Inelegant Acronyms

Thursday 28 September 2017. I must record that on the 20th July I contributed to a pop record. At least, I recorded some backing vocals for Tim Benton, he of the band Baxendale, in a Hornsey studio under a railway bridge. The song was called ‘Wild Swimming’. Mr B invited me to do it out of the blue, and I said yes.

It’s my first contribution to music since I stopped Fosca in 2009. I still have no interest in making new music myself just yet. How funny the way one’s passions wax and wane. Still, one silver lining of my failing to make money from music is that there’s no temptation to play my old songs in concert purely for the money.

My other excuse is a refusal of that common alibi: ‘being in bands was a phase I was going through: I’m more normal now’. I feel I’m more weird now. For now, other boxes await: book-shaped projects, experiments with language, ideas, narrative, the art of words. I look to my award from Birkbeck in 2015, for showing ‘the most promise in English Literature’, and feel I owe it to myself to do something along those lines.


On a whim, I watch the late 70s Doctor Who serial The Invisible Enemy, with Tom Baker, as rented from iTunes. It’s the one that introduces K9, the robot dog who resembles an upturned wash basin on remote-controlled wheels; very slow wheels at that. And yet the TV-watching children of Britain loved him, and he became a regular character. All the special effects are shockingly primitive, needless to say. Yet there’s a certain cheapskate charm which makes the programme uniquely attractive now, in these glossy days of production values.

I wonder if it’s to do with the dressing-up box aspect: that instinctive need in childhood to tell a quick-moving story using whatever materials are to hand. In the case of The Invisible Enemy, even the story is cheap: a simple fusion of sci-fi cliches. It’s like a small child retelling a film using plastic figures. But there is one unique element: Tom Baker. He was already in a world of his own when he was propping up the bars of 70s Soho. It made perfect sense to cast him as a benign alien; someone who takes on his enemies armed with nothing but nerve.

I think I may have even been introduced to the word ‘bohemian’ in a Target Books description of Baker as the Doctor – I certainly had no interest in the Queen song. Like ‘camp’, I was too young to understand what ‘bohemian’ meant. Though I suspected it sort of meant an adult acting like a child – in a good way.


Friday 29 September 2017.  I read Ongoingness: The End of a Diary by the US writer Sarah Manguso. A curious short memoir, fragmentary and poetic. It concerns her keeping a diary over decades, from 1990 till today. Yet she does not quote a word of the actual diary.

From Manguso: ‘I use my landlady’s piano as a writing desk (p. 60)’. I’m starting to look particularly kindly on forty-something writers who live in rented accommodation.


Saturday 30 September 2017. I’ve always had clumsy and weak hands, something which has led to a lifelong resentment of cricketers. In recent years though my hands have become oddly worse for short amounts of time. A visit to a glamorous NHS neurologist a couple of years ago ruled out anything sinister. Glamorous, because I later found out that she was a consultant on the big film about Stephen Hawking. I was impressed with this implied proximity to Eddie Redmayne’s Oscar, even though I would probably drop it.

No, my condition seems to be a mild but irritating combination of anxiety and dyspraxia, one that makes me into a kind of camp Incredible Hulk. At times of extreme stress, I become more limp-wristed.

I suppose I could blame this condition for my uselessness at DIY jobs. When I moved into the new room I bought a self-assembly bedside table for £15, from the Dalston branch of Argos. I felt right at home there, among the crazy, the shouting, the desperate, and the cheap.

Naturally, when I got the table home it did not lend itself to being assembled at all. And despite my careful scrutiny of the Cy Twombly-like hieroglyphics which the makers had the temerity to call instructions, I managed to nail one of the panels on upside down. The world of manual labour and I continue to look upon each other with mutual suspicion.


Sunday 1st October 2017. I’m writing a review of The Sparsholt Affair for the Birkbeck university website. It’s a commission by Joe Brooker for Birkbeck’s Centre for Contemporary Literature ( I discovered that a couple of the images in the novel are taken from real-life photographs or album sleeves, making my review something of a scoop. It’s my first piece of published academic writing.


Monday 2nd October 2017. More work on the Hollinghurst review. I also look over the handbook for the PhD course. I’ve found that whenever I mention I’m doing a PhD, some people have made little noises of mild awe. Indeed, when I did well at my BA a friend said: ‘I should think so too: BAs are for children.’ So I had to do an MA for that reason alone. Halfway through that I found myself increasingly curious about a PhD. If only because PhDs get more privileges in academia: special PC rooms, extra access at college libraries, and the sense of being, well, more grown up. Which for me is truly rare. I wonder how I’ll do.


Tuesday 3rd October 2017. I meet Laurence Hughes in the top floor bar of Waterstones Piccadilly. The windowed area has spectacular views of the London skyline, but it also has piped music. Laurence, who is older than me, is more sensitive about piped music. So we plump for the area away from the windows, losing the view but gaining freedom from the music.

I did a little research about this sort of thing for my MA. There’s some sociological evidence that the intolerance of piped music in public spaces increases with age. This is despite the way one’s hearing itself starts to decline – frequencies go missing, hearing aids beckon. One theory is that older people resent the loss of control over public space, which the piped music represents. It’s a glimmer of mortality: you are not in charge of this world after all, chum.

In cafes, the music may be designed to soothe customers, but it’s also designed to possess and impose the brand on a room, and so reminds the customers that they are at the company’s mercy. Younger people tend to mind this sort of thing a lot less, even if it’s other people’s music. The young are more keen to lap up brands, trends, fashionable haircuts, and of course, ideologies.

Perhaps as evidence of my aversion to trendy things, I get the new Ronald Blythe collection of Church Times columns, Forever Wormingford. It’s his last one: he’s retired from doing the weekly column at the age of 94. Calming prose, beautiful little mini-essays on Suffolk life, worthy of a much wider audience than the readers of a Christian newspaper. As in Akenfield, Blythe’s style favours the sudden comparing of moments across decades, or even centuries, presenting life as a palimpsest on all the lives that came and went before. The similarities are always more startling than the differences.


Thursday 5th October 2017. My PhD officially begins. Tonight at Gordon Square there’s an induction talk in the Keynes Library by Sue Wiseman, the course director. A handout with a list of all the new students and their projects goes around, and I’m slightly startled to see my name at the top. It’s alphabetical, and unusually for a diverse ‘cohort’ of twenty students, no one has a surname beginning with A, B, C, or D. So there I am at the start. Meaningless, really, but at this stage, with the fear creeping in about how serious it all is, and with my constant inner questions about whether I’ve made a good decision, I’ll take any good omen I can get.

This year’s English and Humanities intake seems a healthy mix: roughly equal genders, all ages, lots of different nationalities, and a good scattering of subject matter from medieval to contemporary, via steampunk, cyberpunk, and graphic novels. One student is doing fairy tales with Marina Warner: the best possible supervisor in the country for that topic. I chat to one student who is also an accomplished poet, Fran Lock.


Friday 6th October 2017. Today sees an induction lecture for the wider School of Arts students, as in not just my fellow English and Humanities researchers, but also their counterparts in History of Art, Film and Media, Languages, and The Arts more generally. The lecture is by Marina Warner, and is on curses and entreaties in storytelling.

Beforehand, I’m in St James’s Park looking at some sculptures by Sophie Ryder, which all seem very Marina Warner-esque: nude humans with animal heads dancing with giant dogs, or holding hands in a ring, like an out-take from The Wicker Man.

Spend some time – probably too much – reading about the current online goings on among the ‘alt-right’. Buzzfeed have published a long investigation into email exchanges by various journalists from the conservative website Breitbart, linking them with what appears to be actual white supremacists. The figure at the heart of the story is Milo Yiannopoulos, the British writer who saw a gap in the market left by Christopher Hitchens: a charismatic posh British man spouting opinions on American media despite a complete lack of qualifications. Except that Hitchens was at least more considered in his style: Milo Y is more like a camp internet troll, and one who has stolen my look, frankly.


Saturday 7th October 2017. To the Museum of London for a gig by The Fallen Women. It’s part of some sort of mini-festival themed around radical art. Like Joanne Joanne, the all-female tribute band who play Duran Duran songs, the Fallen Women are a mostly female band who play the songs of The Fall: ‘Hit the North’, ‘Victoria’, ‘Mr Pharmacist’, ‘Big New Prinz’ and so forth.

During the gig, three energetic little girls dance unexpectedly down the front. They can’t be older than eight. I presume they’re the untethered children of someone else here, though I like to think they just escaped and are on the run. They are invited onto the stage to do guest vocals on ‘How I Wrote Elastic Man’. Afterwards, while the band pack up, they ask the guitarist – my friend Charley Stone – if they can use the microphones. Charley points out that they’ve been switched off, because the DJ, Mr Doran from The Quietus, is now playing his set.

‘That doesn’t matter’, says one of the little girls. ‘We just want to show off our girl group moves’. And so they do, posing and dancing with the microphones.


Sunday 8th October 2017. I am sent a copy of Travis Elborough’s handsome new anthology, Our History of the 20th Century: As Told in Diaries, Journals and Letters. Once again, it includes extracts from my web diary, though just ones from 1997 to 2000. Much of the rest of the book is exclusive material: private diaries never before published. Mr E had asked me if I had kept a paper diary before 1997. I hadn’t, sadly: the novelty of the web format was one of the reasons I started.

At 9am I go to the V&A for Pink Floyd: Their Mortal Remains. After the huge success of the David Bowie exhibition, the V&A have attempted something similar with the band behind Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall. The show has proven so popular that the museum has added tickets by opening throughout the night too: I could have gone at 4am in the morning.

So what does that say about Pink Floyd? I thought the band had rather more of a niche following than Bowie. In fact, a statistic I learn at the exhibition is that Dark Side alone sells 7000 copies every week, worldwide.

All kinds of theories suggest themselves. I wonder if it’s the band’s reputation for anonymity. Music usually divides people, so a lack of personality might mean there’s less to get in the way, and so less to dislike (one might say the same about Coldplay). Certainly Dark Side of the Moon was all about the ambience promised by the enigmatic sleeve, the triangular prism against the black background. Then there are the subjects of the song titles, which are so basic they must translate easily around the world: ‘Breathe’, ‘Time’, ‘Money’. Hardly niche topics. ‘Hey, I breathe too! I too have heard about money!’

What interests me, and what justifies this exhibition, is that they went through so many different phases, all of which involved highly visual and theatrical elements. One highlight is the row of face masks used in The Wall live show, as worn by a ‘surrogate band’ of extra musicians who open the concert. The idea played on the pitfalls of their own success: the concerts were now such a special-effects spectacle, with exploding jet planes, flying inflatable pigs, film projections, and huge grotesque puppets by Gerald Scarfe, the actual band members were secondary concerns. The mask idea is now rich in irony, given that the bassist Roger Waters, who was the band’s driving force in the 70s, tried to stop the other members using the name ‘Pink Floyd’ without him. He was proved wrong. Or rather, he didn’t listen to his own ideas.

They had one member with star quality, though: Syd Barrett. The band’s first incarnation, the late 1960s line-up with Barrett as frontman, was part of the London psychedelic club scene. Here, the V&A shows many of the gig posters of the time. These illustrated adverts have figures with swirling, distorted proportions rendered in a clear line style, not at all unlike the 1890s work of Aubrey Beardsley. In fact, it’s thought that the V&A’s 1966 Beardsley show directly influenced such art, and indeed there’s a Beardsley on display. This gives the new exhibition a nice sense of symmetry: echoes of influence returning home.

I take a bus into Piccadilly and get off at St James’s church. In the church grounds is an exhibition of sculptures by Emily Young, once the inspiration for the 60s Pink Floyd song ‘See Emily Play’. Here, one can.


Monday 9th October 2017. To the University of Surrey, in Guildford, for a symposium, New Perspectives on Alan Hollinghurst. Three papers are delivered, each speaker neatly representing one of the three academic books on Hollinghurst, all of which suddenly emerged, like buses, in the last few years. This is followed by a public interview with the author himself, tirelessly promoting The Sparsholt Affair. The interview is also in the university, but as part of the Guildford Literary Festival. Unusually, AH doesn’t mention Firbank, so I perk up at the end, mention my PhD, and get him to confirm that he’s writing the introduction for a new Picador edition of The Flower Beneath The Foot. The Sparsholt Affair makes the Top 10 bestseller list: there’s huge posters for it on the Tube.

Surrey university is a proper campus in the American sense: a self-contained town of glossy modernist buildings that takes a long bus ride to get around. I forget how many universities are like this, physically separate and bubble-like, rather than smuggled across a city in public squares and streets like my own, the University of London.


Tuesday 10th October 2017. To the Members’ Room in the London Library for an event concerning the second Travis Elborough book out this month, this one co-edited with Helen Gordon, Being A Writer. No one can say that Mr E is a slouch at the practice himself.

It’s a collection of quotes by notable authors: writerly anecdotes mixed with general advice on the craft, and all beautifully designed by the publisher, Frances Lincoln. There’s a quote by David Mitchell (the Cloud Atlas one) that reminds me how expensive writing used to be before the net: the era of typewriters and Tippex, of old printers with holes down the side of the paper (which was striped with green for some reason), of bulky manuscripts photocopied and sent in the post. Today it’s harder to earn money from writing, but at least it’s cheaper to actually write.


Wednesday 11th October 2017. Evening: to Gordon Square for a meeting by a ‘collective’ of Birkbeck research students. One of the PhDs talks about how she transferred to Birkbeck halfway through her thesis, after her relationship with a supervisor broke down irrevocably. There were no other supervisors in the same field, so she had to move colleges altogether. It’s a good lesson in the importance of having the right supervisor, however good the reputation of the college.

Anyone who looks into doing a PhD usually hears a few horror stories on this subject: supervisors who forget their students even exist; supervisors who don’t reply to emails for months on end and need to be hunted down in the politest possible way; and neglected students who shrug and think they can submit their PhD without the supervisor’s input (and they usually come a cropper). One advantage of sticking with the same college for ‘the triple’ – BA, MA, PhD – is that my supervisor already knows what I’m like.

There’s a London diarist connection here. The definitive edition of Samuel Pepys’s diaries was edited by William Matthews (1905-1975), a specialist in British and American diaries. Matthews did ‘the triple’ at Birkbeck in the 1920s and 30s, before going on to a glittering academic career in the States, hoovering up awards as he went. Birkbeck’s English department honour his memory every year with the annual William Matthews lecture. So I like to think I’m ‘doing a William Matthews’, if only the first bit.


Sunday 15th October 2017. To the ‘Esquire Townhouse with Dior’ as it’s officially called. It’s both a pop-up members club and an arts festival, held at the plush building at 10 & 11 Carlton House Terrace, right behind the ICA. I’m here for yet another Alan Hollinghurst event, this time about the ten books that made him who he is. He omits Firbank in favour of, unexpectedly, The Lord of the Rings, which he loved as a teenager. It seems unlikely that AH will venture into writing fantasy novels any time soon. Then again, Kazuo Ishiguro’s last book, The Buried Giant, was just that, and they’ve just given him the Nobel Prize.

I say hello to Martin Wallace, who knows AH. The author himself recognises me from the Guildford talk, and asks me about the scope of my Firbank thesis. When I tell him it’s about the concept of camp modernism, he thinks for a moment then tells me it’s a very worthwhile line of research. I feel officially blessed.


Tuesday 17th October 2017. The London Review of Books has an excellent article by Jenny Turner on Kathy Acker, by way of the new biography by Chris Kraus. Ms Acker marketed the ink on her skin as much as she did the ink on her pages. It’s quite a common look now, but her tattoos and piercings were thought to be fairly daring and punkish in the 80s and 90s, even shocking.

As Ms Turner points out, there hadn’t really been a female version of the William Burroughs-style ‘Great Writer as Countercultural Hero’ role before, and there hasn’t really been one since. Jeanette Winterson may have been spiky in her manner when she started out, but she was still part of the literary establishment; one of ‘them’, not one of ‘us’. According to this article, one of Acker’s books was accidentally printed with the last two chapters the wrong way around, and no one noticed. That’s one definition of the avant-garde.

I note that there’s an advert alongside the Acker piece for Stewart Lee’s current stand-up comedy show. It’s difficult to think of other comedians who might regard the LRB readership as their target audience. And yet I’m reminded that in 1981, when the LRB had photographic covers and a slightly more ‘Time Out’-y approach, they put Alexei Sayle on the front. This was to illustrate an article by the poet Ian Hamilton on the alternative comedy scene.

Since then the magazine hasn’t expected its readers to take much of an interest in comedy. I know this because in 2011, one LRB piece quoted a joke from Peep Show, but had to qualify this as ‘a Channel 4 sitcom’, rather than ‘the Channel 4 sitcom’. By this time it had been running for eight years, and was on its seventh series. Perhaps, given the Stewart Lee advert, things have changed. Or perhaps, in the same way Kathy Acker is described as an author who had fans ‘among people who didn’t usually buy books’, Lee is a comedian for people who don’t usually like comedy.

I admit I’ve always been intrigued by the way magazines second-guess their readers’ tastes, and so have to reach for the words ‘a’ or ‘called’ to qualify something, rather than a more flattering ‘the’. As in, ‘I was listening to a band called the Beatles’ (because you, the imagined reader, won’t have heard of them). Or ‘I was watching a film called Citizen Kane‘. The practice is even more curious now, because it assumes the reader hasn’t got access to Google.


Wednesday 18th October 2017. To Birkbeck for a training session on archiving ‘intractable’ objects. I choose Firbankiana, a miniature book published in 1989 by the New York independent press Hanuman, who operated in the 80s and early 90s. The book is part of a quirky series on figures from avant-garde culture. Other subjects include Candy Darling, Burroughs, Richard Hell, and David Hockney. Quite collectable now. In preparing to talk about the Firbank book, I discover that Hanuman operated out of the Chelsea Hotel, and that the books were based on Indian prayer books, hence the idea of carrying about a little book of Burroughs or Firbank by way of demonstrating one’s  faith. Indeed, they hired the same prayer-book printers in Madras, who in turn used the same local fishermen to hand-stitch the pages together (Source: website for the Hanuman archive, University of Michigan Library). I wonder what the fishermen made of Candy Darling.

Thursday 19th October 2017. Library inductions for the new PhDs. We start with a tour of the historic Senate House Library, followed by a lesson on how to use their online catalogue. Then to Birkbeck’s more modern library next door, where we are taught about using the many electronic databases. I come away with my head swimming in inelegant acronyms. Like ‘PhD’, in fact.

Birkbeck Library has just refurbished its upper floor in Torrington Square. Over the summer they removed whole banks of shelving and replaced them with some fifty or so brand new study desks. The shelves are unlikely to be missed, as they contained ancient periodicals and directories. These materials are now in storage, so people can still request them. But one suspects they’re all digitised and available online.

This is very much a sign of the times. In Birkbeck there seems to be more students this year than ever before, despite all the reports of high fees and the difficulties in housing. Last year the free desks in the library ran out completely every day, with the peak time around 4pm. Some clichés about students being late risers never change. Meanwhile the back numbers of academic journals, encyclopaedias, dictionaries and directories have migrated to the electronic ether.

Libraries are now as much about spaces for bodies (and their laptops) as they are about spaces for books. For many students, a library’s key role is as a quiet, conducive and above all heated space in which to work at a laptop, away from the piped music of franchise cafes, and away from the unheatable shoebox that a student probably has to call a home.

But some of the old reference materials still manage to lurk among all the bodies and the backpacks. In Senate House today, while on the tour, I spy the Oxford English Dictionary on the shelves in its thick black hardbacks, all twenty volumes of it. I ask a librarian if anyone still consults these out-of-date tomes. ‘Probably hardly anyone, but we like to keep them there for nostalgia.’



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Thameslink Odysseus

Sunday 13th March 2016. I’m reading a new study skills book aimed at dyspraxic students, The Dyspraxic Learner: Strategies For Success, written by Alison Patrick. It’s full of very clear and useful advice for coping with a myriad of dyspraxia-related problems, the majority of which really do seem to apply to me. There’s an intriguing literary reference; according to the book, Jane Eyre contains what is thought to be literature’s first dyspraxic character. In the boarding school scenes, early on in the novel, Jane befriends Helen Burns, a passive and solitary girl who spurns games, has trouble concentrating, and seems to be in a world of her own:

‘Her sight seems turned in, gone down to her heart: she is looking at what she can remember, I believe, not at what is really present’.

In the classroom, Helen turns out to be a talented student, always ‘ready with answers on every point’. However, she also has poor organisational skills, bad posture and dirty fingernails, and it’s this that gets her whipped by the teachers for being a ‘slattern’. Rather sadly, she scolds herself too:

‘I am, as Miss Scatcherd said, slatternly; I seldom put, and never keep, things in order; I am careless; I forget rules; I read when I should learn my lessons; I have no method; and sometimes I say, like you, I cannot bear to be subjected to systematic arrangements.’

These are all now regarded as classic dyspraxic traits. Though I’ve never been whipped with a bunch of twigs, I suspect that sort of thing would have happened to me in a less enlightened century. And I’m sure there are people who’ve harboured thoughts of doing it to me more recently, too.

* * *

To the V&A to meet up with Fenella H: a very welcome bout of socialising, at a time when I feel rather more removed from the world than usual, either bound up with studies or struggling with various ailments.

We arrive at 11am on a Sunday, just before it gets too busy, and so have the pick of the three ornate café rooms. We dither over which Victorian aesthetic we prefer: the majestic and imposing Gamble room, the cosy blue-tiled Poynter or the subdued, green-panelled Morris. In the end I decide to go for the Morris, not because I’m in a particularly William Morris-sy mood, but purely because it has the fewest crying babies.

We stroll through the Fashion section of the permanent collection, then upstairs to the new (and free) exhibition on West End and Broadway shows, Curtain Up. Lots of set models, costumes and props from the likes of War Horse, Matilda, The Curious Incident of The Dog In The Night-Time, and Sunday in the Park With George. For a display on A Chorus Line, there’s a kind of installation with lighting effects: one walks through a mirrored corridor with a dance practice bar, over which a row of shiny top hats hang in the air.

* * *

Tuesday 15th March 2016. Evening: I walk through the new-ish Blackfriars Thameslink station, where the platforms span across the whole width of the Thames. As they’re enclosed in glass, the structure plays with paradoxes of indoors and outdoors, of movement and stasis. One can get on and off a train while standing above water.

After the rush hour, the place can be very empty and quiet, perhaps because the station’s Thameslink status confuses tourists (it’s not part of the Tube, but Travelcards still apply). Suddenly there’s a burst of sound: a female soprano, presumably a busker, sings an aria unaccompanied – though I can’t tell where she is. Her voice echoes all over the long, eerie platforms, turning the whole of Blackfriars into a kind of bridge-shaped megaphone. Intrigued, I ran up and down various stairs and balconies on the South side of the station, trying to find the singer. I feel like a Thameslink Odysseus. After running into several labyrinthine dead ends (two myths for the price of one) – I find the singer standing in a corner of the new embankment, by the pedestrian walkway. She’s blonde, and is wearing a red felt top hat. I want to tell her how far her voice is carrying, and how eerie and beautiful it sounds up on the platforms, particularly when there’s hardly anyone else there. But she’s in mid-aria. I put a pound in her pot, mumble ‘thanks’, and go back to catch my train.

* * *

Thursday 17th March 2016. To the Vue Islington to see Room. The lead, Brie Larson, won Best Actress at the Oscars, as a mother kept prisoner in a suburban shed, while raising her son. I read the Emma Donoghue novel some time ago. The film is a very faithful adaptation, except for the novel’s device of having everything filtered through the five-year-old boy’s perspective. Here the boy has plenty of voice-over narration, but otherwise the perspective is the usual external one of the camera. A straightforward treatment, replicating the book’s three distinct sections: grim urban horror (life in the room), gripping thriller (the escape), then the aftermath in the world outside. As with the novel, I found this last section less satisfying than the previous two, but the performances of both the mother and the boy are memorable.

* * *

To the first floor of 43 Gordon Square, for the last seminar of the Birkbeck term, and the last class on the Contemporary US Fiction module. We finish with Jennifer Egan’s A Visit From The Goon Squad, a novel I’ve had on my To Read shelf for some time. It’s made up of a series of stand-alone stories, linked by a set of characters at different stages in their lives. The ‘goon squad’ is time itself: the implication is that the characters are victims of the world’s changing ways, as much as they are victims of getting older. The perspective changes from character to character with every section: a person referred to in passing in one story may become the main character in another. There’s some stylistic tricks too, the most unusual one being a story entirely told as a Powerpoint slide show, with the same SmartArt diagrams familiar to anyone who uses Microsoft Office. Here they’re used to describe the relationship between a 12-year-old girl, her parents, and her autistic brother.

The Powerpoint story ends with several diagrams of pure data, illustrating the brother’s obsession with pauses in rock songs. It’s a little like the A-level maths question at the end of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: irrelevant to the story, but it’s what the character would do. One of the slides is completely black, which I read as a wry reference to the all-black page in Tristam Shandy.

After the class, I join a few of the students at the IOE bar for pizza and drinks. There’s been some sort of local student protest. Earlier, during the class, we heard some indistinct chanting as the protest passed through Gordon Square.

A barman tells us he’s worried about ‘the rioters’. No such rowdiness here, even on St Patrick’s Day (the Pogues playing dutifully on the hi-fi). Just lots of students sitting around drinking and chatting peacefully.

On coming back from the bar I pass one table and notice a megaphone among the pint glasses.

* * *

Friday 18th March 2016. To the Odeon Covent Garden (£6 with NUS), for Spotlight, which won the Oscar for Best Film. Like Room, it’s a conventional moral drama, focusing on the victims of abuse rather than the perpetrators. In this case, it’s the real-life victims of child molestation in Boston’s Catholic community. The notion of blame here, though, is extended to ideas of collusion, whether it’s people who knew about the cases and covered them up, or people who knew but didn’t think to investigate further. The film has a very old-fashioned feel to it, mindful of not just All The President’s Men (the newspaper setting) but Judgement At Nuremberg: an ensemble piece where the actors serve the story entirely, and the story is told seriously and clearly. Is it the ‘Best’ film? Not compared to Inside Out or The Falling or Carol or Appropriate Behaviour. There’s no innovation or boldness of ideas whatsoever: it’s just a good, well-made, informative work that covers an important issue. A ‘fair enough’ film.

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Dough Balls With Virginia

Saturday 12th September 2015.

Jeremy Corbyn is voted leader of the Labour party. For much of the weekend his critics call him ‘unelectable’, an odd thing to say of someone who has just won an election. So much is said about this man this week, much of it hysterical. Not nearly enough is said about how he is just that rare thing: a MP that people like.

The 1997 style of Labour, with its focus upon slickness, spin and presentation, seems to be over for good. A rougher, ‘grass roots’ Labour is popular once again. If nothing else, I hope this means MPs will at last stop copying Mr Blair’s strange. Staccato. Way. Of Speaking. When. Making. Speeches.

* * *

I wander into town, and drift into the ICA to find that there’s a small-press fair on. Phoebe Blatton is running a stall for Coelacanth Press. She’s put out a new issue of Strangers In A Zine, her fun little Patricia Highsmith fanzine. This issue is a ‘Carol Film Special’, to celebrate the new film with Cate Blanchett (out in the UK in November). In the zine, PB relates an anecdote from a few years ago, where she met a film distributor on a plane, enthused to him about Highsmith’s novel Carol, and mentioned that, given he made Far From Heaven, Todd Haynes would be perfect for directing a film of Carol. The distributor told her he happened to be a good friend of Haynes’s, and would ‘pass the message on’. PB is not certain that she was inadvertently the seed of the new film, but it’s a nice tale, and indeed a very Highsmithian one: a fateful encounter between two strangers.

* * *

Tuesday 15th September 2015.

To Lauderdale House in Highgate Village. It’s a venue mentioned by one noted diarist – Pepys – and the setting tonight for a talk by another: Michael Palin, currently promoting his third volume of journals. The event is a charity fundraiser organised by the Mayor of Camden Council, a rather assertive, motherly woman who makes sure everyone stays behind afterwards to listen to the support act – a saxophone recital by a 16-year-old Camden schoolboy.

Lots of other mayoral types in the audience. They tend to be ordinary looking people of a certain age, often former councillors, who just happen to be walking around in heavy, clunking ceremonial jewellery.

Mr Palin is a delight, of course. He gives what is clearly his honed ‘Evening With…’ talk. A good hour or so of anecdotes, something to please everyone, and a Q&A at the end. Tales from the formation of Monty Python, tales from the controversy around Life Of Brian – with a nice link from the mayors in the room to the story about how the actress playing Brian’s girlfriend in the film is now the Mayor of Aberystwyth. And that, with delicious irony, the Welsh town was one of the places that banned the film in 1979. Once she was in power, she made sure she lifted the ban. Then there’s tales from his travel programmes, tales about diary-keeping, some pleasingly rude quips (including one about how he hates being called nice), and some poetry: Cavafy, Wordsworth, Hilaire Belloc, and Spike Milligan. A perfect public speaker, really, and a good example of a Not-Grumpy Old Man.

* * *

Wednesday 16th September 2015.

Meet Hester R for a drink at the IOE bar, followed by a meal at the Pizza Express on Euston Road, the one that’s directly opposite the British Library. Artworks based on writers on the walls: Orwell, Kakfa, Woolf. It’s the place to go if you know someone who likes Mrs Dalloway and dough balls. There’s a display of books, all face out, on a trendy shelving unit near our table. I’m not sure if they’re for sale or to read or just to make the restaurant more bookish. One in my eyeline is about the history of stealth warfare, ‘From Ancient Greece To The SAS’. The book next to that is a memoir by Maureen Lipman. I try not to make too much of this.

Hester has a voucher of some sort. I always suspect everyone who goes to Pizza Express has A Voucher Of Some Sort.

* * *

Thursday 17th September 2015.

I visit the Ripping Yarns bookshop on Archway Road. It’s my last time before this treasure trove of a second-hand shop closes its Highgate premises for good. The business is going to continue trading online, at the house of the owner Celia, with occasional events and ‘open days’ planned. But the Archway Road shop will be gone.

Some symmetry. Today, people in the shop are talking about Mr Corbyn, just as they are doing so everywhere in London (this week I overhear the word ‘Corbyn’ in every café, bus and tube). On my first ever visit to Ripping Yarns, not long after I’d moved to Highgate, I heard an earnest conversation about the then Labour leader, John Smith, how he had suddenly died that day, and how he was ‘the best Prime Minister we never had’ (Gore Vidal: ‘Death is a good career move’). The date of my first visit to Ripping Yarns is thus easy to work out: May 12th, 1994.

I walk out from today’s visit with a 1961 Penguin Classic copy of Firbank’s Valmouth. It’s the edition that appears in Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library, with its Augustus John cover and what Hollinghurst calls the ‘faint smell of lost time’ about its pages. Jen Campbell is working there today. She points me out to Celia. ‘Would you believe this man is 44?’ Her book Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops was inspired by the clientele of Ripping Yarns, who could indeed be eccentric. On my way out, I see a hunched man browsing through a box of paperbacks. He is in his bare feet.

* * *

To the House of Illustration in King’s Cross, for the exhibition on Ladybird Books. Lots of colourful paintings of rosy-cheeked, healthy and smiling children in a post-war Utopian vision of Britain. Peter and Jane and their impeccably polished ball are the stars, but there’s also the series of ‘Well-Loved Tales’: ‘Cinderella’, ‘Puss In Boots’, and the slightly less loved tale ‘The Big Pancake’.

I realise how interesting it is that ‘well-loved’ has been eclipsed by ‘much-loved’ in common speech. The changing fashions in adjectives say as much about a society as the changing fashions in clothes.

The main thing I learn from the exhibition is how these popular pocket-sized children’s books were born from a ingenious bit of wartime economising. A whole Ladybird book of 56 pages was designed so it could be cut from a single sheet of paper – the largest size that could be printed in the presses of 1940. All the books were priced at half a crown each – and remained at that price until decimalization in 1971.

I find the title of one Ladybird book, ‘Some Great Men And Women (1972)’ disproportionately amusing. I think it’s the pedantic implication of the modifier ‘some’; as if a simple ‘Great Men And Women’ was deemed too imperial for the softer, long-haired world of 1972.

I buy a postcard in the gallery shop. A young staffer seems amazed when I confirm that I am going to send it without an envelope. ‘With the message on the outside? But surely other people can read it?’

I tell her about the history of sending postcards – the text messages of times outworn. It really does seem to be new to her. But I wish now that I’d told her about the Postcrossing website, where the practice of sending postcards is very much alive and well. (

* * *

Friday 18th September 2015.

Afternoon: to the V&A for tea in the Members’ Room, courtesy of Heather M. Ms M tells me about her experiences of dating websites. She prefers men to be at least her own height – ‘it’s to do with being hugged’. Judging by her encounters, it seems a lot of men lie about their height in their profiles. This seems a highly optimistic move, as if they hope that, by the time it comes to meeting in person, their shortness will be somehow… overlooked. But Heather says it’s sometimes necessary for a woman to adjust the truth too. ‘A woman aged 41 or 42 has to put ’40’, to attract people her own age. If she puts ’41’, all she gets are men over 70′.

After tea, we wander around the V&A, and I am quite taken with an interactive installation called Mise-en-abyme. It’s a series of shaped transparent arches across one of the museum’s walkways, each arch narrower than the one before. The phrase itself is one of my favourites in literary criticism, where it means a recursive framing of stories within stories. I’ve seen the phrase used for everything from The Canterbury Tales to Inception.

Evening: I watch the latest Woody Allen film, Irrational Man, at the Barbican’s Cinema Café.  There’s a very good film to be made of this story, but this film isn’t it. Like so many late Allens, it’s oddly stilted and over-narrated when it should be brooding and organic. I find myself fantasising about being able to edit the script and improve the film, fix it. Still, the story has some fine twists, and the cast are superb. It’s so good to see Parker Posey, now aging into a sharp, Katherine Hepburn-like persona, while Emma Stone is the young generation’s Mia Farrow (and Allen’s camera adores her). Joaquin Phoenix, meanwhile, is perfect for the sort of character who plays with a loaded revolver at parties.

* * *

Ian Hislop speaking on Radio 4 today, re Jeremy Corbyn: ‘It’s a measure of how much current capitalism has failed that Dave Spart [Private Eye‘s joke socialist character] is back and seems to be making sense’.

* * *

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Aphorisms For Ghosts

Saturday 23rd May 2015.

I feel I’m in a kind of limbo: I very nearly have a new qualification, but until late July it’s stuck on pause. As a result, there’s moments this week where the uncertainty of my future hits me hard.

I update my CV. This takes forever. Last time I went over my CV with a careers officer, she put virtually my entire life into the section marked ‘Other’. That says it all.

Still, as she told me at the time, ‘It’s not a life of inconsistent choices. It’s a PORTFOLIO CAREER!’

Perusing job vacancies makes me feel like Raymond Briggs’s Gentleman Jim. Most of the ads resemble little jargon-steeped walls of impenetrability, peppered with unexplained acronyms. Many career positions, whatever they are, seem to involve a complete lack of verbs.

But in contrast to Briggs’s uneducated Jim, it’s education that has skewed my reading. By studying literature, I’ve become overly sensitive to prose.

More aphoristic thoughts occur:

A CV is a haunted house. It is the home of the ghosts of one’s former lives. Some can jump out and surprise you.

In which case:

A CV should come with trigger warnings for its own author.


All work is acting work. The trick is not to be miscast.

* * *

Mum is in town today. We visit three exhibitions, and fit in lunch at Food For Thought in Covent Garden, which is about to close down.

Two shows are at the V&A Museum of Childhood in Bethnal Green: The Alice Look, and Small Stories: At Home In A Doll’s House.

The former is a mini-exhibition. There’s editions of the books throughout the years, concentrating on the way Alice’s imagery has permeated culture and fashion ever since. A mannequin wears a full ‘Lolita’ outfit, the kind currently popular in Japan. It’s Alice as a subcultural aesthetic: inspired by Carroll, manga, and (presumably) Nabokov, but claimed by young women for themselves.

There’s 1960s fashion posters, too, bringing Aubrey Beardsley into the equation. Mixing Tenniel’s Alice illustrations with Beardsley would have been pretty shocking in the 1890s, but by the 1960s, it’s all Victoriana, all up for grabs. Literally in the case of Carroll & Tenniel’s copyrights –both in the public domain before Disney could lock them away. Alice remains the people’s weird princess.

Her changing appearance is highlighted, starting with the eponymous hairband, only added by Tenniel for the second book, Through The Looking Glass. A 1920s cover is redrawn for a 1940s reissue. Her hairdo goes from a 20s bob to a 40s wave. Her dress alters accordingly. But the animals around Alice stay the same.

Perhaps this is one reason for the aesthetic popularity of animals: they never follow fashion (though there are those horses that look like they’re wearing flares). Dogs are the only real exception, with the fashions in breeds. So it makes sense that the only animal in Alice who doesn’t speak and  join in with the other animals is the often-forgotten Puppy, which Alice encounters early on.

If literature is all about asking ‘Who gets to speak?’, children’s literature is about asking ‘Which animals don’t get to speak?’

* * *

The Small Stories exhibition is much larger, and pulls off an inspired double-theme: it uses doll’s houses over the years to illustrate changes in real life housing, as much as changes in favourite toys.

Then to the National Portrait Gallery, for its current blockbuster: Sargent: Portraits of Artists and Friends. More Victorians: adults and children, some rendered stately and formal, some touching and heartfelt. The actorly-looking young man with the goatee and red robe, as used on all the posters, turns out to be Dr Pozzi, a pioneering gynaecologist.

Highlights for me are two portraits of Robert Louis Stevenson. Not because of who he is but because they’re like candid snapshots, catching the wiry Stevenson pacing the room in mid-rant, or sitting awkwardly in a chair while addressing the viewer.

The Sargent show costs £14.50, while the two Museum of Childhood exhibitions are free. I know it shouldn’t make a difference, but I do find free exhibitions less stressful to walk around. With the big shows, one is at the mercy of timed entry, and there’s the sense of wanting to tick off everything, in order to get value for money (‘Done that room. How many more? Is this one famous? Where’s the caption?’).

Free shows have more of a sense of serendipity, because one can drift in and out, and so be more surprised.

* * *

Sunday 24th May 2015.

I walk through Trafalgar Square to find it rammed with shouting football fans – red-shirted supporters of Middlesbrough. Loud and visible, though not violent or frightening, they climb the stone lions and sing the ‘O-lay, O-lay’ song, which I suppose is now a kind of folk anthem. I find out later they’re in town to cheer on the important play-off at Wembley the next day, for a place in the Premier league. Despite all the fans’ efforts, it is the other team that triumphs: Norwich.

I find myself envying the way so many men find it so easy to belong. It’s also fascinating that football in 2015 hasn’t been upgraded (except in the ticket prices): it’s the same game, with the same songs, and the same way of showing the world that you like it.

Billy Reeves, who knows about football, tells me that Middlesbrough are ‘stoical’, while Norwich are ‘flamboyant’.

* * *

Wednesday 27th May 2015.

To the Vue cinema for Moomins on the Riviera, a French-Finnish cartoon film. It’s unusually old fashioned, playing on a series of 1950s jokes about film stars, bohemian artists, and glamourous lifestyles. A celebrity dog character, ‘Audrey Glamour’, is clearly meant to be Audrey Hepburn.

The film uses a hand-drawn animated style that faithfully reproduces the hippo-like Tove Jansson characters. So faithfully in fact, that I’m not sure the whole thing really works as a modern children’s film. Compared to the latest Paddington film, say, it’s gentle, slow, slight, and downright glacial in its pacing. Perhaps it’s one for children who find Shaun The Sheep a bit too stressful. But it’s nevertheless charming.

There’s also a London connection with the story. It derives not from Ms Jansson’s illustrated books, but from her Moomin comic strip, which was directly commissioned by the London newspaper, the Evening News – now defunct. According to the biography Tove Jansson – Work and Love, the newspaper signed her up to produce a daily strip for seven years – something she regretted when it hit year six. But it gave her her first regular wage, and with syndication it gave the Moomins their global fame. Significantly, Moomins on the Riviera is taken from the first year of the newspaper strip, when Jansson was still enjoying it.

Moomintroll himself is voiced by Russell Tovey, a pleasing parallel to Ben Whishaw’s Paddington: both exponents of modern British boyishness. Plus I like how Russell Tovey’s surname is nearly the correct pronunciation of Jansson’s first name (‘too-verr’).

* * *

 Thursday 28th May 2015.

The first of the final marks comes back – 78. A First. This is for the last essay of the ‘American Century’ module, on US culture, 1900-2012. By my calculations, this gives the whole module a total of 77 (and a First). Two more marks to come. I’m especially anxious over the dissertation. But there’s nothing I can do – it’s so silly.

* * *

Friday 22nd May 2015.

I visit the secret oasis of surreal beauty that is Sophie Parkin’s Vout-O-Reenee’s bar, tucked away down some crypt steps, at 30 Prescot Street, Tower Hill. A private members’ bar, it carries on the spirit of the Colony Room, while adding a touch of the Bloomsbury Group’s Charleston. Every wall and floor is covered in hand-painted art. There’s a room decked out as a tribute to Monet, while the entrance hall has candelabra held in human hands, a la Cocteau’s Belle et La Bete.

The adjoining Stash Gallery is open to the public for exhibitions, and tonight is the private view of Ms Parkin’s show Sophie’s Choice. It comprises her own work alongside selections from her collection. Landscapes by her mother Molly, a watercolour by a young Cecil Beaton, and a couple of  works that may or may not be by Francis Bacon (the dispute is very Colony Room). I love Sophie’s own work: vivid and colourful Frida Kahlo-like self-portraits, often with a kind of New Romantic Madonna & Child theme (she was one of the original Blitz Kids in the early 80s). Her daughter, Carson, runs the bar. The whole place has the feel of defiant Old Soho Bohemia. And as it’s not in Soho, it also feels like an expat watering hole, like Dean’s Bar in Tangier. (Actually, Sophie Parkin once wrote a children’s book about Tangier: Bazaar Nights and Camel Bites).

In Moomins on the Riviera there’s a moustachioed character who’s obsessed with bohemian artists. He’d love it here.

* * *

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Holy Late Capitalist Allegory, Batman!

Saturday 28th March 2015.

I finish Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. Despite its stark, Hemingway-esque language, I can’t find myself as gripped by the story as the praise of the cover promises. I think it’s because I never was a fan of post-apocalyptic survival stories – or survival stories full stop. Robinson Crusoe repelled my interest up until the hero finally saw The Footprint (a scene mirrored in The Road). For all my love of being alone, I still need the knowledge that society is out there, burbling on reassuringly.

Two police officers hand out leaflets outside Highgate tube station. There’s been a spate of mobile phone thefts around the station exit. The thieves’ modus operandi is to drive up on mopeds, mount the pavement, and pluck a phone out from someone’s hands, before they realise what’s happened. So the police leaflet urges people to watch out for mopeds driving on the pavement. This would be a noticeable sight enough, I’d have thought. But no: the hypnotic effect of phones really does blind people to their environs. Heads in the clouds. Or rather, heads in the Cloud.

* * *

Sunday 29th March 2015.

Afternoon: to the BFI Southbank with Ella H, for another film in the Flare festival: Regarding Susan Sontag. For once, it’s a tribute that’s not approved by the subject or their relatives. Even though Ms Sontag’s son and sister appear, it’s clear that the director’s own agenda has priority. As it is, the sister admits that SS ‘was never honest with me all her life’.  There’s no new interview from Annie Leibovitz, her last long-term companion. Instead, the film uses lots of archive footage and readings from her works, including the recent diaries. Its theme is more biographical than critical, so it feels at times gossipy, and at others frustratingly cagey; but then that was rather the fault of the subject. There’s no attempt to either completely praise or condemn Sontag: the film just wants people to regard her, as the title suggests. Make up your own mind. One old girlfriend tells outrageously filthy and possibly unreliable anecdotes. A bow-tied critic says ‘Do you really need to ask the author of ‘Notes on ‘Camp” to come out?

In fact, coming out is demonstrably still news in 2015. This week has seen newspaper stories about Ruby Tandoh, the 22-year-old former contestant of The Great British Bake Off, coming out as a queer woman (in her words). What’s interesting to me is that (a) she prefers ‘queer’ to ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’, and (b) that she recently wrote an article about camp as a form of personal empowerment, as inspired by Molly Ringwald’s prom dress in Pretty in Pink. She quotes Susan Sontag’s 50-year-old essay.

* * *

Tuesday 31st March 2015.

Evening: to the Tottenham Court Road Odeon with fellow Birkbeck student Jon S, to see Get Hard. Jon’s suggestion. He suspects it’s not exactly My Sort Of Film, but I’m happy to give it a go. It turns out to be an undemanding, broader-than-broad Hollywood comedy. It stars Will Ferrell as a pampered businessman, who has to prepare for time in jail. Kevin Hart plays his car wash manager, who teaches Ferrell how to, as it were, ‘get hard’, so he’ll survive. The film seems to be trying to ape those rich-white-versus-poor-black comedies from the 80s, like Trading Places. Except it’s now 2015, and the places have done a fair amount of their own trading. Things have changed.

It is safe to say that this film is not going to usurp Citizen Kane from the canon of peerless art. The plot is risible, the jokes are obvious, tired, insulting, and the whole thing is doubtlessly offensive to many. But I find the tone intriguing – it uses racial and gay stereotypes for many of the jokes, then goes to pains to paint the characters as anti-racist and anti-homophobic. Interestingly, the one type of prejudice which it uses for comedy, but doesn’t apologise for, is sexism. Perhaps this is due to the in-built ‘male gaze’ of the Hollywood machine. As some female critics have pointed out, even the Oscar-winning Birdman gets away with sexism, in the guise of defining its male anti-heroes.

Still, the force of the performances – especially the manic Mr Hart – carry it along. There’s enough decent jokes to get the Tottenham Court Road Odeon’s mixture of students and tourists laughing loudly for much of it. Although it’s not nearly as witty as Appropriate Behaviour, I enjoy being in a room of laughing popcorn-guzzling strangers, as opposed to a silent room of arthouse fans, the kind who regard laughter as uncool.

* * *

Thursday 2nd April 2015.

Morning: to the V&A with Heather M, for the exhibition Alexander McQueen – Savage Beauty. It’s somewhat more than a collection of fashionable frocks. The late Mr McQueen was a pure artist, without a doubt, but also a very popular one – a kind of rock star designer. He managed to convert oddness and incongruity into mass-market glamour (see also Lady Gaga). In this exhibition, his short life’s productivity and range of invention leaves one dizzy, particularly in the room that becomes a gigantic Cabinet of Curiosities, with compartments spiralling upwards until the exhibits are out of sight. There’s screens, lighting effects, theatricality, lots of nods to animals and horror films, a room in mock-catacomb décor, and spooky mannequins with gimp masks and horns. It’s at turns beautiful, bizarre, frightening, and, like a lot of posthumous celebrations, life-enhancing.

Heather M is a member of the V&A, which means we can take tea in the member’s café. This is tucked away in the glassware gallery on the fourth floor. I never get tired of the way one has to access it behind a mirrored door.

* * *

Afternoon: at the London Library and British Library, researching my essay on American post-9/11 anxieties. I read some essays on capitalist symbolism in the 2008 Batman film The Dark Knight. It can be argued that Heath Ledger’s Joker is zero-hours capitalism taken to an extreme: he kills off his own henchmen as soon as they’ve completed their task in hand. Then he sets fire to all the money they’ve helped him steal, in a huge, blazing pyre of dollar bills.

Other essays read the film as an allegory for the War On Terrorism, but I prefer the capitalism-allowed-to-go-mad reading. I suddenly thought of Shelley’s apocalyptic poem The Mask of Anarchy, written in response to the Peterloo massacre of 16 August 1819. An old, old story: a political protest leads to government violence upon crowds, with the result that new laws are rushed in to tackle the scapegoat of ‘anarchists’. Shelley’s point is that the government are the real ‘masked’ anarchists.

So I’ve decided to link this to mask imagery in 9/11 texts, such as in the aforementioned Batman film, in Art Spiegelman’s graphic novel In The Shadow of No Towers, and in Mohsin Hamid’s novel The Reluctant Fundamentalists. I’m also bringing in Native American ‘trickster’ mythology and a story by Henry James that describes the first NYC skyscrapers as having ‘sinister masks’ (in his American Scene of 1907, James really hates skyscrapers). Today I find a quote by Ralph Ellison on identity – ‘America is a land of masking jokers’. You can imagine how smug I felt after that.

* * *

Evening: to the Queen’s Head in Acton Street, Kings Cross. A birthday gathering for Ms Shanthi S. My anxiety levels are over the top already, what with the ever-approaching deadlines for college. Tonight there’s the double worry of having to arrive to join a group by oneself – I always feel a torrent of awkwardness when I do that – made worse by realising the birthday table is full up. But after an interval of getting in the way of the ladies loos, eventually the table is moved to allow more space for chairs. I squeeze in, have a glass of rosé, and calm down.

One of Ms S’s friends at the table is Bill Drummond. He was one of the men behind the 90s hit band The KLF, who went on to did Situationist-style art-pranks with all the money they made. One such project was the simple burning of a million pounds in cash, and filming themselves doing so.

I don’t manage to speak to Mr Drummond. It seems rude to go up to him purely to ask one question, the one which immediately occurs: did he see the cash-burning scene in The Dark Knight and think, ‘been there, done that’?

Mr D is speaking to a man who apparently is an advisor to the Labour Party’s business spokesman. Jokes about the burning of cash write themselves.

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