As you'll probably have noticed, I very rarely ever post on LJ anymore. It's a handy place for me to post private or restricted entries, so I do occasionally drop by here to vent or air thoughts I wouldn't want absolutely everyone to know about. I also still read the blogs of everyone on my friends list, whether I comment regularly or not. I haven't totally abandoned this place.
However, I have two other blogs on the go - Left and To The Back focussing on buried and lesser-heard music, and the Poetry blog where most of my other thoughts (thoughts which would previously have been placed on here) now end up. Keeping a third mix-and-match one updated regularly just seems a bit silly.
Feel free to follow either of those two, because I'd still welcome your comments. Blogspot does have an RSS feed function for Livejournal, so you should theoretically be able to add them as preferred blogs to your Friends list.
OK, I'm cribbing this entry entirely from a forum post I've made elsewhere, but there's no harm whatsoever in spreading the love...It's a generally forgotten fact that in the late nineties, Edwyn Collins was partly responsible for a late-night comedy on Channel Four called "West Heath Yard". It quite viciously parodied the music industry of the time - the two main characters in it are ex-prog/ psychedelic pop stars with more money than sense who plough their resources into music production and management via their West Heath Yard studio development.
Somebody's uploaded the series on to YouTube, and I'm finding these fantastic to rewatch. Edwyn Collins always undersold the series at the time, self-deprecatingly calling it "bad television", but in reality it's far better than most parodies - obviously Collins had a huge advantage over the likes of Peter Kay by actually having spent an entire career dealing with music industry bullshit, so his take on what was going on at the time seems much more convincing as a result. More to the point, his own albums often slipped when they became immersed in irony or parody, feeling cold and slightly savage as a result - in the series itself, these skills are put to much more effective use.
If you don't mind starting halfway through (and it doesn't make much difference, in truth) Episode Four is a top notch parody of a late-night talent show which takes two hopeless unknowns and tries to make them stars. Even though this programme was made at least thirteen years ago, not much seems to have changed in the production values it's taking on:
http://youtu.be/iLqAon0gPV0 (Part One)
http://youtu.be/rlA-R-br_SU (Part Two)
Elsewhere, there's the hopeless Britpop band Expo 70 who the producers want to become "the next Gay Dad", endless references to dud Prog Rock, awful ironic attempts at awful nineties ironic pop songs such as "Lasagne For One", and... actually, this has aged staggeringly well. At the time it was obviously taking a swipe at the music industry which existed around it, but I think it's matured if anything. With the benefit of hindsight, it's much easier to laugh at appalling manufactured Britpop bands with their songs like "White Trash Holiday" - and the fact that it existed at the arse-end of the British music industry's nineties prime makes it more effective, in much the same way that Spinal Tap seems funnier for watching the band at the tail end of their careers.
It's not comedy gold, but it's certainly a good way of passing an evening. I'm enjoying these much more than I thought I would.
So then, a whole day after my last blog entry on Livejournal I had a bit of an incident. I was trying to walk quickly towards the tube station to get to work, rushed across the road and my right shoe thudded against an uneven patch by the bus lay-by, and I promptly landed on the ground chin-first. I lay there dazed for a few seconds, groaned, stood up and watched unnerved as a rush of blood poured out of my face and collected into a puddle on the concrete below.
The first person on the scene was a rather sour-faced woman with a heavy foreign accent who tried to advise me about how I could sue the Council for what had just happened, before actually telling me what it was that I'd done or how bad the damage was. "Here is my calling card, you can call me, I can be witness!" she said enthusiastically.
"What have I DONE?" I asked her, still shocked.
"I think maybe you break a tooth", she replied before walking off.
But I hadn't. Another more helpful lady pointed out that I had a flap of skin hanging loose from my chin and that it "Wasn't too bad, but you'd better get to A&E".
Of course, it was quite bad. I waited for hours to be seen in A&E and ended up getting six stitches, though by the time they got around to sewing me up I was just relieved to get the business done so I could get out of there, to be honest. The A&E waiting room had three children in it running around and playing loudly with their football and noisy emergency vehicle toys which made realistic siren noises - I'm seldom in the mood for enjoying the effervescent rough and tumble of other's sprogs at the best of times, never mind when I've got an appalling headache and blood running out of a split in my face. Here's what I was left with a couple of weeks back once the stitches were in place:( The cut is under the cutCollapse )
But it's beginning to heal up a lot better now, and thankfully I can also just about shave again, so the beardage has disappeared.
I've been in touch with my local council to talk about getting the faulty patch of road repaired, which seems to have thrown them into an almighty confusion. First they couldn't find the damage, then they realised they couldn't find the damage purely because they were looking at the pavement, not the road, even though I filled out a form suggesting that the problem was in the highway. You know, if I did decide to sue and face these people in court, I think I'd probably win within seconds of them opening their mouths. It's lucky for them that I really despise blame culture.
OK, I know it's a whole month away yet, but nonetheless the Bookies are taking bets on Eurovision, and there's nothing wrong with having a bit of fun and analysing the chances of various entries surely?
Despite the short odds, the UK do not have a hope in hell. We've been allocated the first slot in the contest, a position no country has ever won from - not even back in the days when there were only a dozen or so songs in the show. We might finish in the top five if old man Humperdinck does a particularly good job, but I can't see how a win is even possible. Even if we'd entered Adele, we'd probably be doomed.
Other than that, Jedward's entry this year is unmemorable and Sweden's utterly over-rated.
So then, who is in the running? Well, Italy are on at 9/1 at William Hill and may well score with their Amy Winehouse-lite entry. There's nothing breathtaking about the song, but in a spectacularly weak year it's going to stand out.
Norway seem exceptional value to me at 25/1. They've entered a very Eastern sounding entry with the kind of exotic rhythms which may be in danger of falling out of fashion in Eurovision now, but there's hooks aplenty in the song, and whilst it might not be my cup of tea I can envisage a lot of Europe voting for this one. It's an easy each way bet at least, especially at those odds.
Of the absolute rank outsiders, Hungary *might* be worth a punt at 150/1, it's a passable pop ditty and Eastern loyalties may well push it over the top 5 line. Don't bank on it, though.
Israel are also on 150/1, but if the handicap of being a country a lot of other countries have a grudge against weren't enough, they've entered some middle aged performers who sound like Placebo covering "Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep". One of the most unusual entries in this year's contest, it may ride through the semi-finals on unusualness alone in a very bland year... but hmmm...
Ultimately though, it does seem as if the Bookies Favourite is the one that wins every single year, and that is Sweden at the moment. I really can't hear it myself, but let's wait and see (and Sweden are one of those countries, like the UK, who get short odds every year despite not actually doing that well).
Oh, and some punters apparently fancy the Netherlands who in their usual style have entered a rather schlager-tinged Country song. Far too chirpy and cheesy for modern-day Eurovision, I feel, but it's certainly going to stand out. Can't help but feel that the Netherlands just aren't getting it these days, though, and are relying on long-dead trends to push their way up the scoreboard.
Any thoughts, chaps?
Sorry I've been so quiet over the last couple of months. As always, the deadness of my LJ account represents a lot of activity in my own life rather than a complete absence of anything to talk about. Besides the demands of my dayjob, I've been drafting a ton of new poetry (almost all of which is in "early draft" stage at the moment, so don't go asking to see any of it immediately) and making myself a bit more active on the spoken word circuit again. I've also been writing further articles for The Morning Star and reviewing new music for online sites - so understandably, logging on here to do a quick blog entry was never going to be high on my list of priorities.
There are two things I've done online recently which are immediately visible, and you can pop by to look at them if you like.
Firstly, I've created a nice big Blogger blog to promote and talk about my work. Yes, I know, this might seem horribly self-indulgent, but it really is common practice now - writers are expected to have blogs and a social networking presence, and it just makes getting work and getting people to engage with the resultant work a lot easier. In years gone by the MySpace audio account I had used to get plenty of visits, but nobody uses MySpace these days (which I can't really blame anyone for) and all the other online routes and avenues I've tried over the last couple of years have seemed a waste of time. Of course, this may very well turn out to be the case with this attempt, but at the very least it's a kind of online calling card for anyone who wants to have a quick peek at what I'm working on at any given time. I've already put a lot of content up there, so do drop by and have a look
and please follow me/ bookmark me so I don't feel so lonely.
Secondly, the "Left and to the Back" blog has had a redesign. It celebrated its fourth birthday last month, and it hadn't seen so much as a drip of paint since its 2008 launch. Therefore, it looked like what it was - a blog from the previous decade, all basic bare orangeness with an incredibly plain layout. Hopefully the new design is a massive improvement.
Livejournal may be underused in the UK at the moment, but I've been posting here on and off for eight years and I can't imagine I'll completely stop anytime soon - old habits die hard, and it's nice to have a place to dump my thoughts where some of the entries can remain locked for the viewing only of trusted readers. Anyway, hopefully my next update won't occur in two months time. Oh, and if you're really bored, I'm on Twitter as well.
There's a guy who begs near my local train station, and seemingly has done for the last few years now. I've always liked him for no other reason than that he doesn't draw attention to himself, he just sits and waits to be given money and is generally a pleasant chap. Today he caught me walking along with a crate of records and said: "You... are you a DJ, man?"
I told him that I did do that sometimes. I told him that it was mostly very old school soul and sixties tracks, though, but that didn't deter him.
"I... I grew up on that shit! I do Garage and Drum and Bass stuff! I could MC over your set! Here, do you wanna take my number? I can give you a demo tape!"
I gently agreed to do something like that when I next saw him, but privately couldn't image how anyone MC'ing over "Out on the Floor" would work, or what help I - a man in his late thirties - was going to be in getting him attention as an urban artist. It was like a complete reverse of that "League of Gentleman" sketch where Les McQueen is trying to push a demo tape on the Drum and Bass kid. "Go on! Take it! What harm can it do?"
I do know a couple of promoters I could give a demo to, and I could explain the poor chap's situation, but if it's not very good I really don't know what I'm supposed to say the next time I see him. And if I start pushing garage artists on people, I think they'll naturally assume I'm having some kind of mid-life crisis or breakdown.
In short - this has all the hallmarks of yet another "Curb Your Enthusiasm" situation in my life.
1. What did you do in 2011 that you'd never done before?
Ran a 10K race (in 48 minutes, to my astonishment) and did some DJ'ing. In fact, I DJ'ed more frequently than I did spoken word gigs in 2011, although nothing should necessarily be read into this (I am definitely, unquestionably not a better DJ than I am a writer).
2. Did you keep your new years' resolutions, and will you make more for next year?
I don't think I made any. I probably will make some vague ones for 2012, though, mostly revolving around being less lazy.
3. Did anyone close to you give birth?
Staggeringly, not this year.
4. Did anyone close to you die?
5. What countries did you visit?
Morocco, Switzerland, The Netherlands and France.
6. What would you like to have in 2012 that you lacked in 2011?
A tiny bit more of a sense of direction.
7. What date from 2011 will remain etched upon your memory, and why?
To be honest, the very fact that I'm having to get up and look at my calendar to remind myself of the dates of events now doesn't bode very well for the future.
8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?
Starting a new job for an arts organisation, and getting the position despite being up against around 170 candidates for the post.
9. What was your biggest failure?
Not getting any short stories published. This sticks in my craw a bit and is one of the only things I've allowed myself to get bitter about (which I'm usually good at avoiding) - true, short stories aren't something I've done much of in the past, and I shouldn't expect to be brilliant straight off the bat, but I was genuinely proud of what I'd created and honestly thought it stood a fighting chance.
10. Did you suffer illness or injury?
A sprained knee and a slightly knackered hip (the former in Spring, the latter in Autumn). A woozy, early morning hip collision with a concrete bollard whilst out running is probably a very stupid injury to get as well. Luckily nobody witnessed it.
11. What was the best thing you bought?
Some nice clothes, my wardrobe was getting faded and tatty and needed a complete change-around. It shouldn't have been enough in itself to make me feel a bit more sprightly and confident, but it has. Sorry.
12. Whose behaviour merited celebration?
Quite a few people who encouraged me and pushed me on this year. Without them, I'd probably have given up on some areas of my life.
13. Whose behaviour made you appalled and depressed?
The Government's, and on a purely personal level people I know who just seem determined to sleepwalk through life ignoring their issues and problems, hoping everything will change for the better as if by magic. They don't appall me, but I do wish I could make them change, and thus I do find that depressing.
14. Where did most of your money go?
No idea! Most of it probably went on holidays, but I can't be bothered to sit down and work it all out.
15. What did you get really, really, really excited about?
Starting a new job.
16. What song will always remind you of 2011?
Oddly, I don't think any one song "defined" 2011 for me. I may change my mind later, though.
17. Compared to this time last year, are you:
i. happier or sadder?
ii. thinner or fatter?
iii. richer or poorer?
A bit richer. Amanda's freelance work started to pick up pace this year, so whilst we're not living in the lap of luxury, I don't think we can rightfully call ourselves skint anymore. Which is a relief.
18. What do you wish you'd done more of?
Everything! I should have written more, socialised more, just generally been a bit less lazy. I note my answer last year was similar, so I really need to work at this to prevent my life from descending into middle-aged blandness. If these memes have any purpose at all, at least they've now convinced me that I've developed a bit of a problem with my personal motivations.
19. What do you wish you'd done less of?
Pissing around on the Internet, like I'm doing now.
20. How will you be spending Christmas?
I spent it in Morocco.
21. Did you fall in love in 2011?
Stayed in love.
22. How many one-night stands?
None, and even if I had had any, this would be a peculiar way of confessing the fact, wouldn't it? What an interesting start to 2012 that would create!
23. What was your favorite TV program?
Nothing really stood out massively for me this year. There was nothing I would have made an effort to stay indoors for. Even the Eurovision Song Contest was a bit disappointing.
24. Do you hate anyone now that you didn't hate this time last year?
No. Last year I came very close to hating a work colleague, but they're out of my life now, thank God. A dim and distant memory.
25. What was the best book you read?
Not sure.... a lot of contenders. I hate these questions, because I never really put a mental datestamp on what I read and when, and I lose track of time quite easily.
26. What was your greatest musical discovery?
I'm very late to the party, as I seem to be with all this stuff lately, but Rose Elinor Dougall's album impressed me. Ditto Slow Club.
27. What did you want and get?
A new job.
28. What did you want and not get?
To get short stories published, to generate a reasonable amount of opportunities for my written work generally - the last year I got so few pieces of published work or live appearances was 2005, so that's a bit worrying. A massive backwards step rather than anything else.
29. How will you see in the New Year?
In the flat, which I'm completely fine with. I'm not a fan of New Year's Eves in London, anyway - Londoners are really BAD at bouts of spontaneous sociability, just look at their miserable little faces under the fireworks on the telly and you'll see what I mean. In the footage from other cities and countries, people are smiling and dancing around. Not so yer average cockney.
30. What did you do on your birthday, and how old were you?
I didn't do anything at all this year, it fell in the middle of the week and I couldn't much be arsed. Amanda and I had a meal, I think.
31. What one thing would have made your year immeasurably more satisfying?
A sense of momentum.
32. How would you describe your personal fashion concept in 2011?
Pseudo-retro bollocks, but it's very smart looking. I've CLEANED UP MY ACT. Largely because I'm getting far too old to get away with looking cheap and cheerful.
33. What kept you sane?
Myself and my own cool head.
34. What political issue stirred you the most?
36. Who did you miss?
The usual long-distance suspects.
37. Who was the best new person you met?
I wouldn't want to embarrass anyone (or make anyone else feel left out) by naming names. I've met some really inspiring people this year who were just fleeting presences, though, largely thanks to my job. I hope I can take a leaf out of their books in 2012.
38. Tell us a valuable life lesson you learned in 2011:
Arguing with people on Twitter and Facebook is an utter waste of energy and time, even if you think you know the individual well.
The staff at the Apple Store on Regent Street are great, but their customer service system is like a Kafkaesque nightmare. Let me explain...
1. You want to get something repaired, so you report to the information desk on the ground floor. They send you upstairs to another desk.
2. At the desk, they tell you that you need to book an appointment on their computer system first. You do this on one of their Macs, based on a small table behind you. Logically enough, you decide to make your appointment for five minutes time.
3. Back at the desk again, you're then told that you aren't in the right place for your problem. You are sent to see "the man with a beard by the glass lift".
4. There is a long queue to see the man with the beard. At the front of it, he tells you to go and wait for another member of staff by another desk.
5. This you do. Eventually somebody materialises, tells you they don't have the right parts, and asks you to come back later in the week when they'll have them in stock.
6. 45 minutes later, you feel relieved at the low cost of the repairs, but somewhat robbed of time. I bloody well ask you!
7. And why were you trying to obtain repairs in the Apple store in the first place? Because your iPod is welded shut so only they can replace the fucking rechargeable battery.
Say what you want about the genius of Apple, but even Argos and the DSS have simpler procedures in place than that.
No matter what I do, my Macbook constantly seems to be on the precipice of having no hard drive space left, so once every few months I have to go through a tedious tidying-up process. Sometimes, though, it means I end up finding long-forgotten mp3s, bits and pieces of writing I might not otherwise have remembered, and other random follies. So it was last week that I found a four-year old file entitled "Words of Advice" poorly hidden away in some vaguely titled folder, and wondered what the hell it was. Well, here it is below.
It's a tongue-in-cheek series of bullet points outlining how best to handle the business side of working with poetry, which in many cases could equally apply to just about any art form. I have no idea why I wrote this. It's possible it was supposed to be a blog entry (which I don't think it ever became) or it's even possible that it was written with a website in mind - but I'm pretty certain I never developed it further or placed it anywhere for public consumption. It might even have been a 'note to self', which is quite amusing if so, since the advice contained within it seems particularly relevant to me now.
Anyway, make of it what you will. I managed to see the funny side.
• If certain publishers and promoters continually reject your work, it doesn’t mean to say that they're right. It doesn't actually mean to say they're wrong either, but with so many different outlets all desperately trying to fill so many different niches in poetry, you’re bound to be rejected by a lot of people throughout your time of trying. If that publisher who mostly favours work with a modernist flavour rejects you for your straightforward observational narratives, and that promoter who favours comedy or novelty acts can't remember who you are despite having seen you do 'serious readings' ten times, it's only to be expected. As a rule of thumb – if you don't like what they produce or promote, they probably won't like your material either. Take it as a compliment if you want, but don't start a war, or waste your time trying to subvert their particular project like a big poetry radical.
• In fact, you’ll probably end up offending people in the process anyway, frequently without knowing how you've done it. Not everybody is going to like you, and a lot of "literary types" seem to enjoy being offended by work they don't personally rate. Take intelligent criticism seriously, but if people start bandying around sneery, sweeping insults such as "you're a typical male poet" (whatever that may be), "you're so middle class", or "you write pathetically feeble material and wouldn't get work if it weren't for the fact that you're cute and wear a short skirt", walk away and leave them to their particular hang-ups. You will only make yourself as miserable as they are by trying to argue it through.
• Sometimes gig promoters will promote gigs badly. Try not to blame them too much – almost all are working with rubbish budgets, and most have day jobs as well, and families, and wobbly relationships, and probably poetry "careers" of their own. Some of them are also just awful at promoting, but if that's the case, don't work with them again. There's no point in doing six gigs with them, then blowing your top about the fact they haven't managed to get anyone to turn up for the sixth time in a row, or complaining about how crap their microphone always is. Bad promoters rarely improve that much with age. If they can't get it together in the first year when their enthusiasm should be overpowering, they're never going to get it right later on.
• Whatever field you work in, there are always going to be people who get more attention just because they're "nice" or "likeable", or friends with a lot of the "right" people – sometimes more than they are actually talented. Get used to it, or your teeth will be ground to dust before you get to the age of forty, whether you carry on writing poetry or not. Or try to be pleasant yourself, in the hope you can also get work on the basis of your easy charm. This is the harder option for many.
• There will also be people who automatically get work just because they are younger (and possibly more urban or more fashionable) than you, despite not showing a great deal of originality in their work. Try not to worry. By the time they get to their thirties, they’re going to sound sodding silly if they're still doing rhyming poetry about the time they had sex with a teenager round the back of a kebab shop in Hackney (and creepy as well). Young talent needs to be encouraged, otherwise the scene would die out entirely – but it's also frequently unforgiving to people who haven't had the imagination to progress and develop their work. You were young and sexy once. I'm sure you didn't complain (or wouldn't have complained) about any seemingly unwarranted attention you might have received at the time.
• You’re almost certainly not going to make a living solely out of writing poetry in the long-term anyway, so any windfalls should just be treated as career break money. The scene is not about to go overground, and people aren't going to stop listening to music and start buying poetry anthologies instead, no matter how many times you repeat this fact to yourself and your friends. Some years it will sell more than others, but it's not going to become a new popular form. You're more likely to make money out of wicker weaving at Craft Fairs. Get over it. Or get weaving. One or the other.
• The upper tier of the poetry world is as stagnant and hard to get into (and stay a part of) as the Premiership League in Football, and always has been. Sometimes you'll sigh wearily, seeing the same names over and over and over again on the bills at festivals and regional readings, or getting reviews in the major literary journals and the broadsheet press. But there's absolutely nothing wrong with making do with being Rotherham United, just as long as you're enjoying yourself, and let's face it, giant killings are always memorable and more fun to aim for. Everyone remembers a cheeky upstart, nobody thinks it's surprising if an established artist performs well. That's their job.
• If you don't want to play the game, then don't play the game. If you want to be as experimental, jarring, awkward, and/or offensive as possible, then don't be surprised when it doesn't make you popular, very few people recognise your genius, and you end up banished to the fringes. If all you care about is being popular, however... then play the game. But if it's popularity and recognition you want in your lifetime over and above everything else, why did you choose poetry in the first place?
I've been online at home for the last twelve years now, initially on dial-up, and eventually in 2002 progressing to broadband. I felt dead posh when the little broadband server arrived in my houseshare in North London, I can tell you, though I tripped over the countless wires leading into the thing from various people's bedrooms more often than I'd have liked to.
I'm reminiscing about all this for the pure and simple reason that I logged into Yahoo Messenger a few days ago. Yahoo Messenger used to be the chat facility I favoured above all else, and it doesn't really seem to have changed that radically in the last decade. It looks the same, makes the same noises when people come online and go offline, and seems like a pleasant nostalgia trip to use. It very rarely slowed up or went wrong back in the old days, although I would occasionally find myself hiding my online presence purely to avoid certain friends who were slow typists. A simple conversation with them would end up taking an entire bloody hour.
Recently, I logged in and my friends list was devoid of life. Deserted. A ghost town. I'd be willing to bet that the last time any of my friends used it was probably at the tail end of the noughties, all now chatting via Facebook as they do. The only sense I got that anything had happened since I last logged in was a couple of friend requests from accounts I did not recognise, who inevitably turned out to be online camgirl strumpets. In a way, it's a shame - I made many transatlantic friends through the service back in the days when I was connected to various Yahoo communities. It feels faster, simpler and cleaner than Facebook, and a warm and comfortable place to be. With the exception of various strange floozies attempting to get you to look at their nude photos through websites with Russian domain names, there's little or no self-promotion involved with a simple chat site - the stripped down rawness of it seems rather quaint now, but somehow refreshing despite its age. Everybody knows what everyone else is logged on for, and there isn't an overload of unnecessary information. Really, did we ever need to do anything more?
The death of personal blogging is another strange and sad area, particularly in the case of the ongoing demise of Livejournal in particular. At its peak in 2005 I can remember having a brilliant two dozen or so bloggers on my friends list who, without exception, turned out some very witty and very carefully written blogs. For a time, I dived out of online forum politics and treated LJ as a safe-haven from all the nonsense of trolling and hot-headedness, and had some fantastic conversations on here. Whilst mp3 blogs and strictly themed blogs are hanging on in there for the time being, the mix-and-match approach of a supposedly "self-indulgent" personal blog seems very much of another time these days. A few of my LJ friends are still continuing to populate this place with entries, but in almost all cases - including mine - there's a half-hearted approach to it, with all of us blogging once every week-and-a-half or so instead of every other day, and even then with rather less considered entries.
People may deem personal blogs to be self-indulgence, but I miss the kind of self-indulgence I used to read. I enjoy long, detailed thoughts communicated from friends or online acquaintances. Put a positive spin on the notion of self-indulgence, and you've got careful, considered communication rather than random thoughts just splatted on to the monitor screen. When I log on to Facebook or Twitter at the moment, I feel underfed and frequently none the wiser about what's going on in some people's lives. Account holders speak in code to each other rather than attempting detailed "locked" entries to certain individuals as we used to do on LJ. I'd much rather a long, personal wail of a blog entry than a simple little Facebook update which says nothing but "Meh! :(", and is invariably followed by one person replying: "Hey, is everything OK?!" prompting the pithy reply "Email me". (I'm singling nobody in particular out with this observation, by the way - it applies to so many people I've lost count).
I hate the 140 character Twitter update restrictions. There are actually very few things that can be said adequately within 140 characters without making the writer sound flippant or moronic, and surprisingly few jokes which come off well when we've such restraints to contend with. People re-tweeting other people's praise for their work may also be part of the Twitter culture, but I find it very difficult to regard it as anything other than Hollywood styled behaviour. When a dour, self-effacing stand-up comedian retweets half a dozen people telling him he's amazing, it spoils your perception of his act somewhat - suddenly the earthiness of his routines become sugar-coated and they seem like as much of a stage act as the David Copperfields of this world. I'd rather not take a peek backstage into the lives of cult performers if it turns out they behave in the same vain, self-celebratory and dorky manner as their Premier League peers.
What seemed great about the Internet when I first got it is that it seemed we were all suddenly in a position to self-publish, form communities of our own and do and say what the hell we wanted. In the intervening years it just seems that so many of us - me included - have taken the possibilities for granted and become idle. This isn't to belittle the giant strides the Internet has allowed us to take with political campaigning and the access of music and films, but we made a mistake in casting the warm, homely aspects of the online world to one side in favour of celebrity gossip and quick and dirty information. I do hope for a revival of ye olde blog and even the personal website, but I won't hold my breath.
Managed to get sucked into watching the film "Starter for Ten" last night. It was a poor representation of my own university life, given that I went to an ex-polytechnic on the South Coast which had precious few over-achievers in any of its many campuses.
However, one scene did beg the question for me: Has anyone you know ever kissed or had sex with somebody and used the wrong name during the momentous occasion (in the case of sex) or afterwards (in the case of the kiss)? This seems to be something of a romantic drama staple - the foolish lover who makes the mistake of uttering the name of his or her ex right at a moment which could be a positive turning point for them. In real life, however, I have to say it's nothing I've done myself, and I've never had any of my friends confess to it. Nobody has ever said: "Oh Dave - you'd never believe what I bloody did last night. I was with Alison, you know, and I really like her, she's fantastic - but after kissing her, I used my ex-girlfriend's name".
It strikes me that you'd either have to be incredibly drunk or extremely distracted, almost to the point of stalkerish obsession, to ever do this. I'd be happy to take corrections, though.
I suppose one alternative version of this is a friend of mine who met a man who wanted to instigate an affair with her, because according to him: "You look exactly like my girlfriend". Now that's truly weird.
1. A pretty woman in her early twenties sat opposite me on the train today, and pulled out a copy of "A Confederacy of Dunces", one of my favourite novels of all time. "God," I immediately thought, "If I were single and fifteen years younger, this is the sort of woman I'd develop a crush on". Then she failed to laugh at the book once during the entire forty minute journey, and I realised that she therefore couldn't have been less my type.
2. People do still judge you by what you read on the trains (though I doubt many people besides me actually judge others on their responses to fiction). I once took a second-hand copy of the sixties poetry revival inspired "Children of Albion" anthology on a few commutes with me, and actually got laughed at on two separate occasions. "Ha ha, he's reading hippy poetry! Look at the silly hippy painting on the front!" they clearly thought, probably not realising that the anthology actually contains some of the most biting political works of the time (which still stand up well and seem relevant now, worryingly enough). Take a Pink Floyd biography on the tube, however - as I did one week, and never again - and you'll actually get interrupted by muso bores wanting to talk to you about Pink Floyd and their tedious lame-arsed later work, as also happened to me twice. Why one book makes you new friends and the other attracts derision isn't immediately clear to me, since both things originate from the same scene.
3. I was browsing through the Syd Barrett biography "A Very Irregular Head" in Waterstones a couple of days ago, and noticed that it seems to go into his influences in much more depth than previous tomes about him managed. Syd Barrett was my idol as a teenage boy, and it utterly staggered me to find out that most of his literary influences (most especially Bob Cobbing) were people who had a serious hold on me while I was first developing performance poetry work. I was utterly unaware of any connection at the time, but was clearly sub-consciously zooming in on all kinds of figures whose work had some similarities. Even when you try to escape the hold of your teenage heroes and move on, it seems you'll often be unconsciously rooting around within their spheres of reference (similarly, I know many Manics fans and Smiths fans who, try though they do, will often end up kicking around in the same ballpark as Mozza or Richey, and I even know Fall fans who have never quite got over M E Smith's scattergun writing technique).
You know when you're sat socialising with a few friends, and you begin to make a joke about something awful that happened to you a long time ago, way back in a time before you were a fully fledged adult and knew any better, but for some reason it comes out a bit wrong and you can see from their lack of laughter, concerned expressions and awkward fidgeting that perhaps they think it isn't a joke after all, so you try to back-pedal out of what you're saying, but in the process stammer and muddle your words up a bit and make the whole situation seem even worse?
Well, it was like that for me yesterday evening. Except I managed to do it in front of an audience of about forty people at the Poetry Cafe. Not the first time it's ever happened to me - poetry and spoken word audiences do have a tendency to assume you're being very literal about your "pain" - but it never gets any easier to deal with. Still, at least I now know that one of the few workable new pieces I've written in the last few months needs a much better-thought through verbal introduction at events, because I'm not bloody putting myself through that again.
Like most of you, I feel angry, conflicted and confused. Walthamstow was among the regions of London hit by the riots (quite early on, on Sunday) and as we are a neighbouring district of Tottenham where the problems started, that shouldn't have been any big surprise. Compared to some regions of London, however, we seem to have got off lightly.
Now that I feel a bit calmer and able to reflect a bit on how on earth this happened - how one incident in Tottenham spread violence not just across the rest of London, but also some other major cities in the UK - I can't help but feel that what we witnessed might just be the beginning of a 21st Century phenomenon, albeit not a pleasant one. Throughout history, riots have usually been sparked by a perceived injustice, or a series of political demands, then been followed by a spate of looting as opportunists take advantage of the otherwise distracted police forces. Certainly, this has been the case in the UK and the USA for hundreds of years. The Brixton riots in the eighties produced reports of old ladies grabbing handbags from broken shop windows, something which has been reported so many times I suspect it may even be an urban myth - but if so, it is at least myth which proves a point. The morally dubious will always be tempted.
What I believe was different this time is that the spate of looting, normally confined to an evening or at the very most a day, actually had an absurdly long-tail and a remarkably long reach. Not confined to areas within the radius of the original incident in Tottenham such as my home of Walthamstow and also Enfield, it made spectacular and (to me) unexpected geographic leaps, jumping to Brixton in South London which seemingly had no connection to the original incident, then very finally on to Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham. In my view, this may have been the first series of lootings in history created by modern communications technology. Upon seeing how easy it was to loot stores in London, gangs and even middle-aged, middle-class people grabbed their opportunities elsewhere. If they were in any doubt, people were alerting them on Twitter and through the Blackberry mobile network. On Sunday night, I sat at home watching Twitter to see what information I could glean about where the worst would be happening next (wondering whether it might be near my street). Amidst the usual bullshit tweeted by attention-seekers lay some very accurate predictions. An acquaintance of mine who grew up in a rough area of London watched his old schoolfriends closely on his Blackberry to get tabs. "East Ham will go up tonight," he warned me. And then it did.
This a simplistic and controversial argument, but to me it's a compelling one. There are two ways you could view this spate of public disorder. The first is to believe that "the youths" (joined by a fair quantity of middle aged people who have gone unreported) are out of control, that they have gone "feral", that something has suddenly gone rotten in society, and this means that we're witnessing a breakdown of order in society/ the natural effects of capitalism gone foul and kids kicking back against it (delete where applicable). The second is to think that this was just a very modern, very unique riot which had a flashpoint in Tottenham, and then due to modern forms of communication had after-effects which spread to a far wider radius of the city, and then finally the country, long after the original trigger had been forgotten. As somebody remarked when I put this theory forward on a forum, "something physical went viral".
This takes nothing away from debates about criminality (or "revolutionary activity" if you want to live in a fantasy world, jerking off over the idea that suddenly all your Marxist pamphlets have come true at once) and what causes it, nor should it distract anyone from discussing what drives so many people to such an end. For me, it's hard not to remember the few visits I had to Tottenham and my one-off remark that the area seemed like "hell". The last time I went there, there were charred cars and buildings (the riot certainly didn't create anything new there) and some of the angriest looking and most despondent people I've ever seen. It looked like somewhere something very bad was due to happen at any moment, and would always have been my number one prediction if anyone had asked me where a riot might occur in Britain. What I could never have predicted, however, was that after years of being ignored, being London's dirty secret, the impoverished area which always seemed to be 'controlled' rather than having its issues addressed, this would happen. That the region would become a virus in itself, spreading its problems nationwide.
Whatever else comes out of the last week, my personal belief is that in future, Governments and Councils ignore improverished areas at their peril. The impact of their explosions may now be felt very widely indeed. We can only wait to find out if they actually take a more sensible approach in future. So maybe, accidentally, and without meaning to be, this was a sort of revolution - but only time will tell. Politicians and authorities have ignored the obvious signs before, so there's no reason to say they won't do so again.
At a second-hand record stall in Wood Street Market yesterday, I was amused to overhear the following complaint from a vinyl dealer:
"...and then I put out a bunch of shit. Stuff I'd had in storage for ages, y'know, Noel Edmonds bloody flexi-discs, complete crap like that. And you'll never guess what happened. Somebody came in and bought the lot, one fell swoop! Twenty quid! Complete novelty shit! And I said to him, I said, do you wanna listen to those? And he said 'No, don't worry. I just like strange things, unusual things'. And I thought to myself 'What's all that about?'".
"Well, it's no money for a large quantity of stuff, isn't it?"
"That's not just it, though... I dunno... I don't understand second hand record customers anymore. I don't know what it is they want".
Naturally, I had to interrupt this conversation to carry the novelty singles I had towards the cash desk, which I did by concealing them low in my pile beneath the rarities. It wasn't me he was talking about, but it might as well have been. There are a lot of people like me about these days.