Thursday, August 28, 2008

Cash and Curry

At about one this morning I was standing around watching three jazz musicians argue about how best to get a drum kit into the boot of a car. They were standing around in various ponderous poses, quietly contemplating matters before all suddenly leaping into action to try and fit more in. I waited, patient and tired under the street lamps.

We had been paid for the gig with a curry, some drinks and a grubby ten pound note each. Underselling ourselves, perhaps, but it had been fun. When we had arrived at the little café/bar in London's borderline-insalubrious Catford, it had been filled with clusters of be-capped youths shouting to each other over the tinny RnB pulsating from the speakers. As I set up my PA the amplifier kept buzzing loudly, screeching angrily every time I plugged it in. Each time this happened the groups of kids turned at looked, laughing loudly and calling comments, and I turned slowly redder. Martin and I were just concluding that there was something wrong with the plug socket when a tracksuited man shambled over. He sniffed. "Hey baby!" he said to me, leaning back and looking at me through narrowed eyes. "Have you got the X-Factor? Ha ha ha ha!" I laughed vaguely and turned back to switching off the equipment. The man sniffed again and turned his attention to Martin, who listened as the stranger launched into a protracted tale of woe, revolving around the fact that he had one hundred and seventy one firearms convictions (one of them, apparently, was not even a firearm! It was a machete! O, the injustice!) and therefore had a curfew from his parole officer and could not stay and watch the gig. The clock ticked as the man chattered, his sentences punctuated only with the occasional sniff and wipe of his nose. Martin stood rooted to the spot so I flicked the switch again and a loud howl of anguish emanated from the speaker, causing more laughter, but a thankful distraction. The man forgot his self-pitying monologue and patted me on the arm. "Can you even sing, baby?" he growled, eyes shining. I ignored him and turned to the sound mixer. He nudged me again. "Nervous, are you? Are you any good? Let's hear you!" I turned my back. Martin did the same as I felt the anger bubble up. "Fuck off" I muttered under my breath, then suddenly regretted it, picturing the headline "Girl Killed In Coke-Fuelled Machete Frenzy After Accidentally Swearing A Bit Too Loud". Luckily for me, he appeared not to hear and, after a few moments, man slid away, presumably to talk to someone else. A lot.

The gig was cool. The crowd became less of a crowd and more of a small group, but they were nevertheless appreciative and clappy. The kids had sloped off, having finished their shared Diet Cokes. We played for two hours, pausing only to eat some delicious curry and accept drinks. The band (piano, bass and drums) were really good, and I felt that we worked together really well. The bar lady was happy because we played her favourite song (That Old Black Magic) and the rest of us were pleased because we tried out some new tunes, and some new versions of old ones. I arrived home at about one-thirty. The car journey home had included a particularly delicious moment when, whilst paused at a junction, we had looked up to see a woman in an upstairs window, energetically playing a solo boxing game on her Wii.

Today I am a bit tired, but tomorrow is my last day at this job so I can cope. I am casting about restlessly to try to work out some kind of great Last Day Rebellion, but honestly I have had so many temp jobs and therefore so many Last Days that after a while it just loses its thrill. There's only so much stationery one can usefully steal.

On Saturday I have another gig. This time it will be a private one, and therefore much better paid, but I suspect it will not be as fun as last night. There is always someone who makes a hilarious joke about the X-factor and so makes me want to kill them. I suspect that even if I did a gig in Buckingham Palace itself there would be some wisecracking footman doing a Simon Cowell impression.

I am off now to scout for things to steal/systems to alter slightly/salt to put in the sugar pot. Don't let anyone tell you that I am not a rebel.

Friday, August 22, 2008


" Friday. Um, sorry it's not with more notice, but... I'm leaving."

The manager looked at me with her bovine eyes, staring but not seeming to see much at all.

"Next Friday? You're leaving?"

I nodded, affirmative.


On Tuesday night I arrived back to the night-glittering arches of St Pancras station, having left it the previous week. Paris had been warm and humid with occasional hammering rains. Sophie had met me from the Gare du Nord, a little blonde head bobbing around in the gaps between other people's shoulders. A bendy bus took us, snake-like, to her tiny studio flat near Montmatre, currently occupied by four people. I was to make a fifth.

That evening her friends came over for a drink, which turned into a tiny apartment party. The balcony looks over what seems like thousands of windows, behind which thousands of lives unfold. At some point during the evening some of Sophie's neighbours decided to put a light show on the opposite wall. From four tiny spots on their balcony bursts of colour wheeled around a whole building face, picking out patterns and pictures as we watched in wonder, glasses in hand.

The following day Soph and I headed off to meet some of her friends who were to give us a lift to La Route du Rock festival in St. Malo, Brittany. Five hours later we were unloading, cut corn sticking like broken spokes under our feet. We set up the tents with only minimal bloodshed and recrimination, and, under darkening skies, made our way down the tree-edged path to the main festival.

There was one stage on site, but in the fort town of St Malo there was a beach stage and an indoor stage as well. Over the next few days we listened to music in a field (mostly), on a beach and in a hall. The music was not always to my taste. I spent quite a few hours staring forlornly at some men with shiny guitars trying to work out what made them different from the earlier men, who had identical haircuts, confused profundity and shiny, shiny guitars. Whilst Sophie and her friends enthusiastically discussed the different bands, I was forced to stay silent and wonder how I could once again say "I didn't love it" for the eighth time that day without sounding like Sophie's over-negative, boring sister. Sigur Ros, though, were incredible. Their music poured out from the stage, eerie and wonderful. I wondered whether they perhaps were from another world, with their peculiar words and air-infused tones. The rain sliced down while they played, capturing the bright sweeping lights and upturned faces of the crowd.

We went in the sea and walked along the ferocious-looking stones of France's northern coast. Sophie and her friend Zoe stood by the water's edge picking out shells from the sticky wet. I sat quietly and dug both hands deeper into the sand, pushing and watching the grains clamber up my arms.

A few days passed, and soon enough it was time to go home to Paris. We had drunk and danced, eaten meals of crepes and cider and listened to more guitar bands than I knew existed. As well as Sigur Ros I liked Notwist and a DJ set in the middle that involved some hip hop and a bit of drum n bass. Truly, I am street.

I was relieved to arrive back at Sophie's little flat (adorably named "The Pocket"). I had seen too many chemical toilets in the last few weeks and was craving a bed and a clean shower. Food that hadn't been rained on and clothes that didn't all reek with the death smell of the inside of a dirty rucksack.

The next few days were lovely. Perfect. Sophie, her friend Evie and I sat around drinking coffee, and I basked in some much-needed quiet time. Evie and I read books while Sophie worked on her new project. (It is a very exciting project! All sorts of cool things going on. I urge you to go and read, and help if you possibly can.) On Monday Soph went to her teaching job for a few hours, and Evie and I took our time getting dressed to saunter out into sunny Paris. With leisurely ease we browsed some book shops before heading to the Marais area, where we sat down outside a little café and chattered over some espressos. People wandered by frenchly and the air was warm. All that was missing was a rendition of "The Sun Has Got His Beret On" played on an accordion by a nonchalant passing Jean-Paul. Sophie came to meet us and we spent the rest of the afternoon rifling through vintage shops for bargains. In one shop that seemed like it might burst with musty clothes and fading baubles I bought two dresses and a red belt. We had a cocktail and headed back to the flat.

The rest of the time was lovely. On the Eurostar on the way back my smile was hardly even wilted by the noises of the raucous hen party discussing how best to get the cork out of a bottle of rosé with just a lipstick and a stiletto shoe, or the awfully well-spoken chap who insisted on reading, in his best Radio Four voice, large chunks of the Paris guidebook to his rather vacant-looking wife. (I am not sure quite why he would want to do this on the way back home, but I assumed it was perhaps some kind of family ritual. One of those family rituals that lead to divorce and/or murder.)

I arrived home to Brixton with a renewed sense of perspective and possibly even purpose.

The next day I handed in my notice at work.


"...I know it's a bit short notice, and I am sorry for that, but. Well. That's just the way it is."

She continued to stare before swivelling her head back to face her screen. Manager and screen blinked together in dull rhythm.

"Right. OK, well, I suppose, you're a temp, so. OK, Leeeohneee."

(Some people just don't know how to pronounce my name properly. It's only the people who don't care who really bother me.)

Now I watch as people pass my desk and I don't care. The memory of the panic seems like a frozen film picture - I remember the image but I can no longer feel the earcrash lungcrush squeeze. In two months I am moving up North, but that is no reason to live out those months hating and hating, waiting for change. The change starts next week, but in me it has already started. I feel different, and am going to act on it.

P.S. Go to Sophie's site and look! Also help, if you can.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


I am in Manchester. This morning Ben and I got the train back from a festival in Leicester, where he had been performing and I had been sitting around variously supping coffee and wine, depending on the hour. His set was brilliant, as ever. Here is his myspace page, if you want to and listen. My favourite is Television Will Not Be Revolutionised, which is great, particularly if you are a fan of Gil Scott Heron. Also incredible is Excentral Tempest, whose poetry and performance is some of the best I have ever seen. While watching her perform I feel as if I have been turned to stone, unable to move or tear my mind from her words.

The festival itself was quite small. We wandered around hand in hand, occasionally getting a bit stuck in some mud. Ben and Excentral/Kate were on a panel poetry quiz game show. Before it started they both sat on stage, Ben grinning deviously and Kate looking as though someone was about to force her to re-sit ever maths exam she had ever done. Except this time she would have to be naked except for a pair of comedy, over-sized sunglasses. The game was very funny, though, and their team won. They came away with a shiny gold medal each, that had the word "WINNER!" etched onto one side. As Ben brandished his rather smugly I told him that having "WINNER!" etched on a medal around his neck was tantamount to having "LOSER!" etched on his forehead. Annoyingly, this did not seem to faze him.

Another act we saw left us both stunned and near to tears. Henry Rollins: rock star, songwriter, spoken word artist, human rights activist. An incredibly inspiring man. Listening to him should be mandatory for absolutely everyone.

I'm staying up here in Manchester for a few more days. At the moment Ben has gone to work and left me to idly hang about his house, blogging vacantly and having chats with his cat, who does have a real name but who, some months ago, I renamed Pony. This has, to my unending glee, stuck. Pony is currently standing cat-like on the bed, eyeing a balled up bit of silver foil suspiciously, as if it might at any moment spring up and attack him. This is a game Ben calls Space Mouse, and it does seem to be one of Pony's favourites.

(Am I really blogging solely about my boyfriend and his hilarious cat? Is this what it has come to? God. I loathe myself.)

On Wednesday early morning I am going to Paris to see my sister, who is looking even more impish since she cut all of her peroxide white-blonde hair off into a little pixie short-cut. We're going to a festival in Brittany to hang out listening to bands I will not have heard of, but who I will sometimes pretend to have heard of to look cool. I am borrowing Ben's tent, and am already wondering how I will break it to him that I have lost it/broken it/had to set fire to it in order to change the subject after a particularly embarrassing instance of band knowledge fakery.

Also this week I wrote a blog post on another site. You can read it if you want.

In other news: in October the lease on my house in Brixton runs out. I am going to move to Manchester. It has all been decided. I will live in my grandmother's spare room for a bit and see if I can haul myself out of this depressive fug into which I have slithered over the last few months. I will continue with the music projects I am involved in down in London, traveling back and forth on the train. In Manchester I will not have to be stuck in a shitty job to pay extortionate rent, so I will work somewhere nicer and have more time for writing and music. No more lunchtime panic attacks. New people, new ideas and, hopefully, new horizons. It seems very peculiar to leave London, but I need change. I have been miserable recently, and have hit a wall that has NO MORE written on it in bright black graffiti.

Now I am going to go and forage in the corner shop for some snackery, then find a film to watch until Ben gets back later on. The window is open in this room. The wind flutters in and lazily rustles the leaves of the tall plant in the corner. Outside Manchester hums and children play. The thought of being here makes me relax and let those change-winds flutter into my lungs.

Monday, August 04, 2008

A Tribute to Blanche DuBois (Updated)

Thursday lunchtime. Tottenham Court Road.

"I can't do this anymore." My phone slid against my hot, wet cheek. "I just... I can't."

I squeezed my eyes closed as a torrent of fresh tears rushed from them. Leaning up against the cool concrete of a building I listened to my sister's voice and tried to calm down. I pushed my free hand into my chest to try to let my lungs fill with air, but, as so with so many times recently, it did not help.


I willed myself to relax, silently pleading with the tears to stop and the panic to subside. Crouching down, I told my sister I had to go and put the phone back in my bag. I put my swollen face into my shaking hands and despaired. The band around my chest tightened, maliciously refusing to allow any more air to cool my burning lungs. Anxiety settled on me like a lead cloak and frantic worry poked sticky fingers into every part of my brain.

Just breathe.

I stood up again, aware of the gazes of those walking by, eyes flicking inquisitively over my painfully red face and trembling hands. As I thought about going back to the office, about my house and money situations, about everything, I let go and began to break down again.

Please make it stop.

I felt a hand on my shoulder and looked up into the concerned face of a blonde woman holding a packet of tissues.

"You alright mate?" she said, warmly. "Have a tissue."

I took one and managed to thank her with a small and embarrassingly piteous sob.

She didn't move away.

"Take the packet" she added, and I hesitated. "Go on, I've got more. Take it."

I did, and she touched my shoulder again.

"It'll be alright, don't worry." She smiled and walked away.

I clutched my tissue in my hand and put the packet in my bag. Taking another breath I turned, and walked off in the opposite direction.

Friday morning, King's Cross Station.

"So, I got on the train, but completely forgot that my Oyster card has run out and needs re-charging."

The ticket inspector looked at me askance.

"So you don't have a valid ticket?"

"Um. No. I went to see my parents last night and got a ticket this morning to West Hampstead because I have a zones one and two Oyster but I forgot that it runs out on Fridays so... No. I don't."

He took my ticket from me and peered at it. He shook his head slowly, and reached to the pocket of his shirt for his notebook and pen. I jumped, the thought of a £20 fine crashing into my brain.

"Oh! No. Please. Please don't give me a ticket. Please. I have had the worst week ever and I... please."

The hot tears sprang to my eyes as they had been doing with alacrity for the last five days. He looked up from his pad, eyebrows raised.

"What happened to you?" he asked, smiling at the passion of my plea.

I stuttered. "Well... I just... I had a... Um..." I put a hand on my chest as the air slowed to a trickle again.

"Hey" he said. "Don't worry. It's OK."

Touching his card to the reader he opened the gates and waved me through.

"Have a good day." he called after me as I walked away.

Friday night. A train from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly.

"This train is due to arrive in Manchester Piccadilly at 11.29pm."

I looked down at a text message on my phone.

"Sorry baby, I won't be getting in from Liverpool until 12.30. Can you find somewhere to wait? Xx

The two women opposite me watched me as I screwed up my nose in consternation.

"What did he say?" one of them asked.

"Oh, well. I've got about an hour to kill."

The prospect of hanging out delinquently in the echoing train station as the clock clicked past midnight was not an appealing one.

I had been chatting with the women since we had left Euston a couple of hours earlier. One of them was getting married, and they had been to London for a few days to shop for shoes. They were returning triumphant and had been entertaining me with tales of their contrasting shopping experience.

"Before we went to Sloane Square we took ages deciding what outfits to wear! We even gave ourselves pedicures. We couldn't face the thought of a Pretty Woman moment!"

The other woman giggled. "Big mistake! HUGE!" she chimed in, and I laughed as well.

"Then we went to Primark..."

"Oh God" I said, grimacing. "Primark on Oxford Street is hell."

" was like everyone was animals! Stuff all over the place and people everywhere! We just stocked up on cheap tops and got out of there!"

I had told them that I was going to Manchester to see my boyfriend, but that he was getting a train back from Liverpool that night so I might have to wait somewhere. They were concerned, and their brows furrowed as they tried to think of places I could wait.

"It's fine" I protested. "I'll wait in the station. There are people about."

This was dismissed as a bad idea, and they continued making suggestions. Maybe a hotel bar? Maybe somewhere in town. Maybe a restaurant.

One of them leant across the table and patted my hand. "Don't worry" she said. "It'll be alright. An hour isn't long."

The train eventually heaved into the destination station. My phone rang as I was attempting to extricate my bag from the rack without damaging myself too severely.

"Hey, I've just arrived! Where can I go?"

Ben dismissed the idea of waiting in the station as well, and suggested a bar near his house in which I could wait. Reassured, I got off the train to find the two women waiting for me.

"What did he say? Where will you wait?"

I told them and they looked at each other and nodded. "You'll be fine there. You're alright, yes?"

I was, and told them so. They headed to collect their car as I called out my thank yous. I turned and headed to find a taxi.

I'm not saying you can always rely on it. Sometimes, though, the kindness of strangers seems like the most magical thing in the world.

UPDATE: Here's a link to the myspace of the production company I have been doing some singing with. (My hyperlink is not working so instead do some cutting and some pasting: The track I am on is called Half Full, and Away Days as well. I am responsible for the vocals, meldody and lyrics. It was written to spec, so I would be interested to hear comments.