It’s The Most Schizophrenic Time Of The Year

Saturday 24th October 2015.

Ed Sheeran is one of the biggest rock stars of the moment, yet he seems to evince no traits of ego or megalomania whatsoever. There doesn’t seem to be a single photo of him in existence where he doesn’t look like a competition winner.

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I give another tour of the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities. Some of the visitors have come for the Sebastian Horsley ‘Dandies Corner’ display, to my delight, as that’s where I feel the most knowledgeable. There’s now a single lipstick smear on the glass of the Horsley case, in the fashion of the lipstick marks on the Oscar Wilde tomb.

Sunday 25th October 2015.

Modern language. A phrase being bandied by some disability campaigners is ‘inspiration porn”. This denotes the packaging of a personal struggle, such as in a TV programme, primarily to tug at the heartstrings, rather than raise awareness. It follows on from ‘poverty porn’, to describe shows like Benefits Street. There’ll be ‘sex porn’ next.

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I read the latest Ian McEwan novel, The Children Act. Like Saturday, I wince at the author’s love of privileged protagonists with central London homes and top professional jobs – a High Court female judge in this case – and the main young character seems impossibly idealised. But his prose style still impresses: a clear and controlled flow which completely draws the reader in.

Meanwhile, Mr McEwan’s chum Martin Amis is in the Sunday Times, penning an attack on Jeremy Corbyn. The piece is meant to be scathing, but Amis uses imagery that inadvertently appeals. Because of his ‘incurious domesticity’, he says, Corbyn is like a ‘marmalade cat’. It’s like the time in the 90s when John Major said Labour and taxes went together like ‘strawberries and cream’. The negative sentiment is eclipsed by an entirely pleasant image.

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Monday 26th October 2015.

MA class at Birkbeck, on Atwood’s The Year of the Flood. Lecture by Hallvard Haug. The novel’s suitability becomes evident in the seminar: the more we discuss it, the more we realise it covers a rich variety of contemporary themes. Environmentalism, fundamentalism, feminism, globalisation, trauma, literary genres – it’s all there. A good, all-purpose novel.

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Tuesday 27th October 2015.

Some unexpected praise this week. One is my inclusion in a list of ‘Top 5 pop lyricists of all time’, by La JohnJoseph, at the Dandy Dicks website. It’s a site that features erotica, though the article in question is clean enough: ‘Dickon Edwards – ‘The only man living with any real right to call himself both a flaneur and a dandy’.

I also receive a lengthy email from a young man in Baltimore, who only stumbled on the blog this year: ‘Thank you for existing – You have restored my faith in so many things’.

Plus a handwritten letter from a reader on a Scottish island, who took comfort from my entry about my father. When her own mother died, she dug it out of the archives to re-read.

I’m grateful for these responses. Too often it can feel like no one’s reading, and too often I wonder if I should continue.

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Wednesday 28th October 2015.

A visit to the Foundling Museum, in Brunswick Square. The museum tells the story of the Founding Hospital, which cared for abandoned children and orphans. Though it turns out that the story is more complicated than I’d thought. By the mid-19th century, the demand for admittance was so high that the Hospital had to implement a ‘petition’ system, where the mother had to prove she had been ‘seduced’, which often meant raped, or ‘abandoned’. The idea of single parent families was so shameful that many women give up their children to institutions like the FH, rather than raise them on their own. There’s a temporary exhibition, The Fallen Woman, which focuses on these women’s stories, while the permanent collection portrays the children. A sound installation by Steve Lewinson features the mothers’ petitions read out by actresses like Maxine Peake and Ruth Jones.

I really like the café’s mural, Superman Was A Foundling by Lemn Sissay. The walls are covered in statements about the foundling status of so many characters from popular culture. From Harry Potter to Snow White to Wolverine to Sophie Fevvers, as in the heroine of Angela Carter’s Nights At The Circus. Two characters are illustrated by logos between the café windows: the ‘S’ symbol of Superman, and a dragon tattoo, for Lisbeth Salander.

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Thursday 29th October 2015.

I meet Ms Atalanta for a drink in the Marlborough Arms, in Bloomsbury. The pub is a favourite with students from the nearby colleges. Many students in Halloween fancy dress tonight, two days before the 31st. A party of young men are in animal ‘onesies’, while a group of girls are dressed as characters from Scooby Doo, with one as the titular dog. The pub décor is somewhat schizophrenic in its festive theme: there’s Christmas presents and a Santa Claus cut-out in one corner (with a sign, ‘Book Now For Christmas Dinner’), alongside Halloween pumpkins, skeletons and cobwebs.

We walk to King’s Cross and decide on another drink while waiting for Ms A’s train. Really, thought, it’s an excuse for me to show her The Parcel Yard pub at one end of the revamped station. This in is the former King’s Cross postal sorting office. There’s stripped wooden floors, white-painted dividing walls, old railway signs that manage to be tasteful rather than twee, and an interior covered courtyard with potted trees. Plenty of alcoves and small rooms in which to feel safe – this way, no single loutish party can dominate the whole bar. The pub is right by the Harry Potter embedded trolley, yet it doesn’t feel too tourist-heavy, or even too commuter-heavy.

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Friday 30th October 2015.

To the Tottenham Court Road Odeon with Jon S, to see Spectre, the new James Bond film. I miss the jokier, almost Carry On-like aspect of the Bond films in the past. In one of the Roger Moore films, there’s a moment following a punch-up in an exotic den, where a belly dancer bemoans the loss of a diamond. ‘I’ve lost my charm!’ she wails. ‘Not from where I’m standing,’ says Moore, straightening his tie.

This sort of thing was attempted more recently with the Piers Brosnan films – where strained innuendos were exchanged with the likes of Madonna – but the tiredness of the style was showing. It made perfect sense to move on to a more gritty, realistic approach, with a suitably serious actor in charge. So enter Mr Craig. This means that the violence that would have been read as jokey in the old days (such as Sean Connery and the laser beam) is now made all too believable and unpleasant – one scene in Spectre with Craig strapped to a chair is particularly wince-inducing. I also feel Lea Seydoux’s character here, though nicely acted, is a touch too youthful for the forty-something Craig. Far more interesting are his earlier romantic scenes with Monica Bellucci, who is not only closer to his age, but has more chemistry. Otherwise, the action set-pieces are breathtaking without being banal, the globe-trotting locations dazzle, and the tailoring of the menswear is immaculate. All the male characters, even the absolute thugs, somehow manage to stop off between punch-ups to collect a fresh new ensemble, clean and pressed. The Bond world may be less jokey, but it is still steeped in wish-fulfilment.

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