The Haircut That Moves Between Worlds

Preparing to go out to two soirees: a birthday gathering at the Flask in Highgate, then onto the Phoenix in Cavendish Square to DJ at How Does It Feel To Be Loved. Always a pleasure to do the latter as it means I can indulge my lesser aired taste in 60s girl group pop alongside 80s jangly guitar indie.

Thursday last was DJ-ing at the Boogaloo for Beautiful & Damned, the warm up for our slot at next month’s Latitude Festival. We put on the silent movie Pandora’s Box by way of a backdrop. Louise Brooks’s iconic bob hairdo always looks more extreme than one expects: from some angles it’s nearly a butch crop. In one scene she wears a helmet-like black hat which actually looks exactly the same as her hair. When she takes the hat off, there’s no overall difference. It’s like someone wearing two pairs of glasses.

It dawns on me that the haircut also crosses over for both of my DJ-iing incarnations this week. How Does It Feel… runs a label for latterday indiepop groups, one of which, the Pocketbooks, has a girl singer whose hair is pure Ms Brooks – or indeed the singer from Swing Out Sister, echoing the 80s echoing the 60s echoing the 20s. Some music scenes are joined at the haircut.

But never mind my own dipping into different worlds – Fosca’s Tom Edwards, my brother, is now playing guitar for none other than Edwyn Collins. He replaces Roddy Frame, with his first gig being T In The Park. Quite a leap from playing with Fields of the Nephilim. Though not such a leap, of course, from playing with Fosca.

Tom tells me much of Mr Collins’s back catalogue is more muso-y and trickier to play than you might expect from the Godfather of Indie. Even though those early recordings with Orange Juice are often out of tune and vocally wavering (in all the right ways) the guitar lines are elaborate and downright fiddly to copy. With the notable exception of the break in ‘Rip It Up’, Orange Juice’s only bona fide chart hit. Amid all the polished funk-pop production, Edwyn sings ‘And my favourite song’s entitled… ‘Boredom” before going into a replication of that Buzzcocks song’s two-note guitar solo. How many Top Of The Pops viewers got the reference at the time, heaven knows. So very sly, so very arch, so very Edwyn.

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Photos From The Count #4

It’s very late.

After the last results are read out, the leaders of each local party are allowed to make a speech.

Cllr Charles Adje, leader of Haringey Labour Party, and returning leader of Haringey Council:

He makes a pretty cursory, unemotional speech reminding people that they still won the council despite losing a few seats to the Lib Dems. Though he hinted at ‘dirty trick’ tactics by rival parties, he didn’t go into details. Just another day for him.

Cllr Neil Williams, leader of Haringey Lib Dems, returning councillor (from Highgate, in fact):

Mr Williams has a very Lib Dem face, I think. Lembit Opik has one too. Speccy, wary, cautious. He’s slightly angry, reminding people that the Lib Dems have actually beaten Labour on votes across the borough. He doesn’t mention Proportional Representation, though. Some rather rowdy Labour types in the audience heckle him. “Loser! Loser!” “Oh, Neil, really!”

Then Pete McAskie, leader of Haringey Greens and my election agent speaks up. He gives a pretty angry speech, actually. The Haringey target ward results are disappointing, the old first-past-the-post system is an anachronism and misrepresents the thousands of Green votes received across the borough. Going by green issues, he said, an average European council make Haringey look shameful.

The Haringey Tories don’t bother with a speech. With no seat gains whatsoever, they’ve left the building by this time. It’s past five o’clock in the morning.

During the night, I do meet a few gentle and friendly types from all parties. My gut stereotype reaction is:

Tory candidates: Arch, quiet, Women’s Institute, helpful with directions.
New Labour candidates: Bullies, loud, ruddy-faced, Student Union. On-Message.
Old Labour candidates: Friendly, fun, aware of knives in their backs.
Lib Dem candidates: wary, guarded, bespectacled.
Green candidates: passionate, humane, bearded.

The gossip of the night is a locally popular Old Labour councillor losing his seat by three votes. His election agent and party backers, the rumour has it, have deliberately denied him a recount. The implication being New Labour would rather lose a council seat than keep an old-style socialist among their numbers. That’s the story from the other parties, anyway.

I get a lift home in Mr McAskie’s charmingly clunky old van. The sun is coming up.

I put on a rented DVD to help me go to sleep.

“Hellraiser 4 – Bloodline”.


Photos From The Count #3

The announcing of the results is rather mysterious and confusing for newcomers like myself. There’s a ‘checking with candidates’ announcement around the ward table, then a proper announcement on a podium. The Haringey Greens’ election agent, Mr McAskie, is busy rushing around all the ward tables to ensure he’s at every single checking announcement. He hasn’t got time to look after me. I feel a bit alone, but it’s my own fault to some extent.

This first process seems very messy. First the election agents and candidates for each ward are asked to come to their respective counting table and listen to the Returning Officer, Dr. Ita O’Donovan, read out the figures. All very well, but this is done a bit vaguely. They don’t exactly make this request clear. I actually miss out on the Highgate candidate-checking process because I’m in the lobby taking a break. There is a PA system in the corner of the counting hall, where announcements are made. But it’s effectively inaudible, even in the same room. You just have to stay in the counting room and keep an eye on your table for any sudden rush of people to it. The scene rather resembles those old-fashioned 1980s stock exhange floors. Rushing, shouting, taking notes, hiding notes from rivals. Bedlam in suits.

At this initial checking stage, the results are read out to the candidates as they push and shove to get close to the table. The candidates are then asked by the Returning Officer if they’re happy with the results and to confirm no recount is needed. Well, I wasn’t there for my result. I didn’t hear the announcement due to getting a drink in the lobby. So it’s just as well I’m okay with it.

Then she goes to announce the results properly to press and cameras on a little stage in the entrance lobby. Unlike General Elections, there’s no gathering of candidates on the stage with her, sadly. I presume this is because it would take forever. Nineteen wards to get through, each with about a dozen candidates.

Dr O’Donovan’s stern, headmistress-like delivery and Anne Robinson-like appearance rather makes me think I’m on The Weakest Link. Which in a way, I am.


Photos From The Count #2

The counting tables are arranged in two enormous squares, so the non-party people who do the actual counting and collating are on the inside of each square, while the candidates, election agents and general party bullies are on the outside. I walk over to the Highgate Ward table, and see the process is carried out slowly and carefully by two people. One reads out the votes on each slip, the other ticks a box on a big sheet.

While you’re waiting, you can sit in the surreal entrance lobby, with its fountains, palm trees (crawling with real ants), pyramids, Sphinxs and toy dispensing machines. Handy for chewing on a candy necklace while the Bounds Green result is coming in:


Photos From The Count #1

So what does a council election count look like? A big municipal building full of trestle tables and people poring over slips of paper in the middle of the night? Pretty much. Though the building in question is the glorious Alexandra Palace, as recently vacated by a Morrissey concert. A haven to self-righteousness indeed!

I had the feeling I shouldn’t really be taking photos in the counting chamber, where local newspaper photographers are not allowed. So I took the flash off and hoped the results wouldn’t be too blurred. Though when they were, it gave these gibbering creatures of politics a Francis Bacon-like many-faced quality. Which I thought was… what’s the word they like? Appropriate.


I Am Bigger Than Labour (in Highgate)

London, Haringey Council: Results for Highgate Ward.

The top three get council seats.

1. HARE, Bob (Lib) – 1534
2. PORTESS, Justin (Lib) – 1523
3. WILLIAMS, Neil (Lib) – 1405

4. FORREST, Peter (Con) – 1163
5. ALLEN, David (Con) – 1119
6. MCNEILL, Douglas (Con) – 1068
7. CRISP, Ralph (Ind) – 467
8. EDWARDS, Dickon (Grn) – 424
9. HEATH, David (Lab) – 414
10. SIMON, Barbara (Lab) – 412
11. KEEP, Charles (Grn) – 349
12. JONES, Peter (Lab) – 347
13. LYNCH, Noel (Grn) – 262

My heartfelt thanks to the 424 people in Highgate who voted for me. Added to the other two Green candidates’ results, the Green vote in the ward was 1035, out of the 10487 total votes cast.

This works out as 10% of the ward vote for the Greens. Compared to 3.5% in 2002. So I’m happy there.

I came 8th after three Lib Dems (who held onto their three Highgate ward seats), then the three Tories, then the independent candidate.

And then there’s me. Above all three Labour candidates. Apparently a Green has never beaten a Labour candidate in Haringey before.

The result for Haringey Council as a whole was a Labour hold, but with Lib Dems gaining 11 of their seats. No seats for anyone else. So Labour wins the council. But in Highgate Ward, Dickon Edwards, former Labour voter turned Green, beats Labour. I feel quietly proud about that.

Meanwhile, across the council border in Camden’s own Highgate Ward, the Greens gain two seats. Adrian Oliver and Maya De Souza: two very nice and very hard-working people I’ve had the privilege of meeting. So the ‘all hands to the target wards’ tactic paid off.

By the way, the Web-hating Haringey Council haven’t yet uploaded these results on their own website yet, as of 5.45 am on Friday morning. So this diary is officially a better source of local election results than Haringey Council’s website. They really must get better councillors.


Election thoughts

Back at home in Highgate for a bit, before leaving for the count at Alexandra Palace. I’m told it’s best to get there by 1 AM.

As candidates go, I hope to be the best turned-out for the turn-out. Not sure if I get to stand on a stage next to a man in a gorilla suit, while his fifteen middle names are read out by the Returning Officer. I think that’s just for General Elections. I intend to take a book and a selection of caffeinated soft drinks.

As far as the London Green Party are concerned, all eyes are really on target wards in Camden, Islington, Hackney and Lewisham. Standing here in Haringey’s Highgate ward, I’m what’s euphemistically known as a ‘paper candidate’. Statistically it’s unlikely I’ll get in even if I had an expensive campaign backing me, so the Party concentrate their resources on seats they have a decent chance of getting. Fair enough. That’s the trouble with a party with anti-capitalist principles: there’s never any bloody money.

But even in no-hoper wards, it’s unfair to deny people the chance to vote Green at all, the people who say “I’d vote Green if there was a candidate to vote for”. Well, now there’s three Green candidates in most London local elections, so fingers crossed it makes a difference.

The trouble is people who do ‘tactical voting’. I hate that phrase: it’s so passé, so … Britpop.

Tactical voting essentially says: Vote for Least Worst out of Who Might Get In. What kind of democratic system is that? It’s a lie. No, you must always vote for who and what you believe in regardless. That’s why elections are formally known as POLLS. They’re polling the people, to find out what the people believe in. What’s the point if the people vote ‘tactically’, recording what they don’t want, and not what they do? A Green vote is never a ‘wasted vote’, because it’s on the record. It’s counted. It counts. It shows what people want, as opposed to what they don’t want. That’s what elections are: the best-documented, most-heeded-to polls.

The only truly ‘wasted vote’ is when someone doesn’t use their vote at all.

In 2006, the buzz phrase is ‘protest voting’. Sadly, the newspapers have taken this to mean voting for the BNP. The last few weeks have seen what was virtually a big BNP publicity campaign by the media, getting worked up about a supposed white working-class electorate feeling the country is being overrun with, well, anyone else, and turning to the Dark Side. Alex Cox, cultish movie director and Green Party supporter, summed it up in a letter to The Guardian:

“Is it really necessary to devote column inches to the possibility that the BNP “might” win 70 council seats? I suspect Guardian readers are not very interested in the BNP. But a bit of coverage of the Green party – which already has in excess of 70 local councillors and stand to win 100 or more seats in the election – might not go amiss.”

I disagree with Mr Cox on the bit about thinking Guardian readers aren’t interested in reading about the BNP. Of course they are: everyone is, really. People would rather see Gary Glitter being interviewed than Peter Tatchell (another Green supporter). Obvious villains are always more entertaining. It’s more fun to be evil than to be good.

But in terms of proportional media coverage, it’s a pertinent point. People forget the Greens are the 4th biggest party, and much bigger than the BNP, Respect, UKIP etc in terms of members, candidates and votes. You’d never think so, not lately. Talking about Nazis is sexy: just ask Channel 5. A bit of blind, deliberate, untapped hatred gets people terribly excited. The Devil has all the best media coverage. Voting Green is a protest vote too – obviously – but where’s the fun in being nice to people? Not exactly juicy columnist fodder.

So, given tactical voting is as relevant and useful as debating Oasis v Blur, why vote Green?

One overwhelming reason for me is that the Greens are the only party to be against the Iraq war from the beginning. Not starting it like Labour, not backing it like the Tories, not doing a handy U-turn to gain votes like the LibDems. The Greens believe it’s wrong to declare war on a country without the UN’s backing, particularly on a country that’s done nothing to the UK.

I feel voting for any of the Big Three effectively means I have blood on my hands. How anyone can watch a recent news bulletin and still vote for anyone BUT Green is beyond me. For me, I genuinely wouldn’t be able to sleep at night if I didn’t vote Green.

Another reason is the obvious way the Big Three have been blathering on about green (small ‘g’) issues lately, particularly Mr Cameron. “Vote Blue, Go Green” is the Tory party slogan for these elections. How about cutting to the chase and, you know, skipping those two words in the middle?

Labour – what can I say? They need to go. Mr Blair still regards the ballot box as the best way of ‘listening’ to people. So after Iraq, I switched my vote to Green, where it’s staying. I believe killing people for being in the wrong country at the wrong time is wrong. Call me a foppish eccentric… This issue alone is enough to tell Mr B and his lot to go, and to give the anti-war Greens a chance. Simple, really.

LibDem: the biggest hypocrites. As well as the U-turn on Iraq, there’s the quietening down about their only core belief, Proportional Representation. And there’s their record on Green issues. In terms of local paper wastage alone, the LibDems are the least green party around. They’ve been stuffing the letterboxes round here on an almost daily basis with different leaflet after leaflet- it’s just incredible. Recycled paper or not, waste is waste. And they’re the least sincere. The most annoying and condescending leaflet distributed this election is theirs: printed on blue paper in a fake handwriting font and slyly, falsely concocted to look like a personal letter. And as for hypocrisy on sexuality, well, just ask Mark Oaten and Simon Hughes.

So I have to vote Green in order to sleep at nights, and in order not to be physically sick.

I would probably be told off if I campaigned using the slogan “If You Don’t Vote Green, You Have Innocent Blood On Your Hands. ” It’s a bit much. But that IS how I personally feel about it all. And I feel the Greens need to be given a chance, at the very least.

Besides, George Galloway has probably used that slogan already.

So it’s annoying I’m in the minority on this. But things are changing. Off to The Count I go, then.


Outside The Polling Station

Black suit on the hottest night of the year so far. Rosette. Cravat-tied scarf. Pocket square hanky. Lipgloss, mascara, eyeliner, blusher, foundation, powder, Touche Eclat.

I’m ready to vote.

Photo credit: Kind Conservative poll-taker.


Off To The Polls

Off to the Polling Station, then to Alexandra Palace for The Count. I’m taking my camera.

Note unused “Candidate’s Partner” pass.

At the last local elections for this area (2002), the Green Party fielded one candidate. He received 278 votes out of a total 8154 cast. Which works out as 3.5%.

This year there’s three GP candidates, including myself. Plus an independent candidate called Mr Ralph Crisp. So I’ll be pleased if I get a third of 3.5% of the total vote for the ward. Which is 1.17%.

Perhaps this is the closest I’ll get to “playing” Ally Pally.


Doing my bit to become a Green Party ‘paper candidate’, the euphemistic term for someone who’s on the ballot paper to make the numbers up. It appeals to my interest in always providing an alternative, visibility above all. If I have one message to the world, one maxim, it’s ‘other experiences are available’. Likewise my agreeing to stand as a candidate. The vanity factor is a given. Of course I love the idea of adding ‘have stood for government’ on my inner CV. Who wouldn’t?

Anyone who wants to be a local councillor must collect ten signatures for their ‘nomination papers’. The signatories must be on the electoral roll of the ward I’m standing in, ie Highgate Ward. Annoyingly, there’s another Highgate Ward within the Camden Council area, as opposed to Haringey Council, who preside over my street. You’d have thought the people in charge would’ve come up with different names to avoid confusion.

In fact, it’s a subject in the London-centric news today. Someone somewhere wants to rename Archway tube station as ‘South Highgate’. It also turns out that the bit I live in, near the Highgate tube station but away from Highgate Village, is sometimes considered to be ‘North Archway’, or ‘Archgate’, or even ‘Highgate Slopes’. Typically, this is all to do with house prices. Change the area name, and you change the asking price of a house by some ludicrous percentage. The very word ‘Highgate’ is worth so much extra tens of thousands of pounds. While ‘Archway’ has the opposite effect. For all my arch Telegraph-reading and Marks and Spencer-loving affectations, I find it hard to feel anything but a radical Marxist whenever the subject of the house prices game is broached. Greed as an institutionalised virtue. Keeping people very much in their place, literally. There’s a TV programme about house-hunting called ‘Location, Location, Location’. It’s fair to say it’s not produced by representatives of Shelter or The Big Issue. Still, I’m sure if I ever get in the position of actually having and earning money, this would be a different diary entry.

Pop round to Tim Benton’s to get his signature. I’m trying to get people I know rather than knock on doors, mainly because if someone grills me about The Green Party, all I want to say is ‘if I get in, everything will be better… dressed’.

I think I’m too timid to be a real politician, because I ultimately want a quiet life with no arguments. Still, if that last statement was suddenly adopted in troublespots around the world, it could only make things better.

If I’m at a dinner party, and people start talking about Israel and Palestine, I tend to get my coat and leave. It’s just pointless: 99% of arguments over such things are never really resolved. It’s just a kind of showing off. Even marches and protests are essentially saying ‘we’re showing off against your showing off.’ It’s all a version of people – usually men – waving their genitals in others’ faces.

Things You Seldom Hear: “Yes, you’re right. I admit my stance on Israel-Palestine issues is wrong.”

All is ego, all is vanity. Even war. To be an honest narcissist (or even, a shy / sly narcissist) is the only way.

End the evening with a drink with Martin White. Entirely pleasant, entirely optimistic and forward-looking. The only way to be.