The Queen Is Dead Trees
Morrissey’s autobiography is published. I duly buy my copy from Gay’s The Word in Marchmont Street.
It certainly deserves to filed alongside the works of Ronald Firbank, Saki and EF Benson; much of it is baroque, haughty camp.
I’m a fan in a restrained, not-queuing-up-overnight sort of a way, enough to know he’s been threatening the book’s appearance for years, much like Kevin Shields did with talk of a new My Bloody Valentine album. Both these 80s indie veterans finally made good on their promises this year (something astrological about 2013?), and both managed to do so without sending out early press copies or agreeing to promotional interviews. Few magazines, chat shows and radio shows would have said no to a new Morrissey interview plugging the book, yet his only concession appears to have been a single signing appearance in a bookshop in Gothenberg. Gothenberg has a reputation as the Manchester of Sweden, in terms of its passionate love of alternative music. I’ve performed in the city a few times myself, both with Fosca and with Spearmint. In the book, Morrissey returns the compliment: ‘Sweden always feels like a reward… It is warming to be a part of Göteborg life… Nothing but promise erupts from everywhere in Sweden, and the life-giving enthusiasm of the audience feeds me.‘
So Morrissey does no interviews, and I can’t say I blame him. The book itself is full of incidences, after all, where journalists have twisted his words against him – sometimes to libellous effect. But the British media, like nature, abhors a vacuum, so there’s been a slew of comment pieces – including several before the book was even out, built on sheer speculation about what the book might contain. In this way, Morrissey is like a member of the royal family he so despises: I couldn’t help thinking of the coverage of Kate Middleton, hacks waiting for her to give birth, filling up time and space that could have been gone to actual facts, with reams of unnecessary, un-asked for, and utterly unqualified comment.
The only fact that was known about the Moz book was that it would be a Penguin Classic, the result of a jokey wish the singer made in a Radio 4 interview a few years ago. Penguin Books were, it turns out, happy to indulge him in this piece of wry and knowing packaging, and good for them.
It should go without saying – but it turns out it doesn’t – that it’s not a proper Penguin Classic, not least because it lacks the usual scholarly annotations and critical introduction and Note On The Text and so on. The back cover blurb is also in a different typeface to the usual PC one, thus announcing the Moz book as a separate animal in its own right, if only people would pick it up to see.
Aesthetic jokes aside, Penguin has often played fast and loose with what counts as a ‘classic’ in their eyes as it is. They ditched the date barrier that roughly kept the Classic Classics pre-1918 and the Modern Classics post-1918 long ago. It’s not even the first time a rock star still alive in 2013 has had their words published by the imprint. Bob Dylan’s lyrics can be found in The Portable Beat Reader.
Actually, Morrissey constantly quotes his own lyrics in his book too.
But predictably, several commentators have insisted that Penguin has now ‘damaged’ its Classics line’s reputation. Such writers are only damaging their own reputation. If anything, Penguin has enhanced its brand further, by showing it has a sense of humour and a respect for wit. Wit is, after all, the brevity of the soul. I also salute Penguin for allowing a high profile book’s first edition to come out as an affordable, easy-to-recycle £8.99 paperback rather than a £19.99 resources-guzzling hardback (the publishing ‘two tier’ system is a bete noire of mine).
Two favourite revelations in the book. One is that Morrissey didn’t think ‘There Is A Light That Never Goes Out’ was good enough for The Queen Is Dead. Mr Marr won him over. The other is that Peter Wyngarde always answers the phone with the phrase ‘There you are!’
Dandies In An Underworld
Friday 11th October 2013. A rainy afternoon spent in Piccadilly with Ray Frensham, fellow subject of the book I Am Dandy and author of Teach Yourself Screenwriting. He takes me for lunch at Brasserie Zedel in Sherwood Street. Once the Atlantic Bar, it’s now a rather splendid and ornate place to meet friends for a meal. Like the Wolseley, it’s actually possible to eat there relatively cheaply if one chooses carefully. You forget it’s in a basement somewhere under Regent Street – the ceiling is so high and the decor so gilded that it manages to feel downright airy.
Mr Frensham is full of entertaining anecdotes, and talks about how his romantic life became more fun after he hit 50 rather than before. The key ingredient being the sense of finally being at home in one’s skin. I certainly find that reassuring. We mooch around Hatchard’s bookshop afterwards, and take photos of each other with the dandy book. Hatchard’s has quite a few copies, filed under Fashion. I’ve since re-bleached my hair so it’s now a little less yellow. Not keen on resembling a sexually confused Eminem.
There’s also a new blog post about the book at the website for Bergdorf Goodman, the New York department store. I am featured as an example of The Dandy As Decadent, with an ‘under-worldly style’.
Mr Frensham tells me that his appearance in the book has already led to offers for modelling suits and so forth. I haven’t heard anything myself – yet. It would obviously be nice if something came of appearing in either that or in the big new diary book (A London Year).
But then, it’s just nice to be included for something I’m happy to be included for. As I think it says on the gates of the Underworld.
Tags: a london year
, brasserie zedel
, i am dandy
, ray frensham
Among The Diarists
Tuesday 8th October. To Westminster Reference Library for the launch of A London Year, edited by Nick Rennison and Travis Elborough. It’s a large, beautifully designed, greenish-blue hardback, and collects a variety of London-themed excerpts from real life diaries, arranged so that each day of the year is represented by at least one entry. The book is currently on display in every London bookshop I’ve been wandering into of late. There’s a whole table of them at Waterstones Piccadilly, right near the entrance.
I’m flattered to see my own diary is in the book, eleven excerpts of it, alongside the journals of pretty much everyone I can think of who fits the brief: Pepys, Swift, Keats, Dickens, Woolf, Van Gogh, George Eliot, Queen Victoria, John Betjeman, Tony Benn, Alan Bennett, Derek Jarman, Michael Palin, Brian Eno and Evelyn Waugh.
Clayton Littlewood is also in there, with excerpts from Dirty White Boy and Goodbye to Soho. He’s the only other diarist in the book who’s at the event, though the stars of the show are really Mr Rennison and Mr Elborough. Aside from giving permission, I had no input in the selection. So until I saw a finished copy I didn’t know which entries of mine they were going to use, or that they’d use quite so many. It’s been a pleasant surprise.
At the event, Helen Gordon reads a typically ribald 1940s entry by Joan Wyndham. Ms Gordon had a novel out with Penguin recently (Landfall), and I’m reminded that she’s a good example of a Well Dressed Contemporary Novelist, reading in Jazz Age-style pleated chiffon trousers. Also present are Bill & Alex Mayor, Ms Lettie, Tim B, Andrew Martin, Paul Kelly, Debsey Wykes, Bob Stanley (currently in the middle of promoting his own massive book, Yeah Yeah Yeah, about the history of pop), Emily Bick, and a certain actor who I think I last saw several lifetimes ago, at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School.
Afterwards I repair with a few of the gathering to the rather cosy Tom Cribb pub in Panton Street, and stay far too late and drink far too much. Chat with Paul Kelly about the political side of his London films made with Saint Etienne (finally out on DVD as A London Trilogy) : he compares his approach with the records of The Specials – the political message is there if you look for it, but the apolitical side – the art for art’s sake side, I guess – must always come first.
Tags: a london year
, paul kelly
, travis elborough
He Is My Father
To Ipswich to visit Dad. He’s in a hospice, and very much bed bound, but is otherwise chatting about films and cracking jokes as ever. He deplores and rejects the default entertainment usually imposed on the elderly and immobile: banal daytime TV, shows like Countdown. Instead, he’s keen to see action sci-fi films like Man Of Steel as soon as they hit DVD, big budget spectaculars where the characters do anything but lie or sit around. His condition, he says, means that more than ever before he wants ‘to see people fly.’
He also does what any Star Wars fan with pulmonary fibrosis must at least consider: using his oxygen mask to do impersonations of Darth Vader. Though in this case Dad brings the impression bang up to date. He imagines the Darth Vader voice actor, James Earl Jones, responding to the one-star pasting the British press has just this week given him, regarding his performance in a West End staging of Much Ado About Nothing. Dad extends his arm to mimic the remote-control Jedi choking trick in the films, the unfortunate victim now becoming the drama critic of the Telegraph. And he knows the relevant Star Wars quote by heart:
“(sinister breathing noise) I find your lack of faith disturbing…”
, james earl jones impressions
, star wars
Among The Dandies
Tuesday 17th September. To the tailors Gieves & Hawkes in Savile Row for a book launch. The book is I Am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman, or as certain friends of mine would describe it, The Big Book Of Hot Men.
It’s a large and lavish hardback comprising profiles of about sixty gentlemen who dress in an individual and elegant way. The book combines full colour photographs by Rose Callahan with text by Nathaniel ‘Natty’ Adams, based on his interviews with the dandies. It is the sort of volume that was once called a coffee table book. I suppose now it is better described as a latte plinth offline HD tablet.
Given the event is about dandyism, I decide to don Sebastian Horsley’s old suit once again, the silver velvet John Pearse 3-piece, now altered to fit me a bit better. Keen to represent my own style as much as the late Mr Horsley’s, I leave out his wing-collared Turnbull & Asser shirt in favour of one of my own cheap small-collared supermarket shirts, and add my simple white pocket square handkerchief, seahorse brooch and cufflinks, along with my battered Gucci loafers. Belatedly I forgot I own a Cad & The Dandy tailored shirt of my own – never mind.
Some years ago a similar photography book on modern dandies came out. It included the Dexys singer Kevin Rowland and Sebastian Horsley. I remember (shamefully) whining to Mr Horsley that I wasn’t included. ‘Oh, you’ll be in the next one,’ he said. He was quite right. So that’s another reason to wear his suit to the launch. A Double Dandy representation.
It’s a rainy evening. A doorman tips his top hat to me as I enter. The shop is an unexpectedly large and high-ceilinged space, with a balcony floor that functions as a museum of Gieves & Hawkes’s history. Glass cases display military tunics, centuries old. Among the many suits on rails and manniquins, hat boxes, chests of drawers and cutting tables there is a jazz band playing, while at the other end of the shop a stage has been set up to make announcements. It has a screen as a backdrop which projects a selection of photos from the book. Waiters offer free champagne, then hover around and refill your glass when it runs low. After the champagne runs out, I move onto lychee martinis. One of the great things about book events is that they’re over by 8pm, so one can get drunk and be in bed by ten, to make an early start on recovering. Book launches lend themselves to efficient hangover management.
[pic by Suzi Livingstone]
I say hello to people I know: Suzi L, Minna M, Rose and Natty, and chat with some of the other dandies in the book who are at the event: Robin Dutt, Ray Frensham, Tony Sylvester (the gentleman from the Quietus article), Barima Nyantekyi, Michael ‘Atters’ Attree, Gustav Temple. There’s also the teenage dandy Zack MacLeod Pinsent. It will be interesting to see if young Mr P keeps up his look into his twenties and thirties; many people his age are still working out who they are.
[pic by Kira of Scarlet Fever Footwear.]
The photographer Kahlil Musa has a portrait studio set up in the changing room area. Here’s the shots he took of me on the night.
[Pics by Kahlil Musa, taken from the Gieves & Hawkes Facebook and Pinterest pages]
Given that dandies are like cats: essentially aloof, wary and self-contained (at least, that’s one way I define dandyism), it’s quite a coup to gather so many of them in the same room, let alone get them to agree to be in the same book. There are also inevitably going to be opinions over who should have been in the book but wasn’t, and who was included but isn’t a ‘proper’ dandy. But at this event no fights break out, and everyone seems friendly and fun. Mr Atters is particularly entertaining; I’m impressed by his choice of lapel brooch: a small stuffed bat.
[pic by Kelly René Miller from the Stylesight blog]
Along with the other dandies present, I sign a couple of copies of the book for Rose & Natty, for their own collection. Specifically, I sign the photo of me in a chalk white suit – the whiteness lending itself to the purpose.
It’s a shame the American dandies in the book couldn’t be there, as it’d be nice to see the ones I’m acquainted with such as Fyodor Pavlov (whose wedding I attended) and Cator Sparks (who showed me round New York). I’d also like to meet Lord Breaulove Swells Whimsy and, most of all, Gay Talese. At 81 years of age, Mr Talese has maintained an almost OCD approach to dandyism: one of Ms Callahan’s most striking photos shows his wall of hats, all carefully wrapped in clear dust covers and labelled underneath like hunting trophies. Which in a way is what they are. He’s also the only dandy in the book to have his own words published as a Penguin Modern Classic.
I keep meeting British book lovers who haven’t heard of Gay Talese (pronounced ‘Ta-leez’), or his classic magazine article ‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’. I suspect this is because, unlike his New Journalism colleagues Tom Wolfe, Hunter S Thompson, and Truman Capote, he never wrote actual fiction, not even heavily autobiographical fiction.
The New Journalism gang believed – though perhaps not officially – that writers should put an effort into styling their appearance as well as their prose. Gay Talese is definitely a dandy. Wolfe has his white suits; Capote and Thompson each maintained a strong look. Whenever I’m in a bookshop and have to choose between two equally attractive books (in terms of content), I have to find a reason to choose one over another. So I look at the author photo and judge them by the choice of clothes they make. Double denim novelists, be warned.
Links with more photos & info on the I Am Dandy event:
Book ordering details from the publisher, Gestalten
Gieves & Hawkes blog
Rose Callahan’s Dandy Portraits blog
Gay Talese’s 1966 article ‘Frank Sinatra Has A Cold’ can be read for free at the Esquire website. But the more stylish option is to buy the Penguin Modern Classics edition. And be seen reading it in public.
* * *
Friday 20th September. Rushing to cross the road, I manage to pull a muscle in my back, and walking for the next two days becomes painful. I seem to be prone to such injuries, having consigned myself to a weekend of limping a month or so ago after doing something similar to my ankle.
In my case, the degree of overexertion is risible; it is not caused by any manly overdoing it on the rugby field or in the gym, but just by a sudden everyday movement after a period of staying still. The ankle pain was the result of waking up one morning, realising I was late for a train, then putting my foot out onto the floor too quickly. That was enough. An anxious and tense thing by nature, I am not built for making sudden movements full stop, even for flight rather than fight. I would make the world’s worst spider.
Saturday 21st September. To the Adam Street club off The Strand, to DJ for the Last Tuesday Society once again. Before I start there is a talk on the I Am Dandy book by Rose Callahan and Natty Adams. I ask them if they found some crucial difference between American and European dandies.
‘Firstly,’ says Mr Adams, ‘it’s only ever Europeans who ask that question about Americans being different. If there is a difference it’s that American dandies tend to look to the 1920s Jazz Age styles, while Europeans favour the Victorian age.’ He cites the top hat as something that Americans particularly tend to avoid.
Evidence of a post-Fifty Shades of Grey era. Although the club night is not a fetish one, in a corner of the room in which I am DJ-ing is an apparatus for being strapped to and whipped, and tonight there is a black-clad gentlemen hired to do just that. I think at first that the people being whipped are also hired by the promoters, in the spirit of providing an interesting ambience. But it transpires they are partygoers: it’s an option included in their ticket. Every song I play while the whipping and spanking goes on takes on immediate innuendo, though accidentally. ‘I Want To Be Happy’, ‘Get Happy’, ‘In The Mood’ and especially: ‘Blue Moon’.
Tags: book launches
, gay talese
, gieves & hawkes
, i am dandy
, natty adams
, rose callahan
, Sebastian Horsley
A Not-Young Man In A Hurry
Tuesday September 3rd. I turn 42 years old. The consolation of which is that thanks to Douglas Adams one now thinks about being the answer to life, the universe and everything. I always liked how for Mr Adams, turning 42 was the year he became a father.
I don’t have anything major planned for the next 12 months - and certainly not parenthood – apart from doing another year of the English degree in Bloomsbury. That means I have to be in London two evenings a week. Other than that, I’m just on the lookout for the next thing, whatever shape that may take. A step up in my fortunes would, I’ll be honest, be highly agreeable. I don’t just mean money, though of course I do mean money. In the meantime, I know I have to write, and that I must work on the writing, and that I must get the writing out there.
* * *
A birthday is really a celebration of the body; a renewal of life’s lease for another year. Since retiring from having birthday parties a few years ago, and in lieu of doing something pleasant with a companion (I am still single), I now see birthdays as an excuse to treat my body to a day trip. It’s as if to say thank you, O Body, for being around another year and not falling apart. I am lucky enough to still have working eyes, so it seems fair to give them new sights to see. I am also lucky enough to still have working legs, so it seems apt to give them new places to walk around. On top of that, I haven’t travelled much in recent years due to lack of income, so a day trip helps to make the birthday feel special. For my 40th I finally found out what Margate and Broadstairs were like, and for my 41st I explored Dungeness.
This year I decide on Eastbourne and the Seven Sisters cliffs, partly because there’s a one-off screening of Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder 3D in nearby Brighton, and it’s a film I regretted missing in London. I’ve explored Brighton itself many times before, hence Eastbourne and the cliffs.
Eastbourne has a reputation as a retirement resort, and certainly the abiding sound of the town on my visit is the clack-clack of walking sticks mingling with the cawing of gulls. There’s a long row of benches on the promenade in front of a pretty floral display, pretty much all of them occupied by a senior citizen.
Surrounding oneself with the elderly in abundance on a 42nd birthday is a good reminder that, yes, 42 is older than young, but not properly old. Just not young. I don’t know what to do or feel about being 42, other than finding something to do and getting on with it. As a result, I march through Eastbourne in a state of impatience, knowing I have not just the cliffs and the cinema still to do, but life still to do. I am a not-young man in a hurry.
I’m enormously annoyed to find the Victorian camera obscura on the pier is closed indefinitely, despite the assurances to the contrary by the brand new Rough Guide To Kent, Sussex & Surrey. First published May 2013, it says, and evidently already in need of an update. I rest in the bar at the end, where there are huge TV screens on the walls tuned to the BBC news channel. News is now literally end of the pier entertainment.
Then to the Museum of Shops, which thankfully is open and consists of agreeably cluttered recreations of shop interiors from the last century, presided over by some spooky mannequins in costume. There’s a wealth of obsolete brand names on all the vintage packaging, their extinction rendering them exotic. The most unusual exhibit has to be the midwife’s scissors used to cut the umblical cord of the infant DH Lawrence.
I take the 13x bus up on the cliffs past Beachy Head and the Belle Tout lighthouse (remembered from The Life and Loves Of A She-Devil) , but decide against getting off and taking a look as there isn’t time – clearly one needs to put aside a whole afternoon for cliff walking. As it is, a thick fog has suddenly appeared, blowing along the road in Hammer Horror fashion as the double-decker takes the steep climb from the town. By the time the bus is level with the cliff edge, the sea has disappeared into the grey altogether. I get off at the Golden Galleon pub by Exceat Bridge as planned, and walk the mile and a half footpath to Seaford Head, hoping the fog will lift. It doesn’t. So I get to see the coastguard cottages – the ones Mr McAvoy and Ms Knightley disappear into at the end of Atonement – without the cliffs behind them. Still, the salt marshes and chalk grassland of the Cuckmere Valley are pleasing enough.
After about another couple of miles of fog walking along Seaford Head – carefully observing the ‘Cliff Edge’ signs all the time, and following an unpleasant encounter with an army of flies who take a liking to my linen suit – I feel I’ve done enough exercise to last me the week.
I walk into Seaford town and take the train to Brighton, always enjoying a single platform terminus of a branch line: the satisfying neatness of seeing where a lone railway track comes to a halt.
The moment I get off the train at London Road, close to 6pm, the fog has cleared. It’s a sunny late summer evening. A three-legged black cat crosses my path, and somehow that’s Very Brighton.
My spirits immediately lift; I often sense where I feel more at home, and bohemian, progressive Brighton is one of those places.
At the Duke Of York’s Picturehouse, Hitchcock’s Dial M For Murder turns out to be almost Wildean in style. Well-dressed people in a room being very arch and elegant with each other, thinking through all the complicated outcomes of their cunning plans, and adjusting them when things go wrong. The detective has a moustache comb, and uses it. One completely understands Mr Hitchcock’s choice to use 3D here: to make a stage play come alive without crowbarring in new locations for the sake of it. Grace Kelly’s stunning red evening dress therefore becomes even more stunning – I like the idea of 3D couture.
The discussion on 3D in films afterwards turns out to be with the man off the BBC1 film review show, the one who isn’t Claudia Winkleman, plus a film lecturer from Birkbeck, fittingly. Both are very much pro-3D in the interests of artistic experimentation, but admit there’s currently the problem of the extra darkness, the awkwardness of wearing glasses, and the greediness of cinema chains who hike up ticket prices for 3D films. I ask them to comment on Baz Luhrmann’s citing of Dial M For Murder as the main reason he shot The Great Gatsby in 3D. Mr BBC says he doesn’t care for Mr Luhrmann’s style full stop, while Mr Birkbeck confesses he didn’t see the Gatsby film for the same reason. Taste in artistic style will always come before taste in technology.
* * *
All of which discussion applies to my outing on the following evening, Weds 4th September. I go to the Odeon Holloway to see the new documentary on the boy band One Direction, also in 3D. Anna S comes with me, and we use the popular Orange mobile offer, where you get two tickets for the price of one. This still costs us £8.50 each, and we go in whispering ‘How much?’ to each other as if we were visitors to the city, up from the shires.
In the auditorium, there’s a group of girls who must be a little too young to attend the boy band’s concerts; 10 or 11 or so. Whatever age where girls learn pop lyrics and presumably pay to see their idols in a cinema, but who also run around while the film is playing, sometimes sitting down the front by the steps, sometimes sitting on the steps, sometimes sliding down the slope above the staircase. This behaviour is obviously not new for children down the ages, but what is new is that they do all this with mobile phones constantly in one hand. One girl goes from screaming whenever her favourite member appears on the screen, to fiddling with her phone, to taking photos of her friends in the cinema, to running up and down the aisle, and then singing all the words of the One Direction songs. It’s the mix of physical with the digital (her tweeting or whatever she’s doing) that most intrigues me.
Obviously I consider going out and asking the Odeon staff if they could do something about this disruptive behaviour. But I decide against it – I have to admit that they are the film’s target market, not me. I can’t even name all five of One Direction. I’m here because I’m curious about what it means to be a British pop star in 2013, and how One Direction are an old product (a boy band) with a new twist: they owe their success to this new hyperactive use of the Internet by their fans. The digital space empowers a band’s followers to come together in number like never before. I only wish their music was a little better: too much of their repertoire is utterly forgettable and bland. Take That and Girls Aloud managed to have manifestly decent songs, so there’s no excuse. (That said, I still have their ‘Best Song Ever’ in my head as I write this. Oh, what a giveaway…)
The film itself does use 3D to dazzling effect at times: a montage of family photos sliding over each other, for example, or Space Invader graphics flying around the band as they perform. But with the over-stimulated urchin girls of Holloway Road running around me, the 3D experience I take away is rather more vivid than the makers intended.
What with that and the benches at Eastbourne, I spend my 42nd musing on the ways the old and the young are meant to act in public. And I suppose I too conform to a stereotypical way of being my age: going to a panel discussion at an art house cinema, for goodness’s sake. And I enjoyed it.
, one direction
I am appearing in two books by other people, both due out this autumn.
One is I am Dandy: The Return of the Elegant Gentleman. Published by Gestalten (Link here). Portraits of modern dandies, of which I am one, as taken by Rose Callahan. Nathaniel Adams provides a text. I’ve not seen a copy yet, but the cover looks like this:
The other is A London Year: 365 Days of City Life in Diaries, Journals and Letters, compiled by Travis Elborough and Nick Rennison. Published by Frances Lincoln (link here). My online diary is in there, along with the diaries of Samuel Pepys, Derek Jarman, and Alan Bennett.
In both cases, I’m enormously flattered to be included. It’s heartening to feel of abiding use in two fields I feel at home with: dandyism and diary writing. It’s also a reminder that I need to do more with both.
The third field I’ve felt of use to lately is academia. In mid-July, I got the results for the 2nd year of the BA in English which I’m doing at Birkbeck. I was very, very pleased to receive a First in each of the three modules that made up the year, despite my misgivings about the exams and suffering what I suppose must be Difficult Second College Year Syndrome. The novelty of being a mature student had worn off, the work became harder, and I was constantly faced with wondering if I should stick with the degree at all.
So the results remind me that despite the lack of paid work coming my way at present, I know I can at least produce written work in a particular style (in this case, academia) and deliver it on time, and that it’s objectively regarded as Of Worth. So I have that to cling to, for now. Having no money beyond the basics is always going to be frustrating, but it’s really the sum of my problems at present, and it could be much worse. I hope something turns up. I’ve no idea what, though.
In the meantime, I’m getting on with studying the texts for the next term.
Reading about rare words, I come across one which seems to sum things up for me: ‘aestivation’. It means the act of passing the summer. More particularly – when referring to animals – it means spending the summer in a state of inactivity; the summer equivalent of hibernation. In Alan Hollinghurst’s The Spell it is used to describe a character’s sex drive: ‘it seemed to have gone into a monkish kind of aestivation.’
Saturday August 24th. A rainy day in Soho. Parts of the district are still being clawed out of the earth by the diggers, as part of the endless Crossrail development. Some of the building site hoardings are used as a kind of outdoor museum, laminated boards telling the history of Soho. I find the section about The Colony Room, tucked away in the northwest corner of Soho Square, by the junction with Soho Street. I brave the rain and take a few photos. The images on the hoarding are mainly taken from Sophie Parkin’s book on the Colony (link: http://www.thecolonyroom.com/).
There’s a portrait of Sebastian Horsley, with Babette Kulik:
Taylor Parkes comments: ‘That’s London these days, isn’t it? Let all this stuff die, then set up a bloody museum in the street about how great it all used to be.’
Sebastian H certainly shared this sentiment about the Crossrail works affecting Soho, just before he died. So it’s quite amusing to see him decorating the building site like this – I like to see it as a defiant reclamation of territory.
Later, I walk around the newly expanded King’s Cross station. A regular sight there is a crowd of tourists queuing up to have their photograph taken with the half-embedded luggage trolley beneath the obliging sign for ‘Platform 9 and 3/4′. For eight pounds, a couple of enthusiastic staffers from the nearby Harry Potter souvenir shop provide each tourist with extra props – a Hogwarts scarf and an owl cage – and take the photo for them. ‘One! Two! Three! Jump! Awesome!’ And again, for the next person in the queue.
, Sebastian Horsley
Wednesday July 10th 2013: I’m descending the steps from the Tube platform at East Finchley. As I reach the bottom, I nearly collide with a bald, surly looking man coming the other way, who suddenly appears from the corridor to the left. It’s the sort of near-collision between people that would normally just result in a mutual muttering of ‘Oops! Sorry!’ Neither of us are walking particularly fast, after all.
But in fact, this man physically grabs me and holds me in place while he passes by.
I have instant recall of how he does it. Facing me square on, each of his hands take each of my elbows, firmly, confidently, turning me in a fixed object to pivot around. It’s as if he does this sort of thing all the time. I wonder now if he does.
Then he lets go in order to walk up the steps. Shocked, I turn around and glower at him – instantly regretting doing so. He’s now halfway up the stairs behind me. He glowers back but doesn’t stop – and thank goodness.
I also notice that he is wearing headphones, and wonder if that has some relevance. I am not wearing headphones, though I do often walk around in a mass of distracted thoughts, which probably amounts to the same thing.
So I think about who is in the wrong here. In my case, my fault is to (a) be in his way, and (b) to glower at him afterwards. Which is the limit of my responses to most things. He, on the other hand, has responded to (a) by physically holding me in place. And he might, let’s face it, now respond to (b) with violence.
It does happen. I particularly think of the man on the 43 bus who was stabbed to death for asking another man to stop throwing chips at his girlfriend. I do know what it’s like to be physically attacked or threatened in London for no reason whatsoever (and once wrote a song about it), so this sort of thinking isn’t as hysterical as it might sound.
I am not an Alpha Male, and so cannot Hold My Own in such confrontations. I am barely an Omega Male.
But – and this is surely as universal an instinct as glowering back at a stranger for grabbing you – I also try to make eye contact with the other passengers coming down the steps beside me. Because I want the vindication of the crowd. I want to see in their faces that (a) they saw what just happened, and (b) that they are on my side. That he was the one in the wrong.
And I get it. One man remarks ‘Bloody hell. That was a bit much!’ Another says to me ‘Are you okay, man?’
‘Yes…’ I feebly blather. ‘It was just a bit… unexpected.’
I come away feeling at first a bit upset, minor though the incident is. I think what troubles me is that it’s proof there are men who think nothing of suddenly manhandling other men.
But I was also consoled by the reactions of the other passengers. So that was proof that I didn’t deserve such treatment for absent-mindedly wandering down steps without looking where I was going. That between this man and myself, I was the more acceptable one in the eyes of society, if only for five seconds.
It’s the only interaction I have with other people all day.
[Edited to add: by an absolute coincidence, someone has just alerted me to a rare TV clip of Ian Nairn manhandling a stranger who gets in his way. I think this is one instance where such a liberty is justified, in the name of Good Television if nothing else. Starts 6 minutes in: http://youtu.be/p_uqoHZk4R4?t=6m6s]
, tube adventures
Constant hot and sunny weather in London. Gordon Square today is packed with young people in the time honoured student poses: lone figures reading paperbacks on the grass, groups of friends chatting, happy. I walk through the square in my cream linen suit & tie and feel out of place, even though I too am a student. I even have my own locker in the Birkbeck building on the square (in Virginia Woolf’s old house).
I used to get upset about constantly feeling out of place. But then I realised that for some people, their place is to feel out of place.
* * *
I visit the superb ‘Propaganda’ exhibition at the British Library. It is difficult to emerge from it without wanting to become an anarchist, frankly. The exhibition’s history of state manipulation takes in everything from Trajan’s Column to coins and stamps (asking who gets to appear on coins, and why are there people on coins in the first place), before bringing things up to date with last year’s Olympics. A video features Alistair Campbell, Tessa Jowell and Iain Dale talking about how the 2012 Games were an example of ‘country branding’. The political interpretation seems to fit both sides – there’s the Twitter comment on the Opening Ceremony by Tory MP Aidan Burley: ‘leftie multicultural crap’. Whereas the equally right wing Iain Dale thought it in fact represented ‘the best of Britain’.
Also in the video Campbell says ‘the public mood drove public opinion’, which rather recalls his ‘People’s Princess’ speech for Blair at the time of Diana’s death. That kind of language is propaganda in itself: producing phrases which seem to provide a voice for the public as a whole, while in reality they purely represent the voice of the man who wrote them.
I was reminded how this year, Andy Murray’s triumph at Wimbledon (Sunday 7th) has also been used for nationalist propaganda. His achievements as an individual are being discussed by politicians and columnists as if they were secondary to something he had no choice over – his nationality, whether as a Scot or as a Briton. Still, as an outlet for ‘country branding’, which seems to be always with us, sport is at least preferable to war.
At the exhibition, there’s an example of propaganda applied to the late Diana which was new to me. It is in a video featuring Zoe Fairbairns, feminist writer and author of the dystopian novel Benefits. I am not familiar with the book, which is from 1979, but the blurb doesn’t seem to be out of place in 2013:
“It is summer… a heat wave… tense, uneasy days in the city. There are ominous signs of political turbulence… Welfare benefits are under attack…”
Ms Fairbairns was involved in a campaign against the 1981 Royal Wedding, which she saw as promoting the ‘distasteful symbolism’ of the marriage ceremony. The campaign had its own badges. They bore the slogan ‘DON’T DO IT, DI.’
Tags: British Library
Once again, I find gaps in my diary impossible to properly fill. Skimming over the unrecorded seems unfair, but leaving it out altogether seems worse. Am constantly amazed how anyone else gets anything done at all. There seems so much to keep tabs on – literal tabs in the case of the Web. Other people manage to easily write things on Facebook AND Twitter AND update their Goodreads account AND top up their various portable gadgets with power and credit (something that constantly defeats me) AND presumably earn incomes as well. And many of these people have children and partners too! I frequently feel like I’m the slowest person on earth.
Weds 22nd May – Last exam of the 2nd year, as in my BA English degree at Birkbeck. The exam was half on Chaucer’s Troilus & Criseyde, half on a selection from the renaissance plays we’d been studying. I chose The Tempest and Eastward Ho!
I don’t feel at all confident of getting a decent mark for this last exam, as I’d spent most the time I’d hoped to spend on revising on instead writing the final two essays plus revising for the other exam. I ran out of not just time, but also energy and motivation. By the 22nd of May I was utterly drained and found it hard to care very much about memorizing the names and arguments of Chaucer critics.
On top of that the stress for the exams gave my first ever migraine. The week before the last exam the sight in my left eye suddenly failed completely. It stayed like that for about an hour. The GP packed me off to Moorfields A&E, as he couldn’t rule out something retinal that might need emergency surgery. Thankfully Moorfields and all their eye machines diagnosed a ‘bilateral’ migraine. I was told to lie down in a darkened room and avoid whatever it was that was causing the anxiety. So my exam revision suffered there as well.
I understand why universities still hold exams – they’re proof one can spontaneously come up with the goods without access to books or the internet. But I’m grateful that the rest of the course has the option of being exam-free. They just don’t agree with me.
After the exam, I celebrated with a few fellow students: Jasmine, Kim, Jon et al. Cheap drinks in the university bar, then a restaurant meal in Marchmont Street.
The good news is that my two last essay marks for the 2nd year were Firsts. I also received a First in my overall grade for the Narratives of the Body module, the first grade to actually go towards my final degree grade. I get the other two overall module grades of the 2nd year when the exam marks come in, sometime in late July.
Since then I’ve mostly been recovering from it all. Attended a brilliant talk by Philip Hensher on vocatives, an entertaining one by Will Self on his novel Umbrella and one by Alan Bennett at the ICA doing his usual ‘Evening With’ set-up. Also saw the new Star Trek film (fun), and the new Great Gatsby movie in 3D (absolute heaven).
Read Clampdown, a new cultural studies book by Rhian E Jones on the effect of 90s UK music on class and gender. What’s unusual is that it focusses on the cultural meaning of Britpop from the personal yet highly academic perspective of someone who grew up with that music – the author. I think previous books on Britpop have tended to be either by people working as journalists at the time (John Harris), or by those who were involved in the music business (Luke Haines). People who were actually informed by that culture during their teenage years logically have a different take, one that is only now starting to emerge. In Ms Jones’s case she talks about the importance to her of Kenickie and Shampoo as signifiers of female agency. But there’s so many other points in the book: many of which just hadn’t occurred to me. I could argue with some of her conclusions, but then I was never a working class teenage girl in the 90s. It’s an essential text for anyone trying to make sense of that ludicrous era.
, great gatsby