Haircuts in the Dark
Monday 21st November 2016. To the Peltz Gallery at Gordon Square, for A Museum of Everyday Life: Cinephilia and Collecting. A fascinating display of British film fans’ archives, from long before the internet era. One collector has kept careful records on all the films he sees during the 50s, as my own father did on comics, and later videos.
The 50s records take the form of typed index cards in a detached metal drawer. I like the exotic names of old cinemas in Derby and Nottingham: ‘The Essoldo’, ‘The Cameo’. One forgets just how much re-seeing used to go on. This enthusiast paid to see The Bounty Hunter, starring Randolph Scott, on a staggering 14 separate occasions, all between 1955 and 1958. Fourteen! Do today’s fans go to see, say, Mad Max: Fury Road that much?
Another exhibit consists of little envelopes containing clipped-out single frames from reels of film. Their owner was a Brighton projectionist: I learn that clipping out frames as souvenirs was once a common ritual of the profession. Presumably it doesn’t go on any more, what with the rise digital projectors. I think also of vintage clippings of hair kept in lockets. Except that this gentleman’s attitude isn’t always positive: he annotates each clipping with potted reviews on the envelope, and many are scathing. In this way, cinema projectionists are like taxi drivers. A job with a lot of autonomy and personal space, except that other people are still telling you what to do. So the space is soon filled up with rants and opinions. For Africa Adventure he writes, ‘I detest all films in which animals are even slightly inconvenienced’. For Androcles the Lion he says, ‘I enjoyed the acting of the lion the most.’ For The Immortal Monster (1959) he writes, ‘NB: Note hysterical erotic attitude of dancer’. The synopsis on Wikipedia for this film is: ‘Academic researchers are chased by a nuclear-hot specimen of ancient Mayan blob’.
More worryingly, on the envelope for Light Up The Sky is this little detail: ‘While this film was being shown, a man was murdered in the car park a few yards from my office’.
The most impressive exhibit is a collection of index cards devoted to film actors. The Peltz gallery has managed to fill an entire wall with these lovingly kept little biographies, floor to ceiling. The effect is a kind of geek sublime. On top of the sheer number of the things, each card is written in tiny longhand biro. I envy the writer’s ability to get his writing so small, yet still legible.
From a sample card, on Mae West: ‘Plumply sexy, stylish, fruity and scandalous American entertainer who sidled along like a predatory costumed lobster’.
A news article this week reveals that 2016 has seen sales of vinyl records outstrip those of digital downloads. In fact, this is a statistic based on money spent rather than units, and vinyl is now much pricier than downloads. The popularity of streaming sites like Spotify has hit downloads, too. People are less interested in owning digital copies of albums. If it’s digital, it can stay online. The implication is that the internet is now always to hand.
Except not to hand enough. Nothing to grasp with one’s real hands. There’s currently a huge poster campaign on London transport celebrating various successful YouTubers. It’s interesting that the images in this campaign have YouTubers holding the red YouTube play button, now rendered as a physical object in their hands. This is the paradox of virtual content: it’s still made by people who inhabit bodies, and bodies need props. There are now BookTubers, YouTubers who make videos in which they review books. More often than not, they hold up hardbacks or paperbacks for the camera, rather than hold up a Kindle.
Tuesday 22nd November 2016. Spending most of my time in the British Library this week, researching the autumn term essay for the MA. Not so lonely, though: I bump into David Benson. Last saw him on stage at a BL event, in fact, performing selections from the Kenneth Williams diaries. The full bulk of them had just been acquired by the BL, on behalf of the public. I love that his impersonation, honed from umpteen performances of his KW stage show, could now be put to use at an event about archives.
Wednesday 23rd November 2016. A session with the Birkbeck counsellor. A discussion of my propensity to self-sabotage: oversleeping, procrastination, a general avoidance of things. I have the recurring fantasy of someone suddenly getting in touch with some golden offer, financial and vocational. Except I never know what form this might take.
Finish reading a book I’m reviewing for The Wire: Honk, Conk and Squacket: Fabulous and Forgotten Sound-words from a Vanished Age of Listening. It’s an encyclopaedia of obsolete words, specifically to do with sounds and music. The world of onomatopoeia is vastly diminished these days, now that the machines have become silent. But humans still associate noises with completed processes. So the cameras on phones don’t go ‘click’ – they play ‘click’. Little cover versions of obsolescence.
Mid-November for critics is the Best of the Year time. I’ve been asked to declare my favourite music of 2016, but I can only think of two new-ish albums I’ve really enjoyed.
One is Laurie Anderson’s Heart of A Dog soundtrack, which is effectively the whole film without the images. But even though the film was released in 2016, the CD came out in October 2015, so I suppose it can’t count.
This leaves the Pet Shop Boys’ Super, which I adore and have played repeatedly. I now note that Super is missing from most media outlets’ Albums of 2016, despite getting good reviews on its release. The Beyonce album seems to be the token 2016 pop album; otherwise it’s all tried and tested old rockers: Radiohead, PJ Harvey, Nick Cave. Plus the last Bowie and Cohen records, the interpretation of which can’t be separated from the artists’ deaths. I had thought the Pet Shop Boys album was a welcome dash of upbeat, danceable colour and energy, amongst all the year’s gloom and morbidity. But most critics have decided that 2016 must be framed and preserved as a year of anger, darkness and despair. So perhaps Super doesn’t fit their narrative. Well, it fits my narrative.
I take no joy in being unable to name any further favourite albums. My only excuse is that I’ve just been more drawn to old music, or books, or films, or art exhibitions. It’s possibly a problem of one’s cultural inputs. I used to spend hours listening to John Peel, reading Melody Maker and flicking through the new releases in Our Price. All those things have gone now. Perhaps my problem is associating new music with vanished practices, and so need to change my habits. I feel too old to listen to Radio 1, but not old enough to listen to Radio 2.
What I have listened to is a lot of radio news, perhaps thinking that this counts as keeping in touch. But time spent on listening to news is time not spent listening to music. Vary the diet, that’s all one can do. Notice what speaks to the heart. News is hard to avoid anyway; it’ll get to you one way or another.
Tastes change behind one’s back; palates alter with age. One never knows until one tries. Am I finally ready for experimental jazz? Is anyone?
With all that in mind, my favourite things of 2016 are as follows.
Films: Heart of a Dog. Eight Days A Week (Beatles documentary). The Neon Demon. Victoria. Love and Friendship. Author (JT LeRoy documentary). Hail Caesar!
New Books: Michael White’s Popkiss. Lynsey Hanley’s Respectable. McEwan’s Nutshell. Alan Bennett’s Keeping On Keeping On. Ronald Blythe’s Stour Seasons.
Old Books: Edward St Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series. Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night A Traveller.
Art: Made You Look – Dandyism & Black Masculinity (Photographers’ Gallery). Alice in Wonderland (British Library). Shakespeare in Ten Acts (BL). Magnus Arrevad – Boy Story (5 Willoughby Street). Performing For the Camera (Tate Modern).
DVDs: Lawrence of Belgravia. Akenfield.
Gig: Fingersnaps (Wallace Collection).
Events that defined the year, as opposed to favourite things: The hostage selfie. The Brexit result (regrettably).
Thursday 24th November 2016. Evening classes at Birkbeck: Tony Harrison’s V, Jackie Kay’s Trumpet.
Friday 25th November 2016. After working at the London Library, I walk through Soho to find the whole district in blackness. A power cut has hit several blocks north of Shaftesbury Avenue, up to Broadwick Street. A sense of curious novelty and strangeness abounds, rather than fear. People switch on the torches on their phones and train them on their steps. Their faces are still obscured. I can’t quite see the people I’m passing, but they can’t see me either. I wonder if this is what Soho was like in the WW2 blackouts: those tales of furtive liberation, of kisses in the dark, and more.
On Lexington Street, some of the restaurants and bars have set out tea lights on the counters and tables. But not all emporiums keep candles for emergencies. I pass a darkened hairdresser’s and see there’s people still in there. I make out a hairdresser standing over her client, struggling to finish the job. A lit-up phone in one hand, a pair of scissors in the other.
Saturday 26th November 2016. Age comes with a trail of faded friendships. I bump into someone I used to know in the British Library café. It’s someone from the early 90s, the Sarah Records phase of my life. When this happens I always take a few seconds to fully grasp the identity of the other person, my memory usually failing me. Invariably, the other person thinks I can’t remember who they are, and the encounter quickly collapses into an awkward parting of the ways.
A few moments after they’ve gone, of course, it all comes back to me. I do know exactly who they are: I just need a few more seconds, that’s all. But it’s too late. So I come away feeling I’ve done something terribly wrong.
This is one reason why I don’t go to school reunions: I can’t see how it’ll be anything but a stream of memory tests and point scoring.
Plus, I need advance warning of my surprises. This is only partly meant as a joke. Normal people have a ‘delightfully surprised’ face, easily accessed for sudden encounters. The have the face ready for reacting to surprise gifts, or indeed for surprise offers of marriage. But I am built differently. Sudden delight does not come easy to me. My reaction to most things is utter confusion.
Andy Warhol was stopped on the street every day of his life. He says somewhere that the best thing to do is just pretend that you last saw each other yesterday, rather than twenty years ago. So you just reply that you’re on the way to the cinema, or whatever. Nonchalently, matter-of-fact. You never, ever say ‘long time no see’. That risks the answer, ‘Yes. And there’s a reason for that.’
Sunday 27th November 2016. I browse in Waterstones, Gower Street. The success of the Ladybird parodies last Christmas has meant that this year there’s an exponential proliferation. Great toppling piles of the things. Fake Famous Five satirical books, along the lines of ‘Five Go To Brexit Island’. Spoof I-Spy books. And as with the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ design a few years ago, the initial charm of the idea has given way to the less attractive symptoms of a bandwagon.
It’s too easy to think of further titles: a lazy Fighting Fantasy parody, perhaps: The Warlock of Brexit Mountain. (If this happens I will kill again).
I leaf through the music news. Some artists have their tours advertised with the promise of old hits. An exception is Kate Bush, whose new live album eschews her more obvious singles. For this she is praised. Then she mentions in an interview that she likes Theresa May. For this she is castigated. There’s a moral there about what people want from their favourite musicians, and what is allowed. Success means being cast as a character. Get the lines right.
Friday 2nd December 2016. To the Barbican art gallery for The Vulgar: Fashion Redefined. The exhibition has rather promising posters, with an androgynous blonde in a garish multi-coloured jacket, looking like a postmodern toreador. The jacket is printed with a cacophony of icons from medieval manuscripts: orbs and sceptres, medals, and so on.
So much for the poster. The exhibition itself begins well, with huge wall-mounted gold coins punctuating the rooms, each one inscribed with Adam Phillips’s pronouncements on the meaning of ‘vulgar’. The accompanying leaflet says, ‘the exhibition begins on the lower level’, but there’s no indication of irony about this statement. And that seems to be the flaw: the exhibition takes itself too seriously. To display works by Alexander McQueen surely invites comparison with the major show at the V&A recently. In which case, The Vulgar comes over as a lot less fun. It sets out to examine the history of ostentatious fashion, yet without the lighting effects and pumping music one associates with catwalks, the clothes here seem curiously cold and lifeless.
I wonder if this is the fault of the venue, as the Barbican is currently going through a phase of cool self-consciousness. It’s so aware of its hip Brutalist architecture that it can barely say anything at all. Fashion is the Botox of thought.
I think about the way The Vulgar gestures towards behaviour. What does the Barbican hold to be the opposite of vulgar? The answer is perhaps found in the centre’s poster campaign to advertise its membership scheme. One is captioned ‘for lovers’: an image of two youngish people standing on one of the walkways around the centre. He is a lightly bearded man in jeans and a blue suit jacket, she is a Zooey Deschanel lookalike, in a vintage red dress with a white lacey collar, her dark hair in a heavy fringe. They both wear glasses, though her frames are slightly oversized in the present hipster manner. I wonder how this couple met, and think of an update on the personal ad joke in Annie Hall: ‘Must like Brutalism, David Foster Wallace and sodomy’.
On a separate poster, ‘Membership for Gastronomers’, flaunts an even more fashion-conscious young man, posing in one of the Barbican eateries. His beard is worn in the full George Bernard Shaw bushiness, joined up with a ‘man bun’, being long hair rolled up and balanced tidily on the crown, like a miniature hair beret. Fenella H tells me you can now buy fake man-buns. A hip toupee. This poster boy wears a cream jacket over a multi-coloured patterned shirt, set off with a rather nice purple hankerchief in the pocket. I’d call these latter aspects dandyish, if it wasn’t for his beard, hair and blue jeans signifying ‘fashion’ rather than ‘style’. Dandies are anti-fashion and pro-style.
The dilemma for young people has always been how to stand out yet join in at the same time. And given these literal poster kids are advertising Barbican membership, the message is about belonging, getting it right. In other words, not being vulgar. In a few decades to come these posters will be useful for scholars of 2016 fashion. The trouble is, right now they serve to consolidate the Barbican’s self-image as a place of cool, and thus not the best place to host a show about vulgarity.
I think a better venue would be the V&A or Somerset House, where the fogeyish sense of crumbing empires defuses any claims to trendiness. This is why the McQueen and Blow shows worked so well in those places. Still, The Vulgar is a noble attempt nonetheless.
Monday 6th December 2016. To the panelled rooms and stone staircases of 28 Russell Square, for a one-off Birkbeck event: a lecture by David James on ‘critical solace’. His examples are McCarthy’s The Road, Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go and Sebald’s Austerlitz. Much of his talk is heavy on the theoretical, and a lot of what he says would have gone straight over my head a few years ago, until I started hitting heavy books by dead Frenchmen. Today my brain is a little more acclimatised to such theory, though my dyspraxia means I still have the urge to put a lecturer on ‘pause’, so I can properly chew over what’s just been said.
Still, there are consolations for slowness, too. It’s well-known that obituaries are written in advance and kept on file, ready to be revised and published within minutes of their subject’s final breath. Thus in the event of a celebrity death, torrents of words and pictures appear like a magic trick, as if to defy death with a surge in production by the living. ‘Tributes pour in’, but what’s really being paid tribute to is the swift industry of the obituary editors. So for those of us who aren’t as fast at writing as others, it’s heartening to see the occasional mistake made through haste . This is a sentence from CNN’s Castro obituary this week:
Fidel Castro outlived six US presidents, [[[NOTE: change to seven if George H.W. Bush dies before Castro]]]
Then to Gordon Square for a general event about PHDs. First year PHD students answer questions for those who, like myself, are interested in doing a PHD at Birkbeck. At the event, one of the tutors explains how no one does a PHD for the money; it’s common for a funded three years to lead to a fourth unfunded ‘writing up’ year, and the student risks living on ‘bread and water’, as one tutor tonight puts it.
The deadline for applying for the main full-time PHD bursary, in time for an Autumn 2017 start, turns out to be this January. Next month. And it involves putting together a 2000 word proposal. I’m already writing a 5000 word essay for the MA. And this diary is taking me too long as it is… (I may have to put it on hold for a while, or put out a briefer version)
I know I want to go straight into a PHD once the MA is done in September, so as not to lost momentum. I also know I want to do it full-time, so I can finally treat the whole business like a proper job. With a sustainable wage (well, a modest 16k), paid for something I’m good at and actually enjoy, the self-esteem will make all the difference. The only thing is, I need to improve my working speed.
Thursday 8th December 2016. A Birkbeck class on Eimear McBride’s A Girl Is A Half-Finished Thing. The Girl is a quickly-canonised thing: a debut novel from 2013, initially published by a tiny independent press, showered with awards, republished by Faber, and already a set text in universities.
Some of my fellow students say they find McBride’s experimental prose more impenetrable than the Beckett and Joyce texts which inspired it – and these are people who’ve written essays on Ulysses. My own reaction veers toward seeing it as a kind of modernist revival text. I worry if that can be read as retreating away from contemporary experience. But then, that’s the dilemma of revivalism full stop. Wanting the new to be more like the old. But the class consensus is that the novel’s a worthy accomplishment, and a gift to any discussion about the purpose of novels.
, david james
, eimear mcbride
, peltz gallery
, the vulgar
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.
* * *
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Tags: andy miller
, carlyle's house
, gary kemp
, lynne edwards
, martin wallace
, new rose
, Sebastian Horsley
, soho radio
, suzette field
, taylor parkes
, tim arnold
, Tom Edwards
, year of reading dangerously
I am appearing in two books by other people, both due out this autumn.
One is I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman. Published by Gestalten (Link here). Portraits of modern dandies, of which I am one, as taken by Rose Callahan. Nathaniel Adams provides a text. I’ve not seen a copy yet, but the cover looks like this:
The other is A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters, compiled by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison. Published by Frances Lincoln (link here). My online diary is in there, along with the diaries of Samuel Pepys, Derek Jarman, and Alan Bennett.
In both cases, I’m enormously flattered to be included. It’s heartening to feel of abiding use in two fields I feel at home with: dandyism and diary writing. It’s also a reminder that I need to do more with both.
The third field I’ve felt of use to lately is academia. In mid-July, I got the results for the 2nd year of the BA in English which I’m doing at Birkbeck. I was very, very pleased to receive a First in each of the three modules that made up the year, despite my misgivings about the exams and suffering what I suppose must be Difficult Second College Year Syndrome. The novelty of being a mature student had worn off, the work became harder, and I was constantly faced with wondering if I should stick with the degree at all.
So the results remind me that despite the lack of paid work coming my way at present, I know I can at least produce written work in a particular style (in this case, academia) and deliver it on time, and that it’s objectively regarded as Of Worth. So I have that to cling to, for now. Having no money beyond the basics is always going to be frustrating, but it’s really the sum of my problems at present, and it could be much worse. I hope something turns up. I’ve no idea what, though.
In the meantime, I’m getting on with studying the texts for the next term.
Reading about rare words, I come across one which seems to sum things up for me: ‘aestivation’. It means the act of passing the summer. More particularly – when referring to animals – it means spending the summer in a state of inactivity; the summer equivalent of hibernation. In Alan Hollinghurst’s The Spell it is used to describe a character’s sex drive: ‘it seemed to have gone into a monkish kind of aestivation.’
Saturday August 24th. A rainy day in Soho. Parts of the district are still being clawed out of the earth by the diggers, as part of the endless Crossrail development. Some of the building site hoardings are used as a kind of outdoor museum, laminated boards telling the history of Soho. I find the section about The Colony Room, tucked away in the northwest corner of Soho Square, by the junction with Soho Street. I brave the rain and take a few photos. The images on the hoarding are mainly taken from Sophie Parkin’s book on the Colony (link: http://www.thecolonyroom.com/).
There’s a portrait of Sebastian Horsley, with Babette Kulik:
Taylor Parkes comments: ‘That’s London these days, isn’t it? Let all this stuff die, then set up a bloody museum in the street about how great it all used to be.’
Sebastian H certainly shared this sentiment about the Crossrail works affecting Soho, just before he died. So it’s quite amusing to see him decorating the building site like this – I like to see it as a defiant reclamation of territory.
Later, I walk around the newly expanded King’s Cross station. A regular sight there is a crowd of tourists queuing up to have their photograph taken with the half-embedded luggage trolley beneath the obliging sign for ‘Platform 9 and 3/4’. For eight pounds, a couple of enthusiastic staffers from the nearby Harry Potter souvenir shop provide each tourist with extra props – a Hogwarts scarf and an owl cage – and take the photo for them. ‘One! Two! Three! Jump! Awesome!’ And again, for the next person in the queue.
, Sebastian Horsley
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
Quick announcement. Dedalus Books is once more applying for funding. They’re going to use their petition from last year as evidence of support, so please sign it now if you didn’t do so last time: http://is.gd/44qPb
Sat 11th Oct: With Anna Spivack to see the new play of Prick Up Your Ears. It’s based directly on the Orton diaries and John Lahr’s biography rather than the Alan Bennett 80s film. Matt Lucas as Kenneth Halliwell and Gwen Taylor as the landlady and neighbour.
Gwen Taylor for me will always be her characters in The Rutles: manager Leggy Mountbatten’s mother (‘He hated their music. But he liked their trousers’) and Chastity, the nazi-uniform-wearing Yoko Ono figure (‘a simple German girl whose father had invented World War Two’)
Despite allocating over an hour to get into town via the 91 bus, we end up gridlocked in Bloomsbury and have to race through crowded Soho, arriving at the Comedy Theatre in Panton Street just in time for curtain up.
We needn’t have bothered. The ushers and box office staff are standing outside, telling people the performance is cancelled and handing out details of how to get refunds. Matt Lucas is still out of the show due to his ex-husband’s suicide, which we were prepared for, but his understudy is off sick too. The understudy doesn’t have an understudy, so the play’s off.
We have a couple of drinks at 23 Romilly Street (where many of the old Colony Room regulars now go), before repairing for a bottle of wine at Anna’s flat in Archway rather than hit any clubs or further bars. One of the few ways I’m growing up, I suppose. More restaurants and quiet dinner parties, fewer loud clubs and gigs.
So sad about Matt Lucas’s ex-husband killing himself like that. I can understand Mr L pulling out of any play, let alone one about a doomed gay relationship where the non-famous one commits suicide. The tabloids have responded with predictable drool, flagging the word ‘husband’ in the headlines with smug inverted commas. One 21st century twist: the suicide note posted on Facebook.
Three weeks since varicose vein surgery. The bruises have faded okay, but am concerned about residual patches of numbness above my ankle. According to the literature, these could fade in 2 weeks, or 2 months, or 2 years, or in some cases not at all. I suppose given the choice between recurring pain (which prompted me asking for the optional operation), and permanent numbness, I’ll settle for the latter. But I’d rather the numbness would go. And soon, please. Prodding the space above my ankle, I think of cold rubber. The type lining car doors. And the stuff used to make those thin mats in school gyms.
Other diary wishes: I really want the ability to write a decent amount every day, (as opposed to a habit for Olympic procrastination) but also the ability to just write and read faster. When I finally sit down and do it, I take far too long. I envy those people who speed through 800 page books in single sittings. I want to be one of those. I don’t mind having to do umpteen drafts – as long as they’re fast drafts.
Current madness: a fixation with the creaking and popping noises made by the casing of my fridge expanding and contracting when the motor is off. A bedsit hazard: I have to sleep and work in the same room. The fridge is only 2 years old. Did it always make those noises? Were the noises always that loud and frequent and distracting? Is it just me?
Other news: am back in therapy. Friday mornings, NHS so no fee, 90 minute sessions for six months. Have mixed feelings about whether I need them. But they were offered (after a year on the waiting list), and I’m clearly in need of something.
Tags: fridge madness
, nights out
, varicose tiresomeness
Pose With Wine
Bit of a gap in my diary, but I’m back now. So what have I been up to?
I’ve just written the phrase, ‘days of wine and poses’ by way of a response and as a title for the entry. Then I realised it’s the Wrong Kind Of Pun. Puns can make you sound like a matey fake-everyman playing to an imagined gallery (the literary equivalent of a corny wink). I am not that kind of writer. At least, I like to think I’m not.
If I’m worrying about a pun, it’s probably a sign I should take it out. Rewrite it. Fiddle with it. Try reversing it. Poses And Wine? Sounds too much like a Cliff Richard song. Poseur With Wine? Too hard on myself. Pose With Wine could be the title of a painting, like Figure With Meat by Francis Bacon.
You see, these are the things that bubble around my brain on this rather chilly day in September.
Last week: I am pulling off a Pose With Wine at Mr Bacon’s old drinking and posing hole, The Colony Room in Soho. I am there with Clayton Littlewood, having first met for coffee at Bar Italia, then dinner at Stockpot. Pure Soho stuff.
Clayton used to live in a basement flat under Old Compton Street, which fascinates me. He could hear the prostitutes upstairs plying their trade. He says it was always noisy, unsurprisingly, and almost impossible to get any sleep at night. But that the mornings made up for it: Soho at 7am has this incredible atmosphere. The quiet after the storm, sobriety kicking in, people with proper jobs starting to get up and go to work. Streets caught naked, clear of teeming crowds. Small children go to school here too, not always something you associate with Soho (just been watching this video about Soho Parish School). A sense of recovery, of the sun getting its own back on decadent humans, of pores getting a chance to breath.
We visit the Colony Room in Dean Street at a critical point in its 60-year history. A party of regulars, including Salena Godden, have just been to the private view of a much-feared auction, where some of the Colony’s art is being sold. Michael Wojas, the manager, plans to move the club out of its Dean Street premises, in order to save it from escalating rents. To this end, he’s selling off the artwork on the club walls, including a 1950s mural by Michael Andrews. Some club members have protested, both about the move and the art sale. There was even a story in Private Eye about it all. (Interview with Mr W here)
I initially lent my name to the rebel members’ ‘Save The Colony’ campaign, but have now changed my stance to a neutral onlooker, having understood more of Mr W’s point of view. It won’t be the same away from 41 Dean Street, but then it wasn’t the same after the smoking ban, anyway. I hope it continues in new premises, as long as it’s still in Soho.
[Update after the auction: The good news is that the Michael Andrews mural sold at a good price, according to the Independent, to ‘a representative of the Andrews estate… in the hope it can be placed in a museum.’]
Clayton L tells me it’s about time I pitched a non-fiction book to agents and publishers. ‘The Manesake Diaries’. ‘Boy With A Too Many Track Mind.’ ‘Secret Diary Of A Fallen Boy.’ The secret being there’s no sex in it whatsoever.
I could focus on the ‘modern dandy’ episodes, the music biz and DJ adventures, my veteran blogger status, the unlikely Shane MacG capers, and the general Being Dickon Edwards philosophy. Whether such a volume would draw a decent book-buying crowd or not, I don’t know. Only one way to find out. All I have to do is… work hard at it. Ah. The W word. Okay.
RIP Paul Newman, giving the newspapers a good excuse to print huge close ups of those famous eyes. Far nicer to see those in the corner shop, first thing on a Sunday, than anything more to do with banking or the ‘credit crunch’. The latter phrase being as tiresomely over-bandied about in the press as the word Facebook was last year. ‘Tortoise Breeding & How The Credit Crunch Will Affect It’, that sort of thing.
RIP also Bryan Morrison, music biz manager and publisher, whose clients included Wham, Pink Floyd, and very nearly, Orlando. We went to his office for a single meeting, during our mid 90s hustling days of being The Next Big Hubristic Thing. Mr M turned out to be the proper personification of a rock ‘n’ roll impresario: cigar in hand, which he used to make a point, gold discs on the office wall, 1960s anecdotes about The Pretty Things. As we walked in, he pointed at me and said, ‘LOVE the look!’
Tags: Clayton Littlewood
, colony room
, dickon's brain