Stepping Out

Sunday 7th February 2016. Days in a chilly city, feeling the nervous hints of climate change. Lots of freezing winter rain, but still no snow. Some confused-looking daffodils poke their heads up by the front of the house.

Mum forwards me a clipping from Country Life (issue dated 6 January 2016), as spotted by Cousin Jim. I’m mentioned in a feature by Matthew Dennison, about diaries. I’m the example of an online diarist, as opposed to a blogger. It’s flattering company to be in: not the other diarists (Woolf, Pepys et al), but the magazine. Going by the adverts, the Country Life readership consists of people who buy and sell English country houses, or who come from English country houses, or those who are just wistfully attracted to that world. I may be far from that world financially, but a part of me is drawn to it aesthetically, in my Vita Sackville-West, Brideshead-loving way. Every article ends with a little silhouette of a peacock.

The article suggests that diaries differ from blogs through the latter’s ‘anticipation of an audience, and in some instances, a commercial intent’. I’d agree with this. Diaries, even public ones, are about stepping out of the world to record an individual’s experience. ‘Blog’, meanwhile, in its original definition, is short for ‘weblog’: a log of things on the web. Early blogs discussed and shared web links. It was all about the linking. Soon the term ‘blogosphere’ appeared, and blogs were seen as units within a new internet community, a textual form of society. When comment boxes appeared in the early 2000s, these took the social aspect further. At this point I tried to join in; one of my misguided attempts to belong. I converted this diary from the raw HTML text it had been, and moved it onto the fun and shiny LiveJournal platform. People could comment on my entries, and did. I felt Part of the Gang. I was a blogger.

But I soon disliked the way comments became an expected part of the reading experience.  Of course people should be free to discuss an entry, but did it have to be in the same place? For better or worse, my style doesn’t work as part of an interactive experience. It’s too stand-offish, too aloof, too wary. In this sense, I suppose I am more of a traditional diarist rather than a blogger. I try to write to step out of the noise, not to join in.

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Monday 8th February 2016.

I’m reading Eternal Troubadour, an extensive new biography of Tiny Tim, the dandyish American ukulele-playing singer, whose single ‘Tip-toe Thru’ The Tulips With Me’ became a huge novelty hit in 1968. I can’t help peppering the margins with exclamation marks: such are the unexpected anecdotes and revelations. Given the wealth of recent discussion about Bowie, it’s fascinating to note that Tiny Tim was often described as ‘camp rock’, a term that was soon applied to Bowie. I’m surprised to discover that the phrase ‘glam rock’ rarely appears in a magazine special on 1972: The Year In Rock, as culled from the archives of NME and Melody Maker. Presumably it came later. In 1972, artists like Bowie, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper are all questioned about the nature of ‘camp’ in their performances. The implication is that they may not ‘mean it’ when they perform – an accusation that Bowie is happy to confirm with his Ziggy Stardust persona.

Tiny Tim, however, did indeed ‘mean it’. He couldn’t help it: he was the same offstage as well as on. According to the book, his widow thinks he had a touch of autism. This made him difficult to work with yet endearingly honest. He had long hair before the Beatles, wore make-up before Bowie, and possessed an encyclopaedic knowledge of American popular song, from wax cylinders onwards. A man of childlike gestures, dandyish affectations, obsessive-compulsive behaviour, and some startling ideas about career moves, such as his late 70s attempt to appear in a porn film.

The book also states that David Bowie was ‘in the crowd’ for a Tiny Tim appearance at the London Palladium, 30th November 1969. This is a slight error: Bowie was actually on the same bill. There’s photos of them on the web standing in the same line after the show, waiting to shake hands with Princess Margaret. In one, Tiny is showing the Princess his shopping bag, which he carried everywhere, even on stage.

More camp connections: Bowie and Tiny Tim both covered Biff Rose’s ‘Fill Your Heart’, and both duetted with Bing Crosby on TV. Crosby to Tiny: ‘Boy, you could throw a Labrador through that vibrato of yours.’

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Tuesday 9th February 2016.

To Printspace in Kingsland Road, a printing shop with its own gallery. It’s hosting a photography exhibition: Lost In Music, a huge collection of images from four decades of club culture, across the whole spectrum of music. I recognise some of the faces from my own past, at London clubs like Nag Nag Nag, Kash Point and Trash. Senay S has been to it the week before, and tells me I’m in it too, as seen at Trash in the early 2000s. So naturally I make the pilgrimage. But by the time I visit, the display with me in has been moved for reasons of space. There’s a lesson here about vanity, and about the past never hanging around long enough. Still, Senay took a photo when she went:

DE at Trash in Lost in Music show

From (thanks to Senay Sargut)

* * *

Wednesday 10th February 2016.

I meet Mum at the British Library, after which we go for drinks at the Victorian Gothic bar next door, the Gilbert Scott. Mum has just been featured in her own magazine special, a supplement that comes with the current issue of Today’s Quilter. ‘Lynne Edwards MBE: 40 Years of Fabric, Quilts and Classes!’

* * *

Friday 12th February 2016. First essay back from the MA course: 73, which is a Distinction. Interesting that MA grades aren’t Firsts, Seconds or Thirds but Distinction (70 or above), Merit (60-69) or Pass (50-59). Same numbers, different names.

It’s the best mark I could have hoped for. A good start, but with room for improvement. The tutor feedback says I need to work more on engaging with theoretical works. I also seem to have (again) cut things out which I thought could be taken as read. I killed the wrong darlings. Must remember that it’s better to bash the reader over the head several times with one point, than it is to tease with a whole range. Variety is not necessarily the spice of essays.

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The Story Of The Art Over The Art Itself

London is deep in snow. I try to spend the days in cafes and libraries, to save on heating.

Monday 7th Jan was start of the spring term at Birkbeck; we’re now into the third week. Managed to finish the ‘Body’ essay on Woolf’s Orlando and Carter’s Nights At The Circus, polishing it with minutes to submission time. Probably could have used a few more days on it, but I’m just glad I made the deadlines for both of the Christmas essays. Trouble with this last one was that it took me a whole first draft before I realised what I really wanted to say. So I had to cut out 2000 words or so, worth hours of research and writing. One so wants to put in a note to the tutor with the offcuts, asking if they could somehow be taken into account. ‘I did all this extra work. I know it doesn’t show, but I still did it.’

Am back into the swing of lectures and seminars, while (still) battling a series of colds followed by a weekend of full-blown flu. Could barely think straight over the weekend. Am now feeling much better, but probably out of sheer boredom at not feeling better.


Set texts for the first half of term are: Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella, Kyd’s Spanish Tragedy, Middleton’s Revenger’s Tragedy, Crane’s Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, and Woolf’s  To the Lighthouse. The humanities ‘Body’ class, meanwhile, continues to be wonderfully diverse from week to week: architecture by Le Corbusier and Eileen Gray, a video dance piece by DV8, photographic art by Ingrid Pollard and Deborah Padfield, poetry by Thom Gunn, and Oscar Moore’s newspaper columns about AIDS.

The DV8 piece – ‘Enter Achilles’ – has really made me want to go and see some modern dance shows. London is perfect for this: suddenly trying a whole new branch of culture, just in case you might like it. It’s just a question of finding cheap tickets.

Taste does change with time. For all you know you might now suddenly love, say, avant garde jazz, or ballet, or heavy metal, or modern opera, and not realise it. How would you know? You need to try a little of everything every now and then. With the possible exception of bungee jumping.

But it works the other way too. There’s been reports of people going to see the new Les Miserables film only to realise – while watching it – that they didn’t like musicals after all.

Not me, though. I’ve managed to see two excellent stage musicals in two weeks: Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate at the Old Vic with Mum (Jan 9th), then Sondheim’s Merrily We Roll Along at the Menier Chocolate Factory (Jan 17th, by myself). They reminded me that, yes, I definitely do still like musicals – the well-written ones.


Right now the media are going a bit silly over David Bowie’s new material, but it’s a kind of weird doublethink – they want something new, and yet they don’t want something new. Not too new. The new Bowie songs will be judged as part of the long-running Bowie narrative first and foremost, rather than on their own merit. The fact he retired for years then suddenly ‘came back’ is treated as if it were as important as the music itself. But that’s how critics work: they can’t actually deal with art in and of itself, it needs to be framed in narratives around the art – genres, biography, backstory, influence. The Story Of The Art is all part of the Art, they imply. Which is unfair. But then, I’m biased.

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