An Attempt To Go Weekly

I have finally conceded that daily diary updates are beyond me. So starting with this entry I’m going to compile a weekly thousand-word diary instead. I hope to publish a new one every Friday morning, as that makes it feel like something to look forward to. Sunday night will have to suffice for this one.

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Monday 9th December 2013. The final set texts of the term are Olive Schreiner’s Story of An African Farm, Rana Dasgupta’s Tokyo Cancelled, and the Anglo-Saxon poem The Battle of Maldon. Schreiner’s novel  is a perfect example of a book I’d never pick up were it not for taking a course in literature. When I do, it moves me to tears.

* * *

Rachel Stevenson has been reviewing all the songs in John Peel’s 1991 Festive Fifty. This was the Year of Noisy Americans. I remember being in student haunts of Bristol at that time and seeing the ‘baggy’ fashions of long sleeved tops and flares give way to checked lumberjack shirts:

In the evening I walk past the Kentish Town Forum. Despite the changing ways of consuming music, the sight of touts outside large venues still endures. It’s the same aggressive shouting at pedestrians. Only the band names being shouted come and go. Tonight it’s ‘Buy or sell tickets for Haim.’

* * *

Good to see critics agreeing with one of my favourite films of 2013: Frances Ha. In one scene, two characters discuss how to spend the evening:

‘We should go to the movies.’

‘But the movies are so expensive!’

‘Yeah, but you’re at the movies.’

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Thursday 12th December 2013. On the day of my last classes for the term I receive my highest essay mark yet. It’s an 80. This is defined in the classification guidelines as a High First Class, for work that ‘may display characteristics more usually found at postgraduate level or that demonstrate the potential for publication.’ I’m rather stunned. I’m still uncertain about which direction to take this skill in order to earn a living, but at least it is proof that I can do this sort of thing well, and can do it on time, and should probably develop it further between now and the grave. The essay was on ‘technotext’ theories of materiality, with reference to Chris Ware’s comic strip story for the iPad, Touch Sensitive.

The same day sees a grading of my former work as a songwriter. The quarterly PRS statement arrives and pays me a total of £1.41. Orlando’s album Passive Soul has sold 7 copies on iTunes, while the Fosca song ‘Confused and Proud’ has been played 139 times on streaming services like Spotify and Last FM. Well, I’m pleased if the songs are being listened to at all.

* * *

Meanwhile my work as a diarist in the anthology A London Year has managed to receive some attention. Here’s a positive review, which quotes from my diary:

This further review calls me ‘as well-read as Samuel Johnson and Johnny Rotten but polished to a dandyish sheen’. I also have ‘a certain essential Londonness’:

A few weeks ago, Kensington & Chelsea Today reviewed the book and called me ‘Dickson’ Edwards, which suggests I have some distance to go in the notability stakes. Still, it also called me ‘the youngest’ diarist in the book, which is the best possible thing you can say to anyone over, oh, 24. Here’s a pdf of the review:

The other 2013 book I’m in, I Am Dandy, appeared as a prop in a colour supplement article (name forgotten, possibly the Sunday Times). It was, of all things, a piece on the comedian Frank Skinner. Mr Skinner was photographed reading I Am Dandy in his underwear.

* * *
I am sent a photograph of a sign on a building. They saw it and thought of me. It says ‘Centre For Useless Splendour’.

A little Googling reveals this to be part of the Contemporary Art Research Centre at Kingston University. The artist responsible is Elizabeth Price, the Turner Prize winner who once sang in a couple of my favourite bands, Talulah Gosh and The Carousel.

* * *

Saturday 14th December 2013. Mum comes up to London for a well-earned day trip, while the hospice looks after Dad. We have mulled wine and mince pies in the Somerset House Ice Rink café, something of a pre-Christmas tradition.

Another Christmas tradition that seems to be bigger every year: adults in Santa costumes wandering noisily en masse through the streets, swigging bottles of alcohol. An expected late night activity, perhaps, but today they’re on the Strand at noon. These are often organised group events (an inflated version of pub crawls), though not quite organised enough for some of us. What irks is the implication that it’s fine to extend an office party across a whole series of public spaces.

Mum and I have lunch at St Martin’s Café in the Crypt, and on the way out I point out a couple of sights in Trafalgar Square which mark this moment: Katharina Fritsch’s blue sculpture of a cockerel on the Fourth Plinth, and the pool of floral tributes to Mandela outside South Africa House. The queue to sign the embassy’s condolence book is now small enough to fit into the lobby, but it’s still going.

We visit the Tate Britain’s newly revamped permanent collection. Mum is pleased to see the inclusion of works by Josef Herman, Edward Middleditch and Nigel Henderson, all of whom she and Dad knew in the 60s and 70s. Henderson taught Dad photography. Josef Herman, meanwhile, lent my parents a car around the time I was born. ‘A beaten up Mini’ says Mum. ‘Full of sweet wrappers.’

* * *

Saturday evening: I watch the whole series of Adam Buxton’s Bug, his TV show about music videos. By far my favourite is one he shows from 2010. It’s for the song ’70 Million’ by the French indiepop band Hold Your Horses. They dress up as recreations of paintings: Vermeer’s Girl With A Pearl Earring, Géricault’s Raft of the Medusa, Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People, and so on. I love how this concept is channelled through the ragged charm of the song and the band’s visible enjoyment, playing irreverently with the paintings’ gender roles and depictions of nudity:

Video: 70 Million by Hold Your Horses

The Bug website interviews the ’70 Million’ directors, and lists all the paintings:

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Graphic and Novel

Though I’ve yet to visit it, I find out that the new King’s Cross concourse does have at least one unique shop: the first European branch of Watermark Books, an Australian chain. They are exploiting the fact they’re right next to the Harry Potter platform, and rightly so. What stops stations losing their individuality and becoming ‘non-places’  is hanging on to unique associations like this. Paddington has its little bear statue, St Pancras its Betjeman statue. It’s a shame these are often tucked away within the stations, but I like that they give people something unique to look for.


It’s only March, but I’ve finished attending lectures for the first year of my course at Birkbeck. Next up is four weeks of the Easter break, then there’s a final two seminars in late April. After that the only remaining sessions are workshops in which to prepare for the first exam, and a few introductory lectures about the modules in the second year. I still have to deliver two essays by early May and revise for the exam taken shortly after that, but the regular lectures are over.

It’s been an experience without a single regret. I still don’t feel like an academic, and I still view MA and PHD students as lofty creatures living on a higher intellectual plane (never mind the professors), but the degree now feels do-able, as opposed to something that other people can do, not me. That’s the big difference. It involves work, of course, and putting in the hours, but this is work that I feel happy about doing, which I even look forward to.

We’ve just been given our optional module choices for the second year. Each of the four years is made up of three modules (modules being different subjects, effectively). The first year has comprised three compulsory modules: London in literature, how to study poetry, and an introduction to literary theory. Next year we have do two compulsory modules: one on ‘The Novel’, and one on medieval and Renaissance texts. The third we get to choose ourselves, from an attractively diverse list.

I’ve already handed in my form for this. My first choice is a creative writing module, specially designed for Eng Lit students, but I’ve since been told I probably won’t get to do it in the  Second Year. Third Year students take priority over Second, there’s only fifteen places, and it’s such a notoriously popular subject. Everyone seems to want to do creative writing.

My alternative module choices are, in order, ‘Fin De Siecle’ (Wilde’s Dorian Gray, HG Wells, Dracula), ‘Queer Fiction’ (recent novels by Sarah Waters, Alan Hollinghurst etc), and ‘Narratives Of The Body’ (Angela Carter, Woolf’s Orlando, some films, even some modern dance pieces).

A few of the set texts are particularly interesting choices for literary study:

– The Dark Knight (2008), as in the second Batman film by Christopher Nolan, for a module on US culture since 1900. To be studied alongside F Scott Fitzgerald and Sylvia Plath.
– Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (2009), for the same.
– the films Blade Runner and Aliens, both for the module on The Body.
Persepolis (2000) by Marjane Satrapi; the Iranian graphic novel. For the compulsory ‘The Novel’ module.
Fun Home (2006) by Alison Bechdel. Another graphic novel, for the Queer Fiction module.
Tangles (2011) by Sarah Leavitt. A graphic novel I’ve not heard of, for the same module. So new that the Guardian only reviewed it a few weeks ago.

It’s interesting that all three graphic novels are autobiographical. In terms of proper graphic fiction, we’ve just been studying It’s Dark In London (1996) as the final text in the compulsory 1st year module about London In Literature. It’s an anthology of graphic short stories inspired by the city, edited by Oscar Zarate and including such names as Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Iain Sinclair, Dave McKean, Stella Duffy, and Alexei Sayle. It’s just been republished with extra material and a rather beautiful new cover.

Being closer in format to the genre of underground comics, as opposed to the Marvel or DC-style comics, the book is in black and white throughout. The Alan Moore contribution, I Keep Coming Back, is a companion story to From Hell, which we’ve also looked at – particularly the mythical London tour of Chapter 4. The Moore story in the anthology includes a large close-up panel of an East End pub stripper’s pubic hair, comparing it, rather unforgettably, to an exclamation mark.

I overhear two older ladies in the lecture room, fellow mature students, talking about the collection. It is the first graphic novel they’ve ever read.

Lady 1: “This ‘graphic novel’… (she sighs) I wish it wasn’t quite so graphic.”

Lady 2: “Well… I just kept wanting to colour it in.”

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Bloomsbury Spring

The daffodils are out, spring is in the air and there’s a spring in my step.

My self-esteem has just taken the largest boost it’s had in a long while. I’ve just been accepted for the BA English course at Birkbeck University. Bloomsbury campus, evening classes only, four years, starting in October.

Some friends have said there was never any doubt I’d get the offer, which is very kind of them. But as my formal education stopped at the age of 17 when I abandoned my A-levels, I was worried that Birkbeck would insist I take those again first, or do a Certificate of Higher Education. Thankfully my various doings with words over the years have been enough to convince the tutor who interviewed me today, in a sunny office in Gordon Square. I’m officially capable of doing a Proper Degree.

I’m now waiting to hear back regarding my other choice, BA Creative Writing. If CW accepts me as well, I have to decide between the two subjects. Creative Writing might be better in helping me get novels and scripts written and improved, but English would give me an all-round expertise in everything from Chaucer to Hanif Kureishi, closing the gaps in my knowledge and improving my writing. I think I’ll have to speak to the tutors and ask them how the courses differ in more detail, before I make my choice.

However, if CW doesn’t have me in the first place – creative writing courses are notoriously popular – well, it’s all… academic.

Either way, I’m doing a degree. It feels so good to be accepted and believed in by a university, after a lot of recent rejection from the World Of Work and feeling the weight of my past failures. My 40th birthday is a few weeks before the term starts in October. For the first time, I’m actually looking forward to it.

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