Looking For Squlchy

Saturday 1st November 2014. I enjoy the latest Doctor Who, in which the Master comes back as Missy, a kind of evil Mary Poppins. She’s played with scene-stealing relish by Michelle Gomez. It must be a lot of fun being her.

* * *

Sunday 2nd November 2014. While writing an essay about Ernest Hemingway, I find myself getting obsessed with the made-up word ‘squlchy’. It appears in some US editions of his book In Our Time, yet is corrected to ‘squelchy’ in all the UK ones. I spend hours of this week poring over this tiny matter, seeing if any critics have commented on it (only a couple – one thinks it’s intentional, the other thinks it’s a typo that should have been corrected). I call up different editions in the British Library to trace the differences. Then I try to see if Hemingway ever insisted on keeping the invented spelling (my results: he doesn’t seem to have cared either way, while a later ‘definitive’ US edition uses the corrected spelling). After all this I decide that my findings are irrelevant to the essay in hand. So I cut them out.

I do this sort of thing a lot. I suppose it’s called a research wormhole.

* * *

Monday 3rd November2014. I find out that a favourite TV series of my childhood is now on YouTube. It’s the 1979 BBC adaptation of E Nesbit’s The Enchanted Castle. Seeing it now, and comparing it to, say, the trailers for the new Paddington Bear film – I realise just how slow and quiet children’s entertainment used to be. Almost Pinteresque. Very little incidental music, and certainly none of the roller-coaster editing one is used to now. The new CGI Paddington film has a noisy, nick-of-time chase sequence, just like the new Hobbit films.

* * *

Tuesday 4th November 2014. An intriguing article in the New Statesman by Daniel Glaser, a scientist who was on the Booker panel this year. He chose to read all the novels on paper rather than on an iPad or a Kindle, because ‘your encoding of memory is richer if it’s multi-sensory’.

Evening: to the function room of the Lamb pub in Lamb’s Conduit Street, Bloomsbury, for a literary salon. More an informal get-together of literary types, really. I’m invited by Thom Cuell, and bump into a couple of others I know. James Ward is there, once someone I knew from Fosca and Baxendale gigs, now the author of Adventures in Stationery. He has grown a beard.

It’s nice to meet new people, particularly bookish ones. But I still feel so awkward about introducing myself – I feel I have to pitch a version of myself.  I’ve done all kinds of things – which ones to say? Thom introduces me as a singer – and I haven’t done that for years. I have enough trouble explaining my existence to myself, let alone to strangers.

* * *

Wednesday 5th November 2014. A current fashion for young men is to grow as bushy a beard as possible. There are some truly striking examples in the library today: their faces a mass of billowing hair clouds, as if offsetting the weight of their backpacks. The hair on top of their head, meanwhile, is immaculately short, shaven at the sides and slicked down. Bearded striplings. Or better yet: beardlings.

* * *

Thursday 6th November 2014. I go on Twitter and very nearly find myself joining in with the talking points of the day. Remembrance Day poppies is one hot topic, while the new John Lewis Christmas advert is another. But then an immense feeling of pointlessness overwhelms me, and I decide against it.

The impulse to comment on a topical subject is often just loneliness, really. One problem of wanting to belong is that you can join the crowd only to vanish within it.

* * *

To the Leicester Square Odeon Studios for The Riot Club. The cinema is really a hive of small screens built into the cavities and corridors to one side of the Leicester Square Odeon. The Studios even lack their own entrance: you have to walk through a branch of Costa coffee instead. Quite where the Costa part ends and the Odeon part begins is unclear – it’s just a typically anonymous, franchise non-place, one ubiquitous brand blurring depressingly into another. I’m only here because it’s the only cinema showing the film I’m after. Aptly enough, The Riot Club is a critique of the way Britain is at the mercy of a few powerful names. The club of the title is a thinly-disguised version of the Bullingdon Club, the notorious society for wealthy Oxford students, which once included David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson.

Most of the film takes place during one of their dinners, with shorter scenes acting as a prelude and an aftermath. The dinner is such an unusually extended scene that I soon realise I am watching an adaptation of a stage play (called Posh, it turns out). This is where the film doesn’t quite work – it’s tonally torn between its original form and the new one. As it is, these days plays are being filmed on stage to be shown in cinemas directly – and the Billy Elliot musical’s screening outsold all the proper films earlier this year. The Riot Club either needs to stay on stage or needs to be filmed like If…. An allegorical, deliberately unreal treatment.

There’s a moment where one character delivers a State Of The Nation Speech, about how it’s the true way of the British to be trodden on by their betters. This sort of thing is perfect for the stage, but is utterly unbelievable in a realistic film. Still, it’s a triumph aesthetically, if only because it rounds up so many beautiful young actors in one place (including Freddie Fox and Ben Schnetzer from Pride, and Douglas Booth from Great Expectations).

* * *

Friday 7th November 2014. Two launches in East London. First to 11 Mare Street for the Viktor Wynd Museum Of Curiosities. The museum isn’t officially open yet, but tonight it hosts a launch for Mr W’s book on the art of collecting, Viktor Wynd’s Cabinet of Wonders. In the museum is a Dandies’ Corner, featuring Sebastian Horsley’s red sequinned suit, lots of Stephen Tennant art, and a sketch of the young Quentin Crisp by Mervyn Peake. Upstairs there’s a range of beautiful Leonora Carrington sketches and paintings. At the other end of the scale: a box of Russell Brand’s pubic hair, or so the label claims. (More info at: http://www.thelasttuesdaysociety.org)

Then I hop on the 394 bus to go the Mercer Chance gallery, Hoxton Street. This is the launch for Parallel Evolution, the debut CD by the ambient music group Shadow Biosphere, aka Lesley Malone and Caroline Jago. It’s a spooky, space-inspired soundscape reminiscent of the Under The Skin soundtrack. I can also imagine it being on Radio 3’s Late Junction. Highly recommended. (More info at http://theshadowbiosphere.wordpress.com/)

Tags: , , , , , ,