Subject: Night of the Unborn
Time: 2012 Dec 24 10:50:00
03:05 am. Sunday 16th December.
Father? They come, came, less like voices and more like something in the rustling, where cold sheets churn around a sleeper's feet and a flap of wind crosses under tugged blankets. In the cavernous whump of a head refusing to sleep, butting a memory foam pillow into a bow.
Father O'Byrne? There they are again. Through the girth of blankets they ride. That weak rasp that they have. Helium, alien, like my own voice but jiggered an octave. I look for their origin, my left eye traveling to compass points about my chamber (I call it a chamber but it is not), a space often so monumentally dark that the walls seem gone, and the furnishings too, save for mid silver moonlight holding the far side of a wardrobe very weakly. It fills the window's limit, in the mirror opposite, and it dusts a shirt on a hook.
Damn it. What? I raise my head to bark, gently, which clears a silence unlike any I've known. Are they in my head? There's a scamper I am sure about.
Dear God, I need to sleep. It has been six days now. You alone know the reason I am put through this. Deprivation is life, as much as anything. Deprivation my instructor, as for ascetics. Later, in the morning, I will stand slurring and slack-jawed before Newry city. A grim, white grit to the mouth. Eyes which bend open to protest the flop of grey hair down my forehead. Soldiering by with a mouth of shameless mumbles, missing sentences and making it up, brain engorged and aching like a hung over arm. Straight to the Latin. Straight to the Latin and stay there. I don't get home often. Has he had a stroke? It's to be applauded that he keeps on as he does. The shaking shell of a priest. Four minutes to light that candle. Fingers crossed that I will be so far gone their opinion of me will find no ascendancy. The voices in the exit door fail to even reach me.
God, give me sleep.
Father? The return of it.
What is it? Who are you? They don't respond and I quickly inform them I'll light a candle like that was a sufficient threat. And perhaps it is, for if the imps are born of darkness they'll soon flee the wick's blaze.
I sigh openly at the black world around me, displeased by my own anger, and wondering if I should rise to confront the frosted rooftops of Newry through the window. Perhaps this delirium has been city sickness. Could have gone to Clare when you had the faculties. Listen to you, Aubrey, like the dance was done. Oh, balls to it. My feet slip into the air, and fondle around on the floorboards for the warm knap of two slippers. Old ones with their heels pressed concave. I should add that I have recently been sleeping in a hoodie that someone left in chapel, which I zip right up to the chin, to consider the heating bills. I force my body to stand, shivering. I am shocked by the glow of my own white legs below some half-mast thermals. I decide I'll light a candle, over at the table. When I do the rooftops flare up and disappear in a bang of sulphur which is eventually replaced by my own reflection. There. Aubrey O'Byrne. Boy to man. The match passes to the wick.
Not clever now. I take a seat once more at my table. Today's homily is still there, scribbled through, rehashed and asterisked and, once, twice, question-marked. I know when this all started. It started last week when I murmured to myself that I could barely stand another Saturday night, another battle through words for something that grabs the soul. Who am I? What right have I to talk to those people?
Who are you, imps? Operatic silence. My computer is closed but I don’t write there anyway. There's something about plain ink coming to life by a candle light, at human speed, which is good for my thinking. Takes me back to prep school, to a teenage diary exhausted and abandoned by March, or the postcards of young seminarian living in Ghana. Maybe I’m missing the noise of the night. The noise of life, fighting through itself, chattering like chemistry under a cinemascope of stars. I can't go back to silence, I thought. No-one makes a coffin like Ghanaians. Dolled up to the nines. I once watched the coffin of a shopkeeper carried through town, painted with brand names the locals associated with the deceased. Nescafé. Omo. Product placement is as good as liturgy to many of them.
Whither Newry? (I briefly meet my own eye.) The amber bulbs along the high street, council issue hanging baskets hide their spring peonies, the car park walls all smart water and anti-climb, the dual carriageway over there, the two-for-ones and meal deals, the beef cold store, call centre, outsourcing, the squeeze, the axe from overseas, the in-work benefits and payday loans. Buttons these people are on. Buttons like a flat screen's doofer. The big picture, the sort of thing we're told to keep in mind by the economists, never looked smaller.
Chatter on, lads, if you've a feel for it. Sure we're getting resigned to tinkle Declan at 06:00, and to sign in Tom Dick. The boy will have a nervous fit but he can adapt the generic and fitting, something for the advent season. Deputy speak. Stand-by. Jolly and neat. Leave their heads in peace for Debenhams.
My pen clicks while I select a clean page. Is the blank page the most beautiful? Sometimes it can feel that way. What is the hero in today's world? I begin afresh. The notion of heroics is subjective but Many attributes might be agreed upon. I've been asking myself what a hero looks like in the year 2013 and whether a Christian man fits the bill. Does he protect the weak and less fortunate? Is he a man you can trust? Accountable for his actions and applying moral aforethought? But the hero is an unfashionable concept. On television, the stuff of fantasy. From bent cops to bad mothers, our lack of a hero paints cynicism as realism.
I rise at this point and pass to the shelves of research material within the limits of incandescence. Here are my mainstays (I refuse to crib). In the gloom my fingers reach around books like 'Catholic Heroes of the 20th Century' and speculative hagiographies on the lives of saints and martyrs.
Let's see. Ewelina Losinski AKA God's Midwife. A Pole working in the "maternity ward" of Auschwitz concentration camp, Losinski was tasked with aborting children in barrels. One morning in February 1944 she began to smuggle infants out under her coat (not unlike a Hebrew midwife in the Book of Exodus!) Losinski defies Dr Joseph Mengele to his face and perishes.
Aubrey, it's Christmas. Don't leave them with Joseph Mengele jingling around Debenhams.
Brother Bas AKA God's Trafficker. As a Bible-smuggler behind the Iron Curtain, Bas Van Dale returned to the Netherlands with clandestine recordings of banned Russian choirs singing for no-one but God.
"God's Trafficker." See, that’s the sort of thing that could inspire them. "God's Informer." "God's Plant." That'd be a thing to be. "God's Mole."
Father? Father? I feel brazen enough to mock the imps' voices into the furthest corners of the chamber, down behind the cosy chair, up over the wardrobe. Eventually locate the selection I need, and transport them wearily to my desk. Is the hero of today a voice refusing to be silenced? Is he a champion of improvement? Is he a leader?
Is the Christian hero a leader?
Those voices are back. Someone laughs in a sick and desperate way. Where are you? I stand abruptly and sweep up a biography of Anthony of Padua, that I might use it as a club if needs must. I pass back across the chamber to search for them. I turn over the cushion on the cosy chair, sweep a foot below the bed. The rummage proves fruitless (although I don't search for long or with any keenness). I believe that I hear an amount of scamper and some disconcerting breathlessness.
It is then, pen in hand, as I assess and annotate relevant facts, that I feel a familiar sense of malaise overtake me. My words bleed of meaning, very quickly. They sit on the page like hieroglyphs. I might as well be shifting sand. Soli Deo Gloria. Bach's glory to God. For his ear only. Man welcome to sideways attention but Bach's notes talk to the Almighty. Eucharistic adoration. 'Latria'. I need to stop writing to Newry, and need to start writing for the Trinity. I sigh at the very thought of that but, on a whim, I extinguish the candle with a long and even whistle from the crow's nest of my seat. Time for goodbyes, I say aloud.
My eyes rise to adjust to the full darkness, while my nose tastes the weak smoke, and the rooftops through the window start to reassemble.
Down there. Down there they don't know they're born. Is that the phrase? Stacks of cross-border shopping this season. Vans full. Sure, what would we do without it? But the windfall we've been given. Newry sits in the VIP suite and doesn't know it. The place has cleaned up, they say. Gastros like graves. What's to confess? Whither the beggar on Canal Street? Whither the blind and insane? The minibus run for Down’s Syndrome? Where is the little plastic boy with the slot in his head that stood outside Lynch's dispensary? And the long blue lifeboat for the drowned?
In Africa I knew a visually impaired youth who used to hug me for a miracle. Cling to my back for days. We wandered scrub, for miles, days at a time, and he directed me to find items he had worked under bushes, or into the roots of trees, and lodged into fissures, over the course of a vagabond, ignominious but sighted childhood. How I wasted my seeing years, he cried. We waste every day we fail to thank God, I told him. Newry's in the VIP suite and blind to the barred and bounced. Thinking, like eejits, 'The auld place has improved!' Above us, stars map the consequences.
Oh God no. I make out the voice again. The trail of it or an echo. Possibly from the street below. Fuck's sake. And then a cry that is quickly silenced.
I push my desk aside to make space and, getting near, press my cheek into the cold glass, attempting to catch the emission of such complaint. The narrow broadway is all void, save for an unreadable array of signage above sleeping chain stores, which immediately melt behind the steam I make on the pane.
I do not hear departing feet, or anything else. But I stay there at the glass, in the maisonette they picked for me, in the thick of it, at the head of the town. Pedestrianised by neat ochre bricks, between the British Heart Foundation, the Boots and Subway.
The dull democracy of condensation. I cannot see anything but a wash of light, for God’s sake. My hands drop and fingers lock under the hooks that raise the sash window. I want to throw it open, but my fingers freeze. Instead I return an ear to the glass. A wet stripe thrown down from my nose returns to life a history of streaks, fingerprints and smear (even rough curls, like the imprint of hair) born again in moisture which darkens to leave, but is quickly replaced by another exhale. I cool it even further, with a blow from my lips. Young drips disperse into pin tips, to halo the amber bulbs of Newry, which seem to sink inside some tessellated net, where lines themselves are unborn.
Subject: Review | Dec 2012 | OK Intimate Absurdism
Time: 2012 Dec 18 21:35:00
Digital filmmakers, dabbling in shorts, begin asking "Why stop at ten minutes?" and are now making feature length films. All that's needed for some kind of DIY cinema boom is the quality of creative imagination. 'The London Underground Film Festival' had this very much in mind. Clara Pais and Daniel Fawcett's crowdfunded feature Savage Witches
(2012) admits its debt to Vera Chytilová's 'Daisies', in that it depicts the insular, anti-social world of two kooky teenage women, with idiosyncratic parameters and new codes of reality. Across hand drawn psychedelic swirl, the pair gambols around ornate gardens extolling the importance of poetry and playfulness, without really doing anything expressive and playful. Filmmakers can get overawed by their own medium, and the film half strangles us with technique at the expense of character. Ultimately it is a music video without the music, a leftfield Isles of Wonder sequence. More messy, expulsive and successful was Die Kleine Bushaltestelle (Gerüstbau)
(Little Bus Stop [Scaffolding], 2012) an absurdist comedy in which Berlin contemporary artists (rarely overawed by their own medium) Isa Genzken and Kai Althoff role-play as babies, prostitutes, policemen and fake waiters in unsuspecting restaurants. As the yin yang of mordant late middle age and mania turns, we feel permitted into a crazy private world. Camp, vulnerable, what it describes is the pair's love and trust. Stein and Logan's Bad Brains: A Band in DC
(2012) is a brilliant documentary on the black punk band, who represent everything lovable but also frustrating about musicians, from their no-sell-out world-taking agendas to la-la post-drug paranoid psychosis. The digital world can do many things but is yet to create a star, and I miss pop culture's characters. The festival debate, 'New Adventures in Pornography', featured PhD students, bloggers and theorists attempting to avoid talking in terms of right or wrong, examining instead if libidinal energy can be steered somewhere fresh. Porn has become darker, more aggressive, with BDSM acts a regularity in non-BDSM films, but so has everything. Compare 'The Dark Knight Rises' to Adam West, or 'The Killing' to McCloud. We don't do innocence any more. There is a danger that 'feminist friendly' porn could become a branch of 'family friendly', someone said. We watched examples of progressive porn. Dirty Diaries
(2009) has the distinction of being the first government-funded filth (Sweden, eager to explore the 'female gaze'). That the female gaze could steer the ship of smut somewhere pleasant, or at least new, was agreed but do women spend their disposable income on porn or property? In the end, the panel couldn't avoid right-wrong: 'pornification' and addiction were examined, condom use and alienation (real sex, eyes-closed and miles away, with someone you don't fully trust, is alienating). Then I attended a debate on populism, the panel sensing it a good thing ("Who do you want to exclude and why?") I'm sure that if the same discussion had taken place in pre-digital times the conclusion would be "Why pander to the masses?" which shows the democratic skew of networks and narrowcasting. Media is now done 'with' you, not 'to'. Then an East End art stroll. Vyner Street was where it was at, once. I find the Wilkinson open, and loved the Heman Chong
exhibition upstairs. Random, odd, found objects sitting rootless on mirror-topped tables. "An object moves from insignificance to significance when transferred from one person to another." (With enough 'stuff' in the world, 'curation is the new creation' seems to be the East End vibe. Give it narrative.) The Bökship had a daylong performance, two floor-bound guitarists plucking random notes at each other as chin-rubbing readers sip black tea. I peruse its arthouse publications. I'm hardly arthouse. I like humour too much, and emotions. Arthouse hates emotions. Finds them populist. I like the fact that the internet hasn't yet found its mainstream. The search for a new mainstream intrigues me more than another tributary experiment. 'French Riviera 1988' is a cool space. I want to form the Sex Pistols just to have my first show there, under its wash of ultraviolet. Helen Marten
at the Chisenhale is as good as they say. Food, wood, DIY glue, pop art, trash. An opera of mere stuff, reanimated with a very unique sense of meaning.
Subject: Review | Nov 2012 | The Fascism of Life
Time: 2012 Nov 24 18:41:00
Is the Wellcome Collection's Death: A Self Portrait
more than a private collection of dolled-up skulls and skellingtons? If anything, folk art's obsession with the graphics of non-existence is a comfort. Isn't everything we build a refutation of void? No autopsies alas, but worth it for Mexico, Otto Dix and the metamorphic postcards. Dark nights have drawn in, I'm reading The Secret Agent
(Joseph Conrad, 1907). Conrad's only book set in London, not a boat. Based on Martial Bourdin's bungled attempt to "throw a bomb into pure mathematics" it's an odd exercise, either tentative cubism or a well-turned clunker. You have to remind yourself that the thriller format didn't yet exist, but it has anarchists, Russians, spies in Soho (I see the fictional Brett Street as Bateman Street, between the Milk Bar and the Lorelei) and policemen, and it manages to avoid pace. Even when novels lack music's stir, modern art's radical beauty and television's dialogue they should still hit a home run into depth. Volporne
(adapted from Ben Jonson, 1606) focuses on an heir-less stud baron in the 1980s porn industry. Pretending to be at death's door, he extracts gifts from a coterie of would-be inheritors. Megan Cullen looks the business as a big-shouldered Joan Collins filth attorney Voltore. William Stanford's Corvino is a paranoid and possessive fuckthug with serious women issues. Warning: there's some jarring forced sex which spins the comedy on its head. He seems to curse all women as he bends Celia over a table - "I will keep thee backwards. Thy lodging shall be backwards; thy walks backwards. Thy prospect, all be backwards; and no pleasure." The second act evolves into a screwball court room drama under the weary gaze of a pair of camp, eye-rolling judges. "I'd give my right arm to be enthusiastic," Kurt Vonnegut once confessed. Sitting beside me at a rare performance of his only play, Happy Birthday, Wanda June
(1970), was a grumbly old New Yorker sounding equally discouraged. My ass hurts with these benches. Does that light have to shine? The drama concerns a presumed-dead Vietnam vet arriving home to an America turned liberal by the very wars that have brutalised him and rendered him hypermacho. His wife, now dating a hippy doctor, dabbles in feminist hoopla, and his son is a lost goofball who needs toughening up. Actually his wife is dating two men, the other being a chirpy but battle-shy vacuum salesman. Elsewhere the ghosts of a Yugoslavian fascist and a little girl recently hit by an ice cream truck talk directly to the audience about what fun heaven is. I find family-based narrative hard to enjoy, even the dysfunctional, but this is nutty and abstract and full of golden one-liners. The casting is race/gender neutral so women play men (but not the other way around). Alix Dunmore ('Ava Carter, Girl Pilot') could make a cadaver crack with her goofing off. If Dunmore was on television I might even buy one. Fiona Drummond Cooper makes you want to cry just sitting there saying nothing, watching the grown-ups tussle. And Marcus Powell is the best idiot ever as Colonel Looseleaf Harper, who bombed Nagasaki and feels bad. Ryan himself is a caricature, which flattens the second half, a problem with the writing more than the production. The audience should be starting to empathise with him right before the moral showdown, I thought. Either way, I'd give my left arm to write something with actors. To a Baby Rave
, where hip north Londoners let their under-8s loose on hypnagogic pop, soft toys and bubble machines. They even had a parachute dance, which reminded me of going to the Whirl-Y-Gig in the 90s with singer Momus, a nightclub created by the Association of Humanistic Psychology. The Baby Rave is run by the kind of jolly woman you'd imagine runs Baby Raves. Into dancing, babies, laughs and little else. Horror, huffs, hilarity - all human life is here. If I was an alien anthropologist I could now leave. Possibly the most smile-filled afternoon I've had this side of Disco 2000.
Subject: Maw and Paw on Politics
Time: 2012 Nov 18 13:44:00
Politics was not a subject my parents had a tendency to discuss. The first such conversation that I can recall took place in my later teens. Politics, like sexual matters, was seen as something one should not beguile a child with. I remember sensing, therefore, that this conversation was an indication that, in their eyes, their son had passed into the status of a grown-up. Perhaps my parents also felt a turning point in their lives. The parent years were ending. Would being left to focus on one another bring re-evaluation? Was this display of politics (surely a depiction of the seabed of one's personality as much as any fiscal methodology) prompted by an approaching emptiness they feared?
The aggressive heat of a post-noon sun. The backyard. I recall Maw had successfully snatch-lifted another 106kg barbell over her head. Her voice rose to a scream, face forward and straining like a stray dog in the act of love. "F-ff-fff-nnnnn." She faulted a foot back and forth, hammered by the crush, her muscular system rebirthed in a nutty plastic. "Nnnnnn!" Eventually, she flung the barbell onto the sand and cursed a "Thank you."
Maw was dressed in her bikini top and cropped combat pants. I was wearing paint-splashed blue overalls, and I returned to the task at hand. Having recently concluded schooling I had been given the responsibility of priming and repainting the low fence around the backyard, an unkempt place for storage and disposal. A collapsing Chevy truck. The innards and gizzards and who-knows of many others. It was also where the free range chooks enjoyed their time. At the furthest end a garden area under the refreshing shade of some weeping birch. Anyone observing through the fence's slats would see me kneeling on newspapers. Two pots of gloss, undercoat, a rag and cleaning spirit. Sand block for blisters.
"A decent world war is what we need. No more hit-and-run bullshit." Swallowing a long squirt of water, Maw picked up a Ruger Deerfield rifle that had been recently placed against a crate of chook feed.
"Aw, Maw," said Paw slowly. Paw, I recall, was supine in his hammock, slung between the weepers, wearing mint slacks and white loafers with turquoise socks. A 1950s Miami sports jacket and shirt were hung neatly from the tree. His face was shaded by a straw Panama and he held in his overhanging hand the tall glass of bourbon iced tea, as richly coloured as cola. Slowly the glass moved to his lips and he drew a suck up the straw, unwilling, at first, to expand on his response.
On the grass an old gramophone played some traditional jazz, in such a warped and distorted way that we might have been ocean bound. For some reason, and this was unusual, Paw decided to further his thoughts. "It's like you been trying to say something to me without saying it, Maw. All morning. Passive words, stabbing gently in the cornerspaces of my mind. Words designed to trouble me not today, but later tonight, in my dreams, and tomorrow."
Maw's second squirt snaked across her back, then swept the baking air. "Perhaps I is suggesting that a fully inert husband is not what I dreamed of as a little girl. One progressively, willfully and maliciously flaunting his inertia."
"Heck. It's a swell day. And, say, there's a dragonfly." Paw raised the brim of his hat and appeared to reach out to offer something to the trees.
"Or I is suggesting that some of us are trying to make things work, things that ain't working." Maw gave the fence a backward nudge with the sole of her high-top gym boot. This reverberated along the wood sufficiently that it flexed the bristles of my four inch brush, briefly paused as it was.
Paw pushed back the brim of his hat with one knuckle. "The overarching issue in Saline County is a lack of available employment. Not sloth on the part of those unable to secure it."
"If a thing don't work there's ways of making it work."
"You mean a entrepreneur?" Paw turned to the sitting position and placed both loafers on the ground, and then folded the tips of his fingers around his glass. "Junior there's gonna cook up a coupla listed companies in his Elmo jammies? Have sense, Maw."
Maw took the Ruger Deerfield off her arm, propped it on the fence and leveled an eye at the sights. "Service, Paw. I is referring to the front."
"And which front might that be? Now you’re talking like we is Israel. We got friends in the north, friends in the south and the world's biggest moat either side. We're the one nation on earth should be kicking back, not running round like a duck in a Dutch oven."
"I am pro the state of Israel." Maw clipped those words across the fence like they were the upper scales of a times table.
"Well, Maw," Paw began a gentle swinging, the tilled state of his brow suggesting an impish need to call her bluff, "in bygone times I’d see you curse the four walls when the Breakfast Jews affronted you, or the Jewspapers or anything else. So what changed?"
"I'm anti Jew, them's so-called, and therefore pro Israel. They got their homeland and we got ours. I'm so pro Israel I'd make it compulsory. Got them where we can see them. Nobody got two homelands, that’s for sure. It's make your mind up, Moses." Maw's eye began scrutinising the grounds opposite our own. "Y'all git there or git out."
"You could take a class in fool talk."
"And you is talking like a red. Or some I-don't-know-what."
"Well, y'know." Paw was slow to reply but when he did his words almost sought to fuel Maw's suspicion. "Some central planning in the light of globalisation seems preferable to the vagaries of a market. Banks what can't see themselves walking off a cliff. Bailing out gamblers so's they can gamble some more. Maybe's I am a red." Imagery began to fill his mind, confirming his position as he explored it. "Companies themselves are thoroughly communist. Employees can't vote for no leader, changing the game every four years. Why not run a nation like a company? Seems to work for red China, when they ain't bailing us out."
By now Maw seemed more interested in the neighbours’ property than her spouse. "Something's going on in Outer Space," she whispered, crouching. (Outer Space was Maw's name for the house, roughly double the size of our own. It sat, blind to us, on the vantage of a low knoll. The owners, I confess, I'd never seen.) "Them is dirty sons of Sherman," Maw added quickly. "You think they'd clean up once in five years." I'd heard they worked in the City and used Outer Space as their vacation place. Maybe they hadn't had a leisure slot in their schedule until now? Maybe they gone died? "There's a goddamn open window and no Audi," Maw reported. "Mrs Babendrier is supposed to cut their grass once a year."
"Mrs Babendrier dead and buried herself this April."
Maw was blank. "Nobody told me."
"I's telling you. What kind of a person says 'Nobody told me' when you're telling them? If there's no Audi, Maw, then who is it?"
"I seen movement. In the window. Curtain lifted, then fell. Illegals."
I had completed the section of fence I had been working on. And had hoisted both pots by their plastic handles, and relocated the rags and the cleaning spirit and the sand block. With the brush in my hand I had redistributed the newspapers, trying to mix the layering so that I'd be kneeling someplace fresh.
"Vacation homes is killing Saline County. Should have moved to Richland." Why did that name cause my eyes to shift their focus into the fields beyond? Like I knew it.
"Richland! Don't start again, Maw." Paw's voice was emanating from a grapple beneath the hammock, for a tightener of bourbon. So assertive was his quest that I suspected he might flip. "Richland County is having as lean a season as any. Far from the bonanza it once was down there. Say, d'you remember the billboards, Maw? Billboards wide as buses. Sun rising over young couples in their Sunday finest. Throwing a child aloft in a manner hardly within the health and safety standards. Your Plans Done Found a Friend. Business Town Seeks Business Families. Dreamtime. Now they’re eating Froot Loops outta one another's throat in Richland."
"You're drunk, Paw," Maw had a point. I drew an even load of undercoat down a new slat. "The heads is screwed on in Richland."
"Aw, Maw." Silenced and self-conscious, Paw could only tut. He returned the booze bottle to the grass.
"Heads is screwed on in Richland," Maw piped back across the crackles of an unbegun ragtime. She started repeating this phrase, louder each time, throwing words over the fence like fishing grenades, while her eye kept its patrol.
"Done had a lynching in Richland," Paw interrupted, trying to sound as magisterial and calm as only a drunk would want to. "Young couple strung up inside one a the new builds." Finally, he reconsidered his temperance and opted for a tightener, opening the bottle with an extended pinkie.
"I is pro-choice when it comes to lynching," Maw's voice had all the humanity of unpainted wood. If Paw's bourbon could have paused mid-flow it would have done.
"Am pro-choice on lynching," she repeated. "Should a foreign body impinge on my territory - " Her trigger finger fell along a neat fold of belly insulating her ovaries which, to the woman's credit, had a tattooed silhouette of the Saline County border (an unlovable shape, I always believed. A plain square with a mountainous rupture to its lower west side. Not a icon suggesting the fashion of a benevolent designer), "then I reserve the right to terminate acquaintance forthwith."
Paw stood and attempted to join his wife's vigilance but soon turned weary and frustrated in starts. Physical jerks transformed themselves into the rhythm of a slow jive, there in the shade. "Heads is screwed on in Richland," he began to improvise over the woozy new song, snapping his fingers with a broad smile, "Minoan dead souls. Coming to get me."
"You's doing sarcasm in front of Junior, Paw," Maw also rose to her full height, deciding that she should investigate the open window. "No coming home from Sarcasm Road."
"Boatpeople Phoenicians. They took my anchor baby away." Paw's head began laughing at the sky.
"Jesus himself would turn a gun on you." Without taking her eye off the target, Maw leapt the fence, and scouted her way forward towards the neighbouring house.
"There's pro-life ghosts in Outer Space." Paw was gyrating inside an imaginary hula hoop. "Say, if it's goddamn capitalist activists playing shuffleboard tell them to cut me in." He laughed again.
I traced the excess paint off my brush and back into my can. Between the slats I could watch Maw's manoeuvre along the dirt track, low as she could. She checked to and fro for vehicles and then rushed behind the neighbour's mail box post, hanging open as it was like an empty mouth.
Growing up happens in a heartbeat. One day you're in diapers and next day you're gone. But the memories of childhood are with you for the long haul. A place, a song, a backyard. An American backyard like any other. Nonetheless I knew then, and I knew that Paw knew, despite his lubrication, that our lives might never be the same again.
["Shoulda gone to Bilderberg. Where in tarnation is this?"
"Open another window, Ralph. Pass me the paddle."
"I told you, John. B-group has been compromised for some time."
"Did you know that shuffleboard was invented by King Henry VIII of England, who prohibited commoners from playing?"
"I have a tangible feeling that capitalism is about to break through."
"Not if we stand around here talking about it. Theory this and theory that. We need to be out in the street making a noise, so that the free market message becomes unavoidable."
"But talking is doing something. It's giving people a language they can use to combat anti-capitalism."
"Golden biscuits! Ten points, Ralph. Mark her up, my friend."
"Capitalism doesn't need fancy terminology that alienates people. If capitalism's message is real people will know it in their guts."
"Jesus H. Someone's at the window, John."
"Who the hell is that?"
"You gonna kill me, lady?"]
Maw angled the Ruger into the empty room. "Well, let's see. I can shoot's ya so you stay alive. Just be pooping bullets till Christmas. Which'll it be?"
Subject: Politics | Empire
Time: 2012 Oct 29 17:50:00
a) Money is an IOU. As such, money is debt. The collateral behind every IOU has always been the capacity for violence. The ability to take what is necessary to pay the bearer on demand creates strong credit systems. Any empire failing to display physical domination sees its economic value diminish. Any empire watching its resources pass peak finds a sideline in violence necessary. Coins were originally small pieces of gold and silver given to soldiers, stamped with their charge, to enable them to replenish themselves in far-off regions. Each dominion falls into hierarchies, those who work for military gold, those who don't. Absentee leaders then facilitate the return of gold via taxes (David Graeber, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, 2011)
b) Culture is the ability to flatter or impersonate the empire. Empire colours our definition of value systems, characterises success, language, sexuality. In 'Skyfall' Scotland is glum and bleak. As James Bond blows up his childhood home he claims that he never liked it anyway. Perhaps it's a comment on the last uncoupling of an empire's ventricles. On Scottish independence, a vote is a positive thing, for if a union is not voluntary it is empire. Bond villains are disabled, foreign and essentially stateless. Empire has multiethnic soldiers to show us that empire is not racist.
c) "Comrades," the veteran anarchist Martin Wright slams a fist on the podium numerous times. He's not in a good mood. "This year has been a fucking disgrace." Wright is chunky and aging and looks like big Joe Cabot in Reservoir Dogs. After a golden year of riots and protest with no manifestos or demands, 2012 has been a "disaster". An uncontested Jubilee, "puke-inducing" patriotism during the Olympics. A ruling class worshipped in the streets by morons like "Himalayan god-kings". (I recorded this at the Anarchist Bookfair but condense it and paraphrase). It's enough to make you "totally and absolutely misanthropic". Etonians "belting us left, right and centre". Workers' rights the worst they've been this side of Oliver fucking Twist. So much for unions and the E bloody U. Comrades, enough chattering white males rubbing their beards over Žižek and talking about polyfuckingamory and heterobloodynormative. There's twenty thousand homeless in Tower Hamlets. The only class that sees revolution through is the working class. It's time they were back out there, going toe to toe with the EDL and making the revolution.
d) Empire was inevitable, a feudal move toward blocs. Immigrants with money and better technology? What's not to love? Most Roman soldiers were just men with shovels, keen to build. Empty land, underused resources. Surf it and enjoy, learn from and overtake. Don't fight it and drown. Unaccountable power is the problem, imperial or not. One man's freedom is another's potholes and exposed pipes, last year's text books, inwardness, shrines to pain.
e) ["On 1st September 2012, Andrej and his colleagues established Pret A Manger Staff Union (PAMSU). Although it has official certification, PAMSU has not been recognised by Pret. Shortly after founding the union, Andrej was called to a disciplinary hearing. Pret intentionally mixed up the dates of the hearing so Andrej was not able to attend, and he was sacked in his absence."]
f) Empire generates narrative. The nationalist Irish narrative tells history through its own ambitions. That trouble started when the English invaded about 900 years ago. The English being the Normans, whom the Irish call English, the English call French and the French see as Norsemen. What in England became an issue of class, Irish nationalism can label a national attack by applying a stretch of water and an altered viewpoint. Anyone English fighting Catholic forces eager to keep a Catholic king in power, while they are attempting to establish a parliament, attacks them because they are Irish. Every change that has to cross the Pennines to reach Ireland becomes a colonial act. Deforestation, common law, towns, Protestantism, industrialisation. As far as I know there has never been an Anglo-Saxon invasion of Ireland. The Annals of Ulster, a real time history spanning over a thousand years, speaks of Anglo visitations in terms of 'much feasting, drinking and merriment' and reserves its wrath for Vikings.
g) A drunken Norwegian once hugged me in the Blue Posts. "I want to apologise," he kept saying. For what? "The Vikings!" His little blue eyes looked shocked that I even had to ask. It's all behind us, I replied, patting his back.
h) If we overheard male Ewoks displaying vulgar and sexist views about female Ewoks, or knew that Stormtroopers had gay-friendly quotas, would it change the politics of 'Star Wars'? Can an empire be morally more progressive than a colony or does expansion require a paring down of the permissible?
i) On my desk, someone has left a leaflet for UNISON membership. If I didn't know what a union was, I wouldn't be any wiser. It's a direct debit form with smiling faces on it. I attend a workshop called 'How to form a fighting union with your workmates' run by the Latin American Workers Association. Fighting unions can be free, membership and ballot via social media. My dad was a steward for NUPE, I recall. It seemed bureaucratic. My dad's first wage earned him £7 per week and the rent on his council flat was 50p per week. Net of tax, he probably spent one tenth of his income on housing. If I could even afford a mortgage my entire salary would go straight from an employer to a bank.
j) In "The Accumulation of Capital" Rosa Luxemburg suggests that empire needs to breed pockets of resistance to function properly. Anti-capitalism as a necessary product, like a snapshot of collateral damage or a measured and movable conscience. The terrorist serves to bind us in. Empire as territory may be history. Negri predicts "no exteriority that is conquered and colonised" with increasingly abstract credit and debt systems.
k) Martin Wright is still livid and getting more so. The annus horribilis revealed industrial scale sexual exploitation and brutality inside the public school cloisters of the BBC. Not only that - there's been a ponce in the anarchist movement. He's been pontificating at meetings, banging on about "process" and failing to mention that he's a rapist. The "scene" is attracting perverts and harassers for its "polyfuckingamory". Yet the anarcho-feminist squat scene rallied around. He's a good comrade, Martin. He can be rehabilitated. They even said that we were authoritarian because we wanted to break his legs.
Subject: Review | Oct 2012 | Beauty for the Insane
Time: 2012 Oct 22 12:25:00
A Stoke Newington cemetery at night, where former band mate Mr Inglis has organised the first Stoke Newington Contemporary Music Festival, in St Mary's Old Church. The highlights for me were Ryohei Hirose's Lamentation
(1975) and György Ligeti's Études for Organ
(1967), straining and discordant. All the pieces tested the atmosphere of the setting in some way. Elsewhere sound artist Richard Sides believes that music is the most mutual experience of any artform. We sat around on big silver beanbags and listened to what sounded like two jets simultaneously taking off and landing, an eternal machinic swirl of self-generating change. Then twin Nabokovs - Archway library's Invitation to a Beheading
(1934) and an audiobook of Lolita
(1955). If I were a controversial newspaper columnist I would follow up last week's rousing dispatch ('The worst troll is kinder than a lurker', where I lacerate 'mute and stuck-up thugs' until comments squeak forth from the brickwork) with 'It's time to ban Lolita'. Genteel and educated Jimmy Saviles, riding high on their own enraptured prose, are still Saviles. This column would be designed to divide the minions into art-positive and art-negative, to bedfellow leftish libertarians with right-minded liberals, shake them up and let them confront one another for my pleasure. Inside perfect prose, 'Lolita' concerns a man infantilised by class, class value and bodily repression, looking for the perfect anti-woman and finding it in perfect youth. I found the Kubrick film slow. I didn't share the beguilement, which is probably vital (sex with adults can be childish or vague, what is the pull of daubing and dabbling?) I read the book when I was a teen, closer to Lo than HH, but could empathise sufficiently. I found it a buoyant sensation more than a story. Where the plot thickens I grew weary of it, just as HH grows weary of each nymphet once the narrative of life finds her hips and breasts. Becoming is more interesting than being. Who'd argue with that? 'Beheading' is more Kafka than 'Murphy', produced in a fortnight of existential wash. At times we can sense it entering cartoon whimsy. It's an 'energy unblocker', written in Nazified Berlin, from a prisoner to some inner watchman, a prick to those who pressure us to write properly, but I enjoyed it. There's a little girl in this novel too, who seems to represent all the paradoxes of Final Freedom to the condemned man. 'I saw my head laughing, rolling on the ground', Lou Reed informed us. A drugless trip under Hitler's linden trees. 'I can't get you out of my head', replies Kylie Minogue, in Leos Carax's Holy Motors
(2012). As an air hostess who jumps off La Samaritaine, and the ghost of Jean Seberg, Minogue is very much the paradox of Final Freedom, and fulfills the same role as the former astronaut who can't stop watching the moon in 'Boy Meets Girl', which I saw at the Scala. I lived in a creative household in Hackney where 'Mauvais Sang' ran almost constantly. What happened to Carax? 'Pont-Neuf' had a sheen of expensive emptiness, I thought. Here the poetry is back, and a belief in beauty. Denis Lavant tries on a portmanteau of heads, a lifetime of performing selves in one night, looking for a moment of poetry before he dies. Eva Mendes plays a kind of femme statue hogging all the testosterone as well the oestrogen. Édith Scob, the disfigured daughter in 'Les yeux sans visage', plays his limousine driver. Lavant murders someone, and then disguises the body as himself. As the performing selves peel away, 'Motors' gets saner and more insane. Sliding mirrors, birds with crystal plumage, 'It's a Wonderful Life' on crystal meth. Along with Lynch and Godard you admire the director for simply getting this stuff made and into cinemas. And you wish you were a creative person instead of a working class flunk watching dog fights live from Kazakhstan.
Subject: Photoblog | Sept-Oct 2012 | Food
Time: 2012 Oct 14 21:20:00
1) Kids were giving out paper plates with food drawn on them. In exchange I gave £10 to the charity Mary's Meals, which feeds a child in Benin for a school year. A billion people live on a dollar a day and food prices are set to rise up to 30% due to bad summers. 2) An ex used to frequent a restaurant in Donetsk which sold 'trout in the shape of a squirrel'. I'm not sure why eastern Ukraine feels the need to fashion one animal into the silhouette of another. Is the trout bad luck there? Is the squirrel especially prized? 'Trout in the shape of a squirrel' sounds like a dish Salvador Dali would serve. I thought biomorphic cuisine had blown over but a new Japanese fast food on Goodge Street serves 'banana in the shape of a fish', between trays of chewy takoyaki. 3) Orton Trout. Rationing spending at £5 per day. In some ways subsistence dinners are more memorable than another joyless, rheumy-eyed restaurant. A pre-fame Madonna lived on popcorn. The band This Heat on porridge, squatting in 1970s London with people like Scritti Politti. Joe Orton and partner, making the welfare safety net stretch, swore by a pot of rice, fish and Golden Syrup. Guests like Kenneth Williams were less impressed. I recreated it. A feeble teriyaki. 4) Brinjal masala with mustard and sesame paneer. I roast the aubergine beforehand, so it turns melt-in-the-mouth. 5) Supersmoothies instead of meals. A blitz of spirulina (the Higgs Boson of algae), kelp, spinach, ginger, red apple, banana or what have you. Going to bed hungry proves a gentle way to lose weight and gives the body a chance to rest rather than process food on the nightshift. One's daily energy seems to go supernova. 6) Kerala thali on Brick Lane with former band mates Matt and Sam, who live in a forest outside Melbourne with chickens and, soon, sheep. I feel guilty for the occasional sea life, they'll only eat it if they knew it personally. Petscatarian? I miss them, they're good fun. Others I haven't seen for ages where there. We lounged in the 1001 all day, feasted on muso/Shoreditch hipster conversation. it's like a nine minute piece for cello and kaoss pads david thomas from pere ubu and a mate of merzbow have remixed it already and it's not released until december oh right I saw gilbert and george earlier they stopped their robot stroll and eyed up two young men do they have an open relationship how many gay men can say they had a threesome with gilbert and george erk don't they have a live-in servant some black guy famous people are kinda spoilt for sex but you'd be the same wouldn't you anyway we've hired a church and it's half spoken word and half modern classical are you free on the 20th australian men all want the ideal submissive asian wife my friend says asian women aren't submissive just appreciative leo whetter married holly hernandez what from holly's demo hell in the melody maker that's her no way she reviewed one of my demos she called me a 'one-man ween' oh my god isn't that like a dick no that's a wiener ween were a band
Time: 2012 Oct 09 23:30:00Six lute players waddled through the banquet hall, open legged in white tights. Arcs of tectonic gusset pulled translucent below the risen hems of doublets, the light from an idiot's torch making poised shadows dance on beamed walls as the musicians stop to permit a run of well-oiled men under a tapestry to the restrooms. A cavernous, ceiling-high rack of spits. A slew of eyeballs, smiles and tailoring. Haircuts, bra straps and party hats. Bells on the end. Bells with ball bearings. Gullets contracting like a snake's shuffle westward. Down in one digestion. Mastication till acid. Waiting expressions. The toast. Funnel after funnel of long table, packed Last Suppers stacked with pewter plates and flagons. Men losing jackets, ties, gesticulating wildly. Some turn to take calls. Disappear, never to return, through clamour and magic, ribbing, snigger, pisstake and thwack."Jag, Jag, Jag." I can hear a union of recognisable voices near the centre of one table. Incessant demands from friendly faces, seen through fancy dress, or someone walking on his hands. Faces I remember. Known, friendly.
"Come on Jag, she's a wench." Someone says quite clearly. Kyle Vinall, with a face like a man telling an inverted child that it was fine to undress in front of the cat, because it was a cat. "And it's her fucking job."
Jagruti Jobanputra remained looking down at the roast-grey, denuded bone of a woodcock drumstick. It sprouted like a poor weapon from her hand. "Can't I just throw it over my shoulder? I think that would be more Tudor."
"Against house rules. It's the cleavage or you let the Lightbourne Cork team down." Jagruti failed to meet the wench's gaze. "No pressure, Jag." Blonde and mutely stooped, the waitress already had four greasy woodcock bones pushed into the bin created between her upper breasts. Clearly she had a face, a Slavonic glaze to it, something which mead would turn to a sporting tease before the night's denouement, but I can't remember it. It could be one of thousands. Thousands of faces. In memory, her identity falls off-market, off the canvas.
Finally and swiftly Jagruti raised the woodcock bone and popped it into the bin. "I'm.." She was going to say sorry but chose instead to shriek into a serviette. The cheering of four men ensued, and the small knot at the centre of the Lightbourne Cork table returned to their Christmas supper.
"The Norwegian state pension fund will buy anything that moves at the moment." "My City stock doesn't move. Unless you're wankered."
"Where's Effie Peppas and her new range Range Rover?" "A new range Range Rover isn't much of a 28-year-old woman's car." "I like a Rover." "In London? It says 'I'm my mum', doesn't it?" "But that's the game in those big Greek families. I'm my mum. And my dad. And I'm only 28."
"It's got bullet proof glass, an air purifier for gas attacks and a panic room. But I think that's pretty much standard in that part of Hampstead."
The heat and noise and the greasy breasts made Jagruti bristle. As discretely as possible, she slipped off her jacket, which drew a sideways wink from Kyle Vinall. "Go on," he clucked. What that meant, she didn't know. Where she was going on to, if she really was going to go on, she hadn't scoped out.
She turned to Jay Brinkman and pointed at the ceiling-high oven. "It's not just the cows who are roasting. Is it always overcrowded? Half of Mayfair is here. Who did you just say hello to?" An idiot arrived bearing pike nigiri. "They're all from Nomura. Or were. One of them is Trustee with Gerard Shand's autism charity. We met in Colorado." "You talk about autism while skiing?" "Not habitually."
Jagruti wouldn't stay for the Tudor Disco. Kyle kept ordering fresh flagons and wooden tumblers of something called hippocras and she wanted to keep the evening this side of pleasant. She'd had a perry. When she'd asked a jester for water he replied "Water be dirty, highness". The benches hurt and, although the food was fascinating, Henry VIII had settled into a high chair by the ladies restroom and seemed to be grappling anyone who passed onto his knee, shouting something about a Royal wee.
There were absentees but also clients. Even Christmas suppers on St Katharine Docks could deliver a deal. A top table, partly in an alcove and illuminated by torches, sat aloof from the Last Supper arena. Hardly a minute passed when Jagruti's eyes did not return to it. There seemed an evenness and maturity among the directors and associates. Conversation seemed taut and professional, save for Bernerd Cork's electronic cigar, which moved back and forth in his hand. The managing director smacked his lips through the effervescence of a gin and tonic, allowing Alison Li Ping King and Gerard Shand to take over the sales pitch like a smooth pair of salamanders. Regent Street was going ahead. Big transactions. Serious disposal. The pair of clients in the alcove were well-groomed, dark, reserved. Whispering to one another, which suggested young money. High Net Worth Individuals. Ideally they'd be seeking the glitzy retail of Bond Street. Sitting lease-holders, recognised brands. Chanel. Vuitton. Rents paid from a marketing budget. The stores themselves made a cracking loss. Cork backed Gerard Shand up over something. The clients were possibly reluctant to acquire on Regent Street. Hamleys? I never heard of it. Soft toys? I'm a toy store owner, is that it?
Rarified air. No drunks, jesters or hunchbacks to rape the atmosphere. No jugglers flipping batons to and fro above their heads. No competition. Six months after passing her probation and the middle table was hell, and there was no bottom end to turn to.
"They're alright. They've made their money. They do it for sport." Someone had been watching Jagruti's covetous look. Was it me? I was there. I was there before I found the truth, before my life had meaning. "After thirty years it's what keeps you going."
My colleague didn't seem embarrassed to be miles away, to be disappointed by her lot. She had keen young eyes and, although a conservative woman, she had a kind of hazy shamelessness.
Who else isn't here? "Where's Dustman?"
"Duster Dave." Someone raised a drink off the table. "Nifty Fifties Duster." Dave, East End office boy, spreadsheet jockey, deliverer of by-hand tenders around the City, Mayfair and St James. He worked out cheaper than the annual bill for cycle couriers, took a camera with him on his rounds, claimed to have studied art.
"Never comes out." "Always something happening in a warehouse in Hackney. We're just not good enough." Kyle Vinall gargled. "Making porn the dirty bastard. Jay, should we invite Duster on the Thai revenge tour?" Was it still on for April? "You're fucking joking. Duster's game for anything."
The pike made Jagruti thirstier for water. "Why is it always Thailand? Why do you guys never go to, I don't know, Malaysia?"
---oOo---How do materialists know they're here? When do they realise they're only serving chemistry?
"Whoa. Half of that is ample." Kyle Vinall was racking cocaine with a Coutts card and finding it troublesome. I was seated on a toilet bearing menus like an offering plate, elbows locked into my thighs. All restroom surfaces seemed to have been refitted at 45 degrees.
Skipping the roast beef with Dutch sauce and black bread. Veg be for farmers, highness.
He held the tooter to my nostril. "Knock it back, son. I'm on a flight to Atlanta at midnight. Everything must go. Ever tried crack?" With a sour throat, I denied that I had. "It's so wrong. You feel indestructible. Like you can go through walls. I was walking up and down the Champs-Élysées like fucking Robocop."
---oOo---"Laksha, you are not having a party. Six people are a party. I don't know. Over three. Over three is a party. I know I don't live there anymore but I have every right. It is my business. It is my business. I'm coming ground. I'm coming round. While mum and dad are in Barbados it is my business. Is the Newham boy there? What do you mean which one, the one who knows about four words? I'm coming round, Laksha. He's not a boyfriend. Forget that. Four words is not a boyfriend. Four words is a mynah bird."
A surprise smattering of stars in the highest points of the sky. Unseen magnetism from millions. Irradiance, corona, wind. Prominence, ejection. Birth, mass, plasma. Luminosity, dimming, weakness. Jagruti watched the screen of her Android go black. Jagruti had sister issues.
Was it snowing? It felt like it was about to. Like the first flakes were falling and she had yet to see them. Wound up and glad of the air, she leaned back against the exterior wall of the banquet hall, amongst the orange brume from quayside lanterns. Nearby, boutique restaurants and retail, flat screen displays advertising designer new builds to no-one in the night. Concept store, atelier. The silent suck of water peeling off the quayside and a shaking a short row of moored boats. She considered going for a walk. She was considered leaving, to be honest.
"Maths or chaos?" Startled by a male voice, she had assumed she was alone out here. Soon she could make out the tip of Bernerd Cork's electronic cigar, wavering towards her in the darkness. "Up there. Maths or chaos? I say maths. I think we have to." He seemed to be coming from the car park, a travel bag slung across his body. His hangdog jaw raised to stargaze.
Was the managing director agnostic? She hadn't stopped to think about it, but quietly assumed most people were. Most people tended to be people who didn't think about it. There were at least three observant Jews at Lightbourne Cork and a chummy Anglican not a mile off retirement, who bell-rang at weekends in Essex, and whose name was Duncan. He looked after the Church of England Commissioners' portfolio, a quiet jewel in the firm's crown.
"You settled in?" Cork had attended one of her interviews. "How's the world of student accommodation?"
"Big. I thought I'd drawn the short straw but everyone wants to throw money at it. Syndicates. Private equity."
"I told you. Foreign wealth magnet. One thing we can do in this country is teach. Not that I had much of it. More a doer than a thinker. You need a PhD to pull a latte these days. Always thought Indians had brains, I must say."
"China has the IQ."
Bernerd Cork winched. "Pocket calculators. Indians have a humanity about them. I can tell you now that I want that Kotak bid to go through and if the Indian government can handle it you, my girl, are laughing."
"I can't say I want any bid to go though."
"There's no last-in-first-out at Lightbourne Cork. Never has been. Talent is stardust. It's just.. her." Bernerd Cork's eyeballs strained out and around some invented corner to their left, hemming them both in. Then he repeated it, low. "Her." The word boiled to a gargle. The light on his e-cigar faded. "Bloody maniac. Christ knows where her head is this week."
He recomposed himself by backing into the shadows. "There's one thing I haven't seen from you yet. Something you lack." Both waited in silence. "'Oh what, Bernerd?'" He gestured for her to repeat the question, which she did with the beginning, but not the completion, of a laugh. What was wrong with Jagruti Jobanputra, then? Would it be prudery or earnestness? She was working on her office humour and swearing. Anything she offered would incriminate her, she decided. She had a sudden urge to break out and shock, but the darkness had already decided. "Risk".
Risk was work-related. Something she could navigate. "It's a cautious environment, Bernerd. Our own goodwill is an asset that needs managed. People are losing clients over basic stability."
"Precisely." Somewhere out there, the tip of Bernerd Cork's e-cigar returned to life. "It's the virgin spring. The thaw before a run." She could hear him exploring along the quayside. "I've given my life to Asset Man. I cut my teeth in wilder times. God knows I miss them. I only ever had one rule. Don't nail people to the floor. Don't hold them back. 'If in doubt, make the deal'. London deals don't need to be made in London any more. That's how it's gone. There's banks that just exist in people's heads and a web server. Something's coming, Jagruti. That ripening moment when a screwball sees the light and redefines risk across a whole new landscape. Oh, they'll face flak. Vainglorious know-nothing. It's good to know nothing. That's how snowballs begin."
His glum profile returned to the visibility of the orange brume. Bernerd Cork coughed hard several times. "I'm not a well man, Jagruti. There'll be announcements in the New Year. But I can tell you now and give you my word, in a clear, heartfelt way that your job is safe." He inhaled slowly through his nose and exhaled through his mouth. "It's her."
Jagruti Jobanputra sensed a kind of otherworldly empathy from Bernerd Cork, like he read her thoughts and could even lead them. Empathy, she decided, over the long term, was how one got to and stayed at the top table.
---oOo---The fig and mint pokes finally arrived. Everyone was hammered. Those who had earlier offered to give the hammered a lift home were themselves hammered. Someone shot ice cream at someone on the ex-Nomura bench and they returned volley. A fanfare of trumpets introduced a cavernous and wooden whump-whump. The Tudor Disco was starting.
As the Lightbourne Cork table unpacked for the dancefloor or home, Kyle Vinall was observed gesturing with two fingers, mouthing silently over a pack of cigarettes. He'd looked pleased with himself since Jagruti's return. The fingers returned to his eyes. Then one dropped to point at her then rotated one eighty degrees to indicate the top table. Kyle's eyes closed and he wriggled in pantomime disgust.
A new bardic satire for the kitchenette dressing rooms, the watercooler wings of the office on Monday. Jag's banging Corky. I heard they went to second base in a shared taxi. I heard it was a humjob on the night bus. Ooh la llama. Naïve bitch. It's a material world. Vintage Jermyn Street boxer shorts.
* Like Karmic return or a bootboy's retribution, a bomb was about to fall somewhere from the sky. Heavy news, built to kill. The hard lock of car doors along the slip road to the docks. A sheaf of warrants in a folder. They want it discrete and they want it tonight - the detectives, the three officers and the lawyer with them.
Bernerd Cork was arrested at the cloakroom, asking for his own overcoat. The navy Chesterfield and his car were impounded as potential evidence. No-one saw him again, except via Skype. When he was released from prison on compassionate grounds he flew to family in New Zealand, and he died there.
Jagruti Jobanputra, long departed from the banquet hall in a black cab, spent the weekend throwing up.
Subject: Review | Sept 2012 | Immoral Inspiration
Time: 2012 Sep 21 22:55:00
Apologies for the infinite reviews. Inspiration for fiction yet to rekindle and I can’t afford a holiday, to write about that. I spend my evenings in a small subsidised gym where fellow employees complain about freezing wages and Olympic rents. "I can’t even afford a beer
," puffs one. We cross-train for something to do. Lift weights in the absence of a life. Never thought I’d be an erratic or blocked voice. I’m flat-sitting soon. Elsewhere can help, I feel dirty in this room. I have signed a new tenancy because I have nowhere else to go but I don't write anything useful in this room any more. So, now-dead filmmaker Owen Land (aka George Landow)'s Dialogues
(2007-9) was an opus of NSFW "Platonic dialogues to explore the themes of reincarnation, art criticism and Tantra". Reconstructed bedroom banter that peppered his life. Misc hippy actors slouch and bumble as Land. Surreal porn and Hollywood pastiche. Does there come a point when nostalgia stops being sorrowful and becomes all one has? Post-stroke, will a dying man see women as life itself? Land seems to enjoy his own erudite/sexual banter with them (sort of stoner Woody Allen/Diane Keatons) as much as he enjoys mythologizing himself. Structurally inventive, the solipsism of a male creative lacking a narrative seems to loom large. Then I read a borrowed contemporary novel: Brief Interviews with Hideous Men
(David Foster Wallace, 1999). Wallace, genius to some, suicidal charlatan to others. He can turn a phrase, build spare macro examinations of everyday incidents which invite you to ask "But why tell me this?" Because there's a fold where poetry appears? He seems to have a Radioheadish outlook – flaky, fractured. Do I fear that hip, left-field novelists will essentially be Radiohead? Pain as a 'response' to the world. We’re too media saturated; shallow consumerism leaves us self-hating (lose yr TV); our personal narratives are not rich enough; medication (misery a matter of Freudian moms and dads rather than economic equality and affirming, two-way love. Things which encourage politics and who wants to read that?) Masculinity weaves through these fragments. Missing masculinity. Dads. Kidults unable to become real men. The male as alien. George Carlin said that male is stupid and female is crazy and the sooner we admit it the better. Perhaps to be male, successfully, involves a stupidity DFW couldn’t quite master. To an all-dayer of dumb at 'Day of the Giallo', where we examined the difference between lurid 'classic Giallo' (masked killer, a chain of central characters shown sticky ends), Chamber Giallo (locked-room, pressure cooker headstagger around a deep-minded matriarch) and Gothic Giallo (myriad mental landscapes, a psychedelic Repulsion). What was refreshing, after moralising brick wall opinion over some internet comment hole or other, was to immerse in immoral work that looked me right in the eyes and couldn't give a fuck. 'Strip Nude for Your Killer' is not a moral film. Pulp reminds you that there’s more to expression than doing the right thing. When did culture become a primary school teacher? When did inspiration tend borders rather then cross them? Mario Bava's 'Blood and Black Lace
’ (1964) is still, poetic camp. In an isolated maison de haute couture, supermodels are being stabbed and strangled with their own stuck-up knickers. What’s not to love? Calm down, chauvinism hunters, the masked killer is probably another lassie (a typical Yellow twist). Scooby Doo meets Psycho, I used to think Italians were impossibly sexy. Then I moved to London and met some. Frustrating if you’re the type of person who takes people seriously. As per The Revenger’s Tragedy
(Unknown/Middleton?, 1606) at the Red Lion Theatre. 'Body count' is a very 80s term. Volumetrics, depersonalised meat, a colourful callousness. There's a high body count in this cynical Jacobean tragedy, relocated to the deregulated money of the City in the 1980s. The plot's arc is this: begin dark, darken to dark dark and then go on. We open with someone called Vindice plotting to kill a Duke who poisoned Vindice's beloved because she rejected his advances. Her skull waits like a vanitas. The Duke ends up in court but overrules, establishing corruption and reciprocal revenge, while each of his sons use the circumstances to make themselves their father's replacement. The 'sons' are bankers. Bastards. First-borns, heirs. By previous marriages. Middle ones and runts. Competing like testosterone wasps around a patriarchal hive. The labyrinth of ambition threatens to lose me but I zone in for the cocaine, pulsing synth pop, incest, black bed sheets with big red pillows and blindfolded S&M. Not very English, I thought, as a MILF and a DILF did it doggy style to celebrate a cut throat. Italianate, trendy, Dionysian. Jack Morris shines as Lussurioso, a pint-sized reptile East Ender with red braces, gold chunkies and a taste for the stomping sherbert. Steve Davis meets Joe Pesci, an obtuse screwball it's hard to take your eyes off. Every 80s trope is here - even a sexually confused small town boy trying his luck in the big city (the Revenger's brother) and when Lussurioso comes onto him on a dance floor, the innocence of Yazoo's 'Only You' feels sullied. You don't need a masters in Merchant Ivory to see homo-erotica in male violence. One preened chap grappling another. Lussurioso gets shanked in the neck and strangled for dessert, left in a nasty twitching heap of pastel and grey patent leather. We can almost see the coiled spring of his spiritually empty life exit through his mouth and pogo about like a sad-eyed, slo-mo Zebedee.
Time: 2012 Sep 16 22:59:00
Song sketches for the 920 staff (thus far) of Larne's FG Wilson, whose jobs are moving to China. We're competing with nations who have no human rights, let alone labour laws. I don't know the answer but it's not corporation tax. I'm left enough to be pro-nationalisation. Rebreathe 66.6% of our own wealth. Buck this brainless trend for 'cheap'. The world is now too wide not to hothouse. Start with all banks, all property and all transport. These songs need guitar parts and harmonies we didn't get time for. I wish we'd come together further as songwriters. Longy's wife Gillian worked for Wilson's and their daughter Truly loves these songs. I think they're half baked but it's up to her.
Subject: Photoblog | Larne and East Belfast, 2012
Time: 2012 Sep 11 17:40:00
1. A sunny freshers' fortnight at Queens and the neighbouring Botanical Gardens. My nephew is beginning Actuarial Science. 2. The house I grew up in on the Craigyhill estate is now occupied by my sister. The eight foot promotion for the film 'Ted' is not an original feature, but makes the property more attractive to first time buyers. 3. Once a local mural promoted the UFF, then morphed into a subtle sepia portrait of the parliamentarian Oliver Cromwell. It now depicts a scene no reasonable man could find contentious: British forces peace-building at gunpoint amongst the children of Iraq. 4. 'Trueprod2k11' is an experimental play constructed entirely out of abuse hurled by 44 encrypted commenters under the YouTube clip "Belfast riots: video of Irish youths attacking police vans". The brickwall hate was fascinating. So dramatic it ceased as drama. Do you actually get the internet in your gypsy fucking caravan? We'll be the majority soon, hun, then watch out. Fuck off to your mates in Israel. Our mates Israel are giving us a nuke long before you're the majority you stinking paedophile fenian bastard. Noël Coward it wasn't. 5. Beigefinger. Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell is an artist who lives, breathes and loves beige. Only beige. She loves beige. 6. The Belfast 'Walking Meditation' group. Ahead of us, Bronagh and Sue Ellen rang kinhin bells and dropped flowers for disbelieving Nissan Qashqais on the Newtownards Road. Meditators regulated their breathing to supplement connectivity to the Earth via their feet, and read poems of appreciation for everything the Earth offers us, at the sites of former punishment beatings. We paused at a bus shelter to indulge in 'Conscious Eating' of apples, savouring the sweetness and considering the elements, from the sunshine to a simple truck driver, that brought every apple into the Here and Now. I had to sign consent to be filmed for a documentary by Elvina Porter McCullough. I do hope it's not a hatchet job. 7. Sheltering from rain in the lovely Linen Hall Library, wondering if the Zen stress on 'Here and now' can share a bed with Nabokov's 'Speak, memory'. Can decent fiction be written not out of recall, fear or wish fulfillment but sourced entirely from some kind of present consciousness? An epic fantasy of present consciousness? 8. Local songs for local people. Recording a cycle of Larne-set pop songs with old friend Ian at local studio Red7, run by former punk mucker Gareth Long.
Subject: Fear Myself (the Cast, Shakespeare, 1623-2012)
Time: 2012 Aug 03 19:45:00
A guided tour around Richard III's nightmare, in a crypt near Chancery Lane, by the company behind 'The Maids'. A 'promenade piece', the audience file through catacombs from darkness towards each freshly lit grave. Follow the immersive action, or are intruded by it. Under the sound of an air raid, the industrial churn of engines. When each spotlight dims we are supposed to remain still, alone with the thought: "I'm in an actual crypt. The lights are off. It's cold. The doors are locked." The baseline for this work is therefore void, the canvas is extinction.
Through dry ice, Richard hunches around, occasionally confronting a kind of 'Inner Richard', an atrocity exhibition representing his own body hate, a skeletal Gollum with rickets, Iggy Pop's The Idiot bending out through holes in the brickwork. He's disconcerting for a lunch hour. Minutes ago you were choosing popcorn in Pret. Now your back is against a wall in Bedlam. It's fucking terrifying. Inner Richard is the opposite of the free spirit. Inner Richard is confined, cancerous and corrupting. Outer Richard has love issues. He's a tyrant, a baby and a black hole sapped and sapping of empathy. There's a lot of weeping women in the catacombs, just to brighten the mood. Loves abandoned under a mocking duvet, blood-soaked mothers who wish to slay offspring if they be he. There's a mad author wandering around, a paper-shredding Shakespeare, a stand-in Willy who eventually gets to meet and lock horns with his own creation. It's not pretty. Mustering his ghostly troops, Outer Richard eventually blames the problems of the world on women, for women make men. Seeing the whole picture, then.
Here, Richard stands for anyone 'not comfortable in their own skin' (although men with self-hate usually become sadists, women masochists) and this chilling remix of Shakespeare manages to turn personal torment into a political and universal statement. With the liberal use of ambition and monarchy, sure. But also by pitching body horror against the cold void, every word our King utters sounds spoilt. How blind and unappreciative the living are! Never satisfied. But it's about more than bodies. Or, at least, the body gives birth to the social corpus. You emerge from the crypt to finish your lunch in a quiet park with shop floor financial workers. They seem humane enough, everyday banking folk. Where does the endless non-satisfaction of capitalism source its fuel? What model does it follow? If we reclaimed the body would it function at all?
Why does low key, experimental theatre seem to make everything fresh again? Solange, in the 'The Maids', became a proto-rock'n'roll figure for me. In her face we see working class dreams of revolution. Pete Townshend tries a Rickenbacker
, John Lydon's smile when first handed a microphone. Lydon was very Richard III. Ugly power and expression, turned tables. In the royal court, the dislocating callousness of human value offers no benefit, the only GPS through it being daily self-termination, murdering mummy night after night.
Subject: Unity & Einbildungskraft in Hegelian Sublimity
Time: 2012 Jul 27 21:15:00
Ridding myself of boxes filled with misc. I find a kind letter from a literary agent. I regretted sending Corbeau
to an agents and didn't pursue the matter. I could feel the fun bleed out of the exercise with every lick of a stamp. It wasn't written as a 'book', really, and shouldn't need another stage for its artistic confirmation. It used this medium, for better or worse. It feels like it was written 'for' the reader so much that it is no longer my intellectual property, somehow. A very different draft could be turned into a book but I can't be bothered heading back there. I think I write 'better' now but the trade-off is bodily, libidinal energy. I used to think I had a dozen to fifteen fictions in me. Now I just think.
Who was Rowan Routh? I remember getting a queer sensation in the mid brain knowing that my imagination was in someone else's. It felt mildly illicit. Is she still compos mentis? Both her Twitter and Facebook accounts seem vacant. Hold on, here she is at the opening of House of Voltaire
. Mostly, she returns in searches as the wife of someone called Rupert Sanderson, who seems to be the British Manolo Blahnik. They've just had their third child. Here's Rowan and Rupert skating at Somerset House
. Then a perfect Parisian weekend
with Kristin Scott Thomas, before 'downing magnums of Pol Roger' with Anna Wintour and Samantha Cameron. They look like a tasteful, well-heeled (no pun intended) Chelsea couple, but not unfriendly.
Into the shredder, fella. I've seen bloggers turn to real fiction or features, and somehow the life seems to leave their voice. They put on an 'official' tone to do it 'properly' (ie like everyone else). Maybe I should write for people who never read. Marginals. Up it from 3D to 4D, instead of trying to flatten it. The book industry don't own words.
Subject: Dark Hedges (Elaine Agnew, Prom 28)
Time: 2012 Aug 04 19:10:00
The Dark Hedges is a long country lane in County Antrim where 300-year-old beech trees have folded into one another, clasping across the road like fingers. It makes a fine spooky photo for the aspiring Tim Burton. A new classical composition inspired by the lane, written by my former schoolmate Elaine Agnew, was the centrepiece of BBC Prom 28, the regional Prom from Northern Ireland.
I like the idea of shire culture. When this year of sporty nationalism is done, like a last night of the Proms and a history lesson that lasts forever, perhaps the small differences and marginality of regions will feel exotic. Dorset rock. Antrim noir. Who needs one nation under multinationals, banks and businesses threatening to leave if they don't get their way? Samey flags and brass band anthems that bear no resemblance to anything indigenous. Nations were invented in the 1700s by a gaggle of admirals at a John Thomas-swinging face-off on the Barbary Coast. From the artificial carve-up of Africa to spot-welded clans with a history of more partition not less, nations made sense to save on colonial administration, secure trade points for mercantile capitalism and cultivate commonality vis-à-vis the globe's new finitude. Nations are attack dogs, bred for a fight. Half brand, all framework. Local flavour is source.
There are a lot of old hippies in leather waistcoats strewn across the floor of the Albert Hall. I think the Proms might have been hip for a while, with hippies. "Soft Machine rock, man, but nothing beats an hour of Stravinsky on Moroccan Gold." Stravinsky's 'Firebird' closes the Prom and is growly, ominous, narrative and knows that beauty needs to contain strangeness but not be overdone by it. The hippies nod in approval. The event began with Chabrier's swaggering 'España' and a Mozart flute concerto, busy as a bumblebee and about as heavy.
Elaine's composition is for two orchestras (the Ulster Orchestra and Ulster Youth Orchestra) battling a solo flute. It's got to be Galway. Right enough, Sir James, looking serious and old, in a sombre black shirt, arrives to much applause. Without fuss he whips and ascends through the Mozart like a hot flute through butter. Surrounded by the NI diaspora, thur wee accents, did I get pangs of nationalism? I dunno. I worry about inclusivity and triumphalism. I worry about bursting into a rasping Ulster catcall, "Yer blowin' the wrong end, Jim!", "Derry's Walls, son!" Some such hilarity. I'm not a totally detached salamander, though. I got a lump-in-throat, fingers-crossed feeling when Elaine's turn arrived.
'Dark Hedges' is disconcerting, alienated, panicky and space age. Like an earthbound cloud, abrupt lightning whips us, bowed cymbals soak us in woe. Little respite or emotion. Strangled emotion. Buried. Disappeared. Big Jim goes missing from the stage and pops up in the stalls, tootling like a trapped blackbird. Some UYO kids dissolve the piece into percussion: a thing that looks like a massive Slinky sitting on a theramin, and a thing you spin around your head and it goes whoo-whoo-whoo. The hippies sit up, they think it's Christmas. Sir Jim appears in another stall, his blackbird finding some light. There's a false ending, or something. It all rises and races towards an abrasive, choking climax.
Christ. Antrim noir. Local culture. I wanted more. It felt condensed. Elaine comes out and takes a bow to much whistling and good will. She was a lovely schoolmate (we analysed Johnny Marr arpeggi) and deserves success. (I head back into town on a bus covered in Union Jacks, past taxis covered in Union Jacks, under bunting, then past Jamie Oliver's new 'British pizza' restaurant, called Union Jacks). Does culture still come from the land, anyway? Can local culture happen in a globally branded world? Will it keep Scotland within the UK? When did self-obsession get sexy? Haven't the coolest British people always looked outwards? Adventurers, Orientalists, Occultists. Why do I ask so many questions?
Subject: The Maids (Jean Genet, 1946)
Time: 2012 Jul 20 10:25:00
There's a wonderful production of a Jean Genet play on until Saturday above the Lion and Unicorn pub in Kentish Town. Two maids, in a skewered-looking fin de siècle parlour, play games while 'Madame' is out. They take turns pretending to be their employer-owner, introducing sadomasochism, table-turning and rudimentary cosplay. Then, for real, they plot to murder her.
No prizes, it's all about class (one maid, Solange, seemingly representing the working class; the other, Claire, the middle) but what does Genet, and this interpretation, do with such a rich analogy? The women are both in emotional pain, neurotic and partly living in another place altogether. Not really alive at the core of their lives. Kelly Winch is magnificent as the bent, cap-touching, working class hand-wringer who defers to the bourgeoisie the most and also dreams of the wildest power swings. Kooky eyes and a desire to melt into the background, but put a riding crop into her hands and a whole continent of untapped emotion comes flooding out. Katy Mulhern, as Claire, 'plays' more confidently, evenly and respectably, and receives praise and reward from Madame for her sensitivity. Despite being the younger of the maids, she thinks that responsibility (e.g. for poisoning the tea) lies with her. 'Leader', she knows that she is equally as bent.
Madame appears in the second half, played by a man, which stirs some sexual politics into the mix. Originally Genet asked for all the characters to be played by men, which doesn't make sense. Madame is funny, fey, annoying, perfume-spraying and serves to remind us of how souped up 'femininity' and powdered 'bourgeois' cross over. A whole other thesis, I guess. There is a plot and it does hook you, but also allows enough space for the women's chicken coop ramble. I did wonder if a pair of twenty-two year olds could fully understand the class dynamite they were handling, especially since their social media pages show them as Jägerbomb compliant just-grads, but that's a grumpy duffer talking.
Is everything from pub brawls to BDSM to DWP suicides a class howl that cannot even recognise itself? Why do we hurt each other when we could be taking action? "Love between slaves is not love." 'The Maids' rings time on the schizophrenia but can it brew a solution? In this instance, it doesn't try. Deep sea psychology, class analogy, lacey David Hamilton style erotics, gentle kink and perfect acting. I actually felt embarrassed about only paying £15 for such a transporting night in an intimate venue.
Time: 2012 Jul 14 15:50:00
Playing angular stop-starty Bastille Day math rock with some beardy lecturers tonight, at the Aces & Eights whiskey bar, Tufnell Park. Discover - the truth about the women of Friedrichshain! Ruminate - on the parallels between Technological Rationality and the common falafel! Marvel - at the 13/8 time signature! Swoon - to 19th Century Love Songs! She's got a pretty instep and she's pretty in step with me.
Fold up soaked flags, cancel your slowmo jingo dressed as a philo on human greatness, and strap yourself to the surface-to-air Rapier of fun!
Subject: Entertainment! Anatomy of a Sex Pest
Time: 2012 Jun 25 19:11:00
My favourite comedian on the comedy course was probably Hamid. I should like Gavin. Gavin was Clever. Seriously witty fellow. But Hamid did something simple and dangerous. There's a special genius involved in twisting 'hate comedy' into itself. To make black people laugh at racism, or make women laugh at sexism. Hamid had a room full of straight people laughing about his hatred for straights.
This postscript is about Guy, who illuminated the class like a neon sore thumb. He toned down his final act at the insistence of Mr Cee. In the class he crossed every line going, and took his endless sexual references off stage into touching, stroking, propositioning and following the women. We rolled our eyes and privately complained but didn't make a deal of it. We were actively told not to hold back or be judgmental. We know that people deserve a creative space to try things out. It's a comedy class. Lighten up.
Although I don't disagree with any of that, or even want to express hatred for his behaviour (mere rejection seems lazy), or for the highly sexed in general, I’m curious as to why Guy is as he is. In case he does show up on Crimewatch one day, and it is thereupon revealed that he used to crack jokes about forcing sex on drunks with jarring vividness and no-one said anything about it, at least I've put it on record.
If we are to take him at face value, he lives here illegally. But has decided to go ‘legal illegal’ (an act of commitment and a rung up), by attaining a false passport from a Nigerian. (The class had a lot of jokes about foreigners, often cracked by foreigners). My first thought, that this dish-washing, ice-cream selling Brazilian straight out of the back of the lorry has his sexuality compounded by a lack of a sense of belonging. That just as comedy would be a way to ingratiate himself to the host nation, there is an accompanying psychosexual need for fusion rendered by outsiderdom. But a lot of the class were immigrants, and none had Guy’s problem.
Guy attends a lot of training courses on vacuous capitalism. He wants to be rich. Money guru Robert Kiyosaki style. Employment is for suckers. Schools should teach financial literacy. Bypass highly punished earned income in favour of portfolio and passive income. Pay as little tax as humanly possible. The bright can get it to 0%. If that’s what the state incentivises you must stop swimming against the stream. Guy has his head screwed on. My second guess was that such an environment, which stresses entitlement and aggressive selling, transforms him into a cold engine.
My next guess was familial. He seems to have little to say to other males. Was the constant attention on women something to do with a mommy fixation, was daddy a São Paulo blaggard? Yet there seemed something performative about it, as if it was being done for male eyes. Dominance of intent, even in the face of rebuff. He almost seems to enjoy rebuff, with a BDSM glint in his eye. It fuels him on.
Perhaps it is hormones, disinhibited. Does the gay scene even have
sex pests (as opposed to stalkers)? Surely they’d simply be 'busy'. Popular. Grindr-heads. "It's not Bejeweled, Hamid." Keely says. "You don't have to do all
of them." The straight sex pest hints at a gulf between male and female outlooks. Unlike Hamid’s lumpy, frumpy, hillbilly straights with their sad-eyed rumpo, Guy is fairly 'scene' himself - vain, toned, a non-drinker. Primed and prepared for the hardcore waiting around every corner. Just handicapped, perhaps, by the wrong sexuality. Every straight male asking for a dance is a sex pest, I guess, until the word 'No'. Sex pest, better than 'ignored'.
I don't believe that Madeleine McCann lives in his basement. Or that he was expelled from the BNP. Perhaps it is, finally, a full time parody. He chooses to lead prejudice rather than follow it. He's pretending to be the thing we think he must be, to leave us with the creeping feeling that the joke is on us.
Subject: Entertainment! Showcase
Time: 2012 Jun 23 10:32:00Brilliantly written. Too well written. You wanted to not laugh so you could hear the next bit. Too aggressive. Really picked the energy up. You did well in a weird slot.
Post performance thoughts: I made 120 people laugh! I made them laugh during the 'graveyard shift'. Near end of evening. Friday. Strike day. Oppressive, wet, hot. All comedied out. I wanted to bond the room and bring the energy up to an unholy pitch. I made it laugh at least.
What did I learn? I learned that, with stern predictability, insomnia will always visit. Before hot dates, exams, interviews and comedy showcases. And that no amount of B12, Taurine, yogic breathing or press-ups can make up for a proper night's sleep. I paced around all day not eating, a stomach buzzing with adrenaline. I learned that people in the front rows have a wonderfully sweet 'don't pick on me' expression when you make eye contact. I learned that people have different tastes. Some wet themselves during 'Pirate Doctor', others during 'EDF Energy Bill'. Later, one beautiful, alien-looking blonde girl told me she couldn't get 'Larne Mayor' out of her head, although she didn't laugh laugh.
I learned, over the weeks, that I don't respond to tough love, finger wag or drill sergeant as much as clear advice. Working out how intelligent people do something successfully. I learned that the process is as enjoyable as the outcome. Docusoap classroom bonding. Tears, fears, hugs and breakdown - love it. I learned what I always learn about learning. I begin on a high. Shine, back off and coast. Capitulate later, to eventually attain a respectable 70% capacity after battling teachers' advice.
This time, I did as I was told. I introduced myself. Engaged. Admitted how we're all feeling. Bit of background. Enter the meat. Shake up the meat. Emotionally connect with the words (otherwise it's just a list of stuff). I would have been happier talking about the economy more than me me me. Osborne next time. I learned that every classroom contains diverse elements and that advice appropriate to the majority can push a minority off the edge. 'Don't concern yourself with political correctness'. Great advice for some, less so the pathological sex pest. Hurrah! A few future stars in the green room:
Subject: Goldsmiths and Camberwell Degree Shows 2012
Time: 2012 Jun 16 23:03:00
Nudes and semi-clads. Fauns dance through loops and drones. Veiled lesbians pinkwash Islam. Ghost estates in County Kerry. A Hell's Angels clubhouse. Drills, human bones and Satan worship. Steppenwolf. Spoof YouTube how-to videos. "How To Open A Window". Doors that humiliate you when you enter. "In Loving Memory of Hilary Donald". Multiplying Merkels.
Subject: CSM Degree Show 2012
Time: 2012 Jun 15 20:41:00
Boudicea's battle ash, the colour of burnt clay, dug up under St Pancras. Machine oil in perspex. The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Clay trees. Grenades made of KA and San Pellegrino. 20,000 dress makers pins. Lampshades designed to melt. The massive new Central Saint Martins building in Kings Cross - which threatens to overwhelm the work at times.
Subject: Entertainment! Week Six
Time: 2012 Jun 15 20:40:00
The showcase next Friday is sold out. Get on a stage, they say, and you will never be short of friends or partners. Already people are inviting us to other try-out nights and passing us email addresses. Music is great for a social life - stand-up doesn't even require the lugging of instruments! I don't mind being a loner, but my classmates do good repartee and the comedy world seems to be pan-social class. Which is good. I prefer a mix.
This week we examined microphone technique and rehearsed our final act. Mr Cee gave us detailed feedback. Private one-to-ones are happening next week. I was told I looked confident and had a lot going on. Not bothered if I go over heads, there are a plenty of dick jokes already. Happy to unleash even more performative depth, real madness, but it could be too rich and staged for a five minute slot. Going from nought to sixty, sitting on a stool in a classroom to parading some kind of inner beast, isn't easy. That ability, ultimately, is entertainment. We pay for instant devils. Closing advice: every joke has a victim, people. Ask yourself who it is and why. Rate your jokes, make them flow. Remember an emotional connection to your words. Otherwise it's just a list of stuff. Give us your point of view. Rewrite. Refine. Refine.
Time: 2012 Jun 14 11:55:00When the rains clear I am going back across the park. The forecast for the midday is good.
I have been dressed and ready to leave for some time, sitting on the edge of a perfectly made bed, facing the Soutine (painted in 1923 and entitled 'Side of Beef and Calf's Head'). At the height of Montmartre art prices, the artist locked himself into a room for a year, painting meat. Meat was not unknown as still life fare, but he claimed that painting flesh dissections and missing skin was the only way a man could truly rid himself of anger. What was he angry about? Perhaps being in one piece, after the Great War.
The painting hangs in an unremarkable place, on a small span of wall between our walk-in wardrobe and the long, modernist window which overlooks the southern Paris streets and the low frontiers of the park. The rest of our (I still say 'our') modest art collection seems to regard the Soutine a little mindfully. I know nothing about painting. I know I'm a landscape man. My wife bought 'Side of Beef' at an auction, on a whim, following an inheritance that came to her in 1985, an inheritance she wished to rid herself of. It cost sixty eight thousand US dollars. Perhaps the flayed skull, the steak poking through with bending yellow bones, the port-coloured blood congealed into veins, reflected my wife's own sense of anger. The Soutine became the most valuable item in our house. It is now worth more than the house itself by a considerable margin. It quietly dominated our mindset, I believe. Grew like a surrogate master in the corner of our eyes, as if mixed feelings had managed to fertilise themselves, take root and evolve into something profound.
A good woman, my wife overlooked our personal differences with discretion and an understanding nature. Our life together tended towards mutual respect and a day-to-day busyness that I miss. I was never a passionate man. I think her own passion for the arts served as a kind of exorcism. She collected memories of passion. In novels and operas. The light jokes she made about my conservative nature and my riverside watercolours only cloaked the fact that she herself was colder than she pretended. When she passed away in a third floor room at Hôpital Cochin I simply stood up and began to clear her bedside cabinet, sweeping tablets and travel toiletries into an unused waste basket lined with a flimsy white plastic bag that could not take the weight and eventually came apart.
The largest cloud out there, its whale grey belly turning and emptying itself over north Paris, has, as forecast, decided to recede. Beyond it I can see pale blue improvement. We'll be out by lunchtime. Rex, a keen Doberman with hard shine like burnt wood, was a retirement present to myself (as was a beard, which proved so awkward that it eventually formalised into a curt moustache). At breakfast, the dog skittered below a lightly loaded bowl descending towards him. Up on two legs briefly, mouth featureless, his eyes told me so much. I stared into them as he ate, curious about that focus and energy.
Parc Mont Extérieur is shaped like a six, with a fake lake in the circular end, which is where our gate is located. Rex takes me where he wants to go. He knows the flower beds he needs to sniff, the stone jetty off which he can touch his nose to the water. Where the ducks hang out. I pluck a ball from my pocket and spin it over the wet grass and he flashes after it, slides around in a near topple, bites it up before giving himself a primary shake. I confuse him by throwing it up an incline with rock steps. It passes him on his ascent, returning immediately to my hand. He leaps from the incline and follows its second excursion across the grass.
The park is alive with the fresh smells that follow rain. Since the sun is out, I dry a bench as best I can and lodge myself in one corner of it. I tend to read three or four articles in Le Figaro. A snout will poke under the newspaper, between my legs, tongue escaping on one side, and I will remove its offering and cast it back over the top of the paper. In this we can while away a half hour. The only deviation required will be to occasionally angle the ball into the large-leaved linden trees to my right.
I read world news, although I have never been a traveller. I read crime. Business crime. I read the society and justice sections. An extortionate loans company has been successfully sued. A network of illegal domestic workers has been prosecuted and the women returned home.
The sun illuminates the sports pages. I temporarily fold the paper away to allow the full effect of its light on my face. I close my eyes and the watch the inside of my eyelids shine a kind of oxblood. Modest specks drift and fall in fluid. In some ways this view is an old friend, older to me than the cover of darkness. Childhood gardens. A tray of citron pressé in the neighbour's tent. The warmed, weighted canvas below a deckchair. A radio. The interweaving minds of children, uncensored. I fumble blindly for the snout, and cast off once more, like a fisherman. The gift of time, a waste of time. Precious time. Time as placement. Limitation, like focus and energy, defines life. Life as opposed to what? Not death. Something else. Suddenly I see our bedroom, still and empty in the old modernist house where a sixty-eight year old was fortunate to spend most of his adulthood.
"Five euros.. central bank.. fuggin Mossad.. here we go." Half an hour later, a mumbling vagrant accosts me but passes me before I can even look at him, throwing his hand towards Rex. I catch only his back, and the unique shamble of his walk. I wonder if the dog has saved me from an aggressive form of begging. The man rubs hands on dirty jeans and enters the bar I have rested outside.
The narrow end of Parc Mont Extérieur has a gate which points the boulevardier towards a warren of streets. The most nondescript streets I could have imagined. Sets of dove grey, mid-size apartment blocks. Locked railings around a utilitarian garden. Noiseless but for the tin squawk of a television lost behind white gauze. No cars or scooters pass me. I had extended today's walk out of simple curiousity. Looking for a corner store and some water. It seemed odd to me that I had never ventured into this area before. And what eventually looks to me, from one end of one street, like a shop, with an old green awning and boxes of fruit outside, turns out to be an unkempt bar with three tables, one stacked with refuse.
I'm not sure why I gave the place the benefit of the doubt. I took a seat outside and wasn't attended to for nearly ten minutes. I could hear what seemed to be an argument going on inside, eventually replaced by the quiet pulse of music. The waiter was discourteous and rough-looking, sullen and disinterested. When the beer arrived (I ordered a citron pressé but was told with a glance and eventually 'No', that they were recently out of lemons) it was the wrong brand and a larger measure. This really was the worst bar I had ever been to. I stood up to check the name on the awning but it appeared to be nameless. And that was when the aggressive beggar put his demands to me, as I was testing my drink. He is presently returned to the street, still mumbling incoherently, by a dark-looking man wearing nothing but white track suit bottoms and sandals.
"I apologise, monsieur," the bar owner looks down at me briefly, tapping the table top with a pair of fingers. "Pauvre con pissed off too many round here. In Sri Lanka we call them less-than-dead. The ones no-one will miss."
He asks me if I am new to the area. "Visiting." I reply. Then I do something new to me. I lie. "Relatives." I gesture. "Nearby."
"Well. Anything you need you speak to Kiri. I've got a guy, and if he can't do it he's got a guy. Girls. Guns. Imported herbs and spices. I am joking, monsieur." But I don't believe that he is. The sun casts long, low shadows against us. "Only croques and boiled eggs. Stay for the volleyball. You're a good man." I smile. He perhaps doesn't realise that he is talking to a retired examiner, a juge d'instruction. Perhaps it is this damn moustache. It does take a lot of class off me. I drink and wipe my mouth with a thumb, allowing him to return to the nameless bar.
There are no surprises in French courts, you know. It's not volleyball. Surprises of evidence are considered dangerous and crass. It has been a long time since I rolled beer around my mouth. It feels like my first one. The public prosecutor has instructed me to decide whether we commit this case to an Assize Court. Do you understand? You have a right to a regular summary of the evidence against you.
I look down the street after the vagrant. A motor scooter passes. 'Not volleyball'. A phrase I used in many pre-trial interviews. To one of many poker faces. How many passed me by? Through the wall-less corridors of Cluedo. I watched, pretending I was not watching. The eyes. The cold blue embezzler's stare. The hazel bore of a con. No, I was not searching for guilt (a mistake made by the trainee). Everyone is a victim, weak in their own way. I was searching for a person's circumstances. "This warrant provides access to a bank account opened in your son's name. Last year. Geneva." A subtle exhalation of the body. The joy of arrest, just around the corner.
The beer is half done and my head feels more alive, but also numb. I search for payment, and begin to wind Rex's lead around my hand for the walk home, when the scooter returns and stops abruptly. The rear of two riders throws himself off the pillion. "It's him," says the driver. The dismounted man pulls what looks like a one piece stainless steel knife out of his jacket. "Hamid, be careful."
I immediately start, and pull at Rex, who is chewing his ball. The boy pauses to adjust the knife, ready for a swing, eyes locked into mine. Noticing Rex, he makes his stance more casual, but his voice is quavering in anger. "You'd bareback my brother like a dog. For half of Facebook? You think you're some movie star? Paris Houston? Mr Feet in the air?"
"I think there's a mistake." The knife advances again, right above Rex's disinterest.
"There's a mistake. You get the rates straight with the Danger Boys. Bareback premium. Online a whole new game. You paid for tiddlywinks, monsieur, and played the French Open with someone's dick. You owe the kitty five thousand." Hamid then squeezes a bumbag perched under his stomach, while the driver cuts his engine.
Eventually Rex looks up. The driver reaches to touch Hamid's back, and to whisper. "It's not him," he says.
"It looks like him but it's not him."
The second half of the beer drains more slowly. The sun is past its peak but it is only three o'clock. I stare at Rex, thinking about my old modernist home and its perfectly made bed, and the walnut desk with the thick political thriller. I am so terrifically bored. Sometimes life can be a little too organised, even for an organised man. Sometimes we box ourselves into the 'supersane'. Somewhere actually quite mad. Mad in a bug-eyed way. Bug-eyed with duty. Mad with feathered shouts of hair. A neurotic cage on the shores of the real self. Our working lives, perhaps. Perhaps that's what it was.
The brothers, who look nothing at all like brothers, who quickly disappeared into the nameless bar. The decision was made for me then. I'd like to see this place on this place.
"I'd like to pay." At the counter, my request is met with a 'Shh'. The terrible waiter is drawing a beer and watching volleyball on a giant pull-down screen which undulates against the far wall. There are about twelve men scattered inside this basic, half lit trough. An open window blows someone's smoke around. A thickset man talks to his glass. Three smileless youths with espressos measure me. The brothers sit huddled over Oranginas, speaking conspiratorially, and the owner is nowhere to be seen. Without a glance, the waiter passes me the new beer and moves off.
There is something preposterous about my being here. For some unknown reason I suddenly want to order rounds of citron pressé, or failing that, almond milk. I want to shout "One for everyone! And then a great game. 'Un, deux, trois, soleil'? Yes?! Hurrah for my new friends!" But I quietly take the beer and look for a seat.
His name is Raoul and he has the easy but shaky laugh of someone around eighteen. His eyes shine with mild sarcasm, filling with inward jokes he will no doubt share to his friends, but also with a dangerous innocence. Adulthood is miles from him, still another continent. There's a swing to his arms as he walks, and he makes quick, dancing steps. His head lolls in thought sometimes, like a child. But there is also a presence and totality, an integration, to his form, as if his centre of gravity and his ego say nice things to one another in the morning, in the mirror, in the shower.
But I fear that I am looking at him through my eyes. I need to look at him through his own.
He found his way to my address, on the scooter, alone, and arrived some time before I did. "Let yourself in," I'd told him, handing him the keys. It took me half an hour to get back through the park, this time dragging Rex behind me, sometimes in the blue shadow between trees, sometimes struggling against the weak goodbye of the sun. Three beers and a brandy seemed to have expanded my lungs. Combined with the stride it brings me out in sweat. Knots in both calves plead with me to walk slowly. I'm overbreathing.
The scooter is parked on the pathway when I arrive. I ring my own bell. He opens the door straight away, continuing a monosyllabic phone conversation. He has not made the coffee I asked him to. He returns to the kitchen and draws himself onto a stool. The keys are on the table. I leave them there, and tell him very clearly that I am going to lock Rex into the garage, where he will go to sleep.
When I return, the boy is not in the kitchen. The keys have not moved. Nothing looks gone through, no drawers have had their contents evaluated. Six knives rise from their block. A tenderiser, untouched. His jacket is hanging over the back of the stool. I run myself a glass of water and swill it about in my mouth before spitting it out. I walk to the doorway that leads to the open plan stairs. The first of their kind, they say. The ceiling they spiral towards has a porthole skylight, and I can see the door of the bedroom on the second floor. It is open.
Should I call out his name? I feel like I've said too much. That I haven't been very cool. Like he cares. His brother did the talking. I am paying substantially, for what his brother called the 'boyfriend experience'.
"Raoul?" He doesn't respond, and so I mount a first steps in silence. Then I stop.
The retort of his voice shocks me. "Hurry up." This old modern stairway hasn't echoed for an age. "You have a cool stereo here. Shall I put something on?" His shirt is missing. He disappears back to the bedroom.
Maybe I should shower. I'll shout and tell him that I'm having a shower first. I seem unable to move.
Oil paint is notoriously slow to dry, but when it does it seems to hold the time it takes, suspend it in set liquid, allowing light to run through peaks and troughs like a river. There is mass and movement. The strokes and swipes are still happening.
Waiting for the reign. Waiting for the friend. The one piece knife. Watching the bedroom door. Open in case. The turned out cabinets. Rifled boxes. Old certificates. Wallet. PIN, fucker, PIN. Don't you know there's a war on? I am on my back and he is kissing me. My age doesn't seem to bother him and he doesn't look as if he is going through the motions. It's acting, of course, but not exactly an act. I don't know how to put it into words. It's believable if you believe it, and it's a fraud if you don't.
My palms rest on either side of his head. He pulls them away, refusing control. I want to say 'Sorry'.
Subject: Slade | University of Brighton Degree Shows 2012
Time: 2012 Jun 10 07:45:00
Blind drawings. Fakeness in space. Packs of angry men club geometric shapes in a lynch mob. Shaving cuts. Real lives in Siberia. Motorbikes of sand. A visual history of video game ghosts. The view down from aeroplane windows as more beautiful than any destination. Pattern.
Subject: Photoblog, May and June
Time: 2012 Jun 09 15:25:00
1. Jubilee, unspecial in its neverending specialness. Union Jacks again. WWII for a change. Keep Calm and cupcakes. Jack Wills papery faux toff authenticity spat out behind gates in Vietnam. Heighten the rents. Empty the gigs. All face, no core. Bark blankly at the jobless, smileless. Socially cleansed. People = shit. People with PhDs doing jobs they used to need a bachelor's degree for. People with bachelor's degrees doing jobs they used to need A-levels for. Brand this social mobility. Wait wait to overinflate property once more. Why risk take or innovate? Underoccupied homes. Customer Relationship Management. Overanalysed, overmanaged, overprogrammed. Miss the point. Pollarded trees. Keep Off signs. Not an inch of 'wild' on the islands. Overprice and blame debt. Hang out heartless comedy, hang out hijacked art, revive a numb youth to man this limp machine. Free in name only. 2. This is where I sit in church, under John Knox. On warm days the men wear cream suits and the ladies fan themselves. It has a pleasingly Southern Baptist feel to it, although northern and Presbyterian. Christians, famously, see pride as nothing positive, the root of other sins. Last week I asked myself where I should sit on vindication, surely a tributary of pride. Let's say you suspect something and are scorned for it. Years later you're proved right. You weren't paranoid, just perceptive. 'I knew I was right' - is it of any benefit at all? After reality television perhaps we're just too good at reading faces. Where eyes linger and what lights them up. We know more about people than they know about themselves. 3. This week I have mostly been eating seaweed. Dulse, thongweed and wakame stir-fried with long stem broccoli, red onions, green beans and chillis. Nam pla, lime juice and soy. Tastier than sitting with the auld fellas on the Antrim Coast Road chewing dulse. "Healthiest thing ye can put in ye, boy. Ma feather chewed tha dulse an' he lived tae a hundret an fifty two. Heed o'hair on him like a scrubbin brush."
Subject: Entertainment! Week Five
Time: 2012 Jun 08 00:30:00
This week two ex-students, Josephine and Alex, both of whom now make a living from stand-up, returned to perform and respond to our questions. Then Mr Cee stood in to watch our latest routine. He had to shake my hand because I was the only person for whom he dropped his pencil, forced to watch. I'm determined not to be 'writerly'. To be physical, present and performative. I'm not interested in 'cerebral'. Write with the body, I say.
Everyone is advancing in strides. Gavin has a cracker about how infinite monkeys in an infinite set of cages would eventually write the complete works of Shakespeare, but how a chinchilla stuck in a cardboard tube would write 'The One Show'. Keely is creeped out by Guy. Who isn't? Who
did she leave the pub with? WhO?! Men hate women who go for bastards. Most of all they hate women who tell us that women don't go for bastards. The Showcase is nearly full. 7pm, Friday 22nd June at the Pirate Castle, Camden. Tickets on 020 7486 1844
I spent the evening chatting to classmate Les, working class Jewish lad in trouble with Essex Police over criminal accusations he can't talk about. Talk about it, Les, I implored. Name names. Pull the roof down. Every revolution begins by telling the truth. Our homework is to structure our final Showcase. Old or new material. Stuff that got most laughs. Refine refine refine. What point am I making? Develop tension. Switch emotions. Drop in a few threes.
Time: 2012 Jun 03 11:52:00
Skinny girls with sloppy topknots, Ray-Bans and outsize burgundy cardigans. Where's Wally? chic. Oxblood Doc Martens. Short fringes dyed oxblood. Mustard coloured cable knits. Nerdcore, tatooed to the gills. Gyles Brandreth jumpers and beads. Circular sungoggles. Field Day allows Brick Lane to move to Victoria Park for a day. East End hipsters look like Scouts and Brownies mistreated by a coven including Gyles Brandreth, Steve Wright and Alannah from The Thompson Twins, in a basement of unwanted Christmas gifts from 1984. Tortoise. Liars. Fennesz. "We're at Beirut but where are you? Where's here, Zara?! Where's here?" Glitchy. Rustie missed his flight from Geneva. Hypnagogic. Intelligent Dance. Com Truises' girlfriend, her single dread. Hudson Mohawke has the kids eating squawking, bleepy birdseed out of the palm of his hand. Tantric, it keeps theatening to burst into euphoria, but never does. If the equipment in your dentists came alive one night and had a party on laughing gas. I chat to the crew of <a senior Berlin electro outfit>, but gradually realise they are geared out of their cockpits. This year no band reminds me of The Feelies, but some remind me of The Band of Holy Joy. Accordian-led, swaggering indie chanson. #aduffercompares
Subject: Entertainment! Week Four
Time: 2012 May 31 23:36:00
This week another guest stand-up and comic writer, Adam Bloom, give us his advice on generating material, memorising via dictaphone, building thick skin for bad gigs. Where to look in a large room to make everyone feel engaged (just under the light). Finding common ground. Bursting tension bubbles by saying 'what we're all thinking'. He was very helpful but also made it daunting for those looking to professionalise. However he implored us to see the course through, and to try a try-out night afterwards.
We revised our homework in groups, stripped it down and rebuilt it in the light of techniques we are now supposed to study and practice. Lose your waffle; set-ups and punchlines (which kind of end line delivery is best for which set-up attitude); observation; comparison versus simile; mimicking and list making. Three is funny, apparently. Two of anything is comparison. Four is a list. But three is funny. We're now moving from persona to material.
We performed short, hot snatches of deconstructed homework. I'm glad we did. I bore of writing and reciting. I bore of talking about me, ingratiating myself to some corporate dinner party. Endless intros about 'where I come from' and lancing the bubble of my physicality with the self-aware jape. Half of me tires of feeling I'm a lunatic (a reference to 'Gone with the Wind' blew over heads - hardly highbrow) and half of me wants to dig up all human mania from the soul-pit and paint it on my naked body. Who wants to be a telly-ready, corporate events funnyperson? Another
Our homework is to swap emails or Facebook names and to share material in a digital pool of mirth, to bounce ideas about. To craft punchier set-ups based on the techniques and everything discussed so far. Hamid has disappeared. Poor guy. Just not feeling funny. He hates his job (waiter) and his boss hates him. Nothing is as debilitating as when your boss hates you, really. The 'fuck you' people with full-on attitude at the start of the course are receding. Guy has become wallpaper. Sex pest wallpaper. The quiet chap who looks like a software developer is crafting pearls. The posh-seeming girl has decided to kick ass. Tortoises are becoming hares.
can i check up front
are you a real audience or unpaid interns?
have you been drafted in on a deal?
"look, there's going to be no laughs tonight
but if you promise not to heckle you join a raffle for
a Michael MacIntyre tote bag".
I live up the road in archway. twinned with narnia
there's an old man in a motorised wheelchair covered in signs one of which says "world war 3 veteran" I assumed he was senile but then I thought maybe he is - if world war three includes a bit of time travel let's face it you'd return to a time when the NHS was free at the point of delivery. get stitched up, go forward again for more action maybe there's a lot of them, convalescent cells of future veterans locking lasers above Total Kebabs
total Kebabs on a Saturday night is very much like Twitter: about 140 characters / lots of Gaga / hash and missing links
Archway’s pretty bland. that makes you use your imagination. Or use the internet.
the internet has changed our definition of social and antisocial. parents used to say "come out of that bedroom and stop being antisocial" now teenagers reply "i'm sharing an audiovisual diary with 6000 people from Brazil to Finland. You're watching CORRIE. Where's anti-social?"
I’m a late adopter of the internet The world’s slowest troll I tried to set up a fake Twitter account But they only had Gillian McKeith left. Am I going to expend all my satirical energy as the fake Gillian McKeith? is that what I want on my grave?
They say anything can be made funny so this week I’ve been practising techniques.
admit what we;re all thinking: "RAIN" – that’s it. It’s surreal. Trust me. References to early Lenny Bruce in there.
The Rule of Three: "Rain rain rain"
Simile: "The rain hit my face like the tears of degraded angels, humiliated by a sadistic God." That one was fun to write.
Comparison: "When I was a child rain was shit. Rain is still shit."
Observation "Isn’t it weird how chocolate bars seem to be getting smaller. But that’s because we’re getting bigger. I have a theory though - that chocolate manufacturers KNOW this is how we think - and they REALLY ARE making them smaller. It’s relative, we’ll dismiss and maintain, despite being seriously short-changed. Till a Yorkie is the size of a Button making us the size of Selfridges. It’s US we maintain. We’ll shake incredulous heads the size of transit vans and chuckle. It’s NOT. the. bloody Bounty getting smaller. We’ll reach up and pluck zeppelins from the sky. It’s not. the. Snickers. Ha ha!" Zoooom crasssh.
Subject: Fetish and Figure (curated, Martha Kirszenbaum)
Time: 2012 May 24 18:25:00
Things I wish I'd said to Martha Kirszenbaum at the Q&A. "The curation of this event was superb. The sum of these films was greater than their whole, which seems an odd thing to say about short films on isolated objects and textures, the surplus value of a fetish, sexual or religious, and about memory and desire. Ulla Von Brandenburg’s ‘The Objects’ even suggested that objects remind us of other objects in a way which returns us to an original fetishist metaphor for ourselves.
I don't have any questions, just a meditation. Aldous Huxley took a bunch of mescaline and one of the meditations he had was that broken objects seemed to exude a 'totality' and completeness normally reserved for complete objects. When the incomplete and the complete reach parity, when the finished and unfinished mean as much and, eventually, when nothing can disappoint us, surely that is where religion, fetish, post-structuralism coalesce. The fetishist sees a totality in their fetish. What might strike us as a piece of fabric or jade green jar represents Everything to its subject. Inside, outside, universe and skin. During meditation ‘otherworldy’ totality is sought. There's no reason why it cannot be found in the material.
What of materialist consciousness? Materialism asserting that consciousness exists in grey matter, as a product of the body, and is not a portal to some other plain. Most contemporary thought tends to the materialist. The world I see around me is not happening ‘in my head’. When I die, everything does not ‘disappear’. One small screen goes blank, is all. I don’t ‘think therefore I am’, because objects and universal laws exist too. The whole, Everything, contains its own skin, is therefore skinless. Where is the universal? It becomes the only thing missing. Found in the fetish.
In contrast to these very female places, I watched 'The Dictator' and felt Sacha Baron Cohen beginning to self-fetishise. Other characters existed solely to set up jokes for him, in the same way that porn spins a world around the penis. This event was female without being feminist. I've been to feminist film evenings where the lingering message is 'We need more female directors', something which doesn't teach anyone anything, and doesn't look at female-led landscapes. I learnt more about the female psyche through their sense of fetish. The selection was female in a way that I as a male can understand, which hints at commonality (of poles). If you want to understand men look at their extremists, look at their perverts and basket cases. The ones you know and love are probably shallow refractions. 'Normal' women are bound and socialized versions of an antisocial core. We don't need to watch women from the outside in. We don't need dinner party repartee dressed as dialectic. We don't even need the female Id. We need the sparks behind it.
The films had male bookends, Kenneth Anger's excellent ‘Puce Moment’ and an episode of the Twilight Zone set in a department store, where the mannequins are allowed to come alive temporarily, and where the living forget they are mannequins who have temporarily come alive. If there is no share in the materialist consciousness and no inkling deep down that we were not, even selfishly, ‘one’, where is an 'alive'? Alive from what?"
Subject: Entertainment! Week Three
Time: 2012 May 25 12:07:00
Our second stand-up routine, and everyone has come on a quantum leap. More engagement and confidence. I kept it short and didn't learn it by heart and improvised about twenty percent. Several laughs and compliments on 'well-crafted' material. This week a guest teacher dropped in, a professional stand-up called Mr Cee, who said I was likeable and 'real'. For some reason it felt odd to be called 'real'.
Subterranean politics are creeping up through people's material, as confidence and personalities grow. A German hipster worried about the Chinese taking over the world with their bloody chopsticks. An erstwhile estate agent ranting about solicitors' fees. Sensibility informs humour and I think my irony and injustices inevitably lean to the left. There are some jokes I don't get because I'm not there politically. Melissa returned, with Lynchian tales of her certified insane mother pushing earthworms into the cuts in her arms. Whoa. Guy told us about the time he tried to join the BNP but they wouldn't have him. Then about why he prefers to force sex on drunk women (they sleep with their mouths open. Makes things easier during the night). I have a resolution to stop revealing people's material, it's rude, but I don't care when it's Guy. Keely, again, was a star of mirth in the pub but restrained on stage. In a material faux pas, surly northerner Steve had also prepared a joke about the Hayward Gallery, but his workaday scoff at modern art was not, I think, as fresh as mine.
Mr Cee encouraged us to go to our 'dark places' and not hold back (flat advice following Guy). Drive a juggernaut through peoples' heads. In general, I think Tommy Cooper would be banged into Bill Hicks here. Feed on what makes you angry or what makes you sing for joy. It's all about Emotions. Find the 'real you'. God rest auld Bill Hicks but he is still a generation's blueprint for everything laugh-shaped. I maintain the desire to reinvent myself, and a suspicion that all those 'real you's might become a flabby clockwork of self-centred howl (the school also rehabilitates prisoners). Mr Cee's main job was to bring out the selfish in us (like learning to be a dom / domme in BDSM). The Old You sought to accommodate and sought to please. The Old You worried about your audience. Say hello to the New You, people. Time to ramp this thing up. Because it's Serious O'Clock.
Our homework is another punchy introduction to ourselves and taste of where we come from (this time, family, religion or class). Then freeform material - culture, hobbies and interests, politics - as long as we convey it through Emotions. Oh, and go to your Dark Place. Is this comedy or therapy? Do I have a Dark Place? If my auntie blew a raspberry at me when I was three do I harbour murderous grudges against anyone called Beryl? If so, how do I find out?
dark place. passion. dark place. passion. me me me. blah fucking blah. intro.
Suddenly it's summertime. When men comment on how many pretty women seem to be around, and women complain about men in sandals. That's not a sexist comment by the way, my perversion is built on nothing but bitterness and alienation. I'm sitting in the sun trying to find my dark place. can;t wait to see what Guy's dark place looks like. the time he pulled two children inside out and wore them like flip flops?
I'm from a working class family but I never really got into working class things. They're watching Sky Sports, I'm reading Schopenhauer. I wouldn;t say my mother was right wing but she thinks the jews run hollyoaks. "Wood, mama. It's wood. Where the cartoons come from. Yup the ones with the ducks. The ones with the ducks." i dont feel bad because the 90s was a time when football turned pretentious anyway. Opera singers and slow motion. Grown men in tears. more than a game, football is ze life itself. Football is MATHS. Geometry. Physics. Stupid pricks. "What a goal!" It was S=UT plus a half AT squared. Why did sport become the symbol for life's passion? Why sport? "Collecting Stamps - it's ze drive - of your life" <falls to knees and punches the air> "Pavarotti come quick, he's found a Penny red." <cheers> "Come on STAMPS." Theres a ruck outside Stanley Gibbons. <cheers>
To be honest i was stumped about what to talk about and then I realised. I hate passion. with a passion. maybe i'm a natural buddhist. detached. alone in ze forest of meanin where no tree can see ze other tree. God rest whitney houston but she did invent the vocal gymnastic. whaaaeeyy-warble. earth to houston where's the song. try 'top line melody' over passion-in-a-can? loathe passion. <kicks something> They say that europe is divided with northern europe all verk ethic and the south driven by passion. I know where I stand. verk verk verk ist al. only verk now. first ze verk zen perhaps much later a smile at bedtimes. Goodnight. little Klaus. <bends stiffly> Happy verkday to you. Happy verkday to you. happy verkday, little Klaus.
You can possibly guess by my demeanour that I'm not fully clipped, starched and stiff. I looked up my family tree. Indeed, some filthy farmhand besmirched the virginal daughter of nice clean settlers called Finlay or was it a Ewing. Who fled to the Carolinas in shame. Turns out I have both surnames Butler and O'Hara in there. Possibly why I sit around <gestures to seat> telling myself I don't give a damn.
Subject: Entertainment! Week Two
Time: 2012 May 18 11:16:00Intelligent. Like a radio tuning in and out. Mental. Insane. Recital. Technical. The small things were nice. Musical. Lyrical. Scary. Creepy. Hoxton graphic designer. Stuttering. Elements of camp. More energy came out in the sexual stuff. I was surprised by the sex, I thought he was gay.
As a baptism of fire, the rest of the class are encouraged to shout out adjectives to describe my persona, as it came across to them in my first routine. I jot them down.
We're not meant to take it personally, but to build upon it to our advantage. My face is serious looking, but I have an infectious smile, the teacher said. I should use that. I overwrote. Gags are not as important at this stage as developing rapport and conversation with the audience. I looked like I was trying to remember a script. The lines I thought were the best earned wry smiles and someone cracked up at the mention of 'New Cross'. What? People liked ad lib voices, such as London begging me not to leave. "Please. We need the council tax. We'll double dip. I can change."
I'm starting to think that rapport is more important than content. Many people chose sex / nudity / vajazzling for their 'embarrassment' story. Guy told us about the embarrassing time he nearly raped his Brazilian flatmate. It wasn't rape because he ejaculated well before penetration. Guy wants to use comedy to pull women and he doesn't give a rape what we think about him. Kind of Russell Brand cubed. Hamid, gay French stoner, has a joke about sucking off a 70 year old barrister he met on Grindr. But he thought the man said he was a 'barista', and kept looking around the house mid-oral thinking - Wow, he does great for a coffee shop. What's the secret? Hamid is very gay 'scene' and hasn't been in a room with so many straight people since school. Weirds him out. Some people rambled too much. Quiet, dry, middle-aged Californian Melissa didn't show up for week two. I hope she hasn't disappeared. Wonderful woman called Keely from Ruislip (for a town to become a city it needs a cathedral. For a village to become a town it needs a KFC) has a natural wit, but her routine felt restrained. Very funny in the pub afterwards. If we were picking double acts I'd demand her comedy hand. I wanted to shout 'magical' out as one of her adjectives, but I didn't.
Judgement can wilt comedy prowess, and a comedy school is entirely about judgement. How do you warm up a crowd in such a sober, studious atmosphere? I did feel a bit behind glass, not nervous so much as encased by the limits of consciousness, like a Francis Bacon. This week's homework is an observation of "something funny in the news", and "something you really love or hate". Passion. Oh, and a better, clearer introduction to ourselves.
Showcase is 7pm, Friday 22nd June at the Pirate Castle, Camden. Tickets on 020 7486 1844
hello again/ last week I learned that you saw me as everything from gay to insane. Then creepy. The rapist doesn't get creepy but I get creepy. Thanks, buds. Cheers. mate. No really. Thanks a bunch. <shakes a hand> The most disturbing of all was graphic designer. Because I studied art. Which comes in handy. But there's a face off between graphic design, which has an application and purpose, and fine art, which is a philosophical fuckaround. but a good one
Case in point - I read in the paper that the Hayward Gallery is soon opening an exhibition of invisible artworks. Nothignness. Empty Frames. Invisible ink drawings. George Osborne's growth strategy. Maybe what sounds like a fuckaround is the best comment on the state of the nation. It;s easier to leave out than create. easier to - see where i'm going here - make cuts than to innovate. easier than growing dozens of global success stories from a grow-bag.
The Hayward exhibition does contain a blank piece of paper which the creator stared at for 5 years. George's pre-election prep. Let's pull this lever called innovation. Where is the fuckign thing? okay, let's starve chavs to death.
At the Tate right now you can see For the Love of God, Damien Hirst's skull encrusted in 8601 flawless diamonds. that's a vajazzle gone Seriously wrong . that's a 'backstreet vajazzle'. this is actually a work which Hirst plagiarised from my own piece, also entitled For the Love of God. <brings warped paper out of pocket> It is 8601 human tears encrusted on an EDF energy bill. For the Love of God. This piece is still available by the way. If there are any collectors in tonight. Starting price is.. well, it's printed right there.
that's it. thank you very much
Subject: Entertainment! Week One
Time: 2012 May 11 23:00:00
'Use your faults, use your defects', Édith Piaf said, 'Then you're going to be a star.' This also seems to be ethos of a seven week course in stand-up comedy which I enrolled in. The eighth evening is a Camden showcase in front of 100 people, five minutes each.
Fourteen of us stand in a circle and are asked to illustrate ourselves using an action. “I’m Gavin and I like playing ukulele.” A strum of the fingers. That kind of thing. “I’m Ben and I like cooking.” Chop chop of an seethrough shallot. “I’m Guy. And I like BJs.” The forcing of a woman's head back and forth on his crotch. “I’m Hamid and I like smoking weed.” Puff. The atmosphere loosens in strides. Thankfully, the ensemble is mixed in terms of age and background. Some see comedy as a direct extension of beer, and the course as an adrenaline rush. For others it’s ‘personal development’ and soul-diving. For some it’s political, while others hope it will be a natural blossom to their bubbly personality. I feared that I might be surrounded by 20-somethings cracking jokes about R’n’B singers I’ve never heard of ("What's goin on wiv Kayi$$ha? Get over him, girl. D'ya know what I'm saying?") while I launch into a set of howlers about Cold War politicians. "Willy Brandt walks into a lesbian bar, right.." Fear #1: I have no telly and my references will lose people.
Asked why we want to try stand-up, I contradict the Piaf ethos by saying that I need reinvention. I don’t know who he is but I’m done being me. I am told that audiences can spot a mask and that they warm to someone opening themselves up in front of them. I want to argue against ‘be yourself’, and even against charming people, but realise that the inevitable tends to remain so and that argument just slows a class down. I didn’t pay £xxx to debate if a mask contains the deeper truths that we don’t allow ourselves. Will I have to kiss goodbye to Rex Lore, debonair raconteur and wit, and accept the treadmill of "Any single people in tonight?"
In many ways the heyday of alternative comedy is a memory and the scene is oversubscribed by a tranche of telly-hounds. I'm paying for extraversion. I don't even facilitiate workshops in my job any more. My world is all 'back room' analysis and that gets suffocating. At break time, people’s spirits seem genuinely high. Hugs and positivity. Everyone is gradually filling up with their new modus operandi - to seek out humour in every molecule. "Who's for tea?" "Tea, eh? It's.. a runny blow job in a cup." "It's nature's weed, innit?"
We guide someone blinded by ignorance around the room with a succession claps and boos, to illustrate the importance of feeding off an audience, of letting them steer you with their response. Fear #2: I’m not a sufficiently bubbly person for witty and democratic to and fro. I'll be another dictatorial megaphone. ‘The audience wants you to succeed. They want
to laugh.’ The notion of critical venom is hurdled over in a few words. Even thinking about judgement saps my energy. It’s a battle I don’t want. I don’t want to lose it. Nor do I want to win it, because there’s nothing to win. A ticket's token isn't worth being ripped infertile in body and soul by the rheumy eyed. ‘Be arrogant, be the centre of attention, be selfish’. Three hours in and I’m looking around for someone else to help, to at least get them
further, as I plod along these six limp weeks. I can see the spotlights and, even if the room is howling, a twisted masochist beneath them. 'Express yourself'. What if you're punished for expressing yourself? What if every automonous zone you've found, be it love or solitude, imagination or the internet, ends up hurting more? What about a human ice cube with nothing to win but the love of people he hates? Twisting in a puddle of spit? I want to cry on Parkway.
I need material. A Red Sea of 'self expression' tries to fill a row of Christmas crackers. My homework is “My very embarrassing moment” and “Where I come from”. If anything eventually comes, I'll post it up in scraps.
I must begin by stamping authority over you for your own good. Otherwise I'll be driven to open a can of Scrumpy Jack in your face. I've studied from the greats. watched and learned. Hands up if you want a can of verbal Scrumpy Jack in the face?
Anyone ever been to London? Who said no?
Well, I'm moving back to the small, let's say 'exclusive', town where I grew up.You've lived in London long enough when you can predict the theme of the next Time Out. January is gyms. Cheap Eats. the Paris Special. the disappointment is Secret London. We're all looking for names and addresses of child knuckle fights and animal sex rings
<dial>"yeah i've got a couple of turkeys free this weekend if anyone's itching
not like the last pair"
and all we get are pubs that aren't on the high street. Art in a garage.
Small towns are a secret art in themselves. innocence. hazy acceptance. easy breeding., the post-productive landscape. how green is that valley? we don;t do anything!
welcome to Pun Town - where puns are a punnet of fun. hair we go. hair we go again. competitors. we'll meat again. right said bread. cheeses want me for a sunbeam
it's not all hilarity
i wouldn't say my town was corrupt but there are less backhanders at a tennis match
wouldn't say my town was biased but the police sirens play The Sash
wouldn't say my town was a time warp but they've special swings for kids with rickets
consumption pitch and putt
near the black death boules
to be fair, the town is showing the green shoots of recovery.last time i went back i passed a beggar waving a pringles tube. which hints at ambition. you can see he has one eye on a Bigger Picture. he can sense it, through the Grand Illusion, there's a Big More beyond the peripheral vision, the shores of the seen
it's there. he;s knows it is. it's in his flints and pringles. it's in the clouds and voices. the way a voice doubles back and returns inside an empty can of Scrumpy Jack. More. <extended hand>There Is More.
talking of pringles - anyone into casual sex? Tried it twice. First was not very casual and hardly sex. the secondi ended up sitting in a darkend bedroom in New Cross. Always New Cross, isn;t it? she said i'm a very sexual woman. Showed me her collection of erotic fiction. I thought, well done, healthy appetite. The world approves.
Then she leans over to her sock drawer and brings out her vibrator. Ladies and gentlemen I though she was offering me a pringle.
Thanks very much - but no man is can compete. I don;t care what you say. not my crunchie. Ladies, Keep Your Vibes Aside
Ol Man Embarrassment he just keeps rollin along
- <the cackles of Ol Man Embarrassment> "I seens ya. i seens ya" <Ol Man Embarrassment hops and slaps his knee>-
the trunks-hoist of the bucktoothed freak that stays with you forever
embrassment needs perfection and perfection is what you look for when the fun's gone
- <Ol Man Embarrassment> "Yer only a human being. Shame on ya.shame. only a human being."
you know what really embarrasses me? not shooting him in the face <points a gun at Ol Man Embarassment>
- <Ol Man Embarrassment> hold on. I'm all you got in the world.
Subject: What the Butler Saw (Joe Orton, 1967)
Time: 2012 May 07 13:45:00
In the late 80s the John Lahr-edited 'Orton Diaries' was a popular teenage read amongst my friends. Orton seemed renegade, beautifully black of tone. Public place sex, jail, murder. Literary without being languid or pastoral, tweedy, or alive. Straight males would read diary entries to senile pensioners supping barley soup in seaside cafés. DC, loose screw son-of-a-senior-Freemason, a unionist Syd Barrett of the gang (who once tried to access a mortuary for a corpse to bring to my first gig) declared he was gay (more provocateur. 'Gay', if anything, was a surtitle for male bonding). A time of boundary-test, proving oneself and doing things obtusely. Foot-shooting, feeling clever, ergo bored, height-of-sexual-energy sexlessness. Maddened but never nasty, we packed more chaos and anecdotes into one summer than I have the past 15 years. (I once had to carry DC out of Ann's Pantry following an overdose. He is now a psychiatric nurse.)
What advice would I give to the teenage me? Probably careers advice, and confidence tricks, because most of the barriers he will face come down to money and a clear vision. In personality he is not suspect but can be detached. A dutiful child with good grades, the late teen feels cynicism and ambivalence - success and failure, it all wraps up the same. Goals never stay tangible for long, or somehow feel wrong. He'd probably turn away from advice, turn it inwards, into criticism. He'd nod and think, then disappear, in an equivocal mix of arrogance and embarrassment. How would I grab him?
Union jokes, cross-dressers, dropped trousers, nymphomaniacs, faked climax. The endless topping up of tumblers with neat whiskey, government inspectors and (the shame) a crumbling marriage. Rape jokes, contraception jokes, sexual harassment, trust-me-I'm-a-doctor. Yardley. There's been no attempt by the Vaudeville Theatre to un-period this piece. We'd be back out the door in ten minutes. I've read all Joe Orton's work and 'Butler' struck me as most traditionally arranged (bedroom farce, being a psychiatrist's office) but reliably seamy. Dr and Mrs Prentice are perfectly played and I wouldn't be surprised if the couple was the blueprint for Basil and Sybil Fawlty. The same inner pulls between dependency and intolerability. Omid Djalili has one speed, angry, and can't act, but also brings off-kilter comedic timing to super straight Dr Rance. The energy feels right. There is something infantile in the writing which gets to gestate as the cast get drunker, until the final quarter hour, which is beyond schoolboy. Straitjackets, flashing lights, 'Graeco-Roman hallucination' (revelations that Prentice's secretary and his wife's bellhop are birth-separated twins) and the phallus of Winston Churchill (a lofty dildo wavering in a policeman's hand). Weird, beyond-telly satire and Wildean epigrams mark Orton out. Here he's trying to blow his grandmother's mind.
I stepped back onto the Strand during the interval, convinced that my world needed reinvention. We're all bludgeoned to death at the age of 34, I thought. By earthbound minutiae. "Excuse me, are you Glen?" a woman's voice fell into my ear. When I looked, I faced an iPhone with the logo of the Grindr app gyrating. I don't know why I said Yes but I did. "Great, let's crack on. The toilets at Itsu seem to do the trick." Grindr?! 3.5 million users in 192 countries. Straight people don't do that
sort of thing. We enjoy emotional investment, discovering things in common, like birth-separated siblings. We don't just.. turn up and..
The woman had crossed to the central island by the time I was properly able to inspect her. Women into casual sex are often insane. Any man of experience can tell you that. Self-harm. Gibbering. I followed by a step or two, desperate for a sign that I could trust her. A Way In, like the humanity of a forgiving smile. Why was I so keen for sanity? Wasn't life a little too
sane? Why concerned about what she
wanted? We're building the era of the safe take, not the bitter give. (Her look was businesslike - the face of an ex-girlfriend long after you're over one another). I took her hand, and she reciprocated, without much finger strength. By the time we reached Itsu my mind was as divided as nigiri sushi - one side cursing itself for seeing nothing but wrongness to this behaviour, the other blinding itself quickly, getting drunk on inner wines. I tried to look like a couple as we cut through the modest queue in the direction of the toilet. This consisted of a hand on her shoulder, roaming, tourist eyeballs and a stoned smile.
In the cubicle, mercifully broad, baby-change and disabled friendly, I began to inspect her again in the harsher light. Stop it, I told myself. Live for now. Her voice had seemed well-to-do. Perhaps she was going though inner turmoil, belittled by a pair of domineering parents who perverted her sense of self forever. "Now," she unzipped her coat. "I want passion. Don't hold back. That would be quite rude." I stepped forward and cupped her breast. If she wanted passion I needed the Feel, I needed the See. You must have learned your technique from a Christmas cracker.
Mrs Prentice's scathing voice began to haunt me. My uterine contractions have been bogus for some time.
Morose and queeny Ken Halliwell, where the promiscuous is always wrong. We're living Strindberg, this is the Dance of Death.
My hand ran up under her skirt and I pressed my mouth onto hers coldly.
Outside the clouds unlock and the winds reverse like slowing wheels through a disappointing early spring. The city, from above, is predictable. Beyond, lack of gravity undoes time. The further away we go, all we have is one instant in a suffocating whole. In a galaxy far away, jade green people talk about sex when they mean writing, and about writing when they mean sex.
Subject: Avengers Assemble 3D (Joss Whedon, 2012)
Time: 2012 Apr 29 23:36:00
Brain-hackers, hack my brain. Plug me into butt-kick on a loop, and let it flood my soul. Man, the Hulk kicks butt. How much butt does he kick? Take a long line of butt, maybe the length of a football field, or better still butt that goes round and round in a single ever-decreasingly circle inside a running track, so that from the ozone it resembles a strangely shimmering, semi-religious whorl of butt, then the Hulk would kick the whole thing into pathetic bumhole mandala of dominos toppling for and aft, and then he'd jump up and down on a dumpster demanding his main course: more toe-walloped behind with a shovel of curly fries. In fact, everyone in AA3D kicks the b-word in their own idiosyncratic way. And what does it add up to but the perfect allegory for multicultural America? Where, so long as a man holds to the consensus concerning common law, behavior, property, finances, work, marriage, interpersonal relationships and morals he is totally free FREE! to choose the food he eats. Oh, and his preferred method of kicking butt. God bless freedom.
Superheroes are, like, the ultimate wish fulfillment writing. They represent neuroses or handicaps harnessed and transformed into something helpful. Male anger issues (the Hulk), an alienation in light of male anger (Black Widow), anal perfectionism and meterosexuality (Iron Man), dressing like a soft rocker (Thor). Our villain is a walking God delusion with an English accent, who attends classical concertos (Jesus) in Stuttgart. When the subconscious is a Worker, the villain is our inner Bourgeois. All whistle, no dick. All entitlement and short cuts. "Freedom is life's great lie," he even suggests. Smell him! In a way the Anglo fanny's got a point. My freedom to listen to early Gas Huffer real loud could impinge somewhat on my neighbour's freedom to batter his family in peace and quiet. Freedom can be a way of saying "You're on your own, pal." Sure, freedom is a pipe dream, but one that the America of AA3D instructs us to skin up on.
Everything you think is going to be wrong with AA3D has been thought through and scuppered by Hollyweird types into meditation and shit, long before the multiplexes of middle America have pumped jalapeño cheese up their wiener. Jingoistic? With BRICs-ready scenes set in Russian, India and even Germany this is clearly a World Movie. The US being the World. In some ways Captain America, elemental personification of the Stars and Stripes, is the most quietly sympathetic and complex character. A loner who can't understand why he went from being everyone's best friend to Cunt Number One. Josh Whedon takes the audience's problems about cheering on territorial Übermensch and transforms them into a believable sense of self-awareness and conscience. Hollyweird has long learned to dance the moral tightrope. As die Stuttgart opera is crash-landed by this "shifting roster of Earth's mightiest heroes and heroines.. united against a common threat" the Captain reminds himself about the last time he faced a nasty in Germany, and an inch or two of his mojo returns. Godwin's law, savior of the politically 1D, clearly also applies to big men's mojos.
There's a totally fresh fetishisation of bodily extensions and weaponry, but Americans are the real Injuns in this wish fulfillment. A hippy hammer, a shield, a bow and arrow, versus city-melting dark matter from the other side of sheer metaphysics. Perhaps one fantasy being lived out is that the US doesn't really out-tool the rest of the planet to the point where war becomes a routine kind of farming. The more tooled we get the more paranoid, not less. We're tooling up for another all-out oil-war to open petroleum choke-points like the Strait of Hormuz and the last time we had to do that it took the best part of an afternoon. As a world, can we go off-message now? You have to press a Magnum up a spoon's nose until they respect you. Until the urine floods down their left leg in sheer respect. It's the only way.
Man, Black Widow kicks butt. Actually, she is somewhat under explored. I'm so heterosexual that her Widow butt is more than enough focus on-screen. Isn't that a bit man-sad? Billions of Korean won fluttered on CGI and the curve of a 3D derrière happily grabs me. HD cinema now contains the equivalent of 8 million pixels and a visual architecture of constant mechanismo in sparklesome kinetics. There is so much destruction going on, around so many indestructible butt-kickers, that the peril seems to neutralise into a ballet of graphic elements. You can actually drift off and meditate through some supernatural and extraspatial clockwork. A memory trace of humour and self-awareness keeps the waltz humane. In many ways, ways we'll never admit, it really is the memory of past kindness and goodness that keeps us going.
Man, Alain Badiou kicks butt. All is Multiplicities of Multiplicities. Zero is not the blank canvas, for as soon as we personify Zero enough to count it, Zero becomes a representative element, a One. We must therefore leap from a notional Zero to Two. The constituent elements in the Multiplicity are never Ones, they are Zeroes, being other Multiplicities. Badiou is the paradox of quantum measurement pushing Buddhism through the letterbox of post-structuralism. Will AA3D have sequels? Dude, AA3D is the sequel to all other sequels of every film, experience and thought yet to come, swirling like a butthole whirl-knoll, in an unkickable post-Plato anti-Ideal. There is no One, dude. Noriginal. We get to carry each other, carry each other. Man, dumbing up really rocks! Winning blood! Tiger Feet!
Subject: The Fitzrovia Radio Hour (Horse Hospital)
Time: 2012 Apr 27 08:30:00
There are streets in London where almost every shop now uses that 'Keep Calm and Carry On' Civil Service font (Store Street). They sell idealist 'grandparent' chic. Basic, British, feel-good goods. It used to worry me. I sensed that a harking back to a 'good old days' might be the reactionary tip of nationalism, set to inevitably boil down to 'before immigrants came' and 'before the welfare state'. The dapper old-school suits of the BNP's R. Barnbrook seemed to confirm it. Elsewhere, a culture of fancy dress has replaced counter-culture and the celebration of new (or more ancient) ways of living, I complained. Why the forties? A generation more impoverished than their war baby forebearers might be seeking to recreate the seedbed of conditions prior to the world turning humane for a while. Workplace rights, free education, social housing, affordable housing, a retirement, a final salary pension: they all seem like a crazy dream. Or maybe we need express civility while the wild west internet corrals our minds.
Back to the Horse Hospital, a venue I really appreciate. It lies five minutes from my work and still feels like a counter-cultural space. The highs are higher than the Royal Opera House and the lows are lower than a busker falling over. Art walks a tightrope here. A sense of Erving Goffman's delicate pull between the 'performing self' and the 'official self'. Digging. Discovery. The Fitzrovia Radio Hour is one hour of Ripping Yarns, punctured and remixed and full of relentless hand-pumped sound effects. Very Edinburgh Fringe but refreshing to see a stage play where the cast are reading the script. Exposure of artifice doesn't matter, of course, it takes us to another level. We're in a 1940s radio studio, with an 'On Air' light and cue cards, between adverts for Bairstow's department stores. Herein lies extraordinary tales.
'Cycle of Violence'. Comedy sexism and classism in darkest Cambridge where, amidst debaggings and beanos, an evil bicycle wavers the lanes murdering 'grammar school boys' (cast as the lowest of the low, by the way they're spoken about. As long as kids can rejoin at strategic points along the way I don't have the issue with grades-segregation I have with religious segregation). It seems clear that the FRH is a parody of Englishness that is about putting on daft, imperial hats found in a chest in some aunt's attic.
Next up is 'Ava Carter - Girl Pilot!' Alix Dunmore stars, an elegant and humorous woman. Feisty gal-hero Ava delivers her sack of Royal Mail by hook or by crook, but finds herself shot down on Crab Island, where marauding crustacea have scoffed a flotilla of Norwegian seamen. All very Tintin. I laughed out loud as Ava trepanned her sidekick with an abandoned crab claw, after a good slapping to cure his hysteria. Maybe it's un-PC and a bit Ricky Gervais to laugh at the trepanned but I decided, after a Rioja, to throw caution to the wind. You only live once. (Fred West had an IQ of 80 and attained everything I lack: a stable home, a committed soulmate and a fun swathe of family. It's time I downsized, brain-wise, with a milestone of 95 by Christmas).
Is the FRH an elongated sketch or a theatrical experience? Everyone seems to be having such fun, which is infectious, but I start to search for some seriously witty lines, or poetic twists to nail it one way or the other. Will an answer come from "Melton Mowbray's answer to Victor Mature"? The final tale, 'The Day Dorking Stood Silent', is hijacked and subverted by one cast member's depressive monologue. The rest of the entourage fight back, and the battle of scripts starts to deconstruct the social spectacle even further. I lose track of what is happening but it doesn't seem to matter. The joke is that cut-glass correctness is falling apart at the seams, behind the scenes, but we're all 'On Air' all the time and helpless. Maybe they've got a point.
Subject: A Tale of a Tub and Other Satires (J. Swift, 1702-29)
Time: 2012 May 02 20:33:00
Sirs and Madams,
Enclosed are Three Proposals for a Better London, at no Charge. Since the Season trifles with the Mood; and with Voting Day tomorrow, I doubt that I have adequate Capacity in my Diary for the drafting of an Invoice. Each of you seeks to hold the Confidence of Londonites in your Lap; from the Dandy inspecting the Cellars of Berry Bros. & Rudd
for his Medicinal, to the Urchin alone in a Box of Toys at some smileless Day Care. This is a city of Paradox: all agree we need Houses, and yet no-one wants Houses on their front Doorstep. No-one comes to a City because they adore Nature; yet we cheer for Trees. The Nice-to-haves are dictating to the Need-to-haves and some profound Coffee needs to be woken up to, and smelt.
In my Proposals, I aimed for the fullest Inclusivity; so took for Inspiration a fold-out Geographers A-Z Map of London
(premier edition, extending to Sydenham, Charlton and Acton) which I spread across my Scullery Table. The well-known Curves of the Thames arrested me as they are prone to; the Arterial Routes and Ring-roads seemed to knit and pearl erstwhile Villages together. My Meditation came to rest upon the name; London. Six Letters so ubiquitous and oft-written, at times diffused of meaning. A Mental Clapper fell across the Bell of my Head as I chanced upon a Unique and Highly Progressive Opportunity. As verbal Real Estate, the word is a Trophy Location. And yet we squander it; we truncate a Second Century Centurian's blather at some Ancient Briton. Truthfully, no Man knows the Origins of the Name; yet even Presbyterians and Bear-baiters can smell its Redundancy. The Re-title must be Sustainable and Incoming Generating. Foxton. Barclay. Nando. There would be obvious Examples; but I'll restrain myself from lending bias to any Tenders. Brand the Land, Gentlemen and Madams. My Second Proposal is for a week long Ball Amnesty following the Olympics. How many Shuttles, Pucks and Boules are going to litter the Olympic Site and eventually make their way out through Stratford? Travel Chaos will be the least of your worries. Every Tool is a Weapon when you hold it right, the Slubberdegullions will tell you. Such a stark Warning leads me to my Third Proposal. Grave Space being a premium in the Capital, most of us look forward to sharing a Binbag of Municipal Ash with 60 unknowns, Presbyterians and Bear-baiters, slipped into a Landfill near Byfleet. I want a firm Pledge, following the Living Wage
and the Living Rent
, to a Living Death
. Every Pauper Man, Woman and Child must be promised a Mass Pit under Grass of Capacity twelve (12) at its Maximum.
Bed is the Poor Man’s Opera, the Italians say; so I retire for my habitual Soprano. Till the Morning, when I plant Ye a Fond Kiss.
A Man of Quality.
As Postscript, it is evident that open Swearing humanises the Gaffe-happy Incumbent. We need to regulate profitable Lip Slips to ensure a fair fucking Crack of the Whip. What about a Group Bloop-off like a cunting pack of Off-guard Bastards; looking the Voter shit-right in their Eyes?
Subject: Once Upon a Time in Anatolia (NB Ceylan, 2011)
Time: 2012 Apr 22 16:50:00
This skewered crime story follows three cars containing police, two confessed killers, a doctor and a public prosecutor as they explore the steppes of Anatolia, central Turkey, looking for a shallow grave where the killers have buried a body. The first half of the film is a nocturnal portrait of a landscape beyond phone coverage. Bleak, fairly featureless, difficult to orientate. Three pairs of headlamps beam to and fro like oddly submissive eyes. Our own planet looks alien and hostile to us. The conversation in the cars is pointedly mundane - lamb chops, yoghurt, family life, needing to pee.
After frustrating digs that prove fruitless the party lodge for the night with the mayor of a village in Kırıkkale Province. Much of the second act of the film is a patient examination their late night meal together. The subsistence, the power cuts. Discussing the exodus of a generation of young people to Germany or London, the lack of money to repair the village cemetery so that the existing generation can disappear with dignity (thought: not to be too gloomily contrary but only the luckiest Londoners will have a grave, most of us will be municipal ash, never-was). The film starts to feel like an excuse for social anthropology, some home truths about living, rather than the apolitical clockwork of a police procedural, which is a welcome side-step. At its best, the 70s cinema of Scorsese et al did something similar. People, even murderers, as products.
When the sun eventually rises, we fully appreciate why Ceylan chose to film in CinemaScope. We've been watching a western. The cars roll out of the corral, and eventually locate and exhume the victim. The last third of the film concentrates on an autopsy of the body (with an indeterminate twist), the doctor (who we know is going through a life crisis, childless and divorced, seems bogged by his quest for a reason to go on) and the aggrieved son and wife of the victim. After 2h 30min, the film tails off with a meditative look though a window at the mother and son.
This film was a co-winner of the 2011 Cannes Grand Prix. Some thoughts generated:
(a) The characterisation and acting are splendid. Depth of personality is revealed in quick sketches, as is every character's sense of place within the ensemble. The man and machine (vehicle) relationship remind us of Soumitra Chatterjee's taxi driver in Satyajit Ray's 'Abhijan', a character who precursored Travis Bickle. Man is different inside his machine. Man is protected, loosed of paranoia. The real man, we could say, is seen only inside his machine. Ergo, we build machines that make us visible. There is a lot to think about by the dashboard light.
(b) Re: the doctor's locked-in search for a 'meaning' to his life. I'd have preferred this to be illustrated with more than montages of old photos and grim glances at the mirror. He ponders what he lacks, the brevity of mortal toil, brute ignorance. Happy Feet Two it isn't. Are children just a material excuse to avoid such pondering? Is God a face painted on the unknown, is faith a surrogate for meaning?
(c) So much of Anatolian/every society seems to be about male bonding, male competition and males tidying up the mess other males make, in a ladies-please-leave-the-room way. We can't wait for structures and language to get more feminised (hopefully achieved desire-first, by a radical build of woman-machines rather than sheer complaint), although I can almost understand some people's pleasure in a world away from the opposite sex and the reminders and measures of sex and gender. The mundane final image of the film suggests that the doctor himself is in two minds, like a clash of inner civilisations. The last scene darkens with a kind of boredom, as he suffocates under the weight of his could-have-beens.
(d) The film is bravely structured. The CinemaScope contrasts insanely with the oblique plot. Kiarostami or Jim Jarmusch by David Lean. Slick and classy is the new handheld and lo-fi. Most films attempt to humanise characters by showing them in a family environment. Busy lawyer but a mom beneath it all. Here we have a vacuum. Families look like unhappy trash, only the poor breed, and the planet is just alien. No-one is nice. People can be funny, even stupid. But no-one is nice.
(e) Mustafa Kemal Atatürk expressed a desire to wean his people off Islam. The police warned him that to ban the burqa would prove unpopular. Who would want to be seen arresting women in the streets and who would want to commission that? So Atatürk took the reverse tactic and made the burqa compulsory for prostitutes. The association saw it fall out of fashion. Either way, Turkey is as secularised an Islamic nation as it gets. In aftertaste this film could feel like a warning. We think the endless questions of a secular world are clever, classless and free. Better than the readymade answers of faith. They possibly are, it suggests, but who's happy?
Subject: Topography: Found Sound on Cromwell Street
Time: 2012 Apr 15 10:02:00
I draw a freeform 'mind map' (balloons of themes connected by lines) summarising everything I know or have felt about Fred and Rosemary West. Two blobs refuse to connect, and therein I sense some paradox to the story. On one side, the couple's easy dehumanisation of their victims. On the other, their being such evident 'people people'. Friendly, do-anything-for-you types. Like a family on Family Fortunes, a couple on 321. Open house. 11 children over two marriages and a hundred lodgers bringing some life to the place. Never loners, never outsiders.
Murder, said Fred, was "enjoyment turned to disaster, most of it anyway". Enjoyment being BDSM and torture, enjoyment being filmed incest and contacts mags. Bells ring when a hitch-hiker lets it slip that she doesn't get along with her stepfather. Busted families provide raw material, at bus stops and in car parks. Youth desperate for some semblance of a family. The spare room, the plumped pillow, the cuppa. Reveille, Titbits or Bella. The smiling eyes. The saucy joke, the never-ending saucy jokes. The masking tape and air tubes up the nostrils.
Soft the voice of mercy sounded, sweet as music to the ear. After recording 'found sound' on Cromwell Street I walk to the cathedral for evensong. Something I'm scared to entertain is the idea that humour might be a link in the Wests' story. We assume that humour humanises. Fundamentalists, the orthodox and the dry lack it. Humour is a positive. But, on Cromwell Street, humour is a tool for dehumanisation. "Dad said if we're naughty we'll end up under the patio!" Laughter quells empathy. Quips dispel complicity. Photos of an arrested Fred show cops cracking up. Chuckles infect those exhuming the bodies. "Either this one 'ad three legs or there's more down 'ere!" Fred's lawyer brought him an Easter egg to cheer him up. Dutifully washed his smalls. The builder eventually confessed, "There's a reason why they're under the patio. It's cos the bloody 'ouse is full."
West Country mirth and an almost cartoonish self-regard allowed the Id to ride out in all it's glory. The Id, the unfettered gut, the monster truck of base wants, human desire post-conscience. That part of us which seeks only satisfaction and refuses contemplation. Questions are its roadkill. Conscience a passing red light. Empathy will steer it out of existence. Desire and desire only, take and dominate. The Id is Mr. Hyde. And as a society we have nothing but mixed feelings for it. We can't go back to the bleached world of Calvinist denial, we know that unmodernised capitalism runs on hunger (they say China won't surpass the US as an economy until they learn to spend instead of save, to want instead of worry) and, deep down, we distrust over-control. Yet we sense the beast might be a ticket to moral downfall.
25 Cromwell Street was replaced by an urban walkway to snooker the ghoul. Which matters little, the place is as headbound as memory. The furtive ghosts of Rosemary's punters, ringing the bell for 'Mandy'. Fred's new camcorder! Working out where to hide it for the best peek! You have to laugh. Rumour has it there were cops. Could there have been much earlier investigations? Leniency over Fred's first sex crimes (a 13 year old sister in the family way) only encouraged the bastard! All 'armless fun, for fuck's sake. Missing daughter? A 'domestic'. Blow over by mornin'.
I review the Cromwell Street found sound, the walkway air. Wind like still breath, the distant recede of a passing Mondeo, the lone slap of flip-flops and the whump of a closed wheelie bin. No sawn bones, no kicking feet, heels hammering on underground concrete, no palm-bitten yelps. "I says. For fuck's sake, you've done it again, daft bastard!" No extension lead clatter, unwinding once more for the slow, weighty chug of a concrete mixer. No tinny scrape of the spirit level. "Now. That's that."
Why are the remains all missing hands and feet? "No comment!" Were they hung up and tortured? "No comment!" Where do we learn that sex is how we punish people? While both claimed parental abuse as standard, rape commonplace, Fred was one generation from farm hands (I'm at least three). Illiterate, raw life. Little pity, only subsistence. Pig-stunning at Nelly's dam, squeals. Britches off, no romance. Stay pregnant. Life aborts 'em any'ow. But this historical layer cake of death? No garrison colonialism, religious carnage or plague pit. Perhaps the Id remembers those things, brews a primordial randiness to flap around in our fuel tank, a polymorphous perversity to cater for the worst disasters.
What do we find in found sound? I find that I don't regard death as some 'ultimate' subject matter. Sharky, no-argument noir merchants tell us it is. Death is flimsy and meaningless. We've studied inhumanity. Twenty-first century art needs to bring out the big guns, lead from the front and start to open like a flower.
Subject: Review+: Into the Abyss (Werner Herzog, 2011)
Time: 2012 Apr 08 17:25:00
Shake the envelope to wake a thousand magic kisses. I am still buzzing from meeting you at last. I'm tingling.
Well, this morning the Crime Channel used the 'DRG' term alongside both our pictures. Do they have the actual copyright on those? I'm investigating. In some ways it feels like the moment I've been waiting for. I'm not the only person for whom the word 'groupie' undermines the work of anti-capital punishment networks. It's an eye opener. I'm wary about the CC now. The pharmaceutical companies who profit from lethal injections have clear interests in maintaining the death machinery.
"What makes women fall in love with the very worst of men?" All shades of opinion from fat-head know-nothings. "She's in control." "He's a famous guy. Infamous. Also vulnerable." Where do they find these people? "They write back." Thankfully, you and I were a passing mention. Mostly they talked about Scott Peterson getting 100 letters a day in California. The Don Juan of Death, someone called him. Peterson stabbed his wife and their eight month unborn on Christmas Eve. That's either seriously pro-choice or one off-message Santa. He added two porn channels to his cable service two days after the murder, then went fishing. A driven guy with debt issues. But that's America.
So, Dave, the world is against our love, official. And it only makes me stronger. I never realised life would be so 'them and us'. It's a battle with the blind, and there's more of them. You make it real for me. Listen to this! On Saturday Sister Helen Prejean gave a powerful speech at the Rialto Theatre in Tucson. There was a well-attended procession downtown. Thinking is, if we can turn Arizona, Texas has to listen. They say it's 'a whole other country' and maybe it should be. Wake us up one morning and tell us we're an unincorporated province of Canada. I couldn't make it to Tuscon. My rent has gone north!!
I hope you're safe both mentally and physically. Someone on the Crime Channel said, "Prisoners look down on famous inmates. Especially if they killed a woman. Nobody wants a three-striker cutting jugular at breakfast." Twice a week, two deputies escort Scott Peterson to the roof of his jail, where he's given a 90 minute stretch to walk or shoot a basketball. He gets less social privileges than you, Dave, and that's on account of his popularity. Stay a one-girl felon, fella.
This week it was my mom and dad's ruby anniversary. We had barbecue on the lawn with the usual suspects. Sticky pork ribs and deer sausage. Dad toasted the folks who couldn't make it. Mom kept complaining in an aside to me, about my brother and his wife. "He earns it and she spends it," she said, smiling outwardly, but real acidic. Gary's wife (Gary's my brother), Sharonne, was looking properly pretty in a new white dress from Fort Worth and, to be fair to her, was the most ingratiating person there. Everyone thinks I'm strange but Sharonne and I bonded. She asked me about my love life and I told her about you. Okay, hinted. I asked her how she found marriage and what could she say, he's my brother. Maybe Sharonne is the route back into this family, against the odds. Gary stood at the wall of the house the whole afternoon, a Coors raised to his mouth, saying little except to a cell phone.
You never had a family, Dave, you had psych meds and a missed school. Bad checks and embezzlement. Bedding down in a pool hall stock room. I know how it goes. Rootlessness starts as a thrill, a flip of the bird. The scene rocks for six weeks and then it owns you. The world that cares is in our heads. There's nothing to flip the bird to. "Go on, go on. Tell me his name!" Sharonne said, her eyes opening real wide. So I said your name out loud, for the first time I believe, and the sun broke cover and the clouds passed over like a cast veil on the water. My aunt waved a chicken wing from her wheelchair like a flag and I wanted to cartwheel. I wanted my Dad to pick me and spin me round by a wrist and ankle.
I love you, Dave (is it too early for that word? So shoot me) (joke) and this is not childhood any more. The atmosphere in the house is weird and changed and maybe that's my fault. All I know is I want your child and to be my own woman.
Did the lawyers get hold of the latest 'back-splatter' analysis? Whatever way they cast it, that night will never make sense. I've been over all sides of the story till I feel like I was there. I know you're telling the truth, darling. Not by the look in your eyes or by anything you could write. I know it when you hold my hand. That's when love happens. Now I hold one hand with the other and I kiss it and I call it 'Dave'. When you said "Write me, and keep writing. I'm watching the world through your eyes," I cried myself blind. You can do it to a girl.
I will see you April 28th, my darling.
Subject: Poem for Etienne: Children's Enclosure
Time: 2012 Apr 13 07:00:00
Our purpose on earth is to collect idyllic days
Near a sturdy log hut, under slides, or in hideaways.
A wooden rhino, hippo, elephant;
A row of rocking lambs that spring from the grass.
Smatterings of picnic ordain the lower reaches of the heath.
Fat crows, coat tails back, peck at lumps of sourdough,
Thrown finger food, dum dums from
Shaded babies who'll never know how lucky they are
Behind a steel yellow gate.
"I offered four days a week as compromise
But they still wouldn't have it." The boy in a two
To three year Bauhaus t-shirt moves
Through a sea of well-educated media mums and dads,
His ball gliding under chatter we catch in bites.
Above, a helicopter's churn.
Chained to infant rhythm and whim,
The pooped wish they'd done this sooner.
Bookish-looking men find an inner teacher
To recount the species of trees to Trevenen
Or ask Felice if she rates the dips from Waitrose.
"I'm getting the police onto you," an outnumbered estate mum
Warns someone else's two year old over the top of her magazine.
"Careful, Ryan, he'll have your face off in seconds," she points at a pug
Near the café.
Sunglasses, Converse and sling; some parents look ex-indie band
Hip but greying, the drummer from S*M*A*S*H
Offers teething advice to a Long Blonde.
Some Graham Coxon or other, not unlike a toddler,
Plays slow demonstrative footie with a chilled-out beardy jester,
His mind never dark, never heavy.
You've been a good baby, curious and easy-going,
Used to the outside and the company of others.
Babysat since week two, now at a subsidised
Nursery you seem to enjoy, catching every cold going.
Your world is filled with new faces you need to trust.
Tonton David, Tatas; crawling awkwardly
Recently you point at things, seeking their name,
Raise pieces of grape to check them like a vintner.
Learning to see feelings, requesting song
The other kids? Mixed race, tribes of Britannia
Light ginger, Greek, Breton stripes and afros,
Le Petit Bateau wrestles a Gap advert for an empty rocking lamb.
The au pair flat out under her Kindle,
The spinster with the flask who likes it here.
Cautiously, I return a rolling ball to the glaring
Telepathic daughter of a man who resembles
The Azerbaijani ambassador.
What a place for an assassination,
I think, letting it turn crow dark.
(The crumb-hungry murder splits and flusters
A picnic spread turns berry red, it's no Um Bongo
When Dada tumbles through tabbouleh and pitta halves,
Shoulder deep in Russian salad).
Here is Hampstead. We might as well dream
While we feel like a fraud.
Subject: Review+: Bill Cunningham New York (R. Press, 2010)
Time: 2012 Mar 31 23:41:00
Today I wore a silvery denim sports jacket, kind of high-top moccasin boots, inky blue narrow trousers, a blue/red shirt. Needless to say I was not stopped by The Style Scout or one of the London street style blogs.
Aged 84 and still doing two columns and a podcast for the New York Times, Bill Cunningham has an infectious positivity and aesthetic eye which have seen him become a very singular chonicler of New York street style. An ex-milliner and journalist, he has documented the cities more 'exotic birds of paradise' from the 1960s hippy 'be-in's he attended onwards, using a trifecta of lurking like a loner trend spotter, cycling between several society and charity events each night, and taking in select fashion shows.
"It's all about the clothes," he says, in this very engaging documentary, numerous times. By this, he means he is not capturing fame or physical beauty, and despite slinging a Nikon in front of people on the sidewalk, he is not paparazzi. He is documenting self-expression and what it might say about our times. He also means that he has worked for free or for cheap in order to maintain an integrity. He quit 'Women's Wear Daily' due to a dispute about using his photographs in an 'in/out' column. Hit/miss. He celebrates, venerates, and refuses judgement or the cruel photo. If he doesn't like it he ignores it, and in this he is the opposite of the Bitch.
Looking like a kindly, angular Jacques Brel, he defends fashion as the 'armour to survive the reality of everyday life'. The paradox is the monk-like life of the man himself. Living in a tiny rent-controlled room in Carnegie Hall, with no kitchen or private bathroom, stuffed with filing cabinets holding decades of negatives. A single bed squeezed on top of some cabinets. A utilitarian blue overall coat, rain capes held together with tape, a bicycle (his 29th, so regularly are they stolen). He rarely eats ('I eat with my eyes') and never drinks at the functions he attends. Working class, he can claim Astors as his friends, but has never had a romantic partner. We follow Cunningham's bike, aware that this is a documentary about a city as much as its photographer, as he searches for more narrative, more connections through fads, and how people talk to one another with clothes.
Colour: if the colour of this website were an expression of someone's 'aura' I might worry. Murky dark blue, they say, speaks of "fear of the future; fear of self-expression; fear of speaking the truth" all of which may be true, although the turquoise indicates "sensitive, compassionate, healer". I don't believe in auras, or colour therapy, but I keep meaning to cheer up the scheme. But in some ways I prefer the truth about not speaking the truth. It's the least I can say.
Taste: the best advice I ever had was never to match too well. Or at least have one item that deliberately offsets the rest. Otherwise you look lifeless. I don't mind clash. Blue and green of the right hue are fine. Black and brown, great.
Cut: many of the peacocks, dandys and fashion world faces have no actual taste, or at least, we could say that elegance is not their prime motivation. Okay, Anna Wintour ('We all get dressed for Bill") seems chic in a highly corrected way, almost like the polo-necked soccer mom. Folk like Iris Apfel and Anna Piaggi want to amuse. I doubt they spend too much time wondering if items 'go' with each other. Tom Wolfe looks stiff and monumental. Neuroticism turned outside in. Fear of insignificance. Hyperbole.
While Cunningham kept saying "It's all about the clothes" I began to wonder what he was not saying. What that phrase actually meant. It's not about the body, perhaps. Raised Catholic, I think he may be body-avoidant. Just too busy working for all of that! When asked if, despite his celibacy, he believed he was gay, he immediately talks about his parents. When asked if it was true that he goes to church every Sunday, he bursts out crying.
Buried in work to avoid himself, Cunningham sees New York 360 degrees, and the city is barely holding onto its soul, overrun by Wall Street and real estate. Everything else is moving out or bogged down in landlord-tenant issues. In the course of the film, Cunningham and the other old bohos of the Carnegie Hall apartments, such as celebrity photographer and Warhol muse Editta Sherman, are evicted.
Two of the audience (Curzon Mayfair, I can't believe I've never been there before. Such a beautiful cinema, and right round the corner from where the flashier guys in the investment company where I was once an office boy used to get their prostitutes, Shepherd's Market) were crying as they left this film.
Subject: Review+: Hay Fever (Noël Coward, 1924)
Time: 2012 Apr 02 08:58:00
The Noël Coward Theatre, St. Martin's Lane, has a muddled rococo charm and is just about the right size. I do so abhor those vertigo-inducing monstrosities on Shaftesbury Avenue, looking down one's nose at pinpricks gurning three quarters of a mile away. West End drama can be an oldies pastime and this particular audience was deliciously corpse-like. One woman could barely make it down the balcony steps, and another young dear had to laugh and wheeze through a face mask, oxygen strapped to her back à la Cousteau. Unfortunately none of us escaped the gloomy troglodyte employed to push peoples' bags under their seat and tell them to take their coats off the balcony rail.
I fear that I shall bore you stupefied, for these reviews are beginning to entwine and overlap. Two kooky siblings, Sorel and Simon Bliss, and their bohemian parents, reside in a country house a steam train's ride away from gay London. Immediately, 'Hay Fever' sounds like 'I Capture les Enfants'. An ensemble piece with invited guests (each family member has persuaded a crush down for the weekend, failing to tell the others, setting the premise for bedroom crowding and hot tempered delight) rings a bell with 'Absent Friends' and offers the audience similar archetypes. 'I Capture les Absent Enfants'.
Really, who wouldn't fall in love with Phoebe Waller-Bridge (from 'The Iron Lady', as was Olivia Colman) as Sorel - a tall, languid, breastless late teen run by a child's brain. Slightly huffy, intrigued by her own attractive power in a changeable and dangerous way. The whole ensemble seemed to be beautiful without being sexy. There is something un-carnal about the lot of them. Freddie Fox plays her brother, a breathless ball of energy and an enthusiastic oil painter. Father is a novelist, mother an ex-actress (Lindsay Duncan just rips). The set, mercifully, is an unfinished-looking pale provincial workshop with a smattering of divans and gorgeously evolving natural light. It helps sketch a portrait of English bohos as arch and infuriating, but also highly demonstrative and loving.
In the spirit of 'amour fou', everyone seems to have invited someone who represents the thing that would cheer them up no end. Like the siren call of opposites, age has invited youth (the hangdog father's East End popsy in a cloche hat). The louche have invited the strapping (mother's clueless but sporty fan hunk), Sorel is testing her pulling power by inviting a boring but rich diplomat played by Jeremy Northam. "How dead I was before I met people as alive as you," he gushes, quite spun around by the repartee. Young Simon has invited older woman Olivia Colman, whom he simply adores, and he seems to spend half his time on his knees with his face buried in her front bottom showing her as much. Sometimes the trouble with life is not a lack of love, but your love not wanting to be loved in the way we would wish to love them. It's a rare person with a taste for relentless adoration, I find. 'My feelings for you are stronger than you'd ever want', as the lyrics to a friend's song explains.
My fears in the second act are that the divine Mr Coward, having delineated his ensemble so exquisitely, would not know what to do with them. A slew of juleps, dressing up, a game of 'illustrate the adverb' ensues (charades being the epitome of commonality). Japes and snifters loosen the corralled personalities, true colours spread across the canvas and only illustrate people's incompatibility. Gradually the most unexpected folk slip off to the 'library' with someone else's invitee, in a kind of devilish partner swap. Fights and heavy words ensue as the night winds on, culminating in O. Colman, by now a ghastly headache of a woman, mounting the divan to accuse the entire Bliss family of artificiality and of simply being impossible. The house-holders bang on in their boho oblivion.
"I say, old fruit, it's nearly impossible to imagine Howard Davies directing a more spiffing production of 'Hay Fever' than this," keen to connect, I turned to the lady in the oxygen mask, who watched back with a somewhat 'Blue Velvet' demeanour. Oddly, it shares the limitations of 'Absent Friends' but perhaps I find it pitches its yurt in a far less muddy yard, class-wise. More all-important paradox, turning like stiletto in one's groin.
By the time we reach the third act, a queasy breakfast of smoked haddock and eggs while the window panes rattle with rain, I am joining up the dots between other items recently reviewed. All these jokes about the Astors suggest to me that the UK might be keen to sell itself to America at this period. Were Noël et al cooking up 'Englishness the brand', hyper-conscious of the colonial eye, in the same way that Scottishness seemed to redefined in the Victorian era?
Either way, the guests are equally keen to make an early exeunt for Sandy's charabanc and London, which they are forced to do across the kitchen and behind the backs of their hosts, who care not a drop-kicked fig roll if we're honest, being too embroiled in a row over whether the Rue Saint-Honoré has a junction with the Place de la Concorde. "It does not," I feel like standing up and shouting. "You are becoming too much." I fear that the Hay Fever has spread to the audience! I grasp the oxygen mask, hoping to sound like Brian Sewell in Blue Velvet. "Don't you f-f-fucking look at me!" The tub-mugger troglodyte is immediately on my back, his Revels and Pastilles slinging about. <Slam> the kitchen door closes and the guests are gone.
On the streets, letting the fog of the Fever dissipate, I juggle with my own contradictory response to two somewhat slight 'comedy of manners' recently attended. Paradox, class, stylisation - it is clear that there is a required depth even in surface things. Onwards.
Subject: Review+: Doors of Perception (Aldous Huxley, 1954)
Time: 2012 Apr 06 16:00:00
I have taken a small range of drugs, mostly for the experience. I think I was wise enough to take them in the context of gaining broader knowledge of a social milieu (say, rave culture, or a dinner party with young media professionals) rather than the icy poles of lone-pleasure and anti-pleasure, the Dionysian waif locked into his bedroom head blast ("Skunk, porn, Xbox 360. Who needs a World?") or, indeed, Aldous Huxley, seeking scientific measure of the effects of mescalin, on aesthetic and religious grounds. Actually, a rotten 24 hours lying on a bunk in Amsterdam was probably the last time I succumbed. Trippy, practically embalmed, watching the naked ass of my equally gone companion try to climb into the hostel sink. Not a productive time.
In 1953, in West Hollywood, Aldous Huxley took 4/10th of a gram of mescalin. He'd been curious about the drug after reading a paper on its affects on schizophrenics by the British psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, who administered it to him. He'd written a film synopsis of 'Alice in Wonderland' for Disney, who rejected it, but Huxley may have brought further 'drugginess' to the tale. Two things worth bearing in mind: the man's eyesight had always been bad, following a childhood illness, and he seems, by this point, to be an essayist who illustrates himself with fiction and who can't find sufficient flowers on his own imaginative landscape. He seems to fear that he is too rational, measured, that he needs to 'let go'. "How can a man at the extreme limits of ectomorphy and cerebrotonia ever.. visit the worlds which to Blake, to Swedenborg, to Johann Sebastian Bach, were home." Almost keen for a kind of visionary madness, as if the creative's job is to relay the news from another world. (Swedenborg, one of Europe's most brilliant engineers, was once told to stop eating so much by an angel he saw in Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, Fleet Street. His subsequent book 'Heaven and Hell', a topography of the afterlife relayed by angels, influenced Blake and even the Mormons. It reads like epic fantasy, describing new landscapes with parallel hierarchies. We may scoff at the visionary side of religion - as adrift hysteria, the mental health issues of a sexless bachelor - from 'sci-fi cult' Scientology to the cherubim and seraphim, it seems integral).
I part company with Huxley on points of creativity. The 'novel' I wrote wasted, 'Martingale', was disordered, it begins in top gear and doesn't stop, crash lands and rolls through a valley of rhyming prose. Burroughs wrote his best work over the influence. I don't think that any gritty northern drama would be improved by more unicorns. ("Pint of mild, please, and some nuts for the Faun.") In a world of televisual saturation, 'fantasy' isn't necessarily more 'imaginative'. In the darkest days of the self-conscious prison we may desire to 'lose ourselves' so profoundly that an alternate world, a place where we are absolutely free of our own minds, opens up. But I'd be disappointed if that outstretched Not-I was always Middle-earth. Huxley is intrigued by what 'The Tibetan Book of the Dead' calls Clear Light. To remain fully and profoundly undistracted. "Undistracted by the memory of past sins, by imagined pleasure, by the bitter aftertaste of old wrongs and humiliations". In this, he sees a chance to regain wonder.
His reaction to psychedelic alkaloid is beautifully described (and this is why the book maintains influence. As an experiment, as a jailbreak, it probably failed.) From the heightened intensity of colours to the sumptuous folds in fabric, he is clearly tripping through Vermeer's light. Objects are suddenly 'of' themselves. A wood chair as supernaturally centred as Van Gogh's. "Totality is present, even in broken pieces." It sounds like the heights of meditation, where there are no heights, where the universal is in everything, in a tea cup as much as the stars ('the dharma body of the Buddha is in the hedge’). Huxley, his wife and Osmond then go for a drive, across Sunset Boulevard, past long lawns and pepper trees and carobs and into the hills that watch over their adopted city. The view, he says, is disappointing. Drugginess is in close-ups, the macro lens, in objects and faciality.
Originally scathing of drugs as "toxic short cuts to self-transcendence" Huxley seems to find something in getting high, something that meditation and prayer do not provide, for he subsequently defends their use. We like a country once we've visited, I guess. Was this solution to losing himself just easy, sexier and more consumerist than the Christian 'give until it hurts' and serve others. Rather than heighten your experience of life, why not lower your expectations? Surely it's the same thing, with more control. Perhaps he was lightening up, parking his Balliol College classicism and going native in his new home, going 'road movie'. As if in response to these questions, the sequel essay 'Heaven and Hell' explores how cultures have journeyed to the 'antipodes' of the mind - via drugs but also fasting, solitude, deprivation, pain. Not only do such heightenings underline faith's moral structure but are the origins of all faith, Huxley argues. Good Friday, and what is Jesus Christ but the Not-I of the Not-I, the refraction of the refraction? A nailed, speared dream on the colonial landscape. Totality, even in broken bodies. Something so not-us he can't even be a bad trip.
Mescalin didn't deliver new worlds to Aldous Huxley, just new essays. It delivered colours and an added totality to structures. It seems to be a monosensual experience, fetishising the eye, light and vision. The closest thing I have tried was probably 90s acid. I'd moved to London and knew one person. Her gay flatmate took us to a nightclub called 'Bang' at the Astoria. The porn projected on the walls served to add frisson, but also to remove it, like a moral challenge. The dancers' faces morphed into 'Star Trek: Next Generation' caricatures, as the giant glans with piercings seemed to follow me around the room. Blobs of colour kept me awake all night. I saw everything, I confess, except much depth in hallucinogens.
Subject: Review+: Absent Friends (Alan Ayckbourn, 1974)
Time: 2012 Mar 28 13:00:00
A trip to the theatre with work colleagues. My parents never went to the theatre, unless it was an Elvis impersonator, but the name Alan Ayckbourn takes me back to the seventies and eighties. A name I kept hearing on television, or via some aunt heading off to the Lyric. I associate the name with good-natured bedroom farce. The name is prolific, writing about two plays a year since the fifties, and the name is hip again. Just as Farah slacks came good in the nineties, the kids couldn't get enough of them - this production is brimming with actors from the League of Gentlemen and the IT Crowd and other TV shows I haven't seen (my analogue set loses signal in April).
For me, the writing has issues. There is no real background. The context of this revival is therefore, simply, the 1970s. The 1970s of orange and brown wallpaper and hire purchase teak furniture. Despite the impeccable set, or because of it, the set is all there is. This meeting between old friends and their partners, over sandwiches, feels rootless. These people are products of.. what exactly? Their conflicts represent the clash of.. which and which world? Mildly sexist attitudes, cigar smoke, creepy over-domesticity, the primacy of property, social climb, magazine tips to keep your husband happy - all might seem dated, quaint or queasy (possibly what the producers were exploring) but needed to be more damned or divisive in the writing. As it is, with the values of the time intact, rather than heightened to fantasy class-sexism like 'Mad Men', they serve to show us that 'normality' is nothing but herd attitude.
So the context and pecking orders are of a suburban, conservative caveman variety. Money. Career. The pretty wife. Who hungers wins. Someone is shagging someone. His missus suspects and drops hints in front of people, hints that she'd never drop in private (why do people do that?) Someone's girlfriend recently drowned, someone's husband is permanently ill, and someone hates talking about death. Everyone has something which annoys them and regularly get wound up by someone else living out a kind of compulsion to annoy them - or embarrass them. By the second half, social embarrassment is pinging round the stage like human brains were pinball bumpers.
While the social satire is mild the ensemble acting and timing are strong. Admittedly, Kara Tointon ('Eastenders') doesn't have much to do beyond chew gum and drawl sarcastically, but she does it well. Steffan Rhodri ('Gavin & Stacey') gets to play the 'dominant male', the pissed-off pants-wearer whose tits they all get on. If I watched more telly I'd be aware of Katherine Parkinson, bronze vision in a maxi-dress. She has devotees and fan montages on YouTube. As Diana, she crumbles inside her own trapped desperation. A cracking, immature voice warns us of a woman who has got further in life the more innocently she has drawn herself, slowly watching innocence come back to bite her. A layered performance. Brilliant Elizabeth Berrington's Marge feels her own relentless, fussy energy turn her irrelevant as emotional chaos takes control. Stand-up and improv merchant David Armand has all the twitchy jokiness of a man who feels like a fraud with his place in life. Reece Shearsmith plays the happiest character, despite the death of his partner, a gibbering dolt unable to stop recommending fixes to other people’s lives.
There’s a trippy, almost graphic novel feel to the production, and interesting comic twists on bereavement, but in the end the humour feels light. If written today, ‘Absent Friends’ would be odder. Surrealism is now an inherent part of what we find amusing. Laughs come from deeper back. “It becomes physically impossible to stop laughing” said the Daily Telegraph. “Did I mention how superbly funny it is?” said the Times. Who can say. Maybe I just found it a bit scary - the living room, the furniture, all that heightened femininity and masculinity.
Subject: Review+: Passing (Nella Larsen, 1929)
Time: 2012 Mar 22 08:45:00
I keep beginning to write fiction, only to drop it. A decade-old routine which bores ten bells out of me. Something says 'shut up'. I really, really need to do something else with my life.
Nella Larsen wrote two perfect little books and then stopped. Who knows why. Was it the blue collar modesty of a Harlem librarian? "Well, I guess I've said my bit. I best hush up and stop making a damn fuss". Perhaps she found writing more painful than pleasurable. Perhaps she gave what she could to a world that wasn't kind or interested. Perhaps the assholes got under the bonnet of her soul and pulled it to pieces.
Irene and Clare are two mixed-race friends who take different paths in life. Irene marries a black doctor and stays in the black community. Clare 'passes' into the white world, with her white financier husband, finding it easy to clear the hurdles of acceptance. We aren't told where the difference in the two women might originate, but if anything, Clare seemed to love her white father, a drunk janitor she learned to avoid at an early age, even less than Irene. She was pretty and charming and maybe people like that get an ego and feel they must rise, status-wise. You would, wouldn't you?
The act of 'passing' isn't scorned in the book, it's just a fact of the 1920s. Nor is the fact that Irene's own maid is described as very dark (as if class is a sliding scale of beige, and a sliding scale of acceptability to white males). Passing only becomes an issue when the women's paths cross, years into adulthood. Invited to Clare's for a party, the reader is expecting to find Irene rejected by a frosty white elite, but it transpires that Clare holds special, segregated parties for her black friends. In any case (and this is one of the two areas where 'Passing' feels odd) Clare has not even told her husband that she is mixed race. Now, I'm pretty sure that someone, say, 1/16th African American might be hard to place but surely anyone half and half would be distinguishable? I'm no expert. Anyway, Clare's husband is, we discover, openly racist and calls her 'Nig' in affection, believing that his white wife looks a little sub-continent in a certain light. If you can leap faith across such points, and stop trying to envisage the faciality of the characters, the precariousness of Clare's existence works.
Clare may have 'gone native' and now be 'up' socially, but she is lonely in her class-race crystal castle. Attempting to re-ingratiate herself with the ease and fun of Irene's Harlem, and the segregated shores of Idlewild (passing has, of course, legal implications - it's your seat on the bus), causes the latter more pain than pleasure. Irene is jealous of her children's fascination for Clare. She suspects that her husband is harbouring attraction, which he isn't. She wishes Clare would stay in her own world - ergo, is Irene now suffering an inverted racism? Which is where the myriad questions of 'Passing' arise. Is it wrong to 'play-act white' when to stay black is often to stay a maid? Is denying a legacy heritage just a natural part of change and integration? Is the 'native' culture in a place like America simply the 'money' culture?
To a reader like me, race does seem awfully compounded by class. Here 'white' never means Guido or Mick in Brooklyn, it means the upper middle class. Is there a racial propensity to class? Do black folks make for natural working class stock? Inherent egalitarians rather than tier builders and climbers? The golden age of the Harlem Renaissance proposes racial and sexual shifts but no-one is allowed too far above their station. When do you explain lynching to your children? Over the breakfast orange juice? Do you answer their questions, then just mop the self esteem off the floor?
Sometimes I was waiting for the author to offer racial passing as a metaphor for life's general pretence. Semi-sophisticated suburban dinner parties; brimming keenness for a godawful internship; the secular couple forced into weekly pews to send their child to a nearby segregated faith school; the whore's enthusiasm for a lover who is also her employer. The matrix of bluff and lip service that oils these unfair wheels. But, of course, passing is not really about pretence: if a person is half white why shouldn't they make it their legal place in the world? Passing is more about loyalty and gatekeepers with shifting rules.
'Passing' is intelligent and engaging and glides between reading like a novella with the crystalline richness of a short story, and a novel, with a defined plot arc. It remains a minor story of everyday lives, right until its ambiguous end, and is bigger for it. Just folk you'd pass on the sidewalk, folk defined by their times and circumstances more than the major drives of their personality. Products. It's the personification of an age in flux, a social group splintering.
Subject: Review+: Les Enfants Terribles (Jean Cocteau, 1929)
Time: 2012 Mar 08 18:10:00
If I were to review my own reviews I'd note that (a) I'm not very funny, and (b) I tend to concentrate on the ideas inherent in and around each work rather than, say, the sensual pleasure it offers. Why don't I comment on the beautiful cinematography or the sumptuous costumes? Fair points, and not unconnected. Left-brain thinking can end up discussing sensual pleasures as a concept themselves. Like explaining the importance of fun - in a really dry way. Like discussing the importance of having a fresh approach - over and over. You’re fooling no-one.
Lose yourself. Any novel starting with a snowstorm, in an anonymous corner of a city, might be a plea to lose ourselves. While the contemporary novel (I started two recently and abandoned both) can feel the need to aspire to journalism rather than poetry, aggrandising with a backdrop of, say, the Cuban Missile Crisis, or featuring a scientist working on the Large Hadron Collider, LET is detached and immeasurable. A muse upon 'eternal affairs' rather than current.
An oasis of incest, an incest of the mind if not of the body, Paul and Elisabeth are fatherless and co-habit with a mother who passes on as the book opens. "Nothing in our hero and heroine was conscious; no notion crossed them, even faintly, of the external impression they produced." Together these siblings, these chosen reflections, co-autistics, play something called ‘the Game’, which is a method of torturing each another and alleviating boredom, and collect memorabilia, 'treasure', in a place called the Room, filled with defaced antiques. The Game might include terrifying passing children one week, shoplifting the next (only useless items - things they don't want or need).
Is this a class allegory? The middle class appropriating bourgeois values they hardly understand, just as adrift children play being adults? In many ways, surrealism is the least fun to psychoanalyse. Almost anything here could represent anything and you'd still come away without a conclusion. In symbolic terms, the house (often described as having a kind of internal 'weather') and rooms are chambers of the mind. White bourgeois
European self-love might be over-subscribed in literature, even if it wears a toga and quotes Saint-Simon on the divan. I pine for blue collar beauty.
Adventure, heroism, self-love, purity. Having a gay author doesn’t seem to improve the lot of female characters. When not in symbiosis, Elisabeth is mumsy-carer (Paul having been injured when a thrown snowball hides a stone - a fight filmed a year later in 'Le Sang d'un Poète'), finger-wagger, heartless gold digger (again?) taking loveless marriage (again? This time to a 'dirty' American Jew). So many ill references to Jews in novels at the time you'd be forgiven for failing to notice that someone complains a café
"stinks of Yid" in Waugh's 'Handful of Dust'. Jewishness seems to represent 'new money', which old money is wary of.
The gayest relationship here is the male acolyte's crush on the school champion and hero (Paul's fearless classmate Dargelos), which I’ve read in gay fiction before, never in straight. Few heterosexual men would fall for a woman because they wanted to be her, or admired her so intensely that jealousy turned into love. Men are the arrow because women are the target. Men the ‘do’, women the ‘be’. Biology is destiny on the one-way lanes of the heterosex. And while men should be 'on top' financially and socially, it is only because they adore women that little bit more than women adore them. It's balance.
The sexual crossovers within human attraction are the most fascinating aspect of LET. Here, boys fall in love with girls who remind them of boys they once had an acolyte crush on. Girls find girlfriends more attractive than boys but there's nothing gay in it, until the girlfriend falls for their twin brother. Competition becomes the shadow of love but competition is different for girls. People hate to see people they claim to love happy, in case they lose them. It's such a tangled mess of vanities, with a ring of truth about it, you wonder if real, unpolluted love has ever shown its face to anyone. And if it did, would their brain just melt out their ears?
I discussed the Cocteau twins with the new cook in the Archway Kebab House (“Probably the Best Kebab in UK") as he readied my falafel. He's more of a Gide man, but likes Huysmans. The Spanish, but mainly the Russians. Why am I surprised that such a well-read guy sells kebabs? It's about inner riches, I guess.
What else? Cocteau wrote LET recovering from opium addiction. So the sense of yearning that turns the prose clay-like or off-rails might be for poppy as much as men. Cocteau was convinced that his father was a latent homosexual driven to suicide when he was ten. Affected, all surface, Jacques-of-all-trades, Cocteau had his knockers. I treasure work like LET for its defiance, though, and even wish it could have gotten riskier.Oh brother, won't you write me a Protest Jingle? / We don't need a folk song, an angry hit single / We need a clear message to make our hearts sing / An earworm as smooth as the Intel Inside sting / Convincing the everyman to stand up and say / 'A sit-in a day helps you work, rest and play' / So make our hips sway and make our spines tingle / Oh brother, won't you write me a Protest Jingle? / I'd like to teach the world to strike, in perfect harmony / Squeeze them till the pips squeak, says the man from Del Monte / More Flash than a flash grenade, more pitch than the Occupy site / I feel like an ethical credit union handling my consumer finances tonight (like chicken tonight) / Will it be mushrooms, fried onion rings? Or full blown rent control? / A free Fred the Shred in your Shreddies, spinning around in the bowl? / So roll up your sleeves and we'll double-dip Pringles / Oh brother, won't you write me a Protest Jingle?
Subject: Review+: Blank City (Celine Danhier, 2009)
Time: 2012 Mar 03 18:20:00
I spent this week plotting a novel. 'American Sounds' is the working title. It's an elegant arc of a plot. I imagine it being made into a film with no music in the soundtrack at all, as the best films do, but where a lot of time and care has been taken with the found sound, the spacetone. It needs to weave something special out of that. It's set in a modestly altermodern New York and is meant to read like it's been translated, as 'Corbeau' was initially. It's a Dedalus Decadent, a Gogol in Brooklyn. It's not massive. I like the idea of eighteen novels, eighteen chapters each, and then to simply disappear.
Candy came from out on the Island. It's the mid-eighties and alternative teens are rediscovering the VU and the Factory in light of 'Paisley Underground' bands. This fanzined scene, happily avoidant of both John Peel and the NME, will eventually give rise to the Creation records roster, common ground for both ex-punks, ex-mods and disparate small town brigands. When they tire stoking the supremacy of the 1960s they extol New York punk as literate, clever, dirty, dangerous, open-minded and insubordinate and, at its best, as near as anything to the ideal that rock music exists for.
In December 2003 I eventually visit New York with my then girlfriend and two friends for New Year. We'll end up drinking through the East Village and walking to an electro-indie club called Trash at Don Hill's, Greenwich Village (no relation to Trash at the End, New Oxford Street. It begins Don Hill's takeover by the MisShapes party crew - whose skinny, monochrome looks come to define the Zeroes). The faces of the kids intrigue me more than their clothes. Uniquely New York. Part Italian, part Jewish, quarter Ukranian, part Peaches. All hybrids, and fresh hybrids, not an old hybrid like me, they lean in to kiss me at midnight. They're sweeter than Londoners, I think. They take lots of photos of each other. They are the first generation doing fun for the digital camera, fully self-aware and fully documented by Sunday lunch time, full time. I want to stay here and stay young, a night owl in a basement with no furniture and space to create, far from the sexless finger-wag of landlady London.
We're staying in the Lower East Side, the No Wave capital, near the Bowery. Tramps, braziers, abandoned sports courts and graffiti. You wouldn't change it for the world, for non-New Yorkers it's still an ungentrified movie set. Delancey, Rivington, Houston. I've just read 'The Basketball Diaries' by Jim Carroll and Cookie Mueller too. She was Fassbinder's drug dealer, fact fans. On Ludlow Street hipsters play pool with bums in Max Fish (now rent infested, vaulted from $2.5k to $20k a month). The coffees, bagels and Hersheys disappoint and the taxis are built like steel bathtubs but cheap enough to board like buses.
"Don't eat, buy film." Celine Danhier's thorough documentary of no-budget movie making takes us from the No Wave movement to Nick Zedd's psychosexual manifesto for the Cinema of Transgression. From the blackouts of the mid-seventies, when immigrants were ashamed of being Hungarian, to the mid-eighties, when your best friend was ashamed of dying from AIDS. Cinema bonded by shock, shamelessness, speed, poverty and 8mm. No ambition, do it fast. Hate TV. Love freaks. Gerald Ford has refused to bail out a bankrupt city and the Lower East Side is collapsing. Landlords torch buildings for the insurance. Amos Poe, Beth B, Bette Gordon, Vivienne Dick, Lizzie Borden's 'Born in Flames', Jarmusch. On the streets, William Burroughs pockets a derringer, not for affectation but because the stroll home is so dangerous. The uptown art scene hasn't yet discovered Basquiat, who lives in a sleeping bag on John Lurie's floor. DNA and the Contortions abuse their audience. Punk is turning to conceptual art. Do it fast, do it careless, do social conscience and your own life. Why New York? Faded but blossoming. Before digital culture New York was a scar, yet still capable of the world's focus. A bipolar paradox.
The darkness doubled. Politics and social witness turn into shootings and sadism and Joe Coleman biting mice in the Cinema of Transgression, a movement I've always been in two minds about. 'Good!' it might retort. Casandra Stark Mele, Tessa Hughes Freeland's raped nymphs. In Richard Kern's Fingered (1986) Marty Nation rapes Lydia Lunch over a car hood (there's a lot of rape in CoT.) The rape may be filmic but banging Lunch about like a dented fender isn't. I'm shocked to see real violence in film; something empathic ruptures inside. It destroys the 'participation mystique' of the medium, Jung might say. The child in the spectator dies. Suddenly, we don't want to be there. American transgression is still primacy, where a revolver can represent civility. Not a transgressive socio-economic safety net. Not the rebelliousness of equality.
These days Richard Kern is a workaday art pornographer. Nihilist transgression informs pornography and the edges of pop culture. If anal sex made a leap from the 'bizarre' section of the adult shop to become its main focus, relegating the vagina to foreplay, it is now joined by aggressive, 'toppy' sex. Kern model Sasha Grey, a porn star whose bookshelves seem more interesting than anything, hails from a generation who get million dollar four year contracts on the proviso that they do everything from Nylon photo shoots to triple diddle creampies with choking and face-slaps, a generation who claim rough porn makes Strong Women, because strong women are those who can Take Anything. It's feminism. Which, these days, is anything. Somehow you want to sit sex out while sex (via porn) remains a Boy's Game, in language and intent, although I see no evidence of women demanding new rules, beyond the right to a blank 'No' when things go too far. If feminism is a mere limit-setter, we'll wait for post-feminism to see what shape female desire takes. Meanwhile men will territorialise, re-territorialise and de-territorialise and we'll kid ourselves it's making someone happy.
If the sexiness of the New York scene was built on a huge sense of presence confused by a sense of poverty (allowing edgy start-ups a chance), youth meets desperation, have we ruptured the hustler for good in a buy-to-let mangle? Real estate gone unreal, with none of the glamour that soundproofed the Chelsea Hotel for bourgeois trophy wives to nap after shopping. Just a drag, just a drain. Just chains. Should we be obsessed with the Praga district of Warsaw rather than memorialising heydays in London, Paris, New York? Yes, yes and probably yes.
Subject: Review+: British Sounds (Jean-Luc Godard, 1969)
Time: 2012 Feb 25 23:30:00
This is a film which travels under your identity. It doesn't appeal to you as a man or a woman, a Jew or a Catholic, a Viet Cong-murdering imperialist or a factory worker. Rich or poor in either money or in human spirit. All the things you think build you. It is a film which talks to the existential you. The one alone, the one that dreams.
Petrol pumps, traffic jams, primary colours, whispers and horns: it must be JLG. This time he's forsaken France for LWT, who paid him to pull out the stops and make no narrative sense whatsoever. The MG production line in Cowley, Oxford, rolls past your eyes very slowly for the best part of your life. Students at Essex University make radical posters, till FORD USA becomes FOR US, and they re-formulate Beatles songs. A naked vagina confronts you in all its hairy shamelessness. Uncomfortable? That's YOUR problem, grandad, it seems to grumble.
"The class struggle is also the struggle of one image against another image. One sound against another sound." British Sounds is a cacophany of car plant drills and hisses, where lost voices swim in shrill clamour. A light and patient oasis explains the class struggle. "Women are the exploited of the exploited." The impotence of the worker, suffocating in a bourgeois vacuum of exchange value, is likened to a woman who has never and cannot orgasm. But the late 60s had hope, as well as dope, which future historians might well examine like a dodo. Hope is not just youth - if it was every Glastonbury would be a Woodstock. Hope is born in politics, and a belief that something better is not only formulating, but inevitable.
"Unofficial strikes, go slows and work to rules." It's good to break from narrative. So many lives, so many emotions. Artifice trying to pursuade me it's real, sparring for empathy. Depth of field as delineation, breadth of scope its vanishing point, the turn of shadows volumise flat bodies. Narrative might be the oil painting of film. I go off art sometimes. I fail to see its poetry. I can't trust that it has sufficient philosophy. Its unpredictability gets predictable when the 'next generation' of YBAs arrive. Mere offbeat investment on a production line. But I admire the fact that the Turner Prize and the crowds at the Tate Modern exist. Is there a prize for experimental fiction, will an avant-garde film win the Oscar? We're traditionalist in any medium involving an investment of our time.
'British Sounds' is a threat. A sit-down protest. "We don't know how to find one another or ourselves." We lose ourselves in the forest of class. The forest of measurement, of value. A loveless forest with no meaning, no touch and no smiles. JLG interviews car manufacturers. Listens to them talk, possibly for the first time, about their reality. "My daughter said 'Mummy, is daddy dead?' She said 'No, he just works for BMC.'" Between the natural high of youth and hearth-staring of old age, the factory was our life, our daily chug, our drain. My workplace is a factory, a data factory. No metaphor. Despite the productivity, despite processing more data than anyone else, utilising a more comprehensive database than anyone else, and despite having a lower administration rate than anyone else, we are routinely briefed that the company needs to look at moving the 'back office' someplace cheaper.
Love might not be inevitable but protest is. Give me something I can vote for. Give me something folk like my mum and dad will vote for. "Norman, which one will I vote for? The one kicking the phone box, or the one jumping up and down on the police van?" "I dunno, love. Follow your heart." Are we voting for representation or rule? Just the face or the 'back office'? Protest fizzles into an analysis of police tactics, the motivation and background of activists. Sideline and petit bourgeois gas. What does post-protest look like - to surpass revolution? To take it from the streets to the mind. From busting locks to wakened souls.
Death to an avant-garde by numbers! Death to text by Engels! Death to the faux-journalist blog! Death to self-spectacle! To Facebook and a multiplicity of vanities to hide our reality! Reality must be the dream! Dream of reality!
25/02/2012 It was a perky spring-like morning on planet Earth and I went to Brixton for breakfast. In Brixton Village, I saw a regal and aloof-looking black guy in an army officer's uniform and a leather rasta cap, with grey dreads to his ankles. Not sure what regiment he was from! The Coldharbour Guards? I listened to some reggae at the market stalls and enjoyed the slowness of it. I bought a book in Book Mongers, and took in 'The Baron' menswear on Atlantic Road, tailor for any outré peacocks who strut the SW9 pavements. Later, up north, on the Mall, they were prepping a scene from the next James Bond. Interiors of a black Jaguar XJL, which seemed to have spun to the roadside near Buckingham Palace. I thought of 'British Sounds' as I passed. The car, the workplace, production, even the sense of imperialism (when will Bond have a white UK or US villain?) What is Bond doing on the Mall? Does he crash through the ICA to wrestle with an exhibition on DIY zine culture in the 80s and early 90s?
'British Sounds' was co-created with Jean-Henri Roger and a group of Maoists called the Dziga Vertov Group. They hated authorship. I do it a disservice to call it a JLG film. Critics say that it is not an especially good example, even of the blunt audiovisual weaponry they built through the 1970s. It's the ghost of the traffic jam sequence in 'Weekend'; and someone telling you what to think. Critics also say that the worker shouldn't need poncy French directors to tell their story. Maybe. Or maybe we don't need poncy critics explaining this to us.
Subject: Review+: Coriolanus (Ralph Fiennes, 2011)
Time: 2012 Feb 22 22:00:00
Valour hasn't been something I've given a great deal of day-to-day thought to, involving as it does a primal sense of 'them' and 'us', an appropriation of violence to achieve supremacy, and the questionless sublimation of the self, to the point of annihilation, for the accomplishment of a group.
Maybe I'm a traitor. Deluded. You can't watch a football match shouting "Come on the underdog!" or "Here's to a nice draw!" or "Let no man go home aggrieved" You'd be set upon. Sometimes you have to bury the ego and assume a position in the social corpus. Get off your high horse and hate someone. Take sides against the 'Other', even if they're very similar. Name the enemy. Old friends on Facebook surprise me with new patriotism. It doesn't seem to matter what the war is, if our boys are there, they're behind them.
"My warrior." Can a man get a taste for war from his mother? Politics bores little boys, but war games never do. The only Shakespeare play to be banned in a modern democracy (France, due to fascist adoption) seems to formulate questions like these and, unless I missed key lines, barely answers them. Arch nationalist mum Volumnia gets dewy eyed, even a sexual kick, savouring her son's killing sprees. Here is a woman who probably demanded blood in exchange for rusks. Some inner psychoanalyst kept whispering to me "You zee, ze son is becomink ze penis of ze muzzer. Ze son is how ze muzzer territorializes ze vorld."
What is the city but the people? Coriolanus doesn't ask what 'us' represents. His paradox is in never effectively loving the people he fights for. Valour sees him rise above the plebeians while he lacks the ease of a natural patrician. Not a people person, a misfit anywhere but the battleground, he runs for office when he'd rather be jumping off a blown up bus. Sometimes the bloody heads and body count get in the way. The viewer has just started ruminating on the nature of power and populism, wondering what the Labour leader could do, in a parallel galaxy, for a 'line in the sand' 'out on a limb' definition of his brand, and there's a knife fight.
Clearly uneasy with the job, clearly a dictator in waiting, Coriolanus is thwarted for office by James Nesbitt, tenacious fly in the conscience ointment. (Although we soon get a sense that anyone who claims to represent 'the people' has to step out from them. The people themselves don't feel capable of self-representation, something that would be very feasible today, for a more thorough democracy: "Truly I think if all our wits were to issue out of one skull, they would fly east, west, north, south." In the end we have a definition of rule approaching a 'necessary dictatorship'. There doesn't seem to be any other methodology.)
Cast out of Rome and casting Rome out, Caius Martius wanders the region on a gap year, a shift of gear which partitions the third act. Sleeping rough under old cars, I grew jealous of this kind of wild homelessness. Nowadays people résumé themselves by the lands they've visited. The internet dating advert is mostly a pointless list of countries visited. Travel and the 'travel movie' seems to define the generation between the TV generation and the internet, so much so that travel stopped being a tale to tell, unless it involves poverty, discomfort or prolonged cohabitation among risky locals. Any fool can book a hotel and wander the shops.
Group sublimation sounds appealing if you don't have a day job. The rest of us know too well about the selflessness of team effort. Does gang valour appeal especially to the unemployed far right? The modern right doesn't seem to have any grand plan beyond penny pinching and 1979. Mild leave-us-alone. Hardly Valhalla. Hardly Germania. Hardly 'Iron Sky', the trailer for which instructs us that every president who starts a war in his first term gets re-elected. Doesn't matter what the war is. Make something up.
The rough look of the film (a necessary inauthenticity) helps box divergent elements together. Rome looks Balkan but few actors look Roman, or Balkan. Jon Snow shows up. J. Nesbitt has a 'telly drama' feel to his face, Ralph Fiennes the maths teacher. Gerard Butler an incredulous bear. Vanessa Redgrave's key speech, to protect Rome from her own son's revenge attack, is a mesmerising draw into some internal landscape. I thought she might have gone creepier, or risen to oratory. Perhaps Shakespeare's range didn't cover 'nag', or the power of a mother over a child is always internal. The voice, the oldest voice we know, the guilt. Volumnia would rather have a dead son than one without valour and gets her preference.
Will a mother transcribe the sexism of her own upbringing into a low level 'revenge' against her sons? Hard knocks from the under-educated. Surely no-one benefits from the bitter or the thick bringing up kids. Characters absent from 'Coriolanus' no. 1: his father.
It is, finally, difficult to empathise with any man who makes no soliloquy, to give us insight into his motivations. Which doesn't mean that we don't feel pity when Coriolanus is eventually stabbed by a gang of betrayed Volscians. There was something of the tool about him. A tool in the utilitarian sense. A tool of the battleground, his mother, the state. Perhaps, deep down, blood and soil has little to say for itself.
Subject: Review+: A Dangerous Method (D. Cronenberg, 2011)
Time: 2012 Feb 18 10:35:00
David Cronenberg has been a life constant. From a Betamax 'Rabid' to a teen flick 'The Fly' and potheads watching 'Naked Lunch'. I thought he might 'film the unfilmable' and illustrate Freud and Jung's conclusions in some angular way but this is a straight narrative biopic of their professional friendship. If anything watching how people's personal jealousies and ambitions contort the 'dialectic' can highlight the limitation of subject-object analysis. The object is assuming the subject is neutral, and that only they are sick. What if both parties are sick? Or plain thick. An ape with a wrench. What if verbalisation always falls short, if complexes cannot be turned into linear signifiers emitting from the mouth.
Another day, another neurotic woman who just needs a bit of cock. I admired Keira Knightley as flake turned doctor, Sabina Spielrein. Suitably nuts, suitably Russian, an unrecognisable turn to her humour. She reminded me of some of the Russians I've met at Pushkin House. Overlooked for awards, of course - plaudits going to roles of status rather than weakness i.e. the two stiff shrinks with the famous names. Spielrein recognises that sex is destructive. That the ego must die for two people to come together. That by focusing on a deluded safety value like the ego and building a theory of sexual growth around it Freud was doomed to analyse of a snap-shot of someone's past rather than the turning wheels of the present. Freudianism seems dated and limited. The obsession with sexual repression, the mummies, daddies. Post-Freudians see the fact that he was a doctor as an issue. Like a mechanic discovering oil. He was used to fixing the sick, and saw complexes where there are structures, theatrics inside the mind like actors on a stage, rather than anything fluid.
I've dreamt of hurting people. I used to. I'd dream it again if it helped. (Barry Norman never said that.) Knightley gets spanked a lot. Some kind of leather tawse or belt. Subs are smarter than doms, just as flakes might make the best doctors. Perhaps she understands that the Talking Cure is a lot of dick. Even at their finest, words and feelings peel off your mindset like a potato print and leave it untouched. I once got into a taxi parked on Botanic Avenue, in Belfast, and noticed that the driver appeared to be asleep. I apologised for waking him. He explained that he had been meditating, and had done so every day of 'the Troubles'. We never know who's getting in next. As a meditator he was unphased, he explained. I felt like Jung in the back seat, listening, but there was no familial tale to tell, just a great perspective in the face of anxiety. Meditation (and drugs) beat the Talking Cure. It might seem odd that we'd wish to spend more of our life not-living, in a parallel mindspace. Done playing in the sexual realm, even the spanking, why not live elsewhere? I once imagined that meditation, and self-taught semi-spiritual things like intuitive thinking, might open up creativity but, while they helped elsewhere, they seemed to tell me that I'd said enough, but that that was okay.
Dream analysis. Doodles. Works of fiction. Free association. Even in scientific study, metaphor creeps in. The 'sex' we talk about as 'sex' isn't mere sex. Libido is a battery, an inland reservoir. Signs point to other signs, in and out and the same time. We are self-cooling engines. The machine works by breaking down and repairing. I fear to self-harm, I me punish. If we were to suggest that mental health was societal rather than I-me-my, rather than daddy-mummy, perhaps we could sue someone for it. It was poverty, insecurity, lack of hope and class stagnation all along! For Sabina Spielrein it was living in a world where husbands still preferred and expected male babies. Focusing on the holy family unit seems, to the modern flake, to be focusing on the self, a way to bound the debate. Part of the problem.
I ruminate on suicide. On a monthly basis. ("Barry, come back.") A permanent solution to a temporary problem. The future is anal and I am dirt. ("Barry
.") Why not live elsewhere? Wholesale. Where everything is Viennese, starched, genteel, taking a slow cruise around a windless lake, or choosing a strudel. Inland Europe, hemmed in and paranoic. Soon anti-Jew. Anti-this or that. Mocking the subhuman high on their comedic list. Spielrein seems to give Jung his best ideas. There's a woman in a man, and a man in a woman. Perhaps it's them we punish. Freud is portayed as chiselled by reputation, fearful of others not taking his work seriously as a science. Jung is open to mysticism, on the basis that all human life should be on the table, no colour banned from the palette.
I twist her hair like a knot around my fist and, drawing it up, use the knot to lift her head, to compliment the curve my knee is forcing into the small of her back. We had set sail after a missed breakfast but neither of us were of a mind to eat. The lake has turned jade, dark blue at the shore, under the church, and the wind is freshening. The sun still strong on the pinkened skin of our forearms. Otherwise, she is dressed. ("Barry..?") The creak of a buffeted boat. The creak of handmade leather boots. I raise a swish slowly, among the silent gulls, and its shadow sounds out the back of her lace dress. ("Too late. He's on his 'inner landscape' again, people.")
Bohemians and free thinkers in London insisted on Egyptian symbols as a frieze for their Highgate resting place, rather than Christian emblems. Likewise, telling this class, European money with open minds, to have more sex was probably pushing at an open door. Did 'sex sell' psychoanalysis? Free love was a step beyond the Talking Cure, a step towards praxis, towards play. Culminating, possibly dying, at a 70s swingers' party, as if the sexual value was all in the repression. Take that away and you have someone in a polyester caftan with her fanny in the vol-au-vents. Playing with a baby (something I'm off to do later today) seems more spiritual and nourishing than talk talk or ass grab. Find the inner idiot, he's a language.
Subject: Review+: Judith Hearne (Brian Moore, 1955)
Time: 2012 Feb 14 17:30:00
‘The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne’ makes a mighty anti-Valentine’s novel. A Catholo-conservative piano teacher, declined through dated morals and old notions of elegance, aging, friend free, never married, atrophied, lightless and presently hopeless, she fails to adequately fill even her own novel. Judith Hearne seems, always, to have been an “It’s only me” kind of woman. We are introduced to her as she moves from one bed-sitting room to another, in the red brick terraces near Queen’s University, in 1950s Belfast.
Having lived there myself, I was almost looking for the kooky sadness of ‘Madame George’, in novel form. The book starts bleak, and it assumes a downward spiral. It almost genuflects in front of us. Poverty and fear and lost days wandering the city, trying to fill time, trying to make a meal stretch, sitting in libraries and all the other things that people who are not quite tramps, but who are tramps in the scheme of things, do. Is there narrative? Without hope can there be? Again, the book becomes a ‘whatdunnit’. How did Hearne get here? What is so stagnant about this woman?
No oil painting, subtle snobberies keep her detached. Her revulsion of the landlady’s son, a lardy faux poet good-for-nothing. Over-mammied, a mouth seeking a daily push of carbs and sat fats. Her loneliness blossoms into mad self-deconstruction, doubling her entrapment, until her befriending of a James Madden, easygoing American boarder, almost jostles the misery from her imagination. Madden is Irish-American, returning to settle in the old country after a life in the ‘hotel business’ (he was a doorman). But mostly he’s a scam artist looking for money. Hearne allows herself to suspect this, but juggles hope with denial.
Everyone in the lodging house is polite, but no-one is pleasant. They are especially hateful towards the 16-year-old maid, whose countryside Irish looks (I assume the black hair-blue eyes Norse-Gael collision) result in her being treated like a gypsy who smuts the place up, rather than the principal maintainer of it. Both the blubbery son and Madden roll through her attic room for midnight japes (rape) and no-one says nothing because who’d want to be behind a load of old upset causing a hellish fuss up and down the place now, eh?
When I heard this book was made into a film, transposed to Dublin, possibly to court the Boston-NYC market, I was saddened. Why desert Belfast? Reading the book itself I’m glad it moved. YER HEAD’S CUT. In many ways the Belfast I know is an absentee. The mordant, northern humour. YE’LL HAVE ME IN PURDYSBURN. That said, neither does it taste of an absurdist south. If this is the middle class Belfast Catholic experience, it’s a vacuum. Protestant Belfast is visited briefly for an off-sales bottle but they’re a heathen lot, as good as atheists, old-school settlers unforgiven for bringing their towns and factories and roads and upset. In 50s slang to rip someone off was to ‘fist’ them. Thon taxi man fisted me, so he did.
The ‘R’ word hovers at the window like a dragonfly. Hearne is religious, although her faith appears to be an add-on rather than a year zero. An emotional safety net under aversion and judgemental words and a recourse to the John Jameson. In ‘Mere Christianity’, C.S. Lewis, another conservative Belfast Christian, was forced to admit, after deliberation, that it was possible to find good and moral people who were not self-identifying Christians. And that it was equally possible to find moral failures and hucksters who proclaimed Jesus in their hearts, perhaps for what they could get from it, or to stabilise them, actively enable them to sin further, more effectively. Lewis admitted that the former deserved the kingdom of Heaven more than anyone convenience-wearing ‘Jesus the t-shirt’. I found this interesting - if Christ can ‘work through us’ in a covert way, is it too great a leap to suggest that morality must be judged as an entity aside from how we affiliate or self-advertise? What of the new Islamo-Christian brotherhood, the Cameron-Warsi crusades? Wear the t-shirt or die.
It is never decided for us, as readers, if faith created Hearne’s masochism or if it fills a void left by real culture. She dreams of punishment, seems to suckle failure, and seems to admire the pitilessness of orthodoxy. Initially, we feel queasy that a male author wants to put a female character through such pain. Having recently emigrated to the colonies, was Moore putting his boot into Mother Ireland? An attempt to shred ‘postcard Irishness’ and scatter it to the wind? A bright burst of guilt: the anti-colonialist chasing his fortune, unable to maintain the Sean Penn self-deception, as if Irish Americans are a kind of honorary Apache.
A whisper. “Close the grave, close it quick.” Some authors write with their fears more than their wish-fulfilment, and often paint neurosis as a woman. Hearne is not a hysteric, but her dreams of death, tenderly directed scenes of her own funeral, soon become her comfort blanket. Living is a kind of nakedness, with death the only dignity. We sense her end.
The writing reads like a ‘composition’ you’d give an 'A' to, and a long, eager comment, if you worked in a grammar school. It flies when Moore burrows into the first person and simply gabbles. He's too straight up poetic for modernism. In some ways young writers might be the best people to write about the old and lonely (most of my school compositions had old, lonely characters). As you get older, you feel the need to emphasise youthfulness too much. Write old, young man, write it quick.
Finally homeless, after whiskey-led all-night singing, living on her last pennies, Hearne attempts to converse with her remaining friend, a senile woman bedridden in a low-grade convent home, a hall of bovine eyes waiting for the end, moaning in their shit. Each generation eventually faces its own private Auschwitz, as entire shores recede, surrounded by “dirty old hags, back-biting sneaks”, fingers lifted to the eternal mammy. If the ‘downward spiral’ storyline is literally draining, ‘Judith Hearne’ sucks us through to the kitchen sinks of Australia. I don’t think that I have lived in a more lightless room than the hours I spent reading it.
She never got angry. Never let go. Always “It’s only me”. Poor Judy Hearne, you had a reader beside you, watching your decline, and you couldn’t even tell them what the problem was.
Perhaps we need a new religion. Beyond supernatural mammies and bless-me-Fathers. If ‘new’ turns us off, we’ll get back to a faith older than the fly-by-nights, the beardy queer-bashers and male supremacy (in sandals). It will accommodate our intelligence and sit beyond superstition. No magic bones; no special days; unclean food; cut, scarred or hidden bodies. To be effective it will live beyond t-shirts, tribes, houses and homelands. Maybe it won’t even have a name. Whatever it is, Happy Valentine’s Day.
Subject: Review+: Twelfth Night (William Shakespeare, 1601)
Time: 2012 Feb 06 23:10:00
1. A day trip to the snow-filled streets of Oxford ends at a Keble College production. Inexpensive and never too reverential. I like their amateur nature, and although setting Twelfth Night, or What You Will, during prohibition is hardly experimental theatre, I like people who seem to be enjoying themselves. Good acting makes you forget that the actors are acting - great acting almost becomes a game again. Not an attempt at simulating everyday truths, but a parallel truth rising up from deep down.
2. Sir Toby Belch, not the patriarch, but more compelling and commanding than the limp and fretful-looking Duke Orsino, is played by David Cochrane as the pissed-up bigmouth at a speakeasy. He is hilariously daft and energetic and makes fruity, gargling laughs between every sentence. His sidekick Aguecheek is a hiccuping lounge lizard. This is Carry On Shakespeare. Imogen O'Sullivan's Lady Olivia is peppery and terrifying. Half Southern Belle, half bruiser, all woman. She is a well focussed actress struggling to get adequate return from the more amateur performers. Her maid, Maria, here a barmaid, has a useful likeability in Alice Fraser.
3. "Many a good hanging prevents a bad marriage." This play seems to be about the things that fill the spaces when a woman doesn't love a man. It probably 'wrote itself'.
4. Cross-dressed as a sharp fink, Kate O'Connor's Viola hardly makes a convincing male, but that's hardly the point. Orsino's touchy feely affection for her/him, followed by Olivia's, are like bookends of sexual unease. Carry On Shakespeare might cast Kenneth Williams as the puritanical steward Malvolio but Peter Rhodes takes the part in a more earnest direction. A mistake, I thought, considering the overall flavour of the show. Or at least, it wasn't enough to solicit great pity, a counterweight to the comedy. Surely it should be one or the other. He travelled at a different speed.
5. "Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon 'em". Neat statement but you can't run a country on it. Likewise, cutting off your feet to fit the bed. Sometimes you have to make a bigger bed. With job applications at a record high, Britain's problem is not sleepy inertia but innovation.
6. Anarchist Ian Bone considered the domination of Oxbridge on comedy in a blog piece entitled "How many comedians went to Oxbridge 50 years ago?" "50 years ago it was prime ministers, cabinet, /lords/army/diplomacy/landowners" now it is "editors/guardian journalists/musicians/cultural wallahs/bankers/ writers/media moguls". The performance gave me space to ruminate on issues like class and capacity. I'm less concerned with the non-music hall or working mens' clubs origin of comedians than the hothousing of an elite in general. Tell someone they are going to be running the world and they'll rise to the challenge. Expand to fill. Tell them they'll be franking parcels, if they're lucky, and they contract.
7. On stage, social status is often conferred by movements of the head. The jerkier the head, the lower the rung that character inhabits. Kings and Queens exhibit almost no head movement. Every utterence is a pronouncement, evident to the back row. Next time you are in a bar or coffee shop, watch a group of strangers. Notice how the more controlled heads seem to command the table! Notice how total jerks.. jerk!
8. "I am sure care's an enemy to life." I tire of this station. Tire feeling I'll not achieve a fraction of the things I am capable of. We all do, but my fraction feels bottom-heavy. On balance between not caring and caring I'd rather do.. both. Leave the caring to my politics but personally.. not care.
9. Later, I am using Facebook and I look up the cast and production team, to find out more about them. One admires bad boy toffs. Jeffrey Archer. "From the word go, a charlatan, mountebank, bad egg, dissembler and cad. Jeffrey, we salute you." Jonathan Aitken. "What a ballsy bastard. Great stuff." Prince Harry. "Spare Heir. Profligate outrageous renegade. If only all the upper classes were as debauched as Harry." I wonder if this is a contrarian joke. But it's Oxford. So it's probably not. I daydream of a cunning but limited Prince Harry plotting, at first in jest, till the joke takes hold, to see his brother off.
10. "Veolia, here." "Sire?" "I trust you have the pistol. While he has breath about him my days are nights." "Sire, the polo is yet to run its course. His highness is on horseback." "Polo sucks." "We hold sway for the hotel. The rugs are as thick as the blacksmith's fist. They'll gobble any deed." "Fine play and fair reason." "Sire."
11. At a machinic performance during the 2012 Super Bowl M.I.A. flips the bird to show that she doesn't give a fuck. Some people are energised by people not giving a fuck. Because singers aren't politicians. What are writers? Singers or politicians?
12. Twelfth Night, or What You Will, seems to have as much subplot as plot. Bottom-heavy, every compass point of doomed relationship is turned (a servant's love for his mistress; love as a shot at 'greatness'; a master's delusion that a servant holds a love for them). Sexual perversity is sniffed if not bitten into. There are anti-Christian and even pro-vegetarian comments. And the O'Reilly Theatre turned the fool into a kind of Singing Narrator troubadour whose songs had almost no bearing on anything. Ballsy bastards.
Subject: Review+: I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith, 1949)
Time: 2012 Feb 04 22:22:00
ICtC has a deconstructed structure which reflects a reader's mind as they read. A writer's-blocked Father, patriarch to a penniless but energised family renting a castle in Suffolk, becomes a lofty accusation tossed into our own watching eyes. (Look at you, there, in your cloisters of your room, waiting for all that meaning from words on a page). He acts as an absent disarmer and a gateway which allows the principal characters to maintain place over the reader.
A ponderous reader, I look things up. Write things down. Chew over and re-read. I feel guilty for curling up on the bed all afternoon. I get up. Wander around. Then go back. If I don't like a narrative voice, find it companiable or fascinating, or if I sense over-control or fakery, I can't advance past chapter two. I read ICtC in four days, my equivalent of 'in one sitting'. I like the plain voice of Cassandra Mortmain but I don't know why. "Is this book for children or adults?" I keep checking the back cover and Wikipedia. No-one will tell me. Apt: Cassandra is the younger daughter. A teenager, even she doesn't know if she is for children or adults. Theme number one. She seems to take after Father. Not such a girly girl. "Is this book for women?" I wonder. Does it matter? Books aren't toilets.
Cassandra lives with her elder sister and kid brother and a nature-worshipping, medieval-clad trophy wife Topaz. The sort of gentle, upper middle class bohos who can fuck you off. Even when they have less money they're still posher than you. You're still untouchable and irrelevant to their quest for other-worldly beauty. Poverty makes everything important. Bread, an egg. A borrowed book. How the roof leaks. Is Father lost, collecting his map-like scraps and textures for a novel that never begins, because he misses his first wife, his intuition, so terribly? He must feel lagooned in oestrogen. Women and their yak yak. Female colour. Beyond the mud, bleeding suns set on solid wish fulfillment. The female fantasy is good-natured. An addictive, girly positivity. Maybe it's the spirit of the times but nothing dark seems to happen on this landscape. A make-do attitude, kind people suddenly help out when you need them. Teen gush robs the book of psychology. There is no psychology, no trauma, no tested personal metal. Only structures and smoothly stepped hierarchies.
Rich Americans arrive, to own the place, and the family portrait starts to spin into sexual life. Cassandra is scared of a beard, then realises that facial hair doesn't mean you're bad. As Yankee tanglings entrance sister Rose, it becomes evident that everyone happens to desire (as far as is seemly) someone a rung above themselves. Socially. Financially. Professionally. Physically. Karenina's love quadrangle spreads out to dry over a Vorticist washing line. The suspended, eternal smart of dissatisfaction lingers here, but it's fine really, everyone will be kind about it and eventually take us shopping till we're exhausted.
There is female disempowerment and inertia. Inevitable self-deception and gold digging. Woman are lustless property in waiting. The deep end of the plot clunks. I bore of the mid to late section as it notches forward like some inevitable chain. The minutae of stated feelings. Will they won't they? Who will - and to whom? Does she really? Did he? I demand more madness of the yarn Gods. But the moon came out and it was lovely.
Like a junior Jane Austen, Cassandra matchmakes her sister too well and finds herself alone. Mid teen loneliness, the model for all our lonelinesses. Those older than us are too old for us. The younger too young. Neutralised but sexless, we force ourselves forward. Tomboys testing femininity. (Don't do it! Here's a secret: boys hate make-up). Femininity the construct. Sparkle. Women's rung.
There is class. Unthanked farmhand, holding-it-all-together Stephen, adoring Miss Cassandra but never taken seriously, has known the Mortmains all his life but still calls her 'Miss'. He is afforded respect when he suggests that he will stop doing that. But the family have been instructed to talk to him stiffly and never with affection, for this will only cause problems later. Even when whisked to London for a lucrative career in the movies, on the basis of his good looks, Stephen is still 'down there'. One desires up. One desires, ultimately, one's dominator.
Lastly, there is the castle. A Norman police station captured, pictured, painted in so many words, yet circumnavigated like a moat. History is too much while Britain is an add-on society. We add-on a Parliament. Add-on Catholicism without the Pope. Squeeze bike culture into car culture. No year zero here, so much history. So why does the castle feel transparent, so uncaptured? Why does ICtC feel like a light and experimental book?
Defenceless. I've chewed it over and I think it comes back to the first thing which entranced me, the plain voice of Cassandra. Why is it so attractive? Perhaps because all the other characters are trying. Trying to create beauty. Trying to get 'back to nature'. Trying to live as art, or at one with the universe, or do that European nobility thing. Cassandra's already matured voice could be evidence that beneath all the trying, you and I are there already.
Subject: Review+: L'Atalante (Jean Vigo, 1934)
Time: 2012 Jan 29 20:30:00
The sea, the sea. Any film beginning with the union of marriage, full of fertility symbols and well-wishing, might be promising to unravel further down the line. The wedding guests of Juliette and Jean, a commercial barge owner, progress from the village to the river, where the couple are to honeymoon on his craft, L'Atalante, delivering them to Paris. As in Ibsen, civic ceremony is used to remind us how we are tied to the seasons and landscape.
A boat movie as opposed to a road movie, the couple are not alone on board ship. Hissing cats curl in every nook and under every sheet, and the vessel comes complete with a screwy cabin boy and hulking first mate played brilliantly by Michel Simon. The viewer has mixed feelings about this character, Père Jules, with his grotesque tattoos, his big ugly mug and foul mouth, the boneheaded density and the inability to feel anything, let alone shame. He's the uncensored brute we half wish we could be, and half fear.
The tone begins joyous, joyous of odd things. Dirty realism. Soft blocks of symbolism. The clothes are unkempt, the feline abuse seems real, the passion is carnal and the bodies hairy. Beyond anal, playing in the dirt with a smile. Later, the images of depression-era Paris are a banquet of homelessness, shadows and bagsnatchers. If flattering the viewer and host nation is how to garner success and gather nominations, it is no surprise that France initially shunned 'L'Atalante' until long-term critical affection grew for its underplayed poetry.
Symbolism. Sneaky dark arts at the back door. What does the sea represent? Water is an imaginative sanctuary from both the land and the city. "You can see the face of the one you love in water." Water is a Song to the Siren, where disunited lovers long. Water is oracle, a sense of eternity that the Godless can agree to. Water is where intensity gets so intense it plateaus. I drifted off at one point and imagined my own 'boat movie'. I pictured someone finding a severed hand floating in the water. A few minutes later, on screen, Juliette grimaces at a pair of severed hands housed in a jar, in Père Jules' salon of curios. I couldn't have known this, but it was a hypnotic déjà vu. "Close your eyes and think of water. Describe what you're seeing," a pop psychology test once tested me. The description you give - supposedly your approach to sex and the life force. Crashing waves are passionate, fish tanks still and kinky, the drip drip of a tap would be repressed (but still happening, I guess) and so on.
Done living with the hulking lecherous threat of Père Jules, a clear symbol for the ugly side of masculinity, or the reality of the conjugal body women have to lie under, Juliette flees for Paris, which is where 'L'Atalante' almost becomes a feminist film. Till then it's been plotless, some people falling out on a dirty tug, the symbolism seeming to build from the sea to the tide of the male/female relationship. Dying Jean Vigo, son of an anarchist murdered in prison, born poor and stayed poor (would he even want to go to film school these days?) passed away shortly after the film was released but, in aftertaste, seemed to be saying "This was life. This was the joy I felt and the frustrations I had, the escapes I had to make." It might therefore be a slice of Gallic charm, Vigo looking into the eyes of the women he'd known and saying sorry. For, I guess, the trashy things men do, for what they are not.
Juliette is a woman outnumbered and atrophied by the testosterone around her. Her 'rebirth' (feminist film theorists point to the scenes of 'rebirth' forever required by female characters) is her flight from the ship to the city, a second act which doesn't work out well. But if you really want to leave audiences with a lump in their throats you need a surprise return of some third act underdog, someone who has been the cause of all the problems, enabling them to simultaneously 'save the day' and deliver their own atonement. The sight of Père Jules, indestructible sea dog with no love for the land, lumbering through the streets of Paris looking for Juliette, has all the tenderness of King Kong's defence, and capture, of Fay Wray. That brute testosterone 'saves the day', for anyone, is probably the director's wish fulfillment. Real life and every unrescued Esmerelda beg to differ. But, hey, whose imagination is it anyway?
I wondered if the poetry we can express is bounded and shaped by the body and if there's now greater mileage in the collective imagination, or leaving 'self-expression' behind in favour of a kind of mutual gaming. I wondered if 'L'Atalante' is a good film or a great poem, more sublime in aftertaste. I wondered if there is an arrogance to grand apologies to forsaken women. Rather than poetic gestures can't men do, y'know, something helpful?
Subject: Review+: Shame (Steve McQueen, 2011)
Time: 2012 Jan 22 00:50:00
Another day, another Abi Morgan script. I liked this film not because I liked McQueen's debut, 'Hunger', nor because Michael Fassbender's mother is from Larne, but because I felt myself to be the opposite of Fassbender's character, and opposites can often spring from the same root or arrive at the same terminus.
Just as McQueen had to unsay a lot in 'Hunger', to leave an amount of political neutrality, here he has to pull back from seeing the sex in sex addiction as the problem. When not using prostitutes, picking up strangers, watching porn and jossing off over toilets Brandon Sullivan's only mild narcissism and icy perfection funds a very natural kind of infidelity. He seems to have an easy time picking up women and then ignoring their calls. Is there a problem?
Perhaps the fact that it's not a problem is the problem. You can have hormones telling you to have sex even when you're a detached person or in no mood for a relationship, surely. But 'Shame' isn't a study of male detachment as per anything from 'Benny's Video' to 'American Psycho', more a whatdunnit. Fassbender is fairly blank and charmless (but this is believable, personality seemingly getting in the way when it comes to relationships, landing a man in the dreaded 'friend zone'). Porn and prostitutes are soulless pursuits but in Sullivan's world 'real' sex is worse. Since sex, conception and birth were uncoupled, does the act gain a kind of unspoken infertility? Rather than plugging us into a national grid of growth, has pleasure sex become a placebo, another liar? Why should it be a bonding experience anyway? As acts of love go, landing yop in someone's crotch is surely of questionable design.
Place begins to suggest itself as the culprit, as if ones background paints the foreground. Place, or more accurately, location. Find the world warming and fulfilling and your sex will follow. In contrast to the frisson and newness of a vacation, Sullivan's New York is lonely, competitive and soulless. Capitalism, with nothing to counter and balance it, measures his coffin every day. His flakey, priced-out sister sings 'New York, New York' as if McQueen is passing us a clue. She's a sexual freewheeler too and screws Sullivan's boss, which is, oddly, when sex begins to trouble him.
After finding himself incapable of sex with someone with a personality and a personal narrative, self-loathing the emptiness of his existence, Sullivan returns to prostitutes to cheer himself up. There is a lingering examination of an unsexy intense-and-otherworldy-during-sex face. Flooded eyeballs, hungry but not enjoying the food, brimming with shame. Shame of animalising, shame of animalising another? Shame of being reduced to hormones, a dumb puppet of chemicals? Shame of having a cock? But, again, sex seems a red herring in the whatdunnit. The shame of self-amputation.
Confession: in the same place via a different route, I've almost let myself become a sexual black hole. I don't consider it. Sex somehow seems sexier with me not in it. Shame, because I feel like a sexual person in an amputated body. I regret sex 80% of the time. I feel further from not closer to. I get paranoid. I don't trust people. This is a problem and I don't know the solution.
Do I convince myself that heterosexuality has a natural imbalance, that it resembles something men do 'to' women, never really 'with', that the lack of male objectification is as harmful as the over-objectification of women, and that it all adds up to a one-way street of desire that is inherently alienating, nothing to do with capitalism or the media, just to circumnavigate something? Have I built a landscape in my head that, while not sex-negative, makes it harder to accept, just to slip away from any responsibility? That's very male.
Animals tend to be shameless. In its favour, therefore, shame would make us human. If shame is about the violation of social values, and guilt the violation of internal values, shame would at least indicate an awareness of group expectation, even if it is inconsistent or unclear. In the end, 'Shame' is about impotence. Erect, permanently fucking impotence of the heart.
'Shame' isn't a barrel of laughs. Watch Truffaut's 'The Man Who Loved Women' for the funny side of sex addiction. Watch 'Benny Hill', the bit where he chases them round a tree. I don't think I've met a sex addict, beyond Russell Brand, and he didn't try it on with me. Sex isn't the problem in sex addiction because, at the level of daily narrative, group expectation finds it more refreshing than the yawning void of the sexless norm. Light and funny is probably the only way to take sex. Thrusting hasn't the weight of meaning we like to think it has. Keeping sex naughty, and a dirty little secret, keeps it important, which may be shame's intent.
Subject: Review+: The Iron Lady (Phyllida Lloyd, 2011)
Time: 2012 Jan 15 13:58:00
A trip to the picture palace, where I went to 'The Iron Lady' over 'Girl With The Dragon Tattoo'. Mainstream films seem to have perfected the art of apolitical politics, the circumnavigation of adult analysis. True to form, 'The Iron Lady' exchanges the rights and wrongs of where Lady T took Britain for doddering human interest - ambition, woman in man's world, and a lot of dementia. Not that you'd learn much about the miner's strike from the 'Girl With The Dragon Tattoo' either, I guess. 'Girl With The Dragon Donkey Jacket'. That would be a film.
With no grand narrative to examine, is Streep's acting more than a blinding impersonation? Is the perfection of an artifice for generating emotions in a viewer enough for the subject matter, or do we need something more Brechtian or is Brecht like a dull lesson?
Thatcher herself had a nice dismissal of gender studies ('what it means' to be a woman, decapitating the self with the opinion of others), preferred doing over symbolic being, and, when young at least, wanted a nation informed by philosophy and could-be rather than history, so this would appear to be a not-very-Thatcherite movie. But the fixation on the power of the self, the hero (heroine), the patriarchy (with breasts), bends it into a historical model. There is no doubt that Thatcher is cast in the 'hero' archetype. The narrative is a pure, softwared Hero's Journey, with Airey Neave as Obi-Wan Kenobi, Carol Thatcher as C3PO and Mark-2D2 lost in the sands.
As viewers we're always keen to tie narrative threads together. I've pondered before - is there a connection between dementia and right wing politics? Dennis T almost suggests it as his ghost disappears. Is the classic right wing personality a mental health issue in itself? Spurning difference, fear of unknowns, woe of things falling apart, the past was best, whipping inertia. Transfer that to someone's mind, watch them shadow boxing their own subconscious (which, despite its reputation, is a bleak factory on overtime) and you have dementia in a can.
Dennis suggests that his wife has always been too much an island. Yet Streep's Thatcher is very family-orientated. A serious woman who adores her clown husband. Doting, literally, on her son. It's a political paradox: why do birthday-remembering people-orientated people people turn anti-people in the polling booth? Why do the warm-hearted and generous get paranoid that it's all being taken from them? And how can detached academics, loners happy with their own company, fight tooth and nail for the rights of others at a high level? Perhaps we're not single units, perhaps we are poles of personality, gyrating off one another. Or the family is too much a reflection of ourselves, and the real 'people people' are those loving the stranger.
Whipping inertia. On Radio Ulster, a pro-Thatcher commentator is debating an anti-Thatcher fellow re: her legacy. Hayek on Keynes. "The left's problem was that it thought money grew on a Magic Money Tree!" he scoffs. Nowadays the Magic Money Tree is unmasked as the City of London. The nation is held to ransom, but not by unions, by banks. Ropey, over-extended financial services, engorged and surefire property profits, just hoping that the next generation can pay, has given us the sort of crisis that starts world wars.
Germany's pre-Thatcher belief in manufacturing, their relative mistrust of unfettered financial diddling, seems to serve them well. Staying close to your materials, as an artist would say. Close to what people can make or do and pay for. Family firms seeking long term growth rather than a soulless smash and grab. Belief in people as the solution, not people=shit to be whipped and cursed. Moving as a team. According to the Lady T model inertia is the problem, working class inertia cured by horror. Make people poorer and lives unbearable. Eventually they'll split pupae and emerge a Steve Jobs, a Bill Gates. Doesn't work like that. Behind the social welfare state, lies 'investing in people'.
Then, eventually, Thatcher=division. On-bike seepage. Scotland has more pandas than Tory MPs, even Komodo dragons,
and the decommissioning of the UK could be David Cameron's legacy. Post-nationalist small U unionists who find relationships realer, more civilising than the self-regard of isolated units like me aren't going to advise Scotland what to do when I can get their frustration.
Must be off, now. Bye, old girl. Thatcherism has expanded, under all-party successors, to the point where even Lady T might be uncomfortable with things, had her thoughts the ability to cohere. What is now defended, by people like Mitt Romney in the US, as 'free enterprise' no longer seems to exist to create anything, do anything, advance anything, give human beings a role or make their time on earth more interesting. It exists to turn $5 into $10. As easily as it can. Casino enterprise, and big enough to strip anything to its bones. Romney, the snatch up, break and sell merchant, whose chief expertise seems to be moving people en masse onto welfare. The 'turn-around guy'.
All falling apart, now. Breaking up. Closedown. Done. Dusted. Is leadership just a phantom menace? An ego to give our own a boost? Probably not, these people have real power. Thatcher, who loved the 'do' more than to 'be', soon realised the power of the symbol. You have to, old girl. We're still not.. enlightened. Enough. Yet. But maybe. One day. Toodle-oo..
Subject: Big Society: the anti-Health & Safety hazard quiz
Time: 2012 Jan 07 14:40:00
Here at the Big Society we're keen to move past the 'Health & Safety' culture that has made Britain a laughing stock, and cost our industry billions. We're keen to see the nanny state sling her chest-in-face suffocation elsewhere. To free up bosses terrified of litigation, to help them drive their staff ever harder, more wrecklessly and aggressively. To help staff too, who tell us they want the freedom to choose dangerous work in a treacherous environment, 24-hours a day, until they lose a limb if that is what they want. Take our workstation assessment today >>
Subject: 1987, the Plaza and the Delta
Time: 2012 Jan 01 19:45:00
"We have no memory tonight. We have the sun in our hair, the moon in our eyes. And we just don't give a damn. Cause we are free." Scarlet Fantastic, No Memory (Extra Sensory mix)
NYE is bed, Benylin, and the Complete Short Stories of JG Ballard. I don't mind: I wish the world nothing but love and best wishes, but this evening always holds mixed feelings. Time, time. Newly signed to Facebook, I realise that warm minutae is all we say to people. Janet Likes Jane's baby. Jane Likes that Janet Likes her baby. 5 people Like this. Short of a poetic quantum leap, it's repetition or Benylin.
This Christmas I visited a friend whom I haven't spoken to for twenty years. He's doing the same things, watching the reruns, wrinkled. Reunion concerts, holding together an ailing chip shop. Losing parents and tracing his family tree. Fifteen ring binders full of clues, clippings and links. Like a long tail of cultural OCD that clasps small town life. Rethinking thoughts; a ghost in the same boutique; scraping empty corners; the echo of unsaids; bleached by infinite complaint. Who am I? Walking up the path from his house, I wondered if we're all going back to the same places. Repeating a default self or tied to stronger apron strings than we admit. The slain grand narratives. A twittering small town politic. Ha'penny on income tax here, a top-up fee there. Even if the economy recovers it'll be a while before it's something to get out of bed for.
Where do we find our fresh dreams? Big dreams. Behind the flat labyrinth of Facebook photo albums - the weddings, regeneration, backpackers at the Brandenburg Gate, a raised glass on another winter break, doing it, doing Life - is there a grander narrative available (after funding it all and fairness are examined) or does only a fool ask that? Going back. I'm a forward-facer at heart, I think. Going back: in Belfast the avenues and side streets crawl with army Saracens. In department stores shoppers queue for bag searches. Police in flak jackets travel the pavement in pairs, hand guns or machine-guns clear and visible. Transparent.
The Plaza and the Delta compete as nightclubs. But both are long deserted dance halls, knock-the-door, word-of-mouth, gay on Fridays, a kind of post-punk youth club carrying on till the carry-out dies on a Saturday night. They run from about 1983 to 1988. The Delta has more mods, more warrens, but both have goths, rockabillys, Smithsy indie kids happy to swing around to each others' music, light industrial sequencer-driven pop, the emerging hip-hop and house. There is no budget, no health and safety, but there's the joy of a generation finding a kind of superpolitic - something intangible to express outside anger and lumpen protest - and a frisson that will find you asleep in a foreign part of town after the obligatory after-party party. There is, importantly or not, an innocence (drugs don't feature at all) and a sense of crazy safety. Perhaps we all imagine that our own teens got something right. The energy in both clubs has a sexy alertness; clever or arty are fine; poverty or freakiness applauded; as female as male; sectarianism and proto-football anthems absent. Just before MA1 flight jackets and 501s, just before 'indie dance'. I was probably wandering around looking for the design kudos of the Haçienda (although a kindergym Kreuzberg is closer) and missing the point. A nightclub is about nothing but the harmonization of male and female structures. Making memory. The Haçienda is a brand of expensive apartments. Speak, Memory: the only thing I remember about the novel 'Northanger Abbey' are the balls in Bath. Again, they seemed to function like exploded metaphors for male and female structures, post-faith, or lightly set inside the grander religious narrative, pre-social state. On a wet drive with my parents we pass a rural Orange hall, windowless and overgrown with ivy, where they met, a long walk up a hill from Monkstown. In 1987, the IRA are planning to kill 11 and injure 63 at a Remembrance Sunday in Enniskillen. Gary Armstrong (suede, above) begins his legendary dance to the Age of Chance's take on 'Kiss'. The fella seems to live on brandy and crisps and someone else's sofa, writes poetry and reads them to anyone who'll listen. A transvestite (Sally?) solemnly collects cans and plastic glasses. Laughter in everything. Body Shop Ylang Ylang, a palm passes over the rough open knit of some fishnet stockings. Today the latest fashion in local nightclubs is to stand for a hearty 'God Save the Queen', a loyalist fashion that went out of fashion in the 90s. When no new grand narratives appear, integrated schools perhaps, the old ones return, like another slice of Downton, Strictly or Keep Calm retro. "It's silly, no? When a rocket ship explodes, and everybody still wants 2 fly." In the rockets-versus-hospitals funding debate I moderately sympathise with rockets. It may be the Ballard talking, but we need something beyond successful regeneration and animal spread. No? Not for colony, just to break the reality asylum."Do you have their memories, Sargeant?" Brigadier Perks looks out along the precarious drop from the edge of the nightclub roof to the street below, and then checks his watch. The helicopter has been left to run, but its occupants are nevertheless getting impatient.
"Just about all of them, sir." The sargeant out on the slope of tiles uses a torch to examine the Memory Hoover, an unpainted cylinder chugging with a buffered rattle against the slates. "They're young, but.. something in the collective unconscious is pretty damn chewy. Clinging on like the devil."
"God knows what the poor bastards have swimming around in there." Perks shakes his head, puffs his cheeks, then uses his binoculars to search for snipers.