The Spare Apostle

Wednesday 17 May 2017. Once again, a life-changing event occurs in the gap between diary updates, one which eclipses everything else that happened. It’s like that science demonstration where a heavy ball is placed in the centre of a black rubber sheet. The sheet is meant to represent space, and everything else around the heavy ball bends and distorts around it. Something to do with how black holes work, I think. I wasn’t really paying attention.

On Friday, 12th May, after 23 years of renting the same room in Highgate, I was made homeless.

There had been a sighting of a proper omen on the way home. Actual entrails. Around 7pm I left Birkbeck library in Torrington Square, walked past SOAS and through Russell Square. When passing the students loafing outside SOAS, I always look out for Russell Brand, currently the college’s best known pupil. I wouldn’t be surprised if he thinks the neighbouring square is named after him.

At Russell Square tube station, I took the lift to the platforms. When the doors opened at platform level I had to step over a small red mess on the floor. On looking closer, I saw it was a trampled tube mouse.

In a lifetime of using the London Underground, this was the first time I’ve ever seen a mouse come a cropper of the system’s endless human stampede. Tube mice are usually very good at sensing movement, fleeing at top speed into holes in the walls that never quite seem large enough. But perhaps the areas by the overcrowded lifts at Russell Square are a special case. The hordes of visitors from the British Museum ignore all the Smart Tourist advice about travelling via Holborn, where there’s more space and escalators. Instead they pack Russell Square’s ancient and put-upon lifts to the brim, with their backpacks and wheeled suitcases and push chairs and coach parties from all four corners of the globe. When coming back via the lifts, the exodus is too much, it seems, for tube mice. As if the Elgin Marbles weren’t controversial enough.

On seeing the dead mouse, I thought of entrails, sacrifices, and omens. When I got home to Highgate half an hour later, and saw in the shared hallway that each tenant had been given a sealed envelope from the owners, I feared the worst.

It transpires that my landlady, the daughter of the original owner who died two years ago, has been hit with a huge inheritance tax bill for the house. Despite her mother’s wish to keep the house going for the sake of the tenants – her family are that rare thing in London, landlords who care more about humans than money – the tax people have given her no option but to throw the tenants out and sell the building. We haven’t been given a firm date yet, but it’s likely to be ‘around the end of July’.

Of course, I’m still dealing with the shockwaves of Tom’s death. I would indulge the superstitious and melodramatic side of myself (rarely far from the surface) and say these things always come in threes. That would then license my fear that something else life-altering is lurking around the corner. But in fact, something else happened before that.

In early April my application for a PhD scholarship at Birkbeck was declined. That’s the money which effectively pays people a modest but sustainable wage (£16k) for doing a PhD full-time. This year, Birkbeck’s School of Arts only had 12 of them to give out. After much revising of my proposal I sent it off. A few weeks later I was told I had failed to get a scholarship, though I had made ‘the final fifteen’. Like a spare apostle. (‘Did you know Jesus?’ ‘No, but I made the final fifteen.’)

However, I was offered a small ‘studentship’ bursary, which pays for the fees only, and have since been advised that these are not give out lightly either. It would mean I’d have to do the PhD part-time, and live on very little. Or try to do paid work at the same time, despite my slowness. So that’s what I’m looking at doing when the MA ends in September. Until then, I will spend the summer doing the MA dissertation, while also trying to find somewhere to live, on top of working out how best to fit 23 years of possessions into a couple of minicab rides. And as I write this, my back pain has suddenly flared up out of nowhere, the one that turned out to be stress-related. I hope something good comes out of all this, because I’m rather fed up with 2017 being quite such a challenging year.

Quentin Crisp lasted 40 years in his Chelsea bedsit. I was rather hoping to beat his record. But never mind. I’m not him. I just hope I can find a new landlord who, like Mr Crisp’s and mine, look kindly upon those ‘of a different stripe’, as he put it.

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Telephonic Alimony

Friday 14th February 2014. In one corner of the Euston branch of Marks and Spencer is a huge display of unsold tins of shortbread, all close to their expiry date. It’s a special edition brand, made last July to commemorate the birth of the Royal Baby. The cover design is a twee painted trio of marching little boys, one in a sailor suit, one in a Beefeater uniform, and one dressed as a Queen’s Guard, with the red tunic and black bearskin hat. I stand there in the supermarket looking at the tins and pondering this tacky monument to cash-in hubris. I wonder if the unsold tins can somehow be converted into flood defences.

I suppose they could now rename the biscuit tins in honour of Simon Cowell’s baby, as this week his happy news is getting the same manic coverage allotted to the royal infant last year – days on end of front pages. In the supermarket, I stand around gazing at the fronts of these popular newspapers, wondering just who is interested, and why I am not like them.

* * *

Saturday 15th February 2014

I stumble on an old quote by Peter Nichols, which might now be regarded as an early version of the internet saying ‘don’t feed the trolls’:

‘Never reply to a critic. It’s feeding the hand that bites you.’

* * *

Sunday 16th February 2014

I finish writing my latest essay for college. It’s on Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, about her dead father. And then I go straight on to finishing my own eulogy for Dad’s funeral.

Unlike the college essay, the eulogy lacks a word count. So I put together what I think will be okay, hoping for the best.

Thankfully there are people who do know how long such pieces should be. A few days after I email the eulogy to Mum, the man from the Humanist Society, who is conducting the ceremony, steps in, reads everyone’s intended contributions, and tells us they all need to be drastically edited down in order to fit the time slot at the crematorium.

Dad would have found this amusing, being no man of few words himself.

* * *

I watch the film BAFTAs on TV. Peter Greenaway gets a special award, some years after the British film industry had more or less turned its back on him. He’s still around, still making films that properly put the Art into Art House. Martin Freeman starred in one he made in 2007 about Rembrandt, Nightwatching, which really should have been better known.

He gets the award from Juliet Stevenson, who talks about her part in Drowning By Numbers, my favourite Greenaway movie. It was filmed around Southwold in Suffolk, and gives the local landscape a defiantly spooky yet very English ambience – the Sebald kind which was already there. Greenaway added his trademark taste for the grotesque, but didn’t have to add too much. The film has a touch of Kit Williams too, with its numbers of 1 to 100 hidden in sequence throughout the film. Its soundtrack is also Michael Nyman’s best – I remember it even appeared in NME’s Albums Of The Year list for Christmas 1988.

Monday 17th February 2014

Mum tells me how in looking for Dad’s birth certificate, she found a letter from the author John Masters, from the time in the 60s when Dad illustrated book covers for Penguin. At some point during the author-to-illustrator process, Masters noticed Dad’s Bildeston address and wrote a full, personal letter to him from New York, revealing that he’d had a romance with a woman from Bildeston in the 1930s.

This is Dad’s cover for Coromandel!, published 1967.

John Masters book bib cover 1967

Dad was also commissioned to do the cover for the first British edition of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, though his art wasn’t eventually used. He told me how the publisher had trusted him with the only copy of Vonnegut’s original manuscript, longhand scribblings and all. That was the way it was done, before the rise of word processing.

* * *

Tuesday 18th February 2014

In London ambassador mode, I meet up with Liam J again. This time I show them the Museum of London (which we discover needs more than 2 hours to do properly), followed by fish and chips (Liam’s first) at Bar Bruno in Wardour Street. We end up at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern for Bar Wotever, the friendly club night for trans people, androgynes and anyone of uncommon gender identity. The US writer S. Bear Bergman gives an entertaining reading of anecdotes, and I have my boots polished by Alex, a charming ‘shoe-shine boi’ (pronounced ‘boy’) in a checked shirt and bow tie, who has a proper shoe-shine stall set up in one corner. Alex takes a good fifteen to twenty minutes on my boots, applying a host of different unguents and waxes. This is bookended by the gentle rolling up and down of the ends of my trousers. It’s the closest I’ve come to having a sex life for some time.

* * *

Wednesday 19th February 2014

A teenage girl in Coventry writes, asking for permission to use my lyrics in her A-level art project. I duly give her my blessing. It’s good to know I have some sort of value,  even it’s ‘the wrong kind of worth’, as a Job Centre employee once told me.

Meanwhile, I am besieged by what people are currently encouraged to view as the ‘right’ kind of worth – unabashed corporate greed. Today I get a letter from BT demanding I pay them a fee of £40 purely so I can leave them for another phone company. It’s a kind of telephonic alimony. The main reason I’m switching providers, of course, is BT’s spontaneous displays of legalised grasping, like this one. I am just grateful we never had children.

* * *

Thursday 20th February 2014

Two new marks in from college.  The New Year essay on Old English poetry gets 77, while the January test on Old English translation also gets 77. This concludes my half module on Old English per se, giving it an overall grade of 77 in the process. A good First. Given my previous module grades have all been in the low 70s (Firsts, but only just), this either suggests I have an unexpected gift for Old English, or that I’ve more or less worked out how to tick the right boxes. The latter is more likely. I didn’t find Old English at all easy, as it requires not just hours of literary criticism but hours of translation and historical research on top. I’m slow enough with Modern English as it is.

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Fanzines Full Of Women

I’ve written an article for the New Escapologist magazine, issue #8. It’s about the increasingly troubling nature of how to be happy when you’re a fortysomething non-conformist man (for want of a better epithet), via the Beach Boys, Stewart Lee, and Top Gear. You can order it here:


Recent outings: Saturday 8th December was spent visiting the Queer Zine Fest in Kennington. I was surprised that paper fanzines were produced at all in 2012, never mind zines with queer and feminist themes. As I discovered, there’s plenty of people making such zines, and plenty more keen to buy them: there was a healthy amount of attendees at the festival.

I wanted to buy and read pretty much all of the zines on display. Even though some of them were quite old – 90s back issues of Girlfrenzy for example – the majority of offerings were written and printed in the last year or two. So I decided to implement a rule: try and buy the latest zine on each stall, until I run out of money. My favourite is probably the Patricia Highsmith zine, Strangers In A Zine, but I also liked the concept behind Binders Full Of Women, a womens’ poetry anthology in the shape of ring binders, each with a different handmade cover. The title was a reference to a rather infamous statement made in October by the Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. I loved the contrast between this seemingly redundant format of expression – the paper fanzine – and the quotation from the world of 2012 politics.

For more on Queer Zine Fest (which will return next year), go to:



Today: am struggling under a heavy cold that I’ve had on and off for three weeks: possibly two different colds in tandem, if such a thing is possible. The work required for the college course has become particularly intense. I’ve found that as soon I’ve got to grips with the reading for one of the three concurrent modules, I’ve trespassed on the time I should have spent on the reading for the other two. The second year of a course is akin to a Difficult Second Album phase: the novelty has worn off, the freshness has gone, and one is left trying to remember how to do it – whatever ‘it’ is – all over again.

In the first year, the course felt more like a single concern that happened to be made up of three modules; now it’s like trying to juggle three demanding projects at once. And then write essays on top of that. I also have a couple of projects that are meant to be my ‘real work’ at the moment: a little book on Polari someone else has asked me to write, and a book I’ve asked myself to write. But time leaks away at the cruellest of speeds whenever one wants more of it. I find I barely have enough time to do the college course. Or at least, do it well.

Tuesday 11th December: Along with some fellow students, I attend a production of The Tempest, at the Lion And Unicorn Theatre in Kentish Town. The venue is new to me, despite having lived up the road for eighteen years. It’s certainly invisible from Kentish Town High Street: one has to walk down a quiet residential road and look for a pub, then look inside the pub for a theatre.  The company, Grassroots Shakespeare, gets its actors to direct themselves; there’s no single director. This means Prospero seems to be from one imagined production (Northern gangster – a kind of whispering Yorkshire De Niro), Ariel from another (loud, wacky, Batman costume, a bit Jim Carrey), while Miranda could be in a more traditional BBC Shakespeare in the early 80s, and so on. Still, it’s never dull, and when the song Full Fathom Five is followed with a rendition of Lionel Richie’s Three Times A Lady, no one is in the least bit surprised.

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Back To Bloomsbury

Monday 8 Oct 2012. My left leg is playing up; the varicose veins are back.  I’ve had two operations on the laughable limb over the last fifteen years, stripping out the unsightly noodles, first by knife then by laser. But the things do tend to return and this time I may have to just live with them. I understand the NHS doesn’t do the operation any more unless it’s life-threatening. Still, a surgical stocking can alleviate the aches, so this morning I dig mine out and put it on. Its colour is an optimistic tan. Given my other leg is as pale as the tenant of a tomb (as Poe put it), my legs together resemble a novelty biscuit. It’s just as well I never wear shorts.

Tonight: to Gordon Square for the first proper class of the second year in my English BA. Monday evenings are now ‘Aspects of Medieval and Renaissance Literature’, Tuesdays are ‘The Novel’, while Wednesdays are ‘Narratives Of The Body’, being a deliciously varied module from the Humanities department. The first texts we’re studying are, respectively, Mr Chaucer’s poem Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1380), Ms Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), and Mr Lang’s film Metropolis (1927). The spice of life, indeed.


I’m currently helping Suzette Field of the Last Tuesday Society spread the word about her new book, A Curious Invitation. It’s a detailed look at the greatest parties in literature, my own suggestion to her being the flying party in Douglas Adams’s Life, The Universe and Everything. I was delighted to discover she’d included it in her final selection.

It’s probably the first – and last – book to discuss Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake alongside Jackie Collins’s Hollywood Wives. Something of a genre-spanning feast for booklovers, it’s out in Picador this month, and naturally I highly recommend it. There’s a website all about it at

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Among The Dead Trees

Final day of revision. Birkbeck Library today is packed with  students, all in the same boat. It’s the height of exam season, and it can be hard to find a seat in the library, even at 8pm in the evening. Torrington Square is full of red-trousered boys (seems to be the fashion) with armfuls of books.

Lots of  ‘Good luck!’

or, later on in the day:  ‘I can’t believe that question…’

And it still is real books they carry about the campus, along with their laptops. The trolleys for books to be re-shelved look like they’ve been there pre-internet, and they’re still under heavy use.  I think one reason is that even though a lot of research can now be done online, there’s still plenty of academic texts that just aren’t available digitally, at least not for free. It can also be healthier to work from a book alongside a laptop, if only to give the eyes a break from the screen. The classes themselves are still paper-heavy, too, with A4 ‘hand-outs’ given out at most lectures and seminars. I’ve seen some students do their lecture notetaking on iPads and netbooks, but the majority scribble away with pen or pencil.

Today might be a watershed for the history of paper books in Britain, in fact, as Waterstones have announced they’ll be selling Kindle e-books in their shops. Quite how this will work will be interesting (special machines in-store?), but it’s an inevitable step, now that e-books have started to take off. To be able to buy Kindle books without having to give money to the tax-avoiding giant that is Amazon can only be an good thing.

Here’s an interesting article by the author Linda Grant, in favour of Kindles as a device, but uneasy about letting Amazon hog the market. She makes the point that books are mainly written on screens now, so why is it so strange to want to read them on screens too?


My exam is tomorrow morning at 10am. The last time I took an exam, Margaret Thatcher was in power.

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Instant Myths

Into my last week of revision. One of the many rewarding things about studying English literature at Birkbeck is that the lecturers have often written introductions to the books. Today I was going over my lecture notes on Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde – the lecturer being Roger Luckhurst – and re-read the Oxford Classics edition of the text, which has an introduction and annotations by him too.

Today: I look at the London Library’s 1886 edition of Jekyll & Hyde, available for members to borrow. The book was first published in January of that year, but the library’s copy is not a first edition. Or even a second. Jekyll & Hyde was such a bestseller – such an instant myth – that the book hit its sixth edition within a few months. How strange to think its original appeal was as a crime mystery as much as a gothic horror: the revelation that Dr Jekyll IS Mr Hyde is the twist ending. Now, of course, the twist is more famous than the original story. But the Stevenson text always feels fresh,  however much one re-reads it. There’s the business with the two doors, the flat in Soho, and the innuendo over what exactly it is that Hyde gets up to (as played on by Wilde in Dorian Gray). But what impresses most of all is the sheer innovation of the text, blending genres, creating levels of disorientation, anticipating Modernism and psychoanalysis, inspiring The Hulk; all this, and Stevenson carries it off in a mere sixty pages.


The other day: I bump into Darren Beach on the tube, who tells me about his new concept music blog One Below Ten. The idea is that every entry is about a pop single that made it to Number Eleven in the British charts; so close yet so far to becoming a proper Top Ten hit (which really matters to those to whom it matters). The first subject is ‘Michael Caine’ by Madness, which I’m rather fond of. Still odd to think that the very mannered and gentle lead vocals are not by Suggs but by Chas Smash, the same man who shouted ‘Hey you – don’t watch that, watch this!’ on ‘One Step Beyond’, in rather a different style. But then, as Mr Beach says, Madness were a different band in 1984:


My friend, the charming glam rock god David Ryder-Prangley, has just moved in next door. By coincidence, I’d been listening to a track by KISS, of whom I’m not a massive fan, but I know that Mr DRP is very much an admirer. It’s because I’m preparing a DJ set for an event to celebrate Sebastian Horsley, and the song – ‘C’mon And Love Me (Alive! version)’ is in the late Mr H’s list of his favourites. Like a lot of those sort of bands, I may not be keen on the music, but I fully approve of the glamour.

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Written on the Body

A very flattering email. A gentleman tells me he’s had quotes from my lyrics done as tattoos on his hands and arms. Four Dickon quotes, alongside ones by T.S. Eliot, Baudelaire, William Burroughs, and Richey Manic:

Left hand: ‘My crime is being myself’
Right hand: ‘My punishment is staying myself’
Left arm: ‘I don’t want forever, I just want a little now’
Right side of chest: ‘Steep yourself in yourself’.


Managed to get the gender essay in on time, though I don’t think it’ll get as high a mark as the previous one. I still have a tendency to forget I’m meant to be playing at being a literary critic and analyst rather than a researcher. I think I sample too many text books, not knowing where to stop, though thankfully I know when – not missed a single deadline yet. Thing is, I feel I’m not yet qualified to be able to take up my own position on such a massive subject, whereas for the subject of the last essay – the film Finisterre – I knew could identify a few things that the academics had overlooked. Still, I think I’m getting better at the harder subjects.

That’s the last essay for this academic year. Have now moved onto the revision for my first exam, held on May 22nd.


One tidbit of trivia about gendering literature: ‘chick lit’ was originally coined as a reaction to ‘lad lit’ in the early 1990s, as in Nick Hornby’s early novels. Unlike ‘chick lit’, ‘lad lit’ didn’t succeed in attracting the audience it was targeted at. Despite all the themes of eternal boyishness, of football and record shops, Hornby’s novels were mostly bought by women.

Though I rarely regard myself as stereotypical male in many respects – whether as an asset or a weakness – I have to admit I do the male thing of not reading enough novels – and not finishing enough novels. When men read printed matter for leisure at all, they are thought to read more newspapers and non-fiction.

Well, the mayoral election certainly put me off newspapers for a while. I picked up an Evening Standard on the day of the count. It was full of the most absurd bias towards Boris Johnson, and negativity towards Ken Livingstone. It even seriously discussed whether Johnson could be the next Prime Minister.

When I came out of the polling booth last Thursday, I spotted the actor John Simm in the cafe outside. He played the villainous Master in Doctor Who, and in one episode manages to be elected Prime Minister of Britain by using a satellite network to telepathically brainwash voters.

Over a million Londoners voted for a man who has difficulty combing his hair. As they say on the internet at the moment, ‘just saying…’



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Pigeon English

I currently have a weekly session with a study skills tutor, who checks up on my work habits; though in the nicest possible way. Her room is deep within the Orwellian confines of Senate House, with its pleasing sense of ghosts and past lives led.

We meet every Monday. Today I tell her about my current stresses and worries about not getting enough done (a final essay due in next week, plus an exam on May 22nd to revise for). She dares me to take a complete holiday from social media – a ban – until the next session. It might make me more productive. It might even make me more happy – my feelings about being on social media are still so mixed. Either way, it’s worth a try. As next Monday is a bank holiday, this effectively means staying off Twitter and Facebook for two weeks. So I’m starting today.

I’m tempted to add radio and non-essential Internet access too, just to see what it would be like to spend a fortnight fully immersed in books and offline writing.


Thursday last: a day out to Ipswich to meet with Dad. Many parts of the town of my birth are now conspicuously rundown, possibly even abandoned. The silvery Odeon cinema has been empty for the best part of a decade, while Upper Orwell Street is full of boarded up shop fronts, windows with eviction notices and broken pavements fenced off by steel barriers, forcing the pedestrian to dodge the cars in order to walk down the street. One empty shop’s upper storey has broken windows with pigeons flying in and out. What shops there are seem to be either franchise charity shops, or ‘cash convertors’, ie what used to be called pawn shops. The following weekend the Sunday Times runs its ‘Rich List’ feature.


Recent outings: a farewell bash in a King’s Cross bar for Emma Jackson and Adey Lobb, who are moving to Glasgow. Something of an end to an era, as I remember Emma’s first place in London, circa 1996. It was when she was in Kenickie, and she shared it with the other band members, Monkees-style.

Also there: Marie & Pete of Kenickie, Erol Alkan, Bob Stanley. Simon Price DJs, and even plays a Romo tune (Plastic Fantastic) just like he did when I met him, and met Kenickie. It feels long ago – it was long ago. A lifetime piling up, as the Talking Heads song goes.

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Happy? Blocked!

Like a fool, yesterday I let temptation get the better of me. I went on one of those ‘Who Unfollowed Me On Twitter’ sites. Such a Pandora’s box. I suppose the emotion behind doing so comes from the game-like nature of Twitter, which insists on associating one’s name with a total number of ‘followers’. As if to say, ‘this is your score in life’. So when you see the number going down, and you know there’s a site which tells you just who has had enough of you, Dame Insecurity takes over. And there they are. Sometimes it’s just strangers trying you out, and realising you’re not for them. But sometimes it’s people you were following back, people you thought were kindred spirits. Friends in real life, sometimes. One shouldn’t take it personally, but of course, one does.

On this occasion, I discovered I’d been not just unfollowed but ‘blocked’. Blocking is a Twitter button usually reserved – as far as I understand it – for those who have been actively spamming or abusing or otherwise pestering someone – it completely cuts off further contact either way. The person who’d blocked me was a music journalist I rather liked, whom I’d chatted to a few times in the Twittery way, enthusing about shared interests. I’d never had any kind of arguments with him, or bombarded him with unasked-for Tweets, and I hadn’t even Tweeted “at” him directly for a week or so. So now I’d instantly became steeped in Kakfa-esque paranoia – what had I said? It’s the not knowing that irks the most.

In order to stop myself going completely insane with worry, I did the other Pandora’s box thing (in for a Pandora’s penny, in for a pound) – I logged out of my own Twitter account in order to look at his public timeline. And there it was, a Tweet referring to blocking someone who had annoyed him because…  they had Tweeted about their essay marks. I instantly knew, with a horrible sinking feeling, that he must have meant me.

What can I say? I’d managed to get some very good marks and was really happy about doing so, and I shared this fact on Twitter. Not directly to Mr Blocker (that’s the bit I don’t get), but generally, openly. Why? Because I like it when other people do the same – I like hearing of their successes, book deals, appearances on TV & radio, babies, marriages, running marathons, all of it. I like people to be happy! And I suppose I naively thought people on Twitter thought the same.

Clearly not…

I guess one person’s idea of spontaneously expressing happiness is another’s person idea of a nauseating, undignified and smug boast.

But then again, perhaps my blocker didn’t realise how much it meant to me. Or perhaps he saw my Tweets while having a particularly bad day. Or perhaps he doesn’t realise that blocking is not the same as unfollowing. The element of not knowing goes further still, and it goes both ways. Oh well.

I don’t bear him the slightest ill-will, mind, because it was really my fault for going on that website in the first place. In fact, I’d like to apologise for annoying him, only I can’t, because he’s blocked me.

At least I’ve learned a couple of lessons, though. One is to never go on those ‘who unfollowed me’ sites ever again – it only ends in tears. Another is that I should restrain from Tweeting things about my college life – if it drove him to blocking me, it must have annoyed a few others too.

Besides, I have this diary for such things.

So, readers who find accounts of college work annoying or just boring might want to look away. For the next three and a bit years. Sorry.


This time last year I was approaching forty, and was wondering what the hell I should do with myself. My attempts at a sustainable career as a musician & songwriter, or a freelance writer, or a DJ, or a club promoter, or working in offices and shops and museums, had all fizzled out. Either I wasn’t good enough at them, or I just didn’t have the enthusiasm to keep at them for very long, or I just wanted to try something else. I was beginning to question if I was actually good at anything at all, to be honest.

Then a kind friend – Emily B – pointed out a journalism course for postgraduates, not realising I didn’t even have an A level to my name. I told her I wasn’t qualified, but thanks, and… wait a minute, that reminds me! A mothballed ambition at the back of my mind came alive, and I realised I really, really, really wanted to do a degree. I’d dropped out of A-levels after an unhappy episode at school, meaning I couldn’t do a degree at the time most people do them. Since then, it was always something I knew I wanted to do. I just had forgotten about it. Until now.

Such a wonderful feeling, to actually know what you want to do.

(oh, and there was that business about the fees going up if I left it any longer)

I’m not doing much else in my life at the moment – the degree is pretty much what I’m living for. Since starting the course last October my essay marks have been, in order, 69, 69, 70, 71, and 75. I’m putting the work in, and it’s paying off – I’m improving as an academic. For an English Literature degree, a First is 70 or above. I don’t find the work easy in the slightest – it’s hard and riddled with frustration, not least because I have dyspraxia (essentially meaning I’m slower and more scatterbrained than the average student), and it’s been over 20 years since I was last in formal education.  So, yes, I’m quite happy about my marks. If that’s all right with the rest of the world.


As it is, I worry of the common British Twitter emotion of Default Scorn. It’s actually more exhausting than cathartic, to have to join in with collective knee-jerk umbrage about some article in the Daily Mail (don’t link to it then!), or fixating on this columnist or that columnist or whatever it is today.

(stomach still aching, getting very boring now)


P.S. A few people have now told me they do like hearing of how I’m doing at college. And yes, I know this is a very petty story, and I’m being a bit thin-skinned and over-sensitive on this. It’s just being honest. Which is what got me blocked in the first place. But this is my first awareness of being blocked on Twitter, and my first and last comment on the unhappy, if ultimately ephemeral experience. I just needed to, well, unblock my thoughts on it.

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Does The Pterodactyl

This morning. Standing bleary-eyed at the pedestrian crossing on Archway Road, I hear the following:

“Does the pterodactyl want to push the button?”

It’s a father with his 4-year-old son, the son carrying a small plastic version of the aforementioned flying dinosaur. The boy pokes the pterodactyl’s beak against the button on the panel, and I wait with them for the lights to change.


Week 9 of the Spring Term, and we’re onto Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. The lecture, by Steven Connor, is one of the best we’ve had. He explores how you can study Pinter in depth without ever reaching for allegory or metaphor. Pinter uses registers as power play, so what’s going on in the dialogue IS what’s going on, and with Pinter the language is more than enough. Connor puts this so beautifully that the critics I’ve read who dwell on symbolism in The Caretaker – Biblical, cosmic, microcosmic  – now seem to be missing the point entirely.

A good lecture can do that:  it can give you the confidence and the tools with which to contribute to a field of study, and on your own terms. You stop looking at the shelves in the library thinking, ‘these books were written by people much smarter than me’, and start to think, ‘I could write books to slot in alongside these.’