Time: 2005 Dec 28 11:22:00
Ms W, a pretty and mildly eccentric South African vegan, once accused me of being a ‘vegaquarium’ who lives ‘under a fish-conception’ due to the fact that, while I have not eaten meat since I was fifteen, I have been found eating seafood. The guilt clams me up. I haven't met a South African I dislike, but throw in leather and hens’ eggs and I’m a sketchy vegetarian, to say the least - and have few excuses for that. Even at the height of veggie fervour I suspected that simply avoiding meat wasn’t enough, for I knew that less meat consumption, in itself, couldn’t guarantee one happier animal (nature being the factory, fewer animals would simply be bred. So the alternative that vegetarianism offers animals is equally stark: no existence at all). To do a little more, in the absence of a goat sanctuary in the Pyrenees, I spent frosty mornings preventing entry to Belfast fur shops, and leafleting. The fervour became an effortless lifestyle but, at a Bavarian wedding where even the coleslaw contained bacon ‘specks’, where even the melon came wrapped in thin ham, a smoked salmon morceau
took advantage of me. The surreptitious kipper paved way for halibut, and the game was up. Guilt is no pardon, but as the Bavarian barbeque ushered itself in my gullet, a spectral hand rested on my shoulder and we began a Bergman-esque dialogue:
SP Morrissey “I cannot hail thee, Judas. For this night, Pritt-stuck scrapbooks come to dust.”
Me, eyes flickering “There is human hunger – and none can disregard’t. For hungering makes us.”
SP Morrissey “To imagine, you leapt, a cougar upon my back, behind the Ulster Hall.”
Me “And would do tomorrow.”
SP Morrissey “Nevermore! The weight of thy soul itself looses your earthly lodging.”
Me, pausing “Perhaps the world be cruelty. In keeping occupation, I find a fellow jobless. By speaking, I silence. Perhaps nothing can be done but to learn to smile as we advance knives. The only crime of living, as sure as chips maketh supper, is to serve back the famine of charm we’re offer’d.”
The hand raised, then, and slipp’d from my shoulder, a soft voice fell and gyrated about the Bavarian forest floor. “There is more. Eat, friend. For there be.. evermore..”
Time: 2005 Dec 29 16:52:00
Beside me sit a stack of DVDs that I hired or borrowed to watch over the Christmas break. They are: Kind Hearts and Coronets, The Man In The White Suit, The Ladykillers, The Lavender Hill Mob, Whisky Galore (Ealing Studios), Lilya 4-Ever, A Hole In My Heart (Lukas Moodysson), Goodbye Dragon Inn, What Time Is It There (Tsai Ming-Liang), Wild Strawberries, Persona, Through A Glass Darkly, The Magician, All These Women (Ingmar Bergman), La Regle Du Jour (Jean Renoir), Stereo Future (Hiroyuki Nakano), Branded To Kill, Tokyo Drifter (Seijun Suzuki), and a collection of the early solo, short films of Stan Laurel.
None but the last of these are American, not that I avoid Americana (not while George Kuchar is around) but I watched The Royal Tannenbaums (okay, a little indie-by-numbers) with Doug and an actress chum from Brooklyn and got reminded how the American Dream has been celebrated, portrayed, paraded, betrayed, looked into, behind and under, post-modernised, distressed, appropriated, bought into, sold out, mucked around and sung about; and how so many (non-genre, non-noir) movies are about the social versus the anti-social, the original Unit, the Holy Family. Even critique of the Holy Family has begun to glaze me over, to be honest. Disfunctional, functional, the All American, the anti-American; I’m going so totally, like.. whatever.
“All you need are some very tuned-in ideas people, and a lot of very cheap people. Put them together in one molar unit. Cue Capitalism.” Christmas Eve, the Pride of Spitalfields, discussing BRICs - Brazil, Russia, India, China – with an anthropologist from Singapore. The BRICS will rival America in a generation, we are told – probably in ascending order of might. Will they bring an altogether different flavour to the financial table? (The clue is in the word ‘rival’). Culturally, instead of trying to fit the American model, we might see Brazilian writers with one eye on the Indian market, or Chinese musicians keen to court the Red Square rouble.
Matt has been in New York, where the Empire Square pilot debuted on Christmas Eve*. We’ve oft-discussed ideas and found knowledge about plot and structures – those books that tell you there are only seven plots, or a character must go through hoops a, b or c in that order. They’ll even have chapters on ‘how break the rules’. One US book tells us that while male characters can be laughed ‘at’, an audience hates it when they are asked to laugh ‘at’ a female character, which seemed strange, beyond old-fashioned, considering Dickens, and British situation comedy. And if Deneuve can take it, why does Marge still feel a little kid-gloves functional, while Maud Flanders was actually killed off
in The Simpsons (and it wasn't because she was too funny. Maud had a profound story to tell but, hitched to Ned, it inevitably erred to the tragic). Also, much guidance still encourages the 'three act' theatrical script, while DVD-era cinema is beginning to remind us of a series of computer gaming zones, plateaus.
One of my least favourite phrases in criticism is ‘I just didn’t care emotionally for him/her.’ Who cares? Do you go to the cinema to practice your sympathy or empathy? Do I ‘care’ about the outcome for Bibi Andersson in Persona, or the characters in a Pirandello play? What this criticism really means is – emotional dope is the single guiding ethos here, and I’ve been fed so many recipes from the bible (or software engine) of plot, plot, plot it’s all becoming a blur. Andersson brought a lump to my throat (I said ‘throat’) without plucking at heartstrings, without denounement or epiphany, using nothing but the subtley of range she found as an actress, range that is possibly exchanged for in lesser flicks by the monosodium glutamate of the plot twist.
*Update: this was postponed, the station was nervous about a scene where a kid masturbates whilst reading the bible, especially at Christmas (Empire Square can out-South Park South Park at times, the new series sounds like Mike Diana. Hurrah!)
Subject: Paul Gauguin: “Nevermore O Tahiti” (1897)
Time: 2005 Dec 14 11:32:00
After the skaters, I went to Fauvist heaven, in the attic-like upper floor at the Courtauld Institute. It’s good there, a little pokey, a little ‘private’, compared to other London galleries. I like the Fauves. And there’s an 18th century ‘guardian’ figure, by a Kota-Fang tribesman from Gabon, with a diamond shaped body, his centre ‘akimbo’.
Walking down a floor, I stayed a while and drifted into ‘Nevermore’. I tried not to listen to the guide who came into the room but ended up doing so. “..Charles Darwin.. Polygenesis.. the races were viewed as a pecking order.. white people at the top.. Polynesian women were seen as closer to nature.. available. More available to be used.. used sexually.”
Tahiti was certainly seen as a paradise of sexual generosity, shameless as Eden and easy on the attitude. So the painting might represent an early form of sex tourism, with the notion that pleasure is elsewhere, a postcard from a social burkha where ‘civilised’ women remain untouchable, or the seeking of times when there was nothing ‘indecent’ about nudity (or the fact that she is thirteen). No experienced male I know thinks other ethnicities are ‘easier’, or guarantee fireworks. If anything, the perception has reversed. But some males, one can assume, see prudery at home, even when there is none. So sex tourism remains, often Houellebecqian squirrel-men (‘They’ll be so absorbed by the Caucasian frame they won’t see I’m no oil painting’), men who appreciate the lack of ‘bubbly’ blather, or crusades of screwball stag parties scrapping in the aisles for a discount.
What else is in ‘Nevermore’? - you get the impression it is trying to spell itself out nice and clear. Symbolism. Mapping. Mapping every angle, symbolism ushered in the twentieth century, which could be defined as ‘anti-illusion’, undoing the fakery of painting, by accepting there is a lot more to what we see, then moved towards abandoning the ‘seen’ totally. Symbolism still appeals to people who feel that the future must still lie, somehow, in both: representation hand-holding represented. But old-school symbolism can mean anything – I could spin a yarn about the bird being the anti-sun, a hole in the ozone layer, the coming century - so the results have a shelf-life but can only depict a mood. On the basis that Poe claimed to have written The Raven ‘backwards’, the bird (supposedly in reference Mallarmé, who translated Poe in 1875) may be saying, in waking parlance, the opposite of ‘Nevermore’. ‘Always now’? If dreamworlds are the parallel and opposite of the ‘always now’, the waking state, then the word ‘Nevermore’ may not be a prophecy of impending doom, but simply the clock of the dream, where we check the time, or timelessness.
Why is Tehamana watching the clock? As we do, to ask why it is watching her. We own property, but it also owns us – the first rule of growing up. It looks like an interior scene that has been opened out (the shadow on her upper hip is wrong, and would anyone really position their bed guiltily against the door like that?) To me it doesn’t look post or pre coital, still ‘decent’. She’s kind of the opposite of Gauguin. A white Western male, presumably standing while painting, and she lies in a European-style bed, almost becoming a part of it, just as he is an outsider in her country. Maybe he’s watching a parallel waking clock, where the colonial days are numbered, where whispers of descent can be heard at the front door. Her facial expressiveness implies quiet dignity against the chatter, yet the chatterers are peers, maybe the Parisian art world (“those who always want to know the whys, the because” he wrote, glad to be escaped) which only compounded his own sense of self-interrogation.
Why is it even here? When it comes to beauty, I’m with Picasso, who didn’t believe in it. I’ll see it someday, I’ll glimpse approximates of it, if I’m lucky, but I refuse to let my cock tell me what it is, where the manner of many a sniggering ‘educated’ aesthete is heading. Filtered out by the grandson of a union-bashing Whig yarn-spinner who cried ‘unless people have beauty they are antipathetic to me’, Gauguin exists despite his lily-waving patrons, not because of them.
Obviously the history of art (maybe even history itself) is peppered with male remedies to male hang-ups, but with the present/future as equally female, and better for it. Rights and finance first, but also a deep array of inherited subtleties in the way we think. There’s a world inside why ‘civilised’ girls are ‘hands-off’ for male mindsets, and why they’ll fly across the world to keep it that way. The filters for longevity – what fixates (men), male guilty pleasures (from Botticelli’s Mary Magdalene, painted for a refuge for ex-prostitutes – just the kind of succour abused street urchins need, a stiff in a loin cloth swaddling cherubs - to the hoore-kennels of Toulouse-Lautrec), male terminology and the assumption of what represents the parasol of social consensus or the iconic. If the world, and art, is just beginning to wake up post-feminism, why isn’t it crying with happiness? If the female is no longer another form of territory, why is art still talking about ‘consumerism’, and why, on this great waltzer of new feeling, is modernity still a word for ‘urban spaces’ and vacuum cleaners?
Time: 2005 Dec 06 10:22:00
“It was obvious to me that I was different. Always different. Why didn’t anybody notice me?” This weekend I listened to the transmission of Jann Wenner's seminal 1970 interview with John Lennon. I couldn’t help thinking Lennon was having us on, the entertainer to the end, but all bitter mouth and now with a specifically northern kind of cynicism and destructive self-analysis - Jimmy Porter, Johnny in ‘Naked’, Mark E Smith. Feted and famous, an artist was “..fucking torture” and “If I could be a fucking fisherman I would” and “You have to be a bastard and The Beatles were the biggest bastards on earth.”
In his review of Osborne’s The Entertainer, Kenneth Tynan noted that the tragedy of the entertainer is simultaneously being a ‘peddler of emotional dope’ and, being intelligent, knowing it. How big must the chasm be, you wonder, when you are not only an entertainer but a genius? How else can you defend yourself against sinking into the chasm (“They were screaming so loud, you didn’t even have to play well”) without taking the role of the God-sent, considering yourself over-exceptional simply through your own existence. Deep down, the mothers-in-law’s a very nice person. About six feet down.
“I said ‘You’ve thrown my fucking poetry out’, auntie. And you’ll regret it when I’m famous.. I never forgave her. For not treating me like the fucking genius I was..” The ability to sit back, stop peddling, slip off the path of destiny, can prove hard for The Entertainer. After the love-me-do bobbing around, like wound-steel match girls who can’t believe their luck, yet facing an endless need to grow up, the ‘Fab Fat Myths’ edged closer to musical maturity. There were real flashes of genius, but on the long and winding road, what do you do after that? What is post-maturity? Certainly not the 'Not I' in-fight of Let It Be. “We said ‘Oh Let It Out’. Real shitty condition. Disgusting. I didn’t care. I thought it was good to show people what had happened. This is were we are at. We can’t get it together. We don’t play together any more. Leave us alone.”My mother-in-law said to me “I’ll dance on your grave.” I said, “I hope you do. I’m being buried at sea.”
Leave us alone. Sprites on the shoulder, slaps in the face. It all sounds like a messy start to the end, but Lennon’s post-maturity kept on trucking: molly-coddling the inner child, the wilfully naïve, the primal scream, the abstract art, the performing walrus stressing his status an an artist - black dot on an empty wall of damned interference, everything hollered ‘leave us alone’, entertainment sweating and reaching for Space. Artistically speaking, Lennon ended up a man coming round to our house to tell us that he wanted to be left alone. As many do. Illustrated by videos wherein we poked our nose around his piano. Imagine.The doorbell rang this morning. I opened up, the mother-in-law was on the front step. She said “Can I stay here for a few days?” I said “You sure can.” And shut the door.
Simply entertaining us or not, the ego was overdriving magnificently in the Wenner interview – the assumption of something pre-destined, as if the sun conspired it. Almost monarchical, John Lennon belonged more to us than to him. But - “They all sat there like a fucking jury and judged us.” He’s not wrong, when your inner self becomes bubblewrap for the gap between what you do and people’s interest in it, when you're trying to sell the damned thing in song, when the money is beyond proportion, when you ask who the groupie is fucking and your head feels like a reality tv arena.
In a sense, the entertainer's fame could be the trajectory of someone needing love, then realising that a workable form may never be found without touch (surely both missing link and future). Considering The Entertainer debuted in 1957, Osborne could have been priming us for a late twentieth century set to be over-entertained, pink socks and twang set to undermine an Empire era's concept of competency, and the assumption that British values must be funnelled from the aristocracy. We can’t turn the Sixties freedoms into problems, but we may be surprised what genius survives, long after a lot of cathode glow is exposed as such. And with the Kierkegaard chasm between mind and mouth, we shouldn’t be surprised when the job revolves around a kind of touchless torture.
Subject: Live From The Crucible
Time: 2005 Nov 30 14:00:00
Recently I visited the health clinic, about occasional numbness I get in the ring and small finger of alternate hands. Hyperventilation. A panic attack, the doctor said. It’s come and gone for four months, I said. What happened then? He asked. Um. I thought. The London bombings. My brother-in-law’s funeral. MRSA. Death by hospital, you could say. Ongoing anxiety, he said. I don’t feel anxious, I said. It’s subliminal, he explained. Any agoraphobia? Only on Upper Street. Generally a happy person? Ecstatic. Paranoid? Alert. Often right, though. Are you tempted to self harm? Too lazy. Does suicide ever appeal? Having come this far, I might as well hang out. And so on.
Pot the red An ECG was normal and I went back for the blood test results on Friday. All clear, he said. Ironcredible. A thyroid to die for. Liver? Happy as Larry. The kidneys? Gold standard. Bullet proof. He signed the prescription, recommended meditation, and gave me beta blockers. I don’t want to depend on anything. No no, he explained. Just have one if you’re anxious. Snooker players take them, he said.
Screw back Snooker players take them. If he’s right, this is the first time I’ve had physical symptoms brought on by a frame (of mind). Give me a break. Numbness is in your head, I reminded my head. Are you cue, ball or cushion? Really, I haven’t lived a healthier day-to-day since school, so perhaps we do keep phantom ballast, steering us along in an undertow our conscious minds never witness:
Yellow A Sunday at The Pineapple with the Premiere Amour, who split from a Serbian spouse two years ago, but hasn’t done a divorce paper, despite it all being non-property and child-free. If you make one mistake on the form - you have to start again. It’s a pain. She’ll get around to it when she gets an afternoon. You’re thinking what I’m thinking – her subliminal ballast is longing to rekindle. It’s formed a blind spot that fashions mistakes on the form, on her behalf. It’ll keep her busy, the pen from her fingers.
Green Blind spots like pockets. Pockets for pretty green. Maybe I’ve kept a part of my financial ambitions on hold because a kooky corner of my mental ballast imagines that I should be married first, like I’d question the alliance if I was sitting too pretty, or a family would mean I'm not selfish. Maybe that’s an ornate way of blaming something else. On the basis that divorce is all around and chap-speak can tender ‘Stay the wild rapier, mate’ ‘Marriage? You might as well push your house off a mountain and sling your children at Mars’, maybe I’ve never popped the question because I’m too tight. However, these suppositions contradict.
Brown Paper Bag. Watching in slow motion as you turn to me and say: My love - upon hyperventilation, rebreathing into a paper bag can raise blood carbon dioxide levels, like an evacuee on the steps at Liverpool Street station - you take my breath away. Maybe I’m empathising, guilty that I took the bus rather than the tube that morning. Maybe each bleep of an Oyster card still hails the pearly gates.
Blue I rarely make a Freudian strip. Butt when I do it can often take the forb of spelling masstakes witch my fingers autosuggest to my brian’s Frontal globe. Klein is blue. Not Yves but Melanie, and her ‘depressive position’. Never been depressed, which is debilitating, but may have taken its posture (a mental posture but, still, no metaphor) or found pieces of its masochist armour secretly useful, like slipping into a life-size blind spot. Mel said that this position was a refraction of the death instinct (Thanatos) and comes when a child first engages in the ‘villianization of bad breasts’.
Pink Good breasts. Tits of Life. Nipples to thrash anxiety. Last night, I went to see a band called Tits Of Death but they cancelled. Bad breasts don't beta block. Bad breast bamboozle and befuddle. Within the first year of life, upon realising mater most dear is both the Good and Bad Breast, the subsequent imprint, the guilt at your first error, defines you. The first time you realised something was all in your head, it actually created your head. A big bang of ego, constellations of position and posture.
Black Take me back to the black hills of the blind spot, where I keep forgetting to lock the door because I don't really want to leave. Let me sit, snooker loopy, in a pit of self-freeze and vinegar, with a pack of Thanatos Mediums and six cans of Judge Mortis in a brown paper brassiere. Learn to love the bad breast, before the first fuck-up, pre-me. Tabula rasa. Year Zero. Pol Pot. Calling his kettle a goth.
Subject: Relationship Management
Time: 2005 Nov 24 10:44:00
Straight Down The Middle. I think we need a Customer Relationship Management solution on this blog. CRM sees the Customer not as a handing-off point, but an integrated part of an evolving and iterative Relationship. The middle-ground is everything: suppliers and customers exist to serve the Relationship. Even the products exist to serve this central entity. It’s a paradigm shift that my company is embracing, so I’ll be doing my homework while we’re at it. As Marshall McLuhan said, back in the summer of 1967 “Objects are unobservable. Only relationships among objects are observable.” Bing Crosby came up with the golfing analogy.
So, you and I are in a Relationship, one product of which is this weblog. From the bronze age to snake oil, we’ve said “Here's what I make, now who’ll come buy it? Anyone? You, sir? With the mutton chops.” but new ecologies are free to ask “What are our customer’s requirements and how do we achieve them?” In fact, if we’re in this for the long term, the Relationship is the primary product. The more customers are front-line, the more they lead development, the less they’ll be in the complaints department (read ‘Consequential Guidance’). So in a way, you’ll be writing this. After a time, you’ll be reading it before I write it. Pleased to meet you.
Customer Motivation. Ideally, I should now improve Customer Recognition, and to the point of creating a knowledge base of your Motivations, a semantic mapping of your interests and affiliations. What Benefits do blogs bring, and how can I use my knowledge base to maximise the Benefits to you specifically?
You could be.. heck. Maybe you’re a) a poker loser who just strangled a motel owner outside Fort Worth and you’re watching the parking lot for heat and sitting on your shaking hands. You’ve questioned ‘perfect crime’ chat rooms and now you just want to make a solemn peace with God, thank your mom for everything. It makes sense now. Looking back, the map of error that was your life has been leading up to this horrific focal point. Looking back, death row feels like it was your destination all along. Happenstance links you here. You smile, say C’est la vie. Welcome!
Or maybe you are
b) God, an Olympian goddess, born a mortal fisherwoman or princess, fond of tracing a languid finger across a birdbath oracle, circling her cursor like a victorious chess piece, to delight a tree full of nymphs. Sickened mortals, they squeal. Send them locusts! You reprimand them and remind them that your heart was once muscle-bound. A little part of you will always stroll the azure shores. Yassou!
Maybe you’re c) Terry or Tessa Everychap, entering a thirty-something conservative twilight. You like the kind of clothes that remind you of the clothes you liked when you were fifteen. You like bands who remind you of the bands you liked when you were fifteen. You don’t really trust the look of anything new. It all has a creepy sheen to it. You like what you like, and it’s probably pretty much like when you were fifteen. Back when you had something to say, back when you knew who you were, back when you bloomed, back when you were trying to impress the world more than a declining ego. Occasionally you hear noises, like the click of locusts, just beyond your left ear. Hola!
Or perhaps you’re d) an orphan who watched a friend ladle six pearl angelfish into a rushing drain, and howled out as they span and bobbed around. Now a colourful insomniac, the midnight twitter of a laptop masks a memory that paints your dreams an unforgiving place, where your fingers search an eternal pipe of bathwater and suds, but never far enough. Bienvenu!
Under-Promise, Over-Deliver. Don’t worry, our Relationship will be adequate. It will. It’ll absolutely one hundred percent do the job. It’ll really suffice. You’ll bookmark the address top of the folder labelled “A1 Capable.” But, on average, twenty percent of customers bring eighty percent of business, so I need to recognise and go a visible Extra Mile for a hardcore, then Iterate to help others into that bracket, the cycle of which becomes the beating heart of the Relationship.
The under-promise can also be used to help secure a business ‘Moment Of Truth’ (an encounter where you form a crucial opinion about me). As example, consider the cyber-date. Never ever
say “So, do you want to meet up?” This could be translated as “Do you like me? DO YOU? Speak now, impudent fopsy.” demonstrating a lack of focus on the Relationship, inviting Attrition. A stronger middle-ground can under-promise demand (delivery and demand will merge in the Relationship). “Oh you like art? Do you want to go see Mat Collishaw on Saturday?” This is good focus, gives the customer the chance to offer Remedial Guidance, and avoids Attrition (supply stress). Recognising a supplier’s own Attrition Management Strategy adds a self-fulfilling prophecy to Business Assertion - my ease and confidence makes you confident, it ‘feels right’.
Subject: They Come Over Here And Take Our Post-Rock
Time: 2005 Nov 16 18:20:00
Last night, Mr Mustard announced his intention to get married. One of my oldest friends in London, the first of the gang to hitch. Thing is, it's in Hong Kong, on New Year's Eve, so I'm wondering what I can sell for the flight. Unconnected: I've joined a mentor
scheme, basically one befriends a recent immigrant to the UK to help their assimilation; advice, making sure they have someone non-bureaucratic to contact, introduce them to British culture. "Okay, Borat, this is called 'running around White Heat
chatting up girls young enough to be your daughter
.'" "Um. Okaaay
." "And this is realising that a phantom aspect of yourself wants to straighten their shirt and make sure they are eating properly." "Yes..fine." "The long cold stare into the gents mirror, wondering which bit of your head needs sectioned." "Uh-huh." "And this is waking up with half a falafel in your pocket. A glorious garland to social accomplishment here." "I see
Subject: I’m The Mountain, Come To Me: Sarah Kane’s Cleansed
Time: 2005 Nov 11 14:10:00
"I enjoyed that." Said a friend, who I was sure would hate Sarah Kane's Cleansed
(1998), and curse me for making her miss this week's episode of 'House'. Hell, the nineties loved a boundary-cross. Post-Sensation, Trainspotting and Tarantino, Sarah Kane served five plays, including 'Cleansed', concerning the inmates of a brutal institution run by a doctor who isn't a doctor at all. Cue incest, cue heroin-injected eyeballs, cue torture and sex change under sedation and severed hands, cue men using nudie dancers as mother-confessors and gay sex with tongue-gouged amputees, cue arson, suicidal hanging and excessively loud sound effects. So far so good.
'Cleansed', they say, is dark
even by Kane's standards. 'Cleansed' is dark
by King Herod's standards. Dark? You know, courtesy brownies from the fringe of imagination, stuff to show no-one has bottled or sold out of this art-as-conspiracy. There's no point trying to spot which character represents the misfit, or provides an easy clue as to the state of the society this play is reflecting. Everything is brutal and everyone misfits. There is joy, though, like the impromptu dance scene that recalls 'Bande A Part' or Hal Hartley. There's even some refreshing look-in-the-eyes love-making (sis-on-bruv admittedly, but Grace and Graham seem happy at it).
What something as intense as 'Cleansed' needs, and gets, from The Oxford Stage Company, is a bare look and acting so humane it alone could sweat palms. Up close and intimate, in the Arcola theatre, it's like very talented friends letting off steam, to the point where you feel a need to cross the boundary of the floor. What's missing in empathy is made up for in seduction. Everyone is great, Polly Frame and Garry Collins are tough, sexy and poised as Grace and Graham, and Doctor Tinker is just enough the human garbage you want to punch into a mulcher and spray off a cliff.
Bouquets and a stomach evacuation for Craig Gazey as the paranoid-schizo whipping boy (as good a representation of unrequited self-love as you'll get) forced to eat an entire two trays of Terry's All Gold at fist-point (that's six boxes a week with a matinee on Saturdays). It's one of those drawn out focal moments of the play, where even torture gets tedious but, like Beckett's 'Breath', you'll feel you could watch this finely arrived-at nothingness forever. Turkish Fudgenut Truffle. Chomp chomp squirm, cry. Montelimallow Wallow. Chomp chomp squirm, whine. Cherry Praluccino Delight. Chomp chomp, wretch. If you're anything like me you’ll start laughing, and you’re laughing at the lunatic stretch of time and the paradox of choice.
Behind it all The Author was lurking. Be shocked, it was imploring, shake your head and wonder what the world is at. Fathers, check your daughters. Mothers, watch your sons. Ask yourself who built the clocks above this madness. Perhaps all the boundary-testing is just the sound of umbilical limbo, someone refusing to build art for function, relying on the endless majesty of self expression (the ego, a minor safety value, can over-estimate its own importance, but then that's its job), like the last cry of a century with too much cure and no real malaise. Does the Death of the Author means the death of the work?! Don't believe the hype, it's the only way to start.
I don't know about Kane or her point, but the play did lack a touch of élan. All the harshly subjectified tits and ass, the equally brutal commentary on same, the revolving institutional interiors and mirror-shard lives, all stopped ears and closed eyes, seem a very 'masculine' outlook, and the danger of something society would wish us 'prove' is that winning is more often the over-doing of an approximate. I'm the mountain, come to me; in this you have to fear for queer girls as much as straight men. And while I can't get the spot-lit hurt out of my mind, I also find it hard to recall a single line of 'Cleansed''s shattered monologue (the whole thing is, really) beyond a self-fiddling Doctor Tinker's repetitive "Trust me". In all the wank-shock, torture, chopped flesh and crying for a final solution, it could have been a long time since the mind behind Cleansed made pleasure out of herself and her environment.
Subject: The Pastoral Ratification Of The Maze
Time: 2005 Oct 29 16:23:00
I recently listened to a fascinating BBC radio programme The Politics of Remembrance
, about the future of the Maze prison. Unionist politicians want the whole H Block complex razed in a symbolic moving on, while Republicans prefer a permanent museum to the armed struggle, and tend to see the Unionist requests as an indication of guilt. On balance, I have an issue about anyone becoming defined by struggle, be it the IRA or Poppy Day, am saddened by anyone offering war stories as an inheritance and would happily see the place as fields, more so even than a 'light industrial/leisure village'. Ah, remembering. Worse, of course, is proactively seeking a fight. I hope it's not too glib to say that if you like someone they tend to like you back, and that if you dislike someone they tend to dislike you back. And is there any reason not to extend this cheery logic into the playground of nations?
With this in mind I'm considering a Wipe The Map Off The Earth
campaign. Inspired by the Iranian President's comments, but inspired by the never-ending spooked soap of power politics nursing us into this brave new future. 'Darling, the monkeys are barking at a mirror again.' 'Just ignore them, dearest.' But mainly as some kind of monumental counter-balance to all those clockwork wars, hand-me-down hates that exist mainly, well, because they exist. The stuff that's become schizo-paranoid, that sees issues everywhere, that wants those issues, that secretly feeds on rivalling issues, making burial mound mole hills out of cities and mountains.
Countries are bound by ranges, coasts and rivers, sure enough, but also by races, tribes, and tribes bound by faces, spooks and stories. Just as nothing binds voters like The Enemy, the atlas is as much a history of fear and narcissism as anything. Within any border, a litany of subsumed tongues and cultures, and every despot we can name may have been male, they may been wielding power, but more, much more than this, they have lived by 'difference'. From the racist joke to the royal faux-pas, without difference, what would we be? Without barking at our own outsiderdom, would we know who our friends are? Or foe, depending on which seat you fit over the fences you inherit, the Anthropologist, the Xenophobe. Tags in the same thought process, the hand of the Anthropologist measures to pacify the Xenophobe's fear of the dark, the whispering tongue of the subconscious, where nothing will ever be finished, the cliff's edge report that comes in the night.
Anyway, the Maze contained a struggle that was partly about human rights, partly about unfortunate folk faced with a proto-Victorian twit brigadier world view, in anal-sadistic straighten-the-indigenous mode, and partly about land ownership and self-anthropology, the defending of a tradition for its own sake. It contained men who, fairly understandably, didn't want to live in a state run by arch-Catholic Ireland. It contained a lot of 'if that is what you say I am then that is what I will be'; stark blueprints and lost bark from men who are secretly big softies handed a hard world. It contained a lot of passion that would possibly be far further advanced by now, if it hadn't resorted to the gun. On second thoughts, don't Raze the Maze. Let's count blessings, and celebrate the world's rich 'difference', with a grand theme park featuring fun-zones such as:
The Syrian Copper Switch Waltzer
The concentration camp they call 'Palmyra', or Tadmur Prison, in Syria, would be a fine nomination for the most miserable square mile on earth. Brutality starts breezily at dawn, where pleadings for a doctor are met with a special switch made from four copper cables. Freshmen, arriving blindfolded for the 'welcoming gesture' (four hundred copper how-dos), are piled into dormitories so congested that inmates lie on their sides (psychological disorder, disease and lacerations permitting). Speaking or walking, except to the toilet, earn the troublemaker another couple of hundred copperings. Lunch has been described as a 'reddish liquid', while the cost of a trip to the toilet is a beating and stamping on from ten wardens. This is the better facade of Palmyra for, since its beginnings as a military prison, hundreds of thousands of detainees have been shot in the back of the head, then buried in the sands, by bulldozer.
The Burmese Haunted Hothouse
Many political prisoners are thrown into solitary confinement for more than a decade in Insein Prison, Rangoon. Forgotten greenhouses for 'living vegetables', they emerge senseless and amnesiac, barely-blinking stiffs, or empty, rocking shadows.
The Nairobi Nightshift
With a budget stretching to thirty cents per inmate, breakfast at the Nairobi Prison in Kenya is a hearty bowl of boiled water with flour. An establishment so choked that most prisoners' days are spent squatting on concrete with two hundred fellows in temperatures so high the sweating is strident and constant. Stripped naked in an effort to remain conscious, the day's relief is a pot of overdone vegetables through the odours of human sewage. Inmates look forward to a nightshift where the new or physically weak are traded for sodomy, where the rules of the game are 'rape or be raped'.
Ye Olde Shanty Ships
With unremitting violence representing an 'absolute abandonment of control' by prison authorities, the penal system in Venezuela is potentially the most neglected in the world. Drugged and frustrated in grossly overcrowded facilities, many inmates live in hammocks strung in pipe-access passageways between cells, where they defecate into buckets or onto newspapers, trade drugs, knives, machetes, pistols and even grenades. On average, four of them will meet their deaths each week. In the better establishments, visitors face unnecessary vaginal searches, physical abuse and financial extortion, while the worst have descended into lawless shantytowns surrounded by a wall of machine guns poised to exercise the 'flight law'.
Subject: The Field Commander
Time: 2005 Oct 28 12:08:00
"Never be scared, Melanie."
It has been ten years since the Field Commander passed away. I live a life alone, for the Field Commander and I decided, in a Range Rover, five miles along the coast, one cold night in the winter of 1981, that this world required no further evidence that it was already bearing a surplus, and that we should never contribute. And so, we did our duty, then.
"Yes, Field Commander."
I live alone, in the home that belonged to the Field Commander's family, although I was never fortunate enough to be a part of them. Its name was once Deep Eden, despite finding itself on a cliff top. As they pulled along the drive way, a visitor would be curious about the antebellum styling of the house. The columned veranda might remind of warmer weather, a tobacco and cotton Parthenon. They would be curious about the portraits of the Field Commander's lineage dressing the broad staircase. To explain: when the land values in Virginia plummeted in the early eighteen hundreds, soils having been exhausted by two centuries of farming without rotation, there was an exodus from that state. The Field Commander's people went to America rich, and came back to England unambiguously magnate, unfeasibly flush. Hence those stiff Anglo-Americans in the earliest portraits, hence the black maid, hence the intense eyes of a pretty Chickasaw bride to surprise us further, a look that the Field Commander inherited. Hence tomahawks, hence hides. The staircase series also contains a few unknowns. Should the visitor pause near the top they'd see a dark portrait, reportedly of the Viscountess Pomeroy, though there has been some debate as to whether the grave lady tentatively hugging a delirious-looking spaniel was the Viscountess at all.
For the landing, before he died, I decided to commission a portrait of the Field Commander and myself, where I would be seated on the floor at his feet, in white. I recall asking him what I should wear. Something contemporary? He said that he preferred the traditional. I was unsure which tradition he meant. I compromised with some New Bond Street lace, but seem to recall that he did not even notice. He wore a plump, plum beret, white and grey fatigues and he had his cheeks streaked with burnt cork. "Something for the fjords." I think he said, pointing to the window. "They never got the Arctic Foxes." "They tried." He added, fixed eyes tracing a figure of eight around the carpet. I rested a hand on his shoulder and attempted a smile. "They tried." I agreed, calmly.
"You have a mandate, Melanie." He explained sometime around then. I will often re-imagine the weight of his body settling over mine, and his kisses on my neck. "This is all for a reason." They say that men go into themselves. "One mustn't be scared. Life is a bloody mandate." Diagnosed and facing his own end, the Field Commander went into himself in the same manner he did most things, vigorously and, at times, stupendously. I did not ask why he purchased the combat outfit, nor why he asked me to call him only 'the Field Commander', and the portrait remains very much unfinished - its background, although sketched, is canvas-coloured, colourless. And, in our pastoral camouflage, the visitor can make out little more than two faces.
It's designated spot on the landing remains unfilled, replaced by a plant and pedestal, for upon the Field Commander's passing I immediately saw the work as a morbid curio and, if fit for anything, for the gently informal atmosphere at the rear of the study, between the bookshelves, behind the piano. It remains there, where the two of us have an impressive view through the windows and across the sea.
Very occasionally, never very often, if I am honest, perhaps to spring clean, I will look coldly and with purpose at the portrait. Each time I do, I seem to see it in a more distinct light. An internal, intelligent light, as if something in me turns another notch and settles. I watch my own delighted, curious eyes. Curious at the world, forever curious at the concept of marriage, for I knew that it would never be a dull thing with the Field Commander. Curious about the moment. I see curiosity for the artist too, our capturer, and finally for the viewer, for I was kneeling there for the future, and the future was me alone. I confess that I would love to find a little of the same curiosity these days.
"If you like it, its accurate. If you don't, it's me spoofing around." I remember the artist behind the easel. To be truthful, the tousled, untucked youth reminded me of my only boyfriend prior to the Field Commander. And I see in my representation, besides the curiosity, a swathe of arrogant pride accruing on my lips, for my life before I met the Field Commander was terribly dull. "Little fucker." The Field Commander once called him, quickly tearing up some provincial grammar school polaroids of a teenage hug at a dinner and dance. "One mustn’t be a little fucker, Melanie."
"Be good. A sport. I know you shall."
"Yes, Field Commander."
It is a shame that I live alone, for I believe I am part of a dying breed of women, women who understand what men want. That, more than to feel loved, it is to feel needed. And that to provide this one must find an honest framework, and fill it with a sense of mutual gaming. I don't believe that I ever once played vulnerable or requiring rescue. I did not faint, or fail to confront the politics of the day. I was never needy. And yet, despite this, I know that the Field Commander felt incredibly needed, and therefore fulfilled. I cannot explain that in words. I just know. I saw it in his eyes as he died.
Time: 2005 Oct 28 12:07:00
Six oysters and Irish stew with the Submissive woman. The only date I've ever been nervous about. I was expecting someone fairly brash in person (timidity seemed too predictable) but she was a pleasant, softly-spoken Scot with a big creative imagination. Hippy upbringing, liberal Steiner academy, I got the impression no-one in her life had ever told her what to do (bedtime is so, like, Stalinist
) but, after some 'wild' years (which sounded sanity-saving more than anything else) she now gets off on obeying orders, to reclaim some absent sense of being tended and shaped, perhaps. Fascinating chat about the dom-sub scene, but I resisted further analysis. Conservative (conserving what?), alternative (to what?), progressive (from where?), even our words still suggest that we are convinced of what normality was and remains.
And vodkas with my First Girlf. Mid-reminiscence, she said she remembered me fondly but with a tendency to be 'emotional'. Drunkenly, we hugged but I was lost in a tunnel of nostalgia, to be honest, more than rekindling. No no no, I shook myself. All wrong. Wrong wrong wrong.
And splendidness with Ms Scorsese of New Cross, a jolly friendly jewel of a woman. Not a creative, for a change, but a sporty environmental campaigner with an easy, infectious laugh. Quite boyish in a way, we ended up in bed by the second date. Never realised boyish girls were so.. good. Floored me with a Ju-jitsu hip throw and discussed climate change, which we agreed was louder than bombs, bigger than war and knocks most of our petty points of protest into an ominous shade.
Subject: Sentimental Journey
Time: 2005 Oct 16 11:44:00
I'm not sure Nobuyoshi Araki
can or even should top the extending of his 1971 Sentimental Journey
to include the death of his wife, mainly because the subject has gravitas but also because a timeline drops us into a dimension behind his imagery (courtesy of their cat). Shots of the cat flow from hope (its arrival a metaphor for the establishment of a family) to heavy realisation (the clumsy, oblivious pet will probably be around long after Yoko has gone) to a clownish paradox of emotions when that moment finally arrives. The idiot-simple fact that a photo instigates more than the plane it offers (the animal itself, as unchanging as the endless amateur models he goes on to freeze) puts most of his later work into context. I loved the subaquatic-looking images of food and the single post-bondage image, with rope marks deep as cuts. The other erotica (his abiding fuck-you flattener to oblivion) passed me by, as I arrived at the Barbican direct from some undercover intensity in New Cross, limping slightly and with a messed-up shirt and underwear crushed into my bag, much to the joy of the security search. At an erotic exhibition, surely that is reaping what you sow?
Time: 2005 Oct 16 11:45:00
The back story to the Deathmageddon series: Battery A, a consolidated platoon lead by B3-41 infantry, together with their air defence and radar sections, have been wiped out by a wayward Iraqi missile, just south of the village of Kibrit. The platoon and their Lead Sergeants - Stanley C Gollancz and Leanne O'Bannion - awake, as if from a cryogenic sleep, in Hell.
Hell is a giant vestibule of lava lakes and the weight of the isolation there. A complicated map of step stones to empty islands. Lost souls with nothing to lose. Double-crossing boatmen. But there is a bridge - from Hell to Heaven - and a universe of demon power determined to prevent them reaching it.
The love story, which provides many of the narrative sections: Gollancz was originally Desert Storm, O'Bannion and her men were twinned in from Desert Shield, and therefore from a different side of the tracks. It's hardly a love story at all. More will-they won't-they. Something about this endless suspense seems to suit purgatory, but eventually you don't care, and find yourself watching the narrative for the dialogue. Gollancz dresses O'Bannion down - it's for her own good, as she comes back that bit tougher. He's brute force, but she's got a smarter mouth, is faster, more precise and has more hidden skills.
The best zones in the original Deathmageddon are the Unbaptized Children, who are actually unnerving, and attack of the Avaricious and the Prodigal (who will eventually destroy one another in Mutiny mode - the trick there is to do as little as possible), and bonus levels such as Private Quinn's bender. "Why were we put here?" He cries to the ringed wastelands of molten rock, and pulls off his O-mask through fumes darker than Mars (to a warning display of 'Cracking Private'). "What did we do .. to be sent here?" Lockdown. Head stagger. Paint it red. Even if you get no further, Deathmageddon would be worth it for the Cracking Privates.
Inevitably he is gunned safe, or eaten by Cerberus (it's fun to use the vibration function here). "If this was Texas you'd get the groovy chair." O'Bannion pins Quinn over the edge of a step stone, repeat rifle to his forehead. "And my pits itch in Texas." Issue resolved.
Deathmageddon II: Archangel Hardball. Better dynamics and more modes, including the puzzler Existential Cooperative. The platoon, still in attack formation on the other side of the bridge, find themselves targeted by increasingly headstrong orders of protectorate angels. Seraphim at four o'clock, Sergeant. Pretty reconnaissance missions suffused in disconcerting layers of absolute white. We've found a nest of Virtues, sir. Paint it red.
At the end of the closing level, having brought down the Cherubim around Kingdom Mountain, Leanne O'Bannion's own crisis of conscience heralds a metaphysical twist. Still soaked in the blood of the Chief Principality, she trains her binoculars back across the modest advances the platoon have made since the bridge from Hell, then drops to a crouching guard amid the fallen and cries: "Why did this get so tough, Gollancz? And what if we're meant to be back there? Maybe we're meant for Hell."
She redirects his blank look away from the outlying lava lakes and through the descending clouds, their view of its summit clearing by degrees. "Maybe .. God .. ain't on our side?" Scores fade.
Gollancz's pixelated non-gaze is suitably blockheaded. "Not .. one.of.. us?" No flesh actor could deliver those lines and do them justice. "Then .." Lip curl under a darkened dawning. ".. then this thing ain't Billy Dick's Thanksgiving, O'Bannion."
Medium shot through the smoke of battle - he unstraps and shoulders his grenade launcher, rising slowly onto a rock.
"And by the power invested in me this day, Lead Sergeant Stanley C Gollancz of Battery A, B3-41 Division of the United States Infantry hereby commandeers the state of Heaven. For a New America." Taking aim through the clearing haze at a pair of well-worn and pearl-shaded gates, a perilous glint in his one widening eye.
And, as we fade to developer credits, a whisper. "Let's rip the G-man a new one."
And so it is with Deathmageddon III: The Legion Of New America, which was released last week, and where, I read, Gollancz and O'Bannion and the boys do their damnedest to rip God a new asshole.
Time: 2005 Oct 08 11:26:00
Hurrahing Anat Ben-David and giving small girls eating disorders She explained, stealing handfuls of buffet carrot sticks, that no-one wanted them, and that she was taking them home for her rabbit, and held herself guiltily for the rest of the evening. I listened with a 'tell it to the judge' expression. Ben-David walked in late, dropped her coat, took the mike, flung herself around [you’re here for the crossing of limits, for in crossing are they found, in crossing do we see ourselves not as we would wish, nor as others would have us, nor even chums in compromise but the closest hold, our fencing in, our lines of flight, hunger, having the now
] for half a dozen songs, then said "To hell weeth thees, I'm goink down the Gay Bingo" and vanished.
Time: 2005 Oct 02 14:09:00
"The news, Baronne, is nothing of the sort." The Baron de Schell-Rémy folds his morning paper away and takes to his egg.
"A good thing, in its way. Please, be heavenly and jigger that marmalade. The rough cut."
He does this. "If it isn’t the yowl of warlords, it’s Africans dying at the teat."
The Baronne de Schell-Rémy inspects her stirring spoon, holding it to the light and angling it around. "I suspect they are envious. But a Christian man could forgive their motivations."
The Baron passes his wife the open jar and begins to attack his egg, eyes roving around the conservatory, a finger beginning to patrol the back gardens. "Where in bloody hellfire is Feliz? I insist she chow down with the two of us, once in a week."
The straw man strung from the tree beyond the West Stables no longer has his arms. Under faceguard, Feliz de Schell-Rémy slides the heavy blade of her épée through his chest until it emerges on the other side. Slowly, she leans around the effigy and looks from the line of steel to the scattered clumps of limb cast about on the grass, up to an open stable door and the rain-washed guttering running steeply from the stables and curving round to the trees, and then, once again, to vermillion lengths of becoming sunlight that spread across the foil.
She bites at her lip and withdraws, watching its steady, even disappearance. When the scatched point is all that is visible, she returns to face the featureless, wavering head. Swabbing her brow on the back of one doeskin glove, she begins to negotiate her target to and fro on the end of her sword, loosening her blade free, watching his leg-ends swerve around, inches from the grass.
"Feliz! Poached or scrambled?" The Baron de Schell-Rémy has huffed methodically through the Cook’s Kitchen (the other kitchen being known as ‘the kitchen’) and perches himself, as squarely as he can muster, at the top of the incline. He indicates his waist.
"Oh, daddy, I don’t do food. I told you."
"You have to. It’s against nature." The Baron proceeds down the hill, some toasted muffins and cheese in the hand he is hiding behind his back.
Shaking her head, Feliz de Schell-Rémy stands as if en guarde
, readying her épée for his approach.
"You wouldn’t do in your old dad." He chuckles, finding a rain-swollen and peeling stick on the ground.
The Baron prepares himself. "Have you know… in Zürich I buttoned more than one flighty Frenchman. Atheists, the lot of them." He charges forward, only to watch half the stick career across the grass at her first swish. He produces the muffins. "Just..one." She turns to run, and he pursues. "Bloody.."
Further into the field, Feliz rotates in earnest. "No!"
Suddenly, the Baron spins one of his breakfast gifts through the air, but she divides it easily, and catches the Emmental by a hole before it reaches the ground. Observing him, she passes the slice around her father’s face. He glimpses up at the thick clouds and then through the ovals in the cheese, somewhat disgruntled, at his daughter.
A telephone has been brought to the Baronne. "Sabine? What is it? Oh no. Bugger. The canapés are on course, yes. The band is in Italy but their kits are packed. I’m picking the cake up in the village this morning. Sabine, the cake is in hand. I know, I know. We’re all praying for the clouds to clear. If I could grab a woofing great blunderbuss and blast them apart I surely would."
Subject: The Joy Of Octave Mirbeau
Time: 2005 Oct 02 14:05:00
"Have you seen ‘Secretary’?" Been corresponding with a 'Submissive' on the interdates. Surely simple to arrange a date with a sub: "Be here, at x o'clock, wearing a, b and c, and, if you're one second late, I'll give you a Chinese burn." "Oh, my prince has come
." A little too respectful of that world for foppish 'where has all the innocence gone?' woe. We’re all innocents. Where sex is concerned YES is as NO, off-on spotlights across the same social concrete. True romance, and maybe sadomasochism, see neither. The most fascinating aspects of dom-sub relationships are often the non-physical, the dutiful handing over of the cell phone, the inspection and approval of texts: vanilla unions, after the confetti has fallen, are not so far removed. There are many reasons why intercourse might need more than more and more faux-procreation. Why waste your life trying to control things you can't? As everyone is forever telling us.
Subject: By The Time I Get To Friedrichshain
Time: 2005 Sep 26 10:14:00
A Berlin round-up: I think of Kreuzberg as seven foot surf-goths with pet rats on one shoulder and a brainful of h, but Bergmannstraße seemed chocka with kick-boxing stockbrokers paused for a chai and a check of the rates. Scary. Maybe it's a word thing, a goat could find common ground with a sick goth, words feel destined to be windscreen-wiped from the monster truck of das capital. East Village-style thrift, the Ramones Museum, I searched for a Turkey football scarf written in German. God knows how Berlin ticks over - many of the shops were a customer no-man's-land, pleasant but odd (disorientating too: is that a minimalist shop, a strip-lit ready-made or just under renovation? Do I go in?) Luckily, we got lost in Kreuzberg and found the canals. The car-cracker chic of Mitte is more authentic in Friedrichshain. We went for the Die Tagung Leninist memorabilia bar on Grünbergerstraße, and round Boxhagener Platz. Then, after black bean enchiladas (beautiful vegan food up the hill on Weinbergsweg, the logo is an upside-down McDonalds M), some Tortoise-ish post-rock in 'We Versus Death', but they were stuck in a snow storm. The three piece replacements were astonishing but I didn't get a name (the lead singer is a choreographer called Eva and they live on Torstraße.) And goodbye to Berlin. Physiologically speaking, the difference isn't huge: as some clocked-off secretaries boarded the Thameslink, I woke up and it could've been Germania in a much bigger cup size. More twitches, sighs and worried asides. Back to a stop-the-war, and the most educated and enlightened and opinionated generation that's ever been thoroughly ignored. Back to people telling you to be your own sweet self and things will just happen; I closed my eyes, determined to follow through on those Tascheles resolutions.
Subject: Special Fried Reich
Time: 2005 Sep 22 09:23:00
Our walking tour of Berlin included a visit to a perfectly preserved East German flat, replete with skating medals, flags of affiliation with other Eastern Bloc countries, copies of 'Sputnik' magazine, funky orange plastic and rough-feeling brown settees. Western television signals were picked up, but you watched with headphones, lest your neighbour report you. Sure, the walls moved if you pressed them, but life's essentials were guaranteed. It isn't missed, but I couldn't help thinking that while Eastern Bloc nuclear physicists may have worked for road-sweeper wages, today some of them might be
road-sweepers. Our tour group consisted of two silent girls from Burgundy, a weighty, bearded lad from Chile (forever staring at the Burgundians), and a loping, retired Australian with a large chin, fond of leaning in to ask our guide, "And how are the property prices doing here, mate?" He even asked it at the non-descript square not far from the Brandenburg Gate where Adolf and Eva's bodies were dropped into a Soviet crater and dowsed with petrol, as if estate agents in 1945 would roll their eyes. "Satan incarnate burning in the courtyard? Never easy to pitch. There goes the area." The guide was adamant. "No-one wants these places to become shrines for neo-Nazi ghouls." I swear his eyes flickered over Vic, in black shirt and combats for the day. There goes the area, alright - many WW2 must-sees are bits of walls (except a perfectly unhit Luftwaffe headquarters), the site of Hitler's Chancellory is now an apartment block with a Chinese takeaway. I looked at the menu as we passed, sure that if this was the States they'd have a novelty menu, 'Egg Fried Reich' and so on. Berlin architecture is like a succession of the shocking: shockingly new, shockingly bombed, shockingly wrong ("How about.. a Lutheran St Peters!?"), shockingly unbuilt, shockingly full of asbestos, Stasi hidden cameras or both. I liked the communist 'parliament' building everyone wants to tear down, I could imagine lots of people having fun there, meeting their future husbands or wives in the bowling alley, the genteel utilitarian nightlife. But now the only hyper-paranoid, heavily-watched building is the United States embassy. In the evening, an 'electrotech' club and discussing life with some seriousness in the dark and unkempt Tascheles Kunsthaus garden.
Time: 2005 Sep 21 01:58:00
KaffeeBurger, Schokoladen, Goldmans, Gorki Park, Hotelbar: they are beginning to blend. Just saw a couple of local bands, the first looked like Röyksopp but sounded like the Yummy Fur, the second had a forlorn melodion over laptop flickers spoilt by the laziest songwriting: they really wouldn't get a gig in London and nor would they deserve to, but were playing in a plushness London would dream of. Vic hates German women ('too tall and they smoke') but I found myself staring at some limber, ponytailed aliens. Maybe it's less an attraction and more a covetting of the sportiness, those Philip Larkin called the 'strongly moulded'. Eight hour walk tomorrow, and so to bed.
Subject: The Jamaica Coalition
Time: 2005 Sep 20 21:00:00
In Berlin with Mr Twenty. Last night, after deciding on an early one, we ended up flitting from one chilly Mitte WiFi hotspot to the next, then round the back streets, ending up in a smoke-thick rock bar covered with posters of Wings, where we spread the charm with a bunch of women with beerguts and elasticated jeans waving their currywurst in the air and singing along to Suzi Quatro. Today, a trifle bloodshot, we dropped a demo off at Bpitch Control
offices, visited a stunningly defiant-looking Soviet War Memorial in Treptower Park, and took a river cruise. There's an air of seriousness that wasn't here the last time I staggered round the Tresor. Not sure if it is the oncoming autumn or an unconvinced election. No jobs can't be a hoot, although if you are going to be unemployed Germany might be the place. This evening, walking past the Reichstag, I was suddenly caught in the middle as the German Defense Minister, Peter Struck, emerged; craftily he decided on an impromptu 'Jamaica Coalition' photo op with three cheering Rastafarians, before getting in his car. I think I'm in the shots, leering over their shoulders. Must check 'Der Spiegel'.
Subject: Psychogeographically Speaking, Of Course
Time: 2005 Sep 18 17:47:00
Amongst the other cyber encounters
I had were a New Zealander looking for casual sex (often less than casual and sometimes far from sex), and a well-to-do girl with what came close to a kind of rape fantasy. "I think you should push me against that wall over there." She said. "Yes, yes." And the more (is this the word?) passionate I got, the more she seemed to enjoy it. I'm not averse to pant-ripping but it was unnerving, and a bit affected, to get like that with a stranger, in a side street in Clerkenwell. "Try to pull off my bra
." "Yes." "YES." Looking back, we could have been spotted by a passing patrol car. Looking back, she could have been undercover heat out to frame a squib, or running an internet portal featuring frothy-mouthed bits-of-rough, as I have no doubt that 'that wall' had CCTV units. I only mention it as I read that Edmund White recently described himself as a 'masochist who hates pain', and I pictured myself a sadist always saying "Are you alright? No, seriously?"
Subject: René and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After The War
Time: 2005 Sep 17 17:19:00
I just bumped into my first girlfriend. "What are you doing here?" "What are YOU doing here?" She's been living in N19 for two years, but our paths have never crossed. Very happy to see her, and all the memories of beach-bumming, hair dye and love letters. A schoolbag of foolscap exchange, still in my parents' attic. "Back of Double Chemistry. Can't wait till Friday, [insert album] released. Did you see [insert singer] on [insert short-lived tv show]. Lordie Thomas, [insert teacher] makes me want to puke.” At fifteen you can turn into a hound at the very sound of the word 'girl' but I'm happy to say I really loved her. Best if you lose your virginity to another virgin or a whore, the advice used to be.
Time: 2005 Sep 11 17:17:00
I'm very much surrounded by busy writers at the moment, which is great. Last night I met up with Vic and Derm at the Flask, to say hi to a distant friend of Derm's from Hong Kong called Fan. I’d recently seen one of the teen flicks Fan scripted, 6th Floor Rear Flat (2003, left), and suggested that it would be nice to meet her when she came to London. I took a shine to her friend Effie, who came from Greece to study art, but at Goldsmiths, not St Martins College. We chatted about Sarah Kane
, and I took her hand as we strolled back down to N19. Today, flatmate Doug
returned from promoting his book in Paris. Feted by les Inrockuptibles, Technikart and Lire, the UK’s been slow to warm. And flatmate Matt
busy expanding the Empire Square empire onto MTV.
Subject: Four Plays (2b): Up Kentucky!
Time: 2005 Sep 09 13:21:00
Chester dropped a Cert U version of the script off at Westminster council and it was agreed that the show could go ahead in the Boadicea Revue Bar. Warren and I had great fun casting the players. Members of the rock band Fangstein begged for involvement but refused to be Roman soldiers, insisting instead on being Martians. Boadicea burlesque players were keen to work on something chewier, and made head-turner Venusians.
Through the buzz of rehearsals, ever-bolder ideas came forth and wormed their way into a creeping script. The Guy was replaced by a forty foot rubber bullet, which certainly hurt our budget, and was designed to swing low like a sweet chariot during the final act. We put feelers out for a disgraced soap starlet to rodeo ride the effigy.
Coming home very exhausted and very late, I suddenly realised that the Cuban-sounding fancy-pants across the hall must have sublet their room. Each morning I found myself stirred by a sweet girl’s voice, singing some form of forlorn lullaby. I cannot explain how joyous it was for me to be woken by a woman’s voice, for it reminded me of my childhood, and it felt consolatory and warming. Despite ‘Kentucky’, I wanted to meet the lady, but felt that if I intervened it might stop her song, or make her a little self-aware.
Our paths eventually crossed, and she introduced herself as Tara, from a twisting archipelago off an island, itself off the north coast of Ireland, and a student of chemistry. As a newcomer , I insisted she try the Nazz’s sole and spinach rogan, as I helped her along the hall with a barrel.
“Surely, no problem.” Her grey-green eyes locked into mine as she cracked a poppadom, then passed the halves across her face like parting fans. “I could sort your pyrotechnics out, so I could.” That night, we made a kind of love.
Afterwards, she propped her head up on a pillow and drew a finger along the chemical burns I had once received on my uncle’s farm, and told me that she was the only member of her family without scars. She told me she wasn’t keen on cities, but would stick it out until her course was done. Strangers don’t say hello to one another, she explained. I told her I was glad of it! She talked about her island, where there were no strangers, and described dragonflies that the mainland had long killed off with pesticides, and woods filled by a lost multiplicity of moth. Oddly, she talked about her funeral, to explain why people were so important to her. She said that she would have a lot of people in attendance for, by that, her islanders were measured. She said it would make her proud. I told her that I was the opposite, as I wouldn’t wish grief on anyone. After regarding one other through an extended silence, we curled together and she began to whisper that lullaby of hers. I dreamt of dragonflies that night, I do recall, although they were mounted, in a bright white box, at the Natural History Museum.
Next day, Chester was feeling the heat. Tara and I burst into the Boedicea back office to find him double-troubled by some Westminster bigwigs who threatened to pull the plugs, and some Maltese gentlemen who threatened to pull his teeth. Thankfully, they hastened off, one very keen to speak to the other. We resumed dress rehearsals with rejuvenated pith.
There was something satisfying in watching Tara measure the stage, finding optimum points for maximum drama. I told her the opening night would be full of head brass, rows and rows of important cheese and councillors. She seemed to need no further convincing that it should be something to remember.
And it was. I am told. I was on a sleeper train to Glasgow, having run the entire distance to Euston. I was intercepted at Glasgow Central, as I had been expecting. Cuffed, they marched me across the main atrium with barely enough time to glance at a newsstand. I caught a terrible close-up of my face taken at a party in Cambridge, ill-looking droop to one eyelid, a wide laugh. I resembled a man whose balaclava had suddenly been pulled off, a ring road rapist defiant to the last, manhandled to the gravel. And on the front page of the Daily Mail, folding leisurely to and fro in the breeze: ‘Why Britain Must Never Pardon This B*stard’ Below, I had no doubt, was the kind of horror story I probably couldn’t have brought myself to negotiate anyway.
Seventeen people were killed that evening. A blast, dad. The Revue Bar joined a list of chilling place names, like Heysel, Columbine or Birmingham. I could have run to the Middlesex hospital to help. Or the UCH. But I ran to Euston. And, somewhere deep behind my reactions, in my conduct, like the gutless self-focus of a hit-and-runner, there lies another reason why I don’t want much of a funeral party.
Subject: Four Plays (2a): Up Kentucky!
Time: 2005 Sep 08 12:20:00
In a way, ‘Up Kentucky!’ was Warren Pimms-Whistler’s idea, or at least he put the seed in my mind, sitting there in that café on Old Compton. He talked of art shows in Hamburg and of San Francisco. “I’m telling you,” he said. “Anything goes over there right now. They're doing the undoable. Trying the untried. Vibey. A new school ringing its own bell. Lesson One? Papier mâché moonshine, from the pages of last year’s rule book.” He drew hard on what I suspected to be a variant of marijuana. “I’m telling you, anything
I wasn’t sure about living in a world where everything went, for I suspected that all that would go was my head. I made an arrangement to meet again with Chester, but declined Warren’s offer of an all-nighter in Battersea, and I returned to the security of my bedsitter.
Scene one. I consulted the vacant page. I couldn’t paint the kitchen sink forever. Looking around me, things were
on the march. Carol, in the room opposite, had moved out, replaced by some Cuban-sounding fancy-pants. A vibey age, open to everything. Less cramped, and smarter for it: we let love in. Bacchanalia, song and freedom. Freedom, could we handle you at all?
Then ‘Kentucky’ happened. As I raced through each interconnected vignette, creativity raised its searchlight through my imagination, fanning the shadow of an almost megalithic headline I read after each full stop was rendered. ‘Uproarious riotous ribaldry has rarely seen ruder, gooder health.’ Suddenly, a kaleidoscope of artschool fanzines, flagrant, bold and new, fluttered up from the fractured glass of a nation’s neglected squats and around my mind’s eye. ‘A blast, dad. And then some.’ I couldn’t even tear myself away to get on the phone to Pimms-Whistler.
HYPNOGABALUS: Bring me forty fat boys, each a finger bigger than the former. Parade them at the poolside, for I shall feast on peacocks’ tongue in cinnamon, and dormice in poppy, then use their curly hair as napkins, as I give each an ascension.
HYPNOGABALUS gurgles a laugh.
MARCUS, clicking his fingers: Forty fat boys!
A MINION runs off.
HYPNOGABALUS, beating his chest with both forearms: Where are my fat boys? Pleasure. I require
pleasure. Must Rome end me on the hiltless sword of boredom?
MARCUS: Being collected, your majesty.
HYPNOGABALUS: Sextus, see him spent.
SEXTUS draws his dagger across MARCUS’s throat.
Warren wrote the songs, each one more provocative than the previous. The closer: a pulsing, twenty minute white noise wipeout with a working title of ‘Whitehouse’, to backdrop a bisexual blitzkreig taking place onstage. I rattled out stage directions in one take, in real time, a BASF spool of the piece droning away on my recently purchased Philips, with Warren leaning over my shoulder, urging me on.
“I want guys doing guys. Gals on gals, then doing the guys who’ve just done those first guys. Bring in a .. a mock of the Gold State Coach ..” He span about. “U-turning through a bomb site of crazed miserables
.. a busty chick with a rubber bullet in her head going cowgirl on Guy Fawkes. Cast runs to the audience. Grabbing balls, baring chuff and making shameless, shameless love.” He danced about the room, cast his hands to the lampshade. “Suddenly the biggest blackest Fluxus fucking Union Jack of a thing unravels overhead and we release bats to flit through the theatre. All the corgis.. up in flames.” I looked at him. “Flames
. We’re not fluffing the best bit.”
‘Whitehouse’ wound to a hearty, heathen close. Warren Pimms-Whistler nodded when I was done. I nodded to. Together we would sandblast several repressed dimensions from the London brickwork, down and around its aging Victorian drainage. I was shaking.
Chester was bowled over. He pulled off his reading glasses and pinched his nose, produced a ruby kerchief from the pocket of his jazzers pinstripe and looked up at us. “It’s not ‘Pardon’. But..” He shook his head, puzzled. We searched his face.
Slowly he blew his nose, faced Hanway Street squarely through a drape of colourful 45s strung up beside us, his puzzlement ending, as if capitulating to a flame that he had kept on store, a hidden flame, kindled in his younger days, when jazz razors flew into scat around Soho.
“The Camp’s on me, kittens.” He looked us over. “Let’s drop a diamond in this groove.”
Subject: Four Plays (1b): Pardon My Bastard
Time: 2005 Sep 07 12:16:00
Daily Mail. September 12, 1969
Many of you have been wondering why I have not joined in with the praise for the recent televisual drama entitled ‘Pardon My Bastard’. Let me explain my uncustomary silence. On Tuesday, I sat on a chair with a knuckle at my lips, looking from the world outside my window, over to my fireplace and then back across the rooftops. That’s all I did.
On Tuesday evening, I took a warm bath and retired early. And on Wednesday morning, I put on my overcoat. Where was I going? What did I want? I wanted to find Britain. Britain?
Britain: at once a mother to enfold us; a daughter, where life will be worth striving for; and a lover, to gladden our hearts. Terraces, simple but enough and proud; a caravan weekend, treacle treats and Yorkshire dales that gave us men with flint and purpose, who primed a rifle and found hell at the Somme. Nonetheless, they fell with pride. They took to the skies and met stiff crosswinds and stiffer odds at Flanders. But they gave iron and fire.
Myself, I took to the trenches of alleyways, for dog fights under arc-lights of intermittent neon, in the midnight checkpoints of criss-crossing sick that are our high rise estates. And I knocked on doors, and found them frightened to open. Yet I asked, and asked again, and was received with tea, and warmth. And when I listened, I heard. A voiceless choir of Carols, crying out for change.
And worse. I found hands unwashed, play unwatched, drawings offered but dropped, where each must learn mute walls for the unwished-for. I read a Happy Birthday of bruises, where the only game recognized is the one mum’s on. And I went further, looking through trip-wires at gin bottles, and contraceptives, and through tunnels, offering four letter bother no child’s mind should echo. Ambushed by the damned in their Afghan propaganda, and a mocking war room of tea-cosied malcontent, I climbed the safe watchtower of a flyover, where the streets about me lay defeated.
And I risk my professional standing and the respect of my colleagues to tell you that I found this so-called mother of mine, Britain, and I found my daughter fallen, and I reached out for my lover and touched a deserter, a laughing, drunk philanderer of my trust, which is all we have ever demanded or felt deserved of. And words will never reach you, the only word is ‘why?’ - after fifty minutes in silence, for rare, sincere transmissions, after the watershed, after the tears.
Gracy Waddington was, it later transpired, heightened by problems in her private life but a kind of hell broke loose nonetheless. The following week, her comments were read out by the opposition during the PM’s Question Time. The newspapers began ‘Help Our Carols’ campaigns, encouraging bring-and-buy sales. Churches of every denomination got on board. Tables laden with cakes and sweet pies lined the streets, doors opened, flags unfurled. Scouts and Cubs, Guides and Brownies did their bit.
Almost by the hour, Dickie Johns was pressing me on the theatre. Television had immediacy, he explained, but the theatre lasts forever. I was dubious, I have to confess, and uneducated in the fineries of writing for the stage, but he made me promise to take a Mulligatawny with Chester Hart, chemin de fer
compadre, and a mucker of choice at Magdalen.
I met Chester in Old Compton Street and we discussed the transition. Chester explained that he was busy but could shelve whatever was diarised. “Look, I’ll be straight as Cheryl’s chives. Hobbling prams and lino are fine but you have to understand we’ll be letting out the seams. By a chalk. Dimension. Give it jazz.” He suggested a musical, and a more upbeat resolve. I like a sing-song as much as the next fellow but felt it all somehow unfitting, and I felt Chester could tell.
But the soup proved useful, for, while we continued to talk, I found myself looking over his shoulder at the swathes of fresh gadflies that danced past the restaurant. I knew that Chester was wrong about ‘Bastard’ but, by evocation, had defined a problem I had with myself. London was on the march. Maybe I was the one in need of some swing. I knew there was much more to me than chipped sinks and a drip, a drip.
Just then, Chester hailed a shock-haired youth to join our table. “Warren!” Clad in pink polka, a loose-looking fellow ripped off a pair of cogs and threw himself against the wall opposite.
Subject: Four Plays (1a): Pardon My Bastard
Time: 2005 Sep 06 13:44:00
In 1969, I wrote for television. The central character of the play was based, pretty much in full, on conversations I had with the unmarried mother who lived in the bedsitting room opposite my own, just off the Goldhawk Road. I put the results into an envelope and addressed it to a Mrs Meredith Marsh, then the commissioning editor for drama at the BBC, and I expected to hear nothing back.
One night, a few weeks later, I was listening to Sommerfeldt's Spring Tunes for Solo Flute in my room, reading and watching the origins of a light shower through my window, when my landlady’s voice rose up in the hall. “Terence!”
As she ascended the uneven incline to my door, the eyes of Meredith Marsh were searching mine. She shook my envelope. “One. Thousand
. Percent.” By the time she reached me, her voice was a whisper. “Dynamite.” I glanced over her shoulder at Carol's door as I let her in. She perched on the edge of my bed and looked around, seemingly pleased to find herself in one of the very locations she had just been reading about. I took her umbrella and filled the kettle.
‘Pardon My Bastard’ starred newcomer Carol Charlemagne in the lead role of Carol. Shooting was brisk. Two of the interior scenes were filmed in a single take, in the natural light of an alley, which gave the dialogue an oddly misplaced feel, like a metaphor, an allegory. But, really, it was Carol who shone. I take no credit at all.
A bedsitting room. A VOICE in the street: Carol! Get yer arse down here.
CAROL, rising from the bed: Thanks for the cuppa, Stephen. It was really smashing. But I must be off.
The VOICE in the street, louder: Carol! Bloody hell. What, do you think you are
STEPHEN: What’s that mean? What’s he mean?
CAROL: Oh, he’s always saying how I think I am
STEPHEN, disturbed: You are. Oh, you are something, Carol. You’re something alright. You’re a lovely, funny, kind, clever girl. Really charming. And you don’t have to put up with him
CAROL, sadly, returning a borrowed novel to STEPHEN’s hands: Oh, sweet you are. Really sweet, Stephen. And when he's soaked it up he's sweet too. He's boisterous otherwise. He's trying. We all are. You know?
The VOICE in the street: Right! I’m coming up to wring your bloody neck.
STEPHEN, pointing towards CAROL’s room: Boistrous? I hear him, Carol. He’s a maniac
CAROL, paused at the door: He needs me. I’m.. his girl. I can’t explain it.
STEPHEN, returning to the bed's edge to sob, as CAROL descends the stairs and exits: Nothing but heart.. can’t sleep for.. the hearts being broken in these streets.
STEPHEN fans the novel, looks at it. He quickly stands and moves to his window. STEPHEN, whispering, as the couple cross the street into the dark: Tell him. Tell
‘Pardon My Bastard’ was broadcast quite late on a Monday evening, in early September of that year. Viewing figures were expected to be healthy for the time slot and, by the Wednesday, twelve telephone calls of public praise had been taken. It was received kindly in the press, but the heavyweight arts commentary remained silent. I guess that I was half hoping for the approval of Gracy Waddington and her ilk, grandes dames
of arts punditry, and, without their interest, other praise fell a little flat. In my vanity, I guess that I was hoping to have written more than mere television. Thursday passed. I sat alone in the Glad Marquis, watching the slow pump of another Deacon’s into my jug. A fool, I was.
It was then, on the Friday, that I was due to take a breakfast at White City with Dickie Johns, assistant arts commissioner there, determined to pick his thoughts about my next steps and to discuss some interest he’d received in adapting the play for the stage. When I arrived, Dickie was sitting with his eyes closed, looking defiantly serene, and pointing at the Daily Mail. I didn’t speak. I sat down.
Subject: O punisht eyes, that I had been more foolish, or more wise
Time: 2005 Sep 04 19:05:00
In October 1976, a Mr ‘Ian D Whiteley’, then at St David’s University, Lampeter, scribbled footnotes and asides into a paperback of Sixteenth Century poetry. I bought it recently, in a second-hand bookshop. Bede-like observations turn frenetic over the pages of the Silver poet, Sir Philip Sidney’s ‘Astrophel and Stella’. “C16 poets achieve a kind of ‘adolescence’ in their sonnets: body upon a pedestal, servant and Lord relationship. Physical consummation is NOT at the centre of the sonnet. Not rapturous like Donne but strong sense of frustration.” Ian D reminds himself. Silver poets: so-named because they may have written a Gold poem but never achieved an inclusive greatness. Too worthwhile to be second-rate, they nevertheless attained ‘Silver’ status. I couldn’t help settling to imagine Ian D, bearded and nodding in headphones under his ‘Houses Of The Holy’ poster, worriedly comparing his rhinestone loons to the ominous drainpipes of the Ramones debut. He’s still living in the Lampeter halls of residence and, somewhat askew on a breakfast of bong and Sir Phip, makes it to a payphone to call his mum. “Are you getting enough iron, Ian?” She asks, and he lies. He’s living on Spangles. Despite having been there for five months, Ian decides to cross the campus in search of the canteen he has only just heard about, ‘Astrophel and Stella’ in his ass pocket. Last night, out in Lampeter: local fracas/half-concealed switchblade/hard-girl sighs at his Petrarchan pedestal. The sunlight makes him weak. He can’t go on like this, he decides. He has to grow up. He pauses on the grass and huffs the open air in deliberate, abdominal breaths, closes his eyes and reminds himself: time is circular, the Big Bang, The End, happening here, happening now. We are of an instant. Growing up: for linears. Linears: squares. He feels a little better and continues on his way, telling himself that he will remember this moment years from now, as a self-punishing civil servant, on the hard shoulder, cursing God. “The race of all my thoughts has neither stop nor start, only Stella’s eyes, and Stella’s heart.” The Weetabix fixes irreversibly to his beard, but that is not important.
Subject: We should split up more often
Time: 2005 Sep 04 12:47:00
Diarising and fiction seem to be drifting apart. Church, spittoon and, when analysts tell us to stop over-analysing, a place where the right-brain fends a little ground. Imagination open by hook or by Kojo Annan. My hobbies include micropolitics, sub-Saharan building sites and corporate modelling.