Subject: Photoblog, 2011: cultural babble
Time: 2011 Dec 16 00:15:00
A cultural year, and life, in retrospect. Middle age bites, and whereas most men self-comfort with attainments such as a house, a wife and a smashing pair of toddlers, I remain a grown adult with a dusty box of 'Eightball' comics to his name. As jokes go, I stopped being funny. Anyone who might
have found me funny now passes me by in haste. It won't be long till I become funny again, because I'll be looking at life from the end backwards. That'll be a hoot
. 2011 was uniquely filled with babysitting, which I enjoy and am grateful for the chance to experience (good at talking nonsense) and a writer's course (whose critical mass and homework dealt harshly with self-consciousness), and nothing but staycation on the travel front. Next year I push the boat out for a fake-cation and blog the fun. Sartorialism 11: a low performance. Holes in my trousers and I find it hard to care. This year I bought a second hand Barbour jacket, some grey leather Converse and an Edgar Allen Poe t-shirt. The high street is a papery horrorshow and everyone is a Vietnamese Next. Film 11: The Roxy, London Bridge, rekindles my joy of being in a large, darkened space with cinephile strangers, leather chairs and choice foodstuffs. Showing of the year, Powell-Pressburger's 'Canterbury Tales', where you could almost hear the audience in rapture. Also happy to discover Abbas Kiarostami. Brilliant, measured poetry. Books 11: Eric Ambler, who was working class (at least his parents ran a puppet show, which I guess
is working class), central characters as sharp as pins and not because they've been to Oxbridge. In many ways their nondescription raises their observational status. Ambler excels in the shaded, technocratic paths between little governments and big business, and they still feel real today. Tilda Swinton said that, although not English, 'Canterbury Tales' made her wish that she was, and Ambler might also do that. There's no experimentation in Ambler. That's just not on. Like dreams, drugs and drunks, experimentation merely repeats itself. If I were to review life, why and where I am, being working class and into middle class things might factor. The inability to see myself as someone's boss (even in babysitting I tend to co-act) and a mutual embarrassment re: hierarchy might too. Meditation 11: Once you're unphased by mortality and at one with the omniverse, where do you go? With the cosmic battery recharged it becomes necessary to let it remodel you. Philo 11: Rancière's 'as if' space, the pixel-thick stretch between the poles of objectivity and subjectivity, between things and thought, which enable Hegelian foams to pour. No allusion, no metaphor: one side 'as ifs' the other. If we migrated to 'as if', we could attend church as a Christian, believing it wholeheartedly, and also not, with no sense of paradox. Fuck paradox, do both. Rest God-like across everything, and not. Art 11: After-Saatchi art seems scientific, ghost-to-ghost, but Phyllida Barlow's Rig towers. Ex-Catalyst Arts Phil Collins' 'marxism today' and
'use! value! exchange!' are heartbreaking examinations of the overlap between a society that protects you and one which controls you, between the one which loves you and the one which owns you. A political discourse which will disappear. There is one choice of system. Music 11: My Fantasy League record label contains Oxford's Cellar Family and Sheffield's Seize the Chair. The Nightingales, an acquired taste (me and Stewart Lee) played a blinder. Even grumpy purists emerged from the Purcell Room happy. Momus, at the Apiary Studios, dissolved through entertainment like acid, through art, past confession, to a psycho-cosmic theatre turning the whole room outside in. Ballet 11: Manon was a serious and sumptuous performance undermined by ropey writing from Prévost, the obligatory 'dying swan' prossie to climax a third act. I sat on the edge of the poor seats, a lone male with a limited view, and appreciated being close enough to the stage to hear the rapid patter of toes en pointe
and see sparkles of sweat spin off the principals. Resolutions 12: sleep, lose friends, live in 'as if', lose plans for a novel, a horror novella and a state-of-the-nation eight song cycle. They've happened. They're happening, somewhere.
Subject: Politics | Rent Control
Time: 2011 Dec 10 23:10:00
Subject: Votre Infothèque: "Boycottez des marchandises UK"
Time: 2011 Dec 10 23:15:00Memo 11/829 Lan: EN 10/12/2011 22:22:10 Businesses from emerging markets keen to invest in Europe may not look kindly on British goods seen in your office, home or driveway. If in any doubt, Commission staff are advised to consult with their head of department.Memo 11/835 Lan: EN 10/12/2011 22:37:30 Employees of German, Spanish and French banks based in the City of London may exhibit some upset at being mocked as pirates by their own head offices. Be watchful for more nationalistic employees and any simulation of mutiny.
Subject: Bishopsgate Writers: The Possession of Roman Snow
Time: 2011 Nov 23 23:25:00
My second main submission is self-contained i.e. a short story. This will avoid too much feedback turning into questions extraneous to the piece. What happened previously, where does it go? Nothing and nowhere. There has been some suggestion of a regular post-course meet up, an ongoing writing group. Maybe. Writing long fiction hurts. I get paranoid and obsessed. Especially on the internet, where you can open your subconscious like a tuppence ha'penny app.
Anyroadup, the Possession of Roman Snow.Last night I had a dream which haunted me longer than I needed it too. I dreamt that I was on the London Underground, the first train of the morning, and all the living statues were there, on their way to work. You know, the men and women who perform in the piazza at Covent Garden. "Hell," I thought, "they must live in the same part of town." I looked along the carriage and I saw the Victorian gentleman painted gold and the lady with the parasol sprayed silver, the robot made out of plastic bottles, the centurion, and some kind of golem engrossed in a Kindle. None of them saw me. Presently, I began to examine my own hands.
The BAFTA car has arrived, wide and sleek and more serious-looking than two years ago. I have checked my collar and tie in the mirror, and said goodbye to the scuffed corridor of my N19 flat, to the towers of packed boxes that have narrowed its hallway for months. I'll get time to sell the place someday.
A young chauffeur is standing on the road, like a statue of himself. Immediately I approach, he is chatty and keen. 'Ormond' is still working for my UK profile, it would seem. Life in London, therefore, is full of smiles, open doors, side glances and anecdotes. Fame brings out a quintessence in those around us. Lookers look. Chatters chat. Sorters sort it out for you. Seducers often do. Cynics have a field day. And men of genuflection get down on their hands and knees. All Roman Snow has to do is be there.
I'm travelling to the ceremony alone, which feels odd, but Trish Benedict and the cast are at the Royal Opera House already. I feel swung around in the tail end of jet lag, which is due to be supplemented, shook up and reversed, by a return flight to New York tomorrow. I need the Pixar contract. They want to give it to me, I can tell. It's just the timing.
And, if anything, the BAFTA nomination arrived at an awkward time. Male lead for 'Ormond', an adaptation of Maria Edgeworth's 1817 novel, filmed in Dorset nearly two years ago, which had great reviews and a lion's share of the ratings last Christmas. I'll be eager to prove I haven't lost touch with the old country further down the line. This year, year to eighteen months, I need to keep breaking the States. The Midwest. Middletown.
We glide into Camden till we're faced with red lights. Some laughing kids recognise me and one leans against the car, and something in her attitude reminds me of Agnes Irving at RADA. We'll be travelling past Chenies Street another good reason why Agnes would come to mind. Christ, when was it all? The turn of the century. A turn of the century tale.
She was a fresher as I was starting my second year. We both applied for the same room in a house share with three other second years and, finding ourselves late for that audition, we discussed our options on the stairs. Two hours later an agent was showing us around the last one bedroom he had. We were stressed but I found her face calming. Something foreign yet recognisable to it, something consolatory. A taut humour, forthright and dry. An Isle of Skye accent that spoke of whiskey and wet air waiting on a flinty mountainside. Cheeks with a blush that could never be acting. Perhaps they're what struck me. People can cry to order, I thought, but no-one can blush.
I would sleep on the sofa bed, I offered. I'm out a lot. I work. I research. I'm not the kind of person to vegetate in front of the television. Me neither, she said. We'd wangle it.
That night, as I curled up naked against her shoulder, she asked me in a whisper if I was asleep and I didn't reply. And I didn't fail to reply out of rudeness or out of melancholy, but simply because I didn't want to talk. Why did I turn so isolated after sex? It didn't make sense. It was contradictory. I attended a boarding school and never regarded myself as confident with women. The same summer I confirmed my intention to audition for RADA, against my parents' wishes, I knew that I would have to feign confidence to survive. Outside-in. Fake to make it. Oddly, people believed me. Perhaps I feel guilty for that.
"You're not asleep," Agnes then said. "What's up?" I tried to tell her telepathically. I wondered what she was thinking. I watched the ceiling for answers. The curtains had been thrown closed, unsuccessfully. I wanted to correct them. I rested a hand between the knolls of her pelvic bones and the span seemed to fit perfectly. Odd moods. Just odd moods.
The BAFTA car finds Endell Street. We'll be nearing the Opera House soon. My mobile phone, set on silent all day, vibrates regularly in my pocket. Leaning crowds fill the barriers around cordoned off streets.
"Hello, love." Trish Benedict kisses my cheek as she gets in. "We're on course. We're going autographs, then round the red zone, press pit, then cast shots. Everyone's here. You look fantastic."
"The agency sent a PA to the LA address."
"Bloody internationalists. You're a self-made man." She adjusts my tie.
"I am." The parkas and puffas of Press Mountain loom large. Stools, ladders, tiers.
"You're doing the BBC, Sky and The Fabulous Picture Show if you can. I promised Karl you'd speak to them." So many names. I'm a slave to Trish's names.
She gets a call. Energy up. Let's do it! I slip from the car and wave. A burst of shouts. Mouths shape my name, a shoal of delighted eyes. Hello, there. At the barrier I autograph a stream of Zs along various paper items, one of them a paper plate. My melted Zorro Z. I used to care. I used to have a legible name. I used to chew it over, dedicate to personalise. I join cheeks with ecstatic teens for phone photos. I can't hear their questions so I just say yes to everything. I'm given an inexplicable toy which I pass to Trish immediately, just in case it's something you stick up your ass.
"You're rehearsing for Tim Burton at the moment." The BBC film programme.
"Yup. Rehearsing now. Right now in LA. There's two of me in fact."
The interviewer beams. "Is he good?"
"He's better than I am. But, yes, I'm with Tim all summer, and a very exciting and challenging role in the late autumn."
"You're getting a reputation as someone who likes to push himself. Do you prefer dark roles?"
"Depth is good." Trish touches my elbow. "Once you absorb a part it's with you forever, like a strange family member. They're inside, not outside."
I move down the line to Sky. "Oscars have been mentioned. How does it feel to be up against the Bridges and the Bales of this world?"
I glance at the middle distance. "Well, I've never been up against a Bale. I know Bridges and I certainly wouldn't cross him." Not bad for an offhand, but the interviewer stays glassy, searching for the next question. Where is Trish?
Then I find myself roped in by a serious whoop of cowboys called Jigger It FM. "Yo, Roman, my man."
"Yo, Jigger It." I attempt to move on but Associated Press are there and the main sponsors are taking official portraits. Penelope from BAFTA appears. I am handed a Jigger It FM t-shirt which I immediately sling over Penelope's shoulder. Trish? Trish you dick, where are you?
"Roman, yo is golfin with Gosling and doin dim sum with Joey So-and-so and horse ridin all tha way with Hathaway."
What the hell is this man talking about? "You're going to ask me 'when do I get time to read 16th century verse', aren't you?"
"Shit, yo's a mind reader. When yo hangin back with Shakespeare, fella? Yo sellin up to Pixar and little kids and stuff. Yo got to keep it real, man."
I try to look apologetic. "I'm an actor. We don't keep it real."
The microphone-holder is a gangling, white youth with short yellow hair and a pair of opaque sunglasses. I'm assuming this is some kind of satire. "Yo turnin y'back on Coriolanus."
"I'm not turning my back on anyone's anus." I turn and I apologise to Penelope.
He calls after me, "Jigger got an eye on yo, dude." As we pass the press pit I pause and look at him. Then with a small, friendly nod I turn away.
Agnes became curious about my background. The daily schedule of cold readings and rehearsals, practice and passion continued. A tinge of madness to it. But the evenings when we had supper together became filled with questions. My schools, my family.
"I bet they're absolutely rolling in it." Suppositions which may have been accurate but whose relevance I couldn't see.
My parents were tough, I explained. "The easy kind of tough. Tough that's about moving kids forward." The blush seemed drained from her cheek.
"You lot think you're born to lead. It's all yours, isn't it?" I wanted to tell her how much I was self-constructed, in my confidence and talents, and how I lost the respect of friends and family to turn to serious dramatic study. But, for some reason, I didn't.
As research she was compelling. I like difference. In every nook of life, not just one tier of it. Part of me was hooked. But I was more popular than she was and I dealt with criticism and the tutors and authority with ease. A month after term began, I was still her only friend. I hinted that she should get out more.
Her first outburst happened soon after that. I borrowed a stack of CDs, opera, and DVDs about Stanislavsky, Brecht, Grotowski and Brook, from a fellow student whom Agnes accused me of getting too close to. In her perception I 'sniffed at her books' and 'just stared at her music'. The contempt was all over my face. I never sought her opinion on anything. When it came down to the serious stuff, I passed her over.
"Everything Frances does is just fucking dandy, isn't it? Frances Fucking Christ Superstar."
I told her that I was at RADA to learn and that admiration was not the same as attraction. Was that the right thing to say? Of course it wasn't. She wanted to be admired. She wanted to know something that someone would want to learn. Her face became a kind of deranged sneer, the anger palpable. I felt backed into a corner and I told her so. Could I hold her? Fuck off. Just you. Fuck. Off. She burst out crying. After a silence, I asked her if the pressure was getting to her. Months of auditions and it doesn't get easier. She flew up and she left the flat without a coat.
I walked to the local pub to see if she was there, and she was. I didn't disturb her. I slept in the living room.
The following day she brightened. We said nothing about it but a part of me was waiting for the next accusation. I grew paranoid. Despite having nothing to hide, I put a password on my mobile phone and desktop computer. I'd leave a workshop late in the evening and Agnes would be in the corridor. I'd read in a cafe off Chenies Street. She'd happened to be passing. Was she following me?
It went on like this. I'd find myself checking her schedule, beginning to reciprocate the shadowing. Was she safely engaged in class? What was undermining her and why? Were there patterns, and did I have time to look for them? To be completely honest, I had to find a reason to continue this relationship. How could I bail out safely?
"And the Leading Actor goes to." A telly-friendly funnyman, erstwhile side to a surrealist who had crossed the pond before I did and wasn't wearing a wet suit, fakes a papercut on the gold envelope. Get on with it, friend. I watch myself watching myself being watched by myself watching me. It's a trip. I never know what to do with my mouth, so I smile wider and hope for a win. To add gravitas to an otherwise slight production; for a lovely producer who needs it more than I do; for the fun of it. Let's face it we're here to sell the British industry as much as anything. Sell yourself, and the world wants to sell you.
"Some say he's a rake, but I say he's a ho'." What does that mean? "Roman Snow for Ormond." Tosspot. Suddenly I am mouthing 'tosspot', and squeezing Trish's shoulder. I stand to hug Sally Hebron but knock heads with someone from Flesh and Blood Productions. The clapping swells, a wall of faces focus on me and I blather something drab into Roger Freed's right ear. I find the aisle and someone tries to grab my crotch. I'm guessing it was Oisin Asquith, who could easily have taken this award. An exceptional talent.
Here we go. The perfected walk. The Snow lope. The head hangs like a Pilates roll down, the sort of head we are certain contains a smirk. Each step glides into its destination, the shoulders are back, the carriage ready for action. The face goes up. The stair jog gets a little Rat Pack but a traditional quarter bow at the top goes down well. Take your time, old boy. Let them applaud. Let them love applauding. "Charm is back and it's not acting," ran a blog for the Hollywood Observer. "And boy does it feel good." "Why can't we be golden again?" asked Interview magazine. As I reach the podium, I decide to gear up, go ninety five percent the star. Give us glamour in troubled times. We fucking deserve it.
Words! Don't forget Vulnerability, old boy. The house falls silent, as quick as receding tide. The character with Vulnerability gains the Status. Isn't that what they say? Speech!
On the grey, nondescript day that was the first Saturday at the end of term, December 1999, being the sort of day destined to arrive and leave holding nothing of note, I threw a scarf about my neck and walked the quiet London streets to our pub, the Shepherd's Head, to meet with Agnes and some school friends of hers. She'd been showing them around town.
"Don't be judgemental," she demanded over breakfast. Was I? When did I become that man? I won't be, I told her. "They're lovely," she stressed. I was sure that they would be. "Whatever happens," she held a long look into my eyes, "you won't be judgemental."
Agnes's friends were four women of similar age, dress and demeanour. No troglodytes, no twisted spines, no saliva spinning out of screwball minds. Just friends.
Would it be a good time to tell her that I was leaving her? What a Christmas present that would be.
Determined to keep the afternoon light and pleasant (I'd become watchful for this kind of thing), I waved across the room, across a sleeping Labrador that seemed to fill the floor, to ask if anyone wanted a drink. They glanced at me with faces that fell serious, then turned to Agnes as if she should answer. She declined, in an accent which seemed to mimic my own. Was she going to take the piss out of my elocution to entertain her friends? I started to wish that I'd made excuses, or simply failed to show up. Christ. I ordered Belgian ale and olives.
"Why are you talking like that?" I asked, trying to be jokey, seconds after I joined their table. The silence fell once more. I looked from face to face.
"Merry has something to tell you," one of them said eventually. I was beginning to wonder who they really were.
"Her name is Meredith and she's from just outside Guildford."
"Guildford?" Some ale actually seeped from my mouth I had such trouble closing it. "What are you talking about?"
"She's been in part." The leading friend seemed pleased with herself.
In retrospect, Meredith's face held some concern and I recall that she was gripping two hands, one on either side. "I've been living and breathing Agnes. I'm out of it now. But it's been a journey."
What the ff..? Someone was helping themselves to my olives. Another explained that the woman I'd lived with for almost a term was workshopping a piece they were co-authoring. Immersive, someone explained. Organic. Participatory drama.
"Not mad are you?" I sat in a cage of silence, the paradox pulling me apart, watching the olives and wanting to slap them across the room. Eventually I brought myself to face 'Meredith' and found her brow imploring, the rose tone in her cheeks resurfacing for the last time. "I saw your performance project on Restoration Comedy last summer and I thought you were amazing. You convinced me to take this up. Straight away, I was a fan." She reached out for my hand.
I tried to speak but my face buckled. No obsession. No jealousy. Was there love? The touch of skin on skin was real, no? Everything bled of meaning, right across the pub carpet and up the walls. Even the dog stood up and left. "Do excuse me, I.. I need air."
The dark streets are empty and transformed, cleaned up already, and I can't believe what I'm seeing. The front page of a free sheet is blowing around the railings like a corny portentous image, as if real life were a film, and the headline is telling me that travellers have been advised not to fly to or near Iceland because of another sodding volcano. I need to speak to Spencer in LA. I need to be in New York, like, yesterday.
Like, yesterday. Jigger It FM will have me done for transatlanticism. I'm poised in a side door at the Royal Opera House, interviewed out, alone. Trish gave me a sponsored umbrella in exchange for the BAFTA figurine, the mask, and, as ever, she vanished. Where is the car? Jigger It FM. They're here somewhere. Up a courtyard, on the other side of some darkened glass. I wander the street to look up an alley. Just a lone chef, looking beat, an Asian guy, stepped outside for a smoke. Someone who doesn't even know who I am. I love him.
Subject: Bishopsgate Writers: Photographic Fiction
Time: 2011 Nov 19 11:59:00
This week's creative writing homework (our final one) involved bringing in a photograph that evokes feeling in us, and swapping these with no explanation. Then using them as an imaginative springboard to create a short scene. I received the photograph below from a chap called Andy.
A worthwhile course considering it didn't cost an MA at UEA, supposedly the best creative writing postgraduate in the country, which uses the same group feedback method. Beneficial for thinking a piece through aloud and being asked tough questions by people with a range of tastes and viewpoints. Clearly you defend your core idea, but any mud and barnacles soon get knocked off. I have one more main submission to complete, in old-fashioned, monastic, patriarchal solitude.
Things wot I learned: the benefit of workshopping is opinion, but also growing your work off other people's; smooth transition is gold; sci-fi benefits from being an especially smooth space, oddness should jar with the reader in just the right way; women writers often have a male character who seems to represent 'money'; keep your POV easy; read each draft out loud; City of London analysts and traders have invaluable inside knowledge, but don't necessarily appreciate what makes their world fascinating for outsiders; if someone you know thinks one of your characters is based on them, that's their business.Sugar mice and sherbet lemons. Drumsticks and aniseed balls. Floral gums. Coconut mushrooms.
"Give us the bloody gobstoppers," said Gus O'Keefe, the elder of the two O'Keefe brothers, his mouth as aggressive as his slack jaw would allow. The brothers were three, accompanied as they always were by a blond sidekick, an honorary brother, name of Den Wells.
"Rationing's over," the second O'Keefe backed up the first in a light and wispy voice.
With deliberate patience, Mrs. Linton returned the lid to the Dolly Mixture jar and the jar to the shelf. "Rationing's still in place until June the 21st. And today, if you can read the calendar, is the 19th."
"Give us the bloody gobstoppers," O'Keefe muscled his little hips forward and lowered his face like a ram, until only the rims of his eyes and a puffed lip could be seen under the stubble of his crop. "We'll do you a deal. You'd be bloody wise to take the bloody deal. Five ounce of Midget Gems. And just the good ones. No blacks." The last two words held some disgust.
"He don't like the blacks," smirked his brother.
A long ghost, some sweet Dolly Mixture dust, suddenly walked across the narrow block of sunlight that fell through Mrs. Linton's shop window. I began to draw short, puzzled breaths, in growing concern at the boys' aggression, but also to taste this sugary air.
After filling a paper bag for me, the shopkeeper rested both hands on her ample hips, backdropped seductively, I thought, by shelves of glass bottles. Bright pear drops, Rhubarb and Custard, slick black licorice sticks, any of the dozens of confectionaries she stocked. Ignoring threats from the threesome, who had pushed to the counter ahead of me, she flipped the bag to roll it and passed it down.
"Why does he get some?" O'Keefe said flatly. His unseeing, yellowed blue eyes barely took me in.
"Because he was careful with his rations."
"Crooked. Fowl." His nine year-old mind was searching hard for the word. "Unfair. What it is." He lurched for me, like he wanted to hit me, then stopped abruptly.
It was at this moment that I would have the first of three thoughts that I never had before. One - I felt alone, without my mother and my father, having been allowed to skip down Marcia Street towards the Old Kent Road unsupervised, which I took as a treat in itself. Two - I felt physically slight, perhaps unfairly, since I was younger than the O'Keefes. But I felt too slight to defend myself and I have since that day tended to assume that my body would let me down, somehow, even when there was no real evidence that it would. I think presumptions were sown into me then, psychological postures I assumed throughout my life. Thirdly, after it was over, I wanted to turn a cartwheel.
"It's shit," shouted the honorary brother very suddenly, the only words I ever heard him say, and words which were, at that stage, the most shocking thing I had ever heard anyone say. Something dark was afoot.
"Let's do it." Brother O'Keefe was on the counter top immediately, while Gus pushed me back and slipped around the side. Mrs. Linton began shouting, trying to protect the gobstopper jar from his hands. Wells succeeded in hoisting her scales to the floor with a damaging crash, while the younger O'Keefe kicked against the back of one knee until she buckled. She pushed him back, swearing, and a bottle of something rolled across the shop.
"Blimey, they're turning the old girl over," someone passing the front doorway laughed but did not intervene. My immediate reaction, I have to admit, was to leave. I took two or three steps towards the Old Kent Road. I had my purchase. I could be up Marcia Street in less than a minute. But something made me stay. Something in the change of light. Shifting cloud stole the window's brightness. Even God seemed to be dismayed by what he saw.
I ran around the counter and pushed a surprised O'Keefe the younger to the floor, Then, pretending to be him, I grabbed the jar of gobstoppers from his brother. He swore and chased me back to the front of the shop and was soon joined by the others. Mrs. Linton was free to stand. My plan, a plan I didn't have, seemed to be working. I was, however, cornered.
"Squib." Gus O'Keefe paused to righten his pulled-about shirt, and to fold up his sleeve, and to glower at me with a sense of pity at what he was going to do to me.
"Squib." His brother underlined, spitting on the floorboards, out of breath.
To unscrew the bottle and scatter the gobstoppers took me a second. I heard a scream, after instinctive lurches, as the soles of worn shoes found the unforgiving bobbles of a hard candy carpet which successfully unbalanced anyone attempting it. I sidled along the wall, watching the brothers skitter and collapse, until my head met the curve of some handcuffs on the leg of a policeman watching from the doorway.
In the subsequent brush up, having failed to locate a solitary cherry red gobstopper which rolled out from under the counter, Mrs. Linton had her own trouble. Being located opposite the Gin Palace, a woman in early middle age down on both knees, with one elbow to prop her, and her free hand turning in the air, was perhaps not an uncommon sight. A customer, thoroughly engrossed in the Daily Express, simply stepped over her and continued to the counter, where he asked curtly for tea cakes.
Subject: Bishopsgate Writers: Sensuality | Critique
Time: 2011 Nov 07 00:05:00
This week's creative writing homework is a short scene exploring the senses. Pick vision, taste, hearing etc, and describe an indulgence therein. Describe the sensations and how they make a narrator feel, and perhaps how it feels when they're gone.
I had my feedback and it seemed very thorough and honest. Tutor Mary found my language 'playful, baroque and full of surprising constructions'. Some phrases could be opaque. My POV contains 'rapid and frequent switches' which might bother some readers. Intimate third person for both main characters, with a Dickensian omniscience at the start, and Anne talking to herself in second person near the end (I explained that only Anne would be allowed this, but agreed that omniscence could go). I was asked questions that I've never asked myself. Why set it in France? To be honest, I'd be horrified if anyone saw it as a comment on Frenchness. France in the text is primary and altermodern, a parallel place I enjoy.
The quality of class critique was high. There's no fooling these people. Some saw mild contradictions (which arose between two drafts of the text and which I assumed would knit themselves out in the wash). Some sensed where the flow was stilted. When, to be honest, I probably was overwriting. Overall, people seemed to love paragraphs and ideas I yarned out quickly and found sentences I laboured over to get 'right' laboured. (Possibly why a high moral agenda never writes great fiction. You're a moralist or a decadent, judge of all or nothing, hide the cards your imagination turns over as inappropriate, or don't. People wanting creative thought to be moral are missing its point). I was accused of 'ponderous sentences' (the word "such" was used three times in one). Interestingly, people seem to work through their own roadblocks by critiquing them in you. Those with structure issues battle yours. Those with strong female characters pull yours apart. Someone found the-use-of-the-dash, linking words-into-phrases a bit nails-on-blackboard in creative fiction. Point taken.
Having performed music in public arenas, such as festivals, I know that even when you give it 100% you might not suit all passing tastes. The class has writers who are more feline than canine. Mysterious, minimal, veiled prose. McLuhan might call it cool media, a contrast to my hot. Freud could call it retentive as opposed to explusive. I find it attractive, maybe because opposites attract. A mature writer could probably swing both ways, although I have no mature relationships in my life. I am a worker, a tenant and a consumer, and a middle-aged blogger to silence. Anyone expecting his writing to mature in that vacuum would be deluded.---
The first morning candle, found in a box in the darkness of the ambulatory, behind the turning cathedral apse. A loose friction in her fingers, cracking the long match down a fixed metal strike plate. A game circle of phosphorous and spark, given to the waxy tip. The flame ponders, then agrees to transfer. Rehoused, it swells, finding an appetite for oxygen, a halo reaching outwards as it does. In her eyes, needles of light, top to tail, from the gas blue root to the gentle parabola crowning its golden sway.
She exhales at last, her breath thrown behind soft diamonds of refracted colour that turn in the confines of her eyes. Like a solar flare, a trace of space, evidence of consciousness under the brow, the lowering lashes.
A candle is where the emotions of prayer turn into meditation, she once decided. Real, thorough, European meditation. Bodyless empathy with light and heat. The something in the nothing. The sudden here from nowhere. The movement of thought emerging from physics.
Like a child, she tests the flame with the pad of a fingertip until she winces. "We have work to do." An adult voice over her shoulder. An inhale, and a puff that takes the light away and fills the tray of wax knolls and snapped globules on the table with pale grey smoke. A hand on her shoulder, waiting for her to stand. The call of meditation, uncensoring our sense of being, suddenly replaced by the working world's mockery and the need to justify our living.
Subject: Podcast: BrightonWatch
Time: 2011 Nov 04 01:30:00
Subject: Bishopsgate Writers: The FFS Factor
Time: 2011 Oct 26 22:15:00
Time to hand in a main submission for appraisal by my classmates. I've dished it out, over the weeks, but can I take it? "Good" or "Godawful" less useful than why. Mutual inspiration more fun than flat opinion. "Fall in love, dude". "Take methadone". Curious about writing for general consensus. Wouldn't the public turn a Samuel Beckett into a Roddy Doyle? Entertainment, recognition, consolation. Let us see our kooky selves, our munificent hearts of gold. Still, we heard the existential voice a lot in the 20th Century, maybe the middle ground is a challenge again, having a dynamic new medium and all.---
The FFS Factor
Anne X follows the rise of a Parisian novelist to become French president and her subsequent first term. One possible structure is to tell it in scenes (out of sequence) while in parallel (in sequence) describing the preparations of a Corsican anarchist to assassinate her.
After becoming mayor in her town of birth, following a divorce, Anne Renaud is motivated to run in open primaries by a church friend, Roxanne. This scene opens the chapter in which Anne takes part in a televised debate with other candidates from the centre left Party.
On the second floor of the Neuilly studios of the Betamix Mondiale television group, just above Studio One, and a clean left out of the service elevator, a row of medium-sized dressing rooms have been reserved and are in use for that evening’s open primary debate.
What might surprise us is the fact that the elections are taking place in winter, while the studio’s grounds and access routes are uneven and impassible dumps of snow, and an endless suspension of white flakes can hang around all day if the day in question is as breezeless as it has been of late. The placing of such primaries for such an election in such a winter, to the comfortably astute, would suggest a crisis.
And, indeed, it was the same front of snow that saw President and Madame Valère leave the mountainous auto route from Briançon to the new ski resort at Serre Chevalier, reversing quickly over black ice, they say, and parting some steel chevrons like curtains, settling backwards onto a weak edge at sixty degrees, the car turning sideways against trees and coming to rest. Then, heaped with tree snow, in darkness, and thanks to a new driver trying the accelerator, sliding forwards into a forty metre dive towards the Écrins National Park and a boulder bank by a frozen riverbed.
These debates have taken shape over the elections they've led up to. A live audience of two hundred, chosen by independent pollsters to represent a mix of gender, age, ethnicity, social class and voting intention, are, in Studio One, being instructed to applaud at the start and at the end, but not to intervene during the discussion, their questions having been filtered by production and a bumptious but established presenter.
"Studio for six fifty!" The chirps of an assistant curl around the door of Anne Renaud’s dressing room. After an early evening all-candidate pre-meet and some best-person-win stuff, Anne had stayed alone, except, now, for a wordless and thin old man steam-ironing her suit. He rolls and pings each button to test the thread’s durability, then, about two thirds of the way down, he moans, speaking for the first time.
"This’ll fly off in some fool’s eye. I’ll tighten this."
"It’s fine, really." Anne is keen to get out of her tracksuit. Beyond, in a soulless corridor, bare lights make passing spray-tans look ill. If one were a kind of fool, enough to watch around a dressing room door for too long, foolish enough to be alone, one could taste an existential resonance, where life's forking paths have infested skin and organs with fear. Years of adrenalin, last chance advice, racing hearts and cures for racing hearts. Eighties rush. Nineties will-to-power. Careers of all shapes being made and taken. Expectation in a million eyes, blinking in a velvet sky.
"Won’t take two seconds." The old man’s head swings to and fro, hunting through his toolkit.
"Ready for the slap, Anne?" Someone large and cackling pushes around the door and unfolds a second toolkit on the table. She starts blowing a foundation puff, then spends quite some time trying to pluck a hair from it.
Anne coughs a response. Watching the small pair of scissors snip off the offending button, and watching the clock, she takes to the chair facing a well lit mirror, with the last of the winter light behind them. Heavy dabs of foundation run their vigorous circles.
"You wearing that wine-coloured suit, Anne? What about eyes to match?"
Rioja Nights. "Go for it."
The rough and ready Betamix approach was renowned. Nothing changed there. But an elected politician, one taken seriously, should receive better treatment than the mid-afternoon pundit. Surely? Mag chat with suburban wives. Blind cookery. Discussing Baudelaire half way up an indoor rock face. Anne had done it all, till punditry threated to overtake authorship. You create worlds, she looked in the mirror to remind herself.
Still ‘Anne’, never ‘Madame Renaud’. The fear, Anne. The fear is starting, the need to be taken seriously. Grateful for mercies, Anne. She was. She was. Like a series of locks opening, the recent weeks had brought turning points that felt as if they’d been waiting for her all along. At times, the sideways glance of a hotel desk clerk seemed filled with affirmation. The parting clouds announced it. Over the past seven days, Anne had rehearsed her opinions on almost everything - where did she stand on destiny? Destiny doesn’t feel like a flight to the inevitable, more like the concatenation of one’s gifts.
When Anne Renaud took a step towards the world she found it reciprocating. What the hell had held her back this long? Her mayoral seat was a shifting soap opera of small town gossip and handshakes with printing businesses, listening, nodding, sitting around in odd hats and gowns. The joys of the family certainly didn’t beckon her back. A million eyes in a velvet sky were nothing compared to the unsmiling daughter. Watching, fixed, brow lowered like a dominant animal cornered, almost bristling with contempt. Surreal, daily. Eternally wrong. Anne Renaud, wrong in every cell and every word.
Fighting was her strong point and always had been.
"Pre-meet in thirty." The Party Secretary drums his fingers on the door.
"Gotcha." Anne gets a powdered tongue, followed by cackle.
"I thought you were guesting on Balls In A Box." The makeup artist throws away her chosen shade. "Rioja Nights might be a bit streetwalker. Haha!"
Even if her eyes were open, Anne would not notice the arrival of Roxanne de la Salle. No-one really did. Her campaign coordinator could slip around in the blind spaces at the corner of an eye with no salutation, just a presence felt, the gentlest hint of air moving under a cape, unfastened and hung on a door. The St.Pierre’s collection box, ivory toned in the classic mould, carried by its thick cord, always and everywhere, her beg for charity disarming the good and the great. Taking the taste away from those canapés and the fizz out of that champagne. The St.Pierre’s collection box was Roxanne’s leveller. Many found it objectionable, but the solemnity of the woman was something Anne had grown into, not simply for the clarity of her mind, but as a counterpoint, a moral traffic light. Roxanne did not lack empathy, she had successfully buried it.
In the lit mirror, with the winter light behind her, Anne is surprised to see Roxanne in a business suit, and with her hair restyled, half fashionable. It served to soften her enormously, from the buttoned-up coal-coloured tweed overcoat and the home-knitted sweaters of old. Surprised because Roxanne did not hold with anyone else’s vanity, with the exception of Anne’s, which she encouraged. She did not approve, not because she had scalding scars on the back of her hands, for she’d had them since childhood, but as part of an ongoing repent.
They never discussed faith now. It went unsaid, since first encounters four years ago, in the cluttered kitchen of St.Pierre’s of Besançon, where Roxanne had a reputation as a formidable fundraiser for the Catholic Worker movement, and for the church itself and its outreach programme. Like everyone, Anne found her intense. Humble to the point of stern. Scathing of pride and vigilant for it in those around her. She extracted pride and destroyed it like the cancerous cell. Within days she had Anne collecting door-to-door. Brought in for coffee by the lonely and unvisited, accused of being police by the overcrowded and illegal, given pennies by the penniless, avoided by those who had more than any one person needed. The more people have the less they appreciate it, Anne decided. Maybe this was what she was meant to discover.
"You start at the ground. The repenter seeks the pits. As low as it goes. And when you think you’ve given all you can, you give more." As well as collecting, Anne was working in a night shelter three shifts a week. She was calling an ambulance, doused in a rough sleeper's blood, battered by a man whose name she kept on howling in love.
Anne's Repent. On it went. Street eyes. Blank eyes, all of them. Submissive, ready for the end. Always, every day. The clockwork, never-ending terminus of poverty. Swathed in a supermarket litre, the voice might be slurred, scathing, hurtful, racist, sexist, mad. But the eyes have given in.
Roxanne changed regarding politics, and perhaps this was inevitable, being someone who was work and work only. "Politics," she folded her hands on the St.Pierre's kitchen table to explain, "are blueprints that never build. Smoke and theory. Meanwhile, people are hungry. Here. Tonight. People losing their jobs tomorrow. Losing their minds. People in tents where one end won’t meet another. Can politics get in the van and come with us? The urban poor are more likely to turn to Pentecostalism than Karl Marx, if they can stay away from handguns, and for good reason. They need action, not words."
Done with the vanity of speech itself, this woman would lift her patient, pale regard away from Anne Renaud and address the kitchen window. She would then stand and hoist aloft a box of donated groceries, or toiletries, second-hand magazines and newspapers, and she would exit the kitchen for the open doors of the St.Pierre’s minivan. Roxanne threw herself into others until her hunger was satisfied.
"New you?" Anne pipes across the room.
"The camera warms to you, Anne. The public, the French gut, likes Anne Renaud. We need to start there. For this is how you will win."
"I’m a dancing pony, darling. The protest vote. We’re here to move the centre ground somewhere livable."
"You. Will. Win." Roxanne turns her head by a quarter, offering not a shot of morale, but the distant foresight of an oracle.
Alone, door locked and blinds turned, the dressing room is intimate, missing at the edges, a bare stage set in the theatre. Like lain tarot, Betamix Mondiale's last minute handouts for tonight's event sit on table, around the St.Pierre's collection box.
Roxanne's voice is hypnotic. "You are talking to people at home. To people who are open and understanding. On your side. Leave the debate, mentally, if you have to. Give them narrative and blue sky. Give them hope. Common sense. In the second round they need more than that, but avoid detail beyond what we rehearsed." She is talking next stage already. Future pacing, opening paths of insight needed to achieve the present.
She fingers a handout. "Iché is an outsider and has been through this twice without managing to raise his profile. A relapsing drunk prone to babble and a mystery to his constituents. Everyone is praying he will not embarrass the Party."
"I ignore every word he says." Anne confirms.
"Desargues. Former banker. No-go in the current climate. Many voters would rather jump on nails. Everyone is out to bring him down to size."
"Cover the bailouts. Look disturbed. Incredulous." Anne throws an example face.
Roxanne flinches. "You are not a cartoon. About half of that. Next. Bonaly. Respected by the Party but the FFS factor hits the man where it hurts. Rumours of a done deal. Planning to buckle publicly in a way that lets FFS shine."
"Could backfire on them. Should do." Anne begins rubbing her fingers, absentmindedly tuning the strings of duplicity. She’ll play Bonaly as she finds him.
"And our friend Madame Gance. Still second favourite. In a second place frame of mind, I would say she was our main target. A tough boot but her hangdog expression produces contempt in twenty percent of viewers. Avoid a fight. If it comes, smile at the camera for contrast. Anti intervention in Arab spring and it divides her supporters."
"’People need a better breed of dove.’" If she managed to recall half the Tweet-sized bites dreamt up in St.Pierre’s it would buy her active camera time. She speaks the line again for intonation. Christ, she sounded like a sports presenter.
Slowly, as it has to, their attention falls on FFS. Circumnavigated, watched carefully, the favourite, Frederic Farman Suarez, a Doberman-smooth Lyonnaise with an academic air Anne had to use to her advantage. All brain, no soul? ‘Dry’. ‘Theoretical’. But good. She had to admit. Very Presidential already. Articles about what makes him tick. It pained her to admit, but she liked the guy. Tough where he needed to be, but humane. Could the FFS Factor be undermining her own?
Roxanne breaks the silence. "Do you think he feels guilty for his good looks? Does he have secret senseless acts of self-punishment for having been born with charm and a chain of au pairs and a costly education?"
Does he ever question the need for leaders? Can anyone doing that ever really win?
Anne Renaud stands and undresses, then unhooks the wine-coloured suit while Roxanne leans her face into her hands. "He tends to go into a kind of humorous negotiation mode under accusation, something you can make look weak. Has a penchant for convoluted figures. Say something like ‘Frederic, you were born for backroom analysis’."
"Sounds like a comment on his sexuality." There was an unaccompanied knock at the door. Fuck, fuck, time. "How do I look?" She wasn’t ready. Fuck fuck fuck. That suit? That suit? Studio One has a light green background, Anne. You’ll be a strobing black hole. A strobing black hole and a streetwalker. As inner pep talks go the past hour had not exactly been what she had needed.
Her heart finds a new cruising speed and she drops her drops. Her nostrils and nasal cavity and mouth and throat have gone dry. Her stomach has turned to water but she shakes when she tries to open a bottle of the real stuff. She would try. She would try. She buttons up in the mirror. Fear changes you. But no-one can see it, Anne. "Let's go."
Roxanne de la Salle rises to join her. "In case it needs spelt out, Frederic Farman Suarez has an entourage of consultants, sponsors, donor's lawyers, fundraisers, volunteers. He has money behind him. Investing in him. Creating him. He has money. And you have me."
Uncharacteristically, Roxanne chooses to strike at the table, once, to punctuate the end of this sentence, causing the St.Pierre’s collection box to rotate, topple, roll off the edge and over the carpet tiles, jingling with small change that folds in unsteady waves.
Descending to fetch it, she begins to fixate on the underside of the table. Something in the shadows, swinging by a roughly taped wire. Coin-sized and electronic, something dislodged. On the other side, Anne Renaud kneels to watch it too, an impassive transmission of their silence.
Subject: Topography: Beachy Head backwards
Time: 2011 Oct 19 22:55:00
A drive along the south coast produces many pretty photographs. Seaside sauce, vintage boutique, modernist pavilion, laxidasical gull on fisherman's hut, split-level promenades in pastel, and a dry fountain.
Beachy Head isn't easy to capture. At one point you feel surrounded by sea, 270 degrees at least, running out forever. Supernaturally peaceful, its popularity as a self-killing spot (about 20 a year) becomes understandable. Most have chosen to fall in front of the lighthouse, 400 feet down onto the boulder bank, a bag of shattered bones and punctured lung. The world's-end atmosphere and the proportions of the view are important: a cute, lost-looking lighthouse seems to reflect our personal isolation, pride or fear. I try to empathise with a jump. The folded coat, always, that metaphor for throwing off the body. Walking stick stuck in the ground. Men dive, women walk or run. The air and exhilaration; the three second wait; a skin-flaying, neck-snapping scrape; the car-crash smash. Endless rolling collisions, till your skull can't take the mix of gravity and stone any more. If there is life at the bottom, it blanks out in pain and airlessness.
"No-one survives here," says a retired coastguard who has drawn up a hundred bodies and supervised many more. No ledges at the lighthouse, no remorse. He's in a Dutch documentary about the area. Staff at the nearest pub are trained to look for last drink drinkers and note-writers. A chaplaincy team patrol the cliffs but can't be everywhere all the time. Little crosses sit on the edge. "Michael, we miss you son."
I drive on from the spot where last thoughts are thought. I've no doubt these people find peace. Not all jump as a violent, hot-headed, two-fingers-up. Some just want to go. Crushed by loneliness, poverty, mistrust and disappointment. Suffocated by duty or idiocy, hatred or being hated. Or just ambitious for the next stage. Forward thinkers. What are the grin-and-bear-it-brigade on? Of course there's no satisfaction just around the corner. There's fake-it-to-make-it, a life of deceit or some kind of proto-Christian existence, solely to help others.
Subject: Bishopsgate Writers: From Fact to Fiction
Time: 2011 Oct 09 13:58:00
This week’s creative writing homework is 'From Fact to Fiction'. Take a news story, something reality, and use it as a springboard for a short scene. What do you have to look out for? How can fiction make 'facts' more real for the reader?
There are obvious dangers with creative nonfiction, faction, yarnumentary et al as I explained to Gore Vidal when he interviewed me for Playboy in 2006. One benefit is the sense of subversion, a gaming between author and reader and some critical third party, be it the pale, litigous observer or an authoritarian censor-in-waiting. But this makes actual research more important. Not less. Vidal, a strict Mennonite since the age of 17, agreed, then recanted. "Go the whole hog, boy. Lie through your teeth. I do! To the Russians! All that misinformation and crap they paid me so handsomely for. Who gives a rat's ass
I read out my homework at the end of last week's class, as people were packing up to go. Still, a self-conscious moment. It reads better than it speaks. I think I'll do a few this week, read them aloud, choose between them.Confidence in UK banking system rocked as agency downgrades 12 bank and building society credit ratings.
"I have nothing to say," my boss says, cryptically. He is leaning into the long window around his office, where the view looks along the Isle of Dogs towards the City.
"I'll go." But I've just arrived. I've been P.A. here for fourteen years and a senior for five. You don't spend that amount of time with people and not learn to read them. Thirty floors above Canary Wharf and someone was singing a different song.
"Not you. My parents. I phoned my parents and I had nothing to say. Isn't that pathetic? Aren't we supposed to have everything to say to our parents. Everything. Not nothing. Coughs. Echoes. Not even Goodbye."
"Everything. Nothing. Maybe they're the same thing in the end." I offer, checking my phone and shrugging. When were Iberica going to confirm my table reservation?
"They're cutting our ratings. Desiccating them. Bastards did it." He seems to punch at his own chest as he squeegees along the window.
I'd seen the group message. "Is that bad?"
His head spins around so fast I think his eyeballs will sling out of his face. "Of course it's fucking bad." A vein shoots up on his temple at my question, but they are always designed to return a level of sense to the man.
"It's an opinion."
"An opinion the world uses. This re-calibrates, um let's see, like, every single deal we'll ever make."
"Who are these people anyway? Didn't we offer them consultancy last May?" I know how it works. We buy measurement in the same way we buy credit. With money we don't have, but might have one day. We buy financial journalists and we buy MBA lecturers. An auditor arrives at eight a.m. and by midday he's part of our Taiwan team. I'm booking him a bay-facing suite. Nothing is measurable. How can it be? Everything is confidence.
"They didn't bite. Joyless cast iron bastards. It's falling on my shoulders." He has crossed to a tall window beside me, which is open, and has drawn one knee onto the ledge, and is watching sparse crowds in the plaza down below.
"Perspective, Neville. These are strange days. Everyone's taking a hit. Anyone who isn't limping looks suspicious. Were they really doing their bit? Were they front line troops or mere potato peelers? That's what the world is asking."
He has both knees on the ledge, poised to topple neatly through the opening with just the help of gravity. "Banks considered national-critical get guarantee. We don't. Why does the little guy always get it in the ass?"
"Neville, you sound like some kind of hysterical communist." I hook a finger into his pants, determined to go for broke. "This is the best ball we could've been thrown. We internationalise while the local guys hang around like double-diddled gimps of granny government. When their own trading is compromised by transparency they'll turn heat up on the other rings. Forced to roll out the very dough they're still paying off, liquid turns solid and insolvency cakes slip down Pudding Lane and round the horn. Rock and hard place buns. For all the good boys and girls. Singing Happy Birthday. Happy Birth-day, Insider Deal-ing. EU competition law. To. You."
I am whispering in his ear. He is one-quarter watching me, which is a good sign.
A UK ticketholder has won the estimated £101m EuroMillions jackpot. It is the third largest lottery prize ever won in the UK, according to Camelot.
I'm richer than David Bowie, the newspaper informs me. And all I did was walk into Yildiz News and Confectionery, being of Junction Road, therein, or thereof, last Wednesday. Rummage across an over-frosted freezer trying to decide. Eventually, locating a lonely-looking Mint Magnum (mint? lolly? Was this icy blast the double wind of portent?) and demanding of Mr Yildiz - pint-sized, mustachioed, fags-tutting and porn-wincing - the not-unusual Lucky Dip. I didn't have to write a note of Laughing Gnome. I didn't have to live in Berlin and take heroin with Iggy Pop. I didn't have to divide the critics with a lucrative soul pop phase. My chameleon sweep had only one transformation. From, if I am honest, a second rate or, let's be generous, an increasingly uncommitted Systems Analyst, into a cento-millionaire.. what? What am I now? Do I sit at home? Do I travel lots, alone? Do I pay for mates to join me? Will the inevitable lifestyle schism hemorrhage our friendship, bleed it of all reality? First temptation: square up the family with a few biggish ones. They say that this is what lottery winners do first. Debts over and done - now I can be monumentally, theatrically, Aladdin Sane in self-interest. Will I be kidnapped? So many questions for Camelot. I had a girlfriend, Brenda, who got me into smoking weed around 1996, and I believe that this left me with a wonky wheel. A paranoid streak. No publicity. That's what I'll do. Hold on, make that full publicity. A warning shot high across the TV bow to any potential kidnapper. The Essex van man and his clan, fishnet face and lead piping, bouncing down my drive. The seven foot Serbian stormtrooper on the stairs. "Do you have any plans for this lottery win?" Win? More a cull. A fake west Belfast accent on the evening news. "Every dime is for the lads." Fist rising. "The Real lads. Continuity lads." Not enough. Not scary enough. Wavering fore and aft in a burkha, self-filmed on dim video in front of a makeshift drape, Yildiz News and Confectionery popguns lined up on a picnic table. Inshallah, Camelot. An Army of Thanks will now awaken. Jon Snow, Zeinab Badawi, tackle the morality of turning loose trolleys from the margins into overnight cento-millionaires.
It's early and I'm waiting for a taxi and, despite the confirmation call, I clutched the ticket all night long. I'm just outside Yildiz, just for poignancy. So many questions for Camelot. Will this make me happy? 95% of people's unhappiness probably is money. Money and love. If they only admitted it to themselves they could throw away the SSRIs and join a revolution. Modern love, modern equality. The other 5% is existential. Just life. Read Lottery Winner's Cantona-style Potty Philosophy! Doo-lolly! Lotto Loon Slams Tablets! A taxi pulls in and I give the driver an address.
A 31-year-old woman has been charged with murdering a woman, aged 59, who was stabbed to death in a south-east London street.
Asda. La Senza. The British Meat Market counter where she lifted a 10 inch blade. The safe crossing. Regenerated-looking. Clean precincts. Walkways. Bike bays. Clear and helpful timetables displayed at the bus stop, where the first victim is still bleeding, unbelieving, from her hands. Busy Lizzies peep from hanger baskets. Better lighting. Second time, she comes in sideways. A plain, deep chop in the neck. The shrieking legal manager, from paving to bleached sky to paving. Hot head ebbing, loose pulses of red. The British Heart Foundation. Nationwide. Sit here. Phone-deaf. Disappearing feet but a 'known' (stabbed her mother nine times and folded her in a folding bed). Ebbing keener. Head closing, everything must go, speechless and nice. Nice feeling. Pre-fear. A story starts. Baby me. Going dark. Bexleyheath, the Earth, no longer home. Blockbuster, two for one. The last light wipes off the road. The unfinishing kiss.
AstraZeneca is to build a $200m factory in China, the most expensive it has ever built. The drugmaker wants sales from emerging markets to constitute a quarter of the firm's total revenues by 2014.
"Thanks so much, Don. Before lunch, research intern Dr. Goran Parish will give us background on Jiangsu province. Outside the municipalities it's China's densest region. So region-specific stuff of note to big pharma."
While the previous speaker leaves the committee room, Andrew McLean, the TexZenca development director, maintains the podium. He sounds droll and wearisome due to an early start and unseasonable heat.
"Just for intro, Goran MA'ed in Loughborough, England, then polished off 'where PhDs grow on trees'. That's Rob Mayer's old department. Some of us know Rob, down there in Carroll County. Okay. Dr Parish?"
A dozen gruff-looking Texans in grey flannel suits turn to watch a young and well-bearded fellow sidle across with an armful of notes. "Thank you, Andrew. Glad to be back in Austin. Who's tried chicken's feet? Hands up."
No-one bothers. Someone blows a smoke ring. "Some of them Chinese chickens never seen a sunbeam. They're hatched underground, giant hyroponic rigs for light. Think their mother is half a coconut shell. Never seen a sunbeam."
One of the directors has had enough already. "Goran, it's gone midday. Could you hold the shinola? Is the Chinaman depressed or does he have an acid stomach or does he think his ulcer is the Monkey God or what?"
The researcher clears his throat. "Well, your Chinaman says that too much of a good thing becomes a bad thing. Balance is key over there. And has been key to marketing."
"To hell with that. We're banking on turning Chinamen into piranha fish. Get them sick, get them spending."
"Hank." Someone interjects. "Could you stay on the mental health train, Goran?"
"Sure. Your Chinaman has a taste for medication. More so under economic advances. Self-worth is measured in abstract and unattainable ways which Riverol can fill. Perceived connections between SSRIs and western pace means young folk boast of usage. As traditions crumble, old folks aren't looked after the old way, nor has any new way been actualised. Their days are spent looking at the wall on Bai Yu Jie, which is Prozac to you and me. Means 'Free from a Hundred Worries.'"
"Wait one minute, Goran. You saying Prozac has a fancy Chinese name and Riverol don't?"
"Well, sir, Riverol was a rush release, I believe. To get the max from the patent.."
"Gentlemen, Action Number One. A fancy Chinese name for Riverol."
The man puffing a cigar considers. "Dance with the Fairies."
Another slaps the table with mirth. "That's your Saturday night, Hank. We seen the Facebook page. What about Riverol?"
A third joins in. "Golden Clouds of Joy."
Dr. Parish looks around, glad of the sudden engagement. "That's good, but the more imagination the better. These fellers don't like anything too literal."
"Stick Your Head Up A Candyfloss Asshole and Laugh."
Hanks raises his Stetson. "I'd buy that. Hell. I'd buy shares in that. Could we get transliteration?"
Dr. Parish is jotting it all down. "This needs qualitative."
"Qualitative is lunchtime." Hank stands, adjusting his belt. "They got skirt steak and hold the goddamn feet."
Subject: Bishopsgate Writers: POV
Time: 2011 Oct 01 13:00:00
Being autumn and term time, I thought I'd join an evening class. Creative writing. Helping others can be as useful as feedback. I need to assess four submissions every two weeks and work on a small homework (this week 'Point Of View'. Re-imagine a previously written scene with a different central character. How does it make you feel? What changes?) as well as a pair of main submissions. I told the class I'd be working on new fiction, but often have one idea on Monday, then another on Tuesday. I want to document the here and now. Then I want to escape. I start. Then I tire of my own voice.
When no tale demands to be told, in the absence of leather clad force, how do you settle on your calling? The most commercial? "The one you love the most." "The one which, if you were hit by a bus, you'd regret not writing." If I was hit by a bus I'd regret not writing. But my mind fell on Anne X, independent sequel of previousness.
I deviate in first drafts. I shift POVs. Shift tense. I think it's clever but it's shit. I need singularity and clarity. I don't think I could write Anne X in the first person. I love the immediacy of that style but it might feel camped out. "Hey, everyone, there's this guy on the internet. He thinks he's a 50 something Parisian woman." "Ew, headcase." "Norman le Bates."
First person. Third person. Intimate third person. Omniscient. I'll find out next week. He'll find out next week, he thought, pouring another absinthe and admiring his Venus Flytraps. We hope you will, thought the Flytraps, for they thought with one brain, but you're a second person kind of person. Oh, really? You stand up and you cross to the table and you look at the knife, still slippy with cactus juice. Prick spiked a drink. You said he had to go. If only you could have been a fly on the wall. Bzz. Swinging, swooping over your shoulder and around your fingers as you did it, as you took out the little punk. Bzz. *Gulp*
POV is also a porn term denoting a scene where the camera is held by the male participant. For fans of facial expression, I suppose. Lovers of eye contact, stomach buffs. Fans of looking down. There's no for-women or lesbian POV, I think. POV seems to be about sticking it in.
My class contains a healthy mix of styles. Dry, almost callous prose about a man in the throes of overdose. A bumptious but crumbling marriage. Tentative outlines. A young teacher in love, abroad, in the sun. A novel about the only woman in Britain to be sentenced for treason during WWII. Someone wants to write 'for 8 year olds'. Someone worried that her writing is too difficult. About.. difficult issues. What does your prose say about you? If you are full of murder do you want to murder.. something? If so.. what? Symbols, surely. Or perhaps fiction is a letter to and from our own roadblock.---It had been a wonderful evening and all Anne could notice was the engine of the Teraspace running smoothly. She'd had it tuned and, boy, was that paying dividends. Someone had said that Les Amants was "political but not politicised", whatever that meant. Don't think about it, sister. Labyrinths of interpretation designed to rattle. Book folks with angles. We smile. We rise above.
Anne's driveway was dark and missing, like the scenes we can never remember in a dream. Always near the end, just before the dawn. Lost action. Inside a room. Where faces become places, places become times. Where are the lights? She assessed the broad silhouette of her home. Black on blue-black, the turning back of some Neuilly-Passy giant.
Anne couldn't sleep. It hardly needed to be said. She dreamt of a nice night in a firm bed but tomorrow knocks today. Interviews at nine. Be super, super sharp please. Strange. Strange, but there was a new kind of noise inside the house. Low, in the salon, and consistent. Sports noise, or commotion.
"Jesus Christ!" She flinched outside the salon door at first, then heard Alain scream and decided to enter. Were they swamped by journalists or burglars or some modern mix of the two? Music, cigar smoke and fighting. Alain on top of a face, known but older, dishevelled. Unseen for thirty years. Someone else, cursing and kicking. Someone casting a punch around the outside of this scrum, which shunted about her carpet like a sorely damaged crab. A black, swearing crab built out of suits and ties.
Someone she'd shared a flat with at university grabbed her arm and apologised firmly. Then a mill of worried looks and weak smiles appeared. Friendly features unearthing themselves through the peaty strata of Anne's expanding memory. Nearests, dearests.
What in God's name was going on? "Surprise!" Someone offered, rattling a cocktail shaker. "Cunt." Christophe Corbeau broke free to plant his knee over her husband's back. She was about to shout again when the rag doll arms of her daughter threw themselves about her waist and the skirt of her Alphonse Nomi suit was wiped to and fro with a face full of tears.
Subject: Postmodernism, Style and Subversion 1970-1990
Time: 2011 Sep 28 00:30:00
Ettore Sottsass, AT&T and TV-am, Lagerfeld joins Chanel, pediments and ziggurats, bricolage, Devo’s hats, the Face and i-D, Barney Bubbles, The Memphis Group. The V&A is a design museum. Postmodernism, here, is a lot of things you can’t afford and wouldn’t really buy if you could. Wackaday furniture, neo-classical houses in pastel, iconic 80s clothes. You used to afford magazines with these things in them, between fanzines.
The 80s, the Las Vegas decade, seemed the heyday of this stuff, when fake and authentic became equal parties, or at least questioned one another. Hierarchies shattered. Taste and cool seemed sexless and dull. But let’s begin at the end. The V&A says postmodernism ended with big money. Warhol’s production line lost any wry irony and smilelessly churned out commissions for real. Ex-banker Jeff Koons turned idiocy-as-a-question into idiocy-as-idiocy. 'Is everything surface?' sank below the surface of purchase. According to the V&A, no-one asked any more.
But did it die? Isn’t it a part of the eternal now? Funky, fresh. Primary. Clean-lined. Iconic. Zappy. Mix and Match. Forward-rewind. Triangularised. Knowing. Nodding. Self-selling. Self-referencing. Aggrandised. Media savvy. Does anyone seriously think these things are going away? We’ll rewind, pre-irony, and stand around like grandfather clocks? Victoriana is welcome too. Stir it in. Mix high and low culture. Totally doable. Everything in the same pot, equally notable, equally standard.
No Bags. No Cameras. Don’t. No. “If everything is surface why shouldn’t I punch your face? I mean, if the meaning we give things is all in our heads? If there is no unity, only multiplicities, and if morals are a subjective twinkle in an ego’s eye?" It’s very difficult to drain postmodernism of its energy but the V&A succeed. Bleak lighting, endless unpleasant guards at every corner, barked rules as soon as you arrive, staring at the pencil with which you write in a notebook, following you if you walk back a room, contraflow. As people-hating hellholes go, it’s up there with the Hayward Gallery.
Where were we? You can’t have taste and
postmodernism. If Thatcher was an anomaly, and we agree there is no such thing as being external to society, that everything always includes us, then postmodernism is/was the moment when millions of evaporating egos realised it/we need a methodology, an operating system. Bad timing dropped this realisation into late 80s capitalism, a BDSM where everyone can switch, theory used to be. No kings any more, just Hamlets as bond traders. Sly tools in shark black, serving a machine. A Zen beyond materialism, done for sport. In my pain I learn the rules of the game. I pass it on. Pain is pleasure. Take is give, if I become the beast that eats me.
‘Sporty’ is a word I write down to describe postmodern design. Then I realise that this is because the 2012 Olympics logo looks like a postmodern swastika, a smile painted on a buy-to-let boot aimed at your face. Sport, of course, is how psychopaths balance their lifestyles. After the hardcore drive and competition of the workplace they lighten up with hardcore drive and competition on the squash court. Just to be fully rounded.
Stop. No. Don't. No literature is represented, as commentators have already pointed out: why not start with Tristram Shandy? Too 'grand narrative'? It's pretty chunky. Postmodernism's test of maths’ infallibility was interesting. And the internet feels like postmodernism atomised, as many cultural orders as there are people. ‘Difference, plurality, textuality and skepticism’ abound. Possibly too much. Tears, fears, woes. The human stain can be savoured here like fine wine. The unsellable and the unselling are infinately fascinating.
Laurie Anderson looks so young
. I remember thinking her the grown-up artist type. But she was a baby. So - when can postmodernism pack up and go away? Only when unity comes, via the ‘global from scratch’ and world governments, via anarchist credit unions and faceless, genderless, deterritorialised faiths. Probably. I go to church in a Covent Garden back street. My parents never forced me to go, it was a free choice or not at all. The sermons have substance. Between quotes from Hunter S Thompson and readings from the Book of Amos, unfettered capitalism is condemned, as is Israel (the administration and protested investment opportunity, not the biblical aspiration). Should aspirations remain thus? Are sky high rents and roadblocks a distraction we don’t need?
Perhaps all but the unreachable will tend to become Las Vegas. Jacques Rancière identifies the poet Mallarmé as an early modernist trying to find the rapture of religion and pomp of royalty within secular art and civic worship. How? As paradox and light, natures taking place, a rootsy mystery, and sirens rising over foam. Even defining it might render it a little craven. Perhaps it is in giving, and cannot be taken. Pomo was definately foam, but so are all the Lady So-and-Sos stuffing the V&A. I came out of the exhibition hoping Mallarmé was right and that postmodernism was an underhand nod towards some strange new unity to come and that, between you and me, real art and culture haven't even started yet.
Subject: From Richard Allen's 'The Indie Kids' (1986)
Time: 2011 Sep 19 21:35:00A pale male, who asks other people to call him 'Delon', and who is wearing a vintage cardigan and tweed trousers set, and who carries a large satchel and a bottle of Perrier he cannot afford, and who has a guitar placed at his feet, is standing with his legs crossed, on the roadside.
It is just after noon and the summer sun is strong, even for those who are used to it.
The boy seems to be reading a secondhand paperback of 20th century English verse, but is regularly drawn from it by the sight of Talulah, a girl he refers to as his fiancé and who is not, who is putting final touches to a square of white cardboard. This sign is her third attempt since noon, and is the method by which she hopes they will hitch a ride in a passing truck. Talulah wears a polo neck and a zig-zagged skirt and has an anorak folded over one shoulder. Under her arm, a beaten-looking SLR camera. Eventually she stands, pops the marker pen into her mouth like a cigar, and approaches the edge of the road. 'Honk If You Enjoy Latin American Magic Realism'.
Delon holds his chin and returns to the poetry, ignoring one long mournful horn that rises out of an oncoming heavy goods vehicle. It passes them, and disappears.
"Dickbird," says Talulah. "Is this why they call it the hard shoulder? I guess a smile might make it easier."
"I should have packed a Yorkie," Delon says.
Talulah hands him her sign. "Say something so profound that the world comes to a standstill."
Delon raises his attention to the cloudless sky, then accepts the flipside of the board, and the marker pen. He thinks again, preparing to write. But the crunching of gears and a hydraulic hissst signals the arrival of a truck, pulling in ahead of them.
"Room for a couple of inflated egos?" Delon offers some charm, but the driver just seems to stare. "We're travelling. Originally from Banbury, to Glasgow town via Chesterfield. I'm meant to be supporting the Fred Quimbys and the Earl Greys. Seven thirty sharp." Delon raises his instrument. "Baby Honey here, a.k.a. Talulah, is my fiancé, rhythm section and muse. Are you able to take us?"
"Have a taken a tab?" The driver, one Mr. McAllister Hood, says eventually. "You're dressed like an auld granda an she's dressed like a mad wee'un. It's tha Krankies in a fifties sitcom. Wit are ye's? Ye's are no punks."
"Um. Certainly not. We are neither rockist, nor glibly synthetic. We are as we are. Because we find modernity and quote unquote adulthood a catastrophic clanger. N'est-ce pas, Baby Honey? And you are.."
The driver sniffs. "Ali."
"Hello, Ali." Talulah, then Delon, begin to climb inside. "The past is another country and we live in a Czech arthouse cartoon there."
"Aye." The driver scratches. "Y'alright, hen. A'm goin' as far as Berwick. Unless a go bonkers. Cabin fever. Tha truckin's quite shite. Talk tae yersel' till yer scunnered, y'know. D'ye do Big Country?"
"Not unless we have to." Talulah winces, drawing the large satchel and a wooden tambourine onto her lap.
"Come on. It's tha twelve inchees." Ali adjusts the music on his stereo. "Shat shat shat. Ye just missed six shats. O'er trademark flutterin bagpipe guitar. Y'only get one shout out on tha seven inch. That's value." He then begins a seated dance, with wrist flicking, before revving the vehicle's engine once more and moving off. "Come up scream-ing."
"I'm going to throw up screaming if we have to listen to Big Country all the way to Berwick."
"It's called passion, hen." Ali confirms.
"It's called pish. In the Caledonian parlance."
"I must formally offer an excuse for Baby Honey from the outset. She speaks her mind in a way that threatens to undo us all." Delon tries to nudge her. "Like Betty Blue, but bluer."
"Nae bother." Ali checks his side mirror and manoeuvres into lane. "Are ye gonna gee'us a wee song, hen?"
"I'm not a hen, cock. And if I was a colour it would be red."
"Right on, Betty Red. Thought ye's were a coupla Thatcher voters wae yer terribly-terribly accents an'all."
"All smoke and mirrors. Terribly terribly unemployed is all. My business model seeks to take me from the gutter to the stars via the passage of song. Avoiding the la-di-dah of trade and industry."
"No bad." The truck reaches a cosy speed. "You know that yin, In A Big Country, thon's a protest song."
"Shut up." Talulah addresses the road ahead.
"Falklands. Goose Green. Dreams stay with you. Stuart’s underhand comment on post-war trauma."
"Stay a-live." Delon eases forward to begin to tune his guitar. "Now, the Land of Make Believe. That’s about the Birmingham Six."
"Yer an outlaw once again."
"Let me out." Talulah looks through her tambourine and changes the subject. "P.S. Please don't ask us for sexual favours."
"Sex is violent. We reject it as a concept. Don't we, Baby Honey?"
"We prefer fantasy to reality. Like many, only more so. The carnal spend their lives demanding more. Hunger is never satisfied. The trick is learning to rise above. Detachment."
"Right y’be. Safe here, Betty. I reckon yer lyin' tho. Bet yer a pair o'randy bisexuals." Ali seems pleased with himself. "You’re a doley too, no doubt?"
"I have recently annulled my contract with Our Price. To undertake Media Studies."
"Sit an' watch telly? Modules in Bill an' frickin’ Ben?"
"Media Studies is the new Business Studies, which was the new Sociology. The most important thing when choosing a degree is fashionability."
"Beats queuing up wae Maggie’s happy army. Wure ma friends reside."
"We have no friends any more. They’re.. They have become transformed. Some kind of new-found drugs and cynicism thing. They just sit there, bent over, plastic Fanta bottle bongs between their knees, rolling their eyes and purring 'How simply divine' or 'Don't bore my arse off, loser'."
Delon stops tuning. "That's my dad. That's how my dad looks at me."
"Everyone is so sarcastic and bitchy. They think they’re in Andy Warhol’s Factory. But they’re in a council estate in Banbury."
"Listening to the Doors. What happened, Ali? Why can’t we live like flowers? Why does the vulgar always triumph?"
Ali doesn’t need to consider. "Stupeed people. Head-the-balls."
Delon agrees. "Head-the-balls. Our friends turned into head-the-balls. And now there's only us."
"They, in turn, call us wilfully naive." Talulah begins to chew something over. "What’s so good about being wasted? Or growing up? There’s a third way. It's all the future, the future cos we've nothing today. Be a good girl. Head down. Pay your way. Work all day. Live on hay. You get pie in the sky when you die. All people have to look forward to is a world where we look back in nostalgia. Wondering where it went, with nothing in between. Well, let's start now. I don't want to live today, I want to live way back when. Or whenever." She stops abruptly. "Why, Ali, you’re crying."
"Aye." The driver has turned his face away. His jaw and lips extend in an attempt to bring composure to his face, but they are unsuccessful. "It’s joost ay, joost ay. Joost Wonderland." He nods, sideways, towards the latest Big Country song. "A am an honest man, as Stuart says. A feel tha winter too. Big Ali. There he goes. Work all day. Nay a care in tha world."
He tips his head back and squeezes his eyes. "They think a'm stuck up cos a hae a drivin' job. Wit sort o'world is that?"
"I never thought you’d have a sensitive side."
He blubs once. "There ya go. Nibdy does. Working man. People see their ain prejaydices. A’m on mere tablets than a can count."
The cabin empties of words, for a while. "A was over in ay. Over in ay. Goosey McGander. Falklands. HMS Ardent. Couldnae handle tha scene after that. Needed tae get ma heed showered. Showerin’ ma heed ever since."
Delon tries, if not to change the subject, to relocate it somewhere with entrances and exits. "I read about the fires on Ardent. I think. I love the Independent newspaper’s award-winning photography." The tone of his voice has become slow and muted. "They do something really.. fresh with their.. front pages."
"Ye keep goin’. Right. That’s the trick. Keep on truckin’. Don’t think. Don’t stop tae empathise. It’s joost a boat goin’ down. Joost a fire out of control. Yer only listing heavily. The Belgrano? There’s been a thousand. Tha watery curtain call. Ye can see their facees but they’re no facees. Ye can hear their screams but they’re no screams. Nibdy is hurt. Nibdy’s burnin’."
Delon speaks. "I. I think I need to travel. Life is travel, really. Heaven knows, we have an opportunity our grandparents never had. InterRailing. All that." He finalises comparative tuning between two top strings. "In some sense, Britain’s story is written. And we just.. um.. recommission it."
With this statement hanging over the cabin, Talulah brings a charity shop Olympus OM1 to her eye, and begins to focus and unfocus on the road ahead. Nothing special. The tailights of other vehicles.
(In April 2003, when four US tank shells fail to strike the Palestine Hotel in Baghdad, where fourteen people are waiting for safety in a basement breakfast bar and patio, foreign correspondent Rebecca Neve, formerly known as Talulah, flashes back to a driver’s cabin in a heavy goods vehicle moving forwards.
The stairs to the breakfast bar didn’t disintegrate in a powder of cheap tiles and mottled cement, and one of the doors didn’t blow off its hinges and slam into a table stacked with pallets of Sprite which a Frenchman from AFP returned holding an hour prior to his disappearance, or the box of prim, white sugar cubes over which journalists, photographers and satellite dish operators are currently playing Texas Hold'em.
Nevertheless, Neve drops her vodka julep [made with frosted mint tea and sweetened, should she plays her hand right, with a sugar cube] onto the patio steps, when the aforementioned shells explode against the hall of apartments next door. A response, the commander of the relevant infantry division will later explain, to rifle fire someone believed they heard coming from a window there, but which was probably the sound of Neve and the Gulf bureau chief for Reuters battling a block of ice with a drill.)
Delon’s guitar is tested with an upward stretch of his thumb.
"Ye know Ravi Shankar was tunin' up at Woodstock an’ people applaudeed. Thought it wiz his first song."
"This is a Shankar number, in fact. Never say that we don't pay our way, Ali." Delon lies, dreamily working another string, against which he measures his vocals, soft and somewhat fey. "Okay. This one's called..Talulah Says."
"Talulah says, the whole wide world is upside down / but upside down is relative / when you are a planet / Janet says would you be my best friend / Talulah says that’s such a flat response / in the face of what I've just been saying / has anyone been listening? / is anyone list-en-ing at all? / Janet says that flatness is a virtue / just like sii-i-lence."
The song stops there, abruptly, in what proves to be a false end, allowing Delon to manoeuvre his fingers in complicated-looking shapes, augmented by jangling picking movements, for the remainder of the next ten minutes.
- - -
"Cheerio." Ali raises a fist as the pair jump down onto the gyratory outside Berwick. "I am a working man."
"Stay a-live," says Delon.
"Indeed," Talulah has had the time to decide that she hated being a muse. As she walks along the hard shoulder, she wishes that she’d said something else.
Subject: Politics | Labour
Time: 2011 Aug 19 15:45:00
1. There's a chapter early in Philip Roth's American Pastoral where Roth describes the daily beehive within the Newark glove factory that the patriarch of the story has inherited. It is such a bewitching chapter that I found myself muttering "Stay there, Phil. Stay in the factory." Alas, it was an interlude. The writer returns to greater themes, the family - functioning-disfunctioning, torn-together, kooky but lovable - against a backdrop of a nation changing like the seasons. It's a big tableau, aggrandised, critically acclaimed, but I just wanted factory.
2. Work, as a theme, seems inevitably political. Work reflects the desires of society, where it finds its sense of purpose. Work is about money, value, human value, how we relate and how we avoid relating. It's social, yet closed off. Real life is right there, surely more than twisting triangles of intrigue in the corridors of power. The workplace, like the jungle, might be a symbol for the subsconscious. Not its native, unfettered side. Places where partial things become whole things.
3. Yesterday I was sitting in work, reflecting on work, glancing through the window at workmen working across the road, realising that I had tomorrow (today) off work. Promising myself that I would get to work on something creative. The Situationists stressed process over outcome. "I'm going to write a book" is to begin with a dead book, and to try to liven it. Revolution is in the process, not the product.
4. In many ways I enjoy work for the very reasons I thought I wouldn't, when I was a teenager. It demands attention. It stops drift. You have to mix with people you might otherwise choose not to. You learn things about them. About the nature of business, how economic framing holds modernity together, or how it tears it apart. The tendancy of boundless talent to be 'restrained, hemmed in and dominated by the wage relation'. Or liberated by it? It's something to see, not guess at. Personal power, personal boundaries. Goss. Who'd be at home?
5. M. McLuhan sees the endless move towards rewarding specialisation reverse in this century. Jacks-of-all-trades will rise to the top again, he suggests. Digitisation supports this. But work is repetition, no? Pipelines. Delivery. At one level, every football match is identical. Each porn movie, or romantic fiction. Every pop song's bridge-to-chorus. Desire is about knowable structures, welcome and conciliatory, delivered with a facia of the new. These days we want team submission to a common goal. No ego, which is good.
6. Good if you have a job, of course. Plenty do not. Is work more robotic than unemployment, more obsessed with money? Or less? Unemployment is typing the same CV fields into different websites, over and over. In the new world, if paid at all, temporary contracts reign (if you have a contract. A friend hasn't seen one and has been in his job for six months with a psychotic bully of a boss. If you don't like it.. what?)
7. One of my nephews is helping build the new Boris Buses ('mid-deck') on endless temporary contracts that avoid redundancy and a raft of year 3 rights, for pocket money, really, compared to the cost of life. A wage is not a wage to feed a family. Double income won't buy a wheelie bin. 3, 4, 5 parent families become the norm. That's a lot of cast-off men and a lot of unhappy sex with dog-tired wives. McLuhan didn't mention that. Is it time to treat work as a pervert's pastime? Just lose sight of humanity altogether?
8. Originally concerned that my nephew would be unable to find a job, my dad approached a local factory owner, a man he'd known at school. Why, he asked, just curious, do you not only prefer foreign workers but fly to Warsaw in an attempt to pursuade them to come to this part of the UK? With many jobless at your doorstep. It's not an issue of training. Wage bills are the same. The factory owner licked the tip of an index finger and opened a ledger on his desk. He caressed pages, in indication of a series of black marks. Local people, he suggested, were a litany of late-comers, muckers, jokers, ribbers, sniggerers, shirkers and I-had-to-take-Leanne-to-the-doctorers. Poles and Lithuanians, they just work.
9. Really? Over-mammied. People people. Home birds. Sofa-seekers. Unsharpened. Are roots now a liability in the workplace? Is being local a fullblown handicap? Easygoing a setback? New blood reminds itself that it came here for a reason. Yet in my experience screwball workaholics don't last. They work obsessively to trade up and leave, clock off or retire early. Roboworkers hate work, but that fits the formation. Capitalism requires us to colonise ourselves. Pour up our own inner shores, dominate ourselves, burn out our huts. Man is a 'carcass animated only by value'.
10. I'm sitting on my day off work, trying to work, writing about work instead. Time for a break, then the park. I wish that the grass roots of bodies like the Catholic Church, as a kind of union capable of demanding respect for issues of humanity, would spend less time pro-lifeing and more on work-life balance.
11. Recently I had a working lunch with a counterpart from <a major American digital service provider>. I took him to a pie and mash room above a subsiding pub, with a collapsed dog, where we talked to old locals, which he thoroughly enjoyed. Why drag him to some hip, innovative hellhole that could be anywhere in the world? It's not my money I'm spending. He showed me apps and asked about soccer, and I asked him about his working life. Sunshine on his morning drive through the Santa Clara Valley. Towards innovation. Encouragement to work on personal projects. Breeding grounds, but also competition and long hours. His boss gets in super early and works until eight or nine in the evening and she can do it seven days a week. People boast about it. Do Americans enshrine the family because it's a phantom they forsake inside the work-work balance? What's the point of small government and low taxation just to allow so many other bodies unfettered reign over your time, freedom and pocket?
12. I've been living in the workplace almost as long as I lived with a family. Perhaps this is why family dramas (we could say that the love story is the embryonic family drama, the pre-meet) interest me less than tales of the workplace. All work starts with the need for work, which, let's say, let's propose, starts with desire.When housing bens refuse to stretch / When folk just work like nuts / For what? For debt, for less and less / To fill a landlord's clutch / Just get the bus and don't look back / Begin with fourteen in a flat / Let forty thousand queue for dole / It's protest, picnic and a ball / When flash mobs of the urban poor / Descend upon the parson's door / We want you, urban poor, we do! / We're rural Britain. We need you / / Come till our fields with honest hand / Come pickle onions, join the land / To grow your own and cultivate / Wild mushrooms by the gladed gate / Begin again, from scratch and more / To reinvent your very soul / In sanctuaries you will find / Within the windmills of your mind! / We love you, urban poor, we do / / Bring nifty tracksuits, nimble feet / Sharp and sarky, wise-of-street / And jokes re: earthy farmyard smells / You really are a million swells / We're keen to learn your multicultures / You don't know your tits from vultures / The isle reborn in mutual learning / Harken, Betws-y-Coed's yearning! / For you, you urban poor. You-ou!
Subject: Photoblog, July and August 2011
Time: 2011 Aug 13 17:40:00
1. A Shrine Is Born. Jim Morrison's bourbon bottles in Père Lachaise; soaked Gitanes for Serge Gainsbourg. The junk of love. 2. Strangely satisfying Didcot. Six loomer cooling stations, broad gauge brass beasts let steam trail in through Hitchcockian carriages, while Railway Centre scamps restore destination signs with a daydreamer's sense of humour. 3. Recent Sundays have involved giving a single mother the opportunity of eight hours sleep via day long babysits. A promenade up Parliament Hill to point at kites. Around the heath, where swimming dogs search for sticks, to the langorous gardens of Kenwood House if the weather is condusive, and back for a bottle at the Southampton Arms. No Battleship Potempkin moments I can report. In fact I'm now self-sufficient. A leisurely walk with a baby is interesting. You feel part of a warming social fabric. People smile at you, talk to you. Little girls pester you. In parks! Instead of the other way around?! Social insider at last, skulking Steppenwolf no more. Debates rage about what 'maturity' entails but who can argue with the maturation implied in supervising children? I'll wear chinos, read a Grisham. Supernormal. Garden centres. The lot. Our walk is facilitated by a £400 pushchair from Freecycle. A litany of Kentish Town cast-offs gathered for nothing. Down the hand-me-down chain, which only functions if you don't flog it on, was this Ed Miliband's breast pump? Etienne has no real memory, possibly faces. I think he recognises a song or story I invented last week, but they say he does not. He chuckles nonetheless. Alas I am needed less of late, as he develops his deeper circadian rhythms.When the geography teacher is baying for blood / Through the charity worker's foul curses / When live and let livers have shoot-to-kill eyes / Dead lions arise, when hippies drive hearses / Crashes and ashes, a wind from the east / A boy in the mirror rehearses / The man he's been trying on half of his life / Set fire to the night, set fire to the night / I don't like his front and I don't like his jive / Late signers who'll waltz in, hiding behind / Old unemployable verses / He's still on the hanger, still never worn / The unicorn flies, when hippies drive hearses / A knock at the door, a face on the floor / The filth's cocking had it to Lapland and more / Orders is orders so let lawyers score / The last dance of pence in our purses / In the land of the free wisdom is cheap but nothing but pain reimburses / Strung out string bag string-em-up clerks / Sick-in-the-sink student nurses / Hands up who doesn't feel more alive / When doves cry, hippies drive hearses
Subject: Beneath the Valley of the Didcot Rotary Club
Time: 2011 Jul 26 14:35:00
Burnt, blistered. This year's festival is Oxfordshire's Truck, which I went to as a paying punter in 2003. Bands in barns, ice cream sold by the vicar, Butt's Organic Jester and a nice Victoria sponge thanks to the Didcot Rotary Club. Even in expansion, Truck believes in keeping it local. The paradox gives the festival something unique. Intensity soon tides like stars in the blue rinse eternity. 'Local bands' can be disconcerting, especially when comprised of hearty rural folk. Sounds like Bolt Thrower, looks like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall. Takes a while to add up. If there's a better band in Oxford than the Cellar Family then I just don't know what. Best at turning a kind of alienated male energy into something beautiful before it kills.
Elsewhere, Sea of Bees' new songs throw Cat Power down a smelly old well full of spiders to face the skeletons of Belly, Muses etcetera. Magical stuff. Two Fingers of Firewater were good, and an Appalachian version of Leadbelly's 'Poor Howard' made me quiver. Over in the niche seats, G. Prokofiev returned with his roster of avant-classical talent. Pastoral nomadism as a regal cocktail of Baroque and Renaissance recorders, blossoming and folding into one another, then hanging like a thunderbug over a toast-warm wheatfield at sunset. This really is Leibniz's "best of all possible worlds", you inform a foaming ale, and music is proof of the necessary maths.
What else do I think? I am working but get clocking off time. Time to think while waiting to speak to artists. Thinking things like "is folk culture a thing of the left or of the right"? For the BNP it's 'indigeneity' and UKIP have their 'real ale' side. Yet folk music has always been a part of people's protest. Orkney-born Kris Drever sings songs about the Union like it happened on Tuesday and still gets on his goat. Is folk on the left if you are the one feeling small, exploited, pushed or priced out? (The local village is impossibly picturesque but you can't change a light bulb without application). But not if you're not? Is remember-remembering really healthy? Is territorial conflict essentially right-on-right wing? Am I the loneliness of the left wing unionist?
What about the stadium folk of Bellowhead? Is folk enjoyed by real folk less folk than real ale folk approved by beady-eyed beardies?
I dance. You do or do not. Overcoming mere thought, I become a windowless monad of shape and rhythm. My favourite dancers are Anna Sokolow, Petra Soor, a guy who used to work for Rough Trade and that woman in white forty-five seconds into Jacques Dutronc's promo for L'opportuniste. Add to that a red-haired genius after hours at the Clash stage. She really was joyous to behold. I retire to the dance hall where 'Drunken Uncle Bungle' is hitting kids in the face with juiced-up jungle. The dirtiest double drops in Didcot. Then Dub Politics and a serious whoop of Oxon bandits take us dubstepping. Minus the dub. But not Steps. Think Trolley Snatcha sailing away in an elegant hot air balloon of nitrous oxide with Flux Pavilion, swinging a large barn to and fro until 3:00am, when, let's face it, you could play 'Onward Christian Soldiers' and these kids would still run up the walls. A teenage James Joyce would be skunked up in a dubstep club, not chasing dogged authenticity. I'm the oldest trolley snatcher in town. Grey is the new burgundy. Again.
Truck didn't seem at capacity. Many festivals are reporting lower ticket sales this year. I'm not sure if student fees are scuppering live music. Is anyone getting paid for anything any more? Is demanding money left again? Are we dying of a dutiful 'post-materialism'? The lovely Bennett brothers, organisers, close Sunday night as a house band playing through a classic album. This year, 'Rumours' features Sarah Cracknell as Stevie Nicks. The Magic Numbers, the resident Truck Monster and several transvestites lullaby me back to a slow-punctured air bed with a neatly surreal version of 'The Chain'.
Thank you to the wonderful people I met. Dynamite soundman Simon Hall of Firefly Solar. Thank you, Alex C, you are a nutcase I don't know how to take. Possibly a scam artist. Apologies to Benjamin Leftfield Sandwich. Thank you, 20-piece alternative female choir Gaggle, for pitching your tents around mine. Thank you, smart and funny TEFL teacher Charlotte Kitternoster(?) You were the Mel to my Sue. Truck is, as you say, basically a big slice of Alex James' cheese.
Horseman, light the braziers, rearrange the bins / Derelicts are where it's at, down-and-outs are in / Smooth rough sleepers in vintage brogues / Itinerant hipsters, no fixed à la mode / Unpaid interns, while costs inflate / Scanty ballast on the ship of state / When giving a toss just gives you cramp / Pack it in, Mac - be a Trendy Tramp / / Be a bum in Blahniks where the rents are Olympic / A skid row Marc Jacobs drinking Hogarth gimlets / A hobo boho honed like a ham bone / Some are in the gutter but they're looking at an iPhone / Every bin is a bargain here, dentistry is so last year / One woman took back her 50p, shouting "You've got better hair than me!" / Your eye shadow's shimmering, your cheeks are damp / Chin up, sister - you're a Trendy Tramp Comments urban_ospreys
Subject: Goldsmiths and Camberwell Degree Shows 2011
Time: 2011 Jun 26 17:55:00
Lost hotels; three women hand wash Superman and Batman's capes, throw shapes, roll mutely against the walls; a room filled with fan heaters and bar fires for a soaked docket from Paddy Power's; remnants of brought down fighter planes; a man is tied to a chair and waterboarded each evening at 7:00pm in front of a never-ending royal wedding; a world where depression is illegal; heartbroken drag queens morph into the planes that took their man away.
Subject: CSM, Byam Shaw and Chelsea Degree Shows 2011
Time: 2011 Jun 18 19:15:00
A future need for 3D camouflage; heat sensitive ink on posters; bubbling honey; designer vaginas; tarred and feathered elevators. Silent films show in the same room where they were filmed; paintings made of ore, grass, rust. Bands of post-end warriors plot in the forest; polyamorous couples fill iPads held right above your head; an unshocked sprat, set to death in a mould of raspberry jelly; pocketfuls of daily notes from an erstwhile Glaswegian.
Subject: University of Brighton Degree Show 2011
Time: 2011 Jun 05 13:40:00
Subject: Photoblog: NI11 - gorse fires, snogs and sou'westers
Time: 2011 May 07 01:10:00
Subject: Edinburgh: the 'Mr B Is Nearly Dead' Party
Time: 2011 May 07 00:35:00
The belief in only two states - glass half full and glass half empty - robs us of the best state of all, those who don't even think about it. Anyone measuring their glass, since what we measure we cut off, seems destined to be a saddo. Poor attachment to vital fuel cells. Even the tumbler-positive look empty beside the unselfconscious reservoir: a dark fizz that laughs forever.
61 and formidable, I bump and grind with Eleanor B, Liz Taylor as Cleopatra, who always seems plugged into a national grid of jouissance. Never married, with a well paid job, might help. But knowing when one's comfort zone has gone cosy. Challenge. Turning 40, her kid brother, Groucho Marx, could be forgiven for measuring life at the moment. SJB is a fellow meditator, now a marathon runner, sliding into the whole Buddhist tip. In an album of memories, friends list why they love him. "He was recycling plastic bags 15 years before any of us." His birthday treat was a study trip to the Brighton Earthship.
Elsewhere Battle Royale students succumb to Nosferatu, and a Jawa tries to use a urinal. Someone has adhered blue lights to their Ronhill Tracksters as Tron, dancing themselves close to short circuit. The last waltz is something I mixtaped for Stephie, the mighty 'Juicy Juicy Juice'. It's in your blood, it's in your veins, drive them all insane. After a downbeat 30s perhaps my friends will peak late, when judgemental measuring sticks have gone to prim, assized graves, with a curtailed sense of fuss, while the rest of us are still around, being alive.
Subject: Blogs de Sprogs: poem for Etienne Chamouton
Time: 2011 Apr 13 22:35:00
Beckett's birthday and yours, contractions all night
At UCH. The day has been warm, warming and deceptive
Through the blinds.
Undeceptive lives roll to and fro, little highs, little lows, nothing really.
You are so much in the blank zone, where life might be highest
Faint consciousness won't infest you yet.
Your brain aches with the universal voice, the meditative Om
Coming from stars and mathematics miles beyond us all. Uncapturable.
You make beautiful, alien blinks. Gentle, otherworldly grips.
The nurse puts a thermometer under your arm,
And says you're a happy baby. She should know.
If you ever need to know about your mother,
Chapters 21 to the low 30s, come see me.
I hope you won't obsess about self-centrics, though.
Get on with it, get political, get aesthetic. Hold onto the sonorous vibration
Of everyone's origin.
Some points to remember, they will serve you well:
All signs point to other signs, ultimately to the human face.
There is no deeper meaning, instinct might be enough.
Meditate. Get drunk. But only an idiot attempts both at the same time.
You are classless, you are existential, you are art.
And every revolution begins by telling the truth.
Subject: Blogs D'Amour: Grumpy Realism
Time: 2011 Apr 09 14:10:00
Last weekend, I had my last date. No reflection on the lady involved, she was lovely, but I'm done with this business. I've no idea why I returned. When I was a 30-something I dated a few 40-somethings and they seemed to exude a kind of grumpy realism. Take me or leave me. I’m not going to put on any airs and graces. Not happy with it? Then. Fuck. Off.
Time has become a premium for these people and they don’t want theirs squandered. Now, while this approach will strike some as a breath of fresh air, more might be disappointed. Where is the charm, the frisson, the mating dance, the mutual fascination? Can’t the honeymoon period last longer than a soup du jour?
Dating is a microworld of paranoias, a microcosm of meaning, itty bitty hopes and heartbreaks you can hold in your hand. To be the breaker is nearly as unpleasant as receipt. Is the grumpy realist fixating on some dis-identified end result (marriage, say; a baby) at the expense of the cultural seed which should give rise to it? Are they grooming an equally grumpy realist for some matter-of-fact, contractual bonding? Will any of it matter to their great grandchildren?
I was just getting into my 40+ GR stride. Beginning to prefer the open and curt over the 'professional dater' with their schmoozing acceptance of the attention, until it bores them. Why take someone's heart up twenty stories, via ten restaurants, just to pour it off the balcony. Politely decline in the lobby. GR is not a crime. GR is weeding. GR helps. In fact, why date anyone lovely, who'll only show you the gulf between how things are and how they could be, with the kind of clarity that kills? A stab of endorphins as real as any knife. Date people you want to kick the shit out of. Advanced GR.
The truth, for lovers not fighters, is that, via some seemingly undefeatable naïvity, they believe that love can unlock potentials undreamt of. Yet love is out of their control. You can't make the sun come out, and you can't make people love you, your body, your personality, your income, background or taste. As I write the sun is shining, I'm younger than tomorrow, this side of healthy and with a job. My parents are just about still around. Things could be worse. But when lovers not fighters stop being lovers, where do they go? GR is a bus with no destination. More a spiky enclosure, an armoury. Just getting into my stride and it doesn't feel like me.
Let's leave it there, sunshine. My last date was really lovely. She wasn't an ex-groupie telling me about the drummer from S*M*A*S*H fucking her up the ass, or a burnt-out one-word architect, or a couch-surfing 22 year old pretending to be 27, desperate for domestic security. Nor did I take advantage of any of it. Life is good.
Time: 2011 Mar 26 21:30:00
There's a charge on New Bond Street. In Heddon Street, where Bowie posed the cover of Ziggy Stardust, they are taking in tables. Most premises eventually close. Buses don't even bother. Central London, Mecca of deadhead shopping, goes away for the day. By late afternoon I have marched twice. Once with anarchos and students from Malet Street. Once with half a million union members, never-ending busloads right up to Hyde Park. Make Oxford Street History aims to close 18 strategic premises but scores the jackpot. Topshop gets paint-bombed and a vibrant party packs the new Shibuya-style Oxford Circus. The police seem to be letting the people occupy their own streets. On Regent Street, the pulse quickens. By the time I get there, Fortnum's is already occupied. "I'm just observing" I say, till someone hands me a wad of leaflets and tells me to pass them out. I back against a wall and a young woman uses my shoulder to climb. Each growing police charge seeps us further up side streets, makes us flow to and fro. The Battle of Fortnum and Mason turns into the Skirmish of Santander, or the Fracas of Maison Blanc. Dozens of discordant alarms fill mid-Piccadilly. Bottles chucked. Placards, then a bin. I am hit by a UFO and shunted by a shield. A kid nearby gets a baton in the boat race. "You could sell that to the Sun," someone cynical winks at my camera, but fifty professional cockholes have surrounding the boy already. I run like a maniac away from a police charge, only to find myself running towards another, scarier, unit. I'm no longer observing. I catch my breath, glad to be on the fringe of things. Suddenly I'm in the thick again. It's better than pilates.
"Half a million marchers and all they show is violence," a busload of flask-and-sandwiches TUC marchers mock Sky TV, ordering Fitzrovian pub grub before the journey north. It's spectacle, of course, all of it. Social defiance. Swarming opinion and passionate hatred of injustice. After a kind of critical mass, so much spectacle turns into song. Deep underneath, even the worst of the agitators are human beings smelling a rat. Tomorrow there will be professional analysts blaming Unison on Gaddafi, or the Masons (Fortnum And, dude - read the signs), but even they seem to add to the song of the earth, the quake of the people.
Subject: Photoblog, February and March
Time: 2011 Mar 16 23:35:00
1. When I launched my architectural practice in 2004 I began with a break-away vision. Make buildings that people love. "Have you gone loopy, Rog?" they asked me. "You're over the hill, old man. Out of your depth." At the time it was highly fashionable to commission structures resembling dangerous implements. The Cheese Grater. The Scalpel. The Knuckle Duster. One look at our skyline would make a small child hyperventilate. What about buildings that the same small child could comfortably play with - even enjoy? "The Lolly." I swept my hand in front of me. "Picture it.. The Boobies." Gradually, my detractors rose in silence. "The Funny Octopus?" One by one, each left the room. "The London Dum Dum." 2. Non-Gothic. A trip to Highgate cemetery, for the best non-Gothic. Someone was creating a wooden structure for the literary agent Pat Kavanagh. M. McLaren’s stone is in wood. Is that a headwood? 3. A Forest. Tired of London is tired of life, or at least your income bracket and shortcomings. I get Groundhog Day grind and a mid-life parallax, and get lost in Epping Forest. Getting lost is the important part. That "Oh fuck" moment when it’s just you and some rustling in the bushes. At a push, I think forests are even better than the seashore for pulling existential thoughts out of oneself. Lucky, I grew up near both. Rousseau describes the feeling of having lost something to the social contract, and of having to go 'back to nature' to reclaim it. This was 250 years ago. In some ways I think we're still stuck at Rousseau. 4. Famewatch. Small, hunched, concerned-looking, Amy Winehouse passes me on the stairs of the Hawley Arms, on her way to the Green Room, where artists retire for light snacks and refreshments. I’d just left it (ex-Hicks friend Paul quit the day job, bravely, and started a management-promotion company). There is a private lexicon amongst ex-colleagues, and to see a famous person on the streets is to ‘norden’. Ironically the only celebrity who cannot be nordened is Denis Norden, from whence the word sprang, who was so common around the streets near our office that he went post-norden. On early trips to London I street-stalked Jim and William Reid through Soho, Francis Bacon in Mayfair. Fame’s caché is fascinating – pubs light up, eyes trace you like magnets, nudges and simpering, open doors, open hatred – it is possibly better to observe than live through. Reporting Russell Brand's rise in real time, flatmate Matt Morgan agreed that you have to need it. "Fame is the desire to witness your own paranoia" someone once said. 5. Strobing Elvises; fake families; walking on walls; a maze full of headless young lovers.
Subject: Clara: a short play
Time: 2011 Mar 09 00:10:00
Hot on the lower calves of the monologue, another writing competition. This one demands short plays to be performed at the Horse public hostelry in Waterloo. No brief as such, although I’m quite fond of briefs. Rigid briefs, or flocculent and skimpy. I'm easy. Almost too much to choose from otherwise. This one is set in a wooden shed near Venice in 1751. See what I mean?
The Players: Chevalier Valli: a magistrate. Signor Count Rotari: a magistrate. Baroness Balestra: a magistrate. Thumpy the Master: animal trainer. Clara.
(Three stools are brought onto the stage. Three acting magistrates, CHEVALIER VALLI, SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI and BARONESS BALESTRA, sit down cautiously to observe the house, as if assizing a dangerous creature, with a mix of concerned faces).
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: This afternoon, a decision must be found.
CHEVALIER VALLI: Must it be today?
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: It costs five ducats a day to keep this animal imprisoned.
BARONESS BALESTRA: We are here to condemn it to death.
CHEVALIER VALLI: Is the steak edible?
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: There is a foul workmanship to its horn.
BARONESS BALESTRA: As a judicial court, we are here to decide its future. That is all.
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: Condemn it to death or condemn it to life, which is kinder?
BARONESS BALESTRA: Which is safer for society?
CHEVALIER VALLI: Which is God's will?
BARONESS BALESTRA: We are as one, then. To quit the stinking fug of this assembly and to picnic at my estate, in haste.
CHEVALIER VALLI: It is as rancid as ruined eggs.
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: The yawning oxters of a cellarman would please me more.
CHEVALIER VALLI: Pass out the black fans.
(Black lace fans are passed out and employed)
CHEVALIER VALLI: As the only witness at the dreadful carnival I should be permitted to paint the scene. The weather could not have been kinder. A zephyr played in the air. Rich colours reborn. Pink blossoms rode on spring trees. Every child found an ebullient mood. Amiable but frisky, as if in a singular will. The bells of chapels sounded eternal. Parasols unfolded and an expectation hung over us like new skin. Venice was as one.
BARONESS BALESTRA: Children were poking the creature? Goading it with poles?
CHEVALIER VALLI: This I did not see. This I did not see.
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: Someone cast a quoit? Inciting its wrath?
BARONESS BALESTRA: The beast charged for reason of its nature.
CHEVALIER VALLI: In the streets all wore hand painted masks. Actors and performers were indistinguishable from the audience watching them.
BARONESS BALESTRA: The beast rose up in confusion?
CHEVALIER VALLI: Only the plain faces of an order of Dominican nuns were visible. White in a line of black. God's brides. Life in prayer.
BARONESS BALESTRA: The beast broke from its pen and gored her like a rag poppet.
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: The victim is alive?
CHEVALIER VALLI: She doesn't know God from a hole in the ground. Her soul is dead.
BARONESS BALESTRA: Paradise regurgitated her through its gates.
CHEVALIER VALLI: She was a child, a novice.
BARONESS BALESTRA: Two pistols are cleaned and primed. The animal will be shot in both eyes at sunset.
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: I fear that the lady magistrate seeks the cold heart of a man, and in striving so outdoes her hastiest counterpart fiftyfold. The animal was acting within the bounds of its nature.
BARONESS BALESTRA: Lady magistrates have a job to do, as a cooper or a smith. My heart will be on trial next week. You may attend and observe.
CHEVALIER VALLI: A flinty heart in a woman is a sporting challenge and good for sparks. I approve.
BARONESS BALESTRA: I do not approve of your approval. If the beast was acting within its nature then nature is bad.
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: Nature we do not approve of is bad. But can an animal be guilty of failing to guess our whim?
BARONESS BALESTRA: I find these questions effete.
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: Let us all swim at this picnic of yours, like equals. Let us fence, then. As equals.
CHEVALIER VALLI: People will talk, about the estate.
BARONESS BALESTRA: Is that all? You must learn to be greedier, Count. A gentleman takes. The common man asks to be given. Something more is on your mind.
CHEVALIER VALLI: People are asking for better wages. Soon everyone will be a gentleman. And the Baroness is the finest in Venice at preventing them.
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: Ah. The lady magistrate seeks favour with her people! And trusts that avenging a Dominican novice will brighten her name. They are saps for the cloth.
BARONESS BALESTRA: The lady magistrate looks forward to her swim. The Count is right. I'm a silly woman, assuming an animal capable of trial. Bring in the creature's master in its place.
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: She finds good sense. The Duchy of Milan will have museums interested in preservation. Stuffing and the like. Students will measure the beast's patella and weigh the cranium.
CHEVALIER VALLI: Italian science will suffer in its absence. I will pen a letter for the morning mail coach. We are at one.
BARONESS BALESTRA: Bring in the master. I will shoot him myself.
CHEVALIER VALLI (calling): Thumpy the Master!
(THUMPY THE MASTER moves in reluctantly, facing the magistrates, between them and the house).
CHEVALIER VALLI: Speak. Justify your creature. Careful, your life is on trial.
THUMPY THE MASTER: Nerves. Youthful nerves.
SIGNOR COUNT ROTARI: There are lines like Po Valley in her skin. She is young?
THUMPY THE MASTER: She was abandoned as an adult. Adults are very young in her species. It is specific to her genus.
CHEVALIER VALLI: Your address is Thumpy the Master. Mastery clearly failed you in this instance.
THUMPY THE MASTER: Chevalier, she is upside down in Italy. Her natural habitat is southern. Astrologers can extrapolate better than I how the drain twists in a contrary direction, in the bathhouses of the subcontinents. It causes a nervous reaction. She was attempting a kind of reflux.
BARONESS BALESTRA: She was clearing her throat?
THUMPY THE MASTER: A brain rush, your Excellencies. Her arteries become confused. Hence I thump her to maintain their equilibrium. God knows I thump her. I am Thumpy the Master because I thump her so effectively. I cannot thump her more than I currently do. I thump her in the morning and I thump her at supper. I thump her when she does bad and I thump her when she does well, as a signal to do better.
I have thumped her in Prague and in Warsaw. Kraków, Danzig and Breslau. I thumped her in a public house in Lambeth. Entry prices from six pence to one shilling. I thumped her for Frederick the Second of Prussia, Francis the First and a bed-bound Maria-Theresa.
I keep her skin fresh with fish oil so that my thump finds a tender spot. (Getting on his knees) I cannot thump her more than I currently thump. I am Thumpy the Master and I lay myself at your ennobled boots in mercy. She is my livelihood, good people. I have not even the fare to return to my wife in Rotterdam.
(Standing, eventually) It turns cold inside this outhouse, cold inside a moment. Too cold for an Ash Wednesday.
Speak, Excellencies. Is apology for mayhem what you seek? If so have it. If bargaining is your pleasure I have debts enough to care for. Another writ in my valise will make no odds.
Speak. I am at my end. I hear but black lace fans. And fear that I am not so different from those behind them.
(Frustrated) What bargain is this? With mutes. I'll have no bargain here. Regard me, excellent mutes. Every day I breathe I am God's eyes and God's hands. He wants me as a parent wants a child. More so, I will wager. More. I am not yet ready for my grave. There are plenty there already.
(Turning, finally to the house) See how low I am, Clara. Lower now than you. To be as dim as you. That would be glorious. My pleas are insignificant. I admire your innocence. I admire your ability to kill.
(Covering his face with his hands, muffled) My real name is as noble as any in the Republic. My crime was not to be born of first born. Without inheritance. A grandfather taken in by priests, a father illegitimate and cursed. Fast fallen, I am noble nonetheless and no lace fan hiding their eyes can tell me otherwise.
(Rising in oratory, at the house) Rise now, Clara. Hup-la. Hup-now. There's a girl. Come on. Hup-la. Rise now.
Here, girl. Kill, Clara. Take them, girl. Charge for me. There you go. Back a pace. Charge for me, Clara. Kill, Clara. Kill them all. Come on, girl. Hup-now. Kill, Clara.
(Gradually, the magistrates stand and leave the stage in silence, while THUMPY THE MASTER continues his random pleading).
Subject: Big Society: the People’s Paramilitarism
Time: 2011 Feb 07 18:05:00
Loyalist housing estates in NI are a model of contemporary living. Windows gleam. Grass is combed weekly by a platoon of eager urchins. Sniggering hoodies hell-bent on bothering pensioners receive a quiet aside, while noisy neighbours watch mutely as their super woofers are pulled about like a turncoat's jerkin. Druggists themselves, those fly-eyed fringe scientists of the grow bag or garage, regularly end up face down and DLA’d till Tuesday. Thrice-ironed flags flutter the message – the People’s Paramilitarism works.
Here at the Big Society, we’re keen to adopt any ‘best practice’ we find around the world. A lick of paint and rebrand as “Willow Creek Farm” simply won’t Rethink The Sink. We see ship-shaping PP cells as vital to an Intelligent Urbanism. Balaclavas will be available at church halls, where old soldiers will be on hand to offer cosh lessons. PP cells will relieve greedy pay-seeker police of their CCTV duties, and must contain trained anti-climb painters and smart water sharp shots. But boots and berets don’t grow on trees. Each cell will be encouraged to seek sponsorship from local businesses. A popular pound store or ice cream parlour, for example.
They’re up your alley and on your side. These have-a-go sentinels are your son, your cousin and your brother-in-law’s sister. Of course
they come down hard. To make life easy
. For us all.
Subject: The Office Suicides
Time: 2011 Jan 31 17:45:00There have been two suicides in the office recently. Not on the actual premises, although that would be far from impossible. In fact, the persons concerned had both left the employ of the company. It is reasonable to assume that, if one were set on suicide, and a natural forward planner, one would exit all responsibility, to roam deeper into the conviction that one's pain was a pleasure, clarity, ultimately truth.
The first suicide, who took his final salary two weeks before his life, was a cliché. At least he struck me as a cliché. The lone male. In his twenties, but with a sad turn to his mouth. Russian literature always has a sensitive poet somewhere, brimming with political cure after a vodka. A heaviness about the young man reminded me of that. I didn't deal with him as a matter of course, but once I heard the news I envisaged a shelf of esoteric fiction being lifted ten-at-a-time into a box, by an out-of-town relative who never liked London anyway, while a landlady stands in the doorway, fingering a set of keys.
Life is hard. Some are not set for it. Far from getting easier, it seems to get worse. Seems, always, from the scuff of the skies to the winter faces on a train. Was the second suicide, as recent as last week, connected to the first? I decided against the possibility. The second self-annihilator, at the steep end of her thirties, was Katie Prager.
Commerce goes through fashions. Sometimes companies delegate out, for example, the printing, to a contractor. Sometimes, God knows, there just isn't time. We need an in-house printing team if we're going to hold the big clients. Sometimes the aim is expansion, meaning control, and sometimes contraction, meaning fluidity. Business is a lung. Any employee who has been around long enough might notice that a department is due to be married to the department it divorced ten years ago. Some 14-year-old will explain the ethos behind such progress; show us presentations, process flows animated by a corporate modeling tool. And the experienced will gaze out the window at the pigeons in their wisdom. Changes in politics, the law and technology are the real corporate modelers. The rest is puff.
Katie Prager was an insider employed to spin such forward motion. Her team building and training courses, on subjects like motivation, management and negotiation skills, were regarded as business critical. Some rolled their eyes but, in the main, even the cynical heard what she was saying. A Home Counties villager prone to swearing. A commuter who was, they told me, one of the last to leave the pub.
The annual company conference. 2002. The first time I collide with those eyes, revolving on a selection of slides to illustrate the Chief Exec's closing summary. New starters. Five year plans. Pace. Shifting sands. Agile. Mindset. Remodelled. Buy in. Iterative. Listening. Always listening. Top team.
"What is Patrick doing, everyone?" Huh? Walking in a box. I am walking in a box. Fiddling with a pen. "What are we all watching? Anyone?" Patrick's pen. We are watching Patrick's pen. A chubby whiteboard marker, to be accurate. It flickers in my fingers, it flits from hand to hand. It settles on a table after twirling like an absent-minded baton. Reappears in my mouth. Katie Prager's presentation skills course convinced me that no-one I'd ever given a briefing to had heard a single word I'd said. Distracting Patrick. "You're wittering again." I hated being told off. I felt ridiculed. Patronising bitch. "Patrick, you're pacing up and down, you're over to the left, then you're right. Let's hope your economic forecasts are a bit more stable." Someone laughed. One of my own trainees. Right there in front of Steve Granger and Chandu Chatterjee. Whore. "Rotten whore," I felt like shouting out.
"I find it particularly difficult.." I began. Then I immediately regretted it.
"Difficult is in your head. But, fine. We'll talk later." I'm not a fucking psychoanalyst. I didn't hang about at the end. I didn't even complete one of those hellish feedback forms.
"Charlton at the weekend. Shocking. Stick eleven seals on the pitch. They'd control a ball better. What you're doing is great, Patrick.." Chandu Chatterjee is looking to summarise my annual appraisal. There's always a But at the end of every Chatterjee sentence. Always the Chatterjee But. "It's good.." He screws up his face, turns a page briefly. "I'm under pressure to force the distribution, mate. Only so much I can score. We'll call it a C+?" He fills a box before I can open my mouth. C. 'Plus'. I've practically been living here.
I'm travelling, looking back, over fields. The clouds I see outside look sketched in by a painter. I think we see the world through a veil, a filter thick as castle walls. When we are young and warm we see the world as a warm place. Gradually we notice pockets of coldness, unfairness or corruption. There is a turning point, perhaps it is middle age itself, when we suspect that the whole thing is a frostbitten bearpit, a selfish chemistry. We see ourselves, only.
A year or so later I am informed that Katie Prager had a romantic dalliance with one of our top team, but this could be bar room dirt.
"I'm going to ask you not to think about a blue elephant. What are you all doing?" Thinking about a blue elephant, miss. "People don't really hear the negative command. You have to feed them the positive. Now, think about a red elephant." I think about a red elephant. It works!
The clouds outside. The puffy, unthreatening greys that gang on the horizon. Like a last swipe with the artist's palette knife, a delicate wash of white seeks the rising sun. Back lit. So high it seems to miss me forever.
Time passes. The next time I talk with her is on a train not unlike the one I'm on today. I'm a London boy. I need its buzz. The satellites - the Chertseys, the Little Hamptons, the Eghams and the Staines - sucking in and feeding back a daily blood - I don't really do them. But there are three of us, expectant as pilgrims, at a table, flying towards a overly quiet business park. She was late. "You're late." I'm not in the mood for nonsense. I'm on the platform with a cheery hightower called Big Mal. The Byzantine delights of a new telephony system await us. Mal is organisation change, the switches and junctions; Katie will oversee staff training; integrated into the network, my job is to trigger existing customer applications using incoming calls.
"They're turning it into a bloody call centre." Nodded Mal, a rueful smile on his lips.
"More work for you, pet." Prager fixed her hair. A day out of the office, and it was not her usual style.
"We need the latest capabilities." I vouched for the move. "To keep doing what we do. And to have more to moan about."
"They'll time us on the lav. You'll see."
"They'll time us in the Marquis of Granby. Then it'll be over." I watched an empty field fly past, as broad as Soho, in the time it takes to make a long, slow sigh.
I'd been cautious about this trip, but Katie and Mal had an infectious gaiety. I was tempted to talk to her about my presentation skills. Something had come to me much later. About why I found it difficult. I felt ready to share. Why didn't I tell her, that Friday, over station coffee and croissant crumbs, an hour free from Paddington?
I couldn't open up to those eyes. Those two blue critics. Some faces make the world a warm place, some are as ruthless and sightless as steel. I ask myself if I expect women to be especially caring. These days women go out of their way to prove that they're not. Personally, I'm kept sane by the thought that when hurt happens, somewhere behind it all is a 'lesson learned'. In its way even the bad things in life are good. But one look at Katie Prager's eyes told me that no such masterplan exists. Either way, I couldn't share.
I'm eight years old and my family are on holiday. Photographs of a bleached out caravan camp and a lounge bar with darts. I am posing in a play park, by the edge of a swimming pool. Entertainment is a hypnotist, on Saturday. Up late, for me. No-one in the bar seems to care. "We have to watch the hypnotist quickly." After a forest walk had fallen into moonlight, we are impatient to take a table. It is noisy. Concentrated voices overlap, rise, laugh and fight. I unfold a comic book, read several times, but keep a cautious watch on the stage. Red velvet backdrop under crossed lights. Lifting and falling glassware. Pint jug. Wine glass. Tumbler.
The hypnotist arrives. I can't remember. He's a convenient blur. Fully faceless. Breaks open some anecdotes, then asks for a volunteer. An immediate rush of something when my dad's hand goes up. Mum says his name. "I have to find out. If it's real." His other hand hovers on hers.
I remember with a new kind of memory. The waken dream, engorged by meaning. As if I crossed a bridge at that moment. Something spasms when the man to my right is actually chosen. I stand up on the chair, eager to live every second. Hypnosis. Distance. Fixation. Familial break. My first 'us'.
A held shoulder. "You're going deeper." Congruency in the voice. The slow count. Silence. Blown smoke and lager. "You're going to be fifty times deeper by the time I reach zero." Hand at the back of the head. A slump. "The deeper you go the better it feels." My dad is under. It seems to be real. It is real. His face raises up to the light, like an animal emerging. Brow serious, otherwise empty.
"Oh for fuck's sake, Mal." Katie Prager knew a tapas bar in town. After a long day of telephony inductions and workshops she had pursuaded us not to disappear.
"Trust me," said Mal to some chorizo, slow cooked in cider. "If someone calls a group hunt out of hours you'll want a message. Not a bloody voicemail. If someone leaves their details and no-one gets back, it's bloody annoying."
"If everyone on a team is busy, then the overflow should go to another team." Patatas bravas. Prawn fritters, crisp as eggshells.
"During core hours." Cured manchego with anchovies. Rioja, bottle five.
"Precisely." Moorish spiced chicken.
"Not everyone has the skill set for it. I'd rather my team goes to voicemail."
"Oh for fuck's sake, Patrick." Katie Prager put down her pen, finally. "To be concluded on Monday."
"Not in Monday." Sniffed Mal. "Jury duty. A week of it."
"Hard luck!" Prager pointed for another bottle. "Can't you wriggle out of it? Do something to get sent home."
"Pretend you've got the flu. Or the defence can object to you."
"Walk in winking at the accused." Prager laughed.
"Sit winking at the dock, counting a wad of tenners." I snorted.
Mal continued. "As long as I'm not staring at bloody hatchet murders or pictures of fiddled kids over me breakfast."
"My husband.." Prager began.
"Fiddles kids." I offered. Prager put her hand over my mouth. Shocking. But she was married.
"My husband, who wants kids. For the traditional reasons. I hope. Got out of jury duty by.."
"Wearing his BNP t-shirt." I wormed free, but started to fall off my chair. Pat Liddle, discreet bachelor, was spannered.
I woke up the next day so thirsty and so unable to move that I could have wept blood and licked it.
"I prayed for you at the temple this weekend." Chandu Chatterjee zips up and washes his hands.
"Well.." I am slightly lost for words. "Thank you." As he leaves the toilets I wash my own hands, and wonder what that means.
After a sombre week, I caught myself reflected in the office window yesterday, logging off. It was dark outside, and the new designer lighting bathes us in the phosphorescence of a space station. I saw someone across the street, impersonating my exodus. I looked cold but hopeful in the glass. Just past middle age, when the world is a bearpit of selfishness, you ask if, perhaps, you helped make it that way. At least, you tried not to intervene, didn't you? Floor tile. Footstool. Server. Pedastal.
Stand. Kitchenette. Meeting room. Door.
Thankfully, I'm a man who prefers to talk in facts rather than speculation. Katie Prager left the office two years ago. She had arranged a position in Oxford, near her husband's parents, for he himself needed to relocate. We had a gather-round at her desk, some balloons appeared, a gift (vouchers), and an ambiguous speech which promised emotion without delivering it. I loitered at the back of the room and then I disappeared. She had a baby soon afterwards, someone informed me. A seperation six months ago. The last time anyone saw her alive was in Oxford, hammered drunk at a bus stop.
Rotten whores. Somewhere my dad is still eating an onion like an apple. In a parallel place he is still on all fours, barking like a dog. Laughter, uniquely, never seems to end.
Terminus. I stand up and I button my coat as the train pulls into Oxford station. I haven't navigated through the quads and spires for a while. Who knows. I'm not even sure what I'll do. Coffee and cake. Shrunken heads in the Pitt Rivers. Antiquarian books. A gentlemen's outfitter. I've never been to the castle. The watched world is like a bookend, seen face-on. We sense that so much more lies behind it, but it is not our time to read. We see the terminus of things, in fact, never the trains.
Subject: Photoblog, December and January
Time: 2011 Jan 17 22:00:00
1. Coburn discusses IEDs with CPB. Lost his mother, his leg and now Mick Karn. Sometimes life is one big WTF. 2. "You can't get a breast pump from Freecycle." "It's a Tommee Tippee. It's a good one." "That's like getting your underwear from Oxfam. It doesn't matter if they're Calvin Klein." Fed up with baby things? Despite the vast posh crèche that London art galleries now are, I'm not. I wish it was mine. Do I join Plenty of Fish and resume the urban dating circuit? Do I bollocks. I slink back into my Male Cave. Maybe that's all I've ever done. "Uug. She look like she belong in Cave." Bosh over the head (spiel about me being in hep post-punk band), drag her back through the stalagmites. Dating was fun, always an anecdote, some snogging, even the dizzy heights of sex, but I got impatient at the end. Any frost and I walked. Any watching other people over my shoulder. I'll probably arrive at my next date with "This isn't working, is it Janice? Is it
Janice?" 3. A walk down Bishop's Avenue, the UK's most expensive road, feeling the country turn into America without the good bits. Someone told me that Aussies make successful inner city teachers because pupils see them as essentially cheery and 'classless'. Can't we all be classless? Culture sees much less beauty in the blue collar here, compared to the States. It's still fops vs oiks. I feel like I'm in the wrong place. My family urge me to come home. I feel like going homeless. Or hiking into some jungle like Tony Last in 'Handful of Dust'. Deeper and deeper. So lost, so far from anyone, death can't be said to have actually happened. A Schrödinger's cat death. 4. Let's try.. legal highs! Here I am trying to enter a hypnogogic state with a dream machine created by Ian Sommerville/Burroughs/Gysin. A legal high, mostly because it's an eight centimetres high. 5. Archway's annual civic art is David Batchelor's Big Rock Candy Fountain, on the roof of the Metro Food and Wine. Something about funfair lights suit this nondescript interborough interzone. N19 should become the neon north of London. I once doodled civic art for the area, a wheel of fortune behind glass, based on one I saw in Antwerp. Anyone passing can ring a doorbell, the wheel illuminates and spins to find their future. Hand-painted results (comic through creepy) are based on local themes. Whittington's cat (turning in the middle), coming to London to seek one's fortune, bright lights and moths, mayors, The Diary of a Nobody, garage rock, Irish dance halls, alcohol, Cypriots, witchcraft and, eventually, the city skyline seen from Suicide Bridge. 6. Post-kettling. Their parents had free higher education, jobs for life, social housing, affordable homes, windfalls falling fore and aft, a retirement and, finally, a final salary pension. These kids have, um, Twitter.
Time: 2011 Jan 02 13:50:00
My only resolution is Submission. Since I stopped smoking (three and one half years) and now my tummy is melted away courtesy of the 'no sat fats' regime (near-vegan, sometimes fish, aka 'the Bill Clinton') my two recurring pledges are "be more social" (which never seems to happen), and "get more creative". The latter fails to happen too, which is such a waste. I might as well put being a loner to use, for God's sake. Rather than beat myself up about it I consider other paths of change that might, or might not, be connected.
The power of Submission. Given the option between being a submissive or a dominant, on the kinky playing fields of life, I'd always assumed that most sentient beings would chose to dominate. In the sexual realm, making a partner fulfill your every request is surely an option we'd tick. Nice! But having visited kinky meet-ups and nightclubs, and been told several times that subs were much smarter than doms, a reversed, or at least tempered, view began to clarify itself. Strutting around in their leather trousers, with their canes and commands, surely dominants rock. They're the dudes, the dudettes. Give them a second glance, however, or chat to them, and they gradually look like they all work in record shops, while submissives talk like they run a chain of investment banks in Hong Kong. MsX had doctorates coming out her ears, multiple companies bidding for her talents. I was on the dole.
Of course the joy of giving up control for an hour appeals to those exhausted by charge, while the hurt or disenfranchised fantasise about holding the whip. But it goes deeper than the busman's holiday. Surely the creative soul must be dominant, I always would say. Surely they mould, push their view and 'play God' as part of the job. But look at Francis Bacon, or Edmund White. Beautiful writer, and a gimp in his private life. You begin to admire the masochist's strength. Their lack of pride. The ironclad absence of shame. Full-blown and profound humility. Not only smarter, but soulful.
To turn a bit hippy, when the muse comes knocking, when your anima or animus fills you with vision, perhaps the brightest people fold onto their knees with a "Yes, mistress" or "Yes, sir". They become nothing but the scribe, the channel. I boss my inner female, like a flailing child, at my cost, for she will not be flogged into giving me cubism if she inherently shines with social realism. That kind of trust is a submissive trust. That kind of letting go, without preconditions, is the power of Submission.
I've had submissive fantasies of late, for the first time, although I'd call myself a Billy Bothways. Some unseen and powerful woman controls me, makes me do her will. If she wishes to give me pain, pain is what I take. The choice isn't mine, and my pride is irrelevant. Is she taking something out on men? Does she, underneath it all, love me? Probably not, or at least I'll never know. Is she a dumbbell? A terrifying loose cannon? I wouldn't say so. A different kind of intelligence. The righteous reflex. The clear, selfish core. I am reduced to a baby beside some unstoppable, governing force. I have no say in the matter.
I once visited Reykjavik and got chatting to a New Yorker in a bar. A streetwise Latina thirty something who told me that she used to be in a girl gang, but studied law to stay out of jail, and was now a qualified lawyer. She showed me the gang tattoos on her back, and scars, then put some kind of platinum card behind the bar. "Get this guy anything he wants." She rested her arm on me. The whole thing felt role reversed, like I was tottie, her moll, a symbol, being wowed by examples of her power. Nothing but wine happened that night but I think she'd have made an interesting mistress. I'd be eternally intrigued by how that attitude got there. Why it remains. There would be no resolve for it, only a kind of containment in a sexual parallel place.
Creatively, I always felt that the Catholic kids I attended art college with had better expression than the Protestant. Does something in that church lend itself to imagination? The 'smells and bells', the mysticism and use of symbols, so opposed to the plain, rational benches of northern Calvinism (which you either see as Zen-like and simple, or as dry as a spreadsheet). It may be a cliché in itself but Protestantism seemed destined to breed accountants, not creatives. Nevertheless, around this time I remember scribbling in a notebook that the best Irish writers seemed to be Protestant, while the best English were Catholic or converts (a rough opinion after reading a Waugh or Greene). Perhaps it is more than symbolism, it is about being a channel for something greater, full submission to a doctrine. Does it somehow set you free? Considering how long I've lived in London, should I now submit to something like Catholicism? Sense the wonder of Our Lady. Witness a miracle or two? Is the confession box so different from the sexual submission mentioned above? Placing the tender joins of private pain into social hands, opening the moral bonnet for some skybound mechanic.
At first, Submission seems out of step with another great push in 2011 - political protest. Surely the last thing we need are street fighting submissives. But, why not? Whatever happens has to be voted in by people like my mum and dad, maybe some near-religious humility should accompany workers' brawn. Temporary mass submission, in the form of a 'Be Your Own Opposite Day', could become an annual occurrence, an important catalyst for universal empathy. Take your pride and lose it. Zionists, angled at Mecca, will know that Allah is Most Great. Most High. Jihadists will jive to klezmer. Sexists will buckle themselves into dungarees and chase wolf-whistling feminists down the street, and away from lap dancer bars, bounced by mousy librarians, gyrating with the wealthy but painfully shy, behind chrome pillars.