…In which, as the year comes to its end, our friends and collaborators look back on the past twelve months and share their moments;
Shadows. When I was young and at college and life was more black and white we had to study a piece by Dorothy Parker about her inability to get a good night’s sleep. I remember it as a difficult, dense and complex bit of writing – bewilderingly so – and moved on. I wouldn’t mind trying to track that down now; I wouldn’t mind being able to switch off and reclaim a bit of lost innocence. I’ve had enough of waking up at 4 or 5 in the morning, the worry of everything heightened in a kaleidoscopic churn through my head: teenagers’ relationship to the ‘post-truth’ world (cf Tim Dowling); the struggle to get my new book idea off the ground; the ups and downs (and long afternoons in the slow lane correcting tenses and semi-colons) of freelance life/the gig economy of publishing; my other half’s long hours as a teacher and her lack of sleep (I don’t want to be an old man sitting alone on a park bench feeding sparrows); the cost of my class-A vinyl habit; the stack of books I can’t somehow read fast enough; my daughter’s sudden decision to walk away from football; Virgin Media’s definition of the word ‘intermittent’; just what kind of a fucking country is this? – that loathsome prick Farage; the unelected Thatcher; media prattle about baking programmes and celebrity dancing while obsessing over whether a handful of Syrian immigrants are technically children or not (tabloids), or indulging in a bit of insidious Corbyn bashing/undermining the one politician who may have a shred of integrity (Guardian) . . . and on and on . . . to misquote Eric Isaacson of the fine Mississippi records label, it’s the rich few with transmitters broadcasting to the many poor with receivers who were responsible for this monoculture in the first place, mulching down (over a period of 150 years on the West Coast of America alone) numerous indigenous cultures into one huge globule of fat; or, in the words of the great Seattle poet Steven Jesse Bernstein, who lost the plot and stabbed himself in the neck in front of friends, ‘I’m going to hang a sign out of my window that says, “More noise, please” or “Thank you for making noise”’.
Reflections/suggestions for a happier minimalist life in 2017, based on 2016.
1) Go to the cinema more often. The blinding sunlight reflecting off the bus windscreen early in the morning in (Jim Jarmusch’s) Paterson, New Jersey ‒ absorb some of that calmness of the driver/poet, his ability to see beauty on every street corner, and enjoy a quiet beer each evening when walking the dog (buy a dog). If enough people watch I, Daniel Blake, then happen to listen to Tory politicians who haven’t seen it, surely it’s only a matter of time before the walls begin to come down (he says, naively) ? In the Heat of the Night ‒ an astonishing piece of filmmaking, like a missive from another world.
2) Money/homework/lost Oyster cards/lost college passes/broken phones: don’t get into a row first thing. Shut up, make the porridge, stand looking out of the window for squirrels, put the kettle on, put a record on.
3) Spend even longer reading in the bath in the morning. Books of this year would have to be Geoff Dyer’s White Sands, William Finnegan’s Barbarian Days: a Surfing Life, and I really liked Jon Day’s Cyclogeography: Journeys of a London Bicycle Courier too. My son has burnt through Fernando Pessoa, Camus, Sartre, Kerouac, Cormac McCarthy, William Finnegan and Steve Hanley, and is now keen to pick up William Carlos Williams – so what, I guess, if he fucks up his English A level?
4) Water the tomatoes every evening; don’t plant courgettes where there’s not enough sun.
5) Pick up more records – ones as good as Sarah Louise on Vin du Select Qualitite; Errol Brown’s Orthodox Dub; Jeff Parker and Makaya McCraven’s LPs on International Anthem; Stills by Danny Clay; False Readings On by Eluvium; Leslie Butler and Count Ossie’s ‘Gay Drums’; Lambchop; Laura Gibson; Mary Lattimore; Marisa Anderson; Nick Cave; Hailu Mergia’s 1978 live LP on Awesome Tapes from Africa; Roy Montgomery’s RMHQ Headquarters; Wes Tirey’s Black Wind. I keep quoting John Andrews from these pages: ‘To collect is to travel and never arrive. It is a drug without comedown and a world without end. Perhaps it is the secret of eternal youth.’
6) Looking for something on the computer I found an old film my daughter made, aged about 11, giving a running commentary on the life of the fish in her tank – as inspired, mad, thoughtful, hilarious and beautiful as much of her artwork and films now. The fish all died, the tank sits empty, but she’s moved on. Kids, they grow up, and you have to deal with it, I guess.
7) Don’t panic at 4 a.m. Chances are you don’t have a meeting to go to. Stretch out, think of water, swimming in the ocean; the needle on the record, the crackle at the start of the film; put my arm round my wife; the sun creeping up over the rooftops; drift off; it will be all right.
8) Try to give a few quid and/or a cup of tea to homeless folk on the street.
9) I was sitting with my mate Doug enjoying a nice lunch in E. Pellicci on Bethnal Green Road when a waitress started banging the tea urn to get everyone’s attention. Within seconds she had the whole café singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to Michael, a long-term customer, who twenty minutes earlier had been sitting next to his wife and son, somewhat dolefully working his way through steak and kidney pudding then jam sponge and custard, a psychedelic badge with the number ‘65’ pinned to his sweatshirt. As he stood up and nodded respectfully at the applause ‘Je t’aime’ came through the speakers. What a fine way, in such triumphant style, to celebrate a birthday.