Pictures Of Gig Tickets Sell Flats

Saturday 13th December 2014. Browsing in Waterstones again. I pick up a book called Working On My Novel. It’s a Penguin paperback, by the conceptual artist Cory Archangel. Or rather it’s curated by him, as the entire book is a collection of tweets by other people, culled from the internet. All of them contain the phrase ‘working on my novel’, making the book essentially a printed-out Twitter search. The reader can draw their own conclusions: proof of mass procrastination, proof of hubris, proof of hope, proof of the universal urge to create.

One of the scenes in a novel I’d been tinkering with, ironically, was to feature an art gallery installation based on a live Twitter search. The searched-for phrase in this case was ‘is it just me or’. This would be displayed on screens around the gallery every time someone somewhere typed those words into Twitter (which in real life tends to be every few seconds). All these collected expressions of the fear of being unusual were then going to be converted in an energy source – powering the gallery lights, say. It was a comment on how the need to join in is both powerful and infinite. Seems too close to the Cory Archangel book now, so I’ve cut it.

‘Art isn’t easy’, goes the song in Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park With George. But it’s even harder to make up fictional art, which doesn’t look corny or (as in this case) accidentally too close to someone else’s idea. As it is, by typing out my idea into this diary entry, I’ve scratched the itch and can ‘move on’, to quote another song from Sunday.

* * *

I walk through Kilburn. Close to Kilburn Park station, on Cambridge Avenue, there’s a new block of flats in the process of completion. At street level is the usual parade of hoardings announcing the project. Only these are unusual. The property developers have put together a display celebrating the cultural heritage of Kilburn. There’s quotes by Zadie Smith and Bradley Wiggins – locals who did well – plus a photo of a nearby blue plaque of George Orwell, who wrote Animal Farm in the area. The blue plaque photo is thus a sign commemorating another commemorative sign, which makes me feel giddy.

There’s also some blown-up reproductions of rock concert tickets, all at the National Ballroom venue, which used to be nearby. One is for the Wedding Present in November 1990 – a gig I attended myself. Another is for Sonic Youth and Mudhoney in 1989. I was there too. I remember the first band on the bill was the all-female Ut, who managed to be even louder than the headliners. Ephemera of my gig-going indie rock teens, these tickets are now used to sell something else: duplex apartments at £665,000 a piece. The developers have also added punning slogans: ‘Top of the Blocks’, ‘Now That’s What I Call Living’. Most of the flats have already been sold.

Then I see a more unofficial advert, pasted over the glossy board. It’s a handwritten paper sticker. ‘Daniela, 22’, followed by a mobile number. Another sign, of a sign.

* * *

Evening: to the Natural History Museum ice rink. I’m there to meet some fellow Birkbeck students and mark Jasmine B’s birthday, with drinks and skating. Or rather, I watch the others skate from the bar balcony, along with J. Jasmine can’t skate either, but this doesn’t stop her in the slightest – she holds the hands of others and goes round the rink with them. Colin turns out to be the son of a figure skater, and is rather more confident on the artificial ice. The sessions last 50 minutes a go. One of the others in our party complains that the rink is too busy – but even more people flood out when the next session starts. I look up at the animal-shaped gargoyles on the NHM building, even more dramatic at night. I muse that someone should really use them in a film, a la the Chrysler Building in Ghostbusters. This idle thought turns out to be satisfied a mere two days later, when I see the Paddington film. There, Hugh Bonneville scales the outside of the Museum to rescue the duffle-coated bear (or rather, his stunt double does).

J tells me about his time sleeping rough in London. There were moments of bleak comedy: while sleeping on the National Gallery steps one winter, he discovered – the hard way – that the first parts of the body to freeze are the genitals. So he had to cup his hands in that area to keep them warm. A passing woman saw this, at which he had to hastily assure her that what he was doing was not what it might appear. She gave him £10.

He also tells me of the time he was mugged at knifepoint – for his blanket. And how some hostels could be more frightening than sleeping out, because there’d be sleepers who would turn aggressive and threatening to the others when the staff’s backs were turned. Giving a sandwich is often preferable to giving money, he says, though not if – as was once the case with him – it’s a half-finished supermarket sandwich that’s been dunked in coffee. ‘To warm it up – there you go, mate.’

* * *

Sunday 14th December 2014. Today, J is not only housed but is able to buy me drinks in bars. And he books cinema tickets, though I reimburse him for mine. We go to see The Hobbit – The Battle Of The Five Armies at Tottenham Court Road Odeon (an acceptable £7.50, after student discount). Martin Freeman cuts through all the swooping special effects with his naturalistic, unshowy performance. The perfect everyman. The finishing off of Smaug the dragon upstages the rest of the film, whose battle scenes resemble The Lord Of The Rings films much more than Tolkein’s Hobbit novel. But then, Peter Jackson was asked for so many years to make The Hobbit in the same style. And now he’s done so. It may not surprise but it satisfies – and it makes me want to re-watch LOTR all over again.

Monday 15th December 2014. To the Phoenix in East Finchley, to see the Paddington movie (£5 matinee). A good balance of children and adults in the audience: not too many children to make me feel out of place, and  enough to laugh along audibly, proving the film is pleasing the right people. The trailers misled me into thinking it was another formulaic CGI spectacle, all noise and lack of charm. In fact it’s charming to the hilt, and reminds me of One Of Our Dinosaurs Is Missing, the 1970s Disney film, which also has Natural History Museum escapades. Paddington’s slapstick is in keeping with Michael Bond’s books: I’d forgotten how the bear always got into chaotic situations from the off. Everyone who isn’t in The Hobbit  is in it, too: Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Matt Lucas, and some of the Horrible Histories cast. Which makes perfect sense: like Horrible Histories it manages to please adults along with the children. There’s a camp joke early on when the jungle explorer is naming Paddington’s parents: ‘the female after my mother, and the male after an exotic boxer I once met in Hyde Park’. I’m the only one in the cinema who laughs at this, and that’s as it should be.

* * *

Thursday 18th December 2014. To UCL hospital in Euston for some minor surgery. Varicose veins; my right leg this time, and my first time under local anaesthetic. It’s a procedure where the dead vein is sealed shut via heating it from the inside, though they still have make cuts and ties at either end. The operation has its painful moments, but no more so than a trip to the dentists. I have to keep the leg dry and unwashed for the next seven days. This means that Christmas Day will see me unwrapping my own leg as a present.

My dislike of flannel washes leads me to purchase a rubber limb-protecting sleeve at Boots. It’s specifically designed so I can shower as usual without getting the leg wet. Unfortunately, it is only when I get home and am putting my foot into the wretched thing that I realise I’ve bought the wrong one. The box says ‘ARM’ in huge letters, yet this information was clearly lost on me. I had been forcing my toe into the thumb of a giant rubber mitten. Some days I shouldn’t be let out in public, frankly.

* * *

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Waking With Anita

I’ve written a piece in the New Escapologist, issue #8. It’s about Fun. The issue is available now: you can click here to buy it.


Christmas and New Year exploits: a lot of essay writing, or essay avoiding. But I still managed to do the following.

Christmas Day 2012: Fed the ducks in Waterlow Park once again (every year since 2001, I think). With Ms Silke once again too, though this year she’s moved. No longer in Highgate but Holloway, and she walked all the way to Highgate and back to do the duck feeding with me. We stood by the pond and drank mulled wine from a flask and ate chocolate reindeer, which looked suspiciously like Easter bunnies in a different foil wrapper. Ms S is still working at Archway Video, but it now looks likely that it’ll close for good sometime in 2013. Physical DVD libraries are struggling in the era of iPads, Netflix, TV catch-up services, iTunes and so on. A lot of Highgate customers have sensed this might be AV’s last Christmas, and have sent the shop a record number of Christmas cards this year. After we fed the ducks, Silke opened up the shop and showed me them all, including a card from Ray Davies of the Kinks. She lent me three DVDs: Cabin in the Woods (because I like Joss Whedon), Die Hard (because it’s apparently a good Christmas film), and Five Year Engagement (because I like Emily Blunt and romcoms).

Saw two of the three. Die Hard isn’t really my cup of tea, and isn’t that Christmassy really. But I’m glad I finally saw it, just in case I turned out to be an action movie fan on the sly. Alan Rickman steals the show, purring his way through the gunfire.

Cabin In The Woods: Loved its quips & sheer nerve. Much closer to Buffy (which I love). Pure Joss Whedon in tone, even though he only co-wrote it. Plays with the idea of cheating the audience out of the ending they think they want. Clever, cheeky, self-aware.

Boxing Day: Lavish meal and drinks in Crouch End courtesy Suzi Livingstone. Chatted to Anna Spivack and Suzi’s New Zealand friend Dianne. Discussion about NZ music: Headless Chickens, Chris Knox. Argument over whether Crowded House count as a New Zealand or an Australia band. ‘Well, the talented ones were from New Zealand…’

Thurs December 27th: To the Stapleton Tavern near Crouch Hill for Alex Sarll’s birthday. Dozens of people there. I ended up promising to attend the Joanne Joanne gig the next day, at least three of whom were at this gathering (Charley Stone the guitarist, Jo Bevan the singer, Other Jo whom I don’t know but who is an excellent bassist). Joanne Joanne is an all-female band who only play Duran Duran songs – but mainly their lesser known, more interesting songs. ‘Because the real Duran Duran are forced to do all the hits.’ I love that the name isn’t just a pun; there really are two Joannes in Joanne Joanne.

Friday 28th: Joanne Joanne at the Lexington: brilliant, particularly on ‘Hold  Back The Rain’, ‘The Chauffeur’ and ‘Planet Earth’. Chatted to Deb Googe of MBV, who says the new My Bloody Valentine album might really, actually, really, no honestly, come back, be released in 2013. Also spoke to Kirsten, Lea Andrews, Katharine Gifford, Kevin Reinhardt, many others. Hung around with Sophia Wyeth as she DJ’d downstairs till chucking out time. Drank  too much and probably annoyed people. Woke up the next day with the amnesia and paranoia of such indulgence. Realised I was sharing the bed with an old Anita Brookner novel, which I don’t remember acquiring.

Other people wake up after a drunken night out having somehow gained a traffic cone or a torn poster from a wall or indeed a person. I emerge with an old Anita Brookner novel.

It’s very good, though: Lewis Percy.

Sat 29th: DJ-d at the Coronet in the Elephant & Castle for the Last Tuesday Society. Was still very hungover from the night before, and didn’t stay long after finishing at midnight. Think they enjoyed my DJ-ing. Had a few drinks by way of hair of the dog, but resolved to take a break after this night.

Monday 31st: Met Laurence Hughes for tea at Forks, on the other side of Highgate hill. Very nice sofas, hand made mince pies, cheap pots of tea. Watched the Jools Hootenanny to see my brother Tom playing guitar with Adam Ant’s band: so very proud of him.

Tuesday 1st: Dinner with Ella Lucas in the Turkish bistro – Bistro Laz – on West Hill. Just what I needed: was going a bit mad with all the essay worry.

Since then, it’s been essay work, or feeling ill (third cold in two months, varicose vein pains), or putting off essay work then making myself even more ill when I realise how behind I am. Thankfully today was productive purely down to making myself a timetable with reasonable goals in each session, then sticking to that.

A wish for 2013? I’d like it to be the year when I finally feel like I’m ‘right’ in my life. (to which a friend said, ‘That’s how everyone feels!’) The college course is great, but it’s not meant to be my whole life. I need to do more – and I want to do more. The trick is to timetable it all. Like this: I wrote ‘9.30-10.30pm: diary catch-up’, and here it is. Seems so silly.

Have promised to lay off alcohol for a couple of months. Teetotal since December 31st and counting.

(Sorry that this is too long. Not sorry that I got it done…)

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Back To Bloomsbury

Monday 8 Oct 2012. My left leg is playing up; the varicose veins are back.  I’ve had two operations on the laughable limb over the last fifteen years, stripping out the unsightly noodles, first by knife then by laser. But the things do tend to return and this time I may have to just live with them. I understand the NHS doesn’t do the operation any more unless it’s life-threatening. Still, a surgical stocking can alleviate the aches, so this morning I dig mine out and put it on. Its colour is an optimistic tan. Given my other leg is as pale as the tenant of a tomb (as Poe put it), my legs together resemble a novelty biscuit. It’s just as well I never wear shorts.

Tonight: to Gordon Square for the first proper class of the second year in my English BA. Monday evenings are now ‘Aspects of Medieval and Renaissance Literature’, Tuesdays are ‘The Novel’, while Wednesdays are ‘Narratives Of The Body’, being a deliciously varied module from the Humanities department. The first texts we’re studying are, respectively, Mr Chaucer’s poem Troilus and Criseyde (c. 1380), Ms Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), and Mr Lang’s film Metropolis (1927). The spice of life, indeed.


I’m currently helping Suzette Field of the Last Tuesday Society spread the word about her new book, A Curious Invitation. It’s a detailed look at the greatest parties in literature, my own suggestion to her being the flying party in Douglas Adams’s Life, The Universe and Everything. I was delighted to discover she’d included it in her final selection.

It’s probably the first – and last – book to discuss Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake alongside Jackie Collins’s Hollywood Wives. Something of a genre-spanning feast for booklovers, it’s out in Picador this month, and naturally I highly recommend it. There’s a website all about it at

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Fridge Madness

Quick announcement. Dedalus Books is once more applying for funding. They’re going to use their petition from last year as evidence of support, so please sign it now if you didn’t do so last time:


Sat 11th Oct: With Anna Spivack to see the new play of Prick Up Your Ears. It’s based directly on the Orton diaries and John Lahr’s biography rather than the Alan Bennett 80s film. Matt Lucas as Kenneth Halliwell and Gwen Taylor as the landlady and neighbour.

Gwen Taylor for me will always be her characters in The Rutles: manager Leggy Mountbatten’s mother (‘He hated their music. But he liked their trousers’) and Chastity, the nazi-uniform-wearing Yoko Ono figure (‘a simple German girl whose father had invented World War Two’)

Despite allocating over an hour to get into town via the 91 bus, we end up gridlocked in Bloomsbury and have to race through crowded Soho, arriving at the Comedy Theatre in Panton Street just in time for curtain up.

We needn’t have bothered. The ushers and box office staff are standing outside, telling people the performance is cancelled and handing out details of how to get refunds. Matt Lucas is still out of the show due to his ex-husband’s suicide, which we were prepared for, but his understudy is off sick too. The understudy doesn’t have an understudy, so the play’s off.

We have a couple of drinks at 23 Romilly Street (where many of the old Colony Room regulars now go), before repairing for a bottle of wine at Anna’s flat in Archway rather than hit any clubs or further bars. One of the few ways I’m growing up, I suppose.  More restaurants and quiet dinner parties,  fewer loud clubs and gigs.

So sad about Matt Lucas’s ex-husband killing himself like that. I can understand Mr L pulling out of any play, let alone one about a doomed gay relationship where the non-famous one commits suicide. The tabloids have responded with predictable drool, flagging the word ‘husband’ in the headlines with smug inverted commas. One 21st century twist: the suicide note posted on Facebook.


Three weeks since varicose vein surgery. The bruises have faded okay, but am concerned about residual patches of numbness above my ankle. According to the literature, these could fade in 2 weeks, or 2 months, or 2 years, or in some cases not at all. I suppose given the choice between recurring pain (which prompted me asking for the optional operation), and permanent numbness, I’ll settle for the latter.  But I’d rather the numbness would go. And soon, please. Prodding the space above my ankle, I think of cold rubber. The type lining car doors. And the stuff used to make those thin mats in school gyms.

Other diary wishes: I really want the ability to write a decent amount every day, (as opposed to a habit for Olympic procrastination) but also the ability to just write and read faster. When I finally sit down and do it, I take far too long. I envy those people who speed through 800 page books in single sittings. I want to be one of those. I don’t mind having to do umpteen drafts – as long as they’re fast drafts.


Current madness: a fixation with the creaking and popping noises made by the casing of my fridge expanding and contracting when the motor is off. A bedsit hazard: I have to sleep and work in the same room. The fridge is only 2 years old. Did it always make those noises? Were the noises always that loud and frequent and distracting? Is it just me?

Other news: am back in therapy. Friday mornings, NHS so no fee, 90 minute sessions for six months. Have mixed feelings about whether I need them. But they were offered (after a year on the waiting list), and I’m clearly in need of something.

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Surgery As Nostalgia

To the ICA to see Spearmint play a special gig: a 10th anniversary performance of their album ‘A Week Away’. It’s the record they were promoting when they employed me as guitarist in 1999.

They send me a nicely written (if fairly formal) invite and put me on the guest list. Given I was sacked from the band, I briefly wonder if turning up would make me look like a cuckolded booby. But then I recognise such thoughts as childish vanity of the worst kind. The grown-up option is to be thankful for the invite and to turn up graciously. It’s childish to make an appearance when one hasn‘t been invited, or to deliberately refuse when one has. And besides, I’ve already been to two weddings of former exes this year.

(Since writing this, I’ve remembered that I saw Spearmint a couple of years ago anyway, when they played with Scarlet’s Well at the 100 Club. Both bands had hired and fired me as a guitarist in the past. It felt like attending a festival dedicated to my failure as a musician. But I’m glad I went. I joined both bands because I was a fan, and I remain a fan.)

Surgical symmetry: I have a vivid memory from the Spearmint days of rehearsing while recovering from an operation on my left leg. I can see a rehearsal room in Acton, me strumming away while sitting down, the boyish Spearmint bassist (and later guitarist) James Parsons reminding me to stop crossing my legs as per doctor’s orders.

Ten years later, the ailment returns (varicose veins, same leg, different vein, apparently quite common), and on Sept 18th 2009 at UCLH in Euston I have the operation all over again. A decade ago it was ‘stripping’ out the useless vein under the knife, leaving me in a Tubigrip bandage for weeks. This time it’s a combination of ‘laser ablation and multiple stab avulsions’, still requiring the dreaded general anaesthetic, but without the bandage. I just have to suffer dissolvable stitches and a surgical stocking worn for 3 weeks.

(Naturally, the day after I have it done, I read on the BBC News site that a different London NHS hospital does a while-you-wait, 15 minute, non-anaesthetic, all-laser version of the operation. The latest surgery, the latest Ipod, all weapons in the conspiracy of feeling eternally out of date whatever one does.)

So I attend this tenth anniversary gig while wearing a tenth-anniversary medical stocking – a shade of camel tan labelled on the box as ‘Mexico’. Given I already favour the sort of silk scarves worn by old ladies, it’s all grist to the camp fogey mill.

Musing on ageing at gigs like this is inevitable, particularly as the album in question dwells on death (dedicated to their first bassist, who died before it came out) wasting time (‘A Third Of My Life’ proving particularly poignant), and of artists and bands who never quite made it (‘Sweeping The Nation’).

After years of being quite tousled and curly, James P has had his hair cut to match his photo on the album sleeve a decade ago – ‘a Hoxton fin’ as it was. And he really does look exactly the same.  Singer Shirley Lee is still skinny as a rake (shaking his enviable hips in ‘A Trip Into Space’). The gig also has a school reunion feel about it, with people I’ve not seen for ten years saying hello. Naturally they ask what I’m doing now. And I look at my shoes and try to think what the answer is.

Another old problem of mine recurs tonight. My body clock’s out of whack and I decide to go to bed during the afternoon rather than turn up at the gig with wilting eyelids. The alarm fails and I’m woken at 8pm by Charlie M. She’s in the ICA waiting for me, I’m still in bed in Highgate. A speedy dress and a Tube ride later, Ms M is very forgiving. But I’m mortified and angry at myself. I’ve spent too much of my life not just sleeping, but sleeping at all the wrong times. I’m hoping this diary entry, the first after yet another hiatus, will finally signify getting back on track. With everything.

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Unknown Pleasures: The Varicose Remix

To Cad & The Dandy in Hanover Square for a second tailored suit: this time for summer wear. Mohair, two button, light navy blue: their recommendation as an alternative to linen. The trouble with linen suits is their tendency to look utterly creased and grubby within minutes. Which I don’t mind so much, but I’m curious about the mohair argument and as a known-suit fancier I think I should own one.

C&D were featured in an article on the summer suit debate in City AM, which a kind colleague on the night shift had put aside for me. The sentiment ‘I saw this and thought of you’ is responsible for about 90% of my wardrobe, and indeed my library.


At the Whittington Hospital’s Imaging Department the other day for an ultrasound on my left leg. A decade after the removal of a large varicose vein, it’s come back to haunt me once more. Dad is apologetic about this, as it’s his family’s hereditary condition. I tell him not to feel bad, that it’s a small price to pay for the privilege of being his son. Being English, I can’t let this statement hover for too long and quickly add, ‘And thanks for the full head of hair.’

So here I am again, back at the Whittington a decade later. I stand on a footstool in my underwear while a lady engineer applies the gel and the plastic thing on a wire and insists I look at the screen. I can’t make out what she’s referring to, and the only comment that springs to mind is ‘Isn’t there a Joy Division sleeve that looks like this?’

She says it’s good news: the new vein is operable after all.

‘You’ll be able to wear shorts again!’ she beams.

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