I, Mole

Saturday 5th April 2014.

I finish the essay on Austen and Beckford, and start researching one on the Fin De Siecle. This one is about the female flaneur of 1890s London (the flaneuse), and whether such a person could exist on the same terms as a male stroller. In the Sherlock Holmes story ‘A Scandal In Bohemia’, Irene Adler uses a male disguise to turn the tables on Holmes and Watson. After being followed for most of the story, she stalks them right back, and defeats them.  But it’s significant that Irene Adler calls her male clothes her ‘walking clothes’.

The poet Amy Levy had a different solution to exploring the fin-de-siecle streets: her ‘Ballad of the Omnibus’ claims the view from the top deck of a bus as her own. It’s also interesting she chooses the bus over the steam-powered underground train, not just because of the view but because the Tube – then as now – encouraged its passengers to gaze at each other. As a result, the bus provided more freedom from objectification than the Tube.

It’s certainly an issue this week, anyway, with discussions in the press over the ethics of the Facebook group ‘Women Who Eat on the Tube’. It’s a club where women are photographed without their consent, having their lunch on the Underground. The fact the group was set up by a man didn’t help his unconvincing defence on Radio 4’s Today programme, where he called it ‘a field study’. Monday coming sees a protest event in London called ‘Women Who Eat Wherever The F*** They Want’. So here’s to the ladies who lunch.

What might change now is the use of smartphone cameras to belittle people.  In the same way that the Highway Code came along years after people were driving cars, codes of conduct for smartphone ‘stranger-shaming’ (as it’s called) will probably be required before long. The anger over Women Who Eat On Tubes might the beginning of this.

* * *

Monday 7th April 2014.

To the BFI IMAX to see Derek Jarman’s Blue, the 1993 film. It features a single frame of blue set to an impressionistic soundscape of Jarman’s diaries and poetry, mostly on the subject of his deteriorating health through AIDS, particularly his bouts of blindness. Back in 1993, Blue was something of a broadcasting event: Channel 4 screened the film without a single advert break, as part of a ‘simulcast’ with BBC Radio 3 FM, so people could get the full benefit of the stereo effects. This was before TVs came with stereo sound. It’s difficult to think of Channel 4 working with Radio 3 again, at least not on such an uncompromising arthouse film project.

The IMAX event is introduced by Jarman’s partner Keith Collins, who now has incredibly long hair, while Simon Fisher Turner, its main composer, mentions that at the time of the Blue TV broadcast, he only had a black and white set. So for him it was Grey.

I’m slightly disappointed that the full height of the IMAX screen isn’t used, but I suppose that would have meant a special reformatting.  But the sound is perfect, and the whole event feels properly immersive, so that’s the main thing. Momus and the Durutti Column are also on the soundtrack, and it’s not often you hear their music in an IMAX cinema.

One of the final lines in Blue is ‘No one will remember our work / Our life will pass like the traces of a cloud’. For all the sadness of the subject matter, the uplifting message is that Jarman’s work is now more popular than ever.  There was a book of his sketchbooks last year, a book of poetry out this year, plus the major BFI season, which ends with this IMAX screening. And there’s more to come. I bump into Charlie M in the foyer. She’s involved with another new Jarman book, this time about his Super 8 films.

* * *

Tuesday 8th April 2014.

To the ICA cinema for a new experimental film, Visitors. It’s by the Koyaanisqatsi director Godfrey Reggio, and like that earlier work it consists of a parade of images without dialogue, set to a foreboding Philip Glass soundtrack. Whereas the 1980s film had speed-ed up cityscapes in colour (much imitated in TV adverts ever since), Visitors  is in black and white, in slow-motion, and is made up mostly of close ups of human faces against a black backdrop. There’s also some disembodied hands, seagulls, tower blocks against clouds, a lunar landscape, and a gorilla. But its main triumph is the use of black and white in digital high definition, which I’ve not seen before. It gives the faces a kind of spooky, polished, almost metallic texture. Even the gorilla.

At one point the projector breaks while the sound continues. We sit in the darkness for a good ten minutes before anyone realises it’s not intentional. I quite enjoy the moments when something goes wrong in a film screening. It means you can play Which Audience Member Is Going To Get Up And Do Something (A tall man in a white t-shirt nearest the back, in this case).

* * *

Wednesday 9th April 2014.

Mr O’Boyle, the owner of the Boogaloo bar on Archway Road, shows me how the venue has been redecorated. The red colour scheme has been changed to a greyish-green. On the wall near the bar there’s now a framed photo of myself with Shane MacGowan. It’s from our trip to Tangier in 2007. We’re sitting at a table in the El Minzah hotel, with me in a white suit, trying to look like Paul Bowles.

When I returned to the Minzah in 2009, I saw that a copy of the same photograph had been put up above the wine bar. What particularly pleased me was that it was next to one of Rock Hudson in the 1970s. Hence my expression in this photograph (taken in Tangier, 2009, by Ms Crimson Skye):



* * *

Friday 12th April 2014.

Sue Townsend dies. Creator of Adrian Mole, the greatest diarist in fiction, and as a fictional character up there with the best in any medium full stop. According to the appendix of a reissued edition, the first two Adrian Mole books were the number one and number two bestselling British novels of the 1980s.

She had an unfair reputation that she was somehow past her best after that, partly because Mole was so associated with the 1980s, but also because the idea of him getting older couldn’t compete as a concept: self-deluding teenage boys are funny, self-deluding men less so. But when you read the later books this proves to not be true: he just became more like Mr Pooter or Alan Partridge (and indeed the Partridge ‘memoir’ I Partridge owes a lot to Adrian Mole’s adult diaries).

I enjoyed the way the aging Mole updated his definition of being an ‘intellectual’ from understanding most of what Malcolm Muggeridge said on TV, to understanding most of what Will Self said on TV. And The Prostrate Years manages to be funny about chemotherapy – by no means an easy thing to do.

There’s a quote I remember from The Wilderness Years, when Mole is in his early twenties. It has a painfully familiar ring to it:

‘I have thrown my condom away. It had exceeded its Best Before date.’

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Notes On Wanderlust

Managed to get up at 9am this time, though I think I spent most of the morning reading things on the internet, which is still no good.

For some reason, much of today was reading about male writers who moved to different countries. I stumbled on the blog of Karl Webster this morning. He pretended to be that ‘Ugly Man’ blogger a few years ago (I do find confessions of internet fakery fascinating). Right now, though, he is having adventures living with cats in a French forest.  Or at least he says he is.

(I don’t think anyone’s accused me of making up my own persona to write this blog. As it is, I already look like a fictional character in real life. Even my hairdresser said my too-long hair was like a bad wig…)

I also started reading Geoff Dyer’s Out Of Sheer Rage, and found myself laughing aloud on the Tube as a result. It’s his account of trying to write a book about DH Lawrence, and failing, and details all the procrastination and dithering and hindrances that occur along the way. At the start, he has the chance to move house to write the book, and can’t make up his mind where to go. Not just which area, but which country. This makes him sound quite privileged and fortunate, but his experiences are far from blissful. Early on he goes from Paris (too pricey) to Rome (too hot) and then spends six weeks on a beautiful Greek island, only to discover that after the first few days all the beauty puts him off writing, or doing anything at all. Apart from killing wasps. It’s very funny, and the procrastination thought-processes feel very familiar (Of course, I’m reading this book instead of getting on with my own writing).

I also read a Paris Review interview with the Cloud Atlas novelist David Mitchell, another British writer who’s lived in different countries: Japan and Ireland in particular.

So naturally I found myself thinking about how I’ve only ever lived in the UK (Suffolk, Bristol, London) and wondering whether I could or should give living abroad a go. I don’t have the immediate financial means to do so, but that never seems to stop people I know. Once determination takes over, they just find the money and get the sort of work which can be done on a laptop anywhere, or they take an English teaching job in the country they want to live in.

I don’t think I could do it alone. It would have to be through some external opportunity – such as the decisions of a partner (Dyer’s girlfriend in the book is an American with a flat in Rome). But I’m not the partner sort of person… (and if this were a film, the great relationship of my life would start in the next scene).

Tangier is one place I’ve thought about a lot, having gone there three times and being an ardent fan of its bohemian history. The summers would be difficult, though, given my aversion to heat – I even find London too hot in the summer. Stockholm is another favourite city which I’ve had some happy times in. So if we’re talking sheer fantasy, I’d quite like to try ‘dividing my time’ as they say on book jackets, between Stockholm and Tangier.

But who am I kidding? I’m such a Londoner. One thing I love about London is how I can suddenly decide to see a recent-ish film in a proper cinema and know it will be playing somewhere. Today I fancied seeing Midnight In Paris, the Woody Allen film. It’s been released on DVD now, but there was still one cinema showing it this evening – the Odeon Panton Street. About 50% full, too.

Quite apt to see it so soon after The Artist, given it’s another love letter to the 1920s. The Owen Wilson character is a  gushing fan of Paris during the Jazz Age, with its writers and artists – much like I am with the Tangier of the 50s and 60s. Through a bit of handy time-travelling, he gets to meet all the great names of the era before deciding which timezone – and which woman – he truly belongs to. Pure wish fulfilment (and the story is not entirely unlike the premise of the TV sitcom Goodnight Sweetheart), but a lot of fun. The actor playing the young Ernest Hemingway is particularly good, and in his brief scenes he threatens to steal the film.

Any film that expects its audience to get the following joke is fine by me:

“Wow, was that Djuna Barnes I was dancing with? No wonder she wanted to lead!”

Tags: , , ,