Waking With Anita

I’ve written a piece in the New Escapologist, issue #8. It’s about Fun. The issue is available now: you can click here to buy it.


Christmas and New Year exploits: a lot of essay writing, or essay avoiding. But I still managed to do the following.

Christmas Day 2012: Fed the ducks in Waterlow Park once again (every year since 2001, I think). With Ms Silke once again too, though this year she’s moved. No longer in Highgate but Holloway, and she walked all the way to Highgate and back to do the duck feeding with me. We stood by the pond and drank mulled wine from a flask and ate chocolate reindeer, which looked suspiciously like Easter bunnies in a different foil wrapper. Ms S is still working at Archway Video, but it now looks likely that it’ll close for good sometime in 2013. Physical DVD libraries are struggling in the era of iPads, Netflix, TV catch-up services, iTunes and so on. A lot of Highgate customers have sensed this might be AV’s last Christmas, and have sent the shop a record number of Christmas cards this year. After we fed the ducks, Silke opened up the shop and showed me them all, including a card from Ray Davies of the Kinks. She lent me three DVDs: Cabin in the Woods (because I like Joss Whedon), Die Hard (because it’s apparently a good Christmas film), and Five Year Engagement (because I like Emily Blunt and romcoms).

Saw two of the three. Die Hard isn’t really my cup of tea, and isn’t that Christmassy really. But I’m glad I finally saw it, just in case I turned out to be an action movie fan on the sly. Alan Rickman steals the show, purring his way through the gunfire.

Cabin In The Woods: Loved its quips & sheer nerve. Much closer to Buffy (which I love). Pure Joss Whedon in tone, even though he only co-wrote it. Plays with the idea of cheating the audience out of the ending they think they want. Clever, cheeky, self-aware.

Boxing Day: Lavish meal and drinks in Crouch End courtesy Suzi Livingstone. Chatted to Anna Spivack and Suzi’s New Zealand friend Dianne. Discussion about NZ music: Headless Chickens, Chris Knox. Argument over whether Crowded House count as a New Zealand or an Australia band. ‘Well, the talented ones were from New Zealand…’

Thurs December 27th: To the Stapleton Tavern near Crouch Hill for Alex Sarll’s birthday. Dozens of people there. I ended up promising to attend the Joanne Joanne gig the next day, at least three of whom were at this gathering (Charley Stone the guitarist, Jo Bevan the singer, Other Jo whom I don’t know but who is an excellent bassist). Joanne Joanne is an all-female band who only play Duran Duran songs – but mainly their lesser known, more interesting songs. ‘Because the real Duran Duran are forced to do all the hits.’ I love that the name isn’t just a pun; there really are two Joannes in Joanne Joanne.

Friday 28th: Joanne Joanne at the Lexington: brilliant, particularly on ‘Hold  Back The Rain’, ‘The Chauffeur’ and ‘Planet Earth’. Chatted to Deb Googe of MBV, who says the new My Bloody Valentine album might really, actually, really, no honestly, come back, be released in 2013. Also spoke to Kirsten, Lea Andrews, Katharine Gifford, Kevin Reinhardt, many others. Hung around with Sophia Wyeth as she DJ’d downstairs till chucking out time. Drank  too much and probably annoyed people. Woke up the next day with the amnesia and paranoia of such indulgence. Realised I was sharing the bed with an old Anita Brookner novel, which I don’t remember acquiring.

Other people wake up after a drunken night out having somehow gained a traffic cone or a torn poster from a wall or indeed a person. I emerge with an old Anita Brookner novel.

It’s very good, though: Lewis Percy.

Sat 29th: DJ-d at the Coronet in the Elephant & Castle for the Last Tuesday Society. Was still very hungover from the night before, and didn’t stay long after finishing at midnight. Think they enjoyed my DJ-ing. Had a few drinks by way of hair of the dog, but resolved to take a break after this night.

Monday 31st: Met Laurence Hughes for tea at Forks, on the other side of Highgate hill. Very nice sofas, hand made mince pies, cheap pots of tea. Watched the Jools Hootenanny to see my brother Tom playing guitar with Adam Ant’s band: so very proud of him.

Tuesday 1st: Dinner with Ella Lucas in the Turkish bistro – Bistro Laz – on West Hill. Just what I needed: was going a bit mad with all the essay worry.

Since then, it’s been essay work, or feeling ill (third cold in two months, varicose vein pains), or putting off essay work then making myself even more ill when I realise how behind I am. Thankfully today was productive purely down to making myself a timetable with reasonable goals in each session, then sticking to that.

A wish for 2013? I’d like it to be the year when I finally feel like I’m ‘right’ in my life. (to which a friend said, ‘That’s how everyone feels!’) The college course is great, but it’s not meant to be my whole life. I need to do more – and I want to do more. The trick is to timetable it all. Like this: I wrote ‘9.30-10.30pm: diary catch-up’, and here it is. Seems so silly.

Have promised to lay off alcohol for a couple of months. Teetotal since December 31st and counting.

(Sorry that this is too long. Not sorry that I got it done…)

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Is it just me? Good.

Tuesday Oct 9th: First class on ‘The Novel’, half discussing The Handmaid’s Tale, half on the nature of novels full stop. Teacher is Anna Hartnell. Afterwards went for drinks at the Birkbeck bar with a group of fellow students – something I never really did in the first year, at least not as a group. They already have become a small gang of friends, at ease with each other. It was an atmosphere of ready-made affability, which I felt flattered to join. I’ve agreed to join them on a group outing to see a production of The Tempest in December – this year’s Shakespeare text.


Weds Oct 10th: First class on ‘Narratives Of  The Body’. Mainly an introductory lecture on theories of the body as separate (or not) from the Self, by Descartes and others. Teacher is Sam McBean. Didn’t feel too different to the other English modules, but that will probably change when we start to look at films and non-fiction. Metropolis up next.


Thurs Oct 11: Another day at Suzette Field’s in Muswell Hill, helping her with occasional publicity duties for A Curious Invitation. While I’m there she gets some big news from her agent: the book has a USA deal. She treats myself and the other Last Tuesday Society helpers to champagne on the spot. Some emails to book reviewers come bouncing back with depressing automated messages along the lines of: ‘We’ve got enough to deal with! Stop writing new books, everyone! There’s too many! Go away!’

There is too much new stuff in the world, it’s true. It’s no wonder people feel more ready to pore their energies into commenting on the few things already rich in commentary (eg news, celebrity, blockbuster movies, blockbuster art shows) rather than spend that same time and energy making new content, just so they feel less alone.

A common emotion on social media is: ‘Is it just me?’  The very British herd instinct in unwillingness to stand out. It’d be nice if more of a Robin Hood approach was adopted to commentary. A redistribution of the wealth of attention. But it’s understandable – no one wants to feel alone. And so we get The X Factor, watched by lots of people who don’t even like it. It’s just the need to belong.


Friday Oct 12th: To Suzette’s shop in Mare Street for the private view of The Party Show, a collection of artworks with a party theme, to tie-in with A Curious Invitation. My favourites are those by Abigail Larson, Chris Semtner, Slawka Gorna and Theatre Of Dolls. There’s also a couple of Cecil Beaton prints.  I chat to Rachel Garley, David Piper, Ella Lucas, and Durian Gray & Medlar Lucan, whose latest book for Dedalus is The Decadent Sportsman.


Sat Oct 13th: to the Soho Theatre to see the play I Heart Peterborough by Joel Horwood. A two-hander about a drag artiste and her accompanist, who are also father and son. Full of poetic monologues that you have to keep up with, a bit Steven Berkoff but with rather more campness and music. Milo Twomey (last seen playing Sebastian Horsley) brilliant as ‘Lulu’, with Jay Taylor playing the son – and many off-stage characters in quotation -  equally impressive. Chat in bar afterwards with Clayton Littlewood and Clair Woodward.

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Sebastian’s Button

Saturday 16 June. I DJ at the Last Tuesday Society shop at 11 Mare Street. The event is to mark the opening of an exhibition of Sebastian Horsley’s art, though there’s also quite a few exhibits which count as posthumous relics of his life, as in the medieval saint sense. One is his Filofax appointments diary, open at the week in which he died in 2010, now mounted in a box as if it were just as much a considered artwork as his huge paintings of crosses and sunflowers. It is art as souvenirs of a life. Which is one way of describing all art.

I wear his silver velvet suit, the one that his girlfriend Rachel Garley picked out for me. Rachel is there herself, as is Ms Manko and Jason Atomic – people I knew from my Kash Point days. A few people say hello who read my blog, which is always nice. Particularly when they buy me drinks. Someone says the suit makes me look like… (wait for it)…  ‘David Bowie during the Serious Moonlight tour’.


Monday 18 June:  one of the buttons on The Sebastian Shirt has broken, its plastic clasp split. So today I look for a replacement. In his book (and in the Tim Fountain stage play), Sebastian quips about needing covered buttons because ‘there’s nothing so rude as an uncovered button’.

It is only now that I realise just what the phrase ‘covered button’ truly means. It means that not only has the shirt been handmade, but the buttons have been handmade too, covered with the same material as the shirt. I don’t think I can cut a piece off the shirt to do this – that feels rather wrong. It is, after all, made by Turnball and Asser, shirtmakers to The Prince Of Wales.

So, seeking a replacement, I take the broken button to John Lewis. They’re not much use, as they deal only in the uncovered sort.  Then to The Button Queen shop in Marylebone Lane. They are very nice but they send me away to hunt down a ribbon of matching material first. This feels too much like hard work. I like errands to be self-contained and finite, not to give birth to further errands with no end in sight.

Taylors Buttons in Cleveland Street saves the day. The business has been going for over 100 years, and the lady who runs it, Maureen Rose, has herself owned the shop for 60 years.

Ms Rose suspects correctly that I want the problem solved with zero further effort on my part. She finds some white material in a bag and makes me a replacement button on the spot. It takes her about two minutes, and she charges me £1.

News story about Maureen Rose here.


Evening: to the Wheatsheaf pub in Fitzrovia, for a book event hosted by the Sohemian Society. Cathi Unsworth talks to Laura Del-Rivo about her wonderful 1961 novel of bohemian Soho life, The Furnished Room. Ms Del-Rivo describes the sense of needing to find other bohemians in her youth vividly – the sheer relief at discovering the shared houses and bars where there were people like her. These days all one needs to find people as strange as oneself is just to go on the Internet; back then, you had to move house.

Afterwards I chat with Travis Elborough in the alleyway outside. Suddenly a taxi drives through – Ms Del-Rivo and the rest of us have to stand aside – and out gets Ben Goldacre, who is a kind of Cult Author of today. He happens to be on his way to something nearby, but stops for a quick chat. It’s all Very London – different worlds of writers, different interests, but always colliding.

Another Very London moment is when I arrive before the talk and join Travis as he chats to a blond woman. I’d assumed she was some friend of his. In fact he’d arrived by himself, and has known her about five minutes; it’s just that the atmosphere is of such unabashed and open friendliness, the kind people might associate more with New York. Halfway through the event, she is sitting with us when, without a word, she gets up and leaves and is never seen again.

A line from The Furnished Room (paraphrasing), which seems Very London, 50s and now:

‘But what exactly are you looking for?’

‘Something to look for.’


The Furnished Room has just been republished by Five Leaves, available here. Highly recommended.

I love this photo of Laura Del-Rivo, taken by Ida Kar in the early 60s:


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Writing this at 1am on the morning of Monday January 9th.

I think I promised myself I’d get my college coursework out of the way before I wrote another diary entry. I’ve only just finished it – the deadline is the evening of the 9th. The feeling of getting something done on time is such a calming one. What happens at the end is not that one feels exhausted, but has energy left to spare, in the way that a runner keeps going for a few yards after they’ve hit the finish. So here I am with the diary.

Catching up…

Mid December: My first term at Birkbeck College ended with my first two essays back: both 69%. That’s the highest possible mark for an Upper Second, and still a pass. But it’s not a First. And I now know that I really want a First. Even if it’s the lowest possible First, ie 70%. Just one point away. Still, I have the first year to learn how to get better at this – that’s the whole point. None of the first year marks count towards the final degree, for this reason.

(69. Such a pleasant number in the bedroom, so frustrating in the classroom.)

I need to focus on the positive feedback I received, and I include it here by way of self-encouragement rather than vanity. Honest.

“You write extremely well…”

“Really well-written, compelling piece of work… Fluent and confident… perceptive… relevant and illuminating… A very impressive achievement.”

“You have valuably extended the stock of collective wisdom and knowledge.”

That last one was from a workshop I attended, in which I chipped in quite a lot about grammar and style. Shame that didn’t count towards my degree.


On Xmas Eve I saw Carol Morley’s Dreams Of  A Life (superb) at the Islington Screen On The Green. They now have a bar inside the main screen room, at the back behind the stalls. I think it may even have served bowls of olives and ciabatta bread. The seats were comfortable (not tipping up) and detached, with plenty of leg room. Rather like a first class aeroplane section.

I spent Christmas Day in Highgate, phoning my parents in the morning then feeding the ducks at lunchtime in Waterlow Park, as I’ve done for some years now. I was joined for this by Ms Silke once again: mulled wine in a flask by the pond. Dinner was courtesy of my kind friend Ella Lucas, at her place in Highgate, with her friend Natascha.

Accidentally, my two Xmas Day 2011 companions (Silke and Ella) both got me the same Christmas card – an Aubrey Beardsley illustration from Le Morte d’Arthur, as printed by the V&A. I’m very happy that I’m definitely the sort of person to give Aubrey Beardsley cards to. Because I am.

I spent AbyssMas – the period between Christmas and New Year – meeting with my parents who’d come up to stay for a few days, and also catching up with friends like Laurence Hughes.

December 30th saw me DJ at the Last Tuesday Society’s New Year’s Eve Eve Ball – a particularly decadent affair even by their standards. Venue was Mass in Brixton, a huge labyrinthine old church. There were fireworks and countdowns to Midnight to welcome in… Dec 31st.

Spent the real New Year’s Eve recovering from a particularly bad hangover after the LTS ball. Steeled myself to welcome in 2012 at the Boogaloo with Ms Kirsten and her friends, but went straight home after about an hour there.

Since then I’ve been working on the college assignments – poetry by Hughes and Coleridge. Have been lurking in the London Library a lot.


Enjoyed the start of the second series of Sherlock as well as the second Downey Jr Sherlock Holmes film (seen with Dad). Bought and devoured the Fist Of Fun DVDs – Stewart Lee’s commentary being as entertaining as his footnotes for his solo book. Also enjoyed Stewart Lee’s new ‘EP’ book, for that reason.

And I’ve been spending too much time on Twitter. I’m just not the sort of person that should be on it very much, I think. Found myself getting in an argument with the fake Wendi Deng account, the one that some journalists thought was the real wife of Rupert Murdoch. I mused to the Fake Ms Deng – not thinking they’d reply – about the hoaxer’s need for validation, about the morality of appropriating someone else’s image and identity, asking them what they thought about the Gay Girl From Damascus case, and why people pretend to be other people on the internet, all that. They – whoever they were really – told me it was ‘just a bit of fun’ and I was analysing things too much. Probably right.

I stood on Highgate Hill today and thought about the London 2012 skyline: the Emirates stadium, the Shard, and now the Olympic Park sculpture by Kapoor, like a huge red figure ‘8’ on the horizon.

My college piece was about Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Kahn’. I read it on one level as a study of the (usually male) desire to build showy edifices for no good reason. I mentioned how it’s quoted in the opening of Citizen Kane, and referred to the Millenium Dome and the Shard: possibly the ultimate illustration of Coleridge’s ‘visionary fragment’, ho ho.

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Being And Doing

Weds 15th: to the Last Tuesday Society shop for a talk by Philip Hoare on Decadence. Specifically Decadence as personified by Oscar Wilde, Noel Coward and Stephen Tennant. Maud Allan gets a look-in too, as part of the ‘Cult Of Wilde’ in the early twentieth century, when Wilde’s name and work were synonymous with deviancy. Public arbiters of moral decency used him as a warning, while those into anything naughty used him as a beacon or a code.

Mr Hoare points out how Wilde’s appearance changed from being fairly deviant itself – long hair and stockings – to short hair and conventional suits when he was actually getting up to the deviant activities. The other change was that he had become known for making art as much as being a work of art. Coward had his outré appearance too: the dressing gown and cigarette holder. But he’d become famous as a writer first. The image was a way of branding his work; a trademark, sealing it and enhancing it. Stephen Tennant, however, was someone who was famous in the 1920s for looking striking but failed to do much he could point to. When he got older and lost his looks, he tried to become a novelist but failed to even finish his debut attempt, Lascar. Mr Hoare says Tennant rewrote it so many times, it’s impossible to put together a version for publication.

The talk is sold out, and I wonder how many are here for Tennant per se. Certainly Hoare is the main Tennant expert, being the author of the only biography, Serious Pleasures. It’s been out of print for the best part of twenty years, so people who’ve read it are now a kind of cult themselves: enthusiasts of lesser known camp figures. John Waters and David Walliams are fans of the book.

In his slideshow, Mr H shows an image that’s not in the biography: a still from a 1928 home movie. Tennant is dressed as a blind beggar boy, languishing by a river in rags and white face make-up. Somewhere between Narcissus and Ophelia, he looks shockingly beautiful yet otherworldly, like a character from a film by Jean Cocteau, Kenneth Anger, or Derek Jarman. What’s particularly unexpected is that the camera is held by Oswald Mosley. If only he’d stuck to making films.

Earlier today: to the NPG to catch the Ida Kar exhibition. Kar photographed Stephen Tennant several times, one of the 1960s pictures making it into the Hoare book. None are on display at the NPG, which is a shame as it’s subtitled ‘Bohemian Photographer’. If anyone was good at just being bohemian more than anything else, it was Tennant.

Still, I enjoy looking at the umpteen proper writers and artists she snapped, from Stanley Spencer sitting under his umbrella (indoors) to a teenage Sylvia Sims, looking like the sort of girls that go to the LTS balls. Vintage yet curiously 21st century.

There’s also a portrait of Laura Del Rivo in the early 60s, who I don’t know much about. Alert eyes, unkempt bob hairdo, wearing what looks like a smock and smoking a cigarette. Actually, she looks a little like Patti Smith, except ten years earlier and British. She wrote ‘The Furnished Room’, a novel set in the bedsits of Bohemian London, so I really should get hold of it.

Just as Beaton’s image of Tennant in the black mackintosh inspired Philip Hoare to find out more, I come away from this portrait keen to read Ms Del Rivo’s book. Like all art, and like concerts, a good portrait should leave the onlooker wanting more.

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