Disembodied Corners

Saturday 26th July 2014. I’m reading Orwell to the Present by John Brannigan, published in 2003. In the section on novels about London, Brannigan discusses The Satanic Verses. To his credit, there is no mention of the infamous fatwa. Instead, he concentrates on the way the book presents London as a ‘constantly shape-shifting liquid city of the imagination’. By omitting any reference to the controversy, I suppose he thinks that a book’s reputation can be shape-shifting too. That most terrifying phrase in the English language: ‘best known for’.

To High Tea in Highgate High Street, now run by the daughter of Jon Snow, from the TV news (an irrelevant detail which I nevertheless find interesting, if only because I quite like Mr Snow). I meet up with my neighbours David Ryder-Prangley and Philip King, and we swap anecdotes about playing in bands. Phil is the bassist in the Jesus & Mary Chain, who are about to tour with one of those ‘classic album in full’ shows, this one being Psychocandy.

There is, of course, much more to music than playing it. The look of a musician must be right for the band, and some groups are more sensitive to cliché than others. Phil tells me about a guitarist who was once fired from a band for doing ‘the indie knee bend’ pose on stage. Similarly, my own band Fosca had a stipulation when borrowing amps: anything except a Marshall. A Marshall was deemed far too Rock with a capital ‘R’. These things matter.

* * *

Sunday 27th July 2014. Tea at the Museum of London with Ella H. There’s a huge poster announcing a forthcoming exhibition on Sherlock Holmes. I’m sure that will do well. There really seems to be no limit to the mileage of Doyle’s character. I recently made a joke about pitching a series to HBO called Sherlock Christ. But the comparison isn’t so silly – the character has a following that borders on the religious. And he is, after all, no stranger to resurrection.

After this we walk along the Thames to the Black Friar pub for a few glasses of prosecco (which turn out to be inexpensive, so doubly enjoyable). The pub’s Art Nouveau décor is always worth the trip: bronze relief murals from 1909, all of cartoonish friars. Betjeman campaigned to save the pub from demolition, and it certainly looks like a survivor when you approach it. It’s one of those ancient pubs that resemble a disembodied corner, with the rest of the old street long since pruned away.

Across the road is the redeveloped Blackfriars station, now extended across the railway bridge so that the platforms are high above the water. When alighting at Blackfriars, one can choose whether to exit on the north or south bank of the Thames. This gives the station a disorientating sense of the liminal: to disembark is to step off in the middle of London, yet not on London land.

Evening: to the Boogaloo for a gig by Bid and Alice from Scarlet’s Well, backed by Martin White and his Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra. Kate Dornan is also in the MFMO, while drummer Jen Denitto is watching with me in the audience, so it’s a near reunion of the 2004 SW line-up.  The orchestral arrangement serves the songs beautifully, complete with jazzy trumpet solos. Still a fan, I note the set list: ‘The Dream Spider of the Laughing Horse’, ‘The Return of the Hesperus’, ‘Sweetmeat’, ‘Blubberhouses’, ‘The Vampire’s Song’, ‘Street of a Thousand Fools’, ‘Luminous Creatures’, ‘Purples Rushes’, ‘Mr Mystery’s Mother’. For me, this is a concert of utter joy. I just wish more people knew about the SW albums. Arch, whimsical and exotic, they’re not so far from the records of the Divine Comedy. Afterwards, I chat to Jessica Griffin from the Would-Be-Goods and Lester Square from the Monochrome Set.

* * *

Monday 28th July 2014. To Greenwich Picturehouse for a screening of the Globe’s enchanting Tempest. Roger Allam as an understated, sensitive Prospero; Colin Morgan – the young Merlin from BBC TV – as an aloof and intense Ariel. This is quite common now: cinemas showing specially-made films of stage shows. The films are always very well done, to the point where I can’t work out where the cameras must be placed. The Globe’s audience in the film is all ages, though the audience for this cinema screening – at noon on a Monday – is very much on the older side. I must be the only person there under fifty.

Afterwards I wander around Greenwich to look at some of the Books About Town book benches. I quickly discover a flaw in this pursuit: the benches often have someone sitting on them, thus obscuring the artwork. Still, I find an unoccupied one tucked away in the grounds of St Alfege Church. Although it’s celebrating The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, the bench actually depicts its artist Andrea Joseph as a teenager, lying in a cluttered bedroom and reading the Adrian Mole book. It’s also up to date: the book cover in the artwork is labelled ‘Sue Townsend, 1946-2014’.

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Tuesday 29th July 2014. I’m at the outpatient clinic in UCLH to have my veins looked at. While I’m standing at the reception desk, arranging the next appointment, a woman is standing there to one side. She is talking loudly on her mobile phone (ignoring all the signs forbidding such activity). I’m in the middle of speaking to the receptionist when she suddenly says to the person on the phone, ‘Hold on, there’s a man here in a white suit.’ Then she interrupts my conversation with the receptionist.

WOMAN: (to me) Hey, I have to say… (she grabs my arm)... You look immaculate.

ME: Um, thank you. (to receptionist) So, six weeks from now is –

WOMAN: (to me) No, you look like… (to the phone) What’s that film we saw, with the man in the white suit?

ME: The Man In The White Suit, perhaps?

WOMAN: No, no. Hold on! Shhh! (she listens to the phone. Myself and the receptionist, and indeed all of the packed waiting room, are holding on. This is the world of the loud person on the phone. We only live in it).

WOMAN: The Two Faces of January. That’s it.

ME: Ah, yes. I’ve seen that. Thank you. Very kind.

And I go back to arranging my appointment, now feeling somewhat more self-conscious. Somehow, I come away thinking that this sort of thing is all my fault.

* * *

Thursday 31st July 2014. To the Curzon Soho for the documentary I Am Divine. It’s about the life of  the fleshy Baltimore drag queen turned cult actor Glenn Milstead, better known simply as Divine. As expected, a lot of it focusses on his parts in the John Waters films, such as Pink Flamingos and Hairspray. But it also covers his 80s pop career with Stock Aiken and Waterman, with hits such as ‘You Think You’re A Man’, and ‘I’m So Beautiful’. What I didn’t know is how much he grew tired of the Divine drag character. Instead, he wanted to move on and play different male characters in films and TV. The tragedy is that he died just before getting exactly that sort of work: a male role on the sitcom Married With Children.

In the evening: to a party at an arty house in Waterloo. It’s for Phoebe B, who is leaving London to live in Berlin. When I get there, I’m hit with the acute awkwardness of realising that the only person I know at the party is the host. I always seem to do this: befriending just one person, and never managing to connect with the rest of their social circle (I wonder why that is… don’t answer that). The upshot of this is that I once again spend an awful lot of the party standing around by myself.

I’m uneasy about introducing myself to a stranger. At least at the Birkbeck evening I had an actual name badge summing my relevant role up: ‘Dickon Edwards – BA English’. That made life easier. Perhaps we should all wear such badges, all the time. At least then no one would ever have to remember each other’s name.

After an hour or so of this sort of paranoid anxiety – and a few drinks – I do manage to start conversations with people who don’t walk away in horror. One is a lady who tells me about the ancient ponds on Hampstead Heath being under threat. She urges me to sign an online petition, and later I do.

[The petition is here:

https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/stop-heavy-construction-on-hampstead-heath ]

I also meet someone who wrote about me in their fanzine, and someone who follows me on Twitter. So my awkwardness is eventually dispelled after all. I make a mental note to remember that there is an easy solution to this sort of thing: always take a friend to a party, as you would a bottle of wine. Both are a form of safety net.

* * *

Friday 1st August 2014. I watch the documentary Tulisa: The Price of Fame. It should really be titled The Price of Buying Tabloids, as the whole source of Ms T’s courtroom ordeal is a sting by The Sun on Sunday. The message seems to be, yet again, that tabloid newspapers demonstrably make people’s lives a misery. And still people buy them.


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Seemly Passions

Tues 31st August. I head off to the London Review Bookshop in Bury Place, in order to buy the London Review Of Books. The shop stocks the latest issue a day or two early, even ahead of the issue’s contents appearing on the LRB website. So today I get to read a brand new Alan Bennett story, ‘The Greening Of Mrs Donaldson’. Like ‘The Clothes They Stood Up In’, and ‘The Uncommon Reader’, it’s another tale of a buttoned-down character getting a new lease of life. This time, a widow lets her young lodgers skip rent in return for a ringside view of their sex life. There’s also amusing scenes from her job as a stooge patient for medical students.

I wonder why I’m so excited about buying the LRB this way. Then it dawns on me. In the 90s I used to love getting the weekly music papers, NME and Melody Maker, on a Tuesday lunchtime in Camden, a full day before everywhere else. It was a magazine buying experience with the hint of privilege, even time travel. Priority boarding.

With the music papers, there was a sense of trying to join a club. Of wanting to Belong. Now I merrily stroll through life in blissful ignorance of who the current crop of strange-haired bands are. Instead, I have a passion for wanting to read the latest Alan Bennett story hot off the press. Which suits me, at the age I am (39 this Friday). It is a Seemly Passion.


In pursuit of further Seemly Passions, I’m working my way through the current Booker Prize Longlist. Quite enjoying the excuse for a dip into the latest literary fiction, using my library card. Here’s my Twitter-length reviews so far.

Alan Warner’s Stars In The Bright Sky. Young Scots women mooching about at Gatwick & Hever Castle. Touching, funny. 8/10.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. Unlikeable Aussies. Good last 50 pages (of 500). Lots of smoking on the verandah. Should be more of a page-turner. Isn’t. 7/10

February, Lisa Moore. Canadian oil rig disaster widow reflects on decades of grief. Happy ending. Moving. Superb detail. Prefer Alan Bennett’s widow solution, though. 8/10

Damon Galgut’s In A Strange Room. South African man’s frustrations en transit. Worrying depiction of Kafka-esque health care in India. Old fashioned existential-lit. 8.5/10


Am attending regular one-to-one sessions with a government employment adviser. She gets me firing off job applications, tweaking my laughable skeleton of a CV, and it all feels wrong. I need to do something though, so here I am. Would I consider voluntary work, she asks. Not really, I say ungratefully.

You can’t sit at home watching daytime TV all your life, she says. And then she hastily adds – seeing me about to complain – not that you’re the sort of person who does that!

Last paid job: giving a one-off talk at the National Portrait Gallery (Aug 5th), on Queer Perspectives. While wearing a curfew tag. Wonder if that’s a NPG lecturer first. Need to write up the talk and put it online.

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