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.

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Going For It

My 2011 gets off to a shaky, wary sort of start, to which this late entry pays witness. Still, I’m feeling more hopeful about life than I have done in months. One simple physical act is doing wonders – I air my room every morning. On top of the instant rush of fresh air, there’s the pleasing symbolism of opening a window at the start of a new day. Works better for me than tablets, anyway.

December 30th and 31st: I DJ for the Last Tuesday Society once again. With typical LTS perversity, the event on the 30th under the arches at London Bridge is about ten times the size of the one on New Year’s Eve, with nude people painted gold languishing on banqueting tables, chocolate fountains, orchestras and so on. The latter is a relatively modest do in a restaurant in Bishopsgate. I see in the New Year with LTS types David Piper, Wynd & Suzette. Empty bottles of Bollinger litter the all-night tube home.

I am paid in art: framed drawings by Stephen Tennant. Very lovely and Cocteau-esque they are too. Little pieces of the Bright Young Things on my wall. I look at them and think of the things the hand that drew them did – all those parties, Tennant living the life that inspired characters in Waugh and Mitford. One drawing is on Wilsford Manor notepaper, as in the tastefully crumbling mansion in Salisbury where Tennant spent his later years, mostly in bed. From your mansion to my bedsit, dear Stephen. I’ll look after them.

(More on Stephen Tennant’s effects in this blog by Graham Ward)

On January 1st I cope with a tiresome cliche of an hangover by walking all the way from Highgate to Soho, via Regent’s Park. A gin and tonic in the Coach & Horses and I feel so much better. Memo to self:  hair of the dog works so much better than any attempt to ‘detox’. The pub has just opened when I get there, so while I sit at the bar and sip it’s just me and the ghost of Jeffrey Bernard, there on New Year’s Day 2011, in the middle of the metropolis, silent and serene. But not sober.

My resolution for the year is one I’m sure the Government, the world and I will all be happy with. I resolve to do my utmost to get off the dole and earn a living, this time from freelance work.

Now, I’m all too aware what a ludicrously competitive area this is, and how hard it is to make a living. So I promise to really, properly work at it. Writing arts articles, doing reviews of films & music, delivering talks, popping up on radio & TV – all things I have been paid for before, after all. I’ll also seek out this kind of work abroad. I keep being told by strangers around the world how I’ve featured in their college essay on flaneurs, dandies, diarists, London eccentrics and so on. And kind Proper Writers have pointed me to websites where magazines in lonely English-speaking corners of the earth are paying £100 a time for half-decent articles and reviews. That would suit me to a tee. I can’t do the Everyman style of writing (all those ‘we’s and ‘you’s bandied about like I’m an example of an average, in-touch human being) and have no wish to. But I can do the opposite thing rather well. The Not So Everyman. I just need to find the right place for it. The right place for being professionally out of place. I know I’m fairly good at stringing together connections from diverse worlds, and I always strive to come up with something vaguely original, rather than duplicating what people can get elsewhere.

All I need to earn to get off the dole is £175 weekly. I’m going to contact at least one editor a day until I get somewhere.

So here’s to that. Wish me luck.

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