Ways Of Truth

In the morning I speak to the very helpful Consumer Credit Counselling Service. They advise me what best to do with a punishing overdraft when living on the dole: how to open a new account with a different bank, manage all my ingoings and outgoings away from the debt, and how to ask Lloyds very nicely if they can waive their charges, in return for a sensible-looking payment plan.

Then my parents phone and bail me out.

I hadn’t asked them for help – they’d read yesterday’s blog. Although I take no pleasure in accepting their long-suffering generosity like this, particularly at the age when I really, really should be able to manage on my own, I accept, am impossibly grateful, and am viscerally aware of how lucky I am to have them. And I intend, of course, to pay them back.

I’m worried now that this could sound like I use a public blog to tell my parents what I can’t tell them in private. But that’s not true. I don’t know what I’m doing a lot of the time full stop. The diary is a way of cattle-prodding my general… flailing into order, controlling myself, coming to terms with things I’m trying to avoid, and using the Web as a witness.

I think I said as much in the BBC1 documentary on blogging. One reason why I took to blogging before the term was even invented was because it seemed to fit the way my mind works. Or rather, doesn’t work. I don’t write to say something. I write to find out what I have to say.

Anyway, it’s such a sobering, mind-clearing, clean slate feeling to see my balance, little as it is, without the minus sign forever in front. This time for good. Overdraft cancelled.


Dad has just scanned and uploaded his comic book project, Captain Biplane, to the Web. A true labour of love, he’s worked on it since the 1960s, off and on. It can be found at: http://www.mml.co.uk/cb/


Some cultural adventures of late. In order to see more films on the big screen, I’ve become a member of the Prince Charles cinema near Leicester Square. The cheapskate Londoner’s first port of call for films. Matinee screenings are a mere £1.50.

Last Saturday: I see Richard Herring’s latest solo comedy show, ‘Christ On A Bike’, at the theatre next to the Prince Charles. He pulls apart the inconsistencies and downright silliness in the text of the Bible to great effect, but I think the highlights are when he blends the fixed script with brand new, topical material – namely the case of the Christian B&B owners who refused to admit a gay couple.

Four films seen in the last month, all four touching on ways to tell the truth. In reverse order of merit:

Documentary (or so it seems) about a New York photographer who has a long-distance relationship with a woman, entirely via Facebook and phone calls. When he works out he’s being hoaxed, he decides to turn up on her doorstep, unannounced, and find out what’s going on. It’s an interesting internet-based twist on 84 Charing Cross Road, with much to say about they way people are using the Net to live their lives – or to live fantasy lives. The only thing is, I can’t quite believe much of the film itself isn’t staged reconstruction, if not downright fiction. Something a bit fishy about Catfish.

A dramatisation of the creation of Facebook itself, with a lot of license. Even though Mr West Wing peppers the script with quips and retorts throughout, rarely does one get an iota of depth and empathy from this parade of awful and sexist little college boys, jabbering constantly about how to get rich from computers. As much as I like witty American screenplays, I like my slick banter mixed with a little sadness (Holly Hunter in Broadcast News), or madness (Peter Finch in Network). The pursuit of money alone just isn’t interesting enough. Still, Jesse Eisenberg’s lead performance is incredible – all autistic monotone and shifty eyes, never letting his defences slip until the final frame.

Pretty much a perfect film. Unlike The Social Network, the script is taut and engaging but allows for plenty of emotion and doesn’t draw attention to itself. With delicious irony, at my screening the projector’s audio breaks down. The sound effects and background music are fine – it is just the dialogue that is inaudible. So I hop on a bus for five minutes and catch the film all over again at another cinema – a very London thing to do. In the gents afterwards, I chat about the film with a man who says he taught the director Tom Hooper, at Highgate School, and is so proud of him now. A perfect footnote for a film about the power of teaching.

A stunning work of art that deserves every award in the book. On the surface it’s a documentary about the unhappy life of the 1980s playwright Andrea Dunbar. It follows how she failed to leave the Bradford council estate that both inspired her and held her back, and what became of her children after she died at the age of 29. It mixes scenes from her plays with archive TV footage, fictional framing devices, dramatisation and art installation. Actors lip-sync to the voices of real people being interviewed, and their perspectives differ from person to person, reminding you that documentaries aren’t really so different from dramatisations after all – it’s all versions of the truth. Where the Arbor goes further is not just the unique style, but the unflinching yet unjudgemental examination of its subject, from the personal to the political. Age-old questions are asked with searing freshness: how much of a person is determined by their upbringing and how much by choice? Is the past an excuse? Is a neglectful mother a wicked one? How intrusive should society be?

The subject matter, though off-screen and spoken about rather than shown, is so harrowing I can’t recommend The Arbor to everyone. But it’s one of those films that you’re desperate to show to others the moment the credits roll.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Bankers Are People Too, Probably

Am somewhat struggling with getting myself into a routine and finding work. Or as they call it now, ‘sustainable employment’.

A few thoughts on the matter:

  • I am not interested in job competitition. I believe in filling gaps, not treading on others’ toes.
  • Better to focus on one’s uniqueness.
  • Look upon applications as adding a new dish to a menu, however cluttered. You may not be to their taste, or you may be exactly what they want.


One advert asking for freelance reviewers now looks likely to be some kind of scam, possibly where one’s details are used for junk mail. Still, it got me to put together a portfolio of clippings and a CV anyway.

The constant motto of the optimist: ‘Ah well, it’s a lesson learned.’ I just feel I’d like to start earning alongside all the learning, if that’s okay with the world.

Forgotten just how much I’d done over the years: a cover feature for Rock ‘n’ Reel magazine, a column in Select Magazine (the magazine folded before it was printed, but I was still paid), and quite a few full page review columns in Plan B, of films and exotic CD reissues.


To make my life just that little bit less lovely, Lloyds TSB has introduced a monthly £5 ‘usage fee’ for their agreed overdrafts. That’s on top of the £15-£20 monthly interest I’m already paying them for the privilege of being in the red. I’m on the dole, so paying off an overdraft isn’t possible until I get a regular wage again.

Stupid thing is, I paid off the overdraft when I last had a job, eighteen months ago. I was in the black. And it felt… unnatural to me. Just as cancelling my dole would have felt unnatural. Over the years, both dole & overdraft had muted from being fiscal crutches to actually becoming a part of me. An addiction, of a sort. Like heroin, just less cool and more pathetic. Even more pathetic.

But there’s another reason. Part of my depression manifests itself as a constant self-hating, self-harming voice telling me that I’ll always be like this. That it is my place to be on the dole and in the red from here to the grave. Now, I know this is not true. But it is something I have to struggle with every day, and it’s something that keeps holding me back. Living alone doesn’t help. But right now, just writing this diary entry means today is a success.

I read recently how Andrea Dunbar, the tragic Bradford playwright and subject of the film The Arbor, was taken to court by the dole office: she hadn’t declared her royalties from the film Rita, Sue & Bob Too. I can’t help thinking the same thing applied – a fear of change, even a change for the better. I also think it was why Quentin Crisp never moved out of his rooming house in New York, even though he had the best part of a million dollars in savings.

A phone call to Lloyds reveals the new £5 fee replaces their unauthorised fees for going over agreed limits, which I’m careful to avoid anyway. So effectively it’s a punishment for being good.

Amusingly, the staffer on the phone got quite annoyed with me when I made this point. ‘So it’s all about you, is it?’

Similarly, I was actually told off on Twitter by a financial journalist, for quipping that bailed-out bonus-scoffing bank executives weren’t even good at their job, de facto. Good luck to him if he’s going around Twitter attacking everyone who shares the sentiment.

This kind of unexpected defensiveness – for bankers, footballers and Government alike  – is very much in the news. There’s just been a debate on BBC4 on the ethics of pay, in which the footballer Wayne Rooney’s salary (£10.2million) was compared to that of a care worker (£12,000).

‘Well, he is worth it,’ said a young woman in the audience. ‘He runs about more than a care worker.’

Still, I have to face my own part in my penury. I could have avoided having an overdraft, depression or no.

And just as the Government and I agree that once I start earning the first thing I need to do is cancel my dole, the bank and I know that I need to cancel the overdraft as soon as I clear it.

The good thing about all this is that rather than sit and stew in my own anger, it’s spurred me into making three new applications for work today. This time as a TV & film extra. I’ve sent off photos to The Casting Network, Guys & Dolls, and Ugly.

If it were offered, I’d even appear in an advert for a bank. And that would be me told.

Tags: , ,