 9am this time, though I think I spent most of the morning reading things on the internet, which is still no good.
For some reason, much of today was reading about male writers who moved to different countries. I stumbled on the blog of Karl Webster this morning. He pretended to be that ‘Ugly Man’ blogger a few years ago (I do find confessions of internet fakery fascinating). Right now, though, he is having adventures living with cats in a French forest. Or at least he says he is.
(I don’t think anyone’s accused me of making up my own persona to write this blog. As it is, I already look like a fictional character in real life. Even my hairdresser said my too-long hair was like a bad wig…)
I also started reading Geoff Dyer’s Out Of Sheer Rage, and found myself laughing aloud on the Tube as a result. It’s his account of trying to write a book about DH Lawrence, and failing, and details all the procrastination and dithering and hindrances that occur along the way. At the start, he has the chance to move house to write the book, and can’t make up his mind where to go. Not just which area, but which country. This makes him sound quite privileged and fortunate, but his experiences are far from blissful. Early on he goes from Paris (too pricey) to Rome (too hot) and then spends six weeks on a beautiful Greek island, only to discover that after the first few days all the beauty puts him off writing, or doing anything at all. Apart from killing wasps. It’s very funny, and the procrastination thought-processes feel very familiar (Of course, I’m reading this book instead of getting on with my own writing).
I also read a Paris Review interview with the Cloud Atlas novelist David Mitchell, another British writer who’s lived in different countries: Japan and Ireland in particular.
So naturally I found myself thinking about how I’ve only ever lived in the UK (Suffolk, Bristol, London) and wondering whether I could or should give living abroad a go. I don’t have the immediate financial means to do so, but that never seems to stop people I know. Once determination takes over, they just find the money and get the sort of work which can be done on a laptop anywhere, or they take an English teaching job in the country they want to live in.
I don’t think I could do it alone. It would have to be through some external opportunity – such as the decisions of a partner (Dyer’s girlfriend in the book is an American with a flat in Rome). But I’m not the partner sort of person… (and if this were a film, the great relationship of my life would start in the next scene).
Tangier is one place I’ve thought about a lot, having gone there three times and being an ardent fan of its bohemian history. The summers would be difficult, though, given my aversion to heat – I even find London too hot in the summer. Stockholm is another favourite city which I’ve had some happy times in. So if we’re talking sheer fantasy, I’d quite like to try ‘dividing my time’ as they say on book jackets, between Stockholm and Tangier.
But who am I kidding? I’m such a Londoner. One thing I love about London is how I can suddenly decide to see a recent-ish film in a proper cinema and know it will be playing somewhere. Today I fancied seeing Midnight In Paris, the Woody Allen film. It’s been released on DVD now, but there was still one cinema showing it this evening – the Odeon Panton Street. About 50% full, too.
Quite apt to see it so soon after The Artist, given it’s another love letter to the 1920s. The Owen Wilson character is a gushing fan of Paris during the Jazz Age, with its writers and artists – much like I am with the Tangier of the 50s and 60s. Through a bit of handy time-travelling, he gets to meet all the great names of the era before deciding which timezone – and which woman – he truly belongs to. Pure wish fulfilment (and the story is not entirely unlike the premise of the TV sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart), but a lot of fun. The actor playing the young Ernest Hemingway is particularly good, and in his brief scenes he threatens to steal the film.
Any film that expects its audience to get the following joke is fine by me:
“Wow, was that Djuna Barnes I was dancing with? No wonder she wanted to lead!”
, midnight in paris
What Have You Done Today, Dickon Edwards?
I’m far too good at hibernation, especially in freezing weather. Today I woke up at about 1pm, even though I’d fallen asleep at a reasonable time during the night. To my horror, the whole morning was gone. And I don’t even feel better for the extra sleep physically – I’ve found that sleeping too much makes you feel ill too – you get a kind of sickly headache. I really must make sure I get up properly tomorrow morning, however cold it is.
Managed to get some things done, however, including finally working out how to scan my article for the Sunday Express, on letter writing. The paper is too large for my A4 scanner, and it took me forever to work out how to join two image files and make a new one. As you can see, I still haven’t done it very well, but it’s readable:
It was published two months ago, but I wanted to put off mentioning it here until I was paid, which happened last week (I was told it would take that long). This was, after all, my first proper freelance paid writing job. As in paid decently. Because my bedsit-renting outgoings are meagre compared to the average person, if I could get just two such writing gigs a month I’d be able to call myself a Working Writer – just about. Three such articles a month and I’d have an income from a job I’d actually be happy with, and could even afford to save. So I need to pitch for this sort of work more often.
Writers often talk about the day their first cheque from a publisher or newspaper arrived – that heart-lifting moment of a dream fulfilled, of a future laid out. I certainly felt very good about the article being published, particularly because they gave me a byline photo.
Sadly, today I had to spend £25 of my proud earnings on a transport penalty fare.
I went to the Museum Of London Docklands this evening in order to attend a screening of Paul Kelly’s films made with Saint Etienne, Finisterre and What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day? This meant a rare trip on the Docklands Light Railway from Bank to West India Quay station. On the way back, I didn’t realise I had to ‘touch in’ my Oyster card at one of those voluntary scanning pads you have to look for, rather than at a barrier, which I’m used to. In fact, I found the station confusing enough as it was. I had to run up and down the same steps twice to find the right platform, as there’s two branches of the DLR going through it. The thought of touching in my Oyster card didn’t occur to me – I was too preoccupied with working out where the hell I was meant to be.
On the train there was a TFL ticket guard, to whom I presented my card with confidence. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d done something wrong. Or rather, not done something right. He scanned my card, told me I hadn’t touched in at the station, and said that this meant I had to pay a penalty fare of £25.
I was pretty upset and angry about this. Particularly as I was clearly – visibly- an easily confused visitor who had unwittingly made a mistake rather than a knowing fare dodger who had been caught. Fare dodgers don’t present their ticket to a guard confidently.
Plus my Oyster card history would prove I’m someone that doesn’t use the DLR regularly. Plus I’m medically forgetful these days, what with the dyspraxia diagnosis. My brain isn’t as connected up as most people’s.
But the guard’s sympathy only ran to not charging me the full £50 – and he said I was lucky he didn’t do this. I paid on the spot, not wanting to create a scene.
Still, the penalty fare slip has details of how to write an appeal letter to try and claim the money back, and that’s what I’ll do. I’ve poured so many thousands of pounds into TFL over the years, so I do hope they can let me off for making this one very human mistake.
Apart from that little unhappy epilogue, I otherwise had a lovely evening at the Paul Kelly screening. Mervyn Day is a portrait of the Lea Valley just before the Olympic Park bulldozers moved in, filmed in a very 1970s Children’s Film Foundation sort of way. One the best bits is the voice of an old Hackney Wick bloke saying “There should be signs for dogs”. As in for them to read.
I chatted to Paul Kelly himself on the train home. He was a witness to my run-in with the TFL guard, and very kindly stood up in my defence.
Some happier news. This week I had two further marks back from my BA English degree course. One was 70, the other was 71. That’s two Firsts – just. It’s proof that despite the dyspraxia, I can clearly do good work. I feel a lot less stupid and useless. Even if I do forget to touch in my Oyster card sometimes, I can be relied upon to write a decent essay about Coleridge.
, paul kelly
, saint etienne
, sunday express
Had my weekly session today with the college mentor. It’s a kind of student-friendly therapy, checking I’m coping okay with deadlines, adapting to the campus world and so on.
Bumped into Clayton L & Clair W in the ’34b’ cafe on the corner of Old Compton St and Frith St. Like Bar Italia nearby, it’s one of those tiny old fashioned cafes in Soho that somehow always has a free seat, or rather a free stool.
Other cafe haunts today, while reading my set texts for college: the basement cafe in Waterstones Piccadilly (usually after I’ve been to the London Library), the crypt in St Martin’s (a perfect place in central London for meeting one’s parents), and Bar Bruno in Wardour Street, where Sebastian Horsley used to eat; very much a part of Old Soho.
Tonight: saw the new Stewart Lee show, ‘Carpet Remnant World’ at the Leicester Square Theatre. Lots of the usual deconstruction of his own comedy and attacking sections of the audience for not being quick or clever enough. What’s new is that he ends with a poignant piece of surreal storytelling, the kind he’s not done since the ‘Pea Green Boat’ show some years ago. His best show yet, I think.
Clayton L showed me the cover of his new book, Goodbye To Soho. It features a portrait of Sebastian H by Maggie Hambling. Deliberately unfinished, as if he’s melting into the ghost world:
, Clayton Littlewood
, Sebastian Horsley
, stewart lee
Those SEO Gold Mine Blues
I have something of a recurring headache, which I think is part of a sinus-y head cold, but that’s still no excuse for going for days without writing. If I’m going to start a degree in the Autumn, I have to nip this particular bad habit in the bud, or else it’ll be a waste of everyone’s time.
I’ve written an article about the history of the Bohemian Bedsit for the New Escapologist Magazine, issue #5. Did lots of Proper Research, so hopefully readers will come away All The Better. It can be purchased at http://newescapologist.co.uk/shop/
I’ve also been invited to give a 15 minute talk at The Camden School Of Enlightenment on May 10th. My contribution is called A Field Guide To Fetishes. I’ll be discussing the strange and wonderful words given to lesser-known naughty inclinations, such as tripsolagnia, the sensation of arousal from having one’s hair shampooed. The event is free. More information at http://www.csofe.co.uk/
Money! I am contacted out of the blue by someone who does ‘SEO’ advert placing. As in Search Engine Optimisation. It’s a phrase that currently crops up all the time in job ads: the skill of getting a company’s website ranking high in Google searches. My diary has a certain value in the SEO stakes purely by lasting so long. If you start a blog in 1997, by 2011 there’ll be so many links to it scattered around the Web, your Google ranking will be high by default. It’s one reason why searching on Google for ‘Dickon’ will get this diary first, ahead of anything to do with The Secret Garden or that Dickon out of the Tindersticks who does music for Oscar-nominated films. Like some grizzled prospector of the Wild West, I sit here on top of my SEO gold mine, awaiting offers.
First up this month is an offer from a business card company. They want me to add the phrase ‘business card’ to one of my more popular diary entries, and link this ‘search term’ to their website forever. In return, they pay me twice my weekly rent. I do it. As it is, I use the company already, so no moral dilemmas there. It’s hardly Iggy Pop and his irksome car insurance puppet.
If you’re reading this and can help me exploit this accidental asset, please do get in touch. I rather like the idea of this diary finally earning me a living.
Today: I sit in a St Pancras cafe and write a letter on headed notepaper snaffled from the Oxford And Cambridge Club. It has an unmarked entrance on Pall Mall, and is where my kind friend Minerva Miller took me for lunch last Friday. Such a beautiful place. No mobile phones allowed, high ceilings, ornate lounges and dining rooms, billiard rooms, squash courts, plush sofas everywhere, phones with which to order a gin and tonic, newspapers and magazines, green baize tables, chess boards, and library rooms with high-backed armchairs to fall asleep in. One room is decked out in more feminine decor: champagne gold & emerald green, alongside rooms in the more traditional gentlemen’s club colours, burgundy and brown, the rooms of scenes from Yes Minister.
Last Thursday night, March 17th: I look after the house and hound of Linda Seward. The house is in Primrose Hill, stuffed with books and art and no TV, while the dog is Rhum, a 15-year-old Border Terrier who’s a little hard of hearing. Rhum is pictured here by Ms Seward:
Saturday 19th March: I meet up with La John Joseph, who has a new pop persona, Alexander. We visit the Robert Mapplethope exhibition, as curated by the Scissor Sisters, then walk through Soho to have tea at Fernandez & Wells in Beak Street. JJ and his bright red raincoat get him stopped twice to have his picture taken by those ‘street style’ photographers that lurk on every Soho corner. They’re not interested in me. I wonder if I’m starting to look more normal.
Also today: I stop off at the Boogaloo and meet Mr Jupiter John, who says kind things about my diary, buys me drinks and gives me cash to become a Diary Angel. At the bar I meet Ms Kate McGann, actress and cousin of those various McGann acting brothers. She’s just appeared on the TV dating show Take Me Out. The same edition included Ms Marysia Kay, actress and actual witch, who starred in a pop video for my website host Rhodri Marsden, which I also popped up in. I say all this to point out what a connection-fest the Boogaloo is.
Elizabeth Taylor dies. I dig out my CD of Elizabeth Taylor In London (played in the Boogaloo when I DJ’d there). It’s the soundtrack to her 1963 American TV special, where she’s filmed swanning around the capital’s landmarks in various Dior ensembles, all to a swooning John Barry score. Occasionally she stops to recite London texts, chosen herself. They include Wordsworth’s Westminster Bridge, Queen Elizabeth I’s Speech to the Troops at Tilbury, and Churchill’s VE speech to the crowds in May 1945:
You have been attacked by a monstrous enemy but you never flinched or wavered. No one ever asked for peace because London was suffering. London, like a great rhinoceros, a great hippopotamus saying “Let them do their worst. London can take it.”
London could take anything.
, La John Joseph
, Oxford And Cambridge Club
, SEO hustling
What To Give William Blake
Lots of moaning to myself lately.
A request from the singer-songwriter Lettie. Would I like to play guitar and sing for her at a gig in a few weeks’ time? I tentatively agree. Last night: she comes to the Boogaloo, buys me drinks and lends me an acoustic guitar.
This morning I try playing the thing. It’s the first time there’s been an instrument in my home since I sold them all 18 months ago. I think it’s also the first time I’ve picked up a guitar since the last Fosca gig in Sweden, Spring 2009.
I’d like to say my fingers fall easily onto the guitar and it feels like coming home. Not a bit of it. The strings cut into my fingers and it hurts and I’m not sure I feel like a guitarist any more. But then, I’ve always found acoustic guitars so much harder to play than electrics. I decide to try again later.
This week I upload my CV onto a job-matching website. It returns just one vacancy. Street fundraiser. Also known as ‘charity mugger’ or ‘chugger’. ‘Do you want to develop your interpersonal skills?’ says the ad. By which they mean, do you want to annoy innocent passers-by and risk being punched fully in the face? I sympathise with the people who do this job, but it doesn’t change my moral opposition to it.
A couple of friends say I should just take any job going. But I can’t do what I can’t do. It’s like asking a man with vertigo to clean the windows of a skyscraper. He could do it, but he wouldn’t last and he wouldn’t be at all happy.
Not that I’m happy being on the dole. As soon as I think I’m managing, something comes along like a dental check-up bill –even at the NHS level – and I have to cancel all going out for the next fortnight.
Here’s hoping something comes along soon.
On top of this I’m angry at my shoes. New smart flaneur-ing boots, a present from my parents, who were appalled that I couldn’t afford to replace my disintegrating old pair. Although they fitted okay in the shop, they’re still pinching my feet painfully after ten days of wear. I’ve tried using a softening spray (£7, more pain) but the pinching persists. Trouble is, I don’t think you’re allowed to exchange shoes once they’ve clearly been worn – that’s the Catch-22 of footwear.
The temperature has dropped close to freezing and I can’t afford to heat the room all day. So this morning I wander outside, shivering and feet-hurting and guitar-resenting and penniless and feeling utterly sorry for myself. If in doubt, go for a walk.
In Highgate Village, I bump into Brian David Stevens, the photographer whom I last spoke to at the Felt book launch. He invites me to a private view this afternoon in London Bridge. It’s free and sounds interesting, but I can’t even afford the return bus fare.
Then I think, stuff it, I’ll just walk. It’s all downhill, and I have all the time in the world. So I do it. Six miles, from Highgate to Archway, down the full length of Holloway Road to Highbury Corner, through Islington to Old Street, down to Moorgate and Bank and across the river. Proper flaneur stuff. It warms me up, it’s good exercise, it might help to make the boots stop pinching, and by the end of it I think I’m a kind of New Romantic Iain Sinclair.
The exhibition in London Bridge is called Civil Unrest, featuring photos from the recent London protests. The venue is the Depot, where I’ve DJ-d in the past. A series of cavernous black warehouse spaces underneath the arches of London Bridge station. The photos are blown-up prints pasted around the dark walls in suitably gritty fashion. There’s crowd control barriers, piles of rubbish in corners and it’s all very ‘themed’. The staffer on the door is dressed in full riot squad gear, complete with shield, while the free drinks – brandy punch – are served in tin campsite mugs. I say hello to Marc Vallee, another of the photographers.
On the way back, I stop off at Bunhill Fields to look at William Blake’s grave. There’s a pile of people’s tributes on top of the stone: mostly pennies and cents, a few seashells and stones, some earrings. And more unexpectedly, an FM radio attachment for an iPod.
Tags: brian david stevens
, marc vallee
London’s Littlest Cinemas
I’ve been thinking about small cinemas. In particular the one in Southwold, which I visited a couple of summers ago. It was built in the last decade with a small amount of seats, yet rendered in a beautiful 1920s picturehouse style. This gave it a strange Legoland quality, as the real old picturehouses were huge.
Looking it up now, I discover its capacity is 68. Which isn’t all that small, really. A while ago I saw the new ‘Dorian Gray’ flick at a multiplex, and the screen turned out to have the dimensions of an average living room. This was at the Empire Leicester Square, screen number 6. Number of seats: 26.
And yet, it didn’t feel cramped or claustrophobic. In fact, the proximity of strangers in such limited number meant that any would-be chatterers or wrapper rustlers were dissuaded from the off, fearing they could be glowered at (or have their shoulders tapped) so much more easily. On top of this, I’m convinced the intimacy intensified the viewing itself, as I felt closer to being an honoured house guest rather than a visitor in an uncaring public cavern.
On the occasions I’ve reviewed films, I’ve had to go to press screenings in compact rooms, often in Soho. But despite the similar cosiness, the atmosphere there isn’t the same at all. You are in the company of professionals who are watching the film as part of their job, not because they want to escape into stories and visit other worlds in the dark. You can sense the taint of obligation in the air. Enforced fun is never the same as the fun you do for, well, fun.
No, to truly enjoy a film it must be in a room made for the purpose, amongst strangers who have paid to be there. And I’m starting to wonder if small cinemas are better than large ones.
Now, I do hate it when articles justify themselves with tenuous links to the news, such as the Cher movie about burlesque generating columns along the lines of ‘Is Burlesque Empowering Or Not, Or What, Or Whither?’ Or, in the run-up to the release of ‘Black Swan’, articles in the press every single day along the lines of ‘I Too Was In The Same Room As Some Ballet Once’.
But by sheer coincidence – honest – a tiny cinema HAS just been in the news. Nottingham’s Screen Room, which seats 21 and claims to be the smallest cinema in the world (never mind the UK), has just closed its doors. What hasn’t been made clear is where that title rests now. I was interested in a list of fun-sized London cinemas myself, but couldn’t find one. So I’ve done the research myself.
Although I’m not counting multiplex screens, I’m guessing the 26 seats of Empire 6, Leicester Square must be a contender for the smallest in the West End. Trouble is, multiplexes tend to sell tickets per film rather than per screen, and move the titles around the screens to match demand. You often don’t know what screen you’re getting until you choose the film and time.
I’m also not counting screening rooms in hotels, film clubs in non-cinema venues, private hire places or the Abcat Cine Club in King’s Cross. This being a 20-seat sex cinema that the Cinema Treasures website insists on listing as a ‘classic movie theatre’. I do, however, understand that it shows heterosexual adult films for men to have gay sex to, and that despite the arrival of the internet, it’s still going. I suppose there’s a lesson there about niche marketing.
With those exceptions noted, here’s a list of the capital’s single-screen cinemas with a capacity of under 100, as of February 2011.
LONDON’S SMALLEST CINEMAS
1. The Exhibit, Balham. 24 seats.
2. The Aubin, Shoreditch. 45 seats.
3. Shortwave, Bermondsey. 52 seats.
4. David Lean Clock Tower, Croydon. 68 seats. (Update: This may be closing.)
5. Lexi, Kensal Rise. 77 seats.
6. Electric Cinema, Notting Hill. 98 seats.
Most of these are fairly new, and I’m looking forward to trying them out. I wonder if the coming of digital projectors means that more lounge-sized independent cinemas like these are going to pop up. I do hope so.
The smallest screen in a multi-screen arthouse cinema is probably the NFT’s Studio, with 38 seats. Followed by the ICA’s Screen 2, at 45 seats.
Both screens at the Everyman Baker St are unusually small: one at 85 seats, the other at 77.
As for current contenders for the smallest cinema in Britain, there’s the Blue Walnut Cafe in Torquay (23 seats), Minicine in Leeds (26 seats), and the aforementioned Exhibit in Balham. Out of those, only the Exhibit regularly screens new-ish releases.
If I’ve missed any out, please do let me know.
The Southwold Electric Picture Palace
BBC News story: Screen Room in Nottingham closes
, london's smallest cinemas
, small cinemas
A Bucket And A Hopeful Smile
Thursday December 2nd 2010. London and much of the UK is currently covered in snow. I wake up today shivering and cursing my ability to throw off heavy blankets in my sleep. Not to mention my bedsit’s lack of central heating. I have an oil-filled radiator plus a small fan heater, both of which plug into the mains, guzzling up £1 coins in the meter at a frightening rate. Still, I feel more at home in a cold Victorian bedsit in London than I would in a well-heated modern house anywhere else in England, such is my dyed-in-the-hair metropolitan blood. And I can use the heating of libraries, galleries and cafes in the daytime.
I’m convinced there’s only two ways I’d be permitted to live in any settlement outside the M25: either like the Christopher Lee character in ‘The Wicker Man’ – the eccentric yet powerful lord of the manor – or as the first sacrifice the second the crops fail. Actually, the locals probably wouldn’t wait for that.
When I visited a bookshop in St Ives last September, the woman on the till warned me – within seconds of entering and presumably with no awareness of The League Of Gentlemen – ’We mainly stock books for locals. Not so much for Londoners.’ I hadn’t uttered a word.
But then, as proof of my innate London-ness, one of the things I first noticed when in St Ives was that there wasn’t a single drycleaners. Plenty of art shops and art galleries, but the moment one gets a blob of acrylic on one’s cravat, it’s off to Penzance with you.
Yesterday morning: I surprise myself by getting up at 5am for a spot of voluntary work. I am collecting for the international HIV charity Mildmay, as my bit for World AIDS Day. I stand with a bucket and tray of red ribbons by the ticket barriers in London Bridge station, from 7am to 10.30am. Without a break, too, though that was my choice.
I also choose to never shout at passers-by, hoping my status is clear from my bucket – and the unflattering t-shirt they give me (the things I do for charity). Partly because I’m not the shouting sort, but mainly because I think people might be grateful NOT to have a street fundraiser barking at them or impeding their path on their entirely blameless journey. I can’t do ‘fun runs’, I can’t shout or collar pedestrians, but I can do is what I once did at school for charity – a sponsored silence (a sly way of keeping children quiet in class, I now realise).
So I just stand there with my bucket, careful to be visible while keeping out of people’s way, not speaking unless I’m spoken to, and armed only with a hopeful smile. It seems to work: by the time I knock off, my bucket is satisfyingly heavy with coins, and more than a few notes too.
Find out more about Mildmay and donate at www.mildmay.org
, snow in London
, st ives
, world aids day