Saturday 14th June 2014. A line from Woolf’s diary rings true at the moment:
‘What a born melancholiac I amâ€¦ The only way I keep afloat is by working.’
I do have work to be getting on with – readingÂ set texts for next year, starting on the final year thesis. But now there are no external deadlines to shape my time. I have to admit that this week has seen me struggling to not fall back into thoughts of despondency. On top of which, there’s all the football.
For lonely souls who do not care for football, there are in fact two types of loneliness. The usual kind, and the additional kind that comes with the World Cup. But defeated by the tournament’s ubiquity this week, I decide to try and join in for one night only. I watch England v Italy in my Highgate room. Or rather, I half-watch it on one computer window (as I have no television), while opening another window for Twitter. In the latter I post my baffled thoughts and read the live Tweets of others.
Fairly soon, I find the comments on Twitter are infinitely more interesting than the game. When there are goals, I miss them. So it is clearer than ever that my heart is not meant for football, and I must learn not to force my heart where it does not want to go. I certainly don’t begrudge something that brings happiness to so many others. Though in the case of the England fans, the happiness seems to quickly turn into masochism (indeed, England are knocked out of the cup during the first round).
The players this year are forced to wear dayglo coloured shoes, due to some sort of sponsorship deal. Sometimes a player wears a deliberately mismatching pair. This is meant to be a fashion statement, but instead it makes the sweaty millionaire in question look like a primary school child on his first day, still learning how to get dressed. In my case, the shoes just remind me that I need to stock up on highlighter pens.
As it is, I’m not really cut out for Twitter commentary either. What one is really meant to do is set up the home computer screen so a social media window is visible alongside everything else. Yet I can’t do this – I prefer switching between full screen windows, using the ALT and TAB keys. Perhaps this says something about the way my dyspraxic brain works. One thing at a time. Full course thinking only, rather than a buffet.
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Sunday 15th June 2014. Father’s Day, the first since Dad died. I am reading about the fire at the Glasgow School of Art, where the Charles Rennie Mackintosh library was destroyed. A line from a Laurie Anderson track comes to me. It’s about her father, but it applies to my feelings about Dad as well:
When my father died it was like a whole library had burned down.
(from ‘World Without End’, on the 1994 album Bright Red)
I find a photograph of Dad standing in front of his Warholian collection of kitschy found objects. He displayed them in the living room using an old Post Office sorting cabinet, mounted on the wall. The names of the postal areas were still visible on the pigeon holes. The photo isÂ from December 2009.
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In Hyde Park, I accidentally find myself surrounded by a dog show. It’s a muggy day, and I’ve decided to walk around the perimeter of the Serpentine by way of exercise. The dog show is in the grassy area on the north bank known as The Cockpit, where the Rolling Stones had their 1969 concert. There’s a series of tents and stalls selling dog-based wares, plus a couple of enclosures in the middle for canine parades and sports. One sport is Flyball, where the dogs jump over a series of little hurdles to collect a tennis ball from a box. The dogs do the actual sport very well, though they are less proficient at lining up quietly next to each other while awaiting their turn. The queue for Flyball is a mass of angry barking.
A sign by one stall: ‘Where Your Dog Would Choose To Shop’.
Another: ‘DNA Testing For Dogs’. This turns out to be a way of discerning the mix of breeds in a mongrel, rather than a doggy version of The Jeremy Kyle Show (which I would definitely watch).
The dog show is called, inevitably, ‘Hyde Bark’.
I walk from the Cockpit up to Victoria Gate, to try and see the Victorian pet cemetery there. It turns out that the cemetery is closed to the public, and is now part of the private garden attached toÂ Victoria Lodge. An email to the Royal Parks reveals that one can book an appointment to visit the cemetery, but only at the cost of £60 an hour, for a party of six or less. And that’s assuming the residents approve the visit.
As it is, it’s possible to see a few of the hundred or so pint-sized gravestones from the Bayswater Road, if one peers through the hedge hard enough. Of the dead pet names I can make out, Spot seems to be very popular, followed by Rex. The words ‘dear’ and ‘little’ are everywhere: ‘In Loving Memory of Dear Old Spot’, ‘Dear Little Dick’, ‘Muffin, aged 15 years’, ‘Sweet Kitty Rose, Inseparable Companion for 11 and a Half Years’, ‘Dear Little Sally, Very Lovable Little Yorkshire of Florence C. Vary of Westminster’.
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Tuesday 17th June 2014. To the ICA to see The Man Whose Mind Exploded. It’s a documentary aboutÂ Drako Zarhazar, an elderly and eccentric man living in Brighton. His unconventional appearance – tattoos, shaved head, piercings, cloak, a moustache coloured by black poster paint – is accompanied by severe retrograde amnesia, the consequence of two road accidents. He can remember being a dancer and a model for Salvador Dali, but he cannot remember what’s been said to him a couple of hours ago. The title alludes to the way his mind has ‘exploded’ across his council flat. Drako’s rooms are packed with home-made mobiles, as in paper ones that dangle on strings from the ceiling. There’s memos and ‘to do’ messages, along with photos from his own past. But the far more attention-grabbing ones are the expressions of that other, more resilient part of the mindÂ that exists beyond memory – sexuality. Whether attached or unattached to handsome male bodies, or aroused or unaroused, images of men’s dangly bits dangle everywhere.
George Melly once said that the waning of his sexuality with old age was like being unchained from a madman. In Drako’s case, his accidents have already left him unchained from memory, so his sexual urges have instead become something to cling to, like a guide dog of naughtiness. One scene that gets the ICA audience laughing is the reaction of a teenage plumber’s apprentice to Drako’s décorations. It’s a twist on the storyline of old porn films: a plumber comes to install a new fridge. Only this is real life, and the plumber’s mate looks utterly terrified.
Drako himself appears nude towards the start of the film, sitting on Brighton beach and discussing his tattoos. As the opening credits roll, the director Toby Amies appears from behind the camera, revealing that he too is nude. This scene means that The Man Whose Mind Exploded has something in common with Monty Python’s Life of Brian. They are both films where the director’s bare bottom makesÂ a cameo appearance.
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Wednesday 18th June 2014. I walk through Jermyn Street. The metal studs on the wide stone window sills outside Tesco, intended (they say) to discourage the loitering of aggressive drunks, have now been removed, following a public outcry. This started with the circulation online of a photo of similar studs, installed outside a block of flats in Lambeth. They were referred to as ‘anti-homeless spikes’, and were used as evidence of London’s architecture hitting a new low.
This was despite that (a) they’re not sharp enough to be spikes, and (b) such studs have existed in London since the 1990s. But somehow there was something man-bites-dog about the issue, because the Lambeth photo went viral. The Jermyn Street studs quickly became highlighted too, then newspapers got involved, and then politicians got involved. Our beloved Mayor issued a public condemnation of the studs, though he did so while ordering some anti-riot water cannon in the same week.
The latest Big Issue cover reads ‘Still angry at the anti-homeless spikes? Buy this magazine.’ I buy my copy from the vendor outside Euston station (older man, weathered face, Scots accent). There are rows of studs there too, on the ledge of the Number One Euston office block. The Big Issue article explainsÂ how the tackling of homelessness is rather more complicated than just removing a few studs here and there. More money needs to be put into shelters, and more housing full stop needs to be made available to those in need, as opposed to those out to make money.
Still, the studs at Lambeth and Jermyn Street will not be Â missed. As I pass the Tesco window sills today I see office workers and tourists sitting where the studs used to be, quietly eating their lunch.
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Tags: dad, football, homelessness, hyde park, hyde park pet cemetery, laurie anderson, studs not spikes, the big issue, the man whose mind exploded, toby amies, world cup 2014