The First Thing You Unpack

Am looking after a kitten in a Golders Green house for one night. The owners are a US couple, a detail borne out by one notable omission in the kitchen. There is no electric kettle. Just a coffee machine.

Neither person is a tea drinker. When visitors have asked for a cup they use the microwave oven to boil a cupful of water. Asking around the modern hive mind that is Twitter and Facebook, I learn that this substitute method is quite common for US households entertaining British guests.

In fact, I now know that in the US electric kettles are a distinctly rare kitchen appliance. Stove top kettles are a more likely choice for the mere 4 per cent of Americans who drink tea. One reason is the difference in mains voltage – 120v in the US, compared to the UK’s 240v – doubling the boiling time for electric kettles in the States. But there’s the whole ritualistic connotations of boiling an electric kettle that the US doesn’t have: it’s what you’re meant to do during a TV advertising break (fewer of those in the UK per hour of TV, making it more of a big deal). It’s something you can easily set up in a room without a cooker: offices, student rooms, hotel rooms.

Suddenly fascinated by this subject, I chat to people online and find that one US store, Target, does stock affordable electric kettles on their website, though they’re not always in the physical shops.

From a Brit who lived in LA: “After months of no joy at even Target I finally bought a new one in a Persian market on the westside of LA. Ridiculous.”

From a Brit in Arizona: “Been here 4 yrs and only spotted electric kettles within the last six months, at Target. In Arizona you make ‘Sun Tea’, teabags in water and leave it outside to brew.”

Target’s item description has one sentence that would never appear on a UK listing:

“- Boils faster than a microwave”

And by way of a counterpart appliance, I had this from an American in the UK:

“It took me nearly a decade to find a reasonably-priced decent waffle iron in Britain, which is standard kit in any US kitchen shop.”

But for me the most defining aspect of the electric kettle is its importance during one of the most stressful and defining experiences in life: moving house.

As one Brit reminds me:

“When you hire boxes from a moving company, the ‘how to pack’ instructions tell you to leave the kettle till last.”

And from another Brit:

“That’s exactly how it is: electric kettle packed last, and first item to be plugged-in. That first cup makes it feel you’ve arrived.”

Thanks to everyone on Twitter and Facebook for the enlightenment. Quotes from Stuart Nathan, Sophie Heawood, Caroline Corbett, @eighths, @cybermango.

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Those SEO Gold Mine Blues

I have something of a recurring headache, which I think is part of a sinus-y head cold, but that’s still no excuse for going for days without writing. If I’m going to start a degree in the Autumn, I have to nip this particular bad habit in the bud, or else it’ll be a waste of everyone’s time.

I’ve written an article about the history of the Bohemian Bedsit for the New Escapologist Magazine, issue #5. Did lots of Proper Research, so hopefully readers will come away All The Better. It can be purchased at

I’ve also been invited to give a 15 minute talk at The Camden School Of Enlightenment on May 10th. My contribution is called A Field Guide To Fetishes. I’ll be discussing the strange and wonderful words given to lesser-known naughty inclinations, such as tripsolagnia, the sensation of arousal from having one’s hair shampooed. The event is free. More information at

Money! I am contacted out of the blue by someone who does ‘SEO’ advert placing. As in Search Engine Optimisation. It’s a phrase that currently crops up all the time in job ads: the skill of getting a company’s website ranking high in Google searches. My diary has a certain value in the SEO stakes purely by lasting so long. If you start a blog in 1997, by 2011 there’ll be so many links to it scattered around the Web, your Google ranking will be high by default. It’s one reason why searching on Google for ‘Dickon’ will get this diary first, ahead of anything to do with The Secret Garden or that Dickon out of the Tindersticks who does music for Oscar-nominated films. Like some grizzled prospector of the Wild West, I sit here on top of my SEO gold mine, awaiting offers.

First up this month is an offer from a business card company. They want me to add the phrase ‘business card’ to one of my more popular diary entries, and link this ‘search term’ to their website forever. In return, they pay me twice my weekly rent.  I do it. As it is, I use the company already, so no moral dilemmas there. It’s hardly Iggy Pop and his irksome car insurance puppet.

If you’re reading this and can help me exploit this accidental asset, please do get in touch.  I rather like the idea of this diary finally earning me a living.


Today: I sit in a St Pancras cafe and write a letter on headed notepaper snaffled from the Oxford And Cambridge Club. It has an unmarked entrance on Pall Mall, and is where my kind friend Minerva Miller took me for lunch last Friday. Such a beautiful place. No mobile phones allowed, high ceilings, ornate lounges and dining rooms, billiard rooms, squash courts, plush sofas everywhere, phones with which to order a gin and tonic, newspapers and magazines, green baize tables, chess boards, and library rooms with high-backed armchairs to fall asleep in. One room is decked out in more feminine decor: champagne gold & emerald green, alongside rooms in the more traditional gentlemen’s  club colours, burgundy and brown, the rooms of scenes from Yes Minister.


Last Thursday night, March 17th: I look after the house and hound of Linda Seward. The house is in Primrose Hill, stuffed with books and art and no TV, while the dog is Rhum, a 15-year-old Border Terrier who’s a little hard of hearing. Rhum is pictured here by Ms Seward:

Saturday 19th March: I meet up with La John Joseph, who has a new pop persona, Alexander. We visit the Robert Mapplethope exhibition, as curated by the Scissor Sisters, then walk through Soho to have tea at Fernandez & Wells in Beak Street. JJ and his bright red raincoat get him stopped twice to have his picture taken by those ‘street style’ photographers that lurk on every Soho corner. They’re not interested in me. I wonder if I’m starting to look more normal.


Also today: I stop off at the Boogaloo and meet Mr Jupiter John, who says kind things about my diary, buys me drinks and gives me cash to become a Diary Angel. At the bar I meet Ms Kate McGann, actress and cousin of those various McGann acting brothers. She’s just appeared on the TV dating show Take Me Out. The same edition included Ms Marysia Kay, actress and actual witch, who starred in a pop video for my website host Rhodri Marsden, which I also popped up in. I say all this to point out what a connection-fest the Boogaloo is.

Elizabeth Taylor dies. I dig out my CD of Elizabeth Taylor In London (played in the Boogaloo when I DJ’d there). It’s the soundtrack to her 1963 American TV special, where she’s filmed swanning around the capital’s landmarks in various Dior ensembles, all to a swooning John Barry score. Occasionally she stops to recite London texts, chosen herself. They include Wordsworth’s Westminster Bridge, Queen Elizabeth I’s  Speech to the Troops at Tilbury, and Churchill’s VE speech to the crowds in May 1945:

You have been attacked by a monstrous enemy but you never flinched or wavered. No one ever asked for peace because London was suffering. London, like a great rhinoceros, a great hippopotamus saying ‘Let them do their worst. London can take it.’

London could take anything.

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