Friday, June 03, 2011


Self-Savagery no. 567: Always give your art away for nothing, if at all possible. Free is not worth less than $2, but $2 is less than $10.

My new album. Feel free to take one. Downloads are available on a pay-what-you-will basis, meaning that I'm very happy for you to pay nothing. All of my art is priceless and worthless.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009


Inspired by some stirling work by stirling friends on a stone-cold social networking site:

1. I went to ten schools before I was seventeen. I have lived in about as many houses as I have years. Because of this, I have frequently met new people and lied about my past to make it sound more exciting. DISCLAIMER: Some events from my life have been refashioned so often from re-tellings that even I believe some of my own stories.

2. My desire to make puns at all times is so intense that I genuinely consider it a disability.

3. I have three sisters, all of whom are smarter and more beautiful than they realise. All three are more thoughtful than I. I make up for this with grand overstatement of my abilities.

4. For years, I had a suspicion that any problems I had were caused by the fact that I was a genius.

5. I started going out with Kym when I was eighteen. That is 40% of our lives. We have been married for nearly four years, which is between 10% and 15% of our lives. We sometimes have a startling revelation that we are actually two separate people. For someone who lives inside his own skull, this is both startling and a comfort.

6. I write and I make music (see my blog and music pages in 'info' for evidence to the contrary). My dream is to have a beautiful bunker in the woods with my wife, some cats and a studio. Anyone who dreams otherwise is probably insane.

7. My Mum's Brother married my Dad's sister. Our cousins look just like us.

8. When asked to write a fifty word story at school, I wrote: 'A diplodocus has a very, very, very, very,very, very, very, very, very,very,very, very, very, very,very,very, very, very, very,very,very, very, very, very,very,very, very, very, very,very,very, very, very, very,very,very, very, very, very,very,very, very, very, very,very,very, very, very, very long neck. A combination of my sheer effrontery and a beautiful drawing of said dinosaur saved me from trouble.

9. I am a vegetarian, but I ate snails as a small child.

10. Injuries: I had an operation on my right eye when I was four or five to correct a squint. Even though it looked like I was looking over your shoulder, I was looking straight at you. FACT: If you have a lazy eye, you cannot see it by looking in the mirror. Well I couldn't: to me my eyes looked normal. Weeks after the operation I had to get stitches removed from my eyeball. Also: I once dislocated my shoulder/ broke my arm when ice-skating. I got beaten up once, and my face was so puffy I could see my cheeks and my brows.

11. I suspect that if purgatory involved a deep analysis of print-outs of statistics regarding my life, I would enjoy it. When someone says 'Do you remember when we used to always [insert activity here]?' I always wonder exactly how many times we did that particular activity. Some things I've done just once linger as if I've done them thousands of times, whereas others I did every day for years are forgotten. I'm interested in the mortifying facts, and yet in complete denial about them.

12. I was the perpetrator of a hoax email religion at college. It was called '2-d', and aimed to distress purveyors of false authenticity, a pet hate of mine, by celebrating all things obviously flimsy. I knocked out the power in half (well some) of Canterbury trying to send sonic messages to aliens. I also discovered (with fellow members of the Buns of Steel advance party) a mini Area 51 (area 51b, if you will) on the outskirts of the same city. It wasn't on any map. After we climbed the electric fence, I walked on for miles to find the source of a red light. When I got there, it turned out to be an incinerator, burning paper.

13. As a child I became obsessed with the number of letters in words. I became pretty quick at counting letters of words, and tried to use sentences that had an even distribution of letters. This was something that I only truly realised I did a couple of years ago, and tried to write a short story about it. I like the story, but the letter distribution is not even enough for my liking. Another mini-obsession involved touching a surface with my right-hand if I'd happened to have just touched it with my left. Problems would arise if the right-hand touch was much heavier than the left-hand one. This would require a complicated repeating the steps, only reversing them so that each hand had a balanced number of equally-weghted touches. I don't think I do this anymore. Talking about these with friends makes me aware that most people have similar/weirder processes.

14. I am left-handed, left-footed, and left-eyed. I am right-eared however, so if I listen to music at a loud volume, I am balanced and fall over less. When running the 200 or 400 metres at school, the bends (curving to the left) were almost impossible for me to navigate.

15. A calming habit I have is to mime cricket shots. At times of panic I mime a solid and safe forward-defensive stroke, using the back of my hand as a bat. When I'm really stressed, I'll do this to the mirror, and hold my position at the end of the movement, looking down to admire the solid position of my front leg and elbow, and see how the position of my head over the ball would mean that it would take all day for the invisible bowler to bowl me out.

16. I frequently have dreams about people I haven't seen for a while. Sometimes these include encounters that are so memorable that I don't call anybody for ages because I think I've recently spoken to them. Social networking sites only assist this fallacy.

17. I'm really tall. Despite this, I have an incredibly light footstep. I can walk in near silence.

18. I sometimes conduct commentaries/interviews in my head. They include such Billy Liar/Rupert Pupkin scenarios as being interviewed about my brilliance at something or other, or telling my parents that I am buying them houses. Sometimes, it is just an internal monologue describing what I am doing or where I am to a family member or friend. I've noticed this habit doubling since I've moved overseas.

19. I once wet myself at school. We were sitting on the mat, listening to a story, when I decided that rather than interrupting the teacher, I would just wiggle sideways until I was sitting on the stone floor, wee in my pants and then slide back to my original spot and deny all knowledge. I feel this is illustrative of my nature in ways even I cannot fathom.

20. Some nicknames I have been granted: Spud, Sparky, Sav, Savo, Savo Milosevic, Savicevic, Savits, Macho Man Randy, Fred, Lily, Shorty, Deadeye, Jarvis, Disco Mark, Elvis,

21. I lived in England until I was 29. I now live in America with my wife Kym. The reasons for moving were many, both big and small, and I don't even feel like I could articulate all of them. A big one for me personally is that once we had the idea, it loomed over me like a dare. I though that if I didn't try and live in America, I was a coward. Don't get me wrong: I know, of course, that I am a coward. I just hope that on a sliding scale from 'coward' to 'hero' that I am at least a couple of notches further from the extreme yellow left than I was a year ago.

22. Having said that, being a foreigner in the right circumstances is fun (and being English in America is, I concede, one of the easiest transitions, and surely easier than the other way round, give or take the British phobia of the terrible lands outside the island). Your most banal features from home are shiny and exotic. Your mistakes are unnoticed, or put down to translation issue. Your mundane obsessions (following a struggling football team back home) are seen as delightful eccentricities.

23. My hair doesn't actually take that long to do.

24. For years I would act out games involving kids from schools I had moved away from. It might be years of test matches using a tennis ball against a wall, or an entire football league season (with cup competitions) using a sponge ball and a settee for a goal. I'd keep pads filled with fictional statistics of these games. Some kids at some schools I may have spoken to only a couple of times, but in my long character histories they had fully-fleshed quirks and sporting personalities. I would 'act' as each member of a team, trying to perform in their true (ie my fictional true) style. I would attempt to be fair, and not make myself the best player on a team, but I would always be an unpredictable enigma (I was once banned from my own team for wearing political slogans on my shirt). This would all be recorded diligently. If you went to my school: I have possibly written your name in a notebook more times than I'd care to admit. My teenage diaries are mostly like this:

FRONT: Poetic slogans/drawings of myself in silver outfits singing on a stage/outlines of space-operas with lyrics and song-titles (one of which I attempted to record, aged sixteen- my first recording project. The musical, about a cult leader who steals the youth by co-opting all cool references and leading them Pied-Piper style into a mountain included the non-hits 'They Love Me/Him' 'Nostalgia Is Luxe' 'Cin-Fu-La' 'My Posse It Really Rocked' and 'Spaceship'. It is something I'd love to realise in full ridiculousness one day) /cut-out pictures of old movie stars such as Dietrich and Valentino/ To-do lists (a sample might be: 1. Finish song. 2. Give tape to James. 3. Write letter to Jayne. 4. Do 50 sit-ups a day. 5. Finish Crime & Punishment)

BACK: Fictional sports results.

I was in denial about the existence of the back part of these notebooks for years.

25. I can make a very good stir-fry. The day that Kym (an amazing cook and a firm critic) told me that I could make stir-fry better than her was one of my proudest.

Monday, January 05, 2009


The elements stole my first draft. And you should know that that is something of a crying shame, for it was a kingly piece of work. Every word slid and locked into place, held by some magic. The tools of fiction were at their quickest in there. It not only told my story in an entertaining and enlightening fashion, it might have had something for someone other than myself too.
It not only told the story, but in interlocking haikus it managed to convey some power of everything I’d ever known. But a wind blew up and carried it off.
But what a draft; within it were codes and schemes. Surveillance systems were debunked, governments toppled; assassins evaded, crucial answers found.
But now they’re just mapcap theories, scribbled in invisible ink and lost; the pages are still disappearing across the beach in the wind. A whole bible of noise lost, chased across the stones, rediscovered page by page; a Hansel and Gretel trail to a big haunted house of an idea.
It started with the following; this much I remember.

Steven liked to break into houses on the Sussex Coast. His mother had died when he was small, hit by a bus, and his father had died some two years later, drunk with a broken heart. He’d walked into the sea, and washed up three miles along the coast. Steven was five. He went to live with his grandparents, who watched old movies all the time. These films filled Steven’s brain, haunted his sleep, and this fact may or may not have contributed to the present tale.

A wonderful part of my first draft dealt with the anecdote whereby a younger version of myself attempting to write an early version of my memoirs, aged seven or so, described the feeling of being an orphan as akin to ‘waiting for a wonderer to return.’
Grandad corrected me on my mistake. ‘It’s wanderer, Steven. Wanderer. Someone who wanders off.’
But Grandma saw the dramatic possibility of my word, and cut Grandad short. ‘Or did you mean wonderer, Steven, like someone who wonders why?’
They looked at me expectantly. ‘I think I mean both,’ I said.

Aah. That’s how it went. Or something. Ask the sea next time you’re on the Sussex coast. The sea ate the first version, the truest version of the story. This draft is inferior, it’s akin to development sketches of female parts I’d never seen. But it must suffice.
So the films; this is the important thing with my Grandparents. Let’s try:

Granddad had a penchant for gentlemen. Humphrey Bogart was enjoyable, but greasy. Cary Grant had it. Grandmother had a taste for the nice faces- James Stewart, Fred MacMurray; but father though them a touch soft.
There was Dietrich, who possessed some of the beauty of his mother. In Blonde Venus, she was barely plausible as a mother, and Steven supposed his own mother was like this; too beautiful, too stellar, to be plausible as a mother. That was why she’d died, he supposed. God’s will.
Oh, and Joan Fontaine in Rebecca, with Grandad’s Larry.

And then there was the woman who lived on our street, that aged, frail German, who Grandad thought was Marlene Dietrich.

'She doesn't live in Sussex' Gran said.

'I'm sure it is her,' Grandad said.

He was the straightest of die; Religion? A fearful hotch potch. Enigmas were never cultivated. But Marlene on the coast? True as true.

A convoluted interlude saw my boredom turning to crime, breaking into large flats on the seafront, watching their videos, drinking their tea. And then, inevitably, I was caught by the old lady, the cranky, would be Marlene; and the ensuing unlikely friendship was dreamt in a plausible and pretty way. I didn't evade the cliche, I embraced it, and these passages were some of the most rewarding on those papers.
And then, of course, we hear that Dietrich is dead in Paris; and of course, the flat is on the market; and we never see our Marlene again, except in our sleepy fantasies.

'Good, proud lady, that Marlene' Grandad said.

'You never met her!' Gran said.

'Perhaps not. But she kept her garden tidy and was kind to the boy,' Grandad said.

I've been through my notes to find a scent of the magic; this outline does not suffice. All I find in my extensive perusals are plundered wordlists and defected lexicons.

Now I’m gutting books, ripping their spines, to find suggestions of all that I had.

Thursday, September 04, 2008


Self-Savagery no. 4888: Live every day as if it is your last: in a state of frigid panic, sobbing with regret.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Self-Savagery no. 4566: Move to somewhere where you are a stranger. Become foreign. Abandon comforts. Find new ones. Write yourself a love-letter everyday by moving to a new country, with a false biography. Clear your name later. Develop some personal mythologies you can shed like skin. 'I got married at 17, 18 or at 26. I came here for adventure, to evade capture, for private health reasons. I am a love exile. My hair stays this high with spit, molasses and a prayer. The estate of Howard Hughes pays for my 'promising and energetic' demos. I have been to ten schoools. I have lived in nine counties. I have played the Wizard of Oz. I have charmed Latin housewives of ill temperment with tired showtunes. I have dazzled West Indian patriarchs with my Greek jaw. I have killed the power of a town with electrical signals to Mercury, lulled empty rooms into silence with my performances, sifted through braggart obituaries for glittering epithets that might be recycled for my wide shoulders. I have peddled hoax religions through a university campus. I have lived in an alter-ego, the combustible and brave Luminous Shadow. I have recorded albums and albums of gloopy sentiment in an hour and destroyed them all in a second. I have slept on trains. I have spent the night at Guildford station with dormitory ghosts. I have stayed in. I am Sav, Savo, Superman, Elvis. I have lost at tennis to a descendent of Lord Kitchener, and won at crazy golf against a relative of the KLF. I was sired at the birthplace of Shakespeare, and born at the birthplace of Charles Dickens. My Grandfather arm-wrestled with Lee Marvin, and drank with Bodie and Doyle. Cary Grant was my Great-Uncle, Groucho Marx was just great. I have recorded an album of fairy-tale songs in the woods. I have unexpired potential. Savage is a stagename, I won it in a raffle.'

Breaking Radio silence: I am in America, writing a story about Brighton Pier, mathematics, and childhood. Portland, Oregon is the new home for my wife and myself. If, as Bono would have it, being famous is like being a beautiful woman, causing all heads to turn as you walk down a street, then being foreign (in the correct and harmless circumstances of course) is like being a smartarse child. Your borrowed jokes are buried under laughter, your opinions suddenly swagger sweetly, your behaviour is indulged. Your twitchy mannerisms are as almost as cute as your parochial words. Preserve your assets. Exaggerate your difference. Say 'bum' alot.

Our UK bank accounts stagger and wheeze under their accumulated strains, but our US ones smile with helpful cleanliness. We're running away to home, two kids who watched some films. America is a trashy genius, a petulant teen, shirking perspective and splintering judgments hourly. No summary of its lands can be true. Growing up, America was a work of collected imagination, a fictional paradise, a modern Oz. A huckleberry wilderness, full of runaways calling home for more money, lost in a spider-web roadway of lost hopes. Sad rental cars purring on ever on dark roads. All-hour breakfasts. Free coffee refills. Such a large country was always fuelled on escape myths, and Americans were always idealists. That is their curse. Whatever anyone's feelings about America, it's romance bleeds into most childhoods (Everyone there spoke like film stars. Wake them up quickly, and they'd speak in English accents, right?). In mine, Captain Kirk was an LA detective with a catchphrase (the zen-like 'It works for me') who jumped across bonnets of cars. We'd watch from under a purple blanket, Dad in the middle, my sister and I on either side.

We used to do a small, smudged version of a road trip ourselves. Every month, my Mum would drive us on a Friday from our house in Nuneaton to a service station near Oxford to meet my Dad, who would pick us up and take us down to his home (and our first home) in Portchester for the weekend. Once a month, that quiet handing over ceremony in a car park. And then the rest of the journey; different cars: Dad's car was colder, more orange, and the radio more stubborn.

The Saturday nights. The purple blanket, TJ Hooker, lights turned off.

We'd make the return trip on Sunday evening. Three hours each way, unless we'd get stuck in traffic in Newbury. None of the mythic journeys of America, the roads and motels of Martin Sheen and Sissy Spacek, Dean Moriarty and Humbert Humbert, Sam Cooke and Pee-Wee Herman; westward wagons, glowing motels, Tijuana weekends. We had our radio, crackling in and out of local receptions en route; we had miles of hedgerows along motorways, Sing Something Simple, the M27.

Living in a new country affects your dreams and memories. Walking in the Oregon hills I remember corners of scruffy Paulsgrove I'd not thought of for years. Grim kids from the darkest corners of my school yearbook come to my dreams, causing my mornings to be a disorientating mix of confused nostalgia and the hopeful feelings of living in a new place. New things always bring to mind older things. Oregon is Goonies country. In one dream, a girl who used to visit Foyles in London where I worked (and spend an hour talking about poor songbooks in a keen and serious way) played the part of the betrayed wife of my childish boss. She took me for a drink to ask about her husband's public embraces with his secretary. I didn't realise that I remembered her existence; in my dream, I tactfully told her what I suspected about her husband using suggestive whistles ('I think I might have seen him her in the office').

Working at Powell's Books has resurrected forgotten muscle memories too. I reach for the scanner with my right hand, where it was when I worked at Foyles in London; but it is to my left, and I scratch the air like an amputated limb.

Perhaps it is just all new places. Perhaps the fact that I am new in this place. But the breath of possibility carries on the wind; the narrative here is recent and incomplete, ready for the fingers of fresh authorship. There is a feeling in the West of America that land is still up for grabs, claims, hanging in the wind, are still to be settled. People of course are the same everywhere, and different everywhere. Like a nature documentary cameraman, it is impossible to remove your own presence from the equation (are people friendler here because I'm so obviously not from here? Or is it because they are friendler?). But Portland is, at first glance, more righteous, more militant, more politcally correct, more green, more laidback, less drunk, more of a community, happier. It's the Cloud City in Empire Strikes Back, a wet nirvana in the sky. Americans love England; but Portlanders understand why we moved here. It speaks for itself.

Compose running monologues in your skull, introducing the city to visitors. Speak to family in your head. Walk across the Burnside Bridge when the sun is out and it is spitting with rain, and with this internal commentary, a simultaneous detachment and attachment is possible. You're plugged into the architecture, yet observing yourself. Seeing for the first time, yet reporting on yourself seeing.

[Aside: Misconceptions, no.1: Americans believe the United Kingdom to be part of Europe.

They are of course mistaken. To the English, Europe is a holiday destination. Europe was defeated by Hitler. Europe wants to take something away from us, although we don't quite know what.

Misconceptions, no.2: TheEnglish are more charming, more intelligent and somehow more cultured than Americans.

We of course, know different. The 21st Century English are hilarious paupers. I promise I won't let on.]

Saturday, January 05, 2008


'All of us failed to match our dream of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible.'

'Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself' William Faulkner

New Year's Resolution: At least try.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Ariel Pink's in-between songs have been the most mind-blowing pop discovery of my adulthood. 2004's compilation of late 1990's recordings, The Doldrums, sits in whatever personal top ten I care to compose, immune to any whim I may trip over. His is a neon shimmer; Home recorded epics which don't dispense with glitter, melodies which break the technology's defence, playing expansively, hilariously, rudely. As puppy-dog sad, sweet, and familiar as Abba. As weird as them too, splitting the prototypical nexus of harmony into twisted catches of one hundred simultaneous choruses.

Look for Ariel Pink on Youtube and among the splinters you'll find a home-made video to one of his tunes. It is a simple shot of a TV screen, filmed crudely with a video camera as a sequence from The Simpsons plays in the dark. It is impossible to tell if he did it himself or if it is the work of a fan. It seems incredibly apt. Pink's records capture a brittle pop nostalgia; like found Wonder Years episodes on VHS, intercut with half of Repo Man and the end of Benny and Joon, not enough to keep, but you do; like European cartoons (dubbed by one eager voice, girl parts and all) seen while suffering an early romantic illness, a six week relapse with glandular fever aged nine; fretful odd daytime shows never seen again, ghostly animations partly slept through; The Monkees repeats at half-term. Pink's game show buzz is essentially a summary of low pop culture, it's architecture and accoutrements. It sounds like the best bits of other songs, a collection of jingles, like The Residents' Commercial Album tunes played over each other at double speed, or if the BBC Radiophonic Workshop were commissioned in 1974 to make 30 second synth wig-outs for every last US radio and television show, and imports too. It is the history of rock reduced: It is Squeeze squeezed, a cheaper Cheap Trick, a crashed Cars, and so on and so on, rehashes of Denver, John, and Denver, The Last Dinosaur's theme, echoing mantras from Hanna Barbera relics, all shot through with the naive self-belief of a ten-year old playing dress-up, any attic attire, an awkwardly hopeful glam.

Nostalgia is a loaded word. Pink goes beyond. He is (or his records are) open to retro-psychic possibility- Imagine! If you could rewind telly all the way back! Imagine, if telly ran an 'on this day' channel, and just showed Aug 25, 1984, for example, or December 1st, 1972, and just showed everything, adverts, inserts, news, etc, whatever they showed, slow periods, boring bits and all, even the cartoons when they were ahead of schedule. No edited high/lowlights, no contextualising, no modern commentary, no haircut judgements. The seismic shift of witnessing whole slabs of boring, wondrous culture, the million nuances forgotten, would reduce all to tears.

And so Pink goes about his business, not separating what needs to be kept from what doesn't, throwing it all together over (one imagines) thousands of tapes, an endless record. He disinters from the ancient pop texts, trash and all, salvaging drowned tunes from choppy forgotten waters, resuscitating fey homilies and spangled spazz-outs plucked from golden wrecks.

Scared Famous evokes being drugged at a fair on a wet bank holiday, a violent puppet show in a seaside town, staticky reports from aged speakers, and sticky arrests; the glowing suggestion of an uncle's fish tank, tetras sparkling, gouramis kissing, eyes open in gormless wonder. A beer garden with carved kiddy shapes. Suggestible shadows evoking benign demons. Saturday afternoons idling at the abandoned bandstand, vandalising casually, knowing that sunset will come and all this will end.

Gopacapulco starts like a Chiquitos house band turning the hook of Starman below the border, into a twitchy hokum Latino swing, before a stately chorus is unfurled. Howling At The Moon is a synth-fuelled Lou Reed impersonation, bittersweet and hilarious, Are You Gonna Look After My Boys? is the Miami Sound Machine running in the woods on heart power, sweet and catchy as a sexual injury. Beefbud is Barrett, Jesus Christ Came To Me In A Dream is the true, desperate meaning of Christmas past present and future, touching, absurd, stuffed full. Baby Comes Around is a triumphant riff interrupted by half-a-dozen Joe Meek choruses, Politely Declined and Why Can't I Be Me? are manga laments, wistful comic Frankensteins sobbing in caves. Girl In A Tree is Hall & Oates undead and undone, losing a three-legged race, Kitchen Club is a ghostly off-key cut of dub (all Ariel Pink records are dub, in some way) reggae that seems to enigmatically start some kind of (anti) sexist argument, but is all the better for only suggesting this. It may be about food. It's certainly about girls. The List (My Favorite Song) is another (likeHouse Arrest's Interesting Results) of Pink's self-querying lyrics, a lovely ham-fisted attempt to understand the meaning of song writing, the meaning of meaning.

Ultimately, it's always a romance.

Pink sends carefully crafted letters to idols and is crushed when they don't answer. He practices magic, and next to him, your love seems adult and pedestrian. You could vivify trite scripts with his Sirkian water. He's the kid who imagines himself in a relationship with Judy Garland or Lindsey Lohan or the girl next door, just good friends, hoping for more. He believes he can save them. He holds candles tightly, and writes crestfallen ouija rites and crushed odes, commuting with imaginary dead sisters. He writes false back stories for non-existent banged-up Dads, and draws on his hands in electric black. His is a dictionary that requires of him the dedication of Dr Johnson, and includes made up words from far-flung languages, gibberish to the naked eye, but displaying enough grammatical structure and craft to suggest a complex and gorgeous plan. He is a blue-eyed avatar, standing at the LA Hells mouth of pop memory, taking as much in as he can.

The fire crackles. So does the radio.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Because of the firework feeling in his bones, Uncle Robert knew our town was the dead centre of England. 'The reason I ended up here is because it is the middle of everything,' he said.
Many experts would have contradicted him. New surveys of the land came every other year or so and the officially recognised geographical bulls-eye would move, perhaps over the hill beyond Higham, sometimes several miles in another direction. Every place ever named as the centre of the country clung to the very verdict that put them there, and disregarded all subsequent alternative suggestions. They would display their achievements and wares at fetes and carnivals, festivals and parades. But none was ever more extraordinary than the next: Neolithic flint implements, Bronze Age Burial mounds, Roman coins and Saxon suffixes were regularly polished and shown, but to us children, being from the dead centre of England only meant we were further from the sea than almost anyone.

But Uncle Robert had moved to this town as if drawn by some magnetry. And he knew it was the dead centre of England. He walked its contours, plugged himself into its vagaries, soaked up its airs. He pressed the claims of our town in varied ways. 'Have you ever noticed that our train station is far bigger than we seem to deserve or need?' he'd say. 'It is, in effect, a staging post for travellers on a journey through the middle of England, usually from South-East to North-West and back. It’s a route which is a well-set series of wires and arteries that carry fortune seekers, commuters, noise, spite and other cultural exchanges. Look on a map: Britain looks like a wounded man, leaning to the west; it’s the weight of it, that lopsided pull, with everything in the South-East, and something in the North-West, and everywhere else slipping into the wind. And it all comes through here. No matter what they say, this town is the dead centre of the country. That station marks the spot, I’m sure. You can feel it.'

According to Uncle Robert, trains were the lifeblood, the force, angels of fate to take you or usually in our case, leave you behind. They were cartographers of the invisible land; following the best taken path, preselected above man's input, along routes that predated even the tracks. Rivers meander weakly to sea, but train tracks, like roads and shipping lanes, chose themselves. He said if you build a track where it doesn’t want to go, there’ll be an accident sooner or later. 'The sinking of the Titanic proved that you can’t build a track over the North Atlantic, so we should never try. Man hasn’t the power to guide a machine down a set path. A train is actually pacing out the perimeters of nature’s power. Rome, for example, didn’t fall; it was pushed, by men who believed their petty transactions put them in Godly positions. Their folly was not ambition, but that that didn't listen to the land. If you could read the roads and lines, look for accidents as signs, you’d see how the trains tell who did it; With sensitivity, you could plot lines that would circle the truth like Injuns round wagons, they'd be driving gutters into the Earth, grooves of repetition that would bore into the earth and bore the surrounded to death.'
That’s how he'd talk. Mum said he was an Idiot's Haven't. I loved him.

We'd go to the station together, Uncle Robert, his son Tony and I, and watch as trains swung into our town and were thrown out to bigger destinations- Northampton, Birmingham New Street, Liverpool Lime Street, London Euston. We’d watch the faces as they waited to move on, drowsy disinterested abstractions through glass, like timid sketchbook preliminaries. We'd wonder how they stayed so uninvolved in the process, in the glory of travel; Uncle Robert who had travelled, and explored, and Tony and I who longed to.

While the people on the train only ever passed through, Uncle Robert had thrown his fate in with that of the town. And even though he’d come from elsewhere (and still had his busty dialect to show for it) the town seemed to respond to him, as if it couldn’t help it. The events in the town's life intertwined with his. He was born in the year they built the Old Hall, what we knew as the Co-Op Hall. That was a totem in these parts, a landmark that announced itself in an area whose qualities generally had to be coaxed and teased out. For a period, it was the only place to choose for wedding receptions. One New Years Eve, just after the war, some guests slipped on the stairs and several were killed in the crush. That was the same night that, miles away in Leeds, Uncle Robert's father was run over by a car.
Uncle Robert moved to town shortly after marrying Joan in the year they built the ring road, 1972. That road breathed life into new directions, and the Carters lived in a small house up past the hospital, a little hutch that years later we’d drive past and observe like a cute relic; diverting, langourous drives home they were too, and to see Uncle Robert see the first matrimonial home was for me one of the earliest examples of stirring nostalgia. 'The first morning we lived there,' he'd tell us, every time, 'I woke up, stretched, kissed my new wife, and turned to see on the pillow... well, you'll never guess what.'
'Your hair!' we'd chorus, amazed not by the fact that Uncle Robert's hair fell out so quickly but by the fact that he ever had any at all. He lost his front teeth when his first child, Tony, was born, but it wasn’t an incident touched by the supernatural; a combination of celebratory gins and steepling maternity ward staircases saw to them.

He smelt of Vicks and whisky, both of which were always medicinal; he’d give us a nip when we’d twist an ankle, dab both on a grazed limb, and we’d gaze at the bottles together in awe. 'Learned the power of these in King's Gym in Huddersfield in the fifties' he'd say with a wink.
Uncle Robert had been a boxer, but he drifted into wrestling in the lean years, when his honest nose had been crushed one too many times by sly jackhammers that evaded his aging defence. He clearly thought that wrestling was the lesser art, glistening as it did with cheapening pizzazz and silly non-glamorous display, but instead of getting frustrated, or looking elsewhere, he took his opportunity, and brought all his disdain for the tawdry flash of the sport into his role of the villain up at the Co-Op hall for years. He was a good sport, but disliked being forced into uncompetitive surrenders and premature dives by the demands of a crowd and their collective wish, and expectation, of a vengeful pantomime in which the villain cheats the hero and is thus punished. Despite his reservations, he had a surprising knack for increasingly creative acts of dishonour in that ring, and this endeared him to one and all, who, apoplectic at the referee’s distractibility, would bellow a warning to the dazed hero as Uncle Robert approached the groggy saint from the rear with a piece of wood or sandpaper.

Tony and I experienced these bouts only through Uncle Robert's retelling of them. We were too young for the rowdy environs of a wrestling evening, and could only superimpose his actions onto the more family-friendly visions conjured on our television on Saturday afternoons. We insisted, in our giddy re-imaginings in the garden, that the Uncle Robert could trouble not only Les Kellet, Mick McManus, Jackie Pallo, Steve Veidor, and Tibor Szakacs, but would despatch of Count Bartelli, dethrone The Royals, and destroy the smiling, handsome Johnny Saint, who we hated.

Uncle Robert's alter-ego for many years was The Tarantula. His costume consisted of red vest, red trunks and a balaclava-style mask. He had cobwebs painted in silver on his back, but didn't look like a spider. He'd let us play in the costume, one of us tripping over the trunks and vest, the other swallowed by the mask, but we rarely did, just handled it with delicacy, feeling the weight of it's hem and the gritty sparkle of the logo. 'That old thing. My straitjacket,' he'd call it, smiling. The stories were painted in by his chuckling recall. Tony and I would always cheer on our man on as he told us the tales of those times; dreaming we were there, when The Tarantula fought against the course of the crowd and the wishes of natural order.
‘The younger lads, the goodies, they’ve got to win, you both know that,’ he’d say, and we’d nod, sure that Robert would have been the greatest hero of them all if wasn't all rigged against him. The villains interested us, and there always seemed to be new ones to tell us about. The Valkyrie, a screeching sneak who The Tarantula sometimes teamed up with, a melodramatic former child nearly-star (he’d been on the stage in the war years as the bombs rained on Coventry) who wound up dead from the booze in his caravan up the A5 years later. Pirate Pete, a man who was larger than Giant Haystacks, kept puppies in his yard and could lift a mini over his head. The Mysterious Shadow could shin up a lamp-post with his hands tied behind his back, and had a cafe in town for a while before he died. We'd visit and have a bowl of ice-cream, and The Mysterious Shadow would playfight with Uncle Robert for our benefit.
'We're old now,' they'd say when we got too excited. But they fondly recalled how in the nineteen-seventies they created a merry Valhalla, stirring up boisterous crowds in gym halls, clubs and pub backrooms all over the Midlands.

Uncle Robert had his first wrestling bout at the Co-op hall in 1975. The ballroom itself had died a series of squalid deaths over decades of mismanagement, its dignity slipping and trodden into the dirt with every transformation; from celebrations of blessed unions, to ballroom dances, to bingo, wrestling, before being crushed under heel when they painted the interior black and turned the place into a grubby arcade later in the nineteen-eighties. One rainy Saturday afternoon when I was twelve a girl I didn’t even really like refused to let me kiss her there. But that night in 1975, the night of Uncle Robert's first wrestling bout, a London to Glasgow train came off the rails down by the Leicester Road Bridge, dragging up track and dirt until it came to rest on the platform, taking down part of the station roof and thirty-six souls. Uncle Robert joined the volunteers while still wearing his wrestling leotard, and blackened and thirsty, lifted rubble and twisted iron with them all night like some mythological Colossus, rueful and black.

Within a couple of years, Uncle Robert was an established name on the wrestling circuit. When the Scala and Grand cinemas both closed, there was an upsurge in popularity for the events. The Tarantula started a long rivalry with a foppish lad of upstart vulgarity, who would run through Uncle Robert’s legs. The Wasp, as he was known, was a gypsy of Italian origin whose family had come from Naples, and Carter and I would later know him as the elderly drunk who ran the sticky dodgems at the fair. In his younger days he was darkly handsome, a preening stud who the crowd adored. We knew only his slobbering approaches to teens of all genders on August Bank Holidays as the fair struck up for a last night.

Uncle Robert would tell us that he’d have to pretend not to be able to catch the greasy little Wasp, and would wink to Mrs. Carter and baby Tony in the crowd, and Tony Carter would say he remembered all this, even though he couldn’t have been more than one or two. Uncle Robert would have to pretend that the little Italian was too quick for him, and sometimes, he chuckled, The Wasp was too quick, and he didn't need to pretend at all, by that point being almost forty and overripe. By the time the Palace theatre had closed and there had been a murder down the back of the Ringway the following November, Robert had broken a leg when pinning a man from Derby (Gorgeous Geoff or Sid the Saint, depending on what day you were told the tale), a blessing of sorts, in that it gave him the shuffling limp that would give him a new name in the twilight years of his career, The Crab.

And then near the end we got to see him wrestle.
We were nine. It had been a while since Uncle Robert had been bouting, and he was roped out of retirement, he said, as a favour to an old promoter. I think he did it so that Tony and I, so thrilled by the stories, could see one played out in front of us for real. Aunt Joan, never a fan, reluctantly took Tony and I, and we all drove up to Leicester together. She tutted at the language, winced at the dusty aroma, choked on the smoke, but Tony and I stared at it all with wonder. Uncle Robert's tales may have glamorised the settings somewhat; the beery squalor and shabby ring were not what we'd expected; but to us it was the height of exoticism. We were amongst men after dark.
It was the only time I saw the old boy fight, and it was his last time. And he won, ignoring the script to pin some young upstart. He winked at us as he did a lap of honour, and we knew that he'd done it for us. It was to be his last fight.

It had to be the end, because his body wasn't up to it anymore. A couple of months previously, on the coldest night on record in our town, -22 degrees, January 1983, Uncle Robert had ripped something in his shoulder. Though this added to his villainous lean, meaning that the Crab walked more convincingly lopsided than ever, he couldn’t grapple anymore. He soldiered on a little, defiantly, and his last bout in town, a couple of months before the Leicester trip, was the same night they closed down the Ritz for good and converted it into the bingo hall. ‘The last film was ‘Blood Bath at the House of Death’. ‘It was a terrible British comedy,’ he’d say, ‘what a send-off.’

At the end, he was sad to leave. He’d toiled and entertained, achieved minor regional fame, and drew lessons from his experiences like a serum.
‘Wrestling is a medium of truth to us Brits.' he'd say. 'Its essential narrative is about right and wrong. It acknowledges failure. That’s something the Yanks won’t ever get. They think that winning and being right is the same thing.’

And then one day he slipped away after a heart attack aged fifty-four, the same night as the town’s most famous modern son, a light entertainer known to the nation through Saturday night television died. I was away on a school trip, and they didn't tell me until I got back, didn't want to disturb my break. I missed the funeral. Aunt Joan and Tony moved away shortly after that, and continued to move over the years, their radars threatened and confused in his absence. Indeed, not long after he died, there was a survey using new technologies that placed the dead centre of England some twenty miles away. This was the biggest variation I could remember, and subsequent surveys, powered by the precise mathematics of new systems, never remotely came close to suggesting our town was the centre of England again. It was as if Uncle Robert's death had thrown the country lop-sided, never to sit true again.

‘Be careful,’ he said to me once. ‘A good man’s only got twenty years of running in his legs. After that he’s a shadow, living off what he’s done. An early starter like you, he might only have nineteen years, seven, eight months left, give or take a couple of days. You should be writing books. But you’ve only got a certain time, a little noise window. Nineteen years of books in your legs, if you’re blessed.’
I nodded vaguely, and looked out across the garden night. A cheese of a moon was rising into somebody’s birthday.
‘Don’t sleep too much son’ he said, and raised an arm to ruffle the hair behind my ears. As he disappeared into the patio doors, I called him.
‘Have you ever written anything?’
‘Of course not.’ he laughed, as if it was the first time he’d considered it. ‘Waste of time.’

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


I realise that my departure from London lacks the dramatic scurry of the White Russians or the Nazi-defyers. The way it should be done is to sail into New York Harbour, lose a vowel on Ellis Island, re-fashion thought in Manhattan bustle. Instead, this week I am in Portslade, Sussex, attempting a cumulative time-travel in walks around the hills and estates. I have been looking for a summary of my English childhood in the buildings and driveways. What is here?

Impenetrable pavement graffiti, BT code for drills; the font of MILL CLOSE and MILL LANE, dishevelled studies forever glanced at but never seen. Is there a national address in drippy beer garden furniture and fauna? Morse in crisp packets between slats, borrowed ballards. FORGE CLOSE, FOREDOWN CLOSE, everything close, almost fingertip. But a hazy facebook burr and whirr invades charred memories of school crushes. Is there narrative in deitrus? Coherence in chance? God in numbers? Is there more than just a string of memories prompted by letterboxes and parks? Write for long enough, and you'll charm a metaphor out of shyness. Give Shakespeare a typewriter, and eventually he'll write Twelve Monkeys; a story of time-travel and childhood reminiscence.
On my walks, I've been collating samples of England to take with me as evidence of something or other; names of shops, poster verbiage, signs seen, messages offered:




I went to school with a Linda Timms. I don't know if she liked the waves.




Take the first letter of each word of this last one: F L E A E T H E L A N A D

It's clear to me. It's time to Flee the Land.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Self-Savagery 2002: If things are going just fine, leave. Burn your bridges only if they are strong. Give up only good things.

They closed down Blockbuster in Dalston last week, the week I left London. The same branch that I wrote about in an earlier post, entitled 'TRULY SMASHED AND BLOCKED', a piece that was a failed attempt to examine a variety of nostalgias for a variety of unheralded moments; A suggestion that pointless, forgettable passings, must be marked somehow; some arbiter must look up and nod 'duly noted' before returning to important electrical doings.

Dalston's Blockbuster then: I picture it all going up in a psychedelic bonfire, melting titles together, a black mass of disinterned plots from VHS trailers, an explosion of plastic forgettables. A pixelated bomb.

As it burns, hear the concrete music of repeated reversed shootings, rough cutting of disembodied comic cliches and familiar thriller dialogues (rarely with motives beyond, as James Stewart says in Rope, 'the blonde or dollars in the mattress'), spitting and looping ad nauseum, on the fuse and off the beat, confusion breaking bones amid eternal male feuds, china wives and love interests cracking between plots, sucked under in a Hellmouth tide of pop ephemera. As it all falls, a collage of arbitrary summer blockbuster noises, looped and tensionless as a million rainy games of hangman; outlines and suggestions of grave drama, written in dim light but drawn spare and cold. The last few weeks of the store being open saw endless runs of Superman Returns one screen that still worked, sounding to the glancing ear vital and familiar, but on closer investigation a hollow treatise on a million older dreams.

The Dalston Blockbuster always had special offers that lacked specialness. DVDs skipped and brayed like asses in my machine, causing many films I borrowed from there to remain enigmas after I'd seen them: Hidden, The Right Stuff, Far From Heaven, Harry Potter 3 and 4, Pretty Persuasion, Little Miss Sunshine, Art School Confidential, Carnivale series 1, Huff series 1, Family Guy series 5. Fines grew non-existent in recent weeks, a symptom of either famine or plenty.

I picture the aftermath of the gutting flames: Friends boxsets like cakes out in the rain. Overspill from groaning messy stockrooms, grazed and shrunken echoes of prop-rooms at studio backlots, charred and dumped in the street. Cardboard cut-outs of Keanu or Angelina, five-sixths life-size, one half cinema size, five times video size, left by the pound-shops.
Overlapping mantras of the 'Haven't we seen that one?'/ 'No that was that one, this is this one' ilk echo through the empty building still.

So it's gone. Largely unnoticed. There is a bigger and better one up the road. Narrative convention in departure scenes would have me standing outside Blockbuster with my suitcase as they put the 'CLOSED' sign up in the window. I'd sigh, put on my hat and walk away.

Thursday, August 09, 2007


Self Savagery no. 1764: Sabotage your own career. Self-sabotage leads to freedom. Abandon your post, play with yourself in the loo instead. Pick your own exit. Pick your own death. Do something useful: watch cricket.

Below I quote my wife, Kym Calise, partner in the ways of Self-Savagery:

'It has come to my attention that many compnies are looking to ban facebook due to the fact that people are "wasting their time on it at work". However, the productivity of the UK has not suffered in any way, in fact, the pound is stronger than ever. We have invented so much efficient technology and advanced our working day vastly over the past 30 years, that we no longer NEED to work 8 hrs a day, 5 days a week to get all our work done. Doesn't anyone else think it's crazy that we are working the same amount of hours and days (if not more) than we did in the 1950s, and yet we are using such advanced technology? Isn't that what the industrial age and the digital age were aiming for? Fewer working hours and less working days? It seems that we have arrived, but are so blinded that we simply think if someone is on facebook, they have not done their work. On the contrary; we have more 'free time' at work even after completing our tasks that we need to 'look busy', and so many of us choose to use websites such as facebook to keep ourselves occupied in the meantime.WE DO NOT NEED TO BAN FACEBOOK, WE NEED TO REDUCE THE WORLD'S WORKING DAYS.This will also benefit the NHS, as it will vastly reduce the amount of stress-related illnesses (and let's face it, aren't most illnesses stress-related?), and will hopefully reduce petty crime rates, as parents will have more time to spend with their children.Doesn't everyone want to live in a safer, better and more relaxed environment?Now spread the word....'

'Life may be not only meaningless but absurd' Thomas Nagel

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


"Action is the refuge of people who have nothing whatsoever to do."Oscar Wilde.

Self-Savagery no 667: In these dull ages, a cynical sovereignty reigns. It is inevitable! Ignatius Reilly's 'Gods of chaos, lunacy and Bad Taste' will be met with such sane hate. But I beg you. If for one month alone, allow the poet his metaphor! Believe the singer! Trust the poet! Hear the politician! Love their words! Believe it all! Let their efforts wash over you like a balm! Do not interpret their discussion! Accept all at the value of their offered faces! Allow yourself this, a most educational thirty-slash- thirty-one days of your time on planet Earth.

Wittering Wildean paradoxes is clearly a fate I'll return to later. Until then, we are all Thors.

Monday, May 14, 2007


'Apophenia is the experience of seeing patterns or connections in random or meaningless data. The term was coined in 1958 by Klaus Conrad, who defined it as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness"' Anonymous contributor, Wikipedia

'That was not only his oldest memory, but his only memory of childhood. The other one, that of an old man with an old-fashioned vest and a hat with a brim like a crow's wings who told him marvellous things framed in adazzling window, he was unable to place in any period. It was an uncertain memory, entirely devouid of lessons or nostalgia, the opposite of the memory of the executed man, which had really set the direction of his life and would return to his memory clearer and clearer as he grew older, as if the passage of time were bringing him closer to it.' Gabriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

'All my lazy teenage boasts
are now high precision ghosts
And they're coming round the track
to haunt me'

Prefab Sprout, King of Rock'n'Roll

I had a premonition of my death, and I am relieved: It is as I had hoped. The moon can't come too soon. I always wanted to die like a man, in a Paris bordello from a sexual injury, while the angels and whores stand all around reading my poetry. They'll say 'He can't shake it anymore; He can't shake it anymore...'

I will be eighty-one years old.

It was confidently predicted by a family member that I would write a book. Now my family has seen off many a flighty pre-cog who, with 'funny feelings' and dour cardigans, has come to inform us of our destinies. We don't take rash forebodings lightly; our own future radars are subtle and wise, and our own keen acumen has always sufficed. My sisters' births were pre-empted by dreamy visions. Other presentiments have been delivered as promised. And yet, I still have not written a book. This prediction hangs like a curse, a curse of a particular kind of genius, and yet it is something that I am loathe to turn my back on, as it's possibility is a comfort. Only in seeing its effects repeated in younger siblings, predicted themselves to perform great feats, does it ring hard and cold.

Self-Savagery No. 1a: Pick your prophecies and stick to them.

Many of my own premonitions come as idle boasts, romantic promises that I made to myself and grimly stuck to: I predicted at sixteen that I would never be able to drive, and at the time of writing, I still cannot. Like Oskar in Gunter Grass' The Tin Drum, who decided that he always wanted to be three years old, and so makes it happen. But unfulfilled promises loiter like spoiled ballots and screwed-up betting slips, panhandler's claims that are rotted and lost, or tales of buried Nazi booty that no-one remembers the geography of.

Often I don't know that my premontions are even premonitions until they come to pass, and I then experience them in a lucid deja-vu fashion: ah, yes, I remember now: I knew this would happen. The moments of bitter clairvoyance are often inseperable from the flimsy ideas and curiously possible futures that cloud my head at any point of the day. Most possibilities swim in my skull. This means that while it is tricky to pick the lock of the future (not in a fashion that would impress the gallery and have them crossing my palm with silver), most things that happen are not surprises.

When I dislocated and broke my arm, it felt like I thought it would. Being drunk did too. But also: I know, from the brain down through the stomach, what it feels like to fly in both a hot-air balloon and a helicopter, although I cannot remember if I have ever flown in either. I have vague childhood recollections of both: Summer days on Southsea Common or at a school fete, images bleached by the sun. These images move in tenuous delicate orbits, always just out of view, a haze of forgetful afternoons that rear up and show themselves in the most obtuse ways, and in the most unrelated places.

A notion to cling to: Inspiration, like individual and collective recall, is something that floats on the breeze, in some places tight and thin, in others hovering like huge bubbles ready to be walked through and busted without our knowledge. Invisible memorials psychically carved through the air by faceless gnomes working for years and years, yet only chipping a momentary impression into the ether for individuals to stumble through, quite unawares one day; Individuals who had been thinking of something else but who will suddenly recall the words to a school song long forgotten, or the name of a teacher, or a corner of some dowdy park visited sporadically in childhood.

A friend of mine will occasionally, in a variety of environments, smell the acrid sulphuric stench that came to his nose just moments before he fell off his bike and broke a collarbone, aged ten. Taking it as a warning, he proceeds through his days with petrified care. He cannot describe its taste; just take heed of it as a vague signpost of danger past and future.

London is a hubbub of experimental auras, waiting to smash urgent sons and their bucking and braying theorems. It can offer apparent verifications for impossible philosophies and withdraw them suddenly, like little deaths. But still, I find futures, presents and other districts to investigate, and I travel for my health, plotting geographical emotions among the sacred boroughs around me. Everything evokes something. Lush precincts do not necessarily recall lush precincts, as we know. Like a world imagined from past experiences, each new house seen is a composite of previous ones, each new face a Frankenstein of schoolmates now grown. (Even every house in a novel is based on houses I know. The house in Marquez's 100 years of Solitude is my Nan's bungalow.) My childhood is a patchwork of numerous homes, a dozen schools, several home towns dotted around England and all appear around my present, rebuilt and reconfigured in dream flashes: A newsagents on Essex Road is a replica of an Attleborough post office, a Chinese on King Henry's Walk is transplanted from a Lancing parade. The shopping centre on Kingsland Road is identical to one in Fareham, despite it's appearance. Whole swathes of Southsea have been borrowed to invent Farrringdon. Most pertinent for me is the portion of Hackney that evokes a particular subway in Nuneaton, Warwickshire that I spent many evenings loitering around when I was fourteen. It isn't anything physical or visual. Perhaps an alarm above human-hearing rings through both places, and twitches my skull. Either way, when I pass through a particular aspect of Dalston Lane I remember the feeling of romantic failure of my early teens.

The subway was magnetic, sopping with territorial graffiti and teenage excitement. It was also resolutely ordinary. There, I called a girl 'baby', and it rung so preposterously untrue from my lips, so horrifically false, that I felt the entire weighty history of love as it is rendered in lyric, poetry and prose fall in around my ears. I saw my efforts measured against other Valentinoes, against other totemic schoolboys, against anyone, and saw them to be weak. I was an imposter in love. I was fourteen.

When I later read the quote below, I realised that my moment of first comprehending this problem was then, at the subway, aged fourteen.

"The postmodern reply to the modern consists of recognizing that the past, since it cannot really be destroyed, because its destruction leads to silence, must be revisited: but with irony, not innocently. I think of the postmodern attitude as that of a man who loves a very cultivated woman and knows he cannot say to her, "I love you madly," because he knows that she knows (and that she knows that he knows) that these words have already been written by Barbara Cartland. Still, there is a solution. He can say, "As Barbara Cartland would put it, I love you madly." Umberto Eco, Reflections on the Name of the Rose

I was hamstrung by these dizzying concepts, and didn't kiss her. Ever. And this is reminded to me every time I pass through a certain part of Dalston Lane in Hackney, like an epitaph written on the air: 'Don't be hamstrung by dizzying concepts.'

'It's been said I will write a great book,' I remember telling her, in lieu of a kiss. 'It will be an autobiography about how I am a genius.'
'Maybe you should write about something you know about instead,' she said.

Thursday, May 03, 2007


I am currently enjoying a sabbatical from prolonged internet usage and abuse, enforced by a familiar modern situation, the slack internet-line supplier. Never attempt to communicate with a communications company. They are an inarticulate annexe. They are a hex. They are neglectfully cruel: Two months without broadband in the spoiled and fattened modern age is akin to growing up under strict rationing or wandering through childhood parentless in more robust times.

Anyway, I needed a break. Your sycophantic notices were making me horsesick and caused my head to swell giddily. Perfumed emails have stockpiled and expired in my absence, leaving me with an inbox of sweating olefactory unpromise and a headful of sexy rot. Thank you, all of you, I love you too.

In the interim, please see previous post, entitled 'THE COUNT' for a new story.

Monday, March 26, 2007


'Time is not a darkened tunnel. Time is but a blocked up funnel.'

In which Great-Uncle Dylan-Savage settles a modern predicament with Victorian-era words!
Writing in 1894:

'In these days, a heady nation finds itself awash with nostalgia for it's past successes; We not only have resplendent pensioners reminding us of the potency of the Great Exhibition over four decades ago, but we see 14 year-olds pining for the time, now subjected to history, when they were but befreckled eight-year-olds living in fear of the very active Ripper in London's grotty Eastern ends!

By the end of the twentieth century, I suppose that adolescence will have stretched, meaning that females of thirty will not be married! And nostalgia will have exploded, meaning that pre-teens will relive in some advanced photographic contraption, the glory of their toddlerdom, and profess to feeling aged and haggard, all at but nine years old! Every person in the land will thus simultaneously see himself as old (with a long past stretching ever backward) and young (with more leisures to come). This I suggest we call the Parallel Paradox, or the Growing Down Stratagem, or somesuch snappy title. I am as much a victim as any other to this condition: I've mourned epochs I never knew; gnashed my teeth over unrequited love with dead strangers I've never met, our eras being separated by millennia. This self-regard is terminal. Might we one day spawn children who cry at birth because their wombic pasts are lost?'

Ah. When Great-Uncle Dylan-Savage speaks, the sound of tacks being struck across their bonces fills the room. For further evidence, see previous posts for trails of his particular artistic inquiry and slithery genius. Great-Uncle Dylan-Savage begets this blog, and the world.

Me? I vividly recall walking to a professional photography studio with my Mum, Dad and sister, not long before my parents' divorce. I remember my seven-year-old brain attempting to store the details of every drain and brick along the way, because I wanted to force my future self to hold onto that moment. I was completely aware at the time, not only of the fact that I would grow old and big many years from then, but that I would look back on my childhood with curiosity and wonder. This awareness threw a gauze over the whole day: As I posed with my sister in front of fictional rural scenes and smiled for the photographic record, I experienced a detachment from bodily goings-on; I was watching my own nostalgia being invented and shaped at that moment, budding and stretching for air, to return decades on. Perhaps some vague awareness of the impending separation of my parents sparked it. Looking at the photographs now, I do not see any obvious signs of the immense self-awareness I felt; There is no I-know-it's-a-dream glint in my eye, no glistening effervescence that is greater there than in any other childhood pictures. But that day, I was acutely aware, perhaps for the first time, that I myself would be looking at these pictures sometime in the future; I could see, immeasurably and uncannily, the timeline of my own life, and how it knots and loops.

My life up to the point of those photographs is a series of semi-fictionalised artefacts (eating a garden snail; pulling on a stranger's ears and shouting 'Na-Nu, Na-Nu!', autistically creating elaborate lines of toy cars) smoothed by repeated retellings at family Christmases to smooth, hard pebbles, identical in everyone's mythical imagination, even (perhaps especially) those that weren't present. As I'm known as the kid who was good, any bad behaviour is forgotten.

Since then, I've always been aware when I am dreaming. It causes me to laugh at the unreal threat of nightmare dreams and be absolutely depressed by the illusory magic of happy ones.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Daring, n. One of the most conspicuous qualities of a man in security. (Ambrose Bierce)

... and yet, do we not live in a time where despite great comfort, wild feats of abandon, artistic or otherwise, are scarce? Conservative times, ladies and gents, conservative times.

Monday, March 12, 2007


Self-Savagery no.1100: Fudge your own final curtain. Split the band in a lengthy process that means you're forgotten before anyone notices. Don't stick around for your own funeral. Wreck your career and burn the souvenirs, and don't leave anything for sure. Disappear from public life and visit your Nan.

I started fires all over, caused worry to my family, who just wanted to know that I was safe. I am the mythical Madoc, revered by the Welsh, I vanished in a huff with the booty. I divided into two, and was spared execution in the tower, when as the Princes we evaded our Uncle's pillow, becoming minor actors overseas. I am the crew of the Marie Celeste, whose telephones ring on and on unanswered, but who enjoy the hospitality of an invisible island. I am William H Bonny, Paddy Garrett never shot me, I escaped in a rented cadillac. I fraternise with Black Bart, who beats me at poker with learning he picked up before his escape in San Quentin. I am the son of Errol Flynn, and when factions of the Viet Cong took me in 1970, they fought with the Khner Rouge over what to do with me; In the confusion, I danced into the trees like my father in his prime, and built treehouses with friendly gorillas. I am Lionel 'Buster' Crabb, and I work on the Gosport ferry in Portsmouth harbour, scene of my supposed death. I keep shards of the Soviet cruiser Ordzhonikidze in my rucksack and my pockets, and sell them on the internet to Americans. The body they found was some other John Doe, who fell from the hot walls while drunk one New Years Eve. I am Charles Lindbergh III, perennially in limbo aged three, the kidnappers demands never having been met. I am DB Cooper falling from the sky, prevented from landing by false paperwork and winds. I was Richard Bingham, Seventh Earl of Lucan, until I spent myself in Eastern boudoirs on inexpensive women. I am Roald Amundsen, not swimming in the Arctic, but running a fish restaurant in Eastbourne. I am Antoine de Saint-Exupery, not in the Mediterrainean Sea, but training a guide dog on the Isle of Wight called Little Prince. I was Amelia Earhart, radioing the other Ninety-Nines, giving the girls rousing speeches from the ether (I was not kidnapped by the Japanese, as Hollywood suggested, and I was not as softly pretty as Rosiland Russell; I never met anyone who resembled Fred MacMurray; I was not Tokyo Rose; I never saw Saipan; I was not taken by alien invaders, who did not experiment on me; I was never insane, clinically or otherwise; I simply took off over the Sun and flew, flew until the universe ended). I didn't ever see, contrary to conspiratorial supposition, the passengers and crew of the Avro Tudor IV aircraft Star Ariel that came unstuck in the Triangle of Bermuda, and I wasn't the Rockerfeller heir who grew thirsty and bored in New Guinea. I am Anna Anderson, claimant to the throne of Russia, whose DNA didn't match up to the real Anastasia (who had travels of her own, across the motels of America with a thick-eared patron at the wheel, before leaving him penniless and clotheless in Ohio).

I am Billly Pilgrim, at the beginning and the end, in Cinderella's boots and a dancing monkey's coat.

I am Ambrose Bierce, leaning against Mexican stone, waiting for the shots that shoot me to rags; I am a gringo, beating old age, disease or falling down the cellar stairs. I am hoping for epiphanies from evading being known. I am dreaming of all those who walk into the fire rather than into the spotlight. Those that spend a decade in bed or having tea at their Mum's instead of publicly grinding out results. Those that evade, by design or accident, ever being finished. I am van Gogh's destroyed canvasses, Genet's burnt manuscripts, Garbo walking away at forty-four. I am the idea that leaves the brain and expires.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Self-Savagery 1096: Take advice from no-one, not unless it correlates with your worldview anyway. Listen to the masters only if they say what you want to hear. And so:

'I found things became a lot easier when I didn't expect to win... You abandon your masterpiece and sink into the real masterpiece' Leonard Cohen

''Struggle for life' indeed! The curse of battle and toil leads man back to the boar, to the grunting beast's crazy obsession with the search for food. You and I have frequently remarked upon that maniacal glint in a housewife's scheming eye as it roves over food in a grocery or about the morgue of a butchers shop. Toilers of the world, disband! Old books are wrong. The world was made on a Sunday!' Vladimir Nabokov

Sunday, February 18, 2007


Here be errors. Not the kind you could catalogue; but not the kind you could ignore. While Dalston is as filled as the next borough with derelict hearts and alcove pissers, beggars and the homeless, they orbit the perimeter of your vision with little effect. A numbness of experience comes about if you live somewhere for long enough, rendering you untouchable by events around you. In London this is more wearying than the cost of living.
But lately, indiscreet electrical ghosts abound; there have been four powercuts in six weeks. This gets attention. It brings familes to their doorsteps to look at the dark. Number fourteen lost power altogether for several days, until a generator was towed up to sit outside and thrum away. It takes up one parking-space and fills a whole street with it's noise. It rattles the skull like a wound-down alarm, set for something you can't remember. It's churning bowels go on and on, working for twenty four hours a day.
The Jamaican who always sits on the corner tells us it's a sign. Of what? That something is coming. New rumours travel quickly, and he knows them all. It's the rats, they're eating up all the cables. Or the Gillett Street development has sucked us dry of power, or maybe the Olympics or the war. He sits and drinks, speaks to all passers-by, asks them how their 'lectric's done'. He fires questions and offers tips. He pumps all grapevines for new bulletins. I told him that I was on Kingsland High Street when the last powercut happened. I described the wave of lights dimming, from south to north, and the security alarms all chiming up a clamour at once. And then about how last week the Barclays Bank started spitting out £20 notes whenever you asked for ten, and how someone called his friends down, and within an hour there was a queue of sixty or so, taking turns, until the machine was emptied at about 2 am.
'All signs,' he said, shaking his head, sadly. 'Bad signs. The Gods are speaking in furious alphabets that no-one can read.'

Who can know. Isn't there a film about aliens who manage to take over the Earth without any citizens noticing? Or more pertinently, without any citizens raising themselves from their langour to put up a fight? In that case, humans were the phenomena not alive in the inked world, and were involved only in the illegitamate business of being dead, without knowing. Apathy killed us before violence.

'You'll never bend neutrons; you'll never tame electrodes. They'll turn on you in a flash,' a friend's Dad used to say. 'The sinking of the Titanic proved that you can’t build a track over the North Atlantic, so we should never try. Man hasn’t the power to guide a machine down a set path. A train is actually pacing out the perimeters of nature’s power. Rome, for example, didn’t fall; it was pushed, by men who believed their petty transactions put them in Godly positions. Their folly was not ambition, but that that didn't listen to the land.' He was a man who did woodwork by candlelight and handwashed his clothes. His son was laughed at by the other kids for not having new trainers or a television.

When I was ten, we were without electricity for three days. This was when we lived in Nuneaton, in Warwickshire, and the snow that settled that week meant our pipes froze and we couldn't move our car from the driveway. We listened to a battery-powered radio and competed jigsaw puzzles by torchlight. The torch was a present we had bought for my Grandad for Christmas, and was carefully placed back in it's wrapping when illumination was restored. We'd take soup heated on our gas stove round to neighbours, and go to bed early for lack of better ideas.
When the weather settled, we went sledging round at the big park on the estate. Mike had a fight with Lloyd and his friends, and I can still picture Mike standing in the middle of a group of younger children, swinging the blue sledge round his head to ward them off. They threw snowballs at him.
That sledge sticks in my head, my psyche's own mini-Rosebud, but without the weight. You can trawl memories for more than just flickers of significance and find nothing. The past runs on dubious means. It is powered by self-indulgence and deceits. Mike's Dad worked for the Electricity Board; I could attempt to trace the importance of him being in my dream the night of the first powercut (beyond a pleasant symmetry), but it's a fools game, a hall of mirrors, a gibberish acrostic. Searching for nature's pattern, for reason in thoughts, is nigh futile. Yet it entrances, and it's all we have.

When people first saw projected film, they said wondered if it meant that death would no longer be the end. They supposed that film would offer a kind of immortality to those that appeared. Instead it has proved to be a medium that provides us with ghosts. Electrical spirits flutter around our consciousness and our cities, radio and television waves moan like prayers on the wind. They inhabit a deadzone of crackling film stars, rebounding police radio messages, the spectral fizz of aged broadcasts. They are evident only in the ringing in the ears after a loud sound or in the impression in the dark left by a lamp after it is turned off, that yellow echo, that brief recollection.

And still the generator throbs. Yesterday night a drunken passer-by took to it with his boots and missed. Our lights flicker repeatedly. The other day a cyclist threw a punch at me. It could all mean nothing, just dots that don't join like some complex drunken morse.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Self-Savagery no 1040: Don't pay attention to your ambitious drives. Don't even ignore them. Remember: Winning is only important on the battlefield and in the operating theatre. 'Success is the one unpardonable sin against our fellows'- Bierce; 'To be popular one must be a mediocrity'- Wilde.
I can't wait for success. So I'm going ahead without it.

Snow: An opportunity for everyone to stay at home for a day. A chance to look out of the window, have a snowball fight, make soup, anything; most of all, an opportunity to stop. And daydream. From such idle days, great comfort and genius can spring. What an opportunity.
London, England!

But do we take this chance? Not likely. Barbarians, the lot of us.