Subject: Situation Comedy Blues
Time: 2010 Dec 30 15:40:00
I’ve been encouraging Mr Hopkins, ex colleague, creator of Carter and Stubbs
, now of Silvermouse, to enter this BBC situation comedy competition
. There are bachelor degrees in such things. Software. The frameworks are well established ('make sure your characters bicker endlessly. No-one should agree with anyone about anything') but they rarely teach you to be unique. Best to develop your own rule book. The post-Freudian sitcom. “There are four central archetypes in any sitcom – a father figure, a mother figure, a child figure and a ‘crazy relative or outsider’ (Kramer, Father Jack). Don't follow this rule literally, the more disguised the Oedipal anti-triangle gets the better!"
As well as formula, comedy writers complain that a limited number of things remain funny. Little can knock social embarrassment, especially sexual embarrassment, off its throne. Why fight it? Why try to be clever? "What Hell, My Pants Keep Falling Down" is the name of the game. The only creative brief from the BBC seems to be that it should “reflect modern Britain”, which does seem to be an aging society. Certainly on telly, all 'Strictly', all 'Cash in the Attic'. The BBC seem fond of the export-friendly 'magic male'. Doctor Who, Sherlock. Why fight it? Okay, I need some haughty wizardry to extol the virtues of education to the slow-of-wit, but whose trews keep rending apart. "Christ Save Us, Not Again, Professor Britches!" And, of course, the situation is also key. The environs. A hotel full of dago, mick and kraut, a language school, a space ship. What is the best metaphor for the nation's demise vomited up by middle England's neverending fear muscle? Building Site. Gastropub. Tax Haven. A sitcom set in a fictitious UK tax haven, where everyone is blinkered and rich, and everyone keeps wondering why everyone else can't be just like them. Or an altermodern sitcom set in a Cambodian sweatshop, making papery garments for <major UK retailers>, called 'Cheap'. A kind of Downstairs, Downstairs. Downstairs, Downstairs, Dead.
I don't watch enough telly to know what has been done and what hasn't (although I hear that racism is back). The gastropub idea could encorporate our food fascination, and could feature a teeth-grindingly class aspirant matriarch, a succession of eye-candy chefs she hires and fires at will. She'd have an ex husband (out of the clink at the end of episode one), a 'feisty' politically radical daughter and a 'crazy' transsexual barperson. There'd have to be a twist, a serious 'bittersweet' ending to series one, leaving the transsexual barperson in tears, consoling us with the thought that we've been laughing 'with' them and not 'at' them. We'll feel good about ourselves. We're good people.
I feel that I'm not being conservative enough. I need to be more
conservative. What do the British aspire towards? "The Bish". A sitcom set on Bishops Avenue, N2, Britain's most expensive road. You can't get any higher up the ladder. Windy, empty, Southfork-style ranches. White antebellum columns, gates with pump-action locks and six keypads. Billionaires Row. A security hut, someone wears shades and an earphone, on the look-out for mere millionaires. Scum bringing trouble. Behind the house, a helipad, like the last card in a giant's poker tournament, lain across the grass, untouched. Everything, in fact, seems unused. Everything a token, a sitting investment. Real life, the mess of life, is elsewhere.
Okay, something peopled
. But nice. Consolatory. One of those sitcoms about nothing really. A nice cake shop. Called "Nice". And four Sunday School teachers who eat cupcakes there. Three Sunday School teachers. And Jesus. Jesus Our Saviour returns. For real. But his pants keep falling down. "Christ Save Us, Christ, Can't You Keep It In For Five Minutes?" Or what about a full-on fish-out-of-water comedy clash? A Bernard Manning-style offensive stand-up, dead and stoking the engine rooms of Hell, sets his mind on getting out of the inferno, which is, let's face it, full of foreigners, by succeeding in Herculean tasks of political correctness (curating modern art exhibitions and so forth). Seventies man struggles through a thoroughly modern madness. The dénouement comes when the adopted funnyman discovers that he himself, like Manning, is half mick and half yid, and his whole life has been some kind of schizophrenic episode.INT. 3 BISHOPS AVENUE - HALLWAY - SUNSET
DOLORES, a cleaner: I clean five hundred Italian marble steps. Then it time to begin cleaning them again. The lower ones are dirt. Really. What if someone came to evaluate? The shame!
Enter JEFERSON, a security guard: Hey, Dolores. I've been around the grounds ten times already. What say we grab a smoothie? At the Robin Hood pool, or in the Sherlock suite?
DOLORES: Are you crazy? You need education. Educate your children. You get us fired.
JEFERSON: There is no-one to see us, Dolores. We're the ones doing the watching. Don't you see? We're the ones watching, waiting and watching. There's no-one else out there.
DOLORES, busying herself: This such a beautiful house.
JEFERSON: Beautiful? This is madness. No shops. No children in the streets. Sometimes I wish someone would
do something. Break in. Sometimes I think I'd be on their side.
DOLORES: You have gone crazy. Total crazy.
The DOORBELL rings. JEFERSON fingers his revolver.
JEFERSON: Son-of-a-bitch. Smart. One smart son-of-an-arsehole.
DOLORES: Sit! I will answer. Get behind the sofa, crazy.
JEFERSON doesn't move. DOLORES straightens her apron and presses the intercom.
INTERCOM VOICE: Hel-lo? We're collecting on behalf of the children's hospital. The scald ward? It's tax deductable. You get your name engraved on a trolley of your choice.
JEFERSON, raising a hand: Trolley my foot, they're casing the joint. Text book set-up. Let them in. Give them plenty of airtime, I say. I want to look these clowns right in the eyes.EXT. 3 BISHOPS AVENUE - DRIVEWAY - SUNSET
CLEMENCY DE VYSE, and TAUBE, a pair of n'er do wells, wait for the gates to close behind them.
DE VYSE: There is something in the air, Taube. The winds of change. Can you feel it? The tingle of improving luck. The common man's time has returned. One must always concede that one is nothing but the common man. Despite my obvious advantages, and despite your protestations, I find a vitality in admitting that I am nothing but Joseph K. Schmoe. A sinner in the Lord's kitchen. Humility fills me as I never imagined it could. Fills my cup and bowl. I am overwhelmed at times. While you, my friend, are the common toad. Incapable of sin, incapable of inner light. A child of the darkness.
TAUBE says nothing, but slowly looks around for CCTV cameras.
DE VYSE: Indeed, the enemy of the common man is about us, toad. But that is to be expected. Advance slowly, friend. Smiling as we go. Smile now.
Subject: Blogs D'Sprogs: the Naming Game
Time: 2010 Dec 27 01:05:00
It's a boy. A 21-week anomaly scan has revealed general health, along with the presence of a winkle. Wriggling has commenced, little kicks inside. Despite the benefits of pre-natal Pilates the mother is prone to wet herself.
I have been asked to think of names. A name that could work in "English as well as French." In the realm of social networking a unique name becomes important. It's your search key. Quite literally, no-one can find John Smiths. Plain Janes have dropped from the top 50 popular names, but have not been replaced by space-age monikers, no "XW115", no barcodes (why pretend, why pretend we're free, dude?) instead a host of 'classic' great-grandparenty names. Oliver and Olivia, Alfie and Harry, as if names have joined fascinators, burlesque and Blitz parties as 'Keep Calm and Carry On' chic.
Anyway, the mother is happy with a boy. She says she gets on better with boys (leap-frogging the fact that her teen friends were all female and she fought with her brother - I think this is just something people say.) For some reason the coolest names I came up with were female, so I am left to give secondary comment (in inverted commas) on the mother's list of suggestions:Bruno
. "Bruno sounds like a dog's name in English. Anything ending in -o is either a dog's name or a clown's name. I'd think twice about Bruno."Remi
. "Nice. A vaguely alcohol related baptism. Start him off as he means to go on. Sounds like something Keith Richards would call his kids."Gabin
. "As in Jean? If people didn't pronounce it in a French accent it would rhyme with cabin and come across as 'gabbing', talking too much."Luc
. "Not sure. Anything biblical is a bit conservative. Does the world need another canonical evangelist?"Cyrille
. "Cyril is generally a large Liberal or a vaguely nerdy name in the 70s. Sad, but I think there are few Cyrils being born these days. The name will probably have a rediscovery and be the height of dynamism."Bastien
. "Sounds dramatic. Definately the child of literary Goths or a BDSM couple. The last bastion, the last defence. 'Bastien' sounds like he assails his nanny with a riding crop."Johan
. "Very Swiss. He'll get yodelled at."Sylvain
. "Again, Goth parents or Sylvainian families."Gaétan
. "Please think hard before calling your son Gay Tan. What if he grows up exceptionally pale?"Émile
. "Not bad. Émile sounds like a serious boy. I think of Zola."Gregoire
. "Everyone will call him Greg. Greg - rarely one of life's villains. Nothing phases a Greg. Gregs do it all with a shrug."
Nothing phases a Greg. Gemmas are dead friendly. Ians think they are funnier than they really are. There is a theory that names carry subliminal baggage and each of us are trapped inside our own. I once met a Sarah Williams who claimed to have the world's most boring name, although there must be Arab sheikhs out there dreaming of such rose-like exoticism.
Any of these names could work in "English as well as French" in that they are single words composed of vowels and consonants. I am assuming, too much, that the child will go to schools like mine. The current leader is Étienne
, after a song by Guesch Patti, although perhaps after the mother's football team, Saint-Étienne. The mother doesn't mind if the son is gay ("It means the only woman he loves is me") so long as he likes football.
Subject: Borealis (from "Make It A Ballard Christmas", 2002)
Time: 2010 Dec 01 19:05:00Eerik Nurmi's starter consisted of wild mussels, debearded and heated in a plum tomato, red chilli and muscat broth. Meanwhile, to one side of the stove, torn oregano leaves from the grocery had been left to soak in a shot of brandy and, as steam threatened to split open the suffocating shells, he threw the contents of this tumbler into the bubbling sauce, pushed a clear lid onto the steel pot and given it a firm and rattling shake.
He delivered a cube of rye bread to each of his four guests and refilled any goblets found wanting.
All agreed that the mussels made a welcome starter on such a subzero evening. Low of fat, and clearly delicious. Eerik's ex partner had, at the last moment, shown up. Without her presence the other guests could have found it awkward. No-one wanted to take sides. No-one wanted to show a preference. So Eerik and Märta were still friends. Märta had offered it first, and Eerik had agreed. Why not? We didn't work as a romance. But why lose the friendship? Let's be friends. Sure.
Silence is not a crime in the suburbs of Helsinki, where many people will drink together in a state of wordlessness, grateful for a physical presence. It comes from treks between lost log cabins, from the fabled awe of northern lights. Either way, silence has no shame. But the conversation at Eerik's table that evening had flourished - around politics, shopping, the business exploits of old college friends - whether Eerik was in the living room or preparing the next course.
"Oh God," Lempi rolled her eyes at Märta. "Have you seen those new artisanal shops to the east of the harbour market? Purlease. Totally out of place. How can people afford all that boutique stuff?"
Eerik leaned through from the kitchen. "A turkey once cost a man two weeks wages. A turkey was exceptional. Hard graft's reward. Mass production has been good for the world. Sure it has. But only the distinctive remains significant. A mass produced Christmas has no meaning."
"So no baked ham?" Lempi gave a cartoon look of disappointment. "What are you cooking us?"
"Something significant." Eerik stressed. "Trust me, baby Jesus would have wanted it this way." He laughed forcefully and swallowed some more wine, wiping his mouth with one side of an oven glove.
Folded like crossing arms, over fondant potatoes and a rich beetroot salad, marooned in a mustard and sweet pea jus, rested two kebabs. Eerik joined the table. Skewered through with warped, singed wood, an orderly line of distinct geometric shapes. Dollops of flecked sauce hung off each morsel. It looked great.
"Work of art, Eerik." Someone said.
"What is it?" Lempi moved a kebab with one finger.
"Jesus." Tommi had tucked in already, pulling an oval shape off the end of his kebab, he was sucking and chewing it. "Fucking perfect, old man. Tender as." He swallowed, and then licked at his own teeth.
Eerik surveyed his new table. In need of a quality table for some time, one that could be extended, for friends, he had spent a long time locating the right one. It was expensive - but he hadn't hesitated. With the main course in place, he took his time to run both hands along its edge and briefly grip each side. "I'll take it." Spending power. It felt good.
"Something significant." He smiled as Märta began to nibble. "Merry Christmas to you all."
Tommi raised his glass then, using his fork, he slid another morsel into his waiting mouth. Lempi used her knife to dissect one of the ovals. Inspecting it, she raised one half to her mouth.
"Is it roast Swiss cheese?" She said. "Mine has holes."
"Melts in the mouth." Märta was pursuaded to speak. Joonas, the fourth guest, said nothing, as usual, but simply ate and watched the others.
"So, old man, what have you been up to?" Tommi felt the need to bring his host into the centre of the conversation. Rude not to. "We used to live in one anothers' pockets."
"Vodka for breakfast." Eerik smiled again.
"Song for lunch. Has to be done." In truth, all of them were fascinated by how much their old friends had grown up, or not.
Eerik found a napkin and used it. "I have been working. Work is what we do. We get ambitious. Ambition takes us to increased levels where the reward is greater and the hours are longer, and the reach of our business is global. I am less Eerik these days, the Eerik you knew, and more the sum of his work. I am a professional."
Märta glanced along table. Tommi spoke. "And for pleasure?"
"Pleasure?" Eerik seemed confused. He took time to respond. "Yes. We. We have been driving into the wilderness. As far north as we can. Lost cabins. Beyond network coverage. We break open doors and build a fire."
Märta asked Joonas if he wanted more wine. He refused, politely, using a soft voice.
Joonas then stood up and passed into the kitchen, for water. He preferred a glass of tap with his wine, otherwise the flavours accrued too much. Otherwise it could get sickly. He remained in the kitchen, filling and drinking tap water, looking through the window but listening to Eerik.
"We've been hunting. You see, we bought a rifle. Ninety three millimetre."
A silence unfolded and Tommi wondered if he was meant to say "Neat." Eerik noticed that Märta has taken out a tin of tobacco, so eager was she for a joint. The rich little stoner never stopped.
"The ninety three can be a devastating hunting bullet. The core and jacket remain locked during expansion, allowing more mass at impact. I wasn't sure what I was doing when I started. I felt like a child. I worried about recoil. It was a young fox. I blew it inside out. It's ribs and organs disintegrated."
Lempi burst out laughing and covered her mouth with both hands. Through the kitchen window, Joonas could see the moon.
"I moved onto minks and pine martens. But it proved unsatisfactory. I wanted to hunt an animal which could level up to me, charge me, possibly kill me. Only that is sport. The rest is farming."
Tommi waited a few moments. "Eerik, what have we been eating?"
"Well. Reindeer noses, my friend. The only significant dish at this time. Last weekend was a cull. I can only describe it as a frenzied cull."
Now it was Tommi's turn to laugh. A snorting laugh plugged with one knuckle of his right hand.
The room seemed to dissolve around him. Märta may have started talking, but it was as if Tommi was hearing her through water. He watched his plate. Gradually he picked up the remaining kebab and pulled another nose from the wood with his teeth. Sucked of sauce, it felt fuzzy where it had been skinned away from a more leathery exterior. His tongue found a pair of fatty lines. Perhaps it had been sawn off the skull in a slightly disgusted hurry. As his teeth bit through, this one felt gummy, but just as satisfying.
Subject: Blogs D'Sprogs: Papoose Duty
Time: 2010 Nov 22 22:40:00
A close friend is pregnant. Not by me. I have, nevertheless, already been pencilled in for papoose duty. Well, it'll be a privilege more than a chore. I'm unsure if I'll remain in London long enough to become a stand-in dad of merit, but it's an honour to help out. Parks, swings, feeds, even cleans, mostly the filling of a young head with meretricious humbug, fancy and flannel.
Praise You. I am in the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood and some hep young dad is recording every flicker and googoo of his infant. He'll probably edit it into a birth-to-birthday DivX set to a remix of 'Praise You' by Fat Boy Slim. If the child wasn't destined for crippling labyrinths of self-consciousness it will be now. Here's your placenta, Nathan. Born slippy, little dude! <radiophonic sound effect> Whoo! I watch him, thinking - of course he is proud, of course he is astonished. But there is something slightly OTT at work. So glad to have you in the world, buddy! Seems like a singing, dancing front for: you have no idea what we are fricking sacrificing, buster. No idea, nappy man. We're still in two minds ourselves. That unspeakable sacrifice seems to supercollide many streams of our lives - love, politics, social and antisocial structures. Even a reason to be here at all. Therefore faith. Chewing over children - it always begins with Stickle Bricks and ends up a Bergmanesque night of the soul.
Sacrificing what? Another wine bar watching your mates get grumpy and sparse? Samey art in a silent gallery? This is my friend's reasoning. The second half of life is rarely as vibrant or ambitious as the first. Let's be honest. It might as well be filled with the zappy richness of offspring. Men can have children any time, women with exploding body clocks point out. Hardly. Who wants their Zimmer frame used for goalposts? Being a sole parent, now that sex and childbirth are fully divorced, a woman instigates everything, takes every decision, I wonder if this alters psychology. No Oedipal triangle. Meanwhile men have responsibilities but not rights - possibly a good thing. And no-one tends to ask how the sole parent is. How is she? Hunger makes her sick, and her teeth are darkened by bleeding gums.
Worries. My worry is saying goodbye to a friend. London can price single parents out. Breeders can lose interest in anything but tots or fellow travellers. Financial and spiritual dark nights of the soul aside, pole-vaulting the absence of an actual relationship, my main worry about children is the moulding. The only way to prevent children being an expensive way to ensure that your sloth and bad habits reach the electromagnetic anti-burst of the Big Crunch, a different kind of upbringing seems required. There is not enough experimentation in the very quarters of life we need to experiment with. Fresh ingredients and flavour. Better than Alphabites and no beliefs at all. "My parents were revolutionary syndicalists and naked as jaybirds, so for me the police was a way to rebel". Even half a parental conviction seems to bring something out in people, something that the pot-plant void of apolitical sitting rooms does not. The buzz of artists and anarchists. The bawdy humour of the salon. The dangerous ardour of the barrio. Anything beats low income urban isolation. Welcome to the Crap.
Moulding happens in spite of itself. You may reject your dad's jazz but you'll probably be fussy about obscure garage rock with the same shape and intensity. Women who have mother issues inevitably have daughter issues. Perhaps it's just a localised hatred of femininity, the silliness of pink. I know couples where femininity is bashed out of daughters with sticks in the name of, I don't know, is it feminism? To hate femininity? To clip it, chop it and burn. Beware the mother-h8ter, young man, beware her raft of kooky, solipsistic issues. It is a profound legacy being knocked forward.
Class is also moulded in, of course. Boybands are bashed out. Cellos are bashed in. The baroque mittel-Europeanisms that pass for posh. The upper class seem infinitely more limit-setting, censorious and annoying than working class parents. That said, if you don't have the money to expose your children to much more than lolly sticks with biro'ed smiles all the open minds in the world won't be a benefit. Bright working class kids tend to get their careers advice from people who've never had one. Thick rich kids go farther, given time, than bright poor kids. If your dad ran his own business and caroused the barmaids at the local golf club with a well-aimed blue jape, you'll inherently assume the same position, even once your prodigal years motorbiking back and forth in Guatemala are gone.
Which leads me to another controversial opinion - chancy families just aren't enough. Too narrow. Let's raise children communally, at a grandparents' distance, full of influence and wisdom, rhizomatic praxis more than mere education, in kibbutzim. It works better, crime is unheard of, and it works for more people. Why should a child be penalised by parentage at the very age it is most vulnerable? "Bored of the Kibbutz is Bored of Life" will fly like bunting over every maternity ward, while analysts devise fresh challenges for a race of supersocial, multiskilled, maxi-persons.
Let's slip another wild maxim into the pool: grandparents make better parents than parents. More distanced, less controlling, empathetic, encouraging. Going where the child wants instead of moulding. Less a maniac of self-congratulation or woe over their own parenting abilities. Less likely to see the child as an extension of themselves, one of life's inexorable measures, rather than an individual. Less likely to interfere so much they push the train off the tracks and just delay what is probably inevitable. Handing over skills which actually socialise a child, rather than a decade of dreamt self-harm.
Using an instrument resembling a pale blue Stylophone I listen to a fœtal heart chuttering nine to the dozen in my friend's lower belly. Welcome to the world. It's a mess (says someone born while the shot were pleading for last rites in the street). Okay, it's always a mess, but I hope it is not boring. Your mother is French and plans to be back at work within four days or something. You won't be messed up. Not really. You might pretend to be, but most people are cured by money and love. Two things which are fully possible. Or were at time of writing.
Subject: Photoblog, October and November
Time: 2010 Nov 11 22:15:00
1. What is a broad? A broad is a bit like a dame, only two times as sassy. Talks like a tommy gun. Crosses the street like she's smuggling cocoanuts. Ya gotta stand up to a broad or she'll give a guy the runaround. Treat him like a dog. A dog trained to shine shoes with a hundred dollar shirt tail. Ya gotta show a broad the bottom rope from round one. I don'ts mean a smack on the chops over coffee. Just smooth talk like you was tha cheese. Anyway, some wise guy in da gas station told me Norfolk was fulla broads, broads like you never seen, so I's hotfooted it up there quick as Jack B. Robinson. Was I a gallumph, or just a douche royale? You decide. 2. Southwold Pier. These kooky coin-ops were designed by Tim Hunkin, who made pyrotechnic pigs and sheep for Pink Floyd, amongst other things. 3. The head office of the UK's ruling political party was being boarded up tonight. A few placards still litter the street. Small signs, a cyclist in my office (I was working during the invasion) changes his inner tube, a knuckle of glass got lodged in his front tyre this morning. On the bus a shy-looking lady reads "Sod Calm and Get Angry". Angry is back. The same people who say “violent protest doesn’t work” will say that peaceful protest doesn't work (look at Gandhi) (look at Iraq). Nothing works, least of all the half-way house democracy we struggle with. Freesheet readers; bitter breeders, their political libido drained with every nappy change. The comparison will be some post-war gripe or other, but the post-war world has been dismantled. Charles I’s death warrant worked, in the shadow of Banqueting House. Despite the dumb hysteria of the 'policing media', public support seems strong, tingling. This thing is post-party, we slowly accept. Miliband can't undo these changes, any more that Blair undid Thatcherism. It's easier to melt the silver than reforge spoons. 85% of the deficit bailed out bankers, inept gamblers, leaving the poor an ass-busted scapegoat (cap rents not benefits, tackle workshy landlords). Meanwhile the cheaper police-media trot out Whitehall's line. They say that satirists moved from satirising politicians to their spin doctors, the Machiavels behind it all. There is no brain here, just small boys making it up. Angry is not enough. Artists avoid terms like beauty these days, but beauty needs to be core in 2011.
Subject: Accelerationism: reflections of the modern motorist
Time: 2010 Oct 17 20:40:00
1. Asked for my green credentials, by some green gendarme, and I'd begin by saying that I don't have a car. Even better than the hybrid or the electric, the walk. A psychogeographer and boulevardier, keen for humanity to stay at human scale. I localise my spending and rarely consume for its own sake.
2. That said I recently took joint custody of Patti, an Italian supermini formerly owned by a friend of the violinist from Scarlet's Well, Bid from the Monochrome Set's band. Lineage intrigues me more than spec, obviously. I've never been an under-bonnet aficionado. I don't really care if it handles like a chimp on stilts. I think people watch 'Top Gear' for the infectiousness of male enthusiasm rather than trims and torque. Patti accelerates well, she reaches the recognised national speed limits, and she pulls to a stop when required. Everything else is toot. Or is it?
clunk click fumble to adjust the seat assure neutrality chug chug becomes limber yet frothy engine sounds the existential carriage comes alive like a mind within a mind I now start talking out loud let's roadtest! we make it up highgate hill needing a quick hill start no problem through the village slowly round two roundabouts and lets try finchley it's all coming back to me
3. My nephews used to ask "What kind of car do you drive, uncle?" And when the answer was 'none', they looked like I'd just started passing around photographs of my boyfriend. Obviously the world is full of female drivers but the car remains a kind of male retreat, the sense-maker in their world, the armoured buggy, shield for a blind spot body, a rite of passage.
4. I pass my driving test first time. That evening I realise that I've never driven at night, my lessons taking place in the afternoon. The act of working the lights begin to panic me. What are the various settings? Whither dipping? Was it up, or down, and when? I am dipping Morse code to truckers, and the emergency lights, and slow-motioning around a roundabout.
the north circular oh you beauty tall grim fences triple glazing for beseiged mock tudor houses a lung-filler soot on their white painted sills the endless choired grind of disinterested engines the weaverbirds the ambler gamblers crossing unhappy souls who missed the turnoff for IKEA and have to drive to Wembley now
5. I crashed, once. I met black ice on a country lane. I wasn't travelling very fast but all control left the steering wheel immediately. I felt the car turn ninety degrees and break into a low, stone wall. It was graceful, past frightening, inevitable, like the last seconds of life.
6. The male retreat. I don't know how many times the main road outside my house has been resurfaced in this past decade. It rarely seems to need it, but I imagine the decision-makers prioritising annual budgets (the work begins in the March spend-out) through especially male eyes. Gotta keep the boy's toys turning. So the bulldozers can get to the rape crisis centres and day care facilities. Needs must.
7. I have had sex in a car. It was securely parked and we weren't dogging. She was a nice person whom I trusted. It was nice. Not much to report about that. Unlike the date I had who brought up the subject of masturbating at work. "I've never masturbated at work" I told her. Oh, come on. Everyone's at it, she implored. What are you talking about? I was shocked. Never in my long years I have had the slightest inkling to 'knock one off' in a filing cabinet. Nor have I been witness to determined buckle-bashing in any adjacent cubicle. Get outta here. She was American, and a workaholic. Maybe it's just me. Maybe the rest of the world is working late, gusset typing like a fleet of chipmunks.
8. My elder brother was very much a car man. Souped-up Capri, a row of horns parping out his monophonic approach, furry steering wheel turning, barely witnessed through mirrored glass (adhesive). Too much Dukes of Hazzard. But the 70s and 80s were car-orientated, when no man could deny their magnetizing power. Car commercials are uniquely annoying, especially when they use that kind of low slung philosophy. The drive is your life. Car songs = bumpers as ass.
9. I had a car, many moons ago. A boxy Japanese lawn mower of a thing everyone thought was ugly, but we had a lot of fun together. It got stolen in Camden and resurfaced weeks later at a crime scene in Walthamstow. Smooth criminals.
and home through neasden and harlesden and willesden aka the dens I never seem to visit them who would come visit the dens and why? give me a reason to traipse the dens caller on line one I visit the dens all the time I'm a Hindu Temple spotter a Hindu Temple spotter? and the dens is where you need to be caller on line two I work for the dens marketing board and I'm outraged by what can only be described as the flagrant anti-denitism of your show why denigrate when the dens are great that's our new motto in fact
10. The car will mean I get no exercise, I will superstore and superpurchase for no real reason. Shopping becomes an excursion in itself. Cars are the illusion that you are going somewhere, just as smoking is the illusion that you are doing something. I begin to like the car. It represents extension and acceleration. My staycations and weekenders have a new libido. Beacons, fens and broads are calling.
11. Do I have a dream car? It might have to be vintage. I could see myself in a Citroën DS, but that has 'Hoxton successful' written all over it. A working class Capri could undermine that, but a full-on two-door musclecar might flummox everyone. A 1974 Pontiac Firebird. It's got a big bird on the hood, mate, in flames. That's a car.
Subject: Autumn equinox with the Aughakillymaude mummers
Time: 2010 Oct 02 23:30:00
Good weather blessed a late summer camping excursion with two old friends on the banks of Lough Erne in Fermanagh. An infinite mesh of stars around a full moon, stove beans, a squawking v-formation of geese succeeded in shaking us alive each morning. The lake was used as a WWII flying boat base to patrol the Atlantic, and has deer, marinas, a deep forest and the friendly teashops of Enniskillen close at hand. Door to door pantomime and nonsense verse don’t happen exclusively at election time. The Aughakillymaude mummers held a sombre stag horn dance, then lit a grouchy-looking Barleycorn to usher in the autumn. Part comedy folk drama, part horror film, I wondered if my ancestors fled in concern from Jenny Wren, Little Wit, Beelzebub, or Doctor Good and Sure.
I visited my folks, then rebounded to Belfast. Also staying at the open house was a serious young soul rebel from Tyrone, prone to show up with a black eye he can remember nothing about, and to the head-stagger after a Top Deck or three, walking through the door of Zara, Royal Avenue, only hours off the bus. We wrote a protest song, ‘Justice for the Zara One’, to sing as he emerged from respite at Musgrave Street police station, but we slept in. His girlfriend is studying psychology and criminology at Queens so could be expanding her homework. Sure it’s all good. You wouldn't have the auld emerald isle any other way.I, Devil D'out, do invite you in / To see my lowly world of sin / I'll hone you drunk and drunk agin / And leave you sore and shoeless / Witness here old Molly Gove / She had her fill and mad I drove / A shawl of bitchhouse tears I wove / Her customers were clueless / One whorehound he became too much / She split her fist across his crutch / He swore "I'll kill you just a touch" / And left her black and woesome / She took a scuttle from the grate / And broke it well across his pate / Enough to end his Godless wake / She still seemed sick and loathesome / Oh Devil D'out, what have I done? / I asked if she was having fun / She dashed the whiskey till I spun / A reel inside the mirror / At times I visit pauper's knoll / The place they buried mad old Moll / Her bones are dust, these words are all / The world has to consider
Time: 2010 Oct 04 16:40:00
All my life I've only really wanted to be one thing: an acid casualty. Acid casualties have an authority and an aloofness, at every level, that no-one else I have encountered comes close to. I think that I can define it best by describing the first acid casualty I ever met. It was in south London, of course, at a house party shaking with 'psychedelic trance', not far from Herne Hill, sometime around 1992. I'd fallen asleep on a sofa in a spare room, near the top of a rambling, endless old house, as the festivities began to deplete.
In the morning, as I was gathering myself to leave, I found that ten or so individuals were still slumped or swaying inside the book-lined kitchen. Again, very spacious by north London standards, with a long wooden table still laden with bottles, cans, bongs and ash trays. Crystals and Goan bric-a-brac filled the window sills, while beams from prisms and infinite fractals splayed across poster prints. "Come in! Have a green tea." I found myself accepting a mug from a grey-haired lady in loose amber pants and a bra, dreadlocks. I didn't recognise anyone else in the kitchen. A phosphorescent alien observed me from a rocking chair. Someone was joking about failing to remember the night before. I thumbed a newspaper spread across the table, sipped the tea and watched the clock.
"I remember." I heard a voice behind me, from an armchair just inside the door. "I remember all. I travel time. Travel time all the time." A rainbow-coloured beanie hat, a beard and little else, this man was surely in his mid sixties. His eyes were flickering with inner visions, from some seemingly irreversible trip. "Before the druids. Abraham's gang. Popes. Buddhas. Before print and paper and papyrus. Chiselling down our history. Before self-consciousness."
"We were worms. Part fish. Related to worms." Someone who was still dancing explained.
The man in the armchair mustered his anger. "After the worms. Long after the worms. There were real religions. The origins of them all. Before guilt. Before territory and war. I visit them. The nomads. Those still at one with the eternal consciousness. I consult my good friends there."
"Here you go, Simon." The woman in the bra crossed the kitchen to offer something.
"The psychonaut travels alone!" Simon's tone was abrupt and insistent.
"You'll have a biscuit." Two fig rolls slipped from a pack and across his saucer. Simon's hollow focus settled once again on the ceiling.
At this point an Asian girl wearing white fur boots handed me a sleeping baby and told me that she needed the bathroom. I tried to explain that I should be getting on my way but she had gone. I didn't know Herne Hill. The child wriggled lightly in my arms but I couldn't take my eyes off Simon. What consideration did this man have for love, law, economics? Family. Even morals. Should we have a monarchy or not? Simon floated above it all, looking across our petty considerations like a zoo-keeper through bars. Simon was free. How many tabs does that take? What consumption is required, to go where Simon goes, and never return?
"The nomads see no boundaries. They walk as they breathe, even through sleep, and cross one another's paths like telepathy. Life on earth is still fresh and warm, like lava. In an orgasmic state. Human skin tingles, smiles and laughter are ever-present. Only when lifespace cools and hardens does territory begin." Simon's fig roll moved back and forth, never able to reach his mouth.
My teens fell to a disillusioned end as the nineties wore on. Social diversity was championed at the same moment everyone seemed resigned to an inward homogenisation. Using the same set of tools, they trained in one trick. Educationally bright, I lost interest around my A-levels and began missing school. Rather than 'uni', I dreamt about life as a casualty, a sheet-eater, one hundred flips nearer freedom. Ten sheets, a book of one thousand, would put any person straight over the rainbow. I read what I could, listened to what I could and watched what I could. I studied Barrett and Erickson. Was Manson one of us? He talked a good game but seemed dogged by ego. The book-biter exposes the matrix, moves through non-duality and loses all ego, and therefore ambition and pain, forever. I worked out the sums I would need for a thousand tab book, and estimated how long those kind of savings might take to accrue. I asked around and met as many casualites as I could, from mild paranoids to fullblown moonwalkers. I told them I was interviewing for a book.
I got a summer job working in an insurance group's reference library and then did a short course in information management, but couldn't find a position. The same day that my parent's divorce came through I was offered a temporary role at my local book-lending library. The contract got extended, and eventually fell permanent.
I was resolutely unaffected by my parent's divorce. I used to hear tales of the damage that divorce did to children, but the damage seemed to be sourced mostly from stigma. Remove the stigma and people seem resilient enough to get through anything. I proved to be equally distant regarding romance, being untouched by it. If asked to describe myself it would never be as frosty and robotic. Even today I see my persona as having an inherent warmth, fluidity, some colour. But the ups of romance never balance the downs. I don't watch the opposite sex through thick glass. I'm not a sour puss. I'm not even fighting something. I'm detached. My boss would kill me if I suggested that the greater my detachment the better a librarian I became, but it is true. We sit, on a day to day basis, processing, filing. Even people and their problems, the customer-facing issues, become another kind of processing. People get the same interaction from me as they get from anybody. Just in saner doses.
I opened a savings account and began adding an amount every month. The library hasn't changed much in the all the years I've been here. Wide, long, one storey. It must have been a shriek of modernity in the 1980s. Bare pipes across the ceiling. Pastels and primary colours. Triangular desks. Geometric bookends on glossy, grey steel shelves. Even a pair of faux classic columns to accomodate what is now the bank of net-enabled terminals near the children's section, which has been decorated and redecorated with bean bags, small wheeling tables and animals since year dot.
I have been here longer than anyone, although more qualified managers have come and gone above me. They arrive with big plans, implement a part of them, till cost or complaints or the council chase the more fanciful notions away. They get righteous or restless and move on. I have no doubt about the secret to my longevity, and this is my ability to do the mundane tasks with accuracy, with speed and without complaint. In fact, slipping into my headphones, taking a trolley laden with returns and setting out around the shelves has become the love of my life. I sort the returns into categories, then by Dewey number. I reshelve and tidy as I progess. I formulate ideas for face-out selections, staff recommendations or fortnightly themes to bring focus to the central table, themes illustrated by a mix of books, DVDs and music.
I needed to try acid. Researching this thing was not enough. I needed to take it somewhere public. I didn't want to associate my first experience with sitting cooped up in a bedroom. I decided on the seaside. I would get the bus to a pretty coastal town that I used to visit as a child, check into a guest house, get high and have a paddle. "I'm doing three for two," sniffed the seller, a willowy, well-spoken friend of a schoolfriend. He handed me an l-shaped trio of paper squares with a pair of red shoes on each. "Ruby Slippers. Tasty." The lights of a pub fruit machine winked on and off behind his head, as if he was a Christmas tree.
I drank a can of beer sitting on the edge of the guest house bed. I placed a tab under my tongue for a few minutes, then washed it down with a final mouthful, and put on my coat and scarf. I danced down the stairs and through the hall. "Is everything suitable?" The guest house owner appeared. I hadn't even unpacked, and already an empty beer can was swinging between my fingers.
"Beautiful view. Brings it all back, Mrs Coates. I'm just scouting round for my honeymoon. Do you do those? Only we thought about Bali but everyone does that, don't they? I'd rather have a traditional brass bedstead and a choc ice. Sea air. Not that there's no sea in Bali, but it's hardly sea sea if you see what I mean."
"I do. I do." Mrs Coates glanced back into the parlour and, despite being marked Private, she ushered me through the door. "We do more than honeymoons. A honeymoon plus."
A decorous family room lay mostly in shade, with glass cabinets and a conservative suite arranged around a television. On a lace-covered table sat a collection of white photo albums. "You may not have noticed that our garden adjoins the nominated Apex Hotel. With forward planning any scale of marqueed service or reception can be accommodated. Are you a religious couple? Any pressures or preferences there?"
Card pages of a photo album fell forward in front of me. Smiling couples in an embossed, heart-shaped crop. A horse and buggy. An array of well-fed guests holding a pose on a foot bridge. A bride on a soft-focus swing, her new husband poised to push, mixed expressions on their faces. "This really is A1, Mrs Coates. I'm blown away."
"Not that faith should make a difference. I'll tell you the secret to a wonderful wedding. Not the gown. Not the photographer. The secret is to give one another grace. You are offering your life to a partner. Simple but monumental. Good grace is too mature to be usual these days. Grace sees the whole of our lives, from our beginning to the end. It appreciates the tears too."
The more Mrs Coates talked about grace the more my eyes travelled along her pony tail to its brittle ends, and then to full breasts held in a cream cotton shirt, well ironed. Her hands were still wet. A flower arrangement lay on the table in the kitchen, half-there. Sharp scissors had recently snipped through fibrous stems leaving lime-coloured swipes of juice on the blades. The lead crystal vase was empty. The tips of her fingers hovered, unable to touch the photo albums.
Blue bean-shapes. Red bean-shapes churned in the sky. Pale greens reached up and bled into the sun. The sea itself proved subtly sarcastic when we talked, later that day. "Aren't you freezing? Go ahead. Bury yourself. It's the first time. It's what people do."
I mention this because I saw Simon today. He was a old man in an old-man's duffle coat, with old man's skin and hands. He walked past the library while I was on lunch break. I followed along the pavement, briefly, to confirm what I had just seen. His stride seemed full of purpose. I would have worried for him, otherwise, but his walk convinced me.
And, later in the afternoon, when the rain started, he came into the library. As usual, I was behind a trolley of returns, on a footstool at the far end of those grey steel shelves. He wore scuffed trainers, a clean shirt and tracksuit bottoms under his coat. He walked straight past the terminals and into the children's area, as if that's what he did that every day.
I remained on the footstool for a while, wary that Simon walked alone, then I stood up. A person turns left into the children's section from here. The walk along a blindsided wall seemed to take forever. I realised my heart was beating fast. I wondered if I had imagined him. A streak-of-black, a cat running past a wall. Perhaps the image was a flashforward. He wouldn't be there when I turned the corner. I turned the corner, but I couldn't open my eyes.
Subject: Israeli cavemen ruin a recycling bin: EOTR 2010
Time: 2010 Sep 14 10:08:00
Highlights of the End Of The Road festival 2010 (in the style of a rock weekly journalist): Whoa there! Pulled Apart By Horses could blow the cobwebs off a Sports Day trophy shelf down at the Tarantula School. Fast and headfucky, think Drive In driving over a cliff into some jagged rocks, then bouncing around for nearly an hour. All say neigh! Albini-produced and banned from ATP, Monotonix gradually pull the band itself through the crowd and out into a recycling bin, testing the fourth wall by letting the audience play their instruments - while they indulge in simulated sodomy. What about an old-fashioned love song, boys? It doesn't deconstruct any further than this, folks, and they won't be supporting Daniel O'Donnell in the forseeable future. Jessica Lea Mayfield's got the soft, Southern Belle accent to floor this pensman (with, ahem, a book of contacts to choke a small field of sheep). And she has songs. They're sad, y'all. Bluer than the chides of a chiseller who just banged his stupid thumbelina. Meanwhile, Drum Eyes know the score. They are a) Japanese, b) supercollide krauty, spaceman dub with soundtracky electro, chiptune with gabba and a Flowers-of-Romance-type fiddle. Trust the Nippons to reduce the world and his wife to its bare bones, mere patterns, hints and patina. But don't wait up for a "catchy chorus". Those are for babies. Finally, Cate le Bon is a Welsh Nico who's deeper than a bell-diving baritone one minute, kookier than a gooney bird the next. Well I'll be.
I need power to feel equal / I'm more comfy behind rules / I walk the world the Clipboard Man / Who cannot suffer fools / If a waster or a joker / I'll make sure you know your place / Make sure 'far out' never goes too far / And fun stays lower case / I litmus test your pissed jeans / Pour cold water on your daydreams / Rummage bins for cans and roaches / Hold a plumbline to your seams / I see others watching out for me / They step out of my way / So many need the clipboard / To bring meaning to their day / Seeking wayward forms of spelling / I will lurk outside a dwelling / I patrol at given hours / Excessive decibelling / This world for me is black and white / There's villains and there's clockwork / There's those who overstep the mark / And stoned, short-changing shop clerks / I know this life cannot go on / This old despotic dance / I'll be shouting "Who's the daddy?" / Wearing thick, white plastic pants / A Clipboard Man should make his peace / Look his failings in the eye / Or he'll need power to feel equal, till he dies
Subject: Photoblog, July and August
Time: 2010 Aug 26 19:20:00
1. Sebastian Horsley’s front door. Last seen alive outside Westminster Reference Library with a mobile phone to his ear, watching me with a blend of solipsism and venomous critique. Even ex-heroin addicts have a unique stare - half piercing, half focused on the back of their own mind. Associated him with the search for the Wildean one-liner, the bon mot voyage. “Have you anything to declare?” “Only my genitals,” was one of his. 2. I heard the damnedest thing in an art gallery. Pizza slices of vinyl, carefully adhered and then played. Obviously it tends to the cut-up, Cabaret Voltaire go Burroughs and Gysin, and the same effect could be tricked up in Pro Tools or Cakewalk in no time. But the No Tools approach was impressive for the work/love involved. The Phantom Work-Love Principle is obviously a key stage in the post-digital environment. 3. The Man with the Roxette Tattoo. "There can't be too many of those around." I quipped. We both appeared to have joined the slow queue for beer. He didn't turn immediately but when he did it was deliberate - "What d'ya mean by that, mate?" "Oh. I just mean, there can't be many of those around." I gave a small shrug, pointing at his left calf. "Which means.. what, exactly?" He exploded. Suddenly he was in my face. "Gone quiet, mate. If you've got something to say, come out and say it." Shaking, I had fractions of seconds to decide - would whistling 'Joyride' diffuse the situation, or worsen it? 4. Avoiding any future as a joyrider, my nephew just landed 10 A* GCSEs. It never excuses a Limahl haircut, in my view. I got four As, four Bs and a C (English Lit, I blame ‘Lark Rise to Candleford’). Textbook education feels both limited and over-valued. Gumption, praxis, glorious failure - surely we've a drought. 5. I bought orange lilies, tigerlilies, for the Anne Frank Suite, for the Glorious Twelfth. An inflammatory burst of colour. Less a faux-unionist, more a Northerner who feels its difference. No fan of nationalism, be it Irish, Scottish, English, Welsh. Why why six+ (?) parliaments and assemblies on a small set of islands like these? Racy profferings I know. 6. Who is this? One of the Moshi Moshi DJs and dancers, maybe. An interesting label, a "truffle pig in an A&R forest" they say. Hot Chip, The Drums, Kate Nash, Cocknbullkid, Florence and the Machine. The knack of discovering, only to release a limited and one-off collectable. Emerge as a taste-maker who curates club nights. Craft Capitalism – Belgian brewers, the 'Third Italy' - maybe the future is modesty and quality more than American Apparel.
Subject: Bins (a DIY play)
Time: 2010 Sep 19 17:23:00
SCENE: An empty living room in a council flat. Stage right, a radio on a covered chair. Downstage right, an inflatable mattress fallen at angles to the chair. Stage left, a very large tub of white paint on the floor, with trays and brushes beside it.
TIME: Present, one afternoon.
At rise: LUCA, a man in his early twenties, is naked from the waist up and is painting the upstage wall, using a roller on an extension pole. Two VOICES can be heard, as if through the walls. As if, but not entirely, an argument is taking place next door. The VOICES can be any combination of male or female but must be consistent throughout the production. Despite some words the VOICES use, their tone is mannered, dispassionate and upper class. Often they sound as if they are reading from a script. LUCA is oblivious to them.
VOICE 1: You're having a laugh. Standing there in your two-tone gladrags. Remember Soho Vittore? He was a strutting zobb. If you'll pardon the Maltese.
VOICE 2: I'm going out.
VOICE 1: You're going out nothing.
VOICE 2: I need the High Street.
VOICE 1: You're going out to get my notes. A neat clip of which was pinned right here, only this morning. Where is it?
VOICE 2: Your notes. I keep on telling you. Notes go. The world is moving fast. Nothing waits on tables.
VOICE 1: (Pause) It's time we had this out. You and your smartass empathy deficit. It's all a laugh. Notes up the walls. Bungs left and right over the town. What am I to do, living with a common handler?
VOICE 2: We're here for a good time. Not a long time.
VOICE 1: I feel sorry for you. Your sort. I absolutely do.
VOICE 2: Don't feel sorry for me. It's the ones who aren't here we should feel sorry for.
VOICE 1: How can anybody feel sorry for.. (Long pause) I'm going out.
VOICE 2: You? Going out? You're seriously joking. On the bottle? Rolling the sauce? Face down in a black cab teaming with cleavage? You?
VOICE 1: Keep going, tossjam. This is where my notes have sunk. Into some stinking man's trumpet. Some jigging fuckpot. Giving you the glad eye and a flat fruit shandy. Plying you with the never-ending hand.
VOICE 2: I keep telling you. It's voluntary work. Charity. Teach a trumpet and you feed it for life.
VOICE 1: Pleasing yourself is all you've ever done. I remember when you were young. Gimme this. Gimme that. When the sun had gone and the birds huddled for heat along the boardwalk, the jangling man would struggle across the sand, selling the last of his lollies. And what did you do?
VOICE 2: What?
VOICE 1: You had an idea. I would distract him with a sore knee. And you would steal us an extra squirt of the old ġulepp. Diddy.
VOICE 2: Diddy?
VOICE 1: Three bottles in a row, shaking on the counter - red diddy, blue diddy, yellow diddy. One squirt of sauce per cornet. This was the law. Choose your diddy. Live or die in your affiliation.
VOICE 2 (perking up): I wanted a cocktail. The tang of orange diddy. The forbidden swirl of the purple. I'm a pioneer. It's all coming back to me.
VOICE 1: I began my hopping. Fell to the sand and cried.
VOICE 2: I remember none of this now. How do you make this up? I'm going out.
VOICE 1: The jangle man pushed through the back door of his wagon, while you took a chance.
VOICE 2: No. No.
VOICE 1: Double diddy. You did it. You actually did it. A cry went up. The daft old bastard didn't stand a chance.
VOICE 2: Why do you make this stuff up? And how?
VOICE 1 (slowly): With a clear conscience. The memory sings when the shores of conscience are clear. Scruples guide my tongue. You, unholy tossjam, slack-jawed zobb, have deeper-seated issues. In some ways I feel sorry for you. In many ways these problems bind us. I believe, ultimately, in the greater good.
VOICE 2 (with a start): Go AWOL for the greater good. There's too many of everything.
VOICE 1: Don't start.
VOICE 2: A good war would open this frigging anthill. It's not natural. More and more people. More and more insignificant. More and more bloody barrani walking around like they baked the cake and blew out the candles. The human ego can only take so much.
VOICE 1: Is that why you ran away?
VOICE 2: I did not run away. I joined the forces. I sometimes think, I have been thinking a lot of late, that I joined the forces to rid myself of you.
VOICE 1: You're not serious.
VOICE 2: A gun in my hand meant that your voice would no longer be in my head.
VOICE 1: Come to your senses.
VOICE 2: Part of something. Meaning. Something undefeatable, something.. else. Something.. it wasn't us.
VOICE 1: I'm hurt now. This is why you've been going out?
VOICE 2: It took me round the world. It's like housework. A jet fighter. The hoover of death. Carpet bombing. Gloves-off. I wasn't born for the domestic. The lads. The captain. The jungle I can do. The bay and the desert. Villages raised. Burnt out like bastards. Streaming out screaming.
VOICE 1: These you can do. These you can do. And this is why you're ruining our home and blowing my notes?
VOICE 2: I told you. A house is four walls and a weak sleep.
VOICE 1: More than walls. Sweet memories.
VOICE 2: Rubble and broken pipes. Black glue. Black human glue. The captain, the blond sadistic bastard.
VOICE 1 (pausing): Tell me about the bastard. This is news. This is interesting.
VOICE 2: The blond bastard. My job is to fuel the hoovers. Jigger the switches, tap the lights. But he wants me to go. A second private in the rear, he needs. We're a bit depleted, he says. This isn't why I joined the forces, I tell him. Your job is to drop, his voice is as patient as only a thoroughbred asshole can be. You've got thumbs, haven't you? That's all we need these days. When the machine says so, the thumbs are go. What if I hit an orphanage, I ask. He laughs. It's all spy in the sky stuff. Fullproof. He laughs again. There are no orphanages.
VOICE 1: I'll make a mint tea after. I have pastizzi.
VOICE 2: I met the pilot. The pilot was the most silent man I'd ever encountered. Most silent people say something. But he just nodded once, for hello. Once again, for 'after you', as we climbed the steps. And a third time, for 'I guess this is it', once the beast shuddered into life. I am guessing that the third one meant 'This is it'. It could have been a brain hemorrhage for all I know.
VOICE 1: You don't know?
VOICE 2: We flew under control, a plaything, the blond bastard laughing inside our helmets. A sharp left. We darted right. Low over the landscape. We were being shafted, and we knew it. Villages appeared, dirt roads, a cart. Rivers had bridges. Roads widened, fields defined, and the villages became a town.
VOICE 1: Oh Madonna.
VOICE 2: He took us low over the first one. We shook the buildings, blew laundry off a line. People took cover.
VOICE 1: I didn't realise.
VOICE 2: Following the river, we skimmed lakes and a forest. Then another town. A citadel with walls, shops with tradesmen. The roads grew durable. Rudimentary traffic began its flow. Lights appeared. We were looking for the city.
VOICE 1: With the bastard in your ears. And the pilot?
VOICE 2: Lifeless. Like a stuffed sack.
VOICE 1: Good God.
VOICE 2: I must confess I thought of you, as the traffic lights and roundabouts appeared.
VOICE 1: I'm not sure I want to listen any further.
VOICE 2: Yes, you. Back here. The face I always head back to. The head I'm always facing.
VOICE 1: I've been thinking. Why don't we both go out? Together. It's always you going out and me complaining. We could go to the cinema.
VOICE 2: The suburbs grew tall. Concrete shells of unfinished office blocks. Unfitted. Wires. Ambition cut short. The bastard had fallen silent. Just engines. Nothing but slipstream, leaving our echo far behind. There is no arguing with it. I felt high. High on death. Close ahead, someone was smiling their last smile, testing a final coffee, wondering if it was Fair Trade. And their loved ones would never see them again.
VOICE 1: Look, here at the Regal. Three thirty. A team of tough-talking attorneys downshift to forage for turnips.
VOICE 2: The bastard returned. "Soon." He said. "Thumbs." His voice seemed weak with pleasure. Overwhelmed. Weightless. He sounded like a surrogate for himself, finally liberated from the pains of existence. The pains we only learn to accommodate.
VOICE 1: Or there's the Coronet. A young girl body-switches with the paramedic who saved her life. It's called Bodybags and Lollipops.
VOICE 2: Bodybags and lollipops. Black glue. Human glue. Bent me good. I feel nothing. Everything is nothing now. No sense to it all. People. An evil surplus. How could I have a family now? What could I do in a family? Two little eyes. Four. Eight feet walk on splinters, and weep for shoes. Entertain me, love me. Ghostly kids and a sex-mad spouse looking for magic every night. I couldn't cope with those demands. You'd explode.
VOICE 1: And so. And so. The future is blowing my notes on a stinking man's trumpet.
VOICE 2: Precisely. That's what happened. You nailed it. Correcto mundo. Comme d'habitude.
VOICE 1: To hell with you, tossjam. I'm going out.
(Enter AVY, a woman in her late teens, wearing a pair of headphones and carrying a birdcage.)
AVY (removing her headphones): What a day. Back and forth. Back again. I found Deathmageddon Four at the library.
LUCA (ending his work): Sorry about the noise last night.
AVY: You always apologize and I never hear a thing. Who was she?
LUCA: Someone from the Tap.
AVY: Saw her leaving. Gave me a start. Gave me a smile. Borrowed my shower gel. Oh well.
LUCA (setting down his roller): I've kept day hours for three days now. I'm meeting real people again.
AVY: Well done, babe. What time are you up?
LUCA: I'm up at ten. That's as good as day hours. I can't get over at night.
AVY: You've no reason to get over. It's good to see you, good to have you around.
LUCA (folding back across the mattress and closing his eyes): Fourteen.. days between benefits. I need to sleep for at least ten of those. ..body is made out of memory foam. I can hardly stand, sis. I can hardly think. Dreams inside dreams. I hold onto.. the railings.. just to get me to the end of the road.
AVY: Keep a pattern. Jog. Keep off the net, and the weed. You're doing great. Get some applications out.
LUCA (falling asleep): Have.. no choice. Missed the.. pub quiz Tuesday.. pound to.. enter.
AVY: The world is moving fast but we hardly move at all. (LUCA starts to snore evenly) I should open a window. You need a thick skin in mixed weather. If you're slow enough you can watch it grow. Both of us, so different in less than a year. (AVY sets down the birdcage) Can't seem to get what you need? Fantasise. Set sail. I once felt for the breadline, till I said "That's me". You detach. You wish them well but laugh at any pleading. Laugh. With pleading. Congratulations, you've grown a city skin, selective deafness. A cry for structure. No escape from the pain of others. (AVY exits the stage through the audience) We had a game on winter nights. Each degree of the thermostat represented a lost chance. Feeling the freeze at seventeen degrees? Tempted to notch up to eighteen. Ratch it to twenty five. What is lost? At two percent of a quarterly bill per degree, that is more than a decent dinner, that's your new coat, or a duty free bottle of Dignity. That's a night in the Tap when you might have met your wife. These paths will never cross again, like sleeping through the end of everything.
Subject: Snib (flatsitter fiction)
Time: 2010 Aug 10 23:30:00
A Swedish lady, a casual acquaintance, had asked me to flatsit, from one Friday through to the following, while she returned to Gothenburg. And so I made my way through east Gospel Oak, on a mild summer evening, with a grip of a week's clothes in one hand, and a PhD on my back, letting the character of the place sink in. Condensed terraces, long turned into conversions. Small signals - window stickers, bicycles, the cut of a man's shorts, the mince of his walk. The crack of easy laughter over canned applause in an open window. Presently a black door arrived.
Two flights of mildly subsiding stairs, very London, and here was the focus I needed to finish my PhD. Flatsitting I could do. Taps, watering cans. These I could negotiate. A balcony brimming with plants and a twosome of indoor ferns. Making sure the place looked lived in. The job was hardly a stretch. No cat litter to shovel into an unwilling binbag. Once in, I set the snib and unfolded an email across the kitchen table. Hej! Binbags, check. Fauna, the wherefors. Help yourselfs. Try these biscuits. Emergency numbers.
I perched on a slim, square leather sofa, watching the room around me. A fifties throwback ensuite kitchenette. Bookshelves, plenty of Swedish. I set my bag into the bedroom and used the bathroom. Burt's Bees. Naked Shine Hydrating Shampoo. Foreign things - I couldn't help thinking that mine was an intruder's eye. Female things. I had a local to discover, a gastro. Informal dining with guest cyders, perries and stouts. To be honest, I could probably cuckold, insult and swindle east Gospel Oak, using the Academy Taproom as my sin-bin and mothership, for I'd probably never see its customers again.
I filled the kettle and sat at the desk to unpack my laptop, external hard drive, field notes and so forth. Cars passed from left to right, cutting up the overlapping dialogue of pedestrians below. A pair of white plimsolls, laces tucked in, sat near the printer, one toe raised expectantly, like a puppy's paw against the plug board. So small, so empty, and obviously not of my world. Her shoes were found beside the canal. Oh God. I bit my lip as the kettle began its aquatic wheeze. Just sitting here, it felt wrong. I looked again at the plimsolls. We can't be sure why she decided to leave the bus two stops early. Eventually I found the cupboard with the mugs. She just wanted to take the scenic route home.
"Oh the pearly dewdripsa dropsa." Soon it grew dark. I had decided upon self-sufficiency, to leave the place as I had found it, but had only had enough capacity for a box of Gooseberry Chewsli, some semi-skimmed milk and loo roll. The evening was spent with a bowl of cereal in both hands, talking aloud to myself, rocking on my hips, then making tea and singing songs that should never be sung in a Yorkshire accent in a Yorkshire accent. At one point I was WC Fields. "Yes, sir. It's a cup of tea for chickdee. It's chickadee tea. Round here we serve chickadee tea. It's free. Put your money away, son. Don't insult me. Chickadee tea has been free since the great tea dispute of thirty-three. Don't they teach you anything in that college of yours?" The sugar was located in a glass-topped jar labelled 'Bitsocker', but I'm easy with that. "Kookaburra knickerbockers. Kook-a-bur-ra. Knickerbockers. I'm terribly sorry to bother you, but there's a kookaburra in my knickerbockers." Open-minded, easy-going. I'm a rolling stone, gathering Palaeozoic Microvertebrates. Sofa-surfing to brighten lives.
Eventually I settled into the trailing tail end of my PhD, some circling semi-chapters undermined by needless boredom, written almost three months ago. Was the scope of this thing even in sight? What had happened? I didn't care if I emerged from the Gospel Oak session as a bearded wreck of caffeine, ginseng and taurine. I could break this thing's back, bar some field study (nice) and readability. I had lectured enough second years. This case needed closing.
"Tell him oi'll wring his fokin' balls off." Below the window. Irish, female, to a phone. The Taproom must have discharged. Her curses trailed away as she clacked along the street. In general, the silences here were a welcome change from my own main road.
Somewhere a set of keys were falling - they chinkled a dance on some front step. A noticable pause before one twisted in a lock, then the shudder of a pushed front door. It was here? Leaden feet found the first stairs. Deliberate, drunk but trying to be quiet.
Must be a neighbour, I thought. I looked at my cooling tea. I was mid-sigh when I heard the glide of a key across the rolling metal bevels inside the lock barrel. I -
"You're on the snib, dirty." Male. Foreign or foreign-ish. Slurred but well spoken. "Dirty?"
"Hel-" I was on my feet. Hell, why did I speak?
"Whotheff.." The voice was suddenly animated. The door rattled several times. "Whattheff.." I moved closer, instinctively touching the snib, listening to his descent of some stairs, then his return. "Wheretheff.." The door was rattled again, pumped hard with a fist. He called her name. He said that he wanted to know who her friend was. He wasn't going to hurt anyone. Fucking God. What did she think? Is that what she thought he was? Oh please. Then the door was again pumped and rattled incessantly. I had moved so close that I could feel the shunt of air, watch my frozen fingers splayed in reflection on the snib. Then they fell away, from a traunch of European expletives. "I know you are in here, dirty." Eventually he grew weary and his face pressed into the frame. He fell, with his back against the door.
I couldn't say anything. I reclined and stayed there till I had a lid on my nerves, then I slid back to the desk. At about four o'clock the main door closed and he had gone.
"In Chapter Eleven we examined pre-disaster activities applicable to the different types of landslide: rock falls; topples; rotational slides; transitional slides; rock creep; soil creep; debris flow; mud flow; solifluction and subsidence. In this chapter we will examine the factors triggering each type of landslide, and will identify the quantifiability and predictability of each factor, bearing in mind that the association of the Geological Survey of India and Landslides studies report is now more than a century old, and that the GSI's Landslide Hazard Zonation maps have only been reviewed at the pre-construction stage in development projects."
Ironically, for a rolling stone who digs landslides, it rained hard for the next four days. By Tuesday it freshened, stayed dry. I even heard seagulls, wending their way to the heath. They made me pull back the curtain to examine reality. Seagulls? Doubly ironic, I had not needed to water the plants on the balcony at all. Time had altered for me, in the room with an ensuite kitchenette. Day was night. Night was four hours on the leather two-seater, or briefly across the bed in my clothes. When I awoke, I awoke for landslides, and they reciprocated my love with wordcount.
I left for provisions twice, wavered in a dazed funk until corner shop staff approached me, then I scooped up an armful of nonsense and ran home. A purple cauliflower. My First Muesli. Eggs, gum and energy drinks. Watching those seagulls had given me notions of a more substantial airing. I showered, plotting a walk across the heath.
As it transpired, the chance to think was bad for me. What the hell was I doing here? I felt a need for the Jaldhaka valley and the South Kalimpong hills, to be doing some real work. London felt like a net-loss of distraction, the PhD a vanity. I had started to battle with it again, with its relevance. What was my ennui trying to tell me? Had I just reached some inevitable mid-week turning point?
The heath was muggy, ringed with soupy mist. I was breathless by the top of Parliament Hill, and had stripped down to my t-shirt. Seven or eight thousand words to go. To reach the conclusions I'd already reached. To reach a plateau of highly significant stats. Effective probability, as near the truth as can be fashioned by man. "Good morning." A delirious spaniel fled through soaking grass to find a cast ball. The bench was damp but its coldness welcome. I changed my mind on the hill, London was beautiful. Grey, unforgiving, swallowing all.
The Academy Taproom is a converted Victorian infants school. The assembly welcomes you suggestively - in natural brick, aubergine, clay and cerise. No primary or even secondary shades required. Complex tones to echo patterned lilies on low lampshades. Unfussy tables. I chose between scattered broadsheets while a drying blackboard was populated. 'A skewered look at British classics' their website might have explained, 'with a modernist wink at the Pacific Rim'. A bar menu explained that the Academy was rumoured to be haunted by the original headmaster. Stuffed birds supervised the pulling of a 'Two Druids'.
I sat back and read the headlines. What was happening out there in reality? Landslides. God wept. I scanned the room more thoroughly before getting involved in the story. Three elderly gentlemen sat upright around a table in one corner, a sheepish look on their faces, stouts in their hands. "A Pint And A Snip. By Professional Avy. Save ££s. Tuesday Morning in the Study. PS nothing will be provided for the weekend!" A fourth drink waited on the table.
With the menu composed, sets of diners began to arrive. Once a working class area, any homeowner here was sitting on half a million. The diners were all elderly, buy-to-let and work-free. The newspaper assailed me again. I wished I was in China, going through scars and gullies, hosing the dead for lessons learned.
My thoughts were broken by the sound of clapping. A fourth old chap was now tucking in beside his friends, having had some element of geometry applied to his barnet.
"Anyone else?" Shear over shear, nipping shut beside my ear. "Shaggy here?"
"Flat top? Wedge?"
"No, thank you."
"A French crop? Gatsby? Curtains?" The old gents turned to observe.
"Bob? Bowl? Bun?" She paused. "Rachel? Rattail? A Japanese anime odango, perhaps?"
"You left out Fauxhawk."
"Keep your proverbial on." Professional Avy, too young for her striped pinny, tucked a pair of scissors and a large purple comb back into her front pocket and closed her eyes.
"Do you have ambitions, Avy?" She had brushed up, and I had bought her a cranberry juice. She had just said that she was going nowhere. Back to her brothers. Well, it was her mothers as far as anyone at the council was concerned, but her mother had returned to Malta five years ago. "We need ambition. To tighten our bows. Go somewhere."
"I want to breed budgies." She blew bubbles through two straws, considering. "I have one, but he's stressed at the moment. Due to the fact that my brother has resumed his redecorating without forewarning the pair of us."
I told her that she could leave the bird at mine, at least until Friday, if that helped. (She was over the age of consent, I might add. A great deal of sense emerged, in incoherent packets.)
We returned to her brother's flat, on a housing estate a few minutes walk away, and I struggled a large, ornate cage down several sets of steps. "This is very kind of you. Proper aristocracy." The bird paced left and right, alarmed but enjoying it.
"Fuck." I whispered. I looked down the mildly subsiding stairs, through the wire bars of the cage, and Avy looked at me with the expression I hated most. Being let down, distrust. "I'm sorry. We can't go in there right now." She continued to stare, eventually took a step backwards. The face said everything. Not another flake, an ASBO, another unreliable. I looked at the flat door, with a set of keys hanging in the lock. He was here again.
"Some men are men of joy, I am a man of sorrow.
Soon I am returning to Vienna for to work at my family business. This prospect has been looming over me for some time. More than you know. I do not regard it as failure. Quite the contrary, I regard it as my success. I have found out who I am in London. And who I am is the kind of man who likes to know where he stands, and what things mean.
As a small child, my parents liked to tell me I that reminded them of grandfather. I prefer the idea of continuity.
Try to forget Friday.
I wish you happiness, Dirty.
"Stratigraphic models can predict the occurrence of pore-water conductivity along laminae within clay deposits, and even sandy sub-clay. 'Quick clay' landslides occur primarily in Sweden, Norway and Canada. The most profound quick clay slides have taken place in the River Göta älv valley between Lake Vänern and Gothenburg, where movements of 30 hectares or more have been recorded."
The remainder of my PhD just kind of happened. I cannot vouch for it. It wrote itself, without any struggle at all, but at least it materialised.
Sick's farewell note was lying face-down in the mail basket inside the front door, I noticed it for the first time on Friday morning, when I was leaving. With a fist poised I had inspected behind each curtain, inside the wardrobe, the laundry basket and all the kitchenette units.
The accused demanded that his friends call him 'Sick'. Most didn't know his real name, and many didn't want to. For years he played 'cat and mouse' with his own identity.
That is, until 'Sick' was man-handled to the floor at Vienna International - with eight childrens' heads rolling from his hold-all.
I must have been thinking about Sweden as the week progressed. I saw bare toes and pebbles sucked by river water. Everything seemed carefree there. Those white plimsolls stopped bothering me. They were just. there.
I didn't want a PhD party. Some things never end, they just fan out, take over and go on forever. Perhaps I should have drawn the line. My folks were disappointed, but my nephew's Bar Mitzvah was coming up, and I told them that we could have a doctorship dance afterwards, all of us. I dj'ed in the marquee until the kids had gone, then my father made a short speech to about 6 of my friends.
Subject: Cruel Summers: Latitude 2010
Time: 2010 Jul 20 21:45:00
Latitude surprises me. Latitude is a literary and arts festival, a Hay-on-Wye with bands, no? Arts sponsored by newspaper arts sections. Everyone is empathetic and concerned. Orla Kiely tents might look down their sloped noses at Cath Kidston neighbours, or is it vice versa, but Latitude is not the festival to find casualties splattered to the wind on trips, or face down in a trough of She-pees and Mooncups (apart from me). Latitude is not a place for rapes. Two rapes.
This year capacity is stretched to 35,000, as if a perspiring, lost town has invaded a village. The sun has baked the ground hard, the tent pegs need a mallet and bend into hopeless L-shapes - L for just leave it, L for nice bed-and-breakfast - while the field wheezes with inflating mattresses. The sheep are dyed, the lake is peaceful and black, the forest is filled with artists. They tell me that Latitude is also a rite of passage for local youths in their 18th summer.
Beth Jeans Houghton, as a rocker Bride of Frankenstein, begins a song called 'Night Swimmer', a beautiful thing of longing. Oceans as the world between men and women. Youth as ruin. The literature and poetry tents seem impossible to get near when a 'name' is on, yet empty when they are not. Every time I walk past an unprojecting voice informs me that capitalism is a killer, and everything good is falling apart. Elsewhere there is a mixing of form. Novelists spice their words with humourous asides, poets set theirs to soundtracks. Bands are bookish. We just need Florence and the Machine selling crêpes and the cross-fertilisation will be complete. (Bands should never talk between songs. I think Steve Albini is the only person who ever enhanced an event with banter. Everyone else seems to gnaw at their own magic with every sentence).
Youth as ruin and waste. There is waste. Abandoned £8 programmes with the two pages that people actually need, the times and running order, ripped out. There is an odd cloud of feeling here: what do we do about festival rape? It's not up to women to change their behaviour, but endless No Means No posters might seem futile. On the main stage, Crystal Castles urge us to castrate the rapist. To be fair, Alice Glass is the only laddish performer of the entire weekend. Whiskey-swigging, throwing herself into the crowd. American bands cling to a badass 'tude that Europeans seem less and less bothered about. I can't imagine any rapist goaded into deed by Belle & Sebastian's "Fox In The Snow" or John Cooper Clarke. The lack of CCTV is a blessing - perhaps it is the weird abandon of finally being off-camera.
I've been to enough festivals now to identify various backstagers. Production Office staff are all called Trish or Gabs. They have a walkie-talkie permanently to one ear and scan the horizon for a not-happening golf buggy. "I need Andrew at Gate D. Come in." They are very busy. Stage Managers are affable jokers, again with 'very busy' arranging their smiles. Hi-Vis Security are short-of-sentence, while Random Spindly Blondes, Mosses, totter the plastic roads between stage areas in festival chic. You feel like you've seen them somewhere before. They have only ever dated band members and wouldn't know what to say to a civilian.
Youth as ruin. Oestrogens and testosterones, fresh as wound steel strings, near to snap. Rape as an extension of a heat that makes everyone nutty. At a midnight show in the forest, Tom Jones wrestles with his microphone stand and accuses it of being from a jumble sale. A stage collapses. Youth seered by too much beauty. Surplus cold stores of love, which only hate can liberate. Beneath young huffs and slamming doors, a kind of ecstacy. "You're only my only love. And I can't keep my head up above. This ocean." In a way we're all born on drugs, and slowly, slowly we sober. Maybe that is all anyone is writing about.
Subject: Superbrothels, Scary Frites: a wander in Antwerp
Time: 2010 Jul 01 22:00:00
Somebody has been knitting tree cosies, wrapping the trunks along southern Antwerp’s elegant boulevards. Guerrilla stitches. Knittas with attitude, colouring their turf. Or just a sense of play in an austere-looking future? At the level of poetics, a place we should all visit, is this a comment on weaving together, on the New Flemish Alliance, the gradual evaporation of a place everyone accuses of being artificial?
I love Belgium, but I have a changing sense of Europe. I used to think it stood for sophistication; a liberal élite overruling spooked voters; educated conversation; adult-orientation; long tables filled with sunshine and great food, and not spaghetti hoops in front of Scooby Doo. Something open air and healthy. Now I'm less sure. Fiscally Americanised, more than America, Europe’s become very much like us.
To the centre of the city, where everyone on the Mier is drinking iced tea and eating something called ‘Panos’, which reveals itself to be the local version of Subway. Local versions outsell BK, the Hut, Starbucks etc, all of whom find it much more expensive to locate here due to no-nonsense unions and a minimum wage of £14k. Belgium keeps money in the family.
In the alleys, flaking Marians lean watchfully over skewered blocks of light filling every corner. You recall that Catholicism is why Belgium exists, why Flanders is not a Netherland. Catholicism the doctrine - it wants the schools, and power. Surfing the Counter Reformation shilling, Peter Paul Rubens has been used by everyone from Warhol to Hirst to explain why the production line has a legitimate place within the history of art. But how amazing would these artists have been if they'd risen above the pointless toffs, the next crucifixion? I wander around a baccalauréat art class, with mâché monsters. Who won the Reformation, or was it a tacit truce and still ongoing? North versus South: Clijsters tired bailing out Henin of too-many-Holy Days. It’s nice to be out of gimp Britain, again declared "open for business" as if business is elsewhere, as if the only thing we can make is a deeper bow to investors, and a choice of clichés from 1979.
Between chic Dries Van Noten and Yamamoto stores the city of Antwerp is good for second hand designer, if you're a lady. Men less so. MoMu, the couture museum, illustrates the history of wearing black as a statement, from PPR-pupil Van Dyck to Victorian mourning and Chanel.
Double-fried. Triple-fried. Triple-fried with mayonnaise. Behind the baroque eateries, Belgium is a Stonehenge for sat fats fanatics, a Graceland for every arrhythmic gate-shaker. If you’ve ever slumped through the front door on a Friday night, and made the most embarrassing hash of leftovers known to man – bits of cold parsnip, a pineapple ring and cheese strings eased into toasted pitta with the aid of black bean sauce – don’t worry, it’s a delicacy here. De Dronkenwafel, and there is probably a fountain dedicated to it.
I continue east. Tank-stopping bollards fly up at either end of Hoveniersstraat at the drop of a Homburg. Hassidic diamond traders schmooze young, Americanised Jews sucking lollies or consulting third parties on the phone. Furtive Gujarati Indians pace to the exchange with briefcases cuffed to their wrists or midriffs. Importers, polishers and private banks gang around the synagogue, where stores display top security safes, and the latest bullet-proof demo plates. The traditional Hassidic traders are being jostled aside, not only by Indians but by secular guys trading on the Sabbath. After a hard day, everyone polishes off a falafel.
Northside, near the docks, Schipperstraat is Antwerp's red light tolerance zone, boasting the Villa Tinto. Built in 2005, it's a sculptured mall, a Lakeside Thurrock for swivel-eyed whorehounds. 51 glass-fronted suites, a biometric scanner to identify each worker (all EU passport holders), an on-site police station, panic buttons and health checks. Short of a bunny coming around every half hour with flowers it's hard to know what else a brothel owner can be expected to do. I wander across it for the shortcut, and the anecdote, curious to hear the inevitable tap-tapping on glass. "Come inside. Nice man. Don't be shy." On a Friday afternoon the evening's business has not kicked off - it's the 'Grannies and Trannies' shift. Light building work is still ongoing, one window wavers with 'Plasterer's Ass Crack'. Lacklustre tapping happens. Open disinterest, in fact. As expert readers of the male species perhaps they can tell the "only looking" from a real john. Cheers. Perhaps they misread the signals inherent in retro chic as "halfwit" or "into anal".
Despite the dispassion, I am grubby for even passing through. Not that I'm to blame for anyone’s failure to become a lawyer. For most, it’s Villa T or a can of Special Brew in a skate park near Bucharest. It’s the empty frame around things, the faithlessness, the sexual downgrade from gem to industrial. In a baby pink grid of corridors, one-way desire writes its sad, existential script. I don’t think these women are abused, abuse suggests that somebody cares. Worse, Villa Tinto is a battery farm.
Surprised? Quelle surprise, mijn vriend. We're maximising experience, every man is a sultan, reducing everything to nothing in the process. Isn't richness now about owning more and more poor things? Once you've delighted the senses, taken flesh when it was available - what did it mean, little man? Displayed against the great signifier, a whiteboard as black as a wedding dress by Viktor & Rolf, what did your little life mean, little man?
Walking through this heatwave is making me lazy but I’m determined not to sit here with a different beer in a different bar. Why travel for that? The world seems to be barking at a ball bouncing to and fro on a screen, a high speed metaphor for gain and loss. At this point I fall head-long into a beer festival. Trappists, lambics, wheats, fruits and pales confront me. Glazed software developers swim in circles, ticking boxes on their ale sheet. Superitinerants, six-figure flotsam. The Liver Is Evil And Deserves To Be Punished, a chest informs me. Oliver Reed Missing In Action. The very Flemish 'Campaign For Surreal Ale' - Dali’s afternoon shadows become a merry tankard. Cubes of gouda swipe grain mustard sauce from paper plates, and it’s al.right.ma, I’m only drin.king.
Subject: Photoblog, May and June
Time: 2010 Jun 21 13:00:00
Upstairs: student art 2010. Space age regency, purple as a landscape, an asexual's sexual gaze, lost fruit, pneumatics, plants stripped of their pots, hair and the joy of textiles. More affectation and pretentiousness this year, although both have dispensation during any football season.
Downstairs: 1) Voila le Eurosinger. The Eurosinger, throat of gravel. Aging, but, like his nation, a survivor. Open of shirt, a dogged everyman ejected from some Mittel-European bar-café and onto the cobbles. He is the truth of his nation, its soul. The class warrior but, more likely, the deposed king, with a quiverful of mandatory melody. The Broken Down Waltz, where our hero considers his lot whilst trying to sober up on a merry-go-round. The Russian One - a marching Cossack rhythm reconstructs his resolve. Then a long run of Rock - the slick surge of coal black rock - gurning, punching, nuts. Straight into his Rude Song. You're glad you don't understand those lyrics, they're probably about popping his rosbif et deux légumes through a cop shop letterbox. No doubt he's been banned for singing it on children's TV in 1986. But the crowd adore. Get over it. He is.. Eurosinger.
2) There is a lovely moment when a band isn't convinced that they will be appreciated, but the crowd go wild, and they smile at us, and we smile at them. All The Queens Ravens turned an old Spanish love song into a kind of sad skiffle with bowed double bass and a fluttering, soaring voice. Transcendentally beautiful. Half expected Ant and Dec to pop up. “Ya’s didn’t expect that, did ya’s? Noo.” Also recommended: Fernanda’s new band Os Dados. If the Velvets had discovered swarthy Tropicália circa Loaded. Good to hear Portuguese, and see the return of Paisley.
3) The royal palaces have embraced immersive theatre. Here I sit on Henry 8's Hampton Court council and question Kateryn Parr about her worthiness for marriage. Will the country be safe in her hands while the King is at war? What about the Scots? You end up pacing the courtyard discussing religiosity with Lady Anne Herbert, thinking "What. am. I. doing?" Wonderous.
Subject: Frisky Strictly's Bender With Ender: Budget Special
Time: 2010 Jun 19 14:30:00
Subject: Politik: searching for the 89ers
Time: 2010 May 31 10:03:00
It is not uncommon, at a popular music concert, for example in Shoreditch's fashionable Cargo, for me to look askance and cry inwardly "Christ, I'm the oldest person here." This I have become accustomed to. However my friend Don recently had the same shock looking up and down his morning commuter train. Squeaky 20-something PAs, early 30s professionals at their peak. Where were the middle-aged? Do they commute to work much earlier or.. don't they work at all?
My curiousity grew, as I looked across the bobbing, nodding gloom of Cargo. Aside from age, what defines the modern youth? My flatmate Doug's second novel fixes on a group of Berliners born after 1989, people who've never known a day of communism. Perhaps his manuscript will become clearer in 5 years time. Perhaps that generation have yet to publically define themselves. Who are they, the 89ers?
The 45ers - politicised and defined by a World War. This generation makes up our most senior politicians, academics and commenters. A generation still morally tutored by the religious tradition. See the world as blocs, and totalitarian dictatorship as the worst thing in the world. They admire America in product and attitude, and by extension, might hold a distrust for Europe.
The 68ers. The first generation morally tutored by liberal humanism. Less lenient towards the US, opposing a 'world policeman'. However, easy travel rendered them internationalist - they say things like "I want to backpack to 100 countries before I'm 30". See finance and globalised business as the heart of power, with governments a kind of puppet show on its behalf. Toppling dictators is only one factor in a more complex tapestry.
The 89ers? I can only guess. Still morally tutored by a liberal tradition, but almost at the level of 'grandparent'. "Aw, do I have to take drugs and screw around? I guess I'll do it in some weird blank-faced way and not enjoy it." Have never known a day of communism, and possibly love the sound of it. Steady job, guaranteed a pokey apartment. You'll never be rich, but you won't have to sell your spleen on Gumtree either. You can grow organic vegetables and strum a guitar on your dacha. The downside is surveillance, but it's less than the average Morrisons carpark.
Increasingly only-children, possibly the first generation with older parents who deferred childbirth as long as possible, and therefore in no fit state for late night argy with teens. The 89ers matured fast, having to change an adult diaper and powder their mother's buttocks when they should be on mushrooms. Boys don't have an Oedipal need to slay father figures because father figures can hardly stand up. Perhaps they are the first generation with no need for a generational power tussle.
44% of them claim to have voted Lib Dems which means 44% now believe that changing faces is less important that changing systems. 89% of those who didn't vote would vote by text, if they could find an abbreviation for X.
If they're anything like real young people, you won't garner their opinions by asking their opinion, their head will simply shift sideways into public expectations and banality. You probably have to observe off-hand chat on Bebo. They potentially resent the digital realm as a parallel virility purloined by duffpots to prove how fresh and relevant they are. "I like..er.. Lily Allen and.. er.. the Arctic Monkeys on my.. iPod!" every shark-eyed executive used to babble.
Or. Perhaps they are ashamed to be young, now exclusively used as marketing fascia. Perhaps they are post-social, above the networks, beyond the cloud. The good things are in the shadows. Good things stay ours.
Subject: Agence Culturelle: a plain letter to the Tate
Time: 2010 May 16 13:40:00
Thank you for your recent invitation to renew my Tate membership, with three extra months as an incentive. In this instance, I won't renew. My reasons are summarised here:
1) The recent major shows (Rodchenko & Popova, Futurism, Van Doesburg) have felt like history lessons rather than explorative pleasures, a litany of repetitive experiments (an oxymoron you'll agree). Maybe it's me. Maybe I want too much, across the board. Pop Life was camp and self-hating, and the upcoming blockbusters (a history of seaside slapstick and the perils of surveillance in society) leave me a wee bit neutral.
2) I found Level 2's recent show, Strike The Empire Back, a political head-scratch. Comparing Saddam Hussein to Darth Vader might be a rough and artless joke, but by extension to compare the US military to Ewoks, squat and beardy jarheads with furry hearts of gold, is to mock the innocent dead they leave in their wake. High-tech farming of the underarmed is not a revolution, and this piece felt post-beauty in conception and execution.
3) Until very recently, the members' bar and café did not offer free WiFi. For a paid, exclusive suite in a top-ranking arts institution frequented by media cognoscenti, I found this appalling. There is a barbershop in Dalston with free WiFi. A barbershop
. I'm not sure I would risk the stubbled keyboard, the hairy screen, but you get my point.
4) While I wasn't watching, Tate Modern joined the Murdoch empire. Trustee Elisabeth Murdoch is in place to help accelerate fundraising for the Herzog & de Meuron extension, to coincide with the Olympics. This will ensure that London is a vacant kind of "world-beating" champion, yet again. I resent art being turned into a salesman for the city, therefore an inequality driver. Art must humanise, not merely the conscience these days, but the unholy infrastructure. Maybe it's me, wanting too much across the board. I should probably fly to Paraguay, sit and paint on bent, discarded hubcaps. Something honourable.
Anyway, the axiom remains 'the best things in Tate are free'. Happy birthday, and keep it up.
Subject: Big Society: the Big Citizens' News
Time: 2010 May 10 18:03:00
"Turn the cards slowly, Oliver!" "Hold your deuces!" Offering advice to Hague, Letwin and Osborne as they emerge from over six hours of negotiation at a hermetically sealed Cabinet Office yesterday. BBC's Nick Robinson, and Bob and Roberta Smith, look on.
The Big Society lets anyone do anything - when the professional snapper or hack lacks the stamina, slips down the pub to paraphrase other sources, or grumbles about the football whilst head-to-toeing a pretty freelancer, then the Big Citizen newshound must take the helm. Several hundred of us engorged an overcast Whitehall. Like the Thursday turnout, the analysis around me was passion-filled. "He'll never take the grass roots with him." "Danny Alexander's on the double bluff." "The LibDems will be out in a minute - but they're not as famous" piped up a TV sound guy, helpfully. I guess they'll be the ones in suits, surrounded by mics.
The right-facing media stress the Cabinet Office statements in very different ways from other sources. 'Edging closer to a power coalition' to avoid 'turmoil in the markets' - despite the markets' clear indifference today, and a parallel Labour rendezvous. A very strong amount of public interest in this election. But essentially these folk are centrists. No-one's proposing to sink the Spanish fleet, slay the infant prince at midnight, and reclaim the Americas by musket. Power, Bob, it's not what it used to be! "Reclaim the Americas , Oliver!"
Subject: Election Day 2010: Safe seat blues..and reds
Time: 2010 May 06 00:20:00
My local constituency is 'Islington North'. In general election terms, a safe Labour seat. Jeremy Corbyn is a whip-defying, reconstruction-bucking lefty who writes a column for the Morning Star. The New Labour motor lets him get on with it, mainly because he has consistently delivered a healthy share of the vote since "Let's Dance" was number one.
Put on your red shoes. Because of the safeness of this seat, Islington North never feels fought over as much as the sexier, wealthier Islington South, a closer battle between Labour and the LibDems. That said, Jeremy Corbyn’s share of the vote slipped 10% last time, a percentage that the LibDems snorted up hungrily. If that happens again today, Rhodri Jamieson-Ball, a shiny young Welshman, could walk in.
What to do? I have one of the most beardy, be-sandalled lefty MPs in the UK. I like his voting record. He demanded an Iraq war inquiry. He writes back when you write to him. His wife is a foreigner. Never mind Eton or Oxbridge, this man opposes grammar schools (we don’t need social mobility if everyone is equal, I guess. Hmm, discuss.) In a nation grown increasingly conservative, where the ‘centre’ has shifted right, to the point where the centre left will soon be terrifying the far right - what is his secret?
Corbyn is very involved at a local level, a listener and a known figure. All the other candidates fluctuate, new names every time. Ironically, they probably can't afford to live here. There are lots of first and second gen immigrants. From Archway (Cypriots, and a nationalist Irish community who appreciated his openness to Sinn Féin) to Finsbury Park – many areas where white working class Londoners are in a minority. The Tories, and anyone east of them, haven't a prayer. Rather than a taboo subject, the 2010 campaigns seem to have been an endless debate about immigration, little of it good. This could actually work in Corbyn's favour.
"Think nationally, UO." Of course. I need an MP, not a councillor. Therefore a party, with pro-active policies rather than raised drawbridges and plenty of fear. Why do we keep turning UKIP into MEPs? It’s like sending a bunch of professional crappers to crap over a party, then explain how crap it is. I used to see general elections as a requirements-gathering exercise for a five year project. Therefore it becomes crucial not to vote tactically. The picture we paint of the nation's needs will blur, not sharpen, if they are reduced to a binary. Of course, democracy is not as sophisticated as that.
I don't think Britain is 'broken' but something is warped at the core of free market capitalism, and Labour haven't recognised that. For me their ideas have grown increasingly petty and marginal. If they really backed, say, a Living Wage, why didn't they do something about it over the past thirteen years, when they had the benefit of Blair's mandate? I'd even put aside my own bugbears (runaway property profits) if I felt that they were something positive in the scheme of things, but they're not. Locally, Andy Burnham's plans to close the Whittington A&E have been temporarily shelved, but the place is toast if either Labour or the Tories get in (claiming that the closure "was tabled before election pledges" or somesuch).
I rule out the Greens, purely on the maths, although I've done them in the past. I'm going to vote for a shiny young Welshman and it has little to do with the leaders' debates (which I liked and don't need turned into Question Time. I can see, plainly, how someone wriggles around on the question stick without some cock barking the rules every five seconds). I mostly have the image of George Osborne with a calculator, prodding it, shaking it, someone helping him, while a flashmob of angry Greeks scale the building - or Vince Cable. I would get no pleasure watching Corbyn pluck off his Red Wedge badges and flicking them into a box, but it's not cool to have a rebel for an MP: he shouldn't have needed to be one.
Subject: Votre Infothèque: "Where can I hit a British child?"
Time: 2010 May 01 12:20:00
Confusion reigns throughout the EU over the precise nature of a great British bastion - the right to chastise children. Satirists have asked why British kids remain uniquely hitable. It must be a special combination of E numbers and sat fats, they relax in Saint-Germain-des-Prés brasseries and chuckle abrasively.
A new poster campaign at channel crossing points and air terminals helps to clarify matters, although some are urging caution. Such a campaign might encourage niche tourism, they claim - the ever-maligned 'thwackpackers'.
Subject: Big Society: the Special Brew Branch
Time: 2010 Apr 27 22:20:00
The Big Society is about getting involved. Swift initiative - while Big Bureaucracy lumbers about like a bloated old brontosaurus. We will take the seeds scattered by New Labour's 'Community Support Officers’ and cultivate them into effective and agile blooms. Why watch Community Support toddling home for tea, just when the neighbourhood villains are getting meowed up and tooled silly? Why pay for expensive officer training when so many of us have an innate sense of right and wrong? There is an untapped resource crying out from Britain's soaked doorways. In exchange for soup, a 24-hour “Special Brew Branch” will be responsible for vigilance, 'stop and sing', confiscating alcopops and entertaining traffic during armed getaways. More blobby than a Bobby, more peeling than a Peeler, Big Society nevertheless welcomes our new street heroes!
Subject: Photoblog, March and April
Time: 2010 Apr 22 19:37:00
1. The Market Estate Project took a 1960s housing estate on York Way and gave a flat each to 76 artists, to do what they wanted before the bulldozers rolled in. The result was an anthology of roughly-sketched John Wyndham plots. Dangerous blue spikes infested the cupboards in one. Some were wrapped in webs of plastic. Cabbages grew. Others held kooky tea parties, or rearranged the flotsam left by evictees. A bag of hangers, a copy of The Sun. Broken toys, an Arsenal poster. Family photos. Highpoints in life. Highpoints to us, or just a row of cabbages in the scheme of things? I'm pro social housing. I grew up on a housing estate and it was good fun, well maintained, inclusive - despite people renting as opposed to owning. I'm not sure why some work and some don't. Economic mix rather than the "most in need", contact rather than isolation. Afterschool daycare, haircuts, a pair of altered curtains - all part of the estate microeconomy. 2. "That Will Self's coming in next week. Talking psychogeography" said the guy in Brighton's Sandpiper Books. I care more about Belgian schoolteacher Raoul Vaneigem than Guy Debord. But psychogeography means wandering with no preconceived intent, taking a day to reduce life to human scale, to foot pace; reclaim the city with discovery and human contact. I 'psychogeograph' through Windsor and Eton, until a pack of hunting dogs chase me up a country lane. What sort of losers send their kids to winner school? 3. A seafood pilgrimage to Whitstable. I didn't try the lobster thermidor or barracuda, the harbour stalls grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Trapped by pitbulls in 'The Smack'. I've be revisiting my favourite London pubs too. The Harringay Arms in Crouch End is unchanging, marvellous. Dark wood, cranky locals, Irish writers portrait the walls. The perfect pub for loners to sit in the corner reading philosophy, and not feel like unwelcome oddballs, which is more Irish than Setanta Sports and 'craic'. 4. Question: how, like, totally pissed are motorists on Abbey Road with endless quartets of tourists pausing for a photo? Answer: 41 years of effing, tooting and blinding equals majorly pissed. 5. Death of a Situationist. You might think that a funeral cortège is the opposite of psychogeography. It knows it's destination too well. The well-lived life is a defiance of this inevitable march. It's too long. Too short. It can never say enough. From sunny Mornington Crescent up to Swains Lane: Vivienne Westwood gazes, pale, from a limousine; a double decker going 'NOWHERE
'; buffalo mourners go around the outside; rich wreaths in an anarchist 'A'. Designers, French punks too cool to care. At Highgate gates I talk to a fifty something in an original Seditionaries t-shirt, and a thin woman in dark glasses called Caroline, who gets visibly angry, because culture is so unchallenging these days.
Subject: Politics: promotionals for PricedOut
Time: 2010 Apr 06 23:51:00
Subject: Sartorialism: New Moves in Menswear
Time: 2010 Mar 21 16:00:00
Vintage Barbour. Hitler fringe. Levi 511s. Chunky scarf, the stragglier the better, like a concussed sheep slung around one's neck. White drainpipes and a dove grey mac. Buttoned up shirts. Vintage moccasins. Clarks Nature Treks. Michael Foot specs. Pleats. Beards again, and quiffs for girls.
I am sitting outside 'L'Eau a La Bouche', a fashionable French deli on Broadway Market, filing notes on East London hipsters. It is the first bright and dry weekend of the year, and we're enjoying an eager taste of spring. I am wearing an old Harris tweed jacket, new brogue boots. My hair has gone Back To The Old Quiff, a second teenage Sugarloaf with a narrow path of grey on the left. I've gone retro at various times in my life, felt a need for the on-trend, or stark Muji armour, at others, swung between Basil Fawlty and Mr Johnson, the funky gibbon who torments him in The Psychiatrist.
William Butler Yeats knew that "outer affectation creates inner space". Flamboyance is good for mental health. The invitation of soft paranoia - eyes, comment, value judgement upon one's behaviour and gear - is a way to get in the driving seat against inner doubts that might exist anyway. Would Yeats appreciate 'L'Eau a La Bouche' or would he take a baseball bat to these people? Does fashion exist to sell us more stuff, or is a democratic set of streetwise signals the very opposite of retailed dictatorship?
Menswear, where art thou? "Nick Cave. There's a well dressed guy." I had a disagreement with a girlfriend regarding this. Cave's suits suit his frontiersman style, but the apogee of the well dressed male can’t be a suit. It seems too easy, too style guru, so ubiquitous and unavoidable we resent it. It’s the male little black dress, surely. Tasteful but not enough. It speaks of the ability to self-tame, and of social status. At least for those on the middle rungs. In my experience, the man at the top, once he has made his millions, reverts to the slacker, freak and spliffer. "I can't start a new job with an Eastpak. I'll buy a leather satchel. Get a proper suit. And stop looking hung over," we say in our twenties, keen to grow up, keen to make the cut and do the business. Then we attend our first external meeting with the latest new media hipshots and they look like spazzed muggers, laughing at our shit suit and satchel.
I find myself on Jermyn Street. If you catch it during a sale, it can be affordable. Summer croquet jackets. Inverness capes. As with vintage, tailoring exists to shame the High Street – all shod, papery cloth and half-there stitching. The High Street seems to originate from the same sweatshop these days. Ropey epaullettes. Bleachy bits. 'Help me' scraped in Khmer, behind the label.
Menswear loves utilitarianism. Show it decoration and it will run a gay mile. Call that decoration a lumberjack utility loop, and it can breathe easily. Anything goes, so long as 19th century dockworkers used to do it. The formerly upmarket, the Next Directory, has fallen in the bargain bin. British classics like Burberry and Ben Sherman revive with a 'modern twist' and manage to look and feel like, ah, everyone else. What seems a bargain - jeans for £10 - is actually a fleecing. Disposable cover more than clothing. Uniqlo, Primark, even Gap, follow the three Gs: Great on the hanger; Good enough in the changing room; Godawful after one wash.
Menswearcare. 'Merino wool', being so boldly proclaimed, I have assumed to be something beneficial. However 'Merino' is actually the Castilian word for 'shinking'. I have brought jumpers out of the washing machine fit only for an Action Man, rearranged by a blow torch. This is my fault, for not wanting to hunch over a sink with forearms lathered in Woolite. But my defense is that the instruction 'dry flat' cannot be achieved in any urban human habitat. Who has space for five sweaters, all drying flat? Even if arranged with geometric prudence, it would require the washer to have some extra 'drying chamber', persumably with a grill floor to permit drippage. That or you don't mind twelve sodden towels and bendy floorboards. 'Dry Flat' is a joke. Some rapper should write a song about that. Dry Flat Is A Joke. Not all knitwear shrinks of course. Purchase the more generous build, contingency for anticipated shrinkage, and the Handwash Paradox will guarantee that it stretches into a fluffy, undone straitjacket. You will convince yourself that this could be interesting, in a punky, layered kind of way. You will wear it just the once, and catch sight of yourself in an arcade window, a wandering wool reconstruction of John Merrick's loose epidermis, with a face about to cry on top.
Quality and care matters. Whither taste? A balance of awareness and subterfuge. The Reverend Ian Paisley was worryingly dapper. My mother even had the phrase "Protestanter looking". Sharper. Shipshape. Generally off its knees and of a better cloth. It may sound like a synonym for 'conservative', but fashionability can be Protestanter. Experiment, even edge, might hint at the dissenter. My father opened a boutique, in the early eighties. Regular trips to wholesalers on Commercial Road filled a Transit with the latest fads. The enterprise failed, but for one summer, at least, a swathe of Irish farmers were dressed in Bowie pegs and Tukka boots.
The myriad rules of menswear. Match your colours but don't constrict yourself. Never wear a bow tie with a biker's jacket. The more sportswear a young man sports the more likely that his life is notably inert. The more sparkly his accoutrements the less likely he is to be employed within his lifetime. The Windsor knot used to signal aplomb, till it became 'footballer at charity banquet'. When the world zigs zag. Blue and green should never be seen. Except on, er, Planet Earth. Grass meets great blue awning, God's handiwork, is a no no? "Black and brown don't go." I have worn a suede jacket with a black shirt - so I spent my teens in a faux pas? Socks and sandals. There's a rule that even the sartorially gormless seem happy to bang on about. Do it to spite them. Spite them. Black is slimming. Except that everybody knows the trick. Subconsciously, black is now 'trying to hide'. The fact that you are enormous. Really enormous. Dress how you want to be, not how you are. Artifice is freedom, not authenticity. Dress as your jailer, perhaps you'll escape. Dress as the sense of purpose that lite capitalism fails to give you.
Who is watching menswear? Who is menswear trying to impress? The birds, perhaps, but not entirely. Sexual energy is at least two way. Possibly a 13th dimension. The self, the superself. If your life was a film, we need to dress as the star, the director and
the audience. These days.
Subject: Photoblog, January
Time: 2010 Feb 08 12:35:00
1. Don's agent goes Ecky Thump at the Crobar. As unrock as it comes, we managed to upset some Aussie headbangers. Don't really tour London's hostelries much these days. Even the alcoholic whirl joined that 'groundhog day' feeling. Time for something new (but not 'new media'). 2. Posh is new. To me. Posh would make me feel that my life has arced in a narrative. Posh will never be. That said, students wandering the quadrangles of Oxford sport a hoodie with logo and jogging pants, which is actually very Nag's Head, Holloway. "You, boy, where's your broken boater, and why aren't you rolling in champagne bottles?" Enjoyed a version of 'Macbeth', seemingly set in a Scottish fascist party. Flying blood, a matey narcissistic Damon Albarn as the murderous Thane, trying to ignore the desperate drive of his (footballer's) wife. 3. Waffle with sozzled strangers. Possibly spent my entire twenties lolling from bar to subterranean bar, blathering with the tight. Should compile it into a book. Endless faces, self-amused tales. This is Bradley's Spanish bar which, like the New Evaristo and the Troy Club, is mercifully still around. The ICA is in trouble and the Foundry is to become a slick 'art-hotel'. The Scala cinema; Compendium bookshop; the Hat on Wall; Coffee Cake and Kink: I do hate it when good things go. 4. Traffic watch: someone tried to drive right through my front door, but they were foiled by a pesky lamp post. 5. Surreal, genteel art. Strangely conservative, but obviously not. Dripping sherry glasses. Soaked rooms. Aloof balloons. 99 aloof balloons and a sense of waiting. Waiting for something. Traces Of Love: an anthology of unimportant electronic mail between one former couple, exquisitely bound in white leather, lain on virgin pillows, readable only with sterile gloves. 6. The background to this photoblog is Queen Victoria's teenage bedroom wallpaper. Kensington Palace has been used as a royal residence since the 17th century, when it all went Dutch. A sturdy history of royal clobber. Diana's golf wear etc.
Subject: Agence Culturelle: a world of one-sided borders
Time: 2010 Jan 31 23:51:00
Wonderful contrasts in the exhibitions I saw this weekend (contrast being sharpest between similar things). Magnum photographer Jim Goldberg's Photographers' Gallery exhibition of portraits, doodles and ephemera rises above the Taylor Wessing 2009 Portrait Prize. The latter had the obligatory shanty ghosts and forlorn east Europeans locked into a photojournalistic mid distance, but Goldberg managed to get political discourse going between his trafficked puppets, illegal immigrants, refugees. While the NPG exhibition told us, over and over, that the destitute are unhappy, Goldberg at least tried to alter the pitch.
The creative is often torn between entertaining and making a political point, which may turn preachy, or shift into journalism (a form possibly best left unadulterated). We often think of Orwell as the crosspoint between longscale readability and politics, but all considered work goes there at some level. Goldberg's photography never turns subjects into objects. Instead he incorporates real keepsakes. A packet of detention centre sweets, a Koran wrapped tightly to avoid soaking in the swim to freedom. Picking for food on landfills, AIDS-ravaged or illiterate, their submissive humour, and a personality that poster poverty tries to extinguish, roam freely. Illegal immigrants bicker like Laurel and Hardy, there's a sarcasm in their bravado.
20% of the world is online. Our next challenge, says Sir Tim Berners-Lee, is to hook the other 80%. Even the current 20% realise that their voice is minor as the consequence of this shared microplatform. The web is not a parliament, a pressure group or a newspaper column. The voice of conscience needs the ear of power, or at least a working democracy. Anyone inclined is already numb with empathy. While the average Victorian didn't travel more than 20 miles from their town or village, we're punched in the atoms by world events on every evening news.
It's a bold move - from icons of victimhood (something we must trust) towards layered people, possibly lying, possibly chancers. The myriad mess of real pain, which opens up better questions, and requires a smarter audience. Do we think that the human trafficker wants to traffick? "And what will you do when you grow up, Ivan?" "Rape women until their souls break."
Goldberg's work is more than a move towards positive thinking. "Do not imagine a blue elephant!" This was the instruction to delegates at my corporate training day. "What are we now all doing?" We looked at one other in amazement. "Thinking about blue elephants," we confessed. The positive out-commands the negative, she explained. Ask people to think about red elephants. Suggest. Lead. Less fingerwag. Those Laurel and Hardy immigrants feel like they're starting to lead, rather than a supine 'raising the awareness', of equally cold zombies. They have a sense of themselves, and give us a better sense of their position.
Subject: Agence Culturelle: the Optimism of Oil on Canvas
Time: 2010 Jan 13 20:08:00I fell in love this weekend. Succumbed to a floating, melty richness. I found it optimistic, and found myself gently laughing, cracking jokes with strangers. Shapes loosened. I exchanged neat snowballs with small children. I decided to write. Write about optimism. Then some fucking horrendous news arrived.
The New Painting has been poised, primed on a dusty horizon, for a few years now. When Tomma Abts won the 2006 Turner prize it somehow didn't feel like the return to a more conservative medium. Paint was clever again. The dark melt of the exhibition that cheered me seemed to somehow sense that the heart of a rebellion is more important that the brawn and banners. It strikes against the graphic design and admen's dictum hijacking art. Instant impact: make it punchy; reduce it to logo, the logo aspirant. Get a public reaction, any way you can! Not cerebral!
Thankfully, the human heart is an anarchist. New Painting is human scale, a breath of life, not the staccato battle of work and anti-work, function and waste. Unfashionable things - beauty, getting beyond value - return through the heat haze. It is pastoral without heaven. It feels sensual, the plop of sweet ketchup, the swipe of wasabi. It is rich. Rich and offensive, and good for it. In colour and history (those blues and greens are Cezanne's) it declines the stark lot of ideas. "There's this guy, right, and he cuts a piano in half with a blowtorch." The joy of ideas-based art is the idea. We almost don't need to see it. However, no jpeg can guide you around this exhibition.
So what happened that was fucking horrendous? An old friend is alive, but in a critical condition after a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan. Right leg removed. I was cooing at paint while Phil was trying to hold his body together on the Helmand grit. Fractured spine. Dead colleagues. Smoke. The curiously blank onlook of locals. I feel queasy thinking about it. Phantom empathy numbs my own foot. Bass guitarist with my second band, he wisely hung up the Mick Karn slapstick, and graduated from Ansel Adams to Weegee to the war reporters. I moved to London, and when he arrived to freelance we'd meet up in Fleet Street bars, but drifted apart. Hard talk, hard news. A different world, where real begets real. I'm sure that the man who primed the IED which also killed a father-of-three Sunday Mirror correspondent and a US marine felt the same way. Faith for the win. Cos we gotta get real.
"Visible Invisible: Against the Security of the Real" is at the always-good Parasol Unit. New Painting is real-unreal. Half-seen images. Neither depiction nor Abstract Expressionism. Not looking backwards at all. Very much about the world we live in. Places where emotions form, like melted drawing rooms. The curl of cancan dancers' underskirts, pure Toulouse-Lautrec, blowing upwards and outwards. Could be twin towers; does not seek to bully. See what you want to see. Go see.
So what is the 'real' that these paintings rebuff? Real for many means incorporating fear, or accepting the consequences of trading with a social sphere built on fear. Defines its politics by fear, and ensures that finances never allow us above ‘survival mode’. Fear of talking seriously. Teen conversations with Phil, which had a kind of purity to them, a shy arrogance if that's possible, might cover things like “99% of people live 99% of their lives like ants. You don’t need the Tokyo rush hour to know that", "We buy tokens of freedom” or "Jobs require you to be smart, but not too smart." Decisions taken to live a life less ordinary, and never be dull.
Never be dull. Vital, integral stuff we forget, busy checking supermarket two-for-ones. Ordinary, admittedly, could be in the eye of the beholder. "The day I stop drinking till I vomit is the day you can shoot me. Promise me you will." "I promise." Or "Man, I'm gonna run out and collect me some stamps." "Well, you're a long time dead." Fear of death is the king of ordinary fears, the echo of a fear of living. New Painting is the promise of depth; against the bland energy and half-science of pop culture. New Painting is not postmodern, the cover of New Order's "Power Corruption and Lies", a Henri Fantin-Latour, now a first class postage stamp. In 1983 you didn't want to be modern. Postmodernism flattened hierarchies, between Classicism and clean lines and, crucially, between high and low culture. New Painting is post-structural. Flow. Even when we remove hierarchies the molar units we horizontalize are themselves a strata of characteristics. Dark melt, the insurgent end of things, crawls to precedence.
Time: 2010 Jan 01 02:23:00
Christmas involved cutting country roads free of ice and clearing snow, and removing boxes of teen memorabilia from my parents' attic. I can't cart this stuff around London. Is anything fit for eBay? Even War On Want? School artwork; a budget Royal Super-8 camera; Carson McCullers; Ray Bradbury; the darker side of pop; 70s comics and sci-fi; handmade badges for my first band; a bloody death shocker "Ulster The Facts" - there to grab the conscience of the prospective terrorist. Truth as exploded bodies. Meat as the facts.
A new sub-genre called 'Ulster Gothic' came to mind. Northern Belles. Totie wee antebellum bungalows. Pre-American (hill)Billy Boys. Forests, farm tools, shotgun Calvinism. Straight-talking and laconic, gangs and clans and canny farmers. A desperate love for the automobile. "No Country For" via "Blood Simple". Afterwards, chats with my dad about mid-century town life. Even the names of local characters sounded Northern Gothic. Why change them? Trout Haveron; Swallow Bell (a relation); local mayor Clem Robinson (another relation); old Mrs Linton, who reared abandoned children - they come in Catholic, and leave Presbyterian; Craigy - a Barry Lyndon-esque rogue and 'entrepreneur' who deserted the army, inevitably drinking the money he saves to 'buy himself out', slipping away from a wily Returning Troops Officer determined to land him in Colchester. Exiting bars via back doors. Jumping off trains.
Any form of Gothic needs melancholia, a madness. There's a slowness to the life here, but also a 'bottle up and explode'. Some spin the day out from one wee cup of tea to the next, some spin it out with something stronger. While one might tut at the other, neither feel an urge to branch out elsewhere. Perhaps the genre, if we're honest, is 'East Antrim Gothic', a Dalriadan love of independence, no king but the Lord Of The Isles. Perhaps Loyalism is a disguise - the Union flag promising, on balance, less interference. All said, the social differentiation is not religiosity, hierarchy is between the light consumer, the home-baked farl, and the new-house early-adopter multi-vehicular ready-made devourer.
The ghost of an unrequited love isn't an issue in Ulster Gothic, stoicism shows romance the door. Ulster Gothic isn't made crazy by the Mississippi heat, more la-la with cabin fever and black ice.