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Things you see in films but never in real life

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.
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A few connected literary thoughts

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).
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One of those moments

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.
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London Riots

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.
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There's a lot of me about

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.
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Sonic Demon Child

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:

"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.
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Yo Ho Ho

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: 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
Silent Republic
The De Selby Codex
The Fingers Malone Ensemble
Simon Breed
Duncan Mitchinson
Easy and the Cali Five

John the Revelator
Tim Wells
Dave Bryant

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.
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I've been looking through some of them old pictures. Those faces mean nothing to me no more.

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:

title or description

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.
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Thank God for the iPod

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.
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Can't Buy Me Love

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:
The Boogaloo
312 Archway Rd, N6 5AT

And the Facebook details are all here:

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?