Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Moment of Wakefulness

I am walking under a time-shattered bridge in the East End of London. Graffiti mottles the crumbling bricks with scrawled shapes, faded by the wind that whistles through the arches. The sun has been beating mercilessly all day like an army drummer, and now the air hum-buzzes with the electricity of an approaching storm.

I step over some broken bottles and flapping pieces of cardboard.

"Urban" I remark to Martin and Joe, who are picking their own ways through decaying litter about a metre ahead of me.

They both laugh gently and we continue walking.


Martin gestures towards an enormous red-brick building with cracked windows hinting at shadowed spaces behind. Letters that once declared things proudly now whisper, faint and blanched, of ceased industry, of machines switched off and jobs lost.

Some police tape flutters in the electric breeze while some bored-looking police officers field questions from the public about the most recent of London's myriad violent crimes, locking their dull eyes on the bleak street.

We step over the tape to get to the main door. Joe opens the front gate then stands, whispering curses, as he searches his key ring to open the second, then the third doors. Once through I am led down a concrete corridor peppered with heavy doors barricaded by thick black bars. We reach the one we are looking for. I shiver in the damp heat and imagine years of industrious clamour, now oddly silent.

The studio itself is like many others I have been in. Tangles of wires snake across the floor, scaling anything in their way. Huge speakers sit fatly, their surfaces so dark and ominous as to appear frictionless. Mattresses lean next to the bits of carpets tacked onto the concrete walls (attempts to improve the sound-proofing). Instruments lurk in corners waiting someone to release their latent noise. Empty beer cans jostle smudged newspapers whose headlines shriek yesterday's news, a Snicker's wrapper perches next to a bite mark-riddled coffee cup, victims all of some past late-night rock 'n' rolling.

Martin switches on the computer as Joe goes through the sorts of vocals he wants me to create for his track. "It is Northern soul." I nod, and listen to the recording a few times. A flash of worry momentarily blinds me. What if I have no idea how to write? Or sing? What if I am just a dreamer with a poorly-paid day job and an ocean of ambitions that will never be fulfilled?

As soon as the worry comes, though, it goes. I shake self-doubt from my mind, focus on the job in hand and smile. It is a good track.

Two hours later we have put down all the vocals. They are happy and I am happy. I reflect that the more I do this, the easier it gets. I was recommended as someone who could write and sing good vocals, and I am fairly sure that I have lived up to it. I am proud of my work.

We leave the studio. On the way back to the car I turn and look at towering factory, its edges now blurred by the summer darkness. The air fizzes. The police tape arches high as the wind flicks it carelessly back and forth. The building squats, aloof and alone.

As am I being driven to meet my sister (over from Paris for a fleeting visit), the view from my temp desk flickers behind my eyelids. I take a deep breath and hold it for a moment. Opening my eyes I expel both the breath and the image. No need to worry now, I think. In these moments I can visualise a life of living how I want, where I want and by the means I want. When I do a good job in the studio. When I sign that royalties contract next week, when I meet that person I am going to work with, in rehearsals and in lessons. At these times I can cope with all those hours of desk-dull banalities, of dealing with self-appointed Health and Safety officers and of zombie-like ticktockclock watching, disguised as a secretary, receptionist or bit of mindless office-candy. I can cope with all those hours if I live for those ephemeral moments when I can see my own potential, when I can tell that other people believe in me too, when creativity is queen.

As we drive away from the studio through the neon lights of the East End the skies begin to fling portly drops onto the windscreen. I lean back in my seat and think of the factory. Its red bricks that survive each metamorphosis, that, although weakened by the passing years, it remains standing. Blood spattered but not bowed.

I shake the thoughts from my over-indulgent mind and tear my eyes from the smeared fairground colours of the shops.

I turn to Martin.

"That was good" I say. "Now what's next?"

Friday, July 25, 2008

Stream of Semi-Consciousness

The day commences with a game of Morning Maths. ("Five more minutes if I don't have breakfast... an extra four if I have just a really short, ineffectual shower... add three if I don't brush my hair out all the way to the end...") Much subsequent rushing around dropping things. Then comes some idle tube-staring before I sink wearily down at my grey temp desk to switch on my computer and wonder what I am doing with my life.

My temp job is kitten-flayingly dull. There is a button to my right. When the button emits a buzz I must press it. I am not, as you might well immediately assume, taking part in some elaborate Pavlovian experiment. I know this because even though I do press the buzzer-button when it button-buzzes, nobody ever gives me food as a reward. Instead a door opens, and through that door some faceless worker strides, shuffles, meanders, creeps. Sometimes they say hello, sometimes not. Mostly they stare importantly over my head as I look at them with powers of judgement reserved only for those who have little else to do but make assumptions about people purely based on the pattern of their tie. In the kitchen the coffee tastes like it has already been drunk. The lights over my head hum relentlessly, every so often winking laciviously like parodical whores. I turn my head to the right and stare at a broken tile of sky that glints between the identi-kit grey monoliths littering the surrounding streets.

Today I am wearing a red dress. I smile at everyone who walks past regardless of whether they themselves smile at me. I treated myself to a soy-milk cappuccino this morning from the vegetarian shop round the corner. (I like the man in there, he is friendly and always asks me how the DJ-ing is going. The first few times I corrected him and told him that no, it is singing, but now I just go along with his wrong conclusion. I picture myself on the decks in Hoxton Square wearing some large sunglasses and a quirky hat and tell him that it's going very well, thank you.) I like some people in this office, I dislike others. I enjoy launching myself into office small talk, energetically discussing the weather and heartily heaping disdain upon the efficacy of the Northern Line. I like wondering about the bicyle couriers, who stride into the building with their small shoes and rope-like muscles, dusty and glazed from London's sepia streets. I do not like the post man, who I know for a fact spread rumours about me when I first started working here. Upon his loping entrance my smile wilts. People send around unamusing and often borderline bigoted viral emails, calling them "funnies". These make me want to eat my own head. People dissect the office politics, shaking their heads and whispering in angry, conspiratorial tones. I have seen so many identical scenes in every single office I have worked in and so I cannot take them seriously. I hate the man who stares at my breasts when I he speaks to me, primarily because he does not realize he is engaging in such tired cliché. I like the lady who tells me about her cats. I like standing forlornly at the photocopier looking dejected because it makes me laugh to engage in such tired cliché myself. I like the girl I don't really know but who came to reception yesterday to offer me her last Choc Ice. I didn't really like the Choc Ice itself, but felt grateful as I snapped its chocolate shell with my cold teeth. When people pass me I wonder about them. I wonder what they were like as children. Then I stop wondering and start daydreaming about my own life.

Thinking about last weekend. A festival and a beautiful boyfriend (mine) (thankfully). Music and poetry. Dappled sunshine through the light green tent canvas and grass in unbrushed hair. Open sky, warm cans of beer and bonfires.

Thinking about this weekend. Friends and writing. Music to be written for Monday. A song publishing contract to be signed. Gym ambitions and suspected realities.

The button buzzes again and I press it. A door opens. I continue to sit, wishing it was opening for me.

Monday, July 14, 2008


In French the verb meaning "to miss" is a reflexive one. Instead of directly saying "I miss you", it translates as "you are missing from me" - "tu me manques". I have often thought how much more appropriate this seems. Missing someone is not an active state, but rather a lack, a continuous non-presence that triggers a sometimes near-physical emotional response.

There are people in my life who are missing from me. I don't dwell on this fact, because I have tried to develop a "well, that's just the way it is" attitude. There is no point, I know, spending my time and energy bemoaning things over which I have no control. I have plenty of other things with which to occupy my pony-addled brain.

There was one recent loss, however, that I felt really could not go un-lamented.

Instead of describing the details of this tragic affair I will just publish here the letter I sent on behalf of myself and my friend Harriet, to a well-known dubiously-researched free publication.

Dear Metro Paper,

As two young women with busy lifestyles and all sorts of pressures to deal with on a daily basis, we used to look forward to the cheery smile of our local Metro Man. He would stand outside Brixton tube station every morning, and as we would approach his eyes would light up and he would break into a huge grin. When he handed us our papers he would look at us as if each were the only woman in the world, and he was the only free paper distributor. Sometimes he would even shake his head in delight, sometimes compliment us on our outfits, sometimes comment on how beautiful we looked that particular morning. He put a spring in our step as we marched down the steps with the hoardes of our tube-bound compatriots. It made us happy: the commute less dull, the day less grey.

So you can imagine our dismay on that fateful morning when we walked to the station and realized that he and his fellow Metro Men had disappeared. What a shock to realize that no more could we look forward to a dazzling smile first thing in the morning, and that soon we would start having to rely on our friends and family to pay us compliments and boost our self-esteem!

Please let us know what has happened to him. Or at least tell us we're pretty.

Thank you in advance.

Léonie and Harriet

P.S. To avoid confusion: He has longish, dark hair and dark eyes. We never caught his name.

Sadly I have heard not a whisper in response to this plaintive missive. Nor have I seen distributor in question again (who was plain but endearing). Perhaps his potential was realized and he has been sent to work in youth projects, raising the self-esteem of disillusioned young people who otherwise might find themselves embroiled in a life of gun-crime, drugs or reality television! Perhaps my empassioned plea has changed the lives of thousands of people! Perhaps, just perhaps, I have made a difference.

Or perhaps the letter just makes me sound like a massive wanker and so they are ignoring me.

I am slowly getting over the disappointment and the urge to fill the void in my life by rushing up to strangers, shaking them by the shoulders and screaming "LOVE ME, LOVE ME!" into their terrified faces, before collapsing at their feet whimpering incoherently.

Sometimes life seems to just kick us in the shins without offering any reason, and we must just carry on breathing in and out, even without the hollow flattery of a slightly pervy newspaper man to buoy us through the days.


This weekend I am going along with Ben to a festival called Camp Bestival (at which he will perform), so I have started to write lists of what to take, what to wear, ways in which to look effortlessly cool etc. This is made trickier by the fact that my list-making abilities usually involve contemplating hard, then finally writing the word LIST at the top of a grubby bit of paper and underlining it twice before wandering off, only to come back and realize I have lost the bit of paper and must start all over again. I am hoping, though, that any packing I do for this weekend can be replicated exactly in a few weeks time, when I am going to visit Impish Sophie in Paris, from whence we will travel to La Route Du Rock festival in Brittany. I suspect that Sophie will manage to be very cool and bohemian and I will attempt copy her but fail a bit, like the try-hard big sister that I am.

In the meantime I will continue to live with the absences in my life, and only write letters when I feel that someone might listen. Someday they actually might.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

My One Track Mind Thinks About Kittens

The other day I received my Fun Factory Semi-Realistic toy from the lovely people at Jo Divine , so I could get to work on my review.

I sat on the tube, hugging my cardboard box on my knees and trying to wipe the tiny smile from my face. Nobody, I knew, would be shocked or would even care what the innocuous-looking box contained, so it didn’t warrant even the smallest of scandalized eyebrow raises from me.

Once home I surveyed my gift. I felt that perhaps whipping out a notebook or small Dictaphone might make the whole process of reviewing a little too scientific, so I contented myself with inclining my head and placing my hands on my hips in a contemplative manner.

Good packaging, I thought. Very good. Discreet and secure, the nonchalant-looking Royal Mail return address sticker the only visible indication of origin. Even the address on that was a wholesome one, nothing at all to nudge an unsuspecting passer-by towards the truth of what lay inside.

I sliced open the masking tape, removed the plastic covering and held up my new friend.

‘Red’ and ‘rubbery’ were the first words that clambered unimaginatively into my brain. I inspected it a bit to work out where the batteries (which were, as promised, included) went before reluctantly consulting the instructions.

I then spent a while trying to detach the twisty end from the rest of it. This was trickier than I had hoped, and resulted in me flinging my toy across the room then sniggering to myself as I rummaged amongst clothes stacked up on my sofa, searching desperately for a lost phallus nestling therein. Finally I succeeded and slid the batteries in. I twisted the end tentatively and watched as it began to vibrate and quiver in my hand.

(I feel it is necessary to point out at this juncture that I am not a complete novice with these sorts of affairs. I have previously owned one white vibrator that looked worryingly like a hand held electric whisk (thankfully without the actual whisk bit on the end), one Rampant Rabbit (purchased at an Ann Summers party) and one rubber duck that buzzed when you pressed a button on its back. (It was a gift.) However, whilst I am not lacking totally in experience, nor do I own a three-tiered dungeon filled to bursting with things that buzz, clack, whizz and whirr, and that look as though they might, if all plugged in at once, cause streetlights to dim all across the Lambeth area. I would probably be in the Intermediate Beginner classes, were such classes to exist. (I am quite relieved that they do not.))

Also included in my box was a large tube of lubricant.

After placing both items thoughtfully on my bed, I decided to set the mood a bit. This involved closing the curtains so that the people on the top decks of the buses that continuously trundle by could not see my research, turning main light off and sipping some wine that someone (me) had helpfully poured.

I also removed my clothes.

At this point I would like you to stop thinking about the fact that I have just written the words “I removed my clothes” on the Internet, and have a look at some kittens in cups. Kittens in cups! Some adorable kittens placed amusingly in some (now adorable by association) cups.

While you have been smiling tenderly and having your hearts warmed to a point of near combustion, gentle reader, I have been conducting my research. Do you see how I distracted you while I leapt onto the bed, whizzbuzzed and then buzzwhizzed and generally had a wonderful time? Kittens in cups: a grossly underused literary distraction technique.

It was good. I had a simply lovely time.

I enjoyed the different levels of buzziness. The twister dial on the end is great because it allows a very subtle change in the strength of the vibrations, going from a gentle hum to a much more intense buzz. It is easy to use, and has a good range of power.

It is, however, a quiet toy. My housemates were not in, but I am fairly certain that there is no chance that it can be heard through the walls. (Although we do live in Brixton so it is tricky to hear anything over the knife-crime and general discontent that flows along the streets outside our front door.)

I was unsure about it, though, because I wasn’t hugely sure quite what I was supposed to do with it. This might sound a bit silly, but I just felt that it wasn’t very self-explanatory. I know, it is shaped like a, well, you know (kittens in cups!) but it vibrates, so are you meant to stick it, you know (kittens!) or put it on, well, you know (in cups!), or what? I suppose a combination, but for me that wasn’t so great.

Ridges, though, are very, very good things.

So, all in all, I like it. It hasn’t changed my life, because although it is good I don’t feel that it quite covered all the bases (is… is that the first pun of this whole post? Is the phrase “whole post” the second?). I like the look of it, as it is more subtle and less disconcertingly LOOK AT ME than say, the Rabbit, but the rubbery flexibility of it worried me a bit.

I had a great time with it, though. Thank you to the people at Jo Divine and the Fun Factory for sending me my toy. It was, and will remain to be, a great pleasure.

Finally: You too can have the pleasure of receiving naughty things through the post! If you make any purchase from Jo Divine over £30 before the 31st July you can have a 10% discount! Wow, that’s almost as good as kittens in cups. The offer code is LEONIEJULY.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Be Busy Bee

Earlier on I was speaking to my friend Chris, who touched down in Heathrow earlier on today.

"So often" he exclaimed, "landing at Heathrow is the most depressing thing in the world. Like war..."

"...or AIDS?" I interjected, sensing his theme.

"Um, yeah, or AIDS. But today! Even Heathrow looked amazing!"

Today, you see, is a beautiful day. London is obscenely, absurdly sunny.

When Pippa and I met for our semi-regular lunchtime coffee, we were forced into the shade in spite of our clanging inner voices that insisted we Make The Most Of It While It Lasts. The buses oozed redly up and down Tottenham Court Road in front of us as we chattered and pretended desperately that our respective offices were just grey mirages (but, of course, that our pay cheques were not).

Last night was lovely. My housemates were out, so I turned on the radio, opened all the windows and a bottle of chilled white wine and made a spinach and lentil dahl in a leisurely manner, before heading upstairs to work on some music stuff for tonight's session with Martin. I had also recently received a gift, which lay in my room, tantalisingly, waiting to be opened.

I was recovering from a busy weekend, which I can summarize thus:

Friday: After work I tripped off to some friends' house in Brixton for dinner. Delicious food and lovely company. (Also wine and gin.) Then, on what was ostensibly my "way home" I popped round to see some more friends, where I embarrassed myself thoroughly by telling too many jokes and knocking a drink over onto my friend's computer. God.

Saturday: A gin/wine/guilt hangover. Hung around a bit indulging in some piteous self-loathing, then went to meet Dan and Becky outside Gordon's Wine Bar for a few hours. At about six I sullenly trudged along to the Lyceum Theatre to host a VIP event at The Lion King. When that finished at about ten thirty I headed to Clapham for a rendez-vous with Mister Curly and his friend Dan, who were over from Cardiff for reasons known only to themselves. It was terribly fun. I was proposed to by a French barman sporting a dubious hat, which meant we were served very quickly until they would serve us no longer. While they waited for a night bus to Tooting I leapt into a taxi, which cost me a million pounds and my first born child, despite the fact that I live just around the corner.

Sunday: I rose warily, mentally edging around a potential hangover, but was relieved to find none in evidence. I navigated a series of tubes and buses up to Crouch End to go to a lovely old (ex) church, now a series of recording studios, variously owned by the likes of Dave Stewart and David Gray. I was recording with a producer I have been writing with, and also with a guy called Nikolaj (the drummer from, amongst other bands, Lamb), who had played on the tracks but is now also involved in the production side. One track (called Half Full) is a chill out, ambient one, and the other one we recorded is hip-hop (called Away Days) and features the fantastic Timothy Notes, an MC/rapper. It was a great day, and I am looking forward immensely to hearing the results. I love that, now the writing and recording is done, my part is over, and the producer (Lucas) is now gathering interest for the tracks. I can just put it aside and get on with my other music-writing things.

So last night I was tired, but had work to do for tonight's musical endeavours. I enjoyed it, though, and finished by about eleven so that I could talk to Ben for a bit before drifting off to sleep to dream, rather inexplicably, about people stealing all my pens.

(I did find time to, ahem, put in some groundwork for my review, as it were, and try and think about how I am going to write it without peppering the whole thing with the word "ahem" and the phrase "as it were".)

This Friday I zip off to Manchester, and before that I am bee-busy.

I will find time tonight, though, to fit in a beer with my old friend Chris, who is finally back in the country after a long stint being all journalisty in the USA. We will sit in a pub in sunny Brixton and he will regale me with stories of adventure and intrigue, to which I will no doubt respond with something about ponies and take a very large sip of my drink.