Sebastian, Melting

Had my weekly session today with the college mentor. It’s a kind of student-friendly therapy, checking I’m coping okay with deadlines, adapting to the campus world and so on.

Bumped into Clayton L & Clair W in the ’34b’ cafe on the corner of Old Compton St and Frith St. Like Bar Italia nearby, it’s one of those tiny old fashioned cafes in Soho that somehow always has a free seat, or rather a free stool.

Other cafe haunts today, while reading my set texts for college: the basement cafe in Waterstones Piccadilly (usually after I’ve been to the London Library), the crypt in St Martin’s (a perfect place in central London for meeting one’s parents), and Bar Bruno in Wardour Street, where Sebastian Horsley used to eat; very much a part of Old Soho.

Tonight: saw the new Stewart Lee show, ‘Carpet Remnant World’ at the Leicester Square Theatre. Lots of the usual deconstruction of his own comedy and attacking sections of the audience for not being quick or clever enough. What’s new is that he ends with a poignant piece of surreal storytelling, the kind he’s not done since the ‘Pea Green Boat’ show some years ago. His best show yet, I think.

Clayton L showed me the cover of his new book, Goodbye To Soho. It features a portrait of Sebastian H by Maggie Hambling. Deliberately unfinished, as if he’s melting into the ghost world:





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Dickens, Barnes and The Book As Object

Here’s an article on The Quietus website featuring myself and Tony of Turbonegro. We talked about suits & music. Tony was promoting his gig and I was promoting, well, myself in general. Good to have a chance to show off the Sebastian Horsley suit.

Link to Quietus article. 

Link to S Horsley obituary, with pic of him in the same suit. 


One of the Study Skills workshops I attended in the last fortnight was for Time Management. I was late for it.

A strategy that keeps coming up is to stick to a rigid schedule, putting aside study slots but keeping them to 45 mins at a time. After 45 mins concentration is thought to tail off drastically, and one needs a break. It’s also said that if you do the same thing every day for six weeks, you’ll do it forever. That goes for giving up smoking, giving up sugar in tea, taking up writing, whatever. Actually, six weeks in my skittish, near-addict case sounds too much: I think I form my habits after two.


Tonight was a lecture on Wordsworth and Milton, and how the former used the latter in his Prelude.

Then we had a seminar on The Book As Object. Although I’ve been careful not to pipe up too much in classes up to now, I couldn’t help chipping in on this topic rather more often than usual. I find it such a fascinating subject. I can link the way Dickens’s novels were originally published in cheap monthly paperback instalments, each packaged in green wrappers with a supplement of adverts that had been specially selected to go with the story. For me, that’s comparable to Search Engine Optimisation on the Web today. Victorian SEO.

I also linked the way Voltaire put out his works in varying editions, some with exclusive additions, in order to play the booksellers of 18th century France off against each other – not to make money, but to get his Enlightenment ideas as widespread as possible. This, I suggested, was comparable to the way Terry Pratchett has let Waterstones put out an special edition of his latest novel with an extra short story in the back – not a new marketing idea at all.

Meanwhile Julian Barnes, in his Booker acceptance speech the other day, praised his designer and added:

“If the physical book, as we’ve come to call it, is to resist the challenge of the e-book, it has to look like something worth buying and worth keeping.”

It’s interesting that Mr Barnes thinks the e-book is a ‘challenge’ to the paper book. I think he’s quite wrong. The e-book should be regarded as a third format, alongside the paperback and hardback. There’s a lot ebooks can’t do which paper books can, and vice versa.  Many e-sceptics might not be aware that e-books have given a new lease of life to slow readers, dyslexics and the poorly-sighted, thanks to the way you can enlarge and space out the fonts. However, they’re still at the mercy of battery power, pricey tablet devices, DRM problems, and the sense that an ebook isn’t quite the personal property of the reader in the way a paper book is – you can’t easily get it signed, lend it to a friend, or scribble in the margin.

As Douglas Adams said somewhere, nothing is getting replaced. Things just budge up to make room.

The little Barnes hardback is beautifully designed, but whether it’s worth owning and paying the recommended retail price of £12.99, when the Kindle ebook version is only £3.59, is debatable. And paperbacks can be beautiful objects too (the Penguin ‘Great Ideas’ range springs to mind), but the Barnes novel won’t be in paperback until 2012.

That’s another issue.  There is still this ludicrous, elitist idea amongst the British publishing and reviewing scene that a literary novel must come out in hardback first.

If, like Voltaire, you think the main thing is to get your work read by as many people as possible, you need to not only embrace e-books, but join the growing trend to put out a mass-market paperback alongside the hardback (like the rest of the Booker shortlist, in fact). There is no challenge to any format, unless you believe that novels are ‘meant’ to be in hardback form. Which would rule out Dickens and his original, cheap, flimsy, advertising-packaged installments.

Dickens and Voltaire wrote to be read, first and foremost. They’d have welcomed e-books. Why shouldn’t anyone else?

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Anecdote In Silver Velvet

I’ve officially confirmed which degree course I’m going to do. BA English, at Birkbeck University, starting this October. Four years, part-time, evening classes, and I still have to find paid work to support myself while I’m doing it.


Monday March 28th: I’m interviewed at Birkbeck for my other choice, BA Creative Writing. One of the interviewers is Jonathan Kemp, author of London Triptych. I’m offered a place on that too, so it’s down to me to make the big decision. After closer studying of the courses, it turns out English has the option of taking some creative writing-type modules, so in typical cake-and-eat-it approach, that’s what I go for. These are both incredibly popular courses, and after much rejection by the world of work lately, it feels so gratifying to find acceptance in the world of academe, twice over.

The Birkbeck building is at 43 Gordon Square, so I’ll be poring over the works of Ms Woolf close to where she actually lived.  The houses have been knocked together and are now something of a warren of classrooms and corridors. If you get lost there, as I did, you can find yourself in an underground cinema (home to Birkbeck’s film course) or a secret pocket-sized cafe.


Sunday April 10th: To an elegantly crumbling room at 33 Portland Place, now recognisable as the location for Geoffrey Rush’s consulting chambers in The King’s Speech. A few weeks ago, at one of the Last Tuesday Society’s balls, I bumped into Rachel Garley, partner of the late Sebastian Horsley. She said she wanted to give me one of Mr Horsley’s suits. I was honoured, and agreed.

So here I am in the King’s Speech room, with a long mirror, a rail of clothes and a dozen other gentlemen standing around in their socks and pants – other suit recipients – trying on the accoutrements of the deceased dandy. I know one of the others, Clayton Littlewood, whose book of modern Soho anecdotes, Dirty White Boy, featured Sebastian H on the cover.

In my case, Ms Garley has picked out an ensemble specially for me: a silver velvet 3-piece with pink lining, plus a large-collared white shirt and a fat pink tie. There’s a photograph of Mr H wearing it in his Guardian obituary.

Ms Garley’s plan is to have a big dinner at the Ivy in Mr H’s memory, with all the men wearing his suits and all the women ‘dressed up the way he liked them’ (stylish with decolletages to the fore, I think). But this will be in the autumn, as it’s getting too warm for velvet suits. Well, for other men anyway.

While this suit-giving (I refuse to say ‘gifting’) ceremony is going on, we’re told the jacuzzi room in the floor below is being used to shoot a porn film. It’s exactly what Mr Horsley would have wanted.

I wear the suit straight to a party that evening: a food & drink do for Dedalus Books in Camberwell. There’s a connection: Sebastian Horsley wrote an unkind foreword to Dedalus’s Decadent Handbook. I recall that he still turned up to the book’s launch party, though.

At the party, the suit is anecdotal gold. Or more precisely, anecdotal silver. People ask me about the suit – and who can blame them – so I get to tell the tale. And if they’ve not heard of Sebastian Horsley, I tell the tale of him too. I’m worried about going full Ancient Mariner, though, with so much to say about such a man, and such a life. How to know when to stop?

I suppose I could just say, ‘It was a gift from a deceased dandy’ and leave it at that. But if they do leave it at that, I rather think I’m at the wrong party.


Meanwhile, the Scottish Ballet are mounting an interesting new production of Alice In Wonderland. Their Humpty Dumpty is based on Leigh Bowery, while the Mad Hatter is inspired by Sebastian H. From a piece in the Herald Scotland:

The Hatter who’s on stage in the Alice ballet owes his eye-catching appearance to the late Sebastian Horsley, the self-styled Soho dandy who died last year. ‘Horsley was a tremendous peacock, wonderfully eccentric, full of flair,’ says [designer Antony] McDonald with undisguised relish. ‘There are so few genuine eccentrics around these days.’

Their costume designs are here.

In fact, I mention the Scottish Ballet show to Rachel and the others while I’m at the suit ceremony.

Rachel: I didn’t know that. How did you hear about it?

Me: I have a Google Search alert. It sends me an email whenever Sebastian’s name turns up in a newspaper.

Rachel: Oh yes. He had one of those, too.

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Sequined Vodka Tales

A Fosca London gig announcement. Oh yes!

It’s the much-threatened Fosca Farewell show. Saturday December 13th at Feeling Gloomy, Bar Academy, Islington. Stage times to come.

The line-up will a five-piece, three-guitar and two synths (plus laptop) assault: Rachel S, Kate D, Tom E, Charley S and myself.


Two DJ gigs of mine, at somewhat shorter notice.

I’m DJ-ing on Sat Sept 20th, at a plush dress-up event called The Magic Theatre. This takes place in an Art Deco ballroom in Bloomsbury. Here’s what their website says about the dress code:

“Ladies: The perfect place for all you Cinderellas and Style Queens, Pink Princesses and Leggy Latex Babes… Audrey Hepburns and Barbarellas, TV’s, Saucy Secretaries and Rock Chicks…Whether you’re a Goth Girl, Dowager, French Maid or Precocious Teen Queen, Marie Antoinette, or Marilyn Monroe, the Magic Theatre is YOUR stage. Gentlemen: Retro Glamour, Uniforms, Lounge Lizards, Gentlemen of the Cloth, Fauns, B-Movie Stars, Prince Charmings, Pirates and Dandies of all kinds…Arise, Sir Galahad, kneel before Zod, come out, come out you Peter Pans, Dick Turpins and Darcys…”

I’ll be doing two DJ sets between 8.30pm and 11.30pm. Ticket details at


I’m also putting in a brief DJ appearance at The Beautiful & Damned on Thursday 18th, at The Boogaloo (near Highgate Tube). Martin White & The Mystery Fax Machine Orchestra will also be playing. The B&D isn’t ‘my’ club any more, as I’m forever correcting people, but it’s still going strong under the auspices of Miss Red and The Boogaloo team. They’ve reinvented it into a kind of cabaret / club night / music hall booth affair. It’s great to see unwitting Highgate pub goers wander in off the street, and wonder just what weird, time-hopping universe they’ve stepped into. Part Red Room in ‘Twin Peaks’, part Sapphire & Steel…

Back to the diary.

Wednesday evening: to Trash Palace in Wardour Street, for a club night called ‘Polari’. It includes Jamie McLeod’s exhibition of modern dandies, which in turn includes me. Always nice to swan into a club to see a large framed photograph of oneself on the wall. The club also supplies free quiche.

On this occasion, special guest Sebastian Horsley takes the mic, and prowls and provokes and reads from his book, to a packed and appreciative crowd. Including his mother. He’s in his red sequined suit and brandishes a matching sequined bottle of vodka. Well, a sequined bottle cosy.

I say hello to David Benson, Anne Pigalle, Jason Atomic and Ms Ruta, and meet Clayton Littlewood, author of the ‘Soho Stories’ column in the London Paper. The window by his writing desk (or rather,  laptop perch) looked out from the clothes shop he worked at, Dirty White Boy in Old Compton Street. A particularly good spot in London to watch people and gather (or imagine) stories: Soho media types, the famous, the homeless, the vicious queens, the prostitutes, the tourists, the tramps, the old survivors, the new blood. He’s put together a book version: ‘Dirty White Boy: Tales Of Soho’, which I’m rather looking foward to.

More details at his MySpace page, with excerpts, readings and so on:

After Polari, Mr Benson takes myself, Mr H, Mr L and his friend Ms Lois for dinner at one of the Chinese restaurants in Gerrard Street. Sebastian invites me to an orgy on Friday. I politely decline. I’ll be busy playing indiepop songs in Madrid. Many of which are about, well, not going to orgies.

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