Resting Sad Face

Tuesday 25 July 2023. Living far from a cinema, the availability of so many films on digital TV comes into its own. Tonight I watch with Mum All That Jazz, from 1979, the Bob Fosse film that’s essentially a self-portrait. The real footage of open-heart surgery makes me cover my eyes, and I feel slightly angry that Fosse thought it necessary to include at all. The main character’s constant smoking is also shocking for a professional choreographer, all the more so today. Do dancers smoke much now? Perhaps it’s like nurses, the type of work making no difference to the addiction.

The film’s fantasy dance scenes around a hospital bed precede The Singing Detective, and I wonder if that’s where Dennis Potter got the idea. Mum thinks the final sequence goes on too long. ‘I’m afraid I was wanting him to hurry up and die’.


Friday 28 July 2023. A kind and unsolicited email from Alan Hollinghurst, who sought out my Firbank thesis online to read. He says he read it ‘with enormous admiration’, and admires my ‘amazingly extensive and detailed research’, with ‘so many new details and insights’. My prose style is also ‘marvellously free of rebarbative theoretical jargon’. Given that I regard him as the greatest living English novelist, this is encouragement indeed.

As a result he’s sought out Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons and the works of Richard Paul Nugent. If the next Hollinghurst novel has references to those writers, I suppose it may be my fault.


Saturday 3 August 2023. Mum has had a fall while away in Birmingham. She is now in hospital with a fractured thigh bone, recovering from surgery. Her life will now be shared with a walking frame or crutches for at least six weeks, probably more. It’s just as well I’m about to fetch things, particularly from upstairs. The important detail is that this happened while she was line dancing at a quilting festival. The silver lining of accident is anecdote.


Monday 7 August 2023. An appointment at Ipswich Job Centre. I am instructed to increase my earnings as a self-employed writer, or they may force me to look for other work to justify my claiming benefits to avoid starvation. Not sure what best to do. I was rather hoping that reaching this age would have garnered me some sort of following by now. One only needs about 1500 fans to each pay £20 a year for a book or a gig or some other sort of regular content, and that’s a living. But I’ve still yet to achieve that. Perhaps I’m just too niche. Which is putting it kindly.


Wednesday 9 August 2023. I’ve changed the title of the Substack newsletter from ‘Letter from a Dyspraxic Dandy’ to ‘Svelte Lectures’. Much better. And they are lectures, really. Proper research, with rare findings, useful scholarship, and (I hope) lasting insights. I intend to compile them into a book once I’ve clocked up enough of them.


Thursday 10 August 2023. I’m listening to a calming BBC music mix by a woman who advocates ‘slow living’. I wonder if she manages to make a living from being slow. The fable of the tortoise and the hare is lost on many employers. They’ll go for a shoddy job done quickly over a worker who is slow but painstaking any time. I am of course talking about myself.

My mother has pointed out that in the 1970s Shirley ‘Superwoman’ Conran did all her admin on a Monday. I suppose one could try that with emails now and see what happens.


Saturday 12 August 2023. To Ipswich to see the film Oppenheimer at Cineworld Ipswich’s IMAX screen. The last bus home to the village is 5.40pm. In the English countryside there is no life after tea-time. Thank goodness for matinee screenings.

Despite its three hour duration, Oppenheimer breezes along. The nuclear test scene aside, it is essentially handsome men in shirts and ties talking quickly in rooms. And that’s more than enough: one thinks of Twelve Angry Men. On its own terms, it’s a better film than Barbie, if only because it knows how to end.

But comparing the two is silly anyway: both films are playing to expectations on some level. The way forward now is for Greta Gerwig to only be allowed to make films about troubled men in suits, while Christopher Nolan should only be allowed to make spangly dance routines with all-female casts.


Sunday 13 August 2023. I’m looking at adverts for rented rooms in St Leonards-on-Sea. Today I find one on the Spare Room website which has the following description:

This is new room. There is everything has been. There is included everything. There is all of nice guy. Make sure I need a.

Eat your heart out, Gertrude Stein.


Tuesday 15 August 2023. Sitting in a Hadleigh cafe, a woman comes over to ask me if I’m all right. I’m fine, the lack of income aside. But I’ve had people coming up and asking me this all my life. I can’t help having a Resting Sad Face.


Tuesday 22 August 2023. Today’s dial-a-ride bus to Hadleigh is shared with an older man from Kersey, Paul Dufficey, who turns out to have worked with Ken Russell. He was involved in Tommy and Savage Messiah. In the latter case, he also worked with Derek Jarman.

Kersey is an idyllic place for an artist of any age. As we reach the top of the hill the driver actually stops the bus so we can admire the view, unchanged since it was painted by John Nash in the last century.


Friday 25 August 2023. A kind fellow Birkbeck alumnus books me to give a one-off lecture to American students on the Sally Potter film Orlando, along with the Woolf novel. I know both inside out so it’s perfect work for me. By way of homework I watch Sally Potter’s more recent film The Party, which couldn’t be more different: a kind of twisted Alan Ayckbourn farce set in a house in contemporary London. It has Cillian Murphy, making it the second film in two weeks that I’ve seen him in black and white. 

[Update, a week later] The lecture job falls through. Pity. It would have been £150.  I’d started writing it too.


Saturday 2 September 2023. My Associate Research Fellowship at Birkbeck has expired. I’m now just a struggling self-employed writer with a PhD in English and Humanities. But at least I’m not doing anything I don’t want to do.


Sunday 3 September 2023. Not sure what best to do about turning 52. Except to finally embrace jazz. Not sure if I’ll quite become one of those people who can bang on about Pat Metheny till sunrise. But there’s still time.

I usually like to spend my birthday taking a day trip somewhere. But it’s Sunday in Suffolk, so there’s no buses, plus there’s a train strike. Happily, culture has come to the village this weekend courtesy of the BNatural music festival. Established in 2010, it has now become a miniature Latitude, complete with colourful branded beakers. First class sound. Three pop-up music venues, including a stage in the market square, on which the superb indie band Collars played yesterday. There’s a bar, a tea and cake stall, and several food vans. And slightly too many people: the organisers deliberately restrict publicity to prevent overcrowding.


Wednesday 6 September 2023. Signs of the post-Covid world. Adverts for rented rooms now often stipulate ‘no homeworkers’. They always say ‘lovely sunny room’, yet they don’t want anyone to spend any daylight hours in it.


Thursday 7 September 2023. I watch the Tour of Britain cycle race on television, then open the front door and watch it in person as it goes through the village. Quite a feat by the local police to clear the various roads of parked cars, not least in Hadleigh High Street. Psychology plays a part: no one likes to be the one motorist who won’t move their car.  


Sunday 17 September 2023. To Ipswich Hospital, where I was born, for a hernia repair operation. The ward is called Raedwald, after the Anglo-Saxon king who is thought to be the one buried at Sutton Hoo. The ward is accordingly decorated with glossy panels of Sutton Hoo imagery. Tea, toast, and jam in bed once I come round from the anesthetic. Heaven. And now, eight weeks of no heavy lifting. Not that I ever do very much. I even balk at hardback books.


Wednesday 27 September 2023. A day in London. Within seconds of stepping into the British Library I hear someone calling out ‘Dickon!’. My heart lifts at returning to the city.

I see the new David Hockney installation at The Lightroom, one of the buildings in the spotless new development north of King’s Cross.

The installation is one huge room, on the walls of which is projected a looped film of Hockney’s work lasting 50 minutes or so. All four walls are covered in this immersive projection, which at times spills onto the floor as well. The man himself narrates over music.

For all its high-tech wizardry, the installation is in the tradition of Victorian dioramas, when large and dramatic paintings like those of John Martin were shown in dark auditoriums, and changing lamp patterns would pick out different parts of the art.

Children run about in the room, and it’s quite a family friendly way of turning art into spectacle. Except, perhaps for the occasional nude bums in Hockney’s work, and his comments like: ‘Spring, when nature has an erection’. The presentation ends with a huge painted slogan, ‘LOVE LIFE’. Which one can’t argue with. Particularly when the entrance fee is only £5 for those on Universal Credit.


Tuesday 3 October 2023. To Woodbridge, where I’ve never been before. The Tide Mill Museum has sublime views of the Deben river, with the boats and trees in the distance. All very peaceful and idyllic, though I don’t feel wealthy enough to linger in the town too long.  


Saturday 7 October 2023. The film director Terence Davies dies. In 1988 my father was so moved by Distant Voices Still Lives that he wrote a fan letter to Davies. TD replied by phoning Dad to thank him. They then talked at length about working class childhoods in Britain during the 40s and 50s.


Sunday 8 October 2023. I’ve applied for a job with the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. Freelance assistant and researcher, part-time, temporary (7 months). Just the sort of thing I’m keen to do: Isherwood is in my PhD thesis. The job ad was pointed out to me by two friends, separately, who know me but not each other. So that’s a good indication that the job might suit me.

In my eager researcher way, I’ve looked up the Suffolk connection with Isherwood. His mother Kathleen grew up in Bury St Edmunds. She spent a lot of time at Nether Hall, the mansion in Pakenham, then owned by her wealthy uncle Walter Greene, of Greene King brewery fame. In 1903 she married Isherwood’s father, Frank, in the nearby St Peter’s Church, at Thurston, one of those enviable villages which has a railway station.


Monday 16 October 2023. Am approached for another job: compiling the index to an academic book, which I’ve done before. I say yes. A few days later the client, who I don’t know, then decides they’d rather go with someone with more experience. What with the Orlando lecture falling through, and my Substack earnings dropping to a trickle, I’m now hoping that the Isherwood job will prove to be a case of third time lucky. 


Saturday 21 October 2023. Floods in Suffolk. I plug a leak in the loft with rubber duct tape, but otherwise we are okay. Framlingham and Debenham to the east are hit hard. Homes wrecked, pubs and post offices damaged, cars under water, insurance apparently not applicable. Still, Framlingham is also the home of Ed Sheeran, so I wonder if he can help.


Sunday 22 October 2023. I’m still looking at studio flats in St-Leonard’s-On-Sea, but the situation for renters remains grim. This time I am not even offered a viewing for a flat that went on the market two days ago: they’re booked solid. Just as well my current landlady isn’t going to throw me out of her house until I have somewhere to go to. 

What I definitely don’t want is a basement or ground floor flat. I’d be paranoid about the flood risk (and as I publish this Hastings, which is next to St Leonard’s, is suffering a new bout of flooding).


Tuesday 24 October 2023. I have time to kill in Stowmarket, so I go to the public library, which is near the town’s pretty church. Run by the local council and open from 8.30 in the morning, this library is not just a place of free books but an all-round social support hub.

Here, librarians are the quiet saints of community. Gone are any concerns about silence: there is a chatty knitting group at a table in one corner, and some sort of pensioners’ group at another. Children run about (it’s half term), people make phone calls or do jigsaws, and the whole ambience is cheery, cosy and safe. There’s even a coffee machine, though one important aspect stops this place resembling a coffee shop: no piped music. Just the gentle melody of chatter.

Some are here just to take advantage of the heating. This has long been one of the attractions of libraries, but today there is a designated phrase for such places: ‘warm banks’.

There are free internet terminals for those who don’t have computers at home, which is still a lot of people. That said, there’s room for improvement: the council’s own website is not user-friendly enough. I know this because the old man at the computer next to me is sighing a lot as he taps slowly at the keyboard, one finger at a time. He turns to me by way of explanation:

‘They make these forms so complicated. I’m just trying to order a bin.’


Saturday 28 October 2023. After an interview via Zoom, I am offered the job with the Christopher Isherwood Foundation. It will mean working from home with the occasional trip to London, which suits me fine.

On reflection, I think I was successful because I made it to the interview stage, where I feel more at ease. Many people are uneasy about crowbarring their whole lovely complexity into the inflexible templates of cover letters and CVs. Give us an interview, though, and we come alive.  

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“Renowned Diarist Dickon Edwards…”

Another photo from the Kim Cunningham shoot:

May 2011. Pond Square, Highgate.

Golders Green in the heat. Tempted to go without my jacket, but here – even at 30 degrees C – one sees the district’s famous community of orthodox Jewish men still in their full ensembles: black suits, hats, even coats. I find myself sharing their unspoken message. To strip down would be a let down. Dandyism is a kind of faith, too.

(Actually, as this day goes on I notice a few pious gentlemen just wearing waistcoats, or besuited but with shirts unbuttoned or untucked. But there’s still one or two in coats.)

Today on Golders Green Road: I see my first kosher ice cream van. Back among the Highgate heathens tomorrow, though.


Not much luck with attempts to secure employment. Am collecting rejection emails. One kind friend even pulled strings to get me an interview – customer service at PRS – and I went along and did my best with but no success. I didn’t really want the job as such, though,  just the money, and I suspect that showed in the interview. Feigning enthusiasm for wage slavery isn’t so easy after one reaches a certain age. Questions about what one is actually living for take over. Not in the teenage angst sense, but in the life lived sense. Justified world-weariness. Or rather, world-of-work-weariness.

I’m now past worrying about it, though. At the age of nearly 40 one’s priorities naturally regroup, and things like happiness and mental health count more than ever. The alibi “well at least I’m young, I’ll go onto something better”  has long since expired.

This reluctance is not through wanting a life of pure selfish hedonism, mind. I instinctively feel the need to be of use to this world, just not doing something where I feel disastrously… miscast. I’m hoping something will turn up soon.

In the meantime, something I very much do want to do is to finally get a degree. To see if I’m of use in that respect at least – proving that I have a brain after all (unemployment makes one feel so… thick), and making a contribution to the world of academe. My BA in English Lit at Birkbeck starts in October, and I’m now starting to read text books and set texts for the first time since school.

Quite intrigued that the course includes a seminar on the St Etienne film, Finisterre, as part of a module about London-themed literature and films. Other set texts for Autumn include Oliver Twist, Mrs Dalloway, Jekyll & Hyde, and Ian McEwan’s Saturday.

Today I’ve been reading something very much not on the course list: Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code. Partly because I’m trying to increase my reading speed for the degree and thought a proven page-turner would help (I zoomed through 300 pages of it today), but also because the English course has a module on the whole nature of reading, and I thought it might help to get my own opinion on the biggest selling novel of the past 12 years, rather than just join in with the literary consensus that it’s badly-written dross.

I was hoping it would turn out to be unabashed trashy pleasure, if only to not side with the literary sneerers, but I came away yearning for two crucial elements: charm and fun. The Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie books are equally non-literary, but they have heaps of charming characters and deeply enjoyable puzzles to solve. The Da Vinci Code is curiously unsatisfying. It’s not that awful – Brown flatters the reader with lots of short chapters ending in cliff hangers, and there’s a few impressive plot twists and intriguing theories – but the hero Robert Langford is no Poirot or Holmes or Bond. He’s just no fun.

As for other current bestsellers, I’m aware Lee Child’s thrillers have a Bond-style hero – Jack Reacher – that readers want to be, or be with, or be in bed with. That makes sense. Brown’s Langford, on the other hand, is barely there as a character. Someone who cracks cyphers shouldn’t be a cypher.

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