Dickon-Baiting Is So Last Season

Recent outings? Well, there was the Last Fosca Show on Sat 13th. Islington Bar Academy, as part of the club night Feeling Gloomy. Line up is myself, Rachel, Charley, Tom and Kate. Three guitars, which means I can concentrate more on my singing, such as it is. Excellent professional sound, as it’s a modern purpose-built venue. No style in the shopping centre location, perhaps, but sometimes a hitch-free sound is preferable to a battered PA in a more historic venue.

Downstairs at about 7pm is some kind of under-18s hip hop event. There’s lots of audibly excited dressed-up teenage girls in a queue snaking around the other side of the building. I’d like to say they point or shout out things when I have to squeeze past them on the stairs to get to the soundcheck, but in fact they just go quiet and pull their friends out of the way to let me pass. So I feel rightly shamed by my own paranoia and preconceptions.

In fact, I’ve found this happening a lot lately – having to walk past loud teens on street corners I brace myself for cat calls or worse, only to find they just go quiet, look at their shoes, and politely wait for me to pass. I wonder what has changed – me, or teenagers.

The only Dickon-baiting incident of late has been on my journey to the night shift job on a Saturday evening. It’s arguably the most jarring aspect of the job, soberly commuting to work while surrounded by much less sober people on their Saturday night out. But I’m suited at being the odd one out, after all.

At about 9.15pm at Camden Town tube one recent Saturday, I pass two small party girls who must be about 19, and who have clearly started drinking early. They’re shrieking and falling about with their friends as I walk past them from the corridor onto the platform, hoping not to catch their eye but still curious to see who is making all the noise. And of course the moment I glance at them is the moment one of them sees me.

I try to act ‘invisible’ (hah!), keeping my head down and walking right to the other end of the platform to sit down on the farthest possible seat on the farthest possible bench. But without looking back, I know they’re following me. Here we go again.

I dive into my bag and pull out that ubiquitous cloak of invisibility – the i-Pod. The ‘I’m Not Really Here, Don’t Touch Me’ Pod. Some people use their music players as a social shield. A kind of cowardly retreat and ‘f— off’ statement to one’s fellow man at the same time, particularly if the volume is loud enough. Music as an alibi.

Never worked for me, though. I’m sitting on the far bench, eyes to the floor, iPod in place (though I’m not listening to anything). And I know the two drunken teen girls have sat down next to me. They’ve even left their larger party of friends to come over to me. What DO they want? They’re smiling at me and elbowing each other. I’m the shared joke.

There’s no escape. I take out the iPod earphones and sigh. And I surprise myself with what I say.

‘What do you want with me?’

Said with a smile, mind. A slightly worrying smile.

Never done this before. It’s come from somewhere. Maybe just pure tiredness after all the years of strangers Coming Over to me to helpfully tell me what I look like, or who I look like, when all I want to do is get to where I’m going without incident. Maybe it’s actual anger about feeling At The Mercy Of Others. The notion that I’m a funny little walk-on part of other people’s evening’s entertainment, rather than the other way around. Which I don’t mind, actually.

But there are times when I’m feeling fragile, when I’m trying to psych myself up for going to work, and the thought of having to play the Funny Blond Man On The Tube Platform We Saw Tonight for the 756th time isn’t always something I feel up to doing. Is that bad of me?

‘What do you want with me?’

It surprises me more than they can know, but it does the trick, and they find themselves wrong-footed from the off, alcohol or not. They blurt out a few questions about why I look the way I do, and where I’m going, but the power balance of the encounter is now in question. And they go back to their friends.

Yet I feel a little guilty about daring to question them back, for the sinister utteration, because it’s out of character for me. I never like to ruin anyone’s fun. Even if it’s at my expense. It’s just that sometimes even lifelong figures of street ridicule need a sick note.

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Bohemian Miners At The Coalface of News

Saturday – afternoon tea at the Wallace Collection with the Teaists. Service is criminally slow – over an hour and a half till we see our food. ‘Trouble in the kitchen’ apparently. For mere cakes, scones and sandwiches. But they do offer us free wine by way of compensation, and let us waive the tip.

Seventeen at table – a record turn out. Those present include Jamie from the Irrepressibles, Jake, Suzi L, Helen McCookerybook (singer and Monochrome Set associate – my first meeting with her, I think), Sebastian G, Tobias, John Joseph Bibby, David Ryder-P, and Lucinda & William. We are quite a vision to the eldery Ladies Who Tearoom around us, and I’m not sure if they side with the appalled tearoom customers in that Withnail & I ‘finest wines known to humanity’ scene, or if they enjoy us. Either way, we get more than a few stares.

The occasion is Lawrence Gullo’s joint birthday and deportation back to the US, as his work visa has expired, and the retail job he has is not deemed Highly Skilled enough to allow him to stay. A sad case of affairs, and not the first ‘deportation party’ for a much-loved American friend that I’ve been to, either.

There really should be a green card system that recognises Proper Friends in number, in the same way as the points system currently used by the Home Office for determining what is a ‘skilled’ enough job. Prove you have enough UK friends living nearby, those who might as well be family members, who are willing to commit the level of support you’d expect from a spouse (seeing them regularly, rushing to hospital beds,  being by their side when needed etc) and the cumulative ‘Attachment Points’ would count towards an extended stay.

The friends in question would have to pledge their Proper Friendship under oath, and sign a binding contract subject to checks by the Ministry Of Friendship. But that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Goodness knows there’s enough of my friends whose degree of affection I’m never quite sure of. Would they stretch to donating a kidney, or are they happy to keep it at the ‘occasional friendly nod across a crowded bar’ level? It’d be handy to get these things in writing.

It would also help me when someone says ‘Hello Dickon’, and I can’t quite place who they are, or can’t quite remember their name. Which has happened at least once at the New Job.

So: I’ve just completed my first week of Proper Work, taking my place amongst the Bohemian Miners At The Coalface Of News.

How has it been? Surreal.

‘Surreal?’ says Ms D. ‘Hah! Normal work for you is surreal?’

‘REAL for me is surreal…’

It’s been tough, in fact. A shock to the system. A sobering, if salutary experience. I have to brave a packed, surly tube to Tower Hill for 0930. I sit at a computer screen. I scroll past scanned-in pages from national and local newspapers. I use the computer mouse to carefully slice up and duplicate the articles, deciding which ones should be sent to which news-hungry clients. Computers can’t yet fathom the subtleties of context, hence the need for human readers and editors. I repeat until 1345. I take 1 hour lunch. Then I carry on until 1730. With a 15 min coffee break here and there.

It really is pure work, so far. No phone use, no internet use. Not much conversation, either, as the one other nightshift trainee is as keen as me to get as much done as possible, and neither of us know how much counts as Enough.

We’re on the main office floor: umpteen long tables of chairs at screens. And as these two weeks of training are 9 – 5 and Mon – Fri, we’re sharing the room – and part of our table – with the daytime staff. They aren’t unfriendly but there’s a definite sense of separation, putting us in our place as not only mere trainees, but trainees for a completely different staff. So they talk to each other in the usual office way (the economy in crisis, Madonna’s divorce, did you see X TV programme last night, etc), but never including us. Which is fair enough, but it does make the week feel even more surreal than it already is for me.

So I accept my invisibility, and am just getting used to this, while immersing myself in the work, when out of nowhere someone comes over and says ‘Well well well, Dickon Edwards… What brings you here, prithee? How the mighty have risen…’

Or words to that effect. Not quite ‘how the mighty have risen’. That’s me.

This sort of thing has happened about four or five times. Jarring, sporadic bouts of non-invisibility in an otherwise undivided week of feeling like a ghost. Again, the overall word just has to be: surreal.


Thursday was the worse. Thursday I came close to tears. The work, the cold-shower shock of it, the sudden visitations from Friends Of Friends. But Friday was, in fact, fine. A normal Friday feeling, I suppose. And now it’s the weekend and it FEELS like a weekend. Bliss. Freedom. A connection with the working world, albeit a tentative one.

I suppose what I’m experiencing is a kind of jet-lag from crossing one world into another, with no halfway house.


The other trainee seems nice enough. Although he doesn’t know me, he does know the boyfriend of someone I know.

And at Lawrence’s afternoon tea party today, one of the seventeen turns out to be on the same night shift as me.

Anyone who says ‘small world’ at the Bohemian News Mine is immediately directed to the naughty step.


The work must be having an effect on my Ideas production, though. In addition to the Proper Friends contract system for saving much-loved Americans from deportation.

I think it’s about time one should be able to donate Testosterone.

I’m thinking of my dear female-to-male transsexual friends. They want to be physically more manly, and I hate shaving. And I don’t just shave my face. If in the future I ever want a beard, or a hairy chest, I shall just go out and buy one, frankly.

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