No one to point the finger

24/09/2013 at 22:39 (Personal) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

It’s just you and me, and the rain.

As it once was, before our shared time spun away in toxic-beauty droplets. No more the red kites counted, the hikes through all weathers, our faces burned bronze with time spent alone and together and apart.

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It was only one hour ago, it was all so different then. Five years and counting nothing, because that put it to a timeline, a calendar – an End Game. We were younger then, stupid with the world and lust and red wine. We found ourselves in the face of shared life, on and offline, down rail line, up streets fine; lost ourselves in over-priced shopping and London roads and rain-filled afternoons quietly asleep, dreaming of a time we’d be published and famous and aloof and awake and over the hill. Never married. Never childbirth. Never divergence, of thoughts and things that mattered … until they ceased to matter. Until I couldn’t hold your eye. Until you couldn’t keep my feet still.

I grieve for you. You live in me.

The future is a blue rose, full of mystery, the unobtainable and the longing, the shared ice and anecdotes and memories frozen in a place none can follow. We’ll be buried as best friends and confidantes, but my soul will wander, as ever it did in our waking dream of real life. No one would riot for less.
You kiss my mouth.
Hell is here.

You were my All, and thought and dream and time, until none of these seemed apart or a part of myself. Until this year broke us. Until our shared time faded out in mosquito bites of cash flow and supermarket runs and broken hearts and shattered trust. Did I dream this belief, or did I believe this dream?

Grieve for us both, world, and move on. That’s the way of things; when friends become lovers, and back again. We drank to ourselves then, as now, as ever.

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Distance doesn’t count for anything, unless it’s in the heart. Our hills have been climbed, our storms outrun. The Beacon will always be there, waiting. The Downs will probably call us back someday. We’ll pass the barrows of your forefathers, and laugh at the times we fell down rabbit holes and mistook sanitation for cigars and fell asleep with our mouths catching flies. And recall those old-gold afternoons by the wretched train station, when I listened for the Mini’s whine, and the sounds of a weekend-life just beginning. No, distance meant nothing. We surpassed it.

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But when together, we couldn’t overcome distance of the heart, the wandering mind. So it goes. Five years, to me, is a long time … a relationship’s lifetime. Not one memory regrettable; even the hard times were bittersweet pills. We learned ourselves in the face of the world, and each other; though we chose our own times to look away. Now it’s mine, and it’s for good, and somehow that’s OK. Friends part with tears and a smile, not mouths of hate.

I’ll send you North, you’ll keep me here.
I love without capacity. You love without remorse. Somehow, it worked; and through the nightmares and flashbacks and illness, the silent rage and writer’s block and doubts of fidelity, from that first daft kareoke night (when we cried together from laughing) to running for the train, to Evenstar and swords and bad emails and Love Will Tear Us Apart, in the pub that’s since burned to the ground and lies as an ashen stub of its former glory… we part as friends.

There’ll always be the Downs, the barrows and the red kites.

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There is a light

13/05/2013 at 19:40 (Reviews) (, , , , )

I have always viewed tribute acts as precarious things. Too often, the enthusiasm that drives them – an adoration born of determination, like any fan, to recapture a semblance of what was – cancels out what talent there is. How many times have you turned up at a local venue, in anticipation of reliving that original gig or mind-blowing concert, to feel saturated in talent and shared fandom again – only to find a threadbare lookalike bellowing into a crackly mic, his own band attempting to drown him out? I’m haunted by memories of such events.

So it was with a heavy heart that I saw the posters last year, splashed over the exterior of the Horn pub in St Albans, detailing one of their many weekend tribute acts. Normally, I will smile and walk on by, able to parcel the thought away that ah well, it doesn’t detract from the original. In the same sense, I don’t take photos when on holiday. How can a glossy piece of paper hope to recapture the freedom I once felt, outside of normal life? Best to indulge in memories alone.

To my own reasoning, how could a tribute act like The Smyths, hope to recreate an insurmountable legacy?

I was born in the year Meat is Murder was released. Fortunate enough to have a father in the RAF – who just happened to DJ on his time off, in the NAAFI – I was exposed early-on to the sort of music that might rewrite a child’s life. Leonard Cohen, Simon and Garfunkel, Joni Mitchell, Pink Floyd – and of course, the Smiths. The kind of artists who told stories, sometimes without using words. The type of music my peers would often scorn later in college, when speaking of their parents’ taste. Already feeling misplaced in time (one of my Dad’s friends called me an “old soul”), I left them all to Shanks & Bigfoot.

I’ll never forget the look on Dad’s face when, aged four, I heard my first Smiths song, “How Soon is Now?” and – correlating it with a sound I heard everyday – asked him how they’d got a wokka-wokka (my baby term for the Chinook helicopter) on it?
I’m listening to that oscillating guitar now. It still makes me smile to remember those twin-rotor blades in the sky.

The Smiths were there for me through school and college; when I refused to wear the tights ‘n tiny skirt combi my female peers favoured; when the inevitable teasing came, for my cropped hair (an easier route, because of eczema), I could listen to a man who – so my Dad told me – regularly wore cast-off cardigans and quiffed his hair in a way no one outside the Billy Fury years would understand. A man who prowled with a feline elegance and disdain I found appealing, who eschewed meat – as I most surely did, despite my parents’ protests. A man I couldn’t hope to find in my home town full of shaven eyebrows and sports labels. I could, while listening to Dad’s crackling vinyl, at least dream of that better world.

So with these precious memories in mind, to say I was being generous when buying a ticket to see the Smyths, is putting it mildly. With the rise of the internet and Youtube, I’d already begun to fit that jangling guitar, that cat-strut figure with its sloping vocals, the heartbeat bass and prickling drums, to what I had experienced on abstract vinyl for years. Why bother to tarnish the originals?

Curiousity has always bitten this cat.

We arrived early, as the guys at the Cross Keys pub had put me in a foul mood for having the temerity to run out of Morgans’ Spiced rum. The Horn has a neat little bar area that bean-shapes itself around to meet the low-ceiling venue room; good for parceled-acoustics, not so great for a dance. Still, we mingled among the eclectic jumble of middle-aged and young-twenties who had gathered, each with their own stories to tell of Smiths-adoration. The older folk, in their original-print T-shirts and sporting gladioli out of back pockets, had clearly seen the original band live. I soaked up their anecdotes gleefully. The younger ones, closer to my age, wore fantastic home-brand merchandise; the lad in the T-shirt emblazoned with floral print I dreamt about you last night, and I fell out of bed twice won hands down.

We supped our drinks as the pub filled up with yet more fans. I was forced to reassess not only my count of Smiths fans in St Albans, but the impact of the tribute to come, particularly when I spotted a few T-shirts emblazoned with their spelling. No Smiths fan would dare make the mistake.

The Cure, Joy Division, Depeche Mode – the music sifted into our background on a continuous reel, as we made our way into the venue room. A welcome nod of contemporaries; and needless to say, as the booze flowed, the mood buzzed with a keener note.

We’d worked ourselves into a decent state of excitement by the time the lights dimmed, to rousing cheers and the standard Smiths’ intro of Prokofiev’s March of the Knights. As the band strode gracefully on stage, plucking up old-friend instruments, I felt a strange shock down my spine, as the tall figure followed them through the backstage door.

Only Morrissey could get away with that on-stage sashay to something so dramatic as Prokofiev, with tongue jammed squarely in his cheek. And believe me, Graham – the Smyths vocalist – let it slip in true Moz style, more than a few times that night.

Though in his early 40’s, Graham has the feral dignity of the original, which I had believed inimitable. As Paul Morley put it in his interview with the tribute act, he pulls off a decent Morrissey circa-1985, in the looks department – but only decent. The true magic happens when he opens his mouth.

I couldn’t stop giggling, all delight, as the lean figure stalked back and forth across the stage in his red cardigan and jeans that Simon Cowell would beg for. Offering us his folded arms, leer and occasional banter, he had the personality down pat, all right. We were helpless in the face of it, really. Graham is an intoxicating presence, not merely a tribute, but a conduit.

There were perhaps seven of us younger ones, rammed right up against the row of speakers out front, due to the press of people behind and in anticipation of a much-loved phenomenon, witnessed on Youtube of past fans. And when it came, one lass in particular led the way, stretching up with a devotee’s arm to grab at Graham’s jeans. After that ice-breaker, only into the third song, there was no going back. We were all after a bit of him, this medium of our disenchantment with the world. Things aren’t so very different from 1983, though the Iron Pants have been exchanged for itchy wooliness.

We have known the taunts, the pointing fingers; the braces and awkwardness, the ineptitude and the loneliness; and when crying just wouldn’t do it justice, there was the Smiths. For those of us out in the front row, it was as much a cauterizing event as an affirmation – that the words we had listened to for years on charity-shop vinyl, hadn’t been a money-grabbing hoax by a Northern band. Morrissey continues to outdo all lyricists in in his ability to turn the darkest hours of our life, to light; to wholly agree with us that Yes, the world’s a bitch but that it’s still worth giving a playful slap on the arse to. Believe me, there was plenty of that, with an asexual lust that the original blue-eyed bastard of erotica and ego as tall as his hair, might’ve been proud of.

The albums were sifted through with an orderless finger, and I experienced the joy of hearing “Jeane” live for the first time – to be honest, I was rather glad for this virgin exposure. Though my only grievance lay in the omission of the frantic drumroll and staccato lyrics of The Queen is Dead (my favourite method of breaking in new earphones), its domineering presence was filled neatly with the likes of B-sides Rubber Ring, Please, Please, Please and Oscillate Wildly, live performances of which are like rocking-horse droppings to find. And speaking of oscillation – yes, my eyes did mist up, as the guitarists effortlessly spun out the chords of How Soon is Now? Layered on thick, they reverberated around that packed room until I was there, back in 80’s Gutersloh, head up and watching the sky outside the RAF base where I grew up.

For that is another precious gift of tribute bands, learned that night by your most humbled narrator – that whatever is brought to the act, can only help to season the flavour.

“You’ll never see The Smiths again, but The Smyths are the next best thing,” says

With a tribute like the Smyths – who promote themselves on their site as “The Smiths band of Smiths fans for Smiths fans” – the light won’t be going out anytime soon.

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Well if I seem a little strange, that’s because I am

05/05/2013 at 19:15 (Anorexia, Personal) (, , , , )

On a Smiths bent again. They are a band who, like Neil Young, should only really be played on vinyl. It’s all about the snap, crackle and pop.

Helpless in the face of my own happiness. I have the place to myself this (long) weekend, and am enjoying the extra space far too much for what is healthy of a five-year old relationship. We have had our problems lately, it’s true. I am … older. Not necessarily wiser, but certainly not the 23-year old chit he first encountered online, subsequently messaged and got a tarty reply from. Well, OK, I’d probably still do it 😉 But I don’t have the defensive jaw anymore, which – as he often points out these days – was my sword, ready to jab out anyone’s eye. I was still a very scared individual, truth be told; 2008 saw me re-entering the dating world, hesitant and still rawboned, not quite sure of my place in the world yet.

I know it now. If being with him has taught me anything, it’s that it is never too late to try again. Taking his cue, I picked up the writing-reins, gradually guiding myself back on course to where my true legacy lies. Nowadays, it’s me sat in front of the bureau, furiously belting out chapters, while he languishes in writers’ block. I feel heart-sore for my fella, truly I do. But I also feel – and it pains me to admit it – stifled.

For years, I lived alone. Well, under my mum’s roof, but her shift work kept her out at odd hours, to the point where we often went days without seeing one another. So I could at least pretend I had the small house to myself. This suited my solitary personality quite well; oh, and I had Kaiser, of course. The fluffy idiot, offering token editorials in my ear, grumbling whenever I dragged the ironing board out from under the stairs.

After the perils of re-entering A Level education, three years everyone’s senior (still, this would prove to be my advantage, since I’d had more experience of the world than they), I had attempted University and hated it. The course was a mess. Bailing out before I made too much of a dent in my purse, I returned to my hometown to meet my parent’s disappointment head-on. The illness was, of course, a major factor – I simply wasn’t ready for the influx of information, with little breaks, that University is all about. That and, the constant socializing was a drain – house parties, clubbing until 3am, cycling in the coastal wind and rain to the campus, all took their tolls on my limited reserves. That’s even before we get onto my perfectionist self-pressure to attain excellence. I made that midnight oil burn, oh yes.

So, on my arse again, I took up cleaning. Contract to start with, before finding employment with a professional, and I have her to thank for every job I’ve secured since in the business; she was a serious task-master. Between her and Dad’s military atmosphere in my childhood home, I make a straight line look crooked.

Cleaning in the daytime, also afforded me plentiful personal space. I kept my own hours, with no additional work following me home; ergo, the writing could flourish. But it didn’t begin to fully, until I met my fella. As a writer himself, he became my greatest confidante (apart from Kai) and harshest critic. Still remains so, to this day.

Of course, this comes with serious repercussions where our relationship is involved. After a particularly hard battering on either side, we may go a few hours without speaking to one another. Some might say that career and home life should never be mixed; I unfortunately don’t have that choice. Two writers under one roof, well, it seemed the perfect blend when we first got together. God knows, we’ve been through enough, have lived in tighter conditions than this (cramped in his bedroom under his parent’s roof, for one. A whole year of it.)

But now, I am older. And becoming vastly aware of it, of myself, in ways not experienced before. I always was a late starter. At 28, I’m going through the revelations and emotional revolutions that my peers experienced a decade ago. I feel more behind than ever. Most crushingly, I’m becoming aware of the fact that I have never had space. No home to call my own.

Oh I know, plenty of people are back living with their parents. I was on the Dole a year, I know what the recession has done. But right now, I’d honestly welcome a room in a house-share, as long as it was my own. Just like when I lived in the family home down South, around fifteen years ago (God, how that number rings hard in my head.) I feel as though I’ve missed out on things important to development; and the trouble is, while all my peers are settling down to marriage and children, mortgages and secure employment, I still feel (willingly) as rootless as ever. Their world was never to be mine. I have no more interest in procreation or wedlock, than I did aged eighteen, aged twelve.

But they’ve had their share of independence. They’ve got the drinking and fucking around and fucking up and flirtatious idiocy with the world, all out of their systems. And I am looked at askance by so many because, at my age, I should know better.

Well, I never was backward about coming forward.

I have little patience for the kind of people (and believe me, I oscillate among them daily) who believe I ought to grow up. I would like to tell them about the girl who I stopped slitting her wrists with a smashed jam jar on a psychiatric ward; about the sexuality I’ve forced into my scrawny body over the course of five years after release from said ward, in an attempt to keep up with the world, with relationships … but I can’t be arsed with arseholes.

Yes, my body is not attractive. I made it so. My family are genetically whiplash anyway, but I’ve taken it to steely new cords. Fighting out demons in the gym does this to a person. Beating out breath, forcing fire out of my head and into my muscles, stands in lieu of therapy. I’d probably have killed someone by now, if I didn’t 😉

The fella stands between me and being alone again. But somehow, the flames we once had, have languished under daily life’s extinguisher. We promised ourselves this wouldn’t happen. I still love him, in an abiding way, the way people who’ve met each other’s souls head on, tend to do. And I fear, if I lose him, I will never know love again.

But I’ve been alone before, know its perils and freedom. As a child, I hated group play, sharing toys and ideas. To this day, I can usually manage one-on-one’s for a day or so, before even that solo company becomes unbearable. Small wonder I’m always drawing the Hermit in my Tarot pack.

If I let him go, it won’t only be for my benefit. Isn’t letting someone go, the greatest act of love we can give?

Knowing my passive-aggressive self, I’ll withdraw. He’ll come back off holiday, and I will act as though nothing as happened. As though I haven’t actively reveled in my space, in my freedom. I will settle back into quietly languishing under the weight of my own lie.

And hate myself more every day, for doing so.

Enough depressing bollocks. I have the Bank Holiday evening, the sultry evening full of damp soil and sunlight smells. A new bottle of Morgans’ Spiced rum. And photos from the country walk of today … the trials and tribulations of your brutal narrator, in the wilds of suburban life.

I was bored before I even began.

Attempting to cross a field I use regularly, I was confronted by these chaps:

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I wasn’t a coward. I outvibed them, running at the bastards and shouting. OK, actually I slunk past and took this photo behind the safety of the closed gate, which was the sweetest sound, that satisfying clunk-click. But I still managed it, despite Withnail and I flashbacks.

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The haunted, frightened trees. On field research for the novel, I wove in and out of wild-barred sunlight in the woods, all black ‘n gold, treading on dog mercury (it stinks) and scaring kids walking by.

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There are no happy endings, because nothing really ends.

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Have I found you, flightless bird?

24/09/2011 at 19:17 (Reviews) (, , , , , , , , )

I like to use song lyrics as titles, and happen to be listening to Iron and Wine’s “Flightless Bird, American Mouth”, because it is a beautiful song, and they are a beautiful band.
I don’t tend to go for contemporary music, having worked out that it’s mainly just a rip-off of something else, something more raw. A shallow counterfeit. Still, I adore The Editors and Interpol, because they are how Joy Division might’ve sounded if Ian Curtis had decided to frequent the Earth longer, drank a few whiskeys, and let his soul quieten down a bit.

When choosing music, it’s usually the melody that catches me first. I’m a sucker for minor key, for bittersweet sounds (and endings, in books); for something that will make my chest ache the way it does when I listen to Jan Hammer’s “Miami Vice theme”. That song is synonymous with Germany; street BBQ’s, hazy golden tones in the lowlight dusk, neighbours chatting and laughing… my 4-year-old self allowed to stay up later than usual.

How can a child be nostalgic for something they don’t yet know? 6 years old, not even in Primary school, I knew the melody to Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne before I knew the song itself, and hummed it in the lower playground while watching the horizon. There’s a vivid memory of this. I had no idea of pretention. I felt that ache in my chest, a longing for something far off, and had barely experienced the world yet. It’s why I don’t entirely discount past lives.

I went on a great song-hunt in my teens, determined to track down all the beautiful things I’d heard my parents play as I grew up, but didn’t know the lyrics to. I recall one afternoon spent with my Mum – it was wonderful, having her all to myself for once, not distracted by my little brother or housework – going through Dad’s quite extensive record/CD collection. There was one song in particular, I was determined to find. I could only give Mum that tune, but she found it eventualy, on the Singer and the Song album that Dad always played when loading up the car to drive us the 5 hours to Cheshire, to visit my grandparents. Those songs are bound up in my mind with anticipation, and travel. Copper. Brass. Gold.

It was Suzanne, of course, which I was after. You can’t begin to understand the fierce pleasure of sitting there on the carpet, hearing it come from Dad’s wonderful uupright speakers. It felt like coming home, or the realization that something you had thought a dream, actually exists.

Then of course, I had to go through the entire album – finding lost gems of my very early years, like Don McClean’s Vincent (linked to my favourite piece of art, Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”) and Ralph McTell’s Streets of London, which – along with several books I was reading at the time – began my love affair with London. That beautiful, charismatic, smelly, charming-from-a-distance city, which I personified in a poem for a school project; it ended up being my first published piece.

That album is my perennial favourite. I know the lyrics of every song, and listening to it turns me into a hopeless nostalgic, a rose-tinted headcase. OK, more so.

…and he wonders if the car will start tomorrow, or he’ll have to take the bus instead.

I love the Semisonic album “Feeling Strangely Fine”, too. It reminds me of a time when my father and I were still speaking to each other; still called each other friend. I miss him. I miss his dark eyes, and the way he used to tickle the back of my neck to send me to sleep. But that’s another lifetime, and some things aren’t worth being nostalgic about.

I rarely go more that a couple of hours in a day without listening to something, whether through the iPod strapped almost permanently to my right arm (with a tan line that never fades) or through covert tuning-in to the Sky Rock channels. Because music generally dictates my moods, I have to be careful what I listen to; it’s no good listening to something a bit rowdy when trying to stay quiet and careful, first thing in the morning. I just bump into things. I have a knack for making more noise when trying to be quiet.

As a child, I listened to whatever my parents had – anything from Bon Jovi and Aerosmith (Mum) to Led Zepp, Pink Floyd and Art Garfunkel (Dad.) I still have a soft spot for the Smashey and Nicey album – Bachman Turner Overdrive, Blue Oyster Cult, etc. It reminds me of watching TV with my parents. Red Dwarf as a kid… laughing at the slapstick, but not really getting the gags; and only when much older, going back to watch the episodes, and laughing even harder because I did get it by then.

I’ll always favour older songs, originality. Lyrics that tell a story. Melodies that make my chest hurt. Bass lines that make my hair stand on end. Strong colours. It depends what a genre’s got to give, really. There’re far too many post-punk, post-rock, post-indie, post-common sense bands out there. Don’t get me started on the UK charts. I don’t care if I sound old. I was called ‘old-fashioned’ at age fourteen, by one of Dad’s work mates, since I had admitted to listening to Simon and Garfunkel. It’s not my fault if a lot of music nowadays is recycled wank.

Well. I wish the Smiths would reform. I wish Syd Barrett wasn’t dead. I wish Johnny Rotten hadn’t sold his soul. If wishes were fishes, there’d be no room left in the sea, right?

It’s my favourite time of day, dusk/twilight. The day cedes to the dark. The golden glow hangs high in the trees. The sky burns from light turquoise to deepest ultramarine, in the East. My writing fingers itch, and I guess I have to answer. I’m going to eke out this night as much as possible; so many early nights, early starts in the week. I have to make the weekends last.

If I met you alone, anywhere, would you know what to say to me? I wonder.

 I love the fact that our most regal lady, the Cathedral, still hides a piece of mythology in her masonry.

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