Waking With Anita

I’ve written a piece in the New Escapologist, issue #8. It’s about Fun. The issue is available now: you can click here to buy it.


Christmas and New Year exploits: a lot of essay writing, or essay avoiding. But I still managed to do the following.

Christmas Day 2012: Fed the ducks in Waterlow Park once again (every year since 2001, I think). With Ms Silke once again too, though this year she’s moved. No longer in Highgate but Holloway, and she walked all the way to Highgate and back to do the duck feeding with me. We stood by the pond and drank mulled wine from a flask and ate chocolate reindeer, which looked suspiciously like Easter bunnies in a different foil wrapper. Ms S is still working at Archway Video, but it now looks likely that it’ll close for good sometime in 2013. Physical DVD libraries are struggling in the era of iPads, Netflix, TV catch-up services, iTunes and so on. A lot of Highgate customers have sensed this might be AV’s last Christmas, and have sent the shop a record number of Christmas cards this year. After we fed the ducks, Silke opened up the shop and showed me them all, including a card from Ray Davies of the Kinks. She lent me three DVDs: Cabin in the Woods (because I like Joss Whedon), Die Hard (because it’s apparently a good Christmas film), and Five Year Engagement (because I like Emily Blunt and romcoms).

Saw two of the three. Die Hard isn’t really my cup of tea, and isn’t that Christmassy really. But I’m glad I finally saw it, just in case I turned out to be an action movie fan on the sly. Alan Rickman steals the show, purring his way through the gunfire.

Cabin In The Woods: Loved its quips & sheer nerve. Much closer to Buffy (which I love). Pure Joss Whedon in tone, even though he only co-wrote it. Plays with the idea of cheating the audience out of the ending they think they want. Clever, cheeky, self-aware.

Boxing Day: Lavish meal and drinks in Crouch End courtesy Suzi Livingstone. Chatted to Anna Spivack and Suzi’s New Zealand friend Dianne. Discussion about NZ music: Headless Chickens, Chris Knox. Argument over whether Crowded House count as a New Zealand or an Australia band. ‘Well, the talented ones were from New Zealand…’

Thurs December 27th: To the Stapleton Tavern near Crouch Hill for Alex Sarll’s birthday. Dozens of people there. I ended up promising to attend the Joanne Joanne gig the next day, at least three of whom were at this gathering (Charley Stone the guitarist, Jo Bevan the singer, Other Jo whom I don’t know but who is an excellent bassist). Joanne Joanne is an all-female band who only play Duran Duran songs – but mainly their lesser known, more interesting songs. ‘Because the real Duran Duran are forced to do all the hits.’ I love that the name isn’t just a pun; there really are two Joannes in Joanne Joanne.

Friday 28th: Joanne Joanne at the Lexington: brilliant, particularly on ‘Hold  Back The Rain’, ‘The Chauffeur’ and ‘Planet Earth’. Chatted to Deb Googe of MBV, who says the new My Bloody Valentine album might really, actually, really, no honestly, come back, be released in 2013. Also spoke to Kirsten, Lea Andrews, Katharine Gifford, Kevin Reinhardt, many others. Hung around with Sophia Wyeth as she DJ’d downstairs till chucking out time. Drank  too much and probably annoyed people. Woke up the next day with the amnesia and paranoia of such indulgence. Realised I was sharing the bed with an old Anita Brookner novel, which I don’t remember acquiring.

Other people wake up after a drunken night out having somehow gained a traffic cone or a torn poster from a wall or indeed a person. I emerge with an old Anita Brookner novel.

It’s very good, though: Lewis Percy.

Sat 29th: DJ-d at the Coronet in the Elephant & Castle for the Last Tuesday Society. Was still very hungover from the night before, and didn’t stay long after finishing at midnight. Think they enjoyed my DJ-ing. Had a few drinks by way of hair of the dog, but resolved to take a break after this night.

Monday 31st: Met Laurence Hughes for tea at Forks, on the other side of Highgate hill. Very nice sofas, hand made mince pies, cheap pots of tea. Watched the Jools Hootenanny to see my brother Tom playing guitar with Adam Ant’s band: so very proud of him.

Tuesday 1st: Dinner with Ella Lucas in the Turkish bistro – Bistro Laz – on West Hill. Just what I needed: was going a bit mad with all the essay worry.

Since then, it’s been essay work, or feeling ill (third cold in two months, varicose vein pains), or putting off essay work then making myself even more ill when I realise how behind I am. Thankfully today was productive purely down to making myself a timetable with reasonable goals in each session, then sticking to that.

A wish for 2013? I’d like it to be the year when I finally feel like I’m ‘right’ in my life. (to which a friend said, ‘That’s how everyone feels!’) The college course is great, but it’s not meant to be my whole life. I need to do more – and I want to do more. The trick is to timetable it all. Like this: I wrote ‘9.30-10.30pm: diary catch-up’, and here it is. Seems so silly.

Have promised to lay off alcohol for a couple of months. Teetotal since December 31st and counting.

(Sorry that this is too long. Not sorry that I got it done…)

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Maundy Mopping-Up

I’m spending Easter writing essays for college and hoping a rather painful stomach ache goes away. Think it’s a return of the dreaded IBS, made worse by stress over the essays. Am hitting the peppermint capsules and hoping for the best.

Recent outings…

Saturday 31 March was another stint of DJ-ing for the Last Tuesday Society, at the Adam Street club off the Strand. After I’d finished I stuck around and caught a performance by an excellent African band, Kasai Masai. Their giddy, hypnotic music  fitted the atmosphere perfectly.

Sunday: tea in Highgate with Ella Lucas, then we both wandered into town, taking in the National Portrait Gallery and South Bank. I’d been reading Virginia Woolf – Icon by Brenda Silver (1999), which claimed Ms Woolf’s photo (this one) was the best selling postcard in the NPG shop. I ask the NPG staff whose postcard sells the most today. They’re not sure, but reckon it to be between Kate Moss, Prince William & Prince Harry, the Queen by Warhol, Lily Cole, and Darcey Bussell. Ms Woolf’s face still does well though – a Woolf-branded notebook has sold out.

Monday last was the launch of Richard King’s book about the story of British indie labels, How Soon Is Now. I was kindly invited by Richard himself, and I asked my old bandmate Simon Kehoe along (from the first Orlando line-up), seeing as he’d just moved to London and was looking for things to go to. Turns out Simon had been invited too –  he and Richard were once in the Bristol band Teenagers In Trouble during the 90s. Simon also brought another bandmate along, Kevin from The Foaming Beauties, whom I met for the first time. So at some point Simon managed to assemble representatives of all his past bands in the same room – and got a photo of all of us too.

Simon, Kevin and myself started the evening in Soho with drinks at the French House and dinner at the Stockpot (a deliberate attempt to have an Old Soho evening), before going on to the launch event at the Social in Fitzrovia. The launch included Bob Stanley DJ-ing, a chat about the nature of indie music between Messrs King and Stanley with Owen Hatherley, and a short but utterly fantastic acoustic set by Edwyn Collins, backed by James Walbourne and Andy Hackett. They performed dazzling versions of ‘Falling And Laughing’, ‘Rip It Up’, ‘A Girl Like You’ and ‘Blueboy’.

Chatted to Grace Maxwell (Edwyn Collins’s partner, whom I’ve met before when my brother Tom was playing for Edwyn) and Jeanette Lee (from Rough Trade, who signed Orlando to Warners, and was once in PiL). Bought a copy of the book from a lady who later turned out to be Louise Brealey, the actress who plays Molly From The Morgue on Sherlock. Just as well I didn’t realise this at the time, as I’d downed rather a lot of wine by this point and had reached that stage of solipsistic drunkenness which is just about acceptable for friends, but deeply tiresome for strangers. I realise now I must have annoyed Lee Brackstone from Faber Books too, which I’m rather shamefaced about (sorry, Mr B). Still, it was a rare event; a class reunion of a kind, and a celebration of past lives and passions.

Tom is currently playing guitar for Adam Ant in Australia (photo of him onstage in Perth here). So proud of him.


Some new works by other people worthy of greater exposure:

New albums:

CN Lester – Ashes (available here).
Stunning debut collection of haunting, late-night torch songs. I first saw the androgynous CN play at a Transgender Day Of Remembrance service, and am so pleased they’ve released  an album. Here’s to many more.

The Monochrome Set – Platinum Coils. (available here)
An unexpected, wonderful surprise; a brand new CD by the MS, their first since the mid 90s. Arch, crooning, twangy guitar pop, sounding just as fresh as their late 70s and early 80s records.

New books:

Richard King – How Soon is Now? The Madmen and Mavericks Who Made Independent Music 1975-2005. (Richard has a blog here)
As bought at the above launch. Satisfyingly doorstop-sized, engrossing account of the history of labels like Mute, Factory, Creation and Rough Trade. Focuses on tales of music and money (the lack of it, the making of it, the wasting of it) and the way indie labels and artists took on the mainstream, not always certain of what they were doing. The notorious appearance of the KLF at the Brit Awards being a case in point.

Jen Campbell – Weird Things Customers Say In Bookshops (Jen’s blog is here). Jen C works at Ripping Yarns, the used and antiquarian bookshop down the road from me in Highgate. The book collects some of the strange requests and utterations that she’s heard, illustrated with line drawings which are also rather weird, in a sweet sort of way.

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Tuesday 26th Aug:
The tag is taken off by a droll gentleman in half-moon glasses. Unlike his colleague who put it on, he doesn’t wear forensic PVC gloves.

Two abiding moments from the tag month. A few days after it went on, I weighed myself and was shocked that I’d put on about a third of a stone. Wandered around in a state of even greater confusion than usual. Then realised where the extra weight was coming from.

Another occasion: I call the tag firm with some questions. No, they’re not available in any other colour but grey. And no, they don’t advise that I decorate it with pink seahorse stickers. The man on the phone isn’t completely sure, but he says it MIGHT count as violation.

Weds 25th August.

First night out since the tag is taken off. I spend it at Madame JoJo’s in Brewer Street, seeing Simon A’s drag queen showtunes evening, ‘The Velma Celli Show’. Lots of twisted and funny takes on songs from Cabaret, Chicago and A Chorus Line. There’s also a spoof of ‘Don’t Stop Believing’, the version from the TV series Glee. I’ve still not seen the programme, but I recognise the costumes – red sweaters and blue jeans – just by cultural osmosis.

Weds 25th-Mon 30th August:
Catsitting again in Crouch End, for Jenn C and Chris H while they’re on holiday. The cat, Vyvian, is unusually lethargic. He’s actually suffering from a handful of wounds acquired through fights with other cats (even though he’s neutered), but the marks are so hidden under his fur that no one detects them.

Then on my last evening, he wipes flecks of white gunk from his forehead onto my suit trousers. After much thinking and Googling, I realise it could be pus from an abscess. So I hunt carefully around on his head, and – ta dah! – locate the wound in question. Following more Internet instructions, I soak some cotton wool in warm water and clean both wound and trousers before texting the owners. They whisk him off to the vet the next day. [He’s much better, as of Sept 21st.]

Therapy today: the therapist hears about the tagging, and thinks that not only am I addicted to self-sabotage, but that I use it as way of seeking attention, passive-aggressive style. ‘Notice me, O dole office!’

The sessions now feel so much like hard work, that I realise I’m putting on personae in order to please the therapist. Good Patient. Bad Patient. Both. Which is a waste of time for both of us. So I cancel therapy for the time being. Am in a sort of neutral mindset, as it is: not productive and not doing much with my life, but not strictly depressed either. The therapy was adding to the anxiety, rather than treating it.

Tues Sept 7th
Against Nature at Proud Camden – the last one for now. Grateful thanks to the door volunteers: Alex P, Sam C, Suzanne C. I rather feel I’ve run out of Favour Credit. You can only ask friends to do things for free for so long. Ideally I’d pay the door staff in future, but it’s not possible if I’m already losing money paying the venue (£50 on top of the bar takings), the sound engineer (£100, though he did know the PA inside out, unpacked it, built it, packed it away, and worked all night) and the four live acts (£50 each, apart from the Soft Close-Ups who took pity on me and waived their full fee).

A modest but acceptable turn out (£177), given the tube strike AND a Tuesday evening. I end up losing money once more, but as it’s the last one I don’t mind so much. Am just glad to finish the night with me actually hosting it.

Have learned an awful lot doing Against Nature. About what I can do and what I can’t do. About what I can do, but would rather someone else did; what I can’t do, but could do if I worked at it; and what I can’t do, and will never be able to do. And most of all, what I don’t want to do. Which is promote a monthly club night again. Done that, now. Ticked. It. Off.

I know there is more to life than just ticking off things on a big list, that you’re meant to choose one or two things and stick at them till the grave. But in my case, I’m still finding things spring up which I quite fancy trying out, if only because I’ve not done them before.

I now have a increased respect for promoters, performers, and anyone trying to get anyone else to do anything at all. It’s proper Work. Not Fun. Or at least, promoting is the proper work behind Fun. I still have a terrible problem with these two concepts. In my head, Work is not meant to be Fun. Fun is not meant to be Work. I realise that this is part of My Whole Trouble. Not helped by phrases like ‘Work/Life Balance’. So… Work is not being alive?

A couple of venues have approached me to do something similar with them, so I suppose I must have been at least vaguely good at it. What I may do is try putting on Against Nature as a one-off festival-style event. Festivals do rather seem to be the in-thing right now. Friends are going miles out of their way to get to a festival – Guildford, for example – while eschewing regular club nights and gigs on their own doorstep. The digital era has given non-digital experiences more value. In a world saturated with news coverage and commentary, festivals can be news items AND events.

Thursday Sept 9th:
My joint birthday soiree with Seaneen M at The Hideaway in Tufnell Park. Fourteen friends turn up. Which is perfect for a soiree: not too few, not too many. I love seeing people from the different social worlds I paddle in make connections: David Ryder-P turns out to be from the same small Welsh town as Miss Red. Jenn & Chris provide champagne truffles, and I drink myself into a happy stupor rather than a maudlin one. Given the way most of my birthdays have gone in the past, this is what I believe young people call a ‘result’.


From Alan Bennett’s ‘Father! Father! Burning Bright’:

Midgley took her by the shoulders.

‘Things will change, you’ll see. I’ll change. I’ll be a different person. I can… go. Live! Start!’ He kissed her quickly and warmly and ran from the door down the little drive towards the van. His wife rushed to the door to catch him.

‘Start?’ his wife shouted. ‘Start what? You’re 39.’

I’m 39 now. Still living in the same rented furnished bedsit as I was sixteen years ago (but it IS in a very leafy and sought-after part of North London), and still on the dole, with no savings. Less than the dole, in fact, as I’m paying back a massive overpayment. Lots of time, but no money. But then again, lots of time.

Have applied for a few jobs in the spirit of hilarious optimism, with no joy. Initial enthusiasm has rather been kicked out of me after I gave what I thought was a perfect job interview for a job helping organise exhibitions in libraries. A dozen other people after it, though. But perhaps something will come along soon. I’m available.

Till then, I’m extremely grateful that I’m not doing something I don’t want to do. It’s not quite a definition of a fulfilled and happy life, but it is a luxury.

(And now, St Ives).

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I’m about to scoot off to St Ives for three days. Some catching up is rather in order. First, a commercial break.

My small yet surprisingly powerful Session guitar amp is now up on Ebay, as sold by my brother. Used throughout my time in Orlando & Fosca. It’s just been fully serviced, ready for a new owner:


Now then.

Weds 4th Aug:
Against Nature: August Edition, at Proud Camden.
I have to run the night by remote control: setting everything up, the sweets, the soundcheck, the silent movie,  then I dash off home by 9pm because of my curfew. Kevin Reinhardt does the stand-in promoter duties. Kind door volunteers: Sam C, Farzana F, Sarah H, Alex P, Kitty F. Del Des Anges (sound engineer) and Sophia Wyeth (DJ) also work their socks off for hours on end. I’m utterly grateful to them all.

It ends up being the best attended night of Against Nature to date (including the September one). And I’m not there to attend it myself.

Joe Atari sends me some photos he took.

Ophelia Bitz:

Patti Plinko:

Anne Pigalle:

Thurs 5th August:

Paid work! I do a one-off talk at the National Portrait Gallery on the subject of Queer Perspectives. I’m the guest speaker for Sadie Lee, who puts on the event regularly. Am wearing the tag, and wonder if this is some kind of first for the NPG. Or for wearers of curfew tags. The talk lasts 7pm-8pm, and I easily make it home in time for my curfew. The Northern Line is so much better than it used to be. Still need to write up the notes as an article.

Fri 6th August

To Wynd’s Shop Of Horrors on Mare Street. He’s asked me to DJ at a few of his events, in return for some framed original drawings by Stephen Tennant. I get to pick out the ones I want, settling on an illustrated poem written on Wilsford Manor headed notepaper, a Cocteau-esque portrait of a sailor, and one of Alexander the Great.

A few weeks later (Sept 21st), I hang two of them, using the picture rail in my room. Hanging framed art at home is the closest I feel to being properly grown up.

Back at the shop, I’m interviewed about dandyism by a Polish journalist, Kamilla Staszak. She takes a photo of me wearing the tag:

Fri 20th Aug:

I spend an hour or so collecting for DEC’s Pakistan appeal at Holborn tube, holding a bucket near the foot of the main escalator. It’s an official collection by TFL staff. Although I’m not a TFL employee, they’ve asked friends of friends to boost the numbers. Farzana F is a friend of the organiser, and she’s a friend of mine, so here I am. Quite touching when an old lady stuffs a £20 note into my bucket, while a 6-year-old girl runs over and puts in a penny, encouraged by her parents.

One very weird moment. A well-dressed man stands next to me and asks quietly, ‘Would you be prepared to sacrifice yourself for Pakistan?’

I say, pardon? And he repeats it. What on earth can I say back? Does he want a debate on the subject, right now? Or am I actually being….? No, surely not. And yet, I do have this history of strangers coming up and saying very unexpected things to me. Whatever it is, I want him to go away. I blurt out some words.

‘Um. I’m just collecting coins and notes… That’s as far as I go, I’m afraid.’

And he walks off.

Later, in the laundrette on Archway Road.  As I traipse out the door with my pressed shirts, a woman stops me.

‘Excuse me!’

I turn around. ‘Yes?’

‘You look like Superman.’

‘Right. Thank you.’

She doesn’t seem particularly insane, either.

Somewhere in all this is what, I suppose, my friend Shanthi calls my Unique Selling Point.

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