Saturday 8th November 2014. I’m putting my college deadlines into my diary when something occurs to me. Exactly six months from today, I will finish my degree. The 8th May 2015 is my last deadline. There’s no exams or timed tests this year, thanks to my careful selection of options. Instead (let’s seeâ€¦) I have to research and write one 8,000 word thesis (due in April), four 2,500 word essays (two due January, two in May), a 1,500 word essay that doesn’t count towards my degree grade but which I have to do anyway (due in a few days), and a 1,000 word piece that does count towards the grade, though only a little (due in a couple of weeks).
Between now and then I also have to read about 20 further set texts for the regular class modules (ranging from slim poetry collections to fat novels). Plus there are all the books I have to consult for the thesis, the amount of which is up to me.
I wander round the British Library concourse, seeing all the hundreds of laptopped-up hordes – some of whom seem happy to sit all day on the floor if it means access to a power socket. What are they all doing? Studying? Programming? Writing content for websites? ‘You won’t believe what this dressed-up puppy did next!’
I pass them in my breaks from essays, their fingers flying. I see all the reams of words generated every day, even just Facebook posts, and I seethe with envy. I feel so slow in comparison.
I’m managing to do other things, though. This week the artist Becky Boston asks me to write a piece to go with a new artwork of hers. I get it done within three days of her asking. It’s the third or fourth commission I’ve done for her now. I’m grateful to be asked.
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Tuesday 11th November 2014. To Maison Bertaux for tea with Ella Hitchcock. Good to see her again. She’s busy with her studies. I tell her I’m the sameÂ with mine. Lots of work, little money.
Then To the ICA for The Possibilities Are Endless, a film about Edwyn Collins’s life, since his devastating stroke in 2005. Like the Nick Cave film the other week, this is another example of how to do a music documentary without repeating the usual clichés. No musicians interviewed in front of – I can barely write it without feeling ill – a recording studio mixing desk. In fact The Possibilities Are Endless has more in common with Under The Skin, with its opening sounds of Edwyn’s voice struggling to form words, and its impressionistic shots of the beach by the village of Helmsdale, north east Scotland, where the Collins family has a cottage. The title is one of the few phrases Mr Collins managed to say during the initial stages of his recovery – and which he kept repeating. ‘Grace Maxwell’, the name of his wife, was another phrase. She helped him cope at every painstaking stage, and is seen acting as his literal right-hand woman, given he’s lost half of his body’s movement. She strums his guitar with one of her hands while he forms chords with his hand. In another scene she cuts his fingernails.
Ms M wrote an excellent memoir a few years ago, Falling and Laughing – The Restoration of Edwyn Collins. It covers a lot of the same ground, though ends at the point where Mr C started writing songs again. Her book ends with some simple yet powerful advice to any family affected by strokes: ‘make up your own story’.
And so this is the spirit of the film. There’s some semi-fictional sequences of a teenage boy who has a strong resemblance to Collins, flirting with a girl in a chip shop. I first took this to be an illustration of Edwyn and Grace’s youthful affection for each other. But the boy then turns out to be William Collins, their son. He steps out of the staged romcom scenes into the more conventional rehearsal room footage, and helps his father make music. The fact Mr C has written and recorded three albums since his stroke (including the film soundtrack) should be inspiration enough, not least because the new songs are as good as those he made before the stroke. One new soul-pop song, ‘Two Steps Back’ is instantly catchy, and stays with me long after the film ends. But The Possibilities Are Endless is about a lot more than music: it’s a portrait of a couple in love, coping with illness in a dignified, funny, idiosyncratic and determined way. The last line is Edwyn’s, and it sums up the film’s sense of freshness and hope: ‘let’s see what happens next’.
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The Quaker café on Euston Road sells chocolate brownies from the ‘Bad Boys Bakery’. A sticker explains: ‘Made in HM Prison Brixton’.
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Class today: Hemingway’s In Our Time. We are required to rewrite other works into a Hemingway style: Henry James, Scott Fitzgerald, Stein. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked to do this for the English degree before. Something about Hemingway really invites parody; possibly his machismo.
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Masculinity and comedy is being discussed a lot this week, with reference to Dapper Laughs, a tiresome laddish comedian. As in parodying of Hemingway, the problem seems to be one of targets: punching up or punching down. To mock Hemingway as we do (affectionately) in class is punching up – he sees himself as an alpha male. To mock women, as Dapper Laughs does in an everyman, laddish way (as opposed to a Russell Brand, dandy-Casanova way), is punching down. So this week petitions have been signed, comment pieces have circulated, protests have been made. He has now lost his ITV series, and has appeared on Newsnight to explain how he won’t be doing the ‘character’ of Dapper Laughs any more. The problem was, he wasn’t enough of a character. His form of barbaric, white-van-man style cruelty was all too real.
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Wednesday 12th November 2014. Lecture in Mary Ward House on Philip Larkin’s Less Deceived. Lecturer: Roger Luckhurst. One wonders what Larkin would make of the UK today, given his more reactionary views. Would he have voted UKIP, or would he have seen them as too politically correct? One young student, Ralph, is particularly energised by the lecture, telling me how Larkin really captures the regional England sense of being left out of things, compared to London and Manchester and so on. But there’s always a ‘well, but’ moment when reading Larkin. Such as: ‘They f— you up, your Mum and Dad? Well, butâ€¦ what about when they don’t?’ And yet his turn of phrase still dazzles, and so he lives on, politics or no. Â Without the poetry, there’d be no biographies anyway.
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Thursday 13th November 2014. Sad news: the Buffalo Bar in Highbury is to close. Their final night is on New Year’s Eve. Fosca played there. I’ve DJ-d there, danced there, met new friends there, fallen over drunk there. Here’s a photo of me at the BB singing with Fosca, during a Club Bohemia night. From oh, 1897 or whenever (mid 2000s really):
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The nature presenter Chris Packham appeals to Ant and Dec, hosts of I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here. In an open letter, he asks them to drop the rounds involving live animals, equating them to a form of bloodsport. Mr P’s language to Ant and Dec is particularly striking: he says the treatment of animals is ‘a shame that I imagine neither of you will want to take to your graves’.
On Twitter, I retweet a link to this news story. Then I get into a slight spot of trouble when some people think I’m linking to it in order to condemn Mr Packham. In fact, although I support his cause, I don’t entirely support his use of terms like ‘shame’. The problem is, Twitter is too limited for combining a full response to a story within the same tweet as the link. There’s no room for the spectrum of nuance between the binary polarities of ‘spot on!’ and ‘FFS!’ (‘for f***’s sake’). All is binary on Twitter. You can’t be a bit of both.
I get a rather good comment from Robin Ince on the matter:
‘If you’re not in at least two minds about something, you’re just not putting the effort in’.
Tags: birkbeck, buffalo bar, chris packham, dapper laughs, edwyn collins, Fosca, hemingway, larkin, robin ince, the possibilities are endless, twitter