Subject: Ode to Jean | Tubey Benson
Time: 2013 Sep 19 22:29:00
Assembly songs at the VU rock school. Your chemistry teacher failed to return from a 'Breaking Bad' bender, and Miss Jean Gillespie had her doors of perception blown off by 'Larkrise to Candleford'. Let us pray.
Subject: Review | Sept 2013 | The Shores of Pleasure
Time: 2013 Sep 16 09:22:00
Platform Theatre's moody 'Sunstroke' (2013). A sand-filled space is Yalta beach, where opposing promenades stage dramatic badminton between twin Chekhov and Ivan Bunin fictions. Doomed love for married women or fleeting fantasies. Some critics found it opaque but I liked the artsy elements. The use of movement artist Masumi Saito between scenes, seemingly to illustrate the nature of desire, provided unexpected emotional swings. Failing to break a watermelon one minute. Folding and unfolding a man's kimono the next. Rosy Benjamin and Stephen Pucci were impressive as Chekhov's vain, bored pair. Later, there may have been some vanity casting - executive producer Oliver King couldn't quite find chemistry between himself and six foot Russian supermodel and Cumberbatch-dabbler Katia Elizarova, making her acting debut. It can't have been easy. The ill-fitting officer's uniform and hippy goatee never sang. By a fluke, I managed to bag the pervert seat, Ms Elizarova swimming around in a monokini two feet from my face half the evening, the rest of the audience no doubt convinced that I was there for a peep show. Top models are tall languid girls, alien more than beautiful, which has to have some earthly passion to it. Post-coital trauma fires the second act, the jarring twist from loved-up to resentment, where anti-social other-worldly objects turn into a lumpy, domestic burden once the pants are satisfied. For the Russians guilt is an inability to see the next step - where do we go after sex? What trumps intensity? Shame and pain are human limitations padding to and fro on floorboards, looking for transcendence. The movement artist returns, to curl up on cold sand. Thing about cupids, they're always alone. Tom Shkolnik's 'The Comedian' (2012) is a low budget British film about a London of the 'poor but not starving'. A northern call centre worker dreams of being a stand-up. Getting by in rented rooms, he enters a gay relationship with a young black artist, until love collapses under the weight of real life. Routemaster racism; tired tears to an immigrant taxi driver; just sitting on the edge of a bed keen for it all to end. Anyone feeling half-alive, half-hiding, from themselves or reality, will find it hard to look at. The drifty nothingness of stunted lives reminded me of the early social realism of Béla Tarr, and that's a good thing. A different capital recalled in ICA Off-site's memorabilia hotel 'London Subculture 1980s to Now'. Boy George crucified in a Warren Street squat, Bodymap, Kensington market, photocopied modernism by radical collectives, hand drawn invites, acid house. You could come away thinking that 'subculture' is another name for flamboyant gay clubbing and artworld parties you never got invited to. Whither the bikers and bare-knuckle boxers? All very British in that subversion and anarchy are given higher status than beauty. Lots of shocks, lots of cocks. I bet these peoples' parents were CoE curates. 'Now' fascinated me because, while I'm sure that subculture still exists, I generally see London as a conservative engine, trading off a legacy it priced out. Good to see creativity for its own sake, though. Bar review: 'Tunnel Bar' in Kentish Town is so wrong it's still wrong. Imagine a blue Goth cellar in the gay quarter of docklands Odessa swamped in Russian sleaze pop, pictures of Audrey Hepburn and weird clocks. 'Tunnel Bar' walks a tightrope to nowhere, from guesswork 'classy' to Argos 'alternative'. The cocktails were nice but the glass top tables remind you of crying prostitutes. Go! Comfort reading: I quaff a collection of PG Wodehouse short stories but tire of the comfort, the shaggy dog nature of it all, so re-read Raoul Vaneigem's 'Book of Pleasures' (1979) which is a radical license to find oneself within the revolutionary nature of pleasure (without becoming libertarian). Powerless and non-hierarchical, pleasure creates life. "All pleasure is creative if it avoids exchange." "The eye of power destroys what it gazes upon." "The tactile gaze of pleasure meets only what is alive in people." "Reject survival." If the human heart could speak it would tell us all this.
Subject: Photoblog | Larne and East Belfast, 2013
Time: 2013 Sep 03 17:30:00
1. My life falls neatly into decades. The 70s were my childhood; 80s my teens; 90s, young urban professional and socialite; 00s older urban professional and blogger. By the shore, I bump into Arlene Armour, a woman I haven't seen since the long, hot summers of Raleigh Grifters and Swingball, and a dog lazily gnawing the face off Stretch Armstrong. We just hug. Sometimes words can't cope. Later I sit with my sister amongst the howling barflies in the Thatch public house. 2. This season Belfast girls are wearing pale denim and too-short shorts, neon body paint streaked on their face and legs, and some of them lie blocked on the pavement, shortly after 7pm. "That's bloody wrong," decided my taxi driver. 3. Belfast student land, where hardline gulls have migrated inland to attack cats, they say. One appealing aspect of this area has always been the open door policy. To regularly end up in a stranger's terrace having an unplanned party is not uncommon, but to end up watching stand-up from a makeshift hot tub, or listening to clunking backyard drones, or a sitting room gig, or a cake party under a fur moon, with the wind up the chimney amplified into a typhoon, surely that must be the Household art-in-houses weekend. Is it art or a kind of urban gaming? Call them hipsters, plenty were Dubliners, at least they exhibit enough love for the area to mythologise it. 'Step Forward Belfast's Montparnasse' said the Irish Times. I best enjoyed the dark, meandering embroidery of Lyndsey McDougall. 4. The old East Village Other 12-string got a dusting down for more 'local songs'. The VU-via-TVPs influence was evident. Click track-free, it was the kind of recording session I almost regret. Unprepared, let's-wing-it, smoked-up, one-take muck. Creation is digging - rewriting and rewriting. Anyone who tells you they capture some phantasmagorical jouissance by banging it out quickly and thoughtlessly is a liar. It always smells of topsoil. The subconscious digs instruction and gains generosity through attention, not abandon. A song we recorded last year is used as a show opener on the Larne radio station, Chaine FM, which is perfect. 5. Ancestral home of the Earls of Antrim, remodeled in the Elizabethan style by William Vitruvius Morrison. Even if they never visit, live in London and work for Lloyds, the Earls will be buried in the hills above the estate, where you can almost touch the Mull of Kintyre. The gateway to Dalriada, up until the nineteenth century it was quicker to get to Scotland than Belfast. Rather than a barrier, the sea was a fast lane. In Glasgow, outside the GoMA, there's a statue of the Duke of Wellington with a traffic cone stuck on his head. I think it's meant to symbolize Celtic irreverence towards the aristocracy. In some ways I'm as done with rebellion as I am with reverence. I wish we'd find a new civic order to love, celebrate, extol.
Time: 2013 Aug 19 20:00:00
Slowly and deliberately, Patti Smith eats half a rotisserie chicken with seasoned potatoes. Her rider asks for no photographers in her line of sight. They can be stage left, or right, but nothing between her and the audience. She waves at her audience often, like a kid in a playground suddenly seeing a friend. She dedicates a rare performance of 'Elegie' to Allen Lanier, wishing him a nice journey. To the stars, I guess, and then she sings a harp-based take on John Lennon's 'Beautiful Boy' to Thomas De Quincey. Emotional to hear a woman singing so lovingly to a man. "The children's stuff here is actually really good." Local Natives serenade a full moon which frosts the Brecon Beacons. Public Service Broadcasting. Low. Moon Duo. I discuss the Belfast art scene with Girls Names, who got the five a.m. plane from Gdańsk. 'Charlotte Sometimes' crawling through a swamp of effects. John Cale. Veronica Falls' 'Beachy Head'. A better band than I expected. Double brandies. Bethany Black. A lecture called 'The Occult in Music, and Music in the Occult, from 1888 to 1978'. "I was tea-boy to the Beast as he was dying in Hastings." Laverburgers. Bloody Mary crumpets. "Tony's on the plant food, man. The meow meow meow." Another lecture about free festivals. A very English LSD. "Post-Mayhew the psychedelic cat was out of the bag." "I have jumped the gun to paradise and may pay the price for this." (Fay Weldon's ex-boss, during acid). "LSD is an amplifier. You can hear conversations across the field." "You can hear conversations in kitchens on other planets." Edwyn Collins struggles around backstage on a walking stick, then sings 'Falling and Laughing', which can't be right, or perhaps it is just perfect. His laugh is like a lost squeezebox dropped on stairs. "If Lewis Carroll was alive he'd be a hacker." "I don't think groupies happen anymore." I resist listing Stephen Pastel the cassette-only rarities and Glaswegian art fanzines I own and act professionally at all times. I am in charge of a team of four here and, although I never even get an interview for real managers' jobs, we do very well and I am proud of us.
Subject: Death of a Pornographer
Time: 2013 Aug 11 18:10:00
Self-tanner. Nail clippers. Six bottles of lubrication, unopened. Generic Viagra. Painkillers. Tweezers, depilatory strips. Disposable razors. Both male and female. Bleach. Oil. A stack of folded towels. A basket of dirty sports wear. Detergent and fabric conditioner. Three boxes of paper tissues. A twenty foot square blue plastic sheet. Wrapped.
Bath cleaners. Limescale scrub. A hanging make-up station beside the mirror. Brushes. Foundation. A pocket of false eyelashes in individual boxes. Curling tongs. Hair straighteners. More towels. A dozen packs of wet wipes. Cotton buds. Body wash. Colonic irrigation tubes. Unopened douche. A funnel in a bucket.
A made futon bed. A skateboard. Weights. One computer terminal workstation – computer removed. One laptop docking station - empty. DVD racks, tipped over. Empty DVD cases. A stack of unfolded sleeves. Stickers. Scissors. Shelves of pornographic material. Horror. Male work out and martial arts. A half a dozen discs labelled 'incidental stings'.
Russian English phrasebook. Spanish English phrasebook. Polish English phrasebook. Hungarian English phrasebook. Czech English phrasebook. Travel guides and city maps. Prague. Amsterdam. Kiev. Three gilded trophies the size of an average hand. Two unlabeled. One inscribed 'Best Gonzo' and dated last year.
A framed magazine interview with the victim in German. A framed print of the victim embracing a Caucasian male. A framed print of the victim with his arm around two females at a social function or ceremony. One Asian, one Caucasian. A set of brochures for a pole dancing franchise.
Travelling bags. A suitcase on wheels, empty except for receipts from a hotel in London in the front pocket. Dated January. A set of keys, door not vehicle. Belts. Socks. A tray of sunglasses. Stray receipts for hotels in Las Vegas and New York. Dated last month.
A printer-copier. A box of banking. Insurance. A litany of health checks. HIV. A clip of sales receipts. Last one from two years ago. Tax return forms. Emails from an accountant. Figures scribbled on them. Shipment orders. Letters to a distribution company. A series of empty checkbooks. A box of performer contracts, unfilled. Missing spaces on this shelf.
Toolkit, screwdriver. Bulbs, leads, a hammer. NiCad batteries, rechargers, various sizes. A tray of European and Latin American coinage. Studio lights. Portable. A rail of female clothing on casters. Wigs, a pink backpack. Two boxes of female shoes, two of underwear. A box of unstolen jewellery.
A couchette. Assorted adult toys. Ropes. Some kind of black binding tape. Steroids. Miscellaneous health supplements. A stepladder, unopened. A fridge, partly filled. The milk expired yesterday but the beer and the protein shakes are fresh.
"Roy. What is 'gonzo'?"
"I think it's some handheld, homebrewed kinda thing. Don't worry, it's not the Muppets."
"Looks like this man had sex with everything but
the Muppets. Maybe that's what they'll say on his grave. If he gets one."
"It's got drugs written all over it."
"Sure looks that way, don't it? Somebody blew up a Walgreens in here. Take over describing for me, Roy."
"White male. Mid thirties. Naked. Facing down against the far wall. Pills and pill bottles. Cocaine style powder across a leather couch. Gunshot wound to the head. Blood in the hall like somebody slipped. Blood on his back. Like he rolled around in it. Can you roll around after you're shot in the head?"
"Some people go for donuts. That or there may have be a second victim."
"Congealed blood. A thousand dots up the studio wall."
"Like a pointillist painting. Thousands of dots. A flower."
"How do you spell pointillist, KT?"
"Call it one unsavoury pancake."
"Bone and tissue. Portfolios of a robust variety of adult imagery. Are you okay with all this, KT?"
"Roy, the sexualisation is less a concern to me than the fact that his face is a cave."
"You didn't get this in Tennessee."
"No. Our homicides usually come with some underwear."
"Buns of steel."
"Describe, Roy. It's known as rigor mortis."
"Just when I think I'm turning Californian I am asked to think again."
"Suicide's not off the table."
"If a gun fairy came in during the night. Why not? Any vehicles?"
"There's a garage around the back with a drum kit."
"They won't get far on that."
"KT, Bradley Berry is outside."
"Well, KT and Roy! Man, the flies are having a circus in here."
"You should have called the swat team, Brad."
"Still one smart son of a bitch, KT."
"Mother of a son of a bitch, coroner. Know who our friend is?"
"Care to share?"
"Google him. On second thoughts, don't. Man turns women inside out for a living. Which is technically my concern. Say, if this was television there'd be a clue stuffed up his ass. Sounds like a freshman's job, Roy."
"No, sir. That glory is all yours."
"I'm too old and trembly. Time to get the boys with the measuring sticks. What are they called?"
"Do we have to, Brad? Can't we file this under 'who gives a shit'?"
"Everybody got a momma somewhere. Insurance. Next of kin."
"Brad, this man's jockstrap was his kin. That's why men like him are all alone."
Primary scene containers. Secondary markers. The boys arrive with their measuring sticks. The beekeepers. The clipboard sergeants and tickbox lieutenants. The man with his little numbers on markers. The woman with the ziplock bags. The guy who logs the ziplock bags when she's done. And six men who can photograph the soul of a room in five dimensions.
"What was the point of pointillism, Roy?"
"Saving paint? Something French. I dunno."
"The point of pointillism is greater luminance in colour. Achieved when you combine colours optically instead of mixing pigment. In contrasting them to an empty canvas, stray white between the dots, tones that used to fight, they say, begin to shine. What fight is redressed by this incident? What is the neutral background we must consider? Heck. Where's the incident reporter?"
"She's in the other vehicle."
"I'll let her go."
"Hey, ma'am. Sorry for detaining you. There is no suspicion. We just need your details and to ask you a few questions. I will not be doing any background checks on you today. Do you understand? Put the phone away, ma'am. What's your name, sweetheart?"
"I told him already. Your friend has my ID."
"What is your relationship to the victim?"
"The blood in there. It's like a mist. I got it in my clothes. Do I get cleaning costs?"
"My job's no fun either. How did you know this man?"
"I don't. Selector Models, the agency downtown, gives me this call last night, the address and the ground rules. That's it."
"I'm not a Californian. Shouldn't you be bleach blonde and pumped up all kinds of pneumatic? Is that old style?"
"Skinny Lil Rats. He got a series."
"Skinny rats. Okay. Where's mom and dad?"
"I don't have those."
"Okay. You said you were given ground rules. Can a hillbilly like me get her head around them?"
"No no. I mean that's the ground rule. There is no 'no' allowed on set, or no payment."
"Something's gone wrong with a half of this world."
"They email you a show reel. So you can agree. Sometimes it's better not to look."
"Could you email that to me? No, email it to Roy. Roy! What's your wife's email?"
"I can't believe I took three oxycodone for nothing. They give them to wrestlers."
"Okay, ma'am. Thank you for the co-operation. Roy will give you a lift downtown. You can say no to him. It's his favourite word. Isn't that right, Roy?"
Subject: O'Halloran's Half
Time: 2013 Aug 02 20:21:00
A shot of fiction written on a digital dictaphone in the hostelries of Kentish Town. Maybe it's not thinking that makes it flow. Maybe all-male characters. No need to 'be careful' about what they 'represent'. Inhabit them three sixty, even the libidinal undertow. Sure the lads are a laugh.
And so it came to be that O'Halloran lived with O'Toole and O'Toole lived with O'Halloran and they both had old patterned armchairs which faced one another in an otherwise barren bed sitting room.
And O'Halloran would look up from the carpet on occasion, perhaps once or twice a day, and say to O'Toole "What about a nice pint?" And a brassy look would come into his eyes.
Now O'Toole was a different kind of man. He was a man from a strict background raised in a climate of fear who would never admit to being prudish but who nevertheless exhibited all the characteristics of a prude. And there was shrewdness to the fellow which expressed itself in his ability to diffuse O'Halloran's alcoholic tendencies with the use of a double bluff, in that he would advance O'Halloran's suggestion to a point that even O'Halloran found unsavoury.
"Ah, everybody does that," he said in a scornful way. "I've got a better idea. What about a nice pint of heroin?
And O'Halloran's eyes would drop, and his hangdog expression would return and the tomb-like silence that filled the bed sitting room would fill the bed sitting room.
(At this point I should offer a picture of O'Toole's expression, a carefully judged trifecta of emotions, each masking the other. A relief that the threat of inebriation had subsided; a concern that this might be the occasion when O'Halloran would counter his ultimatum or extend the proposal with backtalk and questioning; and lastly an entirely fraudulent look - that of being as dismayed as his partner that the whole matter of abandon proved so fruitless, so often.)
And then, when the coast seemed clear, he would raise both palms off the arms of the armchair and let them fall into pats of frustration which seemed to say "Is there nothing we can do about this state we're in?"
And so it came to be that the following day was Thursday, and Thursday, being market day, saw O'Halloran perusing the stalls, which had long since passed their glory days. A bucket of scraggy fish heads watched him poke around some wizened broccoli, while a flat-looking cabbage seemed to hide from the language-less barks of a traveler woman, who had forearms like bollards and stray grey whiskers.
And it was carrying a basket of wounded brassica and stew bones that O'Halloran chanced upon an acquaintance he had known from the Jesuits, scruffy Thomas Bermingham. With a manly delight they both shouted "How the Jesus are ya?" and the like, at one another. But, weak as a wreck, Bermingham could barely lift the ruined hand that hung out of his heavy great coat to bid his friend any sort of physical salutation.
"Sure I'm on the mend after a dose of the jaundice. I believe the trick is to hold your breath because the blue and yellow make a green and if you wear sunglasses to the bathroom you're a picture of health. A movie star."
"All's good, so."
Suddenly Bermingham unsheathed a pint sized plastic sippy cup from his battered brown satchel and proceeded to take a series of long, shaking swashes, of what appeared to be a homemade brew. Perhaps it was shock of meeting his friend but at that moment O'Halloran had a hum dinger of an idea.
"Bermingham, could you do me a favour? Do you know the man I live with? A man called O'Toole?
"Was his people from the Barnside area? Then.. no I don't."
"Ignorance is golden, Bermingham. Here is the plan and there's a full shekel in it for you. At some point tomorrow I will give you a telephone call and ask you to bring round to my home two pints. Two pint cups of heroin. I shall tell O'Toole that you are the local heroin supplier. Now of course the contents of the sippy cups will not be heroin or anything close to that. That is a rather important stipulation in the contract. I'd go so far as call it a deal breaker."
Despite the proviso, Thomas Bermingham continued to be conducive to the plan.
"I want to see the look on O'Toole's face when we hand him that sippy cup. And I want to hear his protestations. We'll laugh and laugh, and surely then we'll be in the pub before sundown. Three lads together."
And so it was on the following day, as it was on the previous day, being Thursday the market day, (and as it surely would be, unless something was done, on the day after) O'Halloran and O'Toole sat on their old patterned armchairs facing one another, in their barren bed sitting room.
When? Thought O'Halloran. When should he speak? When was normal? Would his words come out in a self-conscious manner? Forced and all wrong?
"What about.." His composure was found at last, aided by the raising of one finger to serve as a distraction from any tension found in his voice. "A nice pint?" These three words were delivered with a springy naturalism to them that only a deeply suspicious man would contest.
Well, it was then that O'Toole did something that he never usually did, which was to clear his throat. This immediately made O'Halloran very apprehensive indeed. Why clear the throat? Why today? Was he about to say "Yes. My throat is dry. Let's do it."
Slowly, ever so slowly, O'Toole succumbed to the ritual they knew well, in that he countered the proposal with a pint of heroin. And then brought his fingers together, like a chess master.
O'Halloran could not let his relief show, so he also raised his own fingers to cover his mouth.
"We'll see," he said, suddenly standing up. "Sure we'll see about it now. It'll be my birthday treat to you."
To say that O'Toole's jaw went leaden, dropped and swung about was an understatement. His eyes strained open with a tension O'Halloran had never before seen.
"Ah now Robert there's no need for that. It's not for a month and a half. And it's not a big birthday. It's one of those birthdays that you can barely remember the number. Not what you'd call a heroin birthday. That's for sure."
"Oh, a blend like Thomas Bermingham's is an anytime heroin. That's why he's just the man."
"Please, Robert." But O'Halloran was at the telephone.
"Nonsense you've been hinting like nobody's business. I would estimate that a half of our daily discourse is you pining for skag. Now I think he's on four triple five." O'Halloran was dialing.
"Robert, Robert, please. There is no need. It has been so long now. D'you know I think I've lost the taste for it. I hear the cries of children. They remind me of my wasted life. Robert, please."
"Hello, Bermingham. How are you doing? I'm here with O'Toole. Yes. We'd love to get junked. That's right, yes. Junked to shit."
And so it was that that scruffy Thomas Bermingham, still in his sunglasses, made his way to the house of O'Halloran and O'Toole with a pair of pint-sized sippy cups in his battered brown satchel. With the pretence maintained, he was ushered through the front door and up the stairs.
"You have the lovely heroin there, so." Behind Bermingham, O'Halloran's voice boomed out, chiseled and commanding. He urged the guest into the room. "O'Toole, we have company."
"..bathroom," came a poor response from behind a door, a little way down the corridor. "..shan't be a moment."
O'Toole eventually emerged, a quarter of his body at a time, his eyes fixed on the pair of sippy cups waiting in Thomas Bermingham's hands.
"Hello all," he managed to whisper, closing the door behind him.
O'Halloran was beaming. "At last!" he chimed. "Would you believe it? Heroin at last."
"Sardonic but not cynical," said Bermingham with a gurgle. "Psychedelic with a somewhat introspective outer limit." He extended one hand.
"Good grief. Would a fruit brack go with that, Robert? I'll get along to Todd's bakery before it shuts."
"Sit down and imbibe, citizen." A playful look threatened to fill Bermingham's face, for he was enjoying the foolery. O'Toole eventually accepted the gift and his eyes never left it, as he was guided by both men into an armchair which, although a minor gripe given the circumstances, was O'Halloran's.
"Get set to sense your chakras rise. Time will bend for you. Your consciousness will ride out on a beast you didn't believe in, a beast called freedom. Jumping five dimensional ditches of space-time lava. Where black holes pull the omniverse inside out. Like the brains of jockey called Christ Almighty." Bermingham was clearly well into the geg, for O'Toole's nerves were more than evident. "You'll be everywhere and everyone, at once. At the Big Bang itself. A spectator but also not so. At one with the One. You will be. The One."
O'Halloran rested a hand on Bermingham's shoulder, biting his lip. O'Toole looked to the ceiling briefly as if to protest but, like a cowed senile with nowhere to go but a care home he doesn't care for he looked back at his heroin, and then took the biggest swash he had taken in his life.
"Slowly, citizen." Thomas Bermingham fell forward. But O'Toole had the next third in him. And the next. Wiping his chin, gasping for air, he spluttered at O'Halloran.
"Come on, Robert. Big O. It's time. Sit there yourself there. Time." He threw his finger at the other armchair, glancing at the cup for more, a slewed and nasty look on his face. But O'Halloran had his back turned, facing the empty armchair and holding his face, shaking.
"I'm overjoyed. I don't believe I could swallow."
"Empathy high and not uncommon," confirmed Bermingham.
O'Toole's face had become a map of unease. "The One." He said, looking sweaty and delirious. "I think I'm approaching that. So soon."
O'Halloran angled an eye round to observe. Bermingham, who had perched himself back on the chair, urged O'Toole on. "Go with it. Don't fight it."
O'Toole turned dreamy, his mouth began grinning, and a kind of awe filled him. "When will I know?"
"You will know."
"Come on, surfing bird," O'Toole entered a distended hand jive. "Take you higher."
Bermingham had a wad of mottled fabric that he'd withdrawn from his satchel. He placed it on O'Toole's forehead.
"Take the bird higher." He glanced at O'Halloran and rubbed some fingertips together, suggesting remuneration. "The bird wants to take you." O'Halloran threw a thumb at the bathroom and they retired there, watching O'Toole's head fall this way and that.
Once the door had clicked shut, O'Toole changed. Straight as a judge, he sprang up and tippy-toed over, where laughter, murmuring and the exchange of coinage confirmed his deepest fears.
"Tell me, Bermingham, what sort of [unintelligable] poison did you have in that sippy cup?" O'Halloran's joy was clear.
"Well, the bass notes are a McFluffy. And the rest came from the pet shop.
[Fell into?] my coat, if you catch the
O'Toole glanced at O'Halloran's untouched pint.
Now in a panic, O'Toole picked up a tubular cellar of salt and his keys. He needed somewhere safe and dignified to vomit. He was down the stairs and up the street in seconds.
The wise man need not fear death. He fears nothing but falsehood - quoted O'Toole pulling his jacket together at the front. What had he done? Had he said something? Did he indicate that he was coming into money? Had he been a gripe?
Perhaps they had talked themselves through, and with nothing more to discuss he'd been deemed expendable.
"What a bloody carry on," he said aloud, turning the door handle of the corner shop and spinning inside.
"Returning an unwanted gift. We expect receipts."
"Water." He was abrupt and unapologetic.
"Still or sparkling?"
"I'm looking to vomit. In safety and dignity."
"Sports drinks are in the fridge."
And so it came to be that O'Halloran sat in the pub with his pint in front of him and O'Toole sat across the table from him, like a mirror to the man, but without a drink of any sort.
"The purity is not what it was."
"No, it is not. Sure we're here now." O'Halloran raised his glass but O'Toole paused him with a touch.
"Would you say it was cut?"
"I'd say half cut. And wait till I get my hands on scruffy Thomas Bermingham."
"We have plenty to talk about. Don't we, Robert?" O'Toole paused him from drinking the pint a second time.
"Is it true they cut it with petrol, and margarine, woodchip and the like?"
"No, no that's not true." O'Halloran felt the ignition of alcohol enrich his stomach, and spread its effects around a uniquely connected set of points in his body. "That's a McFluffy."
Subject: Politics | Assange
Time: 2013 Jul 26 19:59:00
I took today off work to write fiction, but my imagination is joyless and barren, as per. I keep politics away from this blog, preferring the interaction of news site commentary. Some things are changing my view.
A nausea with 'above the line' aloofness to people 'below the line' (there was no abuse or trolling on advertising-less and hierarchy-free bulletin boards, as far as I can recall). The same people who used to laugh at 'the internet' in general now laugh at a portion of it they find subprime. Secondly, I'm tired having comments removed (I keep them all. Maybe I will publish these contraband sentences one day as a conceptual art piece. Were they nasty and uncalled for? Or facts and views that others found inconvenient and uncomfortable. Let the public decide).
Lastly, as 'left brain' logic, I find my own views fascinating. My immediate response to the Saatchi-Lawson incident was 'why is everyone assuming that they have a vanilla relationship'? We don't assume that people are straight anymore, so why assume that pain is not a part of a couple's emotional language?' Either my response showed too much imagination, too broad an exposure to life's fringes, a perverse over-philosophical or aesthetic need to find paradox everywhere, or I have a point. The driver behind my views seems not to be 'protect the children' or any childlike part of myself, and conservative drivers seem to be dominating discourse once more.
After watching 'We Steal Secrets' (Alex Gibney, 2013) - where do I stand on, say, Julian Assange, I wondered, and why?
First the rape(s). I don't believe these were a CIA 'honey trap' (although if, as a malicious institution, you wanted to destroy support for a liberal threat you would accuse them of sex crimes, something their supporters see as the worst crimes of all). It was a kind of a righteous groupie triumph. The spoils of anti-celebrity, which I assume at least begins as a win-win exchange. Does consensual sex turn into rape when a condom breaks? I'm not sure of the legality behind that. Having fathered four children to different mothers we could guess that Assange has a penchant for broken condoms, which suggests an underhand and orthodox approach to sex. Still, is it rape? Or the behaviour of a git? Some people, even those not following religious instruction, only consent to sex without contraception, feeling that the intimacy of sex springs from the possibility of a procreative journey. Otherwise you're wanking into someone's body. Hardly noble or heroic, they plead. They have a right to that belief but I think they need to spell it out to any unwitting baby momma. Conclusion – git more than rapist, but nonetheless.
Will he be extradited from Sweden to America and death? Probably not. I'd say he is more at risk here to be honest. Should the matter be sorted out somehow, somewhere. Yes. Does it need to be in a Swedish police station? No, I would say not.
Are Wikileaks important? As important as any investigative journalism, yes. There isn't a scrap of evidence that revealing truths about the US's recent military excursions has put anyone in more danger. I'd guess that far less Reuters journalists are being mown down in a chilling act of vermin control than before such revelations. Were Wikileaks in some way responsible for Bradley Manning's fate? No. Do Wikileaks need Julian Assange 'above the line'? No. To say otherwise is an 'old world' view. Does Assange use the oppression of Wikileaks and free speech as a shield to protect him personally? I think so. Is Assange frightened? Or a messianic, Lennonesque figure, making an absent father sit up and notice him? Who cares? Is Wikileaks ushering in a better world for all?
This is the interesting one. Wikileaks isn't proposing brave new political structures. It's about 'dirty little secrets', 'exposé' and shin-kicking 'hypocracy'. Will full transparency in itself move us forward? Probably, a bit. But if you look at the comments of, say, war justifiers (who always seem to have a vested interest and/or no chance of ever being drafted) most people don't seem to care. Polarisation, in-groups, nationalism, sectarianism - all still seem to count for more than truth and fairness.
Is it wise for Assange to go into party politics? Doesn't it mean he will be scrutinised on many other issues and unmasked as bog standard libertarian right, or a by-numbers liberal scared to propose anything too left? All of which will be hellishly uninteresting. Yeah, yeah and yeah.
What do I think about the man himself? There was a vanity there but also a kind of anti-vanity. The littlest hobo, blown into town, no shower for days, living off his laptop and the kindness of strangers. A teething swagger of self-importance, but only as much as any investigative reporter that I have encountered. A vulnerable shrewdness but a blindness to corners that's classically geek. He's an analyst. You can see it in the pauses before he responds to questions. God help us when analysts take a dose of machismo. They can't handle it and, like non drinkers on New Year's Day, end up paying for it.
Next week: why I joined the British Humanist Association, then watched Roman Polanksi's 'The Pianist', worried that advancing secularism inevitably leads to a kind of 'militant enlightenment'.
Subject: The València Letters
Time: 2013 Aug 11 18:25:00
"Come on, Jean. What are you bringing in?"
Mrs Shah's busy finger, almost inflexible with wedding bands, can't embrace the stem of her glass. The rogue digit reaches out below the humourless purse of her mouth as she drinks. Never a self-conscious woman, she pauses to review her response.
"Seventeen thousand a month. GBP. Across ten properties. Four in West London." She inhales very consciously. "I'm no Abramovich, but it's fair for a retiree. I'm taken care of. And I deserve it. For the heartache." She raises the glass. The other drinkers mirror her with a range of smiles. "Living is easy."
We are a cartel, you see, every one of us. Lone wolves are what we do at night. In the daytime we need to share. We haven't put anything on paper. Why would we? Like a horse, a rider and a lance our purpose comes alive in the assemblage of our talents. We need to be together because pretending we are not alone is not enough. Through detective work, we work on one another. Me, I like to work out why we're alone.
"Living is easy," agrees a thickset former builder by the name of Len Whitticase. Why make it difficult? When he joined the cartel Whitticase boasted of 'covering two thirds of Leicester'. On the continent, he dabbles in specialist new builds, in the hills.
"Gwynn?" The original questioner, new to the cabal, seems eager to engage the whole of the table. Eyes, being the tortoiseshell and titanium cornea of expensive sunglasses, address the youngest portfolio owner present. "Gwyyyyn." The speaker elasticises the name and pings it loosely through the sunshine and dry air, and down into the Spanish street babble below the balcony of the restaurant. Gwynn does not usually attend the meetings on his own.
A single jet stream is the only white in the thin blue above us. It lifts like a dispersed accent off the jumbled ochre rooftops, where vintage satellite dishes and assorted aerials co-exist.
"Between us, ten thousand a month. Some outgoings on the last couple. Eight something." He says quickly, then pauses. "It keeps us social."
"Keeps you in beach boys," the questioner gargles, glad of Gwynn's commitment at last.
Gwynn had been the third member to arrive on the balcony that afternoon, and had ligged against the wall in an awkward silence, watching the questioner wipe fingers red with tapas on a cotton napkin, and had clammed up and wished the others would hurry. The questioner disturbed Gwynn, if he was honest. Visored by an incongruous cowboy hat, in a black vest, he waited under the table's awning, prodding a tablet and snorting out the fate of assorted financial products.
The questioner had once informed Gwynn, while both were fueled on Glenmorangie, that Bangkok 'knows who is who, and what goes where', which Gwynn had taken to be a nudge towards his being gay. And the younger man had the misty recall that the questioner went on to suggest that the sporting degradation of Nana Plaza ladyboys during paid intercourse was on par with his own civil partnership, soon to be wedlock. As a taxi swerved in to rescue Gwynn, the cowboy had rested an elbow, in a strange piece of theatre, on Gwynn's shoulder. We're brethren, sullen brother. Community.
Today, with a midday sun beating waves around the hills, around the town, Gwynn had twice texted his partner Glynn, who normally had a stronger constitution than he, but who simply could not be roused that morning.
"You been drinking glow sticks again?" Mercifully, Mrs Shah arrived to embrace him, dropping exhaustedly into the shade.
"MDMA. In a helicopter. With three Russian DJs. Thought I'd woke up with Parkinson's Disease. Never good for Type 2." All week he could feel a bipolar dip coming on, an undefeatable black twister which will sink him. 'Bed is my only friend', he will end up writing on Facebook, then deleting, as it swallows him whole and he stops caring enough to protest. Gwynn will do his vanishing trick.
Jean Shah wasn't past a pill or three. "I fucking love you." She spoke to the jet stream but reached out languidly for Gwynn's hand. "Jean Genie's here for you, yeah?"
Seated beside the balustrade, I watched the traffic in the streets below. I've been here longer than any of them. I've been doing this since time started. I used to walk those streets with friends when I was a young man. I can still see us all now. Hippy cloaks under a pink moon. And love. So long in the hair. Keen voices. English rare here. The streets are busier now but feel empty, for I am old. I have seen every street corner so often. They almost pass through me, like I'm a ghost already. If I reached out to touch you, you would neither notice nor care. I am a breeze, or a wind from the east, as pale and flavourless as the mineral water I cradle.
It was the Blustons who arrived next, pouring along the balcony with three shopping bags apiece. The couple's élan served to entrance and distract us. Gwynn was pleased. If he could bottle their essence I'm sure he would. "Babes," he embraced Phoenicia. "Is that a Tom Ford? It works so well on you."
Tall and lean, tasteful art collector Phoenicia Bluston ramped up her inheritance, three tiers of maisonettes in Chelsea, with local build, marrying a Basque chartered surveyor with curling black hair and curiously light eyes who seemed happy to take her surname and sat there silently in a tailored suit (today's was cornflower). As with any couple, one feels one can work out who chose who. Rafael was Phoenicia's acquisition, as much as Gwynn had been Glynn's.
"Oh, a last season grab. I'm a tramp, darling." Phoenicia shook her head but found herself pinched on both sides of the waist by an arriving Mr Whitticase, who swung into his usual place, while the waiter served Mrs Shah. "I'm a tramp's dog." Apart from Rafael Bluston, who was the only smoker, and who posed against the balustrade like the winner of a tanning competition, or a cigarette commercial from a more amenable era, and not a pustulous charcoal organ, all shuffled safely under the awning for the taster menu we tend to share, and some organic wines. "I'm a tramp's dog on an old rope."
Mutually fascinated, talking shop and phones off. Someone was about to put meat on the bones, of a new proposal.
"A war is coming in the UK. Youth vote bait. Tenants unions, new rights. And talk of rent control. I kid you not."
"Jesus. Where do dogs go when a country goes to the dogs?" Mr Whitticase looks at nothing.
"Patriots moved to Spain." Mrs Shah backs him up, saying something she has said many times.
The questioner, Mr Lewes, a former City analyst, has been getting to the point. "The attraction for foreign owners in the UK has been its outstanding landlord bias. For how long?" He looks at me, I think, although it is hard to tell in this light. "We are connected politically. Here. But we're impotent in the UK. So I'd like to propose a new cartel member. One Sr Almeida. Well connected at EU level. Sponsoring academics and journalists. Lobbying. Making sure no nonsense lands on anyone's doorstep."
"They're getting cheeky alright." Mr Whitticase throws a thumb over his shoulder. "I was rung up direct by some ponce the other week. Complaining about another six percent rise. Then casting aspersions on my education. He said, I've got an MSc and you've got four o-levels. And I'm giving seventy two percent of my wages to you. I said, I could do your job with my balls out. He said, I'm a trainee archaeologist. I said, you need better digs. He says, I'm handling Richard the Third."
"He'll have that all over your carpet, Len," warns Mrs Shah.
"He said, wages have flat lined. I said, not mine, sunshine."
"It's the cheek of them gets me."
"They're your tenants, Jean." Gwynn looks along the white table cloth in a defeated manner.
"A tenant is a squatter with a bit of paper. If it wasn't for us where would people live?" Mrs Shah's entire body tenses. "I'm too old for the sobbing turds. 'I'm a single mum. I spent eighteen months attending a church I don't believe in to get my child into the local school. I can't just move on.' There'll be rent control over my fucking fanny."
"Think about it." She goes on, prodding her temple, staring down Rafael Bluston like he had learning difficulties. "These people are in your house. It doesn't matter what anyone pays. The facts are there." She swipes at the air. "The place is yours and they're in it. Don't listen to them, Len. You were born while God was in a good mood and you took advantage of it. Tough tits for slow bastards, I say."
Mr Whitticase shakes his head.
"It's so terribly difficult." Phoenica Bluston repositions an uneaten piece of jamón serrano. "Look, darlings. There are plenty of asset management oiks to handle the sordid far side."
"Oh, Almeida's tenants are fast-tracked out and they pay for the privilege. Same as any. But rent control activists finding themselves.. discouraged?" Mr Lewes seemed in awe of this man's resolve.
He leans forward and whispers. "Holy Grail, gentle people. Taxes." Sighing, he spreads his hands. "Everyone agrees they're going the way of mastodons and smallpox. Not welcome. Not helpful. What's yours is yours. You create its worth. I'm a maximiser and so is Almeida."
"There are ways. Charitable consortiums. Transferred assets. Registered on the James Islands. Almeida underwrites the deal." Mr Lewes touches his cowboy hat. "There are ways to end the bloodsuck. Imagine bringing in the full load. For fuck's sake."
I am watching Gwynn as Gwynn watches the porcelain, the white plastic sluice gate. He shakes his cock off and moves to wash at a long marble trough with automatic soap and water. Finished, I follow him.
The full nelson, he says. Choke you longtime. Maxi miser. What a dick. What a dick. And now they were all being watched and written about. See? Inside the restaurant? Did you see that guy? Watching us? The furtive glances. Who was he? Gwynn had a bad feeling. Gwynn was going to make his excuses and abstain on meeting the new member. Never double bluff the vibe. Vibey shit all morning. Gwynn was vibey because Glynn couldn't be raised from the dead.
As he told me I wondered what he was telling me. What was he saying - exactly? I'm in the cartel because it gives me a chance to speak. I'm an old man nobody sees. I end up listening.
In the corridor he joins Mrs Shah. 'Race you', she had challenged as she pushed open the door to the Señoras. She links her bronzed arm through his. "Jean, when we pass through the restaurant look to the right. There's been a black guy, watching us. Don't speak. Safari jacket. Look quickly. He's been watching us the whole time and pretending to check his phone, But he's taking photographs. Writing things down."
"Nobody home, hon. His drink is still swirling. Maybe he'll come back."
With a reluctance to go forward, Gwynn stops in the intimidating heat of the entrance to the balcony. "I am so dislocated. I need bed."
"Bed is good. Stop overdoing it. Give me a hug." Mrs Shah plants a whisper in his ear. "You're such a special boy." She knits her fingers into his hair and pulls his forehead towards her for a kiss. "Such talent. So many people deserve pain. Not you." The fingers of her other hand leave a pill on his tongue. "A little rise and shine for Jean Genie," she whispers, watching his open mouth, waiting for him to swallow. "Good boy."
Gwynn seemed to enjoy the embrace, but Jean was necking him too much. "I don't know about the Almeida thing. I'll leave it all to you."
"Run it past Glynn. If the bastard manages to get a plane on time." She turns to the cartel table with an audible sigh and tucks a prospectus under his arm. "It's a sin to fritter fun money."
They embrace again and he feels the full effect of Jean's bespoke perfume, ignited. "Is he gone?" she asks.
"Who?" Gwynn's voice is tired. He throws a look over her shoulder, scouring the main restaurant.
Two dozen sapphire eyes; doubled bellies trouble the twice-ironed casual; varicose under varicocele; steroid popped and patched; grinding steak like silent steak grinders, free at last from culture, swearing into yesterday's football section.
Gwynn had to get going.
I said goodbye to him. I was the last to say goodbye.
"Okay, guysh. I think we've heard all we need to hear from this cock shmokersh."
Rafael Bluston hooks one thumb into his belt loop and raises a foot to perch on Gwynn's empty chair. The index finger of his other hand lazily indicates Mr Lewes. "We've lishtened to thish guy bemink in from moon basesh alpha with God knowsh what. But itsh guaranteed full on bullshits."
With a collective mouth gaping, the cartel turn to observe the Spanish man, raising themselves off their chairs on one tightened buttock or two.
Mr Lewes erupts into a long laugh.
The siesta heat, reflecting off the hills, pressed the town into beats, like the pulse of blood in the neck. It was one beat later that Gwynn's vanishing found him nipping along the side streets on his scooter. Cool air and movement seemed to help.
There was plenty of subscription lithium in the mainland apartment. Mental states were postures, and he recognised his mind starting to turn in on itself. Crouch, submission (to who or what?) a ball curl. Spurning decisions and actions in favour of prolonged self-biting and crying. He hated it.
He crosses the cable-stayed bridge and the desiccated river bed, under an enormous mast with glass decking. At the other side, on a whim, he throws himself to the roadside and pushes the Almeida prospectus into a municipal recycler. And, by a fluke, happens to look back as another scooter, one which has been tailing him, decelerates to pass. Initially the rider turns away but then he gives in and stares blankly at Gwynn, and Gwynn recognises the man in the safari jacket who had been taking photos in the restaurant.
"The pretty boy's night-schooled in hyperbole and slander. He's practicing his oral." Mr Lewes leans back, rocking himself indifferently.
"What is your angle, Sr?" Mr Whitticase has risen to question Rafael directly.
"How dare you, Lewes." Mrs Bluston takes control. "Len, you darling thing, take a seat."
"It's a cartel," reminds Mr Whitticase, who turns to Phoenicia. "Could you stick your hand up his back and make him do that again."
"I am jusht sayeen." Rafael raises both hands in surrender but assumes his place against the sunny balustrade. "I am jusht sayeen."
Mrs Shah won't stand for it. "You can't say something and then say I'm just saying. Phoenicia tell him."
Mr Lewes backs her up. "You've made your splash. Now make a bit of sense."
Rafael Bluston shakes his head. One hand swats an imaginary fly. "Thish guy siteen here. Is notorious. Ashk him why he is banned three lifetimesh from València Casino."
Mr Lewes laughs again and throws his head back and forth. "Designing. Ways. To. Win. The. Game. Is. What. The. Game. Is. About." He seems so keen to underline the idiocy of even having to explain what he is explaining that he speaks like a daft robot. "It was five years ago. And if the management team can drop the prosecution so should you."
"Cheateen. The player playsh witheen the game. Or the game loshes itsh dignity. Itsh power and beauty." Rafael Bluston circles his fingers in the air while Mr Whitticase rubs his eyes and sits.
"Finding weak points and loopholes is system testing. Not cheating. I should have charged those cunts a fee." Mr Lewes looks like he refuses to discuss the matter further.
"But lishen, guysh. Its not jusht heem. The Almeida man. He ish known under many many namesh. I promish this to you. There is not a rich widow in València he hash not seduced out of her money. He alwaysh succeedsh. They cannot resisht."
Phoenicia doesn't know what to say, and inspects her overlacquer. Jean Shah's fingers begin to massage the back of the neck, back and forth just under the cranium, while her gaze travels to and fro around the table cloth.
"Señor?" My chauffeuse has arrived. How much do I love the word? Chauffeuse. It's the best word in the world, up there with 'oinkiest', which a hill farmer used of a piglet I was holding once, when a young hippy once worked up there. My chauffeuse is more than a word. She is life, and everything I have will be hers. It won't bother her, for she is as old as I am.
Old men can be reckless. I adjust my hat and angle myself to stand and excuse my early departure. People understand. I find that I enjoy the sport more than the gain these days. That can't be right. I tell them that I vote to meet this impressive fellow, at least. Seems only fair.
Gwynn had accelerated, overtaking a lane of congested taxis and revolved a sharp left up a cobbled hill. The scooter disappeared past the crest and by the time he reached it his quarry could have disappeared up any number of adjoining alleys. On a whim, Gwynn chooses the narrow route festooned with panes of laundry which leads to the church.
Sheets in various states of soak flap across his face. The flickering sky becomes the frames of a silent movie, twenty to thirty miles per hour. The scooter engine whirs like a projector against the ear. The suspension bounces on stone knuckles like sprockets. Subliminal pictures of a cat jumping off a pile fuel cans confuse him and a wet shirt pulls on his shoulder but his wrist urges more speed.
Come on, fucker. Falling through layers. Deeper me's, as if in hypnosis. Under the DNA, dyslexic, gay, Anglican, guy or gal, the existential voice where each of us is merely We. A life hiding, this voice told him, summing up his own young experience. His sunglasses were pulled off and the sky movie just got more so. Nearly there. Over exposed in daylight. Celluloid melt. The last wet towel pulled past. The acid bath of bitch cold air at last.
And then the swung edge of a plank. It knocks him clean off the bike, as neat as a wind from the east.
Subject: Poem for Etienne: Automony
Time: 2013 Apr 13 20:00:00
Structure is always last year's structure
Intuition's the test, enabled by sensation
Only mess can tell the future.
Angles, rebound, ricochet, rocking plants
Pressure, test, these blacks are whites,
These lefts are right
When you chase the ass off a cornershop ball
Across a corridor.
You're drop-kicking right into my arms,
Seems like yesterday you needed hands to stand.
Enabled by mobility, autonomy fills the turned doorway,
New words, every day new tastes.
Your first asparagus, your first saltless chip, blown cool.
I was there, dude, I was there.
Time: 2013 Jul 02 19:57:00
Playing math rock for dummies with a bunch of beardy lecturers in a former bank vault in Tufnell Park. Next Friday, July 12th. Last year we packed the same venue. This year they gave us late licence. A US-UK-DE co-production.
Subject: Review | June 2013 | Applied Arts
Time: 2013 Jul 01 23:00:00
Despite the images below British art schools do run more applied courses - fashion, jewellery, stage and costume design, 3D design, photography. Just when I think London isn't worth the price CSM's student Platform Theatre shows up. It recently gave me Edward Bond's 'Saved' (1965) dressed as Amy Winehouse's 'Back to Black', Mayakovsky's 'Bedbug' (1929) set in Pussy Riot's Russia and Hart/Kaufman's 'Once in a Lifetime' (1930) in electro-pastel primitivism, 'Barton Fink' by The The. £10 a ticket and a hip, quiet bar. Conceptual work plus raw life often becomes an applied idea. I lunch every week with former band mate Mr Newman and we churn them out. I unwittingly named his new project ('Castro versus Gastro'), he suggested 'what if Julian and Sandy were old vampires'. A witty, crotchety, frightened civil partnership. What about 'a love story between two Nazis'. In the proper hands, very 'Man In The High Castle'. Recent films: 'Die Wand' (Julian Pölsler, 2012) is the 'Truman Show' remade as the 'Twilight Zone', or the 'Little Prince' adapted by Jack London. A woman, in a cabin in the Alps, discovers an invisible wall around her mountain, meaning she can never leave. It's a prison story about the limits of consciousness, being cut off from the universal voice, blaming it on birth. An existential Heidi. In some ways limits-of-consciousness films say everything and nothing – where can they go? Round a Nietzschean eternal return, or nuts. Those are the options. 'The Act of Killing' (Joshua Oppenheimer, 2012) invites an Indonesian war criminal to re-stage his murders as experimental theatre. The star of the show is the Indonesian ability to laugh at almost anything. The elephant in the hut is North Korea, the spectre of which might still convince them that killing their reds was a good move. Extortion, thuggery, a truckload of laughing bastards. Product design: a trip to Parliament Hill Fields on the new Heatherwick Routemaster. Fairly sexy, intimate, burgundy, the mid deck was welded by the nephew. Quality, John. Reading: another New York Review Book's 70s classic, 'After Claude' (1973) by Iris Owens. Owens' heroines are lazy, quiz-show watching, acid-tongued and partner-belittling. They fantasise about "abduction by six muscular militants to play White Goddess in the back room of their guerrilla headquarters". A 'foulmouthed tour de force', Owens is probably Guardianista feminism's idea of hell, and seemed to have lived a crippled but extravagant life. What else? I sat beside Penny Rimbaud (whom John Lennon called a 'rocker' for enjoying Shostakovich
) for Gee Vaucher's film 'Angel' (2012). The last time I was in a room with these people was the Belfast Anarchy Centre, as an infant. My thoughts swam through age, destiny, libidinal energy, lives squandered and opportunities unapplied.
Subject: Wimbledon, Chelsea & Brighton Degree Shows 2013
Time: 2013 Jun 17 15:58:00
The vagueries of left-leaners parodied. Paint drips paradox the neo-geo. Pink dough mixed under catheter chandeliers. You open a closet that heaves with an unholy, black cack. 'Slowgress', frame-by-frame. The chants of protesters as a desire for rhythm. Superlative film set and stage design. Women finally heed the warnings and carry chili powder in case of rape, while neoclassical heroes tumble from a ruptured sky.
Subject: Goldsmiths and Camberwell Degree Shows 2013
Time: 2013 Jun 15 21:55:00
Please build a stalker's shrine to a random, unimportant footballer. Please stage a supernatural break-in. Please read a cotton poem out of your vagina. Please play 'We Have All The Time In The World' at half the normal speed, in a crime scene full of soil. Render another room dust.
Time: 2013 Jun 17 09:15:00
Catsitter fiction. While her owner is in Yorkshire I attend a one year old, Tilly. The apartment is so obviously not mine - pastel-coloured, fluffy, hexaganarian, Jewish, doctorate. I feel like a burglar sitting here. A scratched burglar. I could read a Nadine Gordimer or Anita Brookner. 'Speedboat' by Renata Adler (1976) deftly scatters the fractured reminiscences of a New York reporter. Gill's bookshelves betray the advance of the decades. From the liberation of the seventies to today's designer recipe books. Fish stock is our Woodstock.
By a hungry, shrunken river they've been evolved to kill. A steering plate lifts, claws turn pink to red as the chassis breaks its brow along the ground, shaking apart its occupant, uprooting trees, cracking spine. Nine tight stitches against chevrons and into the central lane, gas cauterized. Ward fever, morphine, ether, a swarm of incisions.
The professional life model, a driver, had been only that moment been wishing that people had a lot less to them, less personality she means. They're sexier when you can see your dreams in them. Pinned and numbered like lab organs, her mistrust swung through fangs against the ceiling, decentralized at seventy five miles per hour. A human footprint, forward on the wheel, between the wheel and the window, head shaking through a popped-off door, facing natural channels in the oilcloth, where blood rains from the table into shavings and sawdust.
Who left her alone in the atrocious space of her head? When trust is gone there's always violence. Pain points, pricks and constellations. Histories, strategy, strata. After pain, we're powder. Dung infested with animated gems, beetles scattering down rolls of petroleum. In memories lung, a crack in the eye which filters the black beam of another sun. Upturned conifer heathland.
"Smoking is forbidden." The old Dutch trucker with the ponytail doesn't acknowledge Kat Baader while he crosses the forecourt.
"Not lit." She shifts the cigarette hanging from her mouth to the other side, without the aid of her hand.
Come round. Come round. Light along four blind knuckles where the open cage of the dead is splayed. Bile white flash. Heat as cold as space. A cage fighter in space. We press and press and press.
Diesel leaps up her hand as the flow jerks shut and the nozzle judders. Come out of it. Snoozebutton Bend. The only term applicable to her dream stasis. The morning had been a kind of numb autopilot from the Aussie Miracle to the autobahn. Oddly beside herself, boxed off thanks to slipping Snooze up to thirty, and now she's in a dream with no entrance or exit.
She finds a paper towel for her fingers, and locks the tank cap into her Porsche 911. Playboy Car of the Year, Kory Donnelly felt compelled to inform her. Beyond the clean green curves of the service station, through the neon in her unready eyes, the dark was threatened by dawn.
Alone in the BwO elevator, Baader is compelled to address the mirror with more immediate questions. 'no breakfast brief tomorrow', a Sunday evening message had informed her. 'My office at 8. F.' No breakfast briefing means pink papers with Felix and pleasantries, compliments, then a by-the-way because the Head of Trading likes laying into women after Danish pastries. What was he trying to pin on her this time?
The trading room is too quiet and too unresponsive when she passes through, with people huddled into muster points, as if waiting for the distribution of life jackets. Someone standing with his hand over his mouth, as if at an autopsy, eventually acknowledges that she exists.
"Where is Felix, and why are people holding sweatshirts for an online poker website?" goldenholdem.de. Crass enough for Felix.
"Said today was his final breakfast briefing."
Setting her bag on her desk, she beckons someone else over. "What else did he say?"
"He passed out Golden Holdem shirts and bikinis."
"There's a bikini? What else else?"
"He said that everyone turns liberal in retirement, and while he will pursue his business ventures and private investments, he feels compelled to write a book about why what is about to happen must never be allowed to happen again."
"What is about to happen?" Baader inspects the confusion in the room.
"He got up on that desk over there and talked about toxic bricks and 06. Said that US bricks are investments on the way up but turn into homes on the way down. 'Please Mr President, you can't let them take my home.'"
"He was doing his Richard the III."
"Clothe my naked villainy. Go on."
"So we've been massively over-leveraged, based on this magical alchemy, and it won't be available any longer. Because nothing can make it add up. Mortgages are turning our packets corrosive."
"And absolutely all of it won't be worth a cup of pencils by May."
"As of quarter four we've been using Jersey insurers outside the Solvency Directive."
"And we don't have time to readministrate."
"Looking good." Baader then asks. "Strategy?"
"Confidence. Saira Sotomayor is flying in from the Caymans, and Felix is confident she can pull Risk apart until she knows what happened, before the ECB wake up."
Jesus. Saira Sodomiser. "Where's Albie Jacob?"
"Literally AWOL. Also the CMO and the flock of golden vampires." 'Marketing isn't a boardroom level activity.' Felix often said. 'Buy journalists like laptops. As and when.'
"Naturally we're not allowed to speak to anyone."
"And us? What's the steer? We have one, I presume."
"Konrad wants us to vote for a new Head of Trading by Friday. He'll accept our input. He says he needs everyone's buy-in."
"Vote. Vote? Suddenly we're a Latin American workers co-operative."
"Something like that."
"As a Senior my name will go in the sombrero."
One of the traders excuses himself and moves back to his desk. Seven fifty four. The other seems a little uneasy. "Kat. The vote already happened."
"Felix zipped up his motorbike leathers and, well, Kory Donnelly got on the desk beside him. And he spread out his arms and he asked if there was anyone who wanted to challenge him for acting Head. And no-one did. And then he clapped his hands and told them to baton down the toilet seats and prepare for a shit storm. 'Headsets on, motherfuckers.'"
"American prick got us into this. I'll see what Christian has to say about it."
"It's Chicken Pox. Confirmed. The kindergarten won't allow her in."
"If one of their munchkins has had already they won't get it again. Otherwise it's better sooner than later. Could you explain that to them?"
"Policy. I'm beginning to wonder if a husband really works out cheaper than a by-the-hour babyshaker."
"I love you too."
When home hangs up Kat Baader's screen powers off and becomes a black mirror, which she instinctively raises to her eye to scrutinise every matt pore and thickened lash around a death-empty centre. I love you. But who is going to vote vote vote for Kat Baader? We're going to see bodies.
This call had freed Astrid, an assistant to the Head of Markets, from Baader's urgency, and had left the Senior angled into the wall beside the PA's desk, where she remained in self-review. She had assumed that to be a woman in a man's world meant kicking twice as hard but had she kicked once too often? What the hell, they're men, they don't ask to be liked and don't respect anyone not focused on achievement. Work made her. Its grip freed her.Work's focus was her bliss out. Everyone knew that.
The sun was up. The sun was always up, as Felix would day. Singapore isn't going away. Come and get it, you big bastard. Illuminate the dead, bleached in their rivers of sleep, with your never-happy heat.
The Head of Markets, and Felix's boss, Christian, was in the dark. And he didn't care for it. Being bypassed, a human bypass, was that good news? He shook an Omega 3 onto his palm and watched the car park far below.
A horrorshow, about to hit the planet. Upturned huskies, stiff and poking. A row of them.
Someone was coming down the corridor, he could hear. Astrid hadn't announced anyone. Who was it? He decided, in an instant, to slip inside a closet of spare shirts and suits. From this position, he could hear but not see the door of his office being slid open and, soon after, closed. Between the opening and closing, within those seconds, his mind was more exhilarated than it had been since rescuing his Schnauser fifty meters down inside the Tatra National Park.
"She-Wolf. You missed the fun."
Kory Donnelly is lolling behind Felix's desk, in a private office hastily cleared of belongings, his feet resting on a plastic crate.
"Trying to find Christian. When is this vote?"
"Kat, what is needed right now is clarity and confidence."
"I was informed that there was no breakfast meeting. But on pure maths I deserve the job. My supervision delivers. There is no basis to dispute figures, Kory. See the rewards matrix. Year upon year. Or. Or or."
Donnelly smiles with mildly pursed lips, slow-blinking as if to convey some feline sense of warmth.
"You're a carthorse, Kat." He sighs. "You up the average with your own well bred sweat. You're the best. But not a leader. Losing you from the desks would be a handicap and we all know it. Those men need lead in their pants not humiliation. You're a natural upsetter, not a binder in. And you'll give the top team a brainache no-one has time for right now."
"Kory, was this planned in some way? I pool a lot of respect that you don't."
Donnelly lifts his boyish frame out of the chair and comes around to Kat Baader's side of the desk, where he perches, tapping his chin along the edge of his cell phone.
"Don't waste this department's time. And, as one Senior to another, don't humiliate yourself. By all means get waterboarded with vodka and Coke. Don't let being a mother stop you there. Domestic sales love a bloodshot mixed signal. You're extremely valuable, Kat. But you need to know your place." The closing sentence sounded like his first order to her as superior.
"Perhaps you're right, Kory." She shakes her head at the floor space and backs away.
"Good girl. Blitz spirit. We don't know what sort of wreck we're being asked to steer. If it's a basket you'll want the chance to jump. Trust me. You do not want this role."
She doesn't pause as she leaves. "Thank you, Kory."
"Herr Ulf-Hansen?" A voice so close to his pattering breath that it could practically suck him to death. The PA.
"Yes, I'm. I'm preparing to come down now. Just need a tie."
"The thing about Kat Baader is that she feels alone. She's right."
"She's gonna fight it, Felix." A few minutes later, still in his office, Kory Donnelly is back on the phone, as Kat Baader climbs onto her desk in the trading room. "No biggie. She looks derivative, if you'll pardon the term. It's eight fifteen and she's pissing these guys around."
"I am so glad she's not my problem."
"I could easily meditate at the moment."
"-the candidate you deserve." Kat was saying, the room's attention found, another unlit cigarette in her hand. "As a senior, I have never tried to culture change you guys. Let the thing-in-itself be the thing it wants to be, in full. That is my philosophy. Let young, hungry guys maximise their cut of the meat. And why does Konrad want a vote? To bind us in, to grow confidence from the phonecalls up. To stop headhunters hurting his team, quitters, and jumping out the window. I can be a unpleasant –"
"Oo la llama," Donnelly can see something Baader can't. "The gerbil is out if its cage."
"Sorry, Kat. Good morning, everyone. I am sorry to break into your prep."
Everyone begins staring into a coffee. Everyone except the two candidates. The Head of Markets eventually faces the room and addresses the ceiling tiles.
"I'll keep it brief. I appreciate we're cut up. Some of us didn't get a chance for goodbyes. That's trade in a nutshell. Um."
Um. His face lightens somewhat and he continues.
"Felix started where you are. Theoretical physics was his playpen. The wormhole's loss was derivatives gain. Recently some of you have been helping Felix and I on speculative forex. The Northern Euro and associated structures. Calvanist shekels, free at last from the shackles of symbolism. Plain commodities, binary options. Heaven knows, there's more to life than mortgages."
Someone coughs. Most assembled there might confess to a feeling that the almost sexual internal focus of the trading room felt ruptured today, and what would it cost them?
"Mobile platforms for traders on the move. Trigger swaps from a men's room at the Oktoberfest
, for all I care. These are good things. Whatever happens or has happened – remember the future. You people aren't at fault. If anything you've been performing too well. Rage against the machine. But remember the future."
Watching the briefing beyond his window, Donnelly becomes conscious of his breathing, of the cavernous fill that his exhale makes in the space above the roof of his mouth. It sounded like the sea, when you needed it to.
"Now I have spoken to Konrad and he is as insistent as I am on this vote. It's about the process as much as the outcome. We're watching it closely. You have until Friday to remodel the team. Kat Baader has kindly added her candidacy."
Donnelly closes his eyes to feel his breath slow, like the pause before a low gear agrees to change. Be aware of your breath as it rushes from the nostrils. Be aware of a mild oxygen burn in the tip of your nose. Be aware as your muscles relax into a stoop. And be aware of your tail brush left and right across the floorspace.
Subject: CSM and Slade Degree Shows 2013
Time: 2013 May 25 19:49:00
Your role as a female art student is to tune the strings of a harp until they snap and when they snap they should drop large sea shells from the ceiling into a tank of water. Your role is to put yourself into the mind of an Indian burying his baby alive because she is female. Your job is to build an IKEA graveyard, of dyed green bookshelves, 90s classics. Your job is to record the screams of North London street life (Horace aka ‘the Best of Luck’) or the loud schizo guy on Junction Road. Your job is to go home with them and to document their lives, and to hand them a camera to let them document your legs.
Time: 2013 Apr 24 21:20:00
I wrote a short story in the dark, during a marathon viewing of Andy Warhol's 'Sleep' (1963). The woman in the cinema congratulated me for staying the whole five hours plus. Spoiler: it jumps the shark when he turns over. By hour four I was in a kind of religious ecstasy. Time, consciousness, the self and the not-self, God. It's all there.
I am interested in facts. Facts, you could say, are the only thing I am interested in. While other boys were reading comic books I threw myself with immersive abandon into text books and reference material, and encyclopaedias. The measurable and the objective provided a solace to me that the more unreliable aspects of 'human nature' could not.
Naturally I excelled at school, and later in the workplace, where facts are held in higher store than symbolism or interpretation. By the time I slipped into the full flow of my career commerce had become so globalised, with so much mixed input, conflicting regulation through differing customs, that every side in a negotiation deferred to the steadying power of plain facts. I couldn't lose.
"Wait a minute. You're telling me that I'm not a Jew." I'm in a knot of young colleagues, just after my first company conference. It's a get-to-know-you session. Canapés.
"You are a Jew if you want to be but I'm just saying that religion is not a part of human DNA."
"I didn't realise the firm employed open anti-Semites."
"I'm not open anything." I choked my response through a bitten crostini. "Look, I'm saying that we share a deal of genetic information with our ancestors. All of us. But religion? No Jewish gene. Any more than there's a half-hearted Christian chromosome running up my arm. No Hindu helix, or Muslim macro molecule. We don't 'pass on' any cultural stuff in our blood. Just hair colour and height and yadda yadda."
"Huh. Racist and
sectarian," added a second man, sucking a beer, seriously. In hindsight, an American Irish Catholic. Trader.
"Fascist. Fascist Albie."
The nickname stuck. I'd hear it in bars, over bourbon biscuits in the kitchenette. "Oh, it's Al. We'll all crawl back to our endarkenment." "Let Mr Literal run the shop." "Howl at the moon while we're at it." "Fascist."
Sometimes it's better to let the sleeper sleep.
As a qualified actuary I was heading up the risk management team when we were bought out by the German investment bank BwO in early 2002. "You'll be fine," someone joked, but I was genuinely shocked when the buyer not only decided to keep me, but promoted me to Risk and Compliance Manager for the entire European hub. Three business domains to learn from scratch. During my relocation flight to Frankfurt I remember speculating that I was now earning more than all my male ancestors put together.
"You are a man who refuses to contemplate fear," silver surfer CEO Konrad Wunderlich hugged me like an old friend in his office, "And deals only in facts."
On a cold, sunny afternoon in the spring of 2008, with my fortieth birthday looming, I had occasion to be walking through the medieval half-timbered houses of Römerberg Square, in the direction of the European Central Bank, and a beer cellar near there, when I eventually passed St. Leonhard's Church as it discharged a wedding party.
The wind threw a veil past a laughing face. The sawn log, fallen. The rice and white ribbon, cuts of it tumbling into my paused shoes. I could have taken this opportunity to consider bachelorhood, but to do so would require a level of self-pity that I am happy to lack. I know how lucky I am. Instead I thought about the Late Gothic structure and the ground rent and what value such a square footage would get on the development market. I was slowly entranced by the faces appearing round me. Ruddy, unimpressed country cousins. Proud and pacing parents. Fascinators on fat foreheads. Turkish shaves for main men. Fresh, too fresh, mail order trouser suits.
I hardly qualify as a loner, not on the terraces of an Eintracht Frankfurt home game. Not chewing over current affairs with my teammates at the expats English language pub quiz. But I was nevertheless overcome with a sudden consolation in the fact that people, when together, even evident 'people people', seem defined by their inability to cohere, as much as any wholeness. I didn't feel detached. But I didn't feel that I was missing anything. "Nature doesn't recognize individuals," I thought. "Why should we?" When did I grow these x-ray eyes? Life felt as if we are mere vessels for a fascist chemistry. Its whip crack on a wet canvas.
At the rear of St. Leonhard's I joined a procession of Polish immigrants walking towards the river. They all clutched carefully woven palm fronds, long green leaves fashioned into a looped cross, or a kind of colourfully tagged wheat effigy. Initially I wanted to overtake but I accepted a frond from the hand of a pale-eyed child. I sighed and accustomed myself to the change of pace, feeling the course dryness of the palm flake inside my grip (I declined to hold it before me, as one might do a lit torch).
"The way I see it, science is there to measure things. How long does it take for an apple to fall from a tree? How long does it take the same apple to fall through water. What does that tell us about water and air."
"Bob. Apples," says a voice, from a face crushed deep into its own chest, in an armchair.
"Religion understands that measurement needs one thing – to be outside what you are measuring. We're inside the universe and when you're trying to measure the apple from the inside you only see part of the story. Distance, even time, are relative. You know something else is going on. So let's invent a measure, call it God, a figment of us all. He serves a purpose. If we can empathise with him, we might begin to see the whole picture objectively."
The speaker is a Slovene filmmaker, a friend of a friend of someone, who just made her debut on the quiz team. Elsewhere in the room someone is snoring. I lean from my chair to open the window, to let free the marijuana smoke.
"So art comes along, And says that this new perceived exteriority, this extensive-ity, ends up serving our ego and bias and that we must take any transcendentals through a veil of self-knowledge. Reflecting one another, as an escape from solipsism. Beauty and balance. In the cracks and in the mistakes, the truth of the universe will emerge through us."
"'When you cut into the present the future leaks out.' Do you know Burroughs?" she asks.
I shake my head. I don't know much about what she's been talking about. But we won the quiz.
The face crushed into its chest says "You're saying there was something futuristic about Nancy's murder?"
"We're past Nancy. Onto Palm Sunday." The Slovene raises the frond and passes the joint on with the other. I'd invited them back to my apartment, something I'd never done before. They all stood on the balcony, waiting for a takeaway, marveling at the skyline. Canary yellow lights in an ink sky. It grew too cold out there.
My counterpart at Commerzbank seems to revive. "What I hate is when people say 'forget the name, he wasn't a vicious guy'. Bullshit. Here is a man who attacks Patti Smith's brother. Who appears in music videos smacking cream pies into a French prostitute. Who wears a swastika to rile people. And who had a history of jabbing Nancy with his knife. That's no lamb. Don't defend him."
"She had a history of self-harm and suicide pacts."
"She didn't have a history of stabbing herself to death."
"He was blitzed on thirty Tuinal the whole night. The police had to slap him around to read him his rights."
"She could have crawled out of the room. She crawled to the bathroom and sat there. She wanted to die."
"Diana Ross and the Supremes. How many number ones?"
A muffled misery. "Don't."
"There were drug dealers in and out of the apartment while he slept. A lot of money was stolen. Are you saying he stole his own money?"
"This is New York in the seventies. The pigeons were on heroin. Kids who weren't on heroin were pretending they're on heroin. It's a lesson in cultural diffusion. Frankfurt could learn from it."
"He denied the murder. Then he confessed. Then he was dead. Of course he did it."
"What do you think, Fash?"
Reaching across a heap of sashimi trays I accepted the joint, which rarely has any effect on me. "If someone changes his story it sounds like he was involved, or the reality is even more unbelievable, more sinister. He is also weighing up the effect on his career. Love doesn't feed anyone's habit."
"It's almost like something pulls you inside out, tells you that black is white. That good is bad. The engine is upside down and my loyalty has nowhere to go."
Beneath a pair of cashmere overcoats, Noemi and I had returned to stand on my balcony. The others had gradually peeled away, disappeared for taxis or the spare room. She'd been listening to me talk about my job, and had started to photograph me as I squared up to the skyline across the plaza.
"I have, I think, my whole life striven to do things properly. Get things right. At each step of the way I have been rewarded for doing things well. This is the first time I'll be rewarded for lying. I've been sounding the alarms. But they're looking for a head to roll."
The figures haven't been adding up. The trends are broken. The trust is crumbling. Too many chips stacked on the same number. "A wind from the top down, wiping the table clear. I don't deserve it. I really, really don't."
"You won't have to work again," she says. "Some people's dream. Take the severance and chose a beach." She positions her camera on the balcony ledge and fires a few shots off along it. I lean forward and look down. I've stopped trying to hide the joint.
"It's not in my nature. I know it doesn't make sense. The history of a bank is probably a small thing. I don't have any kids to explain this to. But I'm thinking about my name. I want to live with myself."
My thoughts are crawling through themselves, perhaps the grass is working.
"Shouldn't you be in bed?"
"He's given me a week to think it over. Get a taste for teleshopping. Are you doing anything? Want to take up fishing?"
"Do I look like the kind of person who has something on this week?" We fell into silence, until she continued. "Tell me about Wunderlich."
What is there to say? I suppose I've taken office life for granted. There's probably too much to say about those yellow lights, the clockwork heartbreak that, brick by brick, builds the modern world.
"Solipsism. Socialised by charm. But definitely a man who transposes his own limitations onto the world. We need better communication, he says. 'Guys, I find out more on the Runtastics down the gym than in the trading rooms.' So we need a new communications strategy. If he'd spend less time in the gym and more at the monthly divisionals he'd see comms in action. But no. Konrad's got a headache. So we need a comprehensive headache fucking strategy. What must that be like, Noemi? To see your own moods and whims confirmed in every living thing? To use it all to guide you. Fucking Christ."
I flick the expired smoke off the balcony, and, to my surprise, I find that I have begun to cry. I lean my head into the back of my hands and let the tears flood out, very naturally, dripping regularly onto the stone. They don't even need to travel round my eyes, they just well up and plop.
"There is no legally binding agreement as to where the boundaries between Switzerland, Germany and Austria meet in Lake Constance. While Switzerland holds the view that the border runs through the middle of the lake, Austria is of the opinion that the lake stands in condominium of all the states on its banks. Germany holds no unambiguous opinion."
I scroll up and down the display. "No-one knows where we are." I gaze around the grey water. "Official."
"That's the way I like it." Noemi's voice barely reaches me across the buffeting wind, while a silver-green sardine lure projects from one side of her mouth, like a cigar. She rearranges herself on the stern-mounted seat and prepares to cast off. Filet of zander with apple champagne sauerkraut. I set the camera to movie mode and let it roll.
Time: 2013 Apr 11 23:00:00
I set store by the anecdote, the crack (correctly, it's a northern English term). Why book into an airless hotel whose only anecdote is its forgettable decor when you can airbnb the spare room of a Slovenian art MA and her filmmaker mate, on the most vibrant corner of the 4th arrondissement, all chocolate wood stairs, windy and uneven, and with the world's smallest shower. Be a local, everywhere.
The accommodation turned out not to be a spare room but Noemi's own bedroom. Where would she sleep? Upstairs, with someone who is sometimes her partner, sometimes not. It's complicated. In contrast to her nocturnal films Noemi is sunshiny, erudite and enthusiastic. I think I prefer strangers to people I know. I'm never surprised by the things anyone does to placate a landlady. A pimp you can run from but there's no hiding from housing. Tempered guilt could be a downside to the airbnb experience. Sure, your host smiles and says they want you in their bed, but so do prostitutes. I should be arrested. I leave my bag and hit the bleached winter streets listening to Factory Benelux and early New Order. Frosty but blossoming. Ceremony. Everything's Gone Green. Age of Consent.
Ménilmontant via Belleville. They're hanging new bells in Notre Dame. A wrapped up crowd has assembled to hear the virgin peals. Steve Martin has a joke about the first time he saw his own name in a telephone directory, thinking "Wow, I'm famous." The Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris has a long suite with every telephone directory in the world. It felt like the internet, on paper, or something. I think you're encouraged to look up a relative and call them, to tell them they're in an art exhibition in Paris. "Norman, come quick. We're in an art exhibition. In Paris." "What?! Holy God." Upstairs I settle onto a bench beside an African security guard and we watch a concert by Ludus at the Haçienda in the early 80s, Linder Sterling wearing a meat dress and a black strap-on. Welcome to Europe. This is what we do. "I have always treated myself as a found object." Sterling is obsessed with the objectification of women, an evergreen story, like the brutality of war. Maybe we can swap in the 21st century. Men will get more looks-judged, women will get their legs blown off. That's a horrible thing to say. But inherent failures in heterosexuality seemed a recurring motif of the weekend.
After documenting transvestite parties at Manchester's Mr. Dickens, Sterling made role-challenging montages out of the segregation between men's magazines and women's magazines. Porned irons became Buzzcocks record sleeves. Menstrual necklaces. A neon light tells me that anatomy is not destiny (although women still seem destined to chew over gender more than the average straight male, who gives it 4.6 minutes thought in his lifetime). A thorough retrospective, more intriguing than a V&A full of David Bowie panto, I think.
I leave to explore Paris by bus (not because psychogeography is a done idea, it's just cold). Here, life turns into a Fluide Glacial comic strip. Rude red-nosed men in leather blousons discuss themselves with themselves or a petite fur-clad birdwoman. Blue collar Parisians curse and squeeze through the doors of perception. Up the périphérique and round the outskirts (not as 'war zone' as I expected and better than the equivalent in outlying Britain).
At Marc Chagall the queues looked long, rich and self-satisfied. Pigalle's Le Bal is a modern British restaurant and edgy gallery in one building. Antoine d'Agata's Anticorps twists harrowing intimacy through itself. "Photography is a form of abduction", he says. Phnom Penh prostitutes wince through accepted violation. Bullet ridden bunkers during the Second Intifada, real soldiers die. Burnt cars, scars, stretched tits, the turned backs of the endless displaced. They walked in line. What to achieve in weaving these over potent symbols of territorialisation? Life stripped bare, a glimpse of raw DNA.
Noemi recommended some municipal museums around the corner from the apartment. An unparalleled history of the city at the Carnavalet, and the 18th century Musée Cognacq-Jay, full of rose petal cheeks and alabaster skin, eye-opening oil pastels and Fragonard. Sugar sweet fresh air, as far from edgy modern art as you can get.
On Rue Saint-Antoine the tramps drink rosé. Only á Paris. It could be Appletise and blood for all I know, but it looked alright. I buy pastels, draw the sleeping bags of the homeless. Knots of unshaven, unemployed men, educated dead wood, meet to get stoned under Pont de Sully. Monged on a derelict merry-go-round, someone is giving his bulldog a Heimlich.
Late night Le Marais is a heaving mix of bobos, gays and bemused locals. Toy terriers sniff an untouched knuckle of salmon tartare. I try a rosé (no tannin, no hangover, mixed blessing) parked beside three trendy camp black men. I can't write their conversation down quick enough. "Purlease. No thirty year old woman who meets a forty year old bisexual in a bar is serious when she says she loves him." "Then he said 'Shave off your beard'." "And?" "I can't shave off my beard. I have no bone structure. My beard is my structure. I would seriously get no love." "My dad was the Ghanaian ambassador to, like, Canada." "I so didn't know that." "Brother, you get the attention first, and then you build on it." "The best thing about being gay is the eye contact. Straights can't do it. It is so political for them." "Colombian and Mexican gay guys cannot do eye contact." "That's because part of them is faggot and part of them wants to kill faggots." "There's something in that." (Looks at mobile phone). "That is disgusting." (Looks at mobile phone) "Text me, nigger."
I don't think the gay community has love easier (sex for pure pleasure, sure) but the hetero gulf, once transgressed by an able pop and style culture, seems to have returned. I pass what looks like a feminist restaurant. What's that? The chance to order profiteroles with less fear of violation? Straight males so unobjectified their only role is alienated consumer. One side demanding the other turns the heat down, the other to turn it up or on. Refusing access or glumly allowing it. That's not a sexuality, that's a gate.
I pass a bear bar and wonder if anyone's ever been told to leave. 'Banned from the Bear Bar' formulates. "I wasn't hairy enough for the Bear Bar / They threw me out when they saw my chest / They called a man who measured my waist / 'This man's all man but as a bear he's a disgrace' / I wandered Twinksville feeling like a fraud / Too bear for Twink Town / Too twink for Bears / Is that what they’ll write on my grave?" I can't really think of an end for that one.
Late opening at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie features Joel Meyerowitz's dynamite reportage on street life both in his native New York and on a late sixties gap year funded by an advertising job, when the photographer explored Europe in an old Volvo. Again, the best scenes are glimpses. Passersby in the corner of your eye. A transient Crimplene pant suit and sunglasses, like a minor childhood memory. Lovely, considered stuff.
It's not to everyone's taste but I like the Parisian drive for taste and quality. Cheaper versions of things seem to exist but people prefer the better to the easier. Which might buck the gormless global rush to the 'cheap', the off-shored Amazon Sangatte, the Apple self-harm assembly. 'Better', rather than cheaper, involves treating one's fellows with respect. Soulless drudge and soulless investment to fund a soulless leisure time? Or life as art. There might also exist, on this self-disciplined plateau, a chain of correlations where fashion is beauty and beauty is poetry and poetry is philosophy and philosophy is politics and there is no Dad culture and Mom culture. Experience as one.
Airbnb, c'est la vie. You worry if it's safe, and try to prove yourself trustworthy. Wonder if you're being too imposing, or not imposing enough. Too selfish. Not selfish enough. You curse your pussyfooting around, and then it's time to go. You'll never know. To be truthful I probably didn't feel as relaxed as I would in a hotel. Despite the healthy reviews, there’s a concern that some seven foot Serbian stormtrooper ex boyfriend will appear and find you under his true love's duvet. That kind of thing.
Time: 2013 Dec 16 16:00:00
Thanks for reading, I really need to do something substantial with my creative energies and it won't be online. Tradition calls. I get bored living inside notebooks only, but it's a hopeful kind of bored.
Subject: Politics | Parenthood
Time: 2013 Jan 27 00:25:00
1. I'm writing a poem for Etienne's second birthday. Early days, but I may as well start. There seems to be real knock-forward between years one to two. Babies are often generic, but around sixteen months personality develops, behaviour arrives alongside mobility, and it needs curtailment or encouragement. Autonomy comes to the table.
2. It didn't seem so long ago I was saying "He seems beautifully neutral, without a clingy need for others," then throwing food around and whatnot required admonishment, which seems to elevate adults from a private power source into public arbitration. He became much more loving, as well as stroppier, as if love and power were twin paths around the intolerable.
3. The intolerable is powerlessness and dependency, which I have no desire to add to, but he cries when I leave (which makes a change from people crying when I arrive). I miss him too and I miss play. I'd quit my job to play Ooh La La full time (not only rudimentary, corridor cricket with three soft skittles, but a lesson in French) or a multiplicity of peek-a-boo variables, or read. What's the secret, I'm asked. Well, he has all the power. I'm just a Baloo bouncing around behind him, his Brian Cant, his Hobbes, his idiot. I propose alternatives rather than 'No'. Play, beyond admin, means focus, a display of imagination, and therefore of empathy. We meditate. At least I do, he watches 'In the Night Garden...'
4. It feels unfair to be a guardian who steps in occasionally, and who represents nothing but fun, leaving round-the-clock moms as lawmakers, the personification of coercion, a self-loading automatic of 'No'. But it's nearly inevitable. Definition creates us. Perhaps I'll call the poem 'Definition'. I once dated a woman who sought a strict partner, for she genuinely believed that her rule-free hippy upbringing had damaged her. For a brief second I considered choosing her main course, but I couldn't do it.
5. I feel sorry for the parent who works in finance and gets home after their kids are in bed and who realises that a pro childminder or over-concentrated nursery is seeing more of their children's life than they are. I hope this financier would reciprocate the sympathy, for parents on welfare, who have the opposite problem, or those priced out of children.
6. Until recently, I found it strange when people said that they were messed up by their parents until they had their own kids. It makes it sound like we bequeath an affliction, like screwball tag. But watching children grow can be steadying. To see that falls and rebounds are natural, to plant healing kisses on palms. To know that powerlessness is inevitable, that most parents do their best, and that it's hard work. If I ever had a hidden nest of bitterness it has sweetened. I wonder if I've loved anyone because, deep down, I found a situation intolerable.
7. I have few opinions about taxation and benefits. When I hear a woman whose husband earns £100k explaining why my taxes should fund her child benefit, I could get irate. When an anarchist's t-shirt demands that parenthood be treated as a job, fully waged by the state, I could accuse it of being far flung socialism rather than anarchism. Do we have children for us or the state apparatus? Who decides how much your child is worth and how many you have? A one child policy would be one more than I have. There is no absolute solution to money for it is a relative measure in the first place. Someone has to be steamrollered out of reproduction and it'll always be the soft and under-demanding.
8. We're in the elegant function room of a gastro pub for Etienne's mum's birthday. Almost everyone is either pregnant or a parent, so conversation is grabbed in bites between racing around, re-shoeing, admonishing or mopping up. The childfree gradually feel excluded, and drift off to other engagements. I'm chatting to a Haringey social worker who is fully aware of that borough's reputation, who tells me that social services now err heavily on the side of caution. She explains that she regularly has to look people in the eyes and tell them that their children are being taken away, and that they'll never return. She begins breastfeeding a new baby under a funky shawl, so I assume she can empathise with the reflex people might have to such an announcement. A root, metaphysical response. Daniel, the child of a gay couple I've known for years, asks me where daddy is. Is daddy Karl or David? Is there a rule to these things?
9. When I first started blogging I lived in a housing co-op with Etienne's mum. She worked in a bookshop on Charing Cross Road. Being a person of quantifiable (rather than abstract) ambitions she has risen to become the chief contracts negotiator with Bloomsbury. I think her job sounds cool, until I realise that it means negotiating authors and their agents down. Someone has to do it, I guess. We can't have a free-for-all.
10. I enjoy JD Ebert's summaries of philosophical texts on YouTube. Jackanory German Idealism. He has persuaded me to try Schelling. Is 'System of Transcendental Idealism' (1800) pre-Lacanian child psychology or does it describe a path into an ever-ready birthing pool of consciousness? If time is a subjective sensation, the text describes space-time causality. Nature doesn't recognise individuals, but while the 'self' is forced to assert against the 'not self' interdetermination seeks a stable world picture. Reciprocity creates intuition, the pre-cognitive basis for any 'reality function'. Matter is space curtailed from free-for-all by a systemic act of consciousness called 'time'. The thesis of electromagnetism, the antithesis of gravity, the synthesis of chemistry - the universe is the eternally unfolding mind of a one-year-old. But can I get it into a poem by April?
Subject: Podcast: SohoWatch
Time: 2013 Jan 23 22:30:00
Subject: Review | Jan 2013 | British Caste Flashpoints
Time: 2013 Jan 06 18:00:00
The Notre Dame de France church has about eight homeless men inside it, all trying to sleep in a position that makes it look like prayer. Neither Catholic nor homeless I settle down to read a Christmas gift, Songs They Never Play on the Radio
(James Young, 1999). After a childhood in occupied Berlin, modelling with Coco Chanel, 'La Dolce Vita', Alain Delon, Warhol, Dylan, why would anyone want to read about Nico's final years, as a junkie on a Manchester housing estate? (If we classify that as Madchester, and her death on Ibiza as rave, the woman pretty much threaded late 20th century counterculture together.) If you like your former blonde icons ravaged, pissing in sinks and blowing headcases for £20 (John Waters does) this is the book for you. An inveterate cadge, Nico's flat sounded exactly how you'd imagine it to be - expensive import tea (unopened), half a lemon, a sink of bloody syringes, a harmonium and little else. Some women are born to hang with other women and gay men, others for biker boots and whiskey with Jim Morrison. Nico took sanctuary in the blue corner, from the catty insincerity of the Factory and endless interviews asking about it. She even seemed to distrust the Oxford educated author of this vivid and engrossing book (keyboard player with the Faction) preferring balls-scratching, in-your-face lowlife to anyone putting her on a pedestal. The paradox of trying to make a (drug) living being something she didn't want to be, the self-interest of the nullifier, the blown candle happy to die – it's all here. You almost don't need to see Ben Wheatley's Sightseers
(2012). If I told you it was 'Nuts In May' by Sam Peckinpah you'd see it in your head. Insular oddity, gore in Goretex. British caste analysis, where a culture of violence is grown from historical resentment, enshrined in folk ritual, waiting at cultural drawbridges. Ultimately a gross-out, willfully infantile comedy. If, as feminism tells us, a spouse has no 'right' to sex, then Stone Age notions of 'adultery' also need to leave the moral landscape. No-one should lose their house and children in a messy divorce because they're chained to someone else's boredom. George Bernard Shaw's Overruled
(1912) is "not an argument for or against polygamy", more short comedic examinations of the social constructs exposed by poly. In a long and schoolmasterly forward (never explain, GB) Shaw suggests that jealousy is a natural instinct culturally exploited ('very few people would imagine themselves in love if they had never read about it' he considers La Rochefoucauld's remark). Although his caste distinctions are essentialised (laborers more possessive than 'elegant plutocracy'? Really?) Shaw takes a genre he believes beneath him (farce) by the scruff of the neck. Fruity gentleman Jim Creighton plays a man obsessed with a man obsessed with his wife. The paradox of flattery and fear. Drippy Leo Wyndham drowns between tectonic plates of opposing principals, in love with another man's wife, a man who loves his. Why don't the four swap? Progressive cad, an inability to ask makes us civilised. "Was your father a man of letters?" "Yes, a postman." Lucy Hough is charming as all hell, as a Wiltshire shop girl we see in glimpses through her life, a life of friendship with a travel writer. As a couple they seem perfect for one another, yet they never marry, leaving us asking what it really means to 'have' someone. Exquisitely sad and political in the best dramatic sense. If Shaw was writing today he'd have to describe how property prices have reached the thresholds of troilism, three salaries are required, and how a cabal of banks and all-party MPs might construct a positive message on threesomes to ensure growth. "We've learnt from 08. Something has to give and it won't be bricks." Day one of the London Short Film Festival
had too much tinted domesticity for my taste. The cure for cold porridge realism and clockwork escapism is a genuine sense of aspiration, which living museum Britain 2012 is keen to thwart. The best films at LSFF are often made by actresses disappointed with the parts on offer, who write and direct vignettes to wow us with their ability, if only for 10 minutes before they retire of a broken heart. Best was Cathy Brady's Morning
(2012) which describes the crushingly quiet interplay between the mother of a murdered girl and a well-meaning newspaper photographer arriving at her home, to pick through family photographs for the 'right' image to fit the 'story'. The inability of words to express real emotions, the failure of expression itself, the defeated and dutiful body movements, it was almost unbearable. Dancing in the Ashes
was worse, a student graduation piece about a Jewish ballerina saved from Auschwitz on the proviso that she dance for her labour camp controllers. Watching her family exterminated has taken the girl's mojo but, with Pygmalion diligence, the Nazis patiently help her get over her personal issues and back to pirouetting beautifully, for their big smug Gestapo faces. So a happy ending there. A warm glow all round.
Subject: From Richard Allen's "Boyband" (1996)
Time: 2013 Jan 01 00:10:00
"Boybands do it for the diddle and the diddle does boybands for free. Ergo you and I should be quids in and global. But here's the News Bunny. We're not. You're standing there costing me rent and it's time I turned you around. Time to put the A&R in 'arsehole' and my toe up yours. What's wrong with ya?"
I close my eyes slowly and refrain from a reply.
"I'll tell you. These lads don't know whether to shag you or play polo. Ya come waltzing in with yer plummy voice and they think it's mummy come to tell them the game is over. You ain't a natural born A&R cos you once let Blancmange stir yer custard. You need to be building dreams not kicking them up Wardour Street. The Micks and the Mancs are pulling boybands out like sausages and Alan Humpty's cup is empty. And he's fucking tired of it."
When I open my eyes Alan Humpty is an inch away and very upset indeed.
"If you was a geezer I'd threaten to rip yer jewels off but because I'm a radical feminist I use kid gloves on a Doris. If you don't bang me out a boyband in one month I'll spank your tits so hard they'll be slapping you on the back. Capich? Auditions in two weeks. Final ensemble in front of songwriters, at my desk, a month from today, parrot smugglers in one hand and an Athena baby wrapped in the other. If I don't go gay for these boys you're erstwhile."
He turns, only to begin slapping his desk violently.
"I want a cute one, a bad boy, a boring but talented one. A dingbat who's funny and a deep one, a kind of 'spiritual adviser'. Ca-fucking-piche?"
I raise one eyebrow, finally able to contain my shaking long enough to free but one word.
I half stumble down the stairs from the Glitterfest offices and onto Bateman Street, where I lean my back against the wall and quickly seek out a Marlboro Light. I feel ravaged, like one of the walk-up 'models' available for lunchtime use around the corner, their hand-drawn signs watching from worn wallpaper, over grimy, undone carpet. I've been ravaged by words, by a rough torrent designed to cut through my personality and into my core. I need Pinot.
"Babes, if it makes you feel better, I fucking loathe mine." Indira Smith takes my lighter. Her initial drag looks deep and nourishing. "If I didn't show no-one would notice. We fell off the head office radar a long time ago. The salaries get transferred and I spend most of my day wandering Covent Garden like a ghost."
"Sounds like heaven, darling" At a window table inside Quo Vadis, we are painted cubist shades by the stained glass.
"It's purgatory. Umbilical limbo. Less than alive. Chained to some teat that does nothing but feed me and I'll never see its face."
Best friends aren't the ones we like the most, just the ones who got there first. Indira wasn't my best friend at Oxford but she did become an honorary Squanderer in our final year. A gang of sorts, the ones who didn't feel guilty about being there. Who weren't titless book rats fear-vomiting the night away under the pressure of it all. Squanderers got wasted. Squanderers got pregnant. Squanderers, ultimately, had daddies deep in their pockets or simply came a cropper to the sex-seeking hormonal streak. I got to know Indira much better when I located to the capital to extend my interest in indie artist liaison.
I refill her glass. We needed to talk ambition. We needed to talk moving past Squander. Past pinballing from one cocaine daisy chain to the next. "I'm finally on my final warning. Matter of time. I'd love your sort of stability."
"Music will sell forever, babes. That's stability." She blows smoke indifferently between the waiters. "Trust me. Some business models don't erode."
"It's Numpty." I sigh at a quail and pickled rhubarb sandwich which settles onto the tablecloth.
"He's a groper."
"If only. If only I could pin that on him." (Meaning: if only I could secure evidence of Alan Humpty and his beloved dominant Black Alice, upside down like a leather maggot, his face lapping to and fro above her diamond dog bowl, a habit he seems to maintain under the aquiline nose of his television producer fiancée.)
"A birdbrain with no taste who hates me. And perhaps he has a point. You and I used to go gooey around celebs but lately I can't stand the wannabes. While they haven't made it I get nothing but tetchy with them."
"There's the cute one. I'm onto it." Indira sidles through Gayzone (we skipped dessert after I told her about my quest) towards the sales assistant, quietly reading at the counter, a deep blonde fringe over his eyes and a plaid shirt. I rifle the 3-for-2 VHS cassettes, from 'The Return of Hoodie Woodpecker' to 'Dads Versus Blacks'.
"Hi sweetie, you look very up for anything."
His tone is sarcastic. "Thanks for the interest, but I've got a bad back. That's slang for 'I'm gay'. There's a clue in the shop name. True, you don't have to be a king to work at Burger King. You got me there. But I'm one thousand percent bent." He resumes his reading.
"Oh but you've got us all wrong. My friend and I are international talent scouts."
"Talent? You mean like squeezing through a tennis racket with all the strings removed?"
"That kind of thing, yes."