Forgetting Memory

Have been forcing myself to get up at 7 and get to the college library or computer rooms for regular ‘homework’ sessions at 9. My body doesn’t like early mornings, but my mind does – I seem to think more clearly first thing.

Today: Spent a final three hours on the Finisterre essay before submitting the thing for good (deadline was today). Must have been about my tenth draft.

On top of the unfortunate penalty fare incident the other week, I had another piece of essay-related bad luck on Sunday night. I left the memory stick – which had my essay on – in one of the college computers. Even though I rushed back the next morning – getting there at 8am – the stick had gone. Thankfully I’d printed the latest draft out, so it just meant having to type it into a new Word file from the printout. Took me a morning, but it meant I could revise it as I went.

Kind people on Twitter recommended I scanned it by OCR, and used Dropbox but, being on a deadline, I really wasn’t in the best mood for learning how to use new software for the first time. And I’d covered the printout with yet more revisions in pen, so an OCR scan would have been tricky. Typing it up then just sending the file to my Gmail was actually quicker, as I knew what I was doing. I generally do things faster when I know what I’m doing.

But a lesson was learned. I’m not the sort of person that can remember a memory stick.

Someone told me a ‘computer proverb’ regarding this: ‘If it doesn’t exist in three places, it doesn’t exist.’


Also today: read the latest set text for the London module – the play London Assurance (1841) by Dion Boucicault  – and attended a lecture on it. A kind of Victorian take on Restoration comedies, but with the kind of inverted witticisms that would influence Wilde.

Also attended yet another study skills workshop on essay writing – can’t have too many. A fairly college-heavy day, then.


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What Have You Done Today, Dickon Edwards?

I’m far too good at hibernation, especially in freezing weather. Today I woke up at about 1pm, even though I’d fallen asleep at a reasonable time during the night. To my horror, the whole morning was gone. And I don’t even feel better for the extra sleep physically – I’ve found that sleeping too much makes you feel ill too – you get a kind of sickly headache. I really must make sure I get up properly tomorrow morning, however cold it is.

Managed to get some things done, however, including finally working out how to scan my article for the Sunday Express, on letter writing. The paper is too large for my A4 scanner, and it took me forever to work out how to join two image files and make a new one. As you can see, I still haven’t done it very well, but it’s readable:

It was published two months ago, but I wanted to put off mentioning it here until I was paid, which happened last week (I was told it would take that long). This was, after all, my first proper freelance paid writing job. As in paid decently.  Because my bedsit-renting outgoings are meagre compared to the average person, if I could get just two such writing gigs a month I’d be able to call myself a Working Writer – just about. Three such articles a month and I’d have an income from a job I’d actually be happy with, and could even afford to save. So I need to pitch for this sort of work more often.

Writers often talk about the day their first cheque from a publisher or newspaper arrived – that heart-lifting moment of a dream fulfilled, of a future laid out. I certainly felt very good about the article being published, particularly because they gave me a byline photo.


Sadly, today I had to spend £25 of my proud earnings on a transport penalty fare.

I went to the Museum Of London Docklands this evening in order to attend a screening of Paul Kelly’s films made with Saint Etienne, Finisterre and What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day? This meant a rare trip on the Docklands Light Railway from Bank to West India Quay station. On the way back, I didn’t realise I had to ‘touch in’ my Oyster card at one of those voluntary scanning pads you have to look for, rather than at a barrier, which I’m used to. In fact, I found the station confusing enough as it was. I had to run up and down the same steps twice to find the right platform, as there’s two branches of the DLR going through it. The thought of touching in my Oyster card didn’t occur to me – I was too preoccupied with working out where the hell I was meant to be.

On the train there was a TFL ticket guard, to whom I presented my card with confidence. It hadn’t occurred to me that I’d done something wrong. Or rather, not done something right.  He scanned my card, told me I hadn’t touched in at the station, and said that this meant I had to pay a penalty fare of £25.

I was pretty upset and angry about this. Particularly as I was clearly – visibly-  an easily confused visitor who had unwittingly made a mistake rather than a knowing fare dodger who had been caught. Fare dodgers don’t present their ticket to a guard confidently.

Plus my Oyster card history would prove I’m someone that doesn’t use the DLR regularly. Plus I’m medically forgetful these days, what with the dyspraxia diagnosis. My brain isn’t as connected up as most people’s.

But the guard’s sympathy only ran to not charging me the full £50 – and he said I was lucky he didn’t do this. I paid on the spot, not wanting to create a scene.

Still, the penalty fare slip has details of how to write an appeal letter to try and claim the money back, and that’s what I’ll do. I’ve poured so many thousands of pounds into TFL over the  years, so I do hope they can let me off for making this one very human mistake.


Apart from that little unhappy epilogue, I otherwise had a lovely evening at the Paul Kelly screening. Mervyn Day is a portrait of the Lea Valley just before the Olympic Park bulldozers moved in, filmed in a very 1970s Children’s Film Foundation sort of way. One the best bits is the voice of an old Hackney Wick bloke saying “There should be signs for dogs”. As in for them to read.

I chatted to Paul Kelly himself on the train home. He was a witness to my run-in with the TFL guard, and very kindly stood up in my defence.


Some happier news. This week I had two further marks back from my BA English degree course. One was 70, the other was 71. That’s two Firsts – just. It’s proof that despite the dyspraxia, I can clearly do good work.  I feel a lot less stupid and useless. Even if I do forget to touch in my Oyster card sometimes, I can be relied upon to write a decent essay about Coleridge.

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Enjoy The Turn

Petty ailments of the season: a twitchy left eyelid, return of the slight numbness in my left hand that plagued me last year, and general unfitness & tiredness. I’ve already had the hand looked at by a specialist – nothing serious, perhaps go in for physiotherapy if it’s a problem (it isn’t). An NHS search online suggests that the twitchy eyelid is probably down to caffeine, alcohol or stress, or all three. So I’ve started switching to decaff coffee and camomile tea.

Spent the afternoon preparing for the Writing London module’s seminar. This time – the film Finisterre. Went over my notes and the tutor’s handouts, and watched the film again courtesy of the Birkbeck DVD reference library – you have to sit and watch it on the premises, using one of the computer stations and headphones. Didn’t realise the Astoria Theatre was in the film – people are seen queuing outside for a concert in 2003 by The Hives (I think). The Astoria is now vanished, of course, erased into the crater that will become the central Crossrail platforms.

By the time of the seminar, I’d typically scribbled down enough things to say to take up the whole session. Once again my problem was knowing how to edit my class contributions to that tricky area between not saying anything and saying too much and making my classmates hate me (thankfully I’ve not yet reached that dreaded moment when the tutor says ‘Someone else!’). So I limited my pipings-up by pointing out that the film’s script – everything said by the main ‘narrator’ of Michael Jayston – was written by Kevin Pearce, and that his role is often overlooked in articles on the Saint Etienne films. Then I offered the idea that the film was not so much about The Tourist Gaze, more The Thoughtful Fanzine Gaze, and mentioned Mr P’s 1993 book Something Beginning With O (now worth £65 online, I’ve still got my copy and it’s not for sale). And I mentioned how some of the references to songs in Finisterre are pretty obscure indeed – I suggested that I was probably the only person in the class who knew that the phrase ‘Use A Bank I’d Rather Die’ was a song by McCarthy (and I was).

Chatted online afterwards with Mr Pearce himself about it. He finds the idea of having his words studied for a degree ‘surreal’. Too modest. I can heartily recommend his blog about London songs, The London Nobody Sings and his more recent online music fanzine Your Heart Out

Next week we do Henry IV Pt 1. Which will be a lot harder. I’m definitely not a Facebook friend of the scriptwriter there.


Afterwards, to the Odeon Tottenham Court Road to see The Iron Lady. It’s not worth the hype, and not as good as the recent BBC TV films on Thatcher, particularly Margaret with Lindsay Duncan. And certainly not three times as good as The Queen (see previous entry).

Attempting to cover a whole lifetime of such a famous life in a single film can only frustrate. It’s far better to zoom in on a particular incident like the 1997 Diana crisis in The Queen, or the 1990 leadership challenge in Margaret. Plenty enough there. Zoom out any further, and surfaces are skimmed.

But what people are really going to see is Ms Streep being excellent as usual, just playing the part, and that’s what you get. Just as Resident Alien was really about seeing John Hurt playing Quentin Crisp again. Both films are not proper films, they’re turns. Is that enough? Yes, if that’s what you come for. Undemanding, no surprises, nothing you didn’t know, you just enjoy the turn.



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One Evening, Two Library Parties

Today: Last lecture at college. We’re looking at a literary essay on the St Etienne film Finisterre, as part of the module on London in literature. Rather unexpectedly, the lecturer shows clips of Notting Hill and Love Actually alongside Finisterre itself. Her argument is that although Richard Curtis’s films present a rather sugary ‘tourist gaze’ version of London, Finisterre is doing the same thing, despite its more arthouse, cliché-free aesthetic. It’s still saying ‘come to London – it’s really great, even the bits which aren’t so great.’ Interesting theory, but I’d say Finisterre also plays with enough notions of detachment and uncertainty to keep that aspect in check. So sad that the New Piccadilly Café, which features in Finisterre, is now gone, but pleased it’s immortalised on film.

Then to two Christmas parties in a row: both in Victorian libraries with connections to Virginia Woolf. First, the end of term party for Birkbeck’s English and Humanities department, held in the Keynes Library in Gordon Square, once home to Maynard Keynes and Woolf and Vanessa Bell, and now part of the Birkbeck campus. No less than three Bell paintings on the walls.

Then a quick tube journey to catch the London Library’s party in St James’s Square. As they only invited selected supporters, I feel extremely privileged to be asked along. I chat to the head librarian, Inez Lynn, and the press  officer, Aimee Heuzenroeder, before getting mince pie crumbs on the carpet. Drinking wine amongst history & books, twice in one evening, all over by 9pm. I would say this is fast become my idea of a good night out, but the night before I was amongst the last ones to be thrown out of the Boogaloo at closing time, so things haven’t changed all that much.

Stephen Fry has just written an excellent blog entry about the London Library here, which mirrors much of my own feelings about the place.


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