Cuckold’s Point, Crossrail Place

Saturday 16th May 2015.

Still enjoying my freedom after finishing the degree, while trying not to spend money in doing so. I’m tidying up at home, filing notes in lever-arch folders, then putting the folders away in cupboards. I wonder if I still need to keep quite so many handouts on revising for exams, but keep hold of them anyway. For now. I also make a series of trips this week, to empty my locker in Gordon Square, getting rid of my old set texts.

My copy of Malcolm X’s Autobiography is now in the hands of a young barista, who works in a café on Bedford Way. While paying for my americano, I idly mention I am on my way to Oxfam, and indicate my bag of paperbacks. The barista asks if he could have first dibs. He is delighted to get Malcolm, though he turns his nose up at The Bell Jar.

* * *

Sunday 17th May 2015.

I visit somewhere in London I’d been meaning to go since reading Eastward Ho!, the Jacobean comedy. There’s a scene set at Cuckold’s Point in Rotherhithe, opposite the Isle of Dogs. In the play, Slitgut, a butcher’s apprentice, has to renew the pair of ox horns which sit on the top of a pole there, thus giving the Point its name. One story goes that King John was caught in flagrante with a miller’s wife, and hastily offered the husband the land to one side of the Point, by way of apology. Hence the cuckold’s horns. The tale seems fairly apocryphal, though as transactions over sex scandals go, it’s hardly the strangest.

I take the tube to Canada Water, then a C10 bus to Pageant Steps, the nearest stop to the Point. The wharf is now built-up and lined with a series of pretty, Toytown-esque modern flats in red and cream brickwork. A new stone obelisk marks a break in the estates, with no markings at all. A monument to clean architectural blankness, perhaps. The Thames Path here is a public walkway, though it’s annoyingly broken up by private sections every now and then. There’s a set of old wooden steps leading down to the beach. The tide’s in when I visit, so the water breaks against the steps noisily. I stand and look out over the wall. A sunny, quiet Sunday. Canary Wharf’s monied towers blink warily at me from the other side.

I doubt that the steps are the ones that appear in the eighteenth century painting by Samuel Scott, A Morning, With A View of Cuckold’s Point. But this is Cuckold’s Point all right. The noise of the waves would make it a good spot to record a radio play version of Eastward Ho!

I stop for a drink at the Blacksmiths Arms nearby, a pleasant South London family pub. Then on through the Hilton Docklands Riverside hotel, exploring its covered walkway across the old dry dock. Then I catch the shuttle boat to Canary Wharf (£2.50, ten minutes).

I’m here to see a new part of the Isle of Dogs development that’s just been opened: Crossrail Place. It’s not even on many of the local signs, or even on Google Maps, which still has it down as ‘North Dock’.

As the name suggests, Crossrail Place is built over what will eventually be the Crossrail station for Canary Wharf.  To get there, I walk through the Adams Plaza Bridge, a geometric covered walkway. The main attraction is a long roof garden, designed by Norman Foster, which has an even more futuristic feel than the bridge, albeit one imagined in 1970s films, such as Silent Running and Logan’s Run. There’s a hood-like tesselated roof, with some of its sections open to the air. The plants are chosen to represent the Docklands history of global imports: Japanese maples and magnolias, tea trees, gum trees, lots of ferns.

I visit the new Everyman Canary Wharf cinema, tucked away several floors below, deep inside this latest castle of Lord Foster. A blue-haired woman there recognises me from my sole visit to the Everyman Selfridges screen. That pop-up screen, she tells me, has now been transplanted to this one; scatter cushions and all. ‘It isn’t a pop-up this time. This is indefinite.’

I think about the meaning of Crossrail Place as a name. Something that’s definitely there, named after something that’s not there, not yet. The backwards chronology, of being named after something from the future.

Then I descend into the Canary Wharf underground shopping malls, looking for a way out. Overlit, nearly empty, most of the shops closed on this Sunday evening. I get lost. ‘Ground’, I realise, is not necessarily the ground: the promenade levels linked to the tube stations are underground, so they have minus numbers. When looking for the way out, minus is a plus.

On the third time of repeating my steps, I start to go a little crazy. I look at a shopping map and count up the franchises. The winner is Pret A Manger, with five branches. I have visions of a labyrinth of endless underground Prets, all closed, and me locked in with them. It triggers an existential panic. Pret A L’Etranger! No Exit!

Eventually, I find my way to one of the DLR stations, and take its ghost train up and round and out of there. It’s the words of the blue-haired girl that stay with me: ‘This is indefinite’.

* * *

Tuesday 19th May 2015.

Back to Birkbeck in Bloomsbury, for one of their free Arts Week events. The novelist Deborah Levy gives a talk, ostensibly for the MA Creative Writing students, but it’s opened up to the public. As a result, it’s been moved to one of the larger lecture halls in Torrington Square. Literary events do seem to be bigger than ever. (I wonder if I could give talks on diary writing?)

Ms Levy wears a black velvet dress and speaks beautifully and generously. Her writing covers more genres than I thought: fiction, poetry and scripts for animated films. She begins with a Ballard quote:

‘I believe in the power of the imagination to remake the world, to release the truth within us, to hold back the night, to transcend death, to charm motorways […] I believe in the beauty of all women, in the treachery of their imaginations, so close to my heart’.

The latter line, about the female imagination as treacherous, is Ms Levy’s favourite. (I prefer the bit about charming motorways).

She talks about the changes in writing technologies; how her first novel, Beautiful Mutants (1987) was written using a typewriter and carbon paper. Now she has a range of Macs. The internet has changed the focus on research: it makes us ‘amateur experts in anything’, she says. But she warns that ‘staring at a screen is not staring at the world’. The first line of Swimming Home was inspired by Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

Ms L spent two years reading Freud ‘solidly’, and recommends everyone reads his case studies. Reading Freud for her was ‘like taking acid’.

* * *

Thursday 21st May 2015.

To the Barbican Screen One, for the new Mad Max film, Fury Road. I’m not at all keen on noisy action films, but the word of mouth on this one was intriguing. It’s the highly-wrought aesthetics and design that are its main appeal. They produce a fully realised world, with a very Australian feeling of a sun-scorched, marginalised take on the usual post-apocalyptic frolics (the Brisbane-born director, George Miller, also did the original Max Max films). It’s also reminiscent of the Duran Duran video for ‘Wild Boys’, of Heavy Metal the magazine, heavy metal the music (not least Iron Maiden album sleeves), and of the comic 2000AD in the 1980s, possibly because Brendan McCarthy (a veteran 2000AD writer) is involved. Despite this piling up of 80s influences, it overcomes any nostalgia by adding a very 2015 tone of pro-disabled & pro-feminist anger. Charlize Theron’s one-armed, crop-haired renegade carries the film’s main mission, while the male leads are either noble grunts who get drawn in (Tom Hardy’s Max) or white-skinned lost boys desperate for approval (Nicholas Hoult). I loved it for the same reason as I loved Mr Lurhmann’s Great Gatsby 3D: sheer, consummate design talent.

* * *

Friday 22nd May 2015.

Fashion blogger Danielle Bernstein is profiled in Harper’s Bazaar about the money she earns. She’s 22 and has a million followers on her Instagram account, ‘WeWoreWhat’. She commands ‘from $5,000 – to $15,000’ every time she posts a sponsored photo of some ensemble. Asked about her annual income, she says ‘it’s in the mid-six figures.’

While I wish Ms Bernstein well, it’s hard not to feel depressed how this reflects on my own situation. I’m technically a blogger of some 18 years experience now – most of Ms Bernstein’s lifetime. But I’ve so far failed to command even a minimum wage from it.

Still, I admit it’s not quite the same. I don’t really ‘blog’, I write a diary. I don’t do regular sponsored posts (though if a menswear firm wanted to sponsor me, I might make an exception). I don’t carry pop-up adverts, out of aesthetic choice. I also don’t do Instagram, being more of a wordsmith.

But the key difference is that she’s good at social media, and I feel relatively anti-social. The adage used to be that life was ‘not a popularity contest’, that the socially awkward kids, the quiet kids, the misfits, the bookish types, all had as much to offer as the popular kids, the jocks and the cheerleaders.

Today, social media has changed all that. It validates the cheerleader mentality as a lifelong ideal. Your value as a person is down to your amount of followers, rather than who they might be. The geek has not inherited the world: he’s just used the internet to become a new form of jock. The ‘core’ geeks – the quieter, the less financially driven, the weirder creative types, and anyone who doesn’t see mass popularity as an end – are in danger of being more marginalised than ever.

Still, I have also had some cheering news. A publisher wants to include some of my diary entries in a new anthology – a different one to A London Year. And this time they can afford to pay me. Not a life-changing amount. But it is the first time I’ve been paid in cash to contribute to a book. So I hope for more of that sort of thing.

It’s taken me most of my life to accept that I’ll never be among the cheerleaders. But I also know that I’m not as alone as I thought. And this is why I go on.

* * *

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Propaganda For Compassion

Saturday 13th September 2014. To the Phoenix cinema for Pride. This evening screening is nearly sold out; such is the film’s reputation. It’s been sold as the must-see British film of the moment, and promises something to please everyone. It’s very funny and moving, and that’s just Dominic West’s perm.

Despite the theme of gay activism, the film is very much aimed at the mainstream. I think of Quentin Crisp in the 1970s, grateful that The Naked Civil Servant was a TV film, because a big screen version would, he said, have only been seen by gay men, ‘plus liberals wishing to be seen going into and coming out of the cinema’. Times have changed, and gay people are now more regarded – at least in Britain – as people who happen to be gay, and are finally allowed to have other aspects to their lives as well. So it’s fairer to regard Pride as part of the same genre as Brassed Off, Billy Elliot, The Full Monty and especially Made In Dagenham: gritty tales of British social struggles sweetened with broad laughs and big emotional moments. Pride retells a number of true events from 1984, when a group of gay activists from London got involved in supporting the striking miners in Wales.

The requisite 1980s clothes, hair and pop music are all in place: lots of quiffs, little hats, and blue jeans with turn-ups at the bottom. In fact, looking at young people in London today, that particular trouser statement is starting to, well, turn up again. It’s also heartening to see the Gay’s The Word bookshop in Bloomsbury having a key role in the film – I only hope that people who enjoy Pride realise that the shop is still going strong today.

Inevitably some historical facts are played with: entirely fictional characters interact with those based on real people, while my pedantic side winces at the use of the AIDS ‘Don’t Die of Ignorance’ TV adverts for a scene set in 1984. They didn’t appear till two years later. But when the big emotional moments come, and the music swells on cue, the sense of earning the right to such manipulation is overwhelming. It’s hard to disagree with propaganda, if all that’s being preached is the need for basic compassion.

And there’s nothing like the sound of a packed audience laughing together at funny lines in a film. As the credits go up, this audience applauds.

* * *

Monday 15th September 2014. Advice for writers from Kipling: ‘Drift, wait, and obey.’

* * *

I feel increasingly non-everyman. I wince at non-fiction writing that uses ‘we’ and ‘you’, passing off the writer as some sort of default point of view. I wouldn’t dream of such an assumption. Which is why I can’t do that kind of work.

I don’t write to join in. I write to make sense of my own thoughts, then publish them in the hope they make a connection with the mind of a reader.  I can’t speak for my generation, my class, my gender, my country, my race, my historical era, or even for writers.

From this somewhat self-sabotaging stance, the hope is that what I write might be unique.  The fear is that it might be irrelevant.

* * *

Thursday 18th September 2014. What happiness means. I am sitting on the floor in a corner of a large library (Senate House today), pulling out several books at once and leafing through them on the spot, rather than taking them to a desk. Some are quite old (today it’s a 1950s four volume edition of The Arabian Nights).  No one is bothering me. I am not in anyone’s way. There are no screens or phones about. I think about the people who have turned these pages since the 50s, and those who have walked this floor since the 30s. The silence hangs and comforts.

* * *

Friday 19th September 2014. I wake to the news that the people of Scotland have voted a firm No to independence. I think this is a shame. A Yes result would at least have blown the cobwebs off so many centuries-old situations and systems, and that would have been no bad thing. Still, Mr Cameron has promised all kinds of new governing powers to the Scots by way of a thank you, and the referendum has triggered the start of an ongoing discourse over what nationhood means. What I found particularly uplifting was the huge turnout for voters up in Scotland, particularly amongst the young. I do hope this is the start of a new trend: more people using their vote. Perhaps even Russell Brand – who advocates non-voting – might admit he is wrong about something. That would be a new dawn indeed.

* * *

It’s a warm and sunny day, possibly the dying gasp of summer. Still a few flip-flop wearers about. I go to Camden to see the new Amy Winehouse statue. On the way, I stop off in Camden Square to see the older, more unofficial memorial: the decorated trees near her old house. Fresh messages and little gifts are still tied to the trunks, just as they’ve been since she died three years ago. One offering is a silver eyelash curler. A girl from Paris has included photos of herself in her laminated letter, dated a few weeks ago: her hair and make-up clearly emulating Ms Winehouse’s. ‘Amy Winehouse We Love You’ is scrawled over a nearby council sign, battling with the printed phrase ‘Clean Up After Your Dog’. As I walk on, I realise I’ve trodden in some dog shit.

It takes me fifteen minutes to walk to Camden Town proper. Here people from all over the world can be seen united in a single activity: eating cheap noodles from tinfoil tubs. The generations come and go, but Camden’s t-shirt stalls are clocks to consult for the pop culture of the day. Today I spot a t-shirt for Breaking Bad.

I find the Winehouse statue in Staples Market. It’s on a semi-circular sunken dais behind the Proud Camden building. This dais in turn juts over the lower ground level, so the statue looks like she’s performing onstage. The figure is close to the ground rather than on a plinth, and as she is more or less life-size she has a Madame Tussaud’s quality. More tourist attraction than memorial. You can put your arm around her, should you wish. In fact, I’m guessing this is the intention. And yet the tourists I see around me today seem hesitant to get too near. They take photos, but do not include themselves in the shot. I wonder if this is because it’s so new (installed September 14th), or if they feel too self-conscious, what with it being so conspicuous and public. Still, there’s some tidy bouquets at her feet, and with a letter of love from someone in Barcelona. The stature is grey except for a red rose in her beehive hairdo. The rose turns out to be real; it’s up to others to replace it. She would have been 31 this week.

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Alan Bennett’s Greatest Hits

Saturday May 4th: With Mum to the Duchess Theatre off Aldwych to see the new Alan Bennett memoir show, Untold Stories, featuring Alex Jennings playing Bennett. First half is Hymn, a monologue from 2001, written to accompany music performed by a live string quartet (who are quite brilliant). Second half is Cocktail Sticks, a brand new collection of dramatised reminisces about his parents, acted out by Jennings with a small cast. Much of the material is hardly ‘untold’ – the bit about finding an unused tube of cocktail sticks in his mother’s old home dates back to at least the early 80s, when he talked about it on The South Bank Show (something I found online recently). In fact the piece is like an Alan Bennett Greatest Hits gig, with lots of quotes from older work, like the line about his parents finally discovering an alcoholic drink that they like – ‘bitter lemon’. But I think he’s never dramatised this material before – it just feels like he has. And he is meant to be a playwright first and foremost, so it makes sense to finally get such lines into the context of a staged narrative.

Quentin Crisp quoted himself all the time, to the point where the answers he gave in interviews were like picking from a set of cue cards. Wilde did it too, reusing at least one quip from Dorian Gray in Importance of Being Earnest (the one about a widow’s hair turning gold with grief). If it’s a good answer, why not keep giving it? Everything is brand new to someone. Like Judith Butler says about gender, information of worth needs to be repeated or risk erasure. Records can be kept, but they still need to be read.

In fact, that’s what happened to Mrs Thatcher’s ‘the lady is not for turning’ quote, which was bandied about on her death the other week. The point of it was that it was a pun on the Christopher Fry play The Lady’s Not For Burning. But the longevity of the Thatcher quote has eclipsed mainstream awareness of the Fry play, so now it looks like Thatcher (or rather her script writer) coined the euphonious phrase from scratch. As it is, she didn’t even get the Fry reference herself. It’s clear from the way she puts the wrong emphasis on ‘not’.

It’s difficult to mourn politicians who didn’t even get the jokes they had someone else write for them.


In the BA English course I’m doing at Birkbeck, the proper classes for the second year have ended, and I’m now in the exam revision period; the exams are on May 20th and 22nd. One on Chaucer and Renaissance plays, one on the history of the novel. But I’m also rushing to get the last essay of the year – on the acquiring of masculinity in Middlesex and Boys Don’t Cry -finished over the next two or three days. Get it done and delivered and then… on with the revision.

I keep forgetting how irksome I find the editing part of writing. Today I finished the first draft of the essay, which came in at 4500 words. The essay word count is 3500 words. The trick with the subsequent drafts (I always force myself to do five rewrites) is to hope that the bits I cut out don’t leave the tutor writing feedback comments along the lines of ‘You needed to say more about this’. To which the answer is, ‘But I did say more! The word count wouldn’t let me…’

All finished writing is just edited highlights of what one really wanted to say.

The fear is that the real highlights are in the bits one has edited out.

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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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Going For It

My 2011 gets off to a shaky, wary sort of start, to which this late entry pays witness. Still, I’m feeling more hopeful about life than I have done in months. One simple physical act is doing wonders – I air my room every morning. On top of the instant rush of fresh air, there’s the pleasing symbolism of opening a window at the start of a new day. Works better for me than tablets, anyway.

December 30th and 31st: I DJ for the Last Tuesday Society once again. With typical LTS perversity, the event on the 30th under the arches at London Bridge is about ten times the size of the one on New Year’s Eve, with nude people painted gold languishing on banqueting tables, chocolate fountains, orchestras and so on. The latter is a relatively modest do in a restaurant in Bishopsgate. I see in the New Year with LTS types David Piper, Wynd & Suzette. Empty bottles of Bollinger litter the all-night tube home.

I am paid in art: framed drawings by Stephen Tennant. Very lovely and Cocteau-esque they are too. Little pieces of the Bright Young Things on my wall. I look at them and think of the things the hand that drew them did – all those parties, Tennant living the life that inspired characters in Waugh and Mitford. One drawing is on Wilsford Manor notepaper, as in the tastefully crumbling mansion in Salisbury where Tennant spent his later years, mostly in bed. From your mansion to my bedsit, dear Stephen. I’ll look after them.

(More on Stephen Tennant’s effects in this blog by Graham Ward)

On January 1st I cope with a tiresome cliche of an hangover by walking all the way from Highgate to Soho, via Regent’s Park. A gin and tonic in the Coach & Horses and I feel so much better. Memo to self:  hair of the dog works so much better than any attempt to ‘detox’. The pub has just opened when I get there, so while I sit at the bar and sip it’s just me and the ghost of Jeffrey Bernard, there on New Year’s Day 2011, in the middle of the metropolis, silent and serene. But not sober.

My resolution for the year is one I’m sure the Government, the world and I will all be happy with. I resolve to do my utmost to get off the dole and earn a living, this time from freelance work.

Now, I’m all too aware what a ludicrously competitive area this is, and how hard it is to make a living. So I promise to really, properly work at it. Writing arts articles, doing reviews of films & music, delivering talks, popping up on radio & TV – all things I have been paid for before, after all. I’ll also seek out this kind of work abroad. I keep being told by strangers around the world how I’ve featured in their college essay on flaneurs, dandies, diarists, London eccentrics and so on. And kind Proper Writers have pointed me to websites where magazines in lonely English-speaking corners of the earth are paying £100 a time for half-decent articles and reviews. That would suit me to a tee. I can’t do the Everyman style of writing (all those ‘we’s and ‘you’s bandied about like I’m an example of an average, in-touch human being) and have no wish to. But I can do the opposite thing rather well. The Not So Everyman. I just need to find the right place for it. The right place for being professionally out of place. I know I’m fairly good at stringing together connections from diverse worlds, and I always strive to come up with something vaguely original, rather than duplicating what people can get elsewhere.

All I need to earn to get off the dole is £175 weekly. I’m going to contact at least one editor a day until I get somewhere.

So here’s to that. Wish me luck.

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Violence Is A Cliche

This morning: I write a little article for Green Wedge, wondering why today’s newspapers not only choose to misrepresent the student protests with a cliched window-smashing image, but also why they all plump for the same photograph. I name nine newspapers, but later discover there’s a tenth culprit: the newly launched “i” newspaper. Ten different publications rushing to be exactly the same as each other. Or rather, the same as Sky News.


Afternoon: To Waterloo Station with Mum, to see the stage production of The Railway Children. Manages to balance the nostalgia with touches of innovative stagecraft and Arabian Nights-style narrative dialogue.

Rather ingeniously, the show uses Waterloo’s mothballed Eurostar terminus to stage E Nesbit’s classic; last time I was here was for a Fosca trip to Paris in 2001. A real 1870s locomotive and saloon compartment are the stars; the saloon is even the same one used in the 1970 Lionel Jeffries movie. Bernard Cribbins’s part is taken by Marshall Lancaster, aka DC Chris Skelton off Life Is Mars / Ashes To Ashes. He’s rather superb – and there’s a touching photo in the lobby of he and Mr Cribbins together. Sarah Quintrell is equally spot-on in the Jenny Agutter role.

Throughout the show, Waterloo’s normal trains constantly rumble offstage, which would normally be an irritation. Instead, they enhance the show’s site-specific quality, adding to its uniqueness. Such a great idea.

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More Friends Than The Brontes

Back from Gibraltar and Tangier. No more mad little holidays for a while now.


I’m Dj-ing at the Latitude festival once again, as one half of The Beautiful & Damned DJs. This time we’ll be on the Thursday night, in the Film & Music tent. We’re DJ-ing between the acts through the evening, then we’ll take the tent into full club mode till 2 am. If it’s anything like the last time we did the Thursday night, the tent should be packed.

Writing-wise, I’ve contributed a piece to the New Escapologist magazine, issue 2. It’s called The Seven Ages Of Cliche, and appears to be a slightly hysterical rant about, well, whatever’s closest to hand. You can buy it from

I’m also sad about the passing of Plan B magazine, which I wrote bits and pieces for over the last few years. I really should get around to archiving all my Plan B pieces on this site.


Diary catch-up:

Saturday before last: DJ-ing for cash with Miss Red and James L, at a wedding near Steeple Bumpstead in Essex.

The marquee’s set up outside a farmhouse in the middle of the countryside. There’s a fancy dress theme, so although I’m in a tent full of people I do not know, they are all dressed as people I do know. I count about five Fat Elvises. A white-vested Freddie Mercury prances by the canapes, sausages on a stick in one hand, fake microphone on a stick in the other.

The organisers have hired a portable public lavatory from Classical Toilets of Bury St Edmunds, the interiors of which are decked out like luxury hotel washrooms. Classical music is pumped in, and there’s a vase of fresh cut lilies by the aloe vera soap dispensers. I take one of the firm’s business card-sized flyers. It turns out they do a range of four different models, depending on the number of guests catered for.  For some reason, each one is named after a famous writer, rather than a classical composer.

Top of the range, for events of over 350 guests, is The Shakespeare. I can tell from a little diagram on the flyer that the mens’ side of The Shakespeare comprises three urinals, and two cubicles. Next one down is The Dickens: three urinals and two cubicles. Then there’s The Tennyson: two urinals and one cubicle, which is the one hired for this wedding. Finally, if you think your big day is likely to attract only a few dozen guests, you can plump for The Bronte: one cubicle only.

It’s not clear which Bronte they mean, but I have visions of all three sisters having to queue up and wait until the cubicle’s free. Emily runs out of patience and uses the moors.

As I stand there at the urinal, drenched in Vivaldi, I think of Tennyson.

‘Hold thou the good; define it well.’

In Memoriam, indeed.

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The Incredibly Quiet Lives Of Others

I was going to write about the Fosca gig in Berlin. Really, I was. I kept sitting down to write, listing everything that I did on the trip, looking over notes. But then I found I couldn’t gear myself up to properly compose the thing.

And I think I now know why. An awful amount of travel writing bores me rigid. It’s the prose equivalent of holiday snaps. Big deal, you went abroad. Interesting for you, less so for your readers. How did the gig in Berlin go? It was fine. No one died.

No, I feel like a brattish child sulking at having to write ‘What I Did On My Holidays’ on the first day back at school. ‘We went abroad and it was good’. Find your angle, dear child, find your angle!

Trouble is, when you play a gig or act in a show, you often only tend to recall the flaws, the mistakes, and what went wrong. ‘Ah, yes, that was the gig where my guitar’s B string snapped on the fourth song. I was playing it, then it snapped. So I had to put a new one on. I’ve got a ton of stories like that: stick around!’


But of course, now I’ve started writing this at about 2pm on December 21st, with the sun of the Shortest Day already fading at the window, and interesting details are coming to me, and they remind me of further details, and so on.

That’s always been my trouble with writing. Being able to start. And then being able to stop, because writing calls down writing. I’ll have to split the results of this session into easily digestible morsels, or risk getting emails again. ‘You don’t write often enough! And when you do, you write too much!’


So: the venue was a clean, cosy and brightly-lit bar in the former East Berlin. It seemed to have once been a tiny theatre – pre-War, I’d say. But the stage was built for vocal lectures rather than amplified bands: no DI boxes, meaning the keyboards and laptop and mikes had to be plugged straight into the mixer directly to our side.

Apparently the neighbours had threatened to call the police if we got too loud, so our guitar amps had to be turned down to the absolute minimum. During the gig, Charley told me she could hear my electric guitar’s unamplified sound – the scratchy, tinny sound of the plectrum against the strings – far louder than the amp it was plugged into. That’s pretty quiet.

Despite this, the venue owner got on stage halfway through our set and asked us to be even quieter, or the police definitely WOULD be called. I decided against making on-mike jokes involving the word ‘Stasi’. Or indeed referencing ‘The Lives Of Others’ – the recent movie about unkind people in East Berlin listening in on their neighbours. But it did mean I went into a whispered rendition of the Fosca song immediately after this warning, complete with ‘Shh!’ noises and a finger to my lips, to the amusement of the audience.


Other Berlin memories:

– One of Charley’s Berlin friends apparently saying I looked too good to not be on a stage – and that I should play James Bond.

– Suddenly seeing a huge poster of my face as I open the door to the venue toilets (an advert for the gig, using the cover of the single).

– The man on reception at the hotel literally throwing sweets at us as we check out, in a jokingly grumpy way. ‘Here you go! Have your flipping souvenirs of Berlin, now get lost!’ They were little packets of Gummi bears. Which always makes me think of Hedwig And The Angry Inch.

– Seeing traditional German Christmas markets everywhere I look, reminding me how they’re getting more popular in British cities these days, along with ice rinks. The Lufthansa meal on the flight back includes a chocolate Santa.

– The kiosks on Berlin tube station platforms selling novels which seem second hand, alongside softcore porn mags, which I’m hoping are not second hand.

– As ever, the difference in pedestrian crossings. The red and green flashing man in Berlin traffic lights is slightly rotund and wears a hat. Apparently he’s an actual character with a backstory. Presumably involving a lot of standing about, then walking, then standing about again.

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