Postcards From The Other

Wednesday 3 August 2022. To the Wallace Collection for the exhibition Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts. On the audio guide is a new commentary by Angela Lansbury (I edit this entry after she dies in October, which must make the audio guide one of her last professional credits). There are stills and working drawings from some of the Disney cartoon films, mainly Cinderella and Beauty and the Beast. Theseare displayed alongside examples of the eighteenth-century Rococo art that inspired them, including some elaborate Sevres vases and a number of paintings from the same period.

The Wallace is home to Fragonard’s The Swing, which is often used to define the meaning of ‘Rococo’ itself. It’s only now that I realise how Disney-esque the painting is, avant la lettre: the privileged girl’s playful abandon, the sugary colours, the sense of timeless delight. Much parodied, there was a spoof cartoon in the Times during the first Covid lockdown, with the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak on the swing, throwing pink pound notes into the air in place of the pink dress. In this exhibition there’s a video screen showing a clip from Frozen, where the sister Anna jumps up in front of the painting to mimic the pose. Next to the screen is the actual painting. While Walter Benjamin might be right about a work of art losing its ‘aura’ in an age of mass reproduction, seeing the Frozen spoof on a screen alongside the actual painting has its own thrill, if a postmodern one. But then, I’m the sort of person who buys National Gallery Covid face masks.

**

Thursday 4 August 2022. With Shanthi to Café Kick in Exmouth Market, followed by drinks in the Shakespeare’s Head, before ending up performing tipsy karaoke at a private booth in Lucky Voice, Upper Street. It’s my first time, I think, since doing karaoke in a proper Tokyo hotel room-style venue, a la Lost in Translation. This was a post-gig activity by the band Spearmint, with whom I played circa 1999 and 2000. I rather like the boast of saying one only does karaoke when in Japan.

It’s too hot for a jacket, so I’m wearing purple braces over a white shirt. David B says this makes me look like a packet of Silk Cut.

**

Sunday 7 August 2022. A recurring conversation in the media is the value of arts degrees, as opposed to studying science or business. By value, they mean the ability for arts graduates to earn large sums of money. The value of nothing and the price of everything, as someone who worked in the arts once said.

In my case, I’m certainly getting used to receiving rejection emails with the phrase: ‘due to the high volume of applications’. That really makes one feel special. It feels like there’s too many people with arts PhDs applying for too few vacancies. I believe it’s called the ‘postdocalypse’.

I’m grateful, though, that I haven’t yet been forced by the government into taking an unlovely job against my will. It’s true that one of the downsides of getting older is that the world is more likely to ignore you. But in some respects, that is one of the benefits.

**

Tuesday 9 August 2022. The Wire magazine asks me to review a book about C86, the cassette compilation of new bands put out by the NME in 1986. ‘C86’ soon came to mean a whole genre: jangly, tinny guitars, rendered in a scratchy indie rock style. On the cassette this was exemplified by bands like the Wedding Present and the Bodines. The problem with the term was that many of the other bands on the C86 tape didn’t sound that way at all. They were more arty, avant-garde and strange, more like Captain Beefheart than Orange Juice or The Smiths.

I learn from the new book that one of these artier bands, The Shrubs, was fronted by Nick Hobbs, with whom I once shared a Japanese hotel room. He managed Spearmint when I played with them, and was once impressed with me not for playing guitar but for recognising a photo on a restaurant wall of Derek Jarman’s Dungeness cottage. The implication was: what was I doing playing melodic indie pop guitar (and not very well) when I knew about Difficult Art?

This was long before Jarman became the brand he is today. Even normal people like Derek Jarman now. He’s become like Southwold, Stewart Lee, and Brutalism.

Also learned from the book: a former tambourine player with Primal Scream calls Bobby Gillespie’s autobiography a work of fiction, made to make the singer look good.

I think that’s the case with all autobiography, this diary included. There is vanity in every creative act, even when indulging in self-pity. Consciously or unconsciously, all memoirs are full of fiction, just as all novels are full of memory.

The author of the C86 book, Nige Tassell, has also written a whole book about the football transfer window, whatever that is.

**

Sunday 21 August 2022. I give a paper at an Aubrey Beardsley conference, ‘AB 150’, at St Bride’s Foundation, off Fleet Street. I enjoy the day, with the nice Beardsley aficionados, one of whom links Beardsley’s pierrot characters to costumes used by David Bowie and Harry Styles, another of whom references the film Suspiria.  I reference Donald Trump, Brigid Brophy, and the film Carry on Loving.  We go for drinks at the Punch Tavern, and I end up joining the Oscar Wilde Society afterwards.

**

Thursday 25 August 2022. To the Waiting Room venue, in the basement of the Three Crowns pub, Stoke Newington. I’m here to see Charley Stone play with her own band, which she calls The Actual Band. Also on the bill are Panic Pocket: very good, intriguing and original. I chat to old friends, some not seen for years: Anna Spivack, Debbie Smith and Atalanta K, Tim Baxendale, David Barnett. I share the tube journey home with Debbie and Atalanta, who mention the documentary film that they’re both in, Rebel Dykes,about the 1980s lesbian subcultures in London.

**

Friday 26 August 2022. Treated to a kind lunch at Le Sacre Coeur in Islington, by Roz Kaveney, who knows I don’t have much money at the moment. By a coincidence Roz is also in Rebel Dykes, proving that lesbian clubs of the 80s accepted trans women too. I watch the documentary itself in the evening, via the Channel 4 streaming platform. It’s exactly the sort of alternative, subcultural film that Channel 4 used to stand for, before the era of Big Brother made it into just another mainstream channel. 

Rebel Dykes depicts the busy London squat scene of the 80s, before the law was changed to make squatting illegal. This was when London, like Channel 4, was a place for the displaced. Given the current cost of living crisis, I wonder if the law will have to change again, and a new age of squatting begin.

**

Sunday 28 Aug 2022. To a mini festival in Spa Fields off Exmouth Market. There’s stalls selling food and clothes and so on, and some rock bands playing on a small stage. I’m made aware of just how visibly middle-aged the audience is, perhaps because I’ve not been to a daylight gig for a while. But then, so many of the practitioners of the genre are greying too: Paul McCartney headlining Glastonbury this year at the age of 80. Rock music now feels more claimed by the older than the young. 

The C86 book, which I’m clearly not finished with, reveals that even some of the fairly obscure indie groups of the 1980s have recently reformed, the members now in their late 50s or older. This is often because there’s a proliferation of small festivals who want to book them, particularly abroad. The phrase ‘has been’ is now itself a kind of has-been. If fame just means attracting an audience, even a small one, you can stay famous forever. Or at least, for as long as YouTube exists.

After the festival I go for drinks at the very pleasant Victorian pub The Peasant, in St John Street, with Travis Elborough, Alex Mayor, and Dave Callahan, who is in the C86 book, being a member of the Wolfhounds. We are thrown out of the pub at 9pm, not because we are rowdy but because it’s a Sunday.

**

Saturday 3 September 2022. Getting older myself. I spend my 51st birthday in Bexhill on Sea, having lunch in the De La Warr Pavilion, one of those places I’ve always meant to visit. I haven’t been abroad since 2009, partly due to lack of money but also because there’s a lot of places in the UK I’ve still not ticked off.

Then afternoon tea at the wonderfully crumbling Royal Victoria hotel in St Leonards-on-Sea with Kitty Fedorec. This is close to the Marine Court Art Deco apartment block, one of my dream places to live if I had the choice, the other being the Barbican. This is followed by a game of mini golf in Hastings with her Kitty’s friends. After which we go for cheese bingo in a nearby pub, which turns out not to be a joke. I’m surrounded by wry geeks and bohemians in their 30s and 40s, one of whom is carrying a bag of vinyl albums, including Edward Woodward Sings.

**

Thursday 8 Sept 2022. The Queen dies at 96. I was convinced she would beat her mother’s age of 101, given the progress of medicine. But then, unlike her mother she did have rather more to do than drink gin and watch racehorses. 

I go to the Shakespeare’s Head with David Barnett and try HMQ’s reputed tipple: Dubonnet and gin. Two parts Dubonnet to 1 part gin, with a slice of lemon plus ice.HMQ, who was not much of a drinker, inherited this choice from her mother, who was. Quite a 1920s drink, in fact, also associated with Noel Coward, and a reminder that the Queen Mother was of the Bright Young Things generation. The drink itself is not unlike absinthe. Unexpectedly strong, which seems apt. I don’t have more than one.

**

Saturday 10 September 2022. Trying to get used to having a new King, without thinking of spaniels. The Prince Charles Cinema in Soho has affixed a notice to its door: ‘No, we are not changing our name.’

**

Monday 12 September 2022. To the Barbican for The Forgiven, an Evelyn Waugh-esque melodrama about decadent white people in Morocco. I’m slightly shocked to see that film has an 18 certificate, not for violence or gore or sex but for scenes of drug use, namely cocaine. There’s some footage of Tangier early on. I think I recognise the El Minzah hotel, where there might still be a photo above the bar of me and Shane MacGowan. 

**

Wednesday 21 Sept 2022. I read the comic memoir Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. Kobabe is a young American cartoonist who mentions the music of David Bowie as part of their path to coming out as non-binary. Their other cultural references include Harry Styles. Harry Styles is not David Bowie, but there certainly seems to be a gap in the current world of role models for a Bowie-esque figure, a pretty male who can combine mainstream pop music with acting and fashion and being just unmanly enough – but too strange that he can’t appear on the cover of Grazia. Mr Styles has done his best to take up that position.

Tonight I see the big new Bowie documentary, Moonage Daydream at the BFI IMAX in Waterloo, with Shanthi and Rob, bumping into Erol Alkan in the lobby beforehand.

Moonage Daydream recycles a fair amount of footage I’ve seen before, from Alan Yentob’s Cracked Actor to the Mavis Nicholson interview. Easily found on the internet, but it’s nice to see these ancient clips cleaned up and stretched across the giant IMAX screen. Mavis Nicholson died recently, the same day as the other queen. She specialised in getting the best out of unusual men: Quentin Crisp, Kenneth Williams, Tom Baker. If I had my way, the IMAX would show a whole season of her interviews. The venue would be renamed IMAVE.

After the film Shanthi takes my photo in the IMAX Exit 1 subway, where someone has scrawled on the wall ‘PANSY MOB’.

**

Friday 23 September 2022. Still on a Bowie tip, I find myself going down a Bowie / camp research rabbit-hole. In the film there’s footage of Bowie fans in the early 70s, queuing up outside one of his concerts. They chat to the camera about Bowie, saying ‘he’s so camp’, and it’s meant in a positive, even hip sense.

I find the 1972 Melody Maker Bowie interview, the one where he says he’s gay. In the article the journalist, Michael Watts, calls Bowie’s presentation ‘camp as a row of tents’. In 2006 Watts wrote about his memories of doing the interview, and wondered if he actually invented the phrase ‘camp as a row of tents’. It would be nice to think so, but I can’t resist doing the research to find out. This is what prevents me from being a regular journalist, on top of my slowness. I can’t make some sweeping claim and let it stand with no citations, no evidence.

According to Gary Simes’s exhaustive article ‘Gay Slang Lexicography’ (2005), ‘camp as a row of tents’ is at least as old as 1948, and may be Australian in its origins. Barry Humphries was using ‘camp as a row of tents’ in the 1960s, which I can believe, while the Times used the phrase in 1968, to describe the TV series The Avengers.

‘Camp’ also appears in another significant piece of Bowie journalism: Ray Coleman’s concert review for Melody Maker, 15 July 1972. There, Bowie is called ‘the undisputed king of camp rock’, combining the Velvet Underground with ‘a Danny La Rue profile’.

I wonder if young people who now look to Bowie as they look to Harry Styles would get both these references. Perhaps Todd Haynes should follow up his documentary on the Velvet Underground with one on Danny La Rue.

**

28 September 2022. So hypersensitive to language that I take against emails beginning with ‘Hi’ rather than ‘Dear’. ‘Hi’ is shrill, mercenary: a salesman who doesn’t care who you are. ‘Dear’ is an oasis of gentle.

**

30 September 2022. The last time I bought a packet of cigarettes it would have been Sobranie Cocktails. I’m delighted to be told by Kate Levey, Brigid Brophy’s daughter, that Brophy smoked them in her nursing home.

**

10 October 2022. What keeps me alive right now is my taste. One current passion is books and bookshops and indeed books about books and bookshops. I’ve read at least three such books from the latter category this year: Dennis Duncan’s Index, A History of The; Robin Ince’s Bibliomaniac,and Emma Smith’s Portable Magic. I’m also more fascinated than ever with elegance in English prose. Recently I watched a documentary about the history of the BBC and found myself drawn to a description of Winston Churchill’s manner of speaking as ‘Gibbons-esque’.

The well-honed phrase is usually best put to service in a song lyric or in a immersive narrative, style being nothing without content. But not always. Truman Capote said of Firbank that ‘all he had was style, bless him’. Sometimes it can be more than enough to just enjoy the performance of another mind.

**

Saturday 15 October 2022. Current projects: an academic chapter on Angela Carter for Bloomsbury Books, plus a novel set among studenty dandy types. I’m trying to put the camp in ‘campus novel’. One character is based on Sebastian Horsley, which seems like such an obvious thing to do. I think of Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford preserving their own dandyish friends in their fiction.

**

17 October 2022. Lots of coughing about. Mum in Suffolk is now poorly with Covid for the first time, having avoided it entirely until now. Two and a half years on, though, and with the vaccines well established, one’s anxiety over the virus is a lot less acute. [Indeed, Mum goes on to recover more quickly than I did]. People are now much more worried about the cost of living, climate change, and Russia.

**

18 October 2022. I decide to get my thesis bound, choosing the style of Firbank’s first editions. Black cloth hardback, gold lettering. A reminder to myself of what I can do, and what I’ve managed to do, and that for better or worse I’m now a creature of books.

**

20 October 2022. Liz Truss follows several months of campaigning to be prime minister with barely a month in the actual job. The political news in the UK is getting so ridiculous that I feel like having a one-person riot. It will not last long but it will be very well dressed.

**

24 October 2022. I think I’ve just about got the hang of the author-date reference system now. This is from the Angela Carter article. I don’t trust referencing software, preferring to bring as much manual labour to the task as possible. It’s probably another way that I’m too slow to do this for a living, but I’m pleased with the results.

**

28 October 2022. I admire professional writers who take their time, or at least are allowed to take their time. Alan Hollinghurst taking six years to write a new book, Donna Tartt taking ten. But I also admire writers who produce regularly but who manage to do so without using a computer. At Housman’s bookshop in Kings Cross I treat myself to Ronald Blythe’s new book Next to Nature. This is a collection of his weekly Word from Wormingford column for the Church Times, which ran from the 1990s up till his retirement in 2017 aged 95. The religious content, which I’m not so interested in, is offset with Blythe’s reflections on nature, literature, and history, which I am interested in. I’m fascinated with the circumstances behind the writing: Blythe living alone since the 1970s in a lone house up a long track in the Stour Valley countryside, yet never learning to drive. He typed up his books and journalism on a typewriter and sent the copy off by post, and kept doing so into the 2010s. With writers these days churning out words like the wind, I find a sense of slowness, of polish and pause, all the more precious.

**

Saturday 5 November 2022. The computers at Birkbeck Library respond to a user logging into the system with a pop-up message of confirmation. For ten years, I used to see: ‘Dickon Edwards: Student’. Now that I’ve moved on to be an Associate Research Fellow, which is a form of unpaid affiliation, the system labels me as ‘Dickon Edwards: Other’. I read far too much into this official designation of otherness.

Going through old clutter, I find an out of date CV. Under ‘Other Work’ there is a long list. I suppose this is part of my problem. I have done too much Other Work, and not enough Normal Work. The list includes the following.

  • Custodian, Kenwood House (English Heritage), 1998 to 2000. Essentially a glorified security guard, standing around in beautiful rooms full of beautiful paintings and furniture. I had to ensure visitors didn’t damage or steal anything, but I was also required to give information about the art. It meant for a crash course in Rembrandt, Vermeer, and Gainsborough, which I loved.
  • Shop assistant, Archway Video DVD & VHS library, Archway Road, 2004 to 2007. I actually rebuilt the shop’s website myself, using the program Dreamweaver. Free access to films, which was bliss. And the shop was 5 minutes’ walk from my bedsit in Southwood Avenue.
  • Guest columnist for Green Wedge, political website. One-off.
  • Blogger for Latitude Festival.
  • Gig reviewer for Drowned in Sound.
  • Concert guitarist with the band Spearmint. 1999-2000. Toured the UK, Sweden and Japan. Amicably sacked for inability.
  • Concert guitarist with Scarlet’s Well. 2004. Amicably sacked for inability after 1 gig, which suggests my guitar skills declined even further after Spearmint. Today I don’t own a guitar at all, having taken the hint.    
  • DJ at club nights ‘The Beautiful and Damned’, at the Boogaloo, Highgate, and at my own night in Camden, ‘Against Nature’. Also DJ’d at the British Library, Latitude Festival, Last Tuesday Society, Curious Invitation, White Mischief, How Does It Feel to be Loved, and other club nights. Have since thrown out my DJ CDRs along with my guitar.
  • Model for the cover of the academic book Materializing Queer Desire by Elisa Glick.
  • Extra in the films Shaun of the Dead (zombie in shirt and tie), Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont (party guest in suit and tie), and Gambit (restaurant diner in suit and tie).
  • Life model at art classes – somewhere near Holloway Women’s Prison.
  • Personal assistant, or ‘New Romantic Butler’ as one of his friends put it, to the musician Shane MacGowan, mainly for two one-off trips to Tangier, and one to New York.
  • Standing for election to Haringey Council, Highgate ward, as a Green Party candidate (May 2006). Wore heavy make-up.
  • Invited as guest of honour for an exhibition on menswear at the Gemeentemuseum, The Hague, Netherlands. Lent one of my suits to go on display, as an example of a modern dandy.
  • Invited to be sole UK performer at the 2008 Stockholm International Poetry Festival.

And these are just the things I haven’t put on my current CV.

The world of CVs expects all people to choose one thing – a ‘career’ – aged 18, and to stick to that to the grave. I’ve never been like that. I now have a BA (1st class), MA (distinction), and a PhD, and four academic prizes, on top of my varied list of experiences. And still the job market views me as, well, too ‘Other’.

I don’t know really what to do. Except to carry on looking and applying, and to carry on writing.

 **

Thursday 10 November 2022. To the Vue cinema near Angel for Bros, an American mainstream romcom about gay men. There’s a reference in the film to You’ve Got Mail, but the main character is no Meg Ryan. He doesn’t stop being neurotic long enough for the audience to care about him. His love interest, the Tom Hanks figure I suppose, is physically handsome but utterly dull. But both actors play well enough, and the ‘com’ is certainly all there, if not the ‘rom’. There’s plenty of one-liners, and I find myself laughing aloud. But it’s one of those films where I come away wondering what could have been improved.

**

Saturday 12 November 2022. Wearing a linen suit due to the unseasonal warmth. If the world is ending, one might as well look one’s best for it.

Looking for a seat on a train today, I walk past a young couple. She bursts into a manic giggle. He says, ‘What da f— was that?’ Still got it.

Saturday 19 November 2022. One of the most quoted lines from Susan Sontag’s essay ‘Notes on “Camp”‘ is:

‘It goes without saying that the Camp sensibility is disengaged, depoliticized – or at least apolitical.’

There have been many refutations of this claim ever since, often indicating the many political and subversive uses of camp, from drag queens at the Stonewall riots, to Donald Trump’s use of the Village People song ‘YMCA’ at his rallies. Sontag herself changed her mind on this position in a 1975 interview. Her own example of political camp was Mae West, arguing that she used camp as a form of feminism.

Today I watch Joe Lycett’s new stand-up show on video. He manages to blend mischief, pranks, and camp smut with a very contemporary form of social activism. His style of camp speaking is old-fashioned in the mode of Kenneth Williams, yet his material is closer to that of Michael Moore. Although Michael Moore is unlikely to refer to Lisa Scott-Lee from Steps.

If you need proof that camp can be political, Joe Lycett is it.

**
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Fish Of The Day

Sunday 10th August 2014. I chat with Mum over the phone. She’s busy, giving classes and talks on quilt making all over the country, most recently at the NEC. Tom has now built her a website as a kind of shop window. It’s her first ever web presence. The URL is www.lynneedwardsquilts.com.

* * *

Monday 11h August 2014. To the Boogaloo to watch Lea Andrews perform with Sadie Lee, as part of the Blue Monday gig night. An evening of seeing old friends. Charley Stone is there, Charlotte Hatherley too. This is my only socialising this week; the rest of my time is spent in the British Library in St Pancras, communing with the dead.

Currently re-reading Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Last read when I was a teenager. This time round I’m older than Winston Smith. I’d forgotten that he has varicose veins; something I’m rather familiar with now. The themes are more relevant than ever, as evidenced by Edward Snowden’s mention of the novel in his Alternative Christmas Message last year. Fear of state surveillance, the removal of privacy, the state control of information, the daily get together to hate something for the sake of joining in (thus anticipating Twitter), war being used to keep populations suppressed, bad entertainment doing the rest of the suppression. Orwell’s prose style surprises me with its simple, unfussy realism. Stylistically, it could be written today. The only 1940s anachronism I pick up is the usage of ‘dear’ by the two lovers.

But slang comes around too. ‘Oh my days’ sounds pure Dickens. I’ve heard it used by all kinds of young people in London now, and by some not so young people too. A friend says it derives from Caribbean patois. So I wonder if it came from the effects of the Empire before that.  I like the idea of slang being exported across lands, passing through social groups, then returning after more than a century, like the orbit of a comet.

* * *

Tuesday 12th August 2014. Robin Williams dies. It’s thought to be suicide. A lot of discussion online of depression and the eternal archetype of the sad clown. My local cinema, the Phoenix, is putting on a screening of Good Will Hunting, as a benefit for the Samaritans.

People on Twitter have taken tribute selfies, standing on tops of desks, holding up signs saying ‘O Captain My Captain’. This is a reference to a scene in Dead Poets Society, the words taken from a poem by Walt Whitman. My band Orlando did a similar tribute in 1996, for the video to ‘Don’t Kill My Rage’. We even dressed as schoolboys and filmed in a beautiful old private school. And we stood on the desks.

I can’t think of the Dead Poets motto ‘carpe diem’ now without recalling a joke from I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue:

Carpe diem: Fish of the Day.’

What a range of work Robin Williams left behind, though. Particularly given his problems. Some roles wacky (Mork and Mindy, Good Morning Vietnam), some serious (Dead Poets Society, Awakenings) some sinister (Insomnia). In theory I should have found his comedy style irritating, but the sheer speed of his invention always impressed me. Completely over the top, yes, but also completely out of the blue. Where did that ability come from? It seemed utterly unearthly – hence Mork.

His big, rubbery, Punch-like features seemed to also fit that other extreme of emotion – sentiment. There’s something very Victorian about that mix; the need to complement the uproarious with the lachrymose. Knowing that Williams was built to erupt into loud comedy made his restrained roles all the more watchable. The energy had to be channelled into reverse. He’s perfect for The World According To Garp, as the quiet centre in John Irving’s outlandish parade. I also like him as the murderous author in Christopher Nolan’s Insomnia, or the avuncular gay radio host in The Night Listener (based on Armistead Maupin), or the nightclub owner in The Birdcage, teaching Nathan Lane how to act more manly. In one scene they try discussing sports like heterosexual men. Or so they imagine:

WILLIAMS: (putting on manly voice) Al, you old son of a bitch! How ya doin’? How do you feel about those Dolphins today?

LANE: How do you think I felt? Bewildered! Betrayed…! (looks at Williams, wrist returns to limpness) Wrong response, right?

WILLIAMS: I’m not sure…

* * *

Wednesday 13th August 2014. London begging. On the tube today, a man gets on and promptly goes round the carriage carefully placing wrapped packets of pocket tissues (the Handy Andies type) on the empty seats next to each passenger. There’s also a piece of paper with each packet. Presumably it contains his written appeal for money, in return for the tissues, along with some detail of his circumstances. I say presumably because I don’t pick up a packet, and neither does anyone else. The British are so obsessed with taking the least embarrassing action in public as it is. Added to which, the London tube carriage is a place of non-action, of retrieving into yourself, of trying not to exist. Not the best place to ask for money.

The tissues man waits silently at one end of the carriage for no more than a minute. Then he goes round again, this time retrieving all the packets of tissues and paper notes and putting them back in his shoulder bag. He gets off at the next stop.

* * *

Thursday 14th August 2014. To the Phoenix cinema in East Finchley, for the film Lilting. It’s a low-budget piece in which Ben Whishaw acts his absolute socks off. He plays a grieving gay man trying to befriend the Chinese mother of his late partner. The added complication is that she speaks no English, she didn’t know her son was gay, and she lives in a London care home. Peter Bowles also appears (he of To The Manor Born and Only When I Laugh), playing an elderly Lothario. The film is emotionally tense, yet tender and quiet, and is clearly a labour of love. I recognise one of the locations: the canal towpath near the south end of Mare Street, in the East End.

* * *

Friday 15th August 2014. Today’s new word is ‘hoyden’. It means ‘a boisterous girl’. A dated expression, declares the Concise Oxford Dictionary. I’m introduced to it by a line in Brigid Brophy’s book Black and White: A Portrait of Aubrey Beardsley (1968):

 ‘Are they female fops, these personages of Beardsley’s: female dandies: female effeminates, even? Or are they male hoydens, male tomboys, boy butches?’

The book contains some of Beardsley’s sexually explicit art from the 1890s. More grotesque than titillating, I’d have thought. Yet the British Library keeps its copy of Black and White in the Special Materials collection, the place for anything very valuable or very naughty. As the book isn’t that rare it must be Beardsley’s rudeness that qualifies. To read the library copy a while ago, I had to sit at a special desk in the Rare Books Reading Room, within view of CCTV cameras and library staff. I was not allowed to leave the book unattended, not even to go to the toilet. They might as well call the desk the Table of Shame.

Thankfully, Faber have now reprinted Black and White as part of their Faber Finds series. Today I pick up a copy from Gay’s The Word bookshop in Marchmont Street. I take it home and enjoy it behind closed doors, where the Big Brother eyes of the British Library cannot watch me.


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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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On Being An Academic Muse

Saturday May 21st: I manage to honour three invitations in one evening. First: Sam Carpenter’s birthday drinks at The Constitution pub in Camden (7.30pm-8.15pm), then Charley Stone’s birthday concert at the Silver Bullet venue in Finsbury Park (8.45-9.30pm), before heading to the Phoenix in the West End to be guest DJ at How Does It Feel To Be Loved, where I stay till it ends (10.15pm till 3am).

Afterwards: I walk all the way from Oxford Circus to Archway. Nearly 4 miles. Partly because I need the exercise, partly because I’m drunk, but also because I like to avoid night buses whenever possible. I feel utterly safe walking the streets of Central and North London in the dead of night. It’s night buses that can be an ordeal.

Ms Stone’s night  is ‘Charlapalooza’, featuring performances from the Keith TOTP All-Stars, the Deptford Beach Babes and the Abba Stripes, all of whom she plays guitar for.  Her present from David Barnett is a huge poster of her own Rock Family Tree, linking all the bands she’s played in over the years. Fosca is one of them.

Also at the gig are other London Rock Women of note: Charlotte Hatherley (Ash, Client, solo), Debbie Smith (Echobelly, Curve) Deb Googe  (My Bloody Valentine),and  Jen Denitto: once of Linus, now drumming for the Monochrome Set.  Jen D says I’m directly responsible for her being in the MS, via singer Bid’s other band, Scarlet’s Well.

I get a vicarious thrill hearing of friends’ gig-going and gig-playing, as if they’re carrying on with All That so that I don’t have to any more.  From the reports of the Suede shows this week, to news of my brother Tom, who’s currently touring as guitarist for Adam Ant.  I don’t envy his guitarist success (never feeling like a proper guitarist myself), but I do envy his earning a living from doing something he loves, and travelling too. Particularly Paris. The last time I was in Paris was a Fosca gig in 2001 – a marvellous floating venue in the Seine. I have a real urge to go again. Here’s hoping a reason to do so presents itself. Or better still, the money to go there presents itself.

Still not much luck in finding a regular source of income. Offers of work from kind friends keep falling through, from paid blogging to film reviews. I’ve pitched articles to the Guardian without even getting a reply, which makes me feel some random self-deluded lunatic. Maybe I am. But at least I’m a well-dressed random, self-deluded lunatic.

***

Last Wednesday I was invited to Treadwell’s Bookshop, now in a new location off Tottenham Court Road. The event was the reading of an academic paper by Dr Stephen Alexander, titled ‘Elements Of Gothic Queerness in The Picture of Dorian Gray.’ Stimulating stuff, reminding me just how rich Wilde’s novel is. You can link it to so much these days: the tragedy of a young man who doesn’t age pops up in Twilight and the new Doctor Who, for instance. Dr Alexander focussed on the theme of coveting yet resenting objects for their static nature: something that certainly connects with today’s obsession with worshipping the latest version of a must-have gadget. In fact, posters for the original iPad showed Dorian Gray as an example of an e-book to read on it. I’d love to know what made them choose it.

Not only was I delighted to be invited, but it turned out Dr Alexander – whom I didn’t know until now – actually dedicated his paper to me, after my appearance in Eliza Glick’s book Materializing Queer Desire.

I’ve never had an academic paper dedicated to me before. It’s so flattering. And it helps to remind me that I might not be the complete  waste of space the Job Centre insists I am.

Problem is, they’ll say, one can’t earn a living from being a muse.

Well, unless you’re in Muse.

My DJ set at HDIF:

  1. Stereolab: Peng 33 (Peel session version
  2. Carole King: I Feel The Earth Move
  3. The Shangri-Las: Give Him A Great Big Kiss
  4. Chairmen Of The Board: Give Me Just A Little More Time
  5. The Wake: Carbrain
  6. The Chills: Heavenly Pop Hit
  7. The Siddeleys: You Get What You Deserve
  8. Dressy Bessy: If You Should Try To Kiss Her
  9. Camera Obscura: French Navy
  10. The Smiths: Ask
  11. Spearmint: Sweeping The Nation
  12. The Pastels: Coming Through
  13. Le Tigre: Hot Topic
  14. Prince: Raspberry Beret
  15. The Supremes:  Stoned Love
  16. Ride: Twisterella
  17. Stereolab: French Disko
  18. Blueboy: Imipramine
  19. Sister Sledge: Thinking Of You
  20. Nancy Sinatra: These Boots Are Made For Walking
  21. April March: Chick Habit
  22. Shirley Bassey: Spinning Wheel
  23. Gloria Jones: Tainted Love
  24. Mel Torme: Coming Home Baby
  25. Dexys: Plan B
  26. Orange Juice: Blueboy
  27. Blondie: Rapture (a tribute to the real Rapture in the news)
  28. Felt: Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow
  29. The Cure: Boys Don’t Cry
  30. Style Council: Speak Like A Child
  31. Labelle: Lady Marmalade

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A Watched Livejournal Never Boils

As part of my birthday present, Dad sends me a package of old and curious books and bookmarks. One vintage bookmark is an advert for toothpaste (or rather, ‘dental cream’), in the shape of the product itself. Double-sided, too.

The toothpaste company is ‘Kolynos of Chenies Street, London W.C.1.’ I’m looking at this at home when Charley S texts me with a proposed meeting point for tonight, close to where she works: Chenies Street. No signs of any toothpaste companies there today. Just the Drill Hall venue, home of gay plays and BBC radio recordings.

From there we walk to the Artspace Gallery in Maddox Street, Mayfair, to see an exhibition by the Stuckists. Excellent paintings, though frustratingly without any labels to indicate artist or title.

Still, Ella Guru’s Last Supper is unmistakable. It really should be put on permanent display at the Tate Modern, given it’s a chronical of all the Stuckist types – Billy Childish et al.

Close-up detail here.
Annotation by Ella here.

Ella’s portrait of Debbie Smith with her collection of snuff boxes is another highlight.

More at Ella Guru’s site: www.ellaguru.org.uk

Am also impressed by Peter Murphy’s rendition of rock stars in the medieval Russian icon style. He uses your actual egg tempera and gold leaf on gessoed panels.

Taken from Peter Murphy’s website here.

My favourite work in the exhibition is Paul Harvey’s ‘Charlotte Church’ (2006). I love his clean lines style.  A touch of 1890s art nouveau mixed with 1960s psychedelia.

Taken from www.paulharveypaintings.com

***

Charley buys me dinner at Yo Sushi in Woodstock Street nearby, and I do what normal people call ‘catching up’. I’ve learned that whenever you look away from a friend’s blog or Facebook updates, that’s the time all the big events in their life happen. Moving to a new country, splitting up with their other half, getting together with a new one, getting married, getting divorced, babies. Always the last to know. As Del Amitri once sang. I know useless things like that.

If in doubt, I just assume people I’ve not heard from in a while have either moved to Berlin or had children. Or both. Seems to be the popular options.

Today’s lesson: A watched Livejournal never boils.

Also in Yo Sushi, Charley says hello to Rob Ellis, drummer with PJ Harvey and umpteen other notables.

Thinking about trendy musicians in Yo Sushi reminds me of the first time I went to one of these places. It was in the late 90s, in the then-new Poland St branch, as the guest of Nick ‘Momus’ Currie – a lover of all things Japanese – and Anthony ‘Jack’ Reynolds. Anthony kept trying to put the empty plates back on the conveyor belt, to get away with not paying, but was stopped by the more law-abiding (and I suppose, less rock and roll) Momus.

Actually, Momus’s cousin is the singer with Del Amitri. I really wish I knew less of these sort of things and more things that actually mattered.

We talk about the stress and strain of what to do on one’s birthday. Charley suggests I contact Seaneen Molloy, whose birthday is Sept 4th, the day after mine. She suggests we organise some sort of joint party.

***

On the overground train from Liverpool Street to Cambridge Heath, I bump into Marc Samuels. Marc tells me how he’s just interviewed one of his heroes, Andy McCluskey from OMD.  A new OMD album is doing the rounds. Original line-up, a tour in the offing.

In the midst of our 80s synthpop chat, a cartoonishly large spider suddenly scuttles across the carriage floor, prompting a yelp from a female passenger. The doors open at Cambridge Heath, and I expertly kick the blameless arachnid out into the gap between train and platform. The woman smiles at me as I get off. I have the glow of a Useful Gentleman. I’ll be putting up shelves next.

Used to have something of a phobia about spiders. Clearly no longer. Though downing a large bottle of sake helps.

***

Onto Wynd’s Little Shop Of Horrors (11 Mare St, E8) for a private view. Zoe Beloff – ‘The Adventures Of A Dreamer by Albert Grass.’ The moment I enter, I hear ‘Dickon! You know about Momus, don’t you!’

Wynd’s shop has a range of decadent and cult books, including titles from Dedalus and Atlas, plus several copies of ‘Lusts Of A Moron – The Lyrics Of Momus.’ Some customer was surprised that other people knew about Momus at all, hence the utteration.

Also at the private view is Robert V, boyfriend of the aforementioned Seaneen M. So that’s my message to her sorted out.

Zoe Beloff’s show is a sequence of comic book-like panels inspired by one Albert Grass, who apparently founded the Coney Island Amateur Psychoanalytic Society in the 1920s. According to Ms Beloff, he tried to have the resort’s Dreamland attraction rebuilt as a kind of Freudian theme park. He also created a journal full of oneiric images, which comprise this exhibition. Just how much is Ms Beloff’s own imagination and how much is Grass isn’t clear. I wonder if Grass himself is in fact her fictional avatar.  Regardless, I like the panels of dreams, particularly this one with a small badger whispering ‘Je t’aime! Je t’aime!’ in Grass’s ear.

Zoe Beloff: www.zoebeloff.com


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