Ever since they moved in downstairs, Amanda and I have assumed that the small child downstairs is autistic. If not autistic, then certainly somebody who suffers from OCD. Despite being around six years old and past the stage of the "terrible twos", he screams, he wails, he cries, he punches walls, he throws things at doors, he shouts and hits out at his mother, and generally creates a bit of blood-curdling drama wherever he goes. Once I walked past my neighbour's front door and heard the following loud exchange:
"BUT I DON'T WANNA HAVE THE BLUE TOWEL!!!!"
"The Blue Towel is exactly the same as the orange towel, it's just a different colour"
"Waaaaa-AAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRRRRGHHHHHHH! AAAARGH!! AAARGH!! AARGH!!" (repeat on a loop for the next twenty minutes).
I hear this kind of thing through the floor on a regular basis, but he's not my child, so I'm able to laugh it off and put the stereo on to drown him out. I feel less charitable when such things happen at five in the morning on a Saturday, but stop short of smashing my foot on the floorboards because I don't really see what it would achieve. After all, I doubt his mother really wants to be woken up then either, and me throwing my personal contribution into the mix wouldn't change much.
A friend of Amanda's who is normally one of the most forgiving people I've ever met stayed with us for a week, and by the end of that time had resorted to calling him "The Demon Downstairs". So that's what we all ended up referring to him as. Five in the morning on a Saturday: "Oh Jesus, there goes the Demon again". Quarter to nine on a weekday, when she's taking him to school but he doesn't want to go: "The Demon isn't happy, I hear". And so on.
But sometimes we get it wrong. His mother disappeared off to Turkey for a holiday recently and left her brother to take charge of the brat while she was gone, and during that time we were greeted to an eerie but not remotely unwelcome silence. The child no longer screeched and wailed when asked to get ready and leave for school, and instead left in an orderly, quiet fashion. He stopped throwing things at the doors and walls and yelling. In short, for a fortnight he did a very good impersonation of a level-headed and slightly cheeky but otherwise generally normal child. If it transpires that her brother was gagging him and locking him in the airing cupboard I'm obviously going to be eating my words, but otherwise it seems that the problem isn't the child, it's clearly her. She tries to hold debates and reason with him. She begins sentences with "Now, you're being unreasonable". She sounds like she's holding committee meetings with him down there. Never have I had it more clearly illustrated to me that sometimes the problem isn't the child, it's the parent, and judging by the bags under her eyes and her weary demeanour, I don't know what else apart from pride is keeping her out of child-rearing lessons. But Christ almighty, I do wish she'd go soon, for my own benefit as much as hers.
I've been invited back to the London live music night "Rum Do" at The Castle in Whitechapel to do some more DJ'ing, and on this occasion my efforts will be taking place at their rather exciting All-Dayer, which hopefully means there will be loads of time to play the usual crowd-pleasers plus explore the more groove-some nooks and crannies of my record collection.
The Facebook invite is here: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=198241330225222&ref=ts but for those of you who don't "do" Facebook these days, here's the information for you to write in your retro eighties File-o-Faxes:
Date and time: Saturday, July 9 · 4:00pm - 2:00am
Venue: The Castle
44 Commercial Road, London, E1 1LN
Other Useful Data:
It's that time of year again, the time when the Castle is taken over by drunks and bands, and it's all free all day. Here's what's cracking:
Without My Medicine
The De Selby Codex
The Fingers Malone Ensemble
Easy and the Cali Five
John the Revelator
and more TBA.
At this point, I should also add that I've seen The De Selby Codex live before, and they were brilliant - krautrock grooves merrily colliding with nonchalant on-stage mannerisms Stuart Staples out of The Tindersticks would be proud of. So if you can't be bothered to come down to see me, there's another reason for you.
Oh, and it's free to attend, by the way.
I went home to Portsmouth a few days ago. No, let me correct that sentence. I returned to visit Portsmouth a few days ago. That's better.
People have peculiar relationships with their university towns and cities. If you're a slightly left-of-centre kind of person and hated the place you spent your teenage years - which I most certainly did, no question about it - they become like surrogate hometowns, places students identify with far past the point they probably deserve. Never mind that if they'd gone to the local comprehensive schools in their adopted city along with all the other locals they would have suffered the same anxieties about fitting in. All this is usually conveniently overlooked as the city is treated as a new surrogate parent. However much you might think you exist within the ordinary day-to-day environment "just like everyone else", the truth is that like all students you live in a bubble, a theme park filled with cheap booze deals, a lot of people your own age in the process of reinventing themselves, and the occasional few people who would actually welcome discussions about topics you happen to be interested in, most of whom won't be locals. "Sounds like intellectual snobbery to me" - a voice. No, it's the truth. People in office jobs in Portsmouth are generally speaking no more amenable to discussions about art, literature, music and politics than people with office jobs in London. Out in the world of academia, on the other hand, that's naturally not going to be the case, and nobody should begrudge awkward, obsessive and bookish young people their chance to blossom and fit in, however uncomfortably close that sounds to a Belle and Sebastian styled philosophy.
It's difficult to pinpoint an exact moment when Portsmouth first stopped feeling remotely like a "hometown" for me, but it was probably roughly around 2002, when I'd spent two straight years living in London. By that point I'd cemented a reasonably reliable social circle, knew a lot of people who were as fascinating as the people I studied with (if not more so) and had watched as steadily my Pompey mates either drifted away from the place or fell off the radar. Plenty of ex-students stayed behind, but most fled in the end in favour of better opportunities elsewhere - it was tough to advance your career in a city which only had a few major employers. The choices seemed to be working in IT, working for Zurich Insurance, working for the Navy, working for Royal Mail, working for Southern Electric, working for a call centre, or working in retail. I stayed in Portsmouth for two years after I graduated just because it felt cheap, cosy and comfortable (not as prohibitively expensive as That London, where I'd spent an uncomfortable six months working for a pittance in 1996) all the time mindful that it probably couldn't last, knowing that I was in some way limiting my options, and every month seemingly regretfully waving goodbye to somebody else who was leaving for pastures new.
Anyway, back to the present... I checked into the Ibis hotel on Wednesday night, and found that the bathroom window housed a nautical porthole window in its wall. "That's neat!" I thought, and opened it to this view:
Aha. We have weighed the anchor, cap'n, and touched down into PO1 where the Somers Town Council Estate be! This is what a great deal of central Portsmouth looks like. Bombed to smithereens during World War II, the city suffered the same kind of rush-building and rehousing projects that Coventry did, ensuring that the memory of Hitler was forever etched on the place in the form of these damp grey monuments. It is possible to visit Portsmouth and not see the urban rehousing projects, if you focus your attentions on the old Port area and the seafront at Southsea - but if you live there and live in cheap student accommodation, these feel like a constant presence on the skyline.
The Tricorn Centre, a building many consider to have been far uglier once stood here. A grey maze of a shopping centre with a feel so post-apocalyptic that it was actually the set for a number of Science Fiction programmes, I personally was always torn about it. On the one hand, I felt it fantastic that something so complicated, unwelcoming and brutal could even exist, and would frequently break into the boarded up structure to take pretentious black and white photographs. On the other, I felt sorry for the people who had lived in the residential complex there, some of whom lived in flats which never saw daylight due to the building's uncompromising design. On balance (dur - of course!) I'm naturally inclined to think that the welfare of people is far more important than any visual statement, and the drawbacks of the mugger's alleys and the stinking living conditions far outweighed the benefits of the peculiar, disorientating nature of the place. But seeing it gone and witnessing its remains as one single, solitary footbridge connecting a branch of Argos still can't help but make me feel sad.
I have no doubts at all about this place, though. This once was "The Pink Elephant", a store legendary in certain parts of the city for its oddness. Run by a scruffy, long-haired bearded man who saw himself as a community worker, you could buy packs of broken biscuits really cheaply, huge hunks of meat from slaughterhouses somewhere in the Hampshire country, and dirt-cheap bits and pieces of canned cupboard filler. It played the local chat radio station endlessly, had a damp brown carpet, political and social leaflets pinned to corkboards, and several sloping, gravy-coloured aisles. At any time of the day (and usually the evening) you'd see friends hunched over the photocopier in the corner copying bits of information from text books. Here it is now, chopped in half with a change of name and owner. I doubt it's the same, or will ever be again. The Pink Elephant really was like a relic from the sixties, an independent mini-mart which lasted long into the nineties before it was allowed to die. It was more right-on than the Co-op ever will be, man.
The Festing, a pub which became my local for no other good reason than it happened to be based quite close to the house of a friend of mine. It was, in retrospect, quite nasty - the kind of place where men sell you objects they've either acquired illicitly or smuggled through customs, and local alcoholics managed to stay all day purely by charming anybody who happened to come through the doors into buying them a pint.
The two main characters that spring to my mind now are a gentleman who had served time for drug dealing - he was a heroin addict himself - and now spent most of his days sat in the pub trying not to become an alcoholic instead. "Hey, geeeee-zer!" he'd greet you as you came in. "Can you buy me a drink? Here, I can give you my rings as guarantee!" He'd say this with a beaming grin knowing damn well you'd just buy him the drink and wouldn't take him up on the offer of his jewellery. Oddly, he's somebody of whom I was actually quite fond, a cheerful and optimistic soul who never publicly seemed to let his long-term unemployment get him down. He loved his "Rrrock" music and had spent some time in America during his youth, and he'd frequently talk about the marvels of Proper Rock in a gravelly, Tommy Vance voice, fibbing ridiculously about famous people he'd supposedly met. I hope he's OK.
The other character was Evil Bobby Brook, a man who was a demon on the pub's pinball machine until the landlord decided to get rid of it, at which point he'd spent every waking breath complaining. I don't think he actually was evil, he simply had the appearance of a rather angry goblin, and would regularly shake his fists at anyone in the pub who once beat him on the pinball machine, promising them that one day vengeance would be his. Once he even appeared outside at the pub's window glaring angrily at his victor, rising up into view slowly above the window ledge in a manner that made me nearly collapse laughing.
The pub looks scrubbed clean and much more run-of-the-mill now.
Mr Rothery's. There was no reason we should ever have found out about this man, but he was (is?) the only right-wing person who has been so eccentric that I've tolerated him - and that includes Boris Johnson. A well-spoken man, he had the Basil Fawlty-esque habit of insulting people in a stiff and formal fashion. Once, he said to a friend: "I've had this shop for eight years, sir, and may I say, sir, that the issue with Portsmouth... the primary issue is that people here are c__ts, sir, c__ts if you don't mind me saying so sir! Ah... here comes another one now!"
As an angry, tattooed military gentleman entered the shop and rang the bell, he beamed toothily "Good day to you sir!" at him as if none of our discussion had occurred.
This withering sarcasm is neatly summed up by this sign I noticed on his door a few days ago:
The sign at the bottom is a piece of arch contrariness typical of the man. I also noticed that the store appears to be closed "until further notice", so I do hope that Mr Rothery is OK, that he's decided to simply retire rather than hit upon hard times. He was such a local character that a journalist who lived in the area once won a prize for producing an article about him - a piece I can only assume wrote itself.
And this is the street I lived on during my last year in Portsmouth as a student. It's barely changed at all.
I realise that when you return to a place where your formative years were (mostly positively) spent, you're supposed to feel pangs of nostalgia and even an aching to return. In this case, though, all I felt was a kind of curiosity, and the slowness of the place and the impression of continued narrow horizons made me feel as if it shouldn't be a part of my life anymore. Whilst I was irritated by some of the changes, I was irritated for selfish reasons. I wanted the Tricorn Centre to be there just because it fitted my memories of the city, not because it would have been of use to anybody who lived in Portsmouth. Ultimately, Portsmouth felt as if it belonged to my early twenties self, a man (or boy?) who thought he loved the place but ultimately only really loved a lot of the people he knew in it and the skint but generally cheery lifestyle he briefly enjoyed. Those moments could not be repeated again however hard I tried.
At the risk of sounding hackneyed, buildings may remain, but people drift away - and what we're left with is a slightly scruffy town with the usual provincial amenities. Portsmouth felt like the right place for me at the right time, not as intense and expensive as London and filled with an earthy weirdness which actually seemed reminiscent of the London-gone-by my parents frequently told me about - but I was right to quit when I did and come back to my real home, the city I was born in. Nobody can begrudge me that. But whenever somebody mentions Portsmouth on the radio, my ears will always prick up, and I'll always be listening out for good news about the place.
Where train travel is concerned at the moment, I seem to be a magnet for all manner of weirdness. Only a few LJ entries ago I chronicled the argument I had with a cloth-cap wearing Gilbert O'Sullivan lookalike, but in the past few weeks alone the following people have sat next to me:
- A hooded tracksuit wearer listening to music loudly on his phone, and getting up occasionally to dance along to what he thought were the best bits. This incident occurred at 9am, not midnight, so I don't think drink could have been to blame.
- On two separate occasions, agitated large men cussing about some argument they'd recently had, and twitching violently and angrily in their seats. I didn't ask them what the problem was - well, would you?
- A man coated in what I hope was mud attempting to converse with me about Jesus.
- A thin and ghostly middle aged man in an old suit staring at me for what seemed like most of a half hour journey.
To cap it all off, I was sat in an entirely empty row of seats this morning when a tracksuit wearing woman in her mid-twenties got on and smiled at me. I smiled back - my first mistake - and she promptly came and sat right next to me, despite dozens of other seats being free and available, and spent the forty five minute journey flicking her hair, leaning right over into my seat so our legs were touching, and glancing at me. This attention was actually extremely flattering for the first five minutes, but I would have hoped my disinterest would have registered after that. Seemingly not, and from that point on it began to feel a bit awkward. She's somebody I vaguely recognise from previous journeys into work, so hopefully this won't carry on and turn into a slightly awkward saga.
You should all note that this is only the second time in my life a woman has made her interest known on public transport, so I'm not trying to impress you all with my amazing allure. I'm also well aware that female LJ friends have regularly blogged about over-familiar men on the London Underground, it's just it seems very rare that the situation is ever reversed. Clearly it does happen, though.
One thing is for sure - I know people who hate iPods and claim that they isolate human beings from each other, but for the last few weeks I have been incredibly thankful I've been able to play deaf on these journeys. Without that, I could have been facing 45 minutes of trying to politely tell somebody to naff off in at least two of the cases I've outlined above.
Just a quick update to let you all know that I'll be DJ'ing at the Vintage, Crafts, Jumble and Flea Market "Can't Buy Me Love" on Saturday 28th May from 1:30pm - 3:30pm (or thereabouts. I doubt anyone will have their finger on a special retro clock timer).
It's taking place at:
312 Archway Rd, N6 5AT
And the Facebook details are all here: https://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=211113622253127&ref=ts
For me personally, events like these serve a number of purposes. You can turn up and browse and buy to a great soundtrack, have a swift drink and then disappear off into the daylight, having had a more fulfilling time than you might had you chosen to join the hordes along a usual shopping street on a Saturday afternoon. Or alternatively, you can turn up, browse, find nothing you want, but decide to have a few drinks and listen to some great music in a fantastic pub anyway. It's a win-win situation - there is no way you can lose. Unless you expect me to play novelty glam records.
See you there, maybe?
Sunday 27 March saw me take part in the 10K Newham Run, something I'd been training for seven months to compete in, with varying results. In August 2010, I found myself in an appalling state of repair, struggling to run for more than forty seconds without getting out of breath, and I thought that I'd honestly be lucky to make it halfway around the circuit in March, never mind complete with an average or good time.
From there on, it was a case of slow improvements and gradual, gentle increases in distance - small increments rather than large ambitions, and listening to my body rather than paying any attention to the well-meaning but slightly hectoring athlete's guides I'd found online (I genuinely dislike the military tone these things take, and find it more offputting than inspiring - if I'd had a loud-mouthed personal trainer or a condescending guide, I think I'd have given up by October). It became easier. By November I was running 5K, by January 8K (rough going on the wintery mornings, but it's surprising how much speed you'll pick up when your body feels close to a death-freeze). Finally, just before the race, I ran a couple of 11.5K jaunts around Hackney Downs and Walthamstow just to be sure I was able to do this, and succeeded without having to stop to catch my breath once.
The one key element was missing, which was my ambition to finish the 10K race in less than fifty minutes. I'd read long ago that this was a good goal for male first-timers, but on my practice runs had so far not been able to get much below 52. Having all but given up, it was a shock to me that my final time on the day was 48:41, putting me in 77th place for my age group or 495th place out of 5,000 runners overall. It's hard to explain how this happened - but it's stunning how much influence the event itself has on both your energy and your adrenalin. I never used to understand the mentality of people who would gather to watch races and cheer the amateur athletes on, but certainly the braying helps, even when it comes from a man standing around outside a shop drinking Stella Artois at ten in the morning. In fact, the absurdity of that particular incident really caused me to burst around the last 1.5K in a sprint, so thank you Mr Street Drinker.
People who know me well know that I'm not a sporty person. I don't watch sport, I almost never participate in it (stopping only to throw a frisbee now and then) and have been the usual bookish short of person you'd expect to find on LJ. If you asked me to prioritise what I loved most in life, my running shoes or my vinyl or book collection, it wouldn't be hard to answer. Take the shoes. They're garish and horrible anyway, like some neon nightmare encrusted with mud. There is no sentiment attached. Doing the race hasn't ultimately changed my personality or my outlook, but I think there's a lot to be said for the discipline and the hypnotic simplicity of a run, and (as you get older) for engaging in healthy activity. I feel fitter and more energetic, and also I've become aware of the fact that anything's possible again, which is a healthy and upbeat sensation. In times of difficulty, it doesn't hurt now and then to realise that I can set myself goals and, even if they seem genuinely laughable to people at first, get there in the end. If that sounds like a piece of self-help drivel, I apologise - but it's been a good experience, if not necessarily one I'd always describe as "enjoyable". To be the uncoordinated runt of my family and actually achieve a good first time that many have suspected is a complete wind-up has been an amusing joke and a strong personal achievement simultaneously. Don't worry, though, it was a charity run, not a mid-life crisis.
Thanks so much to everyone who donated to the fund, especially the one "anonymous" donator who didn't want to come forward with their real name (who I therefore couldn't contact to thank in person). We raised everything we expected to and a bit more, and the cause is very specific, unique and will, I think and hope, be of eventual benefit to everyone with Diabetes in the long term.
Here's two pictures of me making my way around the track, just to prove that it genuinely did happen.
Next week - I trial for Fisher Athletic Football Club and try to get on to the main team in seven months. Will I succeed? (Not really).
It's mid-week, and things are starting to go wrong. I have to be at a meeting in some coastal resort town by 10am, and as ever, the Victoria Line is not on my side, deciding to cease its services due to some random fault as it seems to do on half the journeys in any given week. Like half the train's load, I decide to pile off and divert via the Northern Line as soon as we get to King's Cross.
The carriage is crowded, so crowded that if you try to move one millimeter in any given direction you'd probably meet with a lot of resistance or at the least somebody's armpit. It's hot, claustrophobic, and unpleasant, but at least the damn train is moving this time. Just in front of me is a young chirpy looking chappie with curly hair and a cloth cap, with a large leather-like sports bag at his feet.
By the time I get to my station, he slowly picks up his bag and even more s-l-o-w-l-y turns it around, but fails to move an inch in any given direction. There is no urgency about his movements at all, unlike everybody else's. In my rush to catch my overground train, I interpret this body language as meaning that he's very kindly picking up his bag to get it out of the way, and turning it so that I can get past, and I move past him (please note - no pushing or shoving was involved). But ooh dear, he doesn't like that. In a staccato, geezerish voice filled with aggression, he hisses: "You could've least've waited 'til I'd moved my bag all the way round before pushing in front of me you FUCKING PRICK."
Now, I've been here before. There are three things you can do with people like this. The first is apologise and state your case. I once tried this with a man I accidentally pushed in front of in a newsagent's queue. "Oi Oi Oi!" he yelled at me. "Mr. Push-In, what do you think this is, National Push-In Day?" I apologised for not noticing him, but I wasn't believed. He was too keen to go on the attack. "Tssssk!" he kept saying through his teeth at me through his teeth whilst he was served at the counter. "Tssssk!" he said, shaking his head, turning to look at me as he bought his copy of "The Sun". "Tssssk!" he said again as he left the building, glaring at me as he left through the door, doubtless feeling proud that he'd aggressively and rudely put somebody straight on their lack of manners. So that doesn't really work. If somebody wants to have a cob on and find injustice everywhere they go, they will.
The second option, of course, is to ignore them, which for some reason always causes my blood pressure to rise that bit higher with regret and frustration.
So then, I opt for the third option in this case, which is to engage the man in conversation in an equally offensive way.
"Just shut up," I hiss at him as I get off the train, him shortly behind me.
"Don't you TELL ME to shut up," he says forcefully, and starts following me down the platform. (This annoys me even more. There's something about men who begin their sentences with finger pointing and the line "Don't you TELL ME what to do" which completely pisses me off. Where do they think they are? In a Clint Eastwood western?)
"OK," I reply, "then fuck off".
"Don't you SWEAR AT ME," he says. "You ig-no-ramus!"
He seems quite proud of this rather more sophisticated insult to my rude comment, even though back on the carriage he was swearing like a docker.
"That's good," I say, "why don't you keep it coming?"
"Ignorant bastard, rude tosser," he says, following me.
"Yep!" I exclaim enthusiastically. "Come on, keep it coming, keep it coming!".
"Wanker, rude ignorant bastard", he says, before rushing off up the escalator and away.
Trouble is, he doesn't get very far because there's a massive crowd of people also heading for the exit, so I manage to catch up with him again and continue our conversation.
"Next time you're on a crowded tube train," I say, "try to deal with it".
He says nothing and looks away. There is silence. Clearly, for whatever reason, he is bored of the conversation. I can't say I blame him - it's been a bit shit on both sides. In fact, I would say that there are probably twelve year olds out there displaying more wit than either of us manage. It's not been a good day for me, and I'd hope it's not been a typical one for him as well, though I wouldn't be too sure.
Hours later when I recall the exchange, I'm annoyed at myself for stooping to his level, especially when he clearly felt as if he'd been dealt a bit of an injustice, but failing to see an easy way around the situation. There's no time in life to explain away every misunderstanding and every instance when somebody is determined to think the worst of you, and there are moments where you either have to sigh and walk away - something I'm not all that good at - or sour the atmosphere even more so you don't stroll off feeling like a victim, which seems like a bleak alternative. It's a horrible stalemate. Then I realise something that makes me thankful I didn't notice it at the time, otherwise the exchange might have got really personal and ended in some kind of incident. The man in question looked exactly like Gilbert O'Sullivan, right down to the face, hair, cap and build. I have been aggressively insulted and lectured on my manners by a man who looks like somebody who once sang "Ooh-Wakka-Doo-Wakka-Day". It's no wonder he's so angry, I think, before deciding that it's not necessarily my problem, and anyway, he surely didn't have to complete the effect by wearing a sodding cap?
Oh why not?
2011: Living in the same pokey flat I've inhabited for the last five years in Walthamstow, London with my wife Amanda and a bamboo plant unimaginatively called Mr Bamboo. For some reason, I've been allowed to work in the arts again in a perfectly good role for the first time in eight years (I say "for some reason" because I don't understand the significance of it mid-way through a massive recession when hardly anybody can get a job in this field, and I would have been perfectly employable during the good times too). Careers-wise things are actually never anything short of interesting at the moment. The rest you know if you read this blog, probably. Mood: cautiously optimistic, but quite keen to move house. And a bit broke because Amanda's out of work, but I can't really grumble too much.
2001: An interesting one, this. I actually wasn't caught on the census in 2001 because I was "between houses". I had been subletting off a Danish acquaintance who never quite got around to telling me he was planning to leave the country to go back to Denmark. In fact, not even when I gave him the forthcoming month's rent two days before he left did he mention his plan to flit, leaving me to face a landlord asking where the hell his money was, and by the way, who actually was I?
Besides temporary homelessness caused by dodgy Danes, this particular point of 2001 wasn't the greatest period of my life, not necessarily depressing or miserable but appallingly unproductive and unmemorable. I was single, had a crap low-rung admin job with the council, had temporarily lost sight of any other ambitions I might have had, stopping writing for a bit, and had allowed myself to drift in a fairly unimpressive way. Things would pick up again before the end of the year, and would steadily get much better from then on - but my non-appearance in the census almost acts as a metaphor for how little impression I was making on anyone at that point. I was even boring myself. I feel bored just thinking about March 2001 now, the dramas of being turfed out of a flat and on to people's couches notwithstanding.
1991: I was an awkward and slightly spotty teen with appalling hair at a sixth form college, spending a lot of my time in the library. I lived with my parents and harboured a secret crush on the most ridiculously unsuitable girl I could have picked (a crush that never really got announced to anyone at the time because it would only have been regarded as ludicrous - I know this for a fact even now. The fact that half the college population also held a torch for her says it all). I was going to fail Economics and Computer Science A Level, and would end up taking two new brand new A Level subjects instead, but I didn't know that at the time. So far as I was concerned, I was just about squeaking by at this point and might get a low pass in both subjects. I hadn't even considered the fact that I might be able to go to university - nobody either within my family or outside of it had mentioned the possibility to me, and as nobody in my family had ever been, it was just something "other people did". I had vague plans to try to find a job somewhere in London that involved making the tea for people in the music industry when I left college, but I hadn't thought things through in any more depth than that.
I listened to lots of indie music, went out to the local alternative nightclub to watch bands a lot, and that was about it. In common with 2001 though, I was a bit bored and knew I had to have a better path and plan in life, I just didn't really have a clue what it was, whereas at least in 2001 I had a few realistic notions. When I think back to my 1991 self, I see a slightly clueless fourteen year old boy rather than the eighteen year old I actually was. I had a huge amount of growing up to do.
1981: Living in a terraced house in Hainault with my parents as a small boy. For some reason, this period seems warm, fuzzy and pleasant when I think about it. I can remember that I was just about old enough to go for walks around the local streets by myself, and the journey from my back street to the one two blocks away seemed like a massive adventure and huge broadening of the world. I used to play out with the other local children on the street as well, something you never really see children doing within the London zones anymore (whatever happened to that?).
The two centres of my universe otherwise were "Top of the Pops" and Kenny Everett. And "Blankety Blank" was a childhood favourite for some reason as well, perhaps because Kenny Everett was on it a lot. I also had a budgerigar called Jerry who was otherwise the focus of most of my attention, much to the chagrin of the family dog. There was nothing much going on really, but it was a pleasant, happy sort of nothing.
1971: I wasn't born yet.
My apologies for cross-posting between this blog and "Left and to the Back" - I've been incredibly busy lately, and as many bloggers over the years have commented, we only seem to type up entries when there's either naff all going on in our lives, or things are going horribly wrong. When the people of the future look back on these under-read records, they're going to think we were all either picking fluff out of our navels 24/7 or having nervous breakdowns every five minutes.
Anyway... some of you might be interested in the below... and please note that this will be my first ever attempt at DJ'ing. Yes, unbelievably nobody has ever thought to ask me to do this before, and at the age of 37 this does feel like something I should have got out of my system years ago. It's never too late, it seems. Or perhaps it is. We'll see what happens. "London dwelling readers might be delighted (or horrified) to learn that I've been invited to do a DJ set at the long-running "Rum Do" event at The Castle in Whitechapel on 12 March. Naturally, I'll be working within the rubric of the evening which tends to be sixties mod pop, Northern Soul and rock and roll, although I'm sure I'll find a way of sneaking in some beat and popsike as well.
Sadly, this means that anyone expecting to hear hot toe-tapping discs by the likes of Nanette Newman, Bernard Manning, Julian Clary and Big Cherry is going to walk out very disappointed, but I wouldn't suppose that many of you were (and I'm not sure what night you'd go to if you genuinely wanted to hear stuff like that, but if you ever find a venue, please let me know).
Also on the bill are "Dylan Moran's favourite band" The De Selby Codex, Wol and a special secret guest. The Facebook invite and details can be found at:
but just in case you can't access that, the details are:
Rum Do, The Castle, Whitechapel, London, E1 1LN
8:30pm - midnight
Saturday 12 March
Come over and say hello if you make it down."
Just sent this email out, but now you good LJ readers can see it too:
Walthamstow gig 2 March
I've waited the best part of a decade for it to happen, but finally...
I've been offered a gig in Walthamstow. This means I'll be able to
just stroll home after the reading rather than having to negotiate
tube, bus and train routes home from far-flung places.
For those of you who also live in Walthamstow, this should also be a
boon. And if you don't... well, it's not exactly difficult to get
there if you fancy a night out, unless journeying to Zone 3 is your
idea of a dangerous expedition.
The gig is at a special seating room in Walthamstow Central Library,
53 Hoe Street, London E17, I'll be joined by Emma Hammond, Mimi
Khalvati, Jane Colman, Ruth Wiggins, Michael Shan and Nigel Pollitt,
and here's the "official" blurb:
"Mimi Khalvati was born in Iran and has lived most of her life in
England. Her most recent book, 'The Meanest Flower', was shortlisted
for the TS Eliot Prize. She received a Cholmondeley Award in 2006.
Mimi is the founder of The Poetry School.
Support from two local young poets and rising stars on the poetry scene:
* Emma Hammond
* Dave Bryant
PLUS: poetry from members of Forest Poets:
* Jane Colman
* Ruth Wiggins
* Michael Shann
* Nigel Pollitt
£4 on the door, includes a glass of wine + cheese. Doors open 7pm.
Seconds away from bus, rail and tube stations.
All poets will have books for sale and there'll be an opportunity to
buy our pamphlet 'Forest Poets 3' which will include poems from all
the night's readers".
I'll also be appearing at Sweet Thursday at the Good Ship in Richmond
this coming Thursday 10 February (3 King Street, Richmond, Surrey. TW9
1ND). Also on the bill will be Richard Rickford and Susan Wallbank.
The evening starts at 8pm.
So now you know. Please do come if you feel like it. But don't if you don't. Obviously. I don't want any sourpusses in the audience.
Amanda and I went to a Greek restaurant on Saturday night to celebrate a friend's thirtieth birthday (the friend came along as well, of course - we didn't both sit in the restaurant drinking to her health whilst she sat at home twenty miles or so away. That would have just been silly). While we were there, we observed something I personally haven't experienced in a diner in at least twenty years now, probably more. In one far corner of the restaurant sat a bald middle-aged man with a keyboard playing popular Greek songs to the accompaniment of drum machine noises and auto-fills, and performing incredibly loudly so barely anyone could hold a conversation.
Instead of matters improving as the evening progressed, things got worse. And worse. The volume crept up some more. Then he began playing cover versions of English hits such as Peter Andre's "Mysterious Girl" in a Greek accent, embellishing his efforts with more and more auto-fills on the keyboard. If it had been played for laughs, it might have been halfway interesting - as it stood, it was like watching something from the past, the bygone days of the chicken-in-a-basket circuit. Amanda asked if the music could be turned down, which it was briefly, only to be turned up again shortly afterwards. I looked around the restaurant and could see many men and women sat on tables-for-two who seemed as if they were on early dates, and were doubtless wondering about the wisdom of having chosen such a place where they weren't really going to get a chance to get acquainted and were instead going to hear bad cover version after bad cover version. A waitress handed tambourines out to a few tables in an effort to get an communal experience rolling, and almost all simply got put down and ignored.
At some point towards the end of the ordeal, Amanda and her friend lost their patience, and noticing that there was a tip jar sat on the man's keyboard wrote a note they intended to post in there. I didn't get a chance to read it, but I gather it contained something along the lines of "Here's a tip - turn it down or shut up". Actually, it probably wasn't as polite as all that. Instead of getting right behind this idea and encouraging them to leave it in his jar, I felt utterly mortified, and was asked to consider why and justify my arguments. Amanda has different ideas about live performance to me - I regard every appearance where I'm not welcome as an ordeal, a nightmare, something I'm always bitterly aware of as and when it happens and just want to get through in one piece. Rubbing salt in the wounds just isn't necessary. Amanda, on the other hand, frequently feels that noisy performers in places where they're clearly not welcome should just cut their losses and pipe down or get off stage. I wouldn't want to claim to have knowledge of her internal thought processes here, but I think it's seen as tolerating an overgrown child who is making themselves an unnecessary focus of the entire room's attention. Why let somebody else's sensitivities and feelings ruin an entire evening out you've paid for? If a drunk turned up and started singing Lonnie Donnegan numbers and hitting a tea-tray over his head, would that be allowed?
I can understand this perspective too, but know that the real-life John Shuttleworth in the corner has probably been booked by a misguided restauranter for a pittance, was desperate for money, and took a gig that was bound to be thankless. And I can remember all those moments I was placed on inappropriate bills as well, and took the jobs either as money or "for the experience" ("You'll learn more from a hostile audience than you ever learn from a good one, son"). So despite the fact that the man is awful, and despite the fact that he's indirectly ruined a friend's birthday celebrations, I protest and protest until they decide not to leave the message after all. "Complain to the management if you think it's a bad idea," I say, and we come to the end of the argument.
I used to have a very talented friend who took restaurant gigs where he'd play jazz piano, each one a humiliating ordeal where he was either ignored or told to be quiet or play something different. These days he's an extremely successful session musician who has probably played on a couple of albums in your collection - so he moved on to far, far better things. The bald bloke in the Greek restaurant almost certainly never will. Frankly, he's not good enough, and it's too late for him anyway. And I keep on thinking about him, and thinking about the ridiculous, stupid corners we paint ourselves into in the name of "doing something creative with our lives", usually attracting as many scowls, if not more, than we illicit appreciation. And I can't help but conclude that all those armchair psychologists who argued that all artists and performers (however bad or good) are in some way mad maybe had a point after all. Why would you put yourself through all that humiliation knowing that the hassle, the bad gigs and the disappointments would probably always outweigh the good bits?
I've just sent the below details out to a whole bunch-a people, but as there's a strong chance I don't have the email addresses of LJ readers, I thought it might be worth repeating myself here:You may have heard me blethering on about it before, or you may not,
but for the benefit of the people in the latter camp... I'm going to
do a sponsored 10K run for Diabetes UK at the end of March, along with
my ex-colleagues there in the Governance team. The money raised will
sponsor a ground-breaking research project. You can find a link
displaying all the details below:
If you're in anything like the same boat as me at the moment, your
personal finances will be a little bit tight, but we're all on a
fundraising target of £200 each, so I'll totally appreciate any
support you can afford to offer. Each donation (big or small) will
help me inch towards that final target, although obviously if you
can't afford to donate anything I will completely understand.
Sadly, there's no option for any of you to only contribute money if I
actually finish within a certain time, although rest assured I'm
making every effort not to humiliate myself. For what it's worth, my
own personal target is to finish the 10K race with a time of less than
fifty minutes, and as I'm presently finishing 8K runs within forty
minutes I think this should be a realistic and achievable goal for the
next two months (please don't ask for better than that - I couldn't
run for more than 40 seconds without getting out of breath in
August!). If you sponsor me, I'll come back to you with a full
blow-by-blow report (and hopefully pictures of me looking sweaty,
bedraggled and exhausted). I can't offer more of an incentive than
that, can I? I can? Oh. Well, sorry, it's the best I can do for
Thanks, and please do feel free to forward this email on to anyone who
might also be interested in contributing.
Sorry for the bland repetition here, but I thought you may be interested as a regular reader of this journal, and if you're not... please feel free to skim on by. Although as I'll probably post something up about the race on LJ anyway, I'm not sure what I'm going to offer you as an incentive to contribute... erm.... suggestions? One of my used running socks, perhaps? A slogan T-shirt reading "I never did sport and took a disproportionate amount of childish pride in the fact, but then realised I was getting old and out of shape and had better do something about it and raise money for charity too"? Whatever you reckon. But I probably won't deliver it.
Consider yourself forewarned - I'm probably far too old to be complaining about this, but it's never stopped irritating me.
If there's one thing I find deeply, intensely irritating about some self-styled DIY/ Underground/ Punk artists, it's their own obvious insecurity about their lack of ability and development. If you're going to go on stage with a mandolin with only one string on it with a friend of yours banging a tambourine to perform a song entitled "Firebomb Richmond", do so with absolute arrogance and pride, and just a bit of cheeky humour. Don't take to the stage with a slightly aloof, faux-laddish attitude as if you're a mighty masculine revolutionary, then spend the rest of the evening slagging off other acts who have clearly thought through their sets a lot better because they're supposedly "inauthentic". That poser's stance just makes you look like exactly the kind of pseud you probably claim to detest.
Ditto poets. Just because you've written one rhyming rant on a piece of lined notepad paper about how much you hate David Cameron, it doesn't somehow make your work more valuable than anyone else's just because it's supposedly "more real" or "more direct". There's nothing wrong with learning to express ideas in more complicated and unusual ways, and the only people who seem to think this is inexcusable are other writers who lack the ability or the discipline to actually do it. Tarnishing all poets or writers who use basic literary techniques such as metaphor with the "upper middle class prick" brush is a bit confused. (Especially if you happen to be middle class yourself, and living your life to some complete fantasy about how working class people behave).
I'm sure you think your community-driven amateur ethic is more inclusive and "real" than my community-driven amateur ethic, and that your scowling face attracts tons of admirers like weary cold journeymen are attracted to a roaring pub fire, but honestly... fuck off and put some effort into your work, and spend less time cultivating your attitude. The phrase "Here's three chords, now start a band" didn't mean you had to keep on using the same three chords for the next five years, you know. Your heroes all moved on and took the stabilisers off their bicycles, now why don't you have a try?
Rather than one specific person, there must be about thirty thousand people (if not more) in Europe alone the above rant applies to. Tedious, pointless posers, the lot of them.
I did promise that I wouldn't post too many LJ updates about the development of my running skills in preparation for the 10k race in March - and to be fair, I think I've made good on that promise so far. One blog entry in the autumn last year was about all I managed. So then, I think I've finally earned another.
Things are progressing well, and I'm now at the point where I can run 7km in 31 minutes, which isn't going to get Norris McWhirter excited, but isn't a terrible score for a man in his late thirties. It's been a long, hard slog, and not necessarily a completely enjoyable one, but I now feel as if I'm back up to the level of fitness I had in my mid-twenties, which is a massive and slightly unexpected gift. Way back then, I could clearly remember that some local friends of mine used to regularly mock me because I was often spotted running for buses and trains in the mornings - and indeed, I was quite capable of running the full half a mile to the train station if pushed for time (and I usually was). This meant that despite my usual morning disorganisation which saw me struggling to get out of the front door, I at least always got to my desk at work at the agreed time.
When I started trying to run again in August, the most I could manage was about forty seconds before getting out of breath, which was truly pathetic and a sign of how far my fitness had fallen. It's a cliche, but the state of your body does have an impact on your mental health, your energy levels and how you view the world. An unfit person is more likely to be lacking in optimism and motivation than somebody who regularly exercises. From that perspective, it is genuinely good to feel a bit younger and livelier again, although I have noticed that a certain laidback, carefree attitude I'd developed in my thirties seems to have waned slightly. Perhaps I wasn't being carefree at all, just lazy in my attitude towards other people's behaviour.
For the last few mornings I've been noticing a few more very out-of-puff people braving the frost whilst on my route, and can only assume they're New Years Resolution victims. If anyone's thinking of starting jogging again right now - and of course you'd ask my advice first, wouldn't you, this is after all the anonymous blogging account of Sebastian Coe* - there's probably something to be said for leaving it for another month-and-a-half or so yet. The last time I resolved to start running again at the beginning of January, I managed about a week-and-a-half before giving up. The height of either summer or winter is a bad time to start trying to get into an outdoor exercise routine, and I'm not finding the weather good for my motivation either despite the fact I've been doing this awhile. I've even started wearing boxer shorts underneath my jogging pants (more information than you need, I realise, but the phrase "freezing my bollocks off" clearly did come from somebody's personal experience).
(* a joke. And yes, I do have to specify this, because the last time I jokingly pretended to be somebody famous online as a flippant aside, I was taken seriously by a couple of hopeful people).
1. What did you do in 2010 that you'd never done before?
Spent time by myself in a foreign country.
2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don't really do New Year's Resolutions.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
4. Did anyone close to you die?
No. A nil-nil score on the birth and death front in 2010!
5. What countries did you visit?
Canada and Spain. Both visits went wrong in one way or another.
6. What would you like to have in 2011 that you lacked in 2010?
More of a social life. Although if I had more money, that might resolve that problem in one fell swoop and solve a few others besides. So let's just say "more money" and leave it at that.
7. What dates from 2010 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
I can't recall any particularly significant date.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Getting a new job which I thought was a total long-shot when I applied for it, and apparently beating 121 other applicants hands-down. Now all I've got to do is actually be good at it when I start in two weeks' time...
Managing to run 7km every other morning isn't really an astonishing achievement in the grand scheme of things, but it comes in at a close second purely because it's not the sort of thing I'd imagined myself being able to do again.
9. What was your biggest failure?
2010 has probably been the least productive year for me in some time in terms of written output, and I don't really know what my excuse is. It's not as if I haven't had time, although I have totally lacked inspiration. Normally the murkier and more pissed off my mood, the less I get written, though...
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A mild case of the sniffles in October is the only thing I can point towards.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
A bright orange Elizabethan Astronaut sixties record player.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
My outgoing Labour MP Neil Gerrard who voted against the Government on just about every issue he should have done, right up until his retirement. His replacement Stella Creasy is still on trial so far as I'm concerned, but seems a lot more conventional and careerist. I also totally distrust the fact that just about every time she opens her mouth she can only talk about "local families", as if this is the sole issue in the entire area.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
I'm continually depressed and appalled by how mainstream a lot of racist attitudes seemed to become this year, and also the fact that so many people expected me to be on their borderline-BNP wavelength, which I found massively insulting.
14. Where did most of your money go?
Records, I'm slightly ashamed to say.
15. What were you really, really, really excited about?
16. What song will always remind you of 2010?
"Islington Creeper" by Extradition Order.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
a) Happier or sadder?
Much the same.
b) Fatter or Thinner?
c) Richer or poorer?
18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Writing and socialising.
19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Work - although I should be careful what I wish for...
20. How did you spend Christmas?
With Amanda at home.
21. How many one-night stands?
22. Did you fall in love in 2010?
I stayed in love.
23. What was your favourite TV programme?
Peep Show, Shooting Stars
24. How will you see in the New Year?
I spent it around a friend's house, having a meal.
25. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
I don't really hate anyone, although an unbelievable amount of manipulative and self-absorbed people tried my patience.
26. What was the best book you read?
I can't think of an answer to this right now - I don't really keep a log of what I read and when.
27. What was your greatest musical discovery?
Again, far too many to mention. One good thing about making a conscious effort to run an mp3 blog is that you encounter good new material absolutely all the time. If you want to know more, read the damn blog.
28. What did you want and get?
A sixties stacking record player.
29. What did you want and not get?
Clothes. I really badly need new clothes, but the cheap High Street shops are stocking grungey shit I wouldn't have been seen dead in even during the early nineties, and the independent stores are far too expensive for me these days.
30. What was your favourite film of this year?
Mr. Bjarnfredarson. This really seriously needs to be granted a UK cinema release, get your fingers out everyone...
31. What did you do on your birthday?
Went on a cocktail making course then went to the poetry night "Utter!" in Camden.
32. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
As crass as it sounds, money.
33. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2010?
Faded clothes from 2009 and before.
34. What kept you sane?
Kind words from other people.
35. Which celebrity/public figure did you fancy the most?
I never really stopped being interested in Renee Zellweger, but chance second-hand record store sleeve encounters also found me getting strangely allured by Jenny Berggren out of forgotten Swedish hitmakers Ace of Base, Lindy Layton and Laura Branigan. Don't ask me what all that was about. Nostalgia-crushes, perhaps.
36. What political issue stirred you the most?
The Government cuts in their many forms.
37. Who did you miss?
A lot of friends who drifted off the radar this year and last. It would be a bit uncalled for to guilt-trip them by naming them.
38. Who was the best new person you met?
Quite a few people, actually - if there's one thing I really love about living in London, it's that meeting interesting people seems so bloody easy, and the bores are easily avoided.
39. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2010.
You should never lose your suspicions about the British upper and upper middle classes. It's not a question of "growing up" or "mellowing out" or losing bigotry, just using your common sense. Some attitudes are too deeply ingrained in British society.
40. Quote a song lyric that sums up your year.
"We Keep On Getting There"