Sunday, July 29, 2007

Barbarism Begins At Hove

The Smiths have influenced me more than possibly any other band I've listened to in my life, and Morrissey has been a muse of mine since before I was even in my teens. I never got to see them live, which is a significant regret, considering the force and elegance of Morrissey's performances and the almost maniacal fervour of their audiences.

There's a violence, a bravery about Morrissey, and something so primal, so achingly tender in his writhing and his crooning; something so perverse and contradictory in his gyrating nakedness and his saintly detactment. Everything laid bare, yet totally ambiguous. All this raw, sweating, complex humanity, this bizarre sexuality; it's like watching some kind of brutal boxing match, or an ancient pagan rite. Morrissey would detest this analogy, but to me he's a bit like a Spanish torreador, whipping the bull and the crowd into a frenzy before the blades go in. Numerous people have said The Smiths were miserable, wet and poncey; but they never realised they'd missed the point entirely.

It's very hard to describe Friday night for me without putting it in context. When I was eleven, although pretty grown up for my age, I was only just starting to discover music. I wore frilly white blouses and navy-grey kilts, an outfit I had swapped to from the battered jeans and geeky blue jumper I'd lived in up to that age - the age when I decided, enough was enough, I now wanted to look like a girl, be a girl, instead of being the odd, boyish thing I'd felt like up until then. I was tired of not feeling like I fitted into one gender or the other. So I grew my hair, became pretty, longing to be normal.

So the first time I saw Morrissey on Top Of The Pops, I was repulsed, as he flailed around the stage with flowers in his back pocket, a pale cardigan and bare chest. It took another year before any kind of interest in what Morrissey had to offer my psyche manifested. And it was purely, it seemed, by chance. Bigmouth Strikes Again had just come out as a single, and I hated it, hated The Smiths and all they stood for. Then, one evening, in my bedroom, I could hear my sister had the radio on; it was the John Peel Show. Then I suddenly heard these lines floating across from her room to mine: " I dreamt about you last night/ And I fell out of bed twice./ You can pin and mount me/ Like a butterfly"

I strained to hear the rest of that song, and was instantly converted. From that point on, I was obsessed. I bought all their LP back catalogue, got a load of Oscar Wilde out of the library and developed a rather frightening obsession with the Moors Murders. I gave up eating meat. This meant flushing the chicken off my Sunday dinner down the loo when my mum wasn't looking, or feeding it to the dog, or even throwing it out of my bedroom window onto the flowerbed below, as my Mum refused to let me become vegetarian.

When The Queen Is Dead came out that year, I played it to death and memorized every line, every word. Moving into my thirteenth year, I became fully immersed in teenage gloom. I dropped out in school, lost all my friends, became the class 'weirdo' (writing "Free Myra Hindley" on your Rough Book isn't the kind of thing to endear you to your classmates). I watched Andy Warhol films late into the night, took my first trip to Whalley range in Manchester, and got stoned on my sister's boyfriend's homegrown cannabis. I read more poetry that year than I probably have done in my whole life since. I wrote songs and poems. Lots of them. I drew. I played along to 'Well I Wonder' on my guitar. I discovered Buddhism. I self-harmed. I became intrigued by The Occult and Aleister Crowley. I tried desperately to Astral Project. Just all your regular teenage things.

I don't hold Morrissey or The Smiths responsible for this remarkable shift in my psychology. Or for the intense depression I kept falling into. Or for my plummeting exam results at school. In fact, looking back, it seems that, along with the books I read and the films I watched; my late night thinking sessions, Morrissey's voice coming out from my stereo was one of the things that actually got me through at least those two years of painful teenagedom without seriously fucking myself up.

I wonder how many other people who have a love for The Smiths have a similar kind of teenage tale to tell? The Smiths have always taken flack from the more superficial critics; it has been said that they promoted self-obsession, pretension and introspection. But The Smiths were never a refuge for the weak and navel-gazing. They showed strength and dignity. Yes, they attracted the shy, the geeky, the ones confused about their gender or sexuality. The clever ones who saw too much. But more than anything, they just stood up for what was human.

Morrissey was like the tall boy with the big feet who stood between you and the class bully, the one who wanted to smash your face in because he thought you were a wimpy weirdo just because you couldn't play football or you never got off with anyone at the school disco. The Smiths were for those who were sick and tired of hearing corporate shite on Radio 1, who didn't want anymore shoulder pads and perms, who needed a light to shine out in those dark, dour days of Thatcher's Britain.

November Spawned A Mozzer, was an entire evening dedicated to Morrissey and The Smiths, a night where die-hard fans could indulge their somewhat strange devotion to him and his music. This night was strictly for fans only. The ceiling was laced with Morrissey bunting, the walls covered in images of his naked torso; a TV played interviews with him, and a massive screen above the dance floor showed him in concert. Gladioli were handed out. There was even a 'best Quiff' Competition, with a John Betjamen book as prize.

To outsiders, it would have simply looked like madness. But far from being some kind of embarrassingly cringey tribute night, it was very touching. Almost everyone sang along, whether unabashed with their friends on the dance floor, or quietly to themselves, pints in hands, or in some corner. These people, undoubtedly having spent night after night in solitary communion with this music, were suddenly together. There aren't many opportunities in life to sing along with a crowd of people, the words "I am human and I need to be loved, just like everybody else does .."

When they played "I Know It's Over", I remembered what that song meant to me when I was 13. I'm not 13 anymore, but standing there, it reminded me how I'm not an altogether different creature from the one I was back then. And I'm glad for that.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007


She's gone! Five weeks to America and who's knows all that shall come of it. The dearest, sweetest Jo in all of England has embarked on the biggest journey of her life in years, and is now, I imagine, gracing the folk of Seattle with her loveliness as I write.

Let it be known, she shall be sorely missed! And I expect photos of pancake stacks and gas stations and those long, long roads ..

I accompanied the girl to the airport, as she accompanied me, a year or so ago, when I flew to New York, and I saw her off at the Departure Gate before scuttling off for a cry outside the pyjama rail of the La Senza underwear shop. How funny to be the one saying goodbye, waving off, before getting the little train back to Brighton, back to my own life, to my own life which is itself changing, though I can't always see it..

A wonderful thing about someone close to you following their dreams and taking that chance is how it rubs off on you. For me at the moment, my way is not of long flights and travelling overseas alone towards some destiny, but it is of admitting my dreams and following them, even in the knowledge, the painful knowledge, that they might well lead only into dust and vapour. And it is admitting that I can't do it alone, that I need people and I need love. Solitude has been necessary these last four years, but now it is time to dive back in; ok, perhaps still with armbands on, but diving in nevertheless. The waters are cold and deep, but so alive; kicking my legs through the milky blackness.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Chocolate pie with whipped cream. Oh my sweet Lord, it is all I can think about today. As soon as a free moment enters my day, there it is, its gooey, chocolatey, whiteness gleaming back at me in full, sensual, naked glory.

You may think I'm dramatising my craving a little for effect. I wish. I've been stuck at my computer all day, writing advertorials and restaurant reviews, the kind that involves lots of ringing people up and no actual eating of any restaurant food. What kind of job is that? It sucks. And though I am a) Taurean, and thus astrologically pre-disposed towards all puddings that are-naughty and involve chocolate, and b) prone to transfering my deep needs for love/sex/mothering onto any foodstuff with the word 'indulgent', 'creamy', or '70% cocoa' on the label, I can safely say that today's longing is strictly medical .

Having just started my period today, my hormones are kicking in to provide me with not only a feeling like I am mainlining valium into my brain,(not that helpful when in the midst of working to a deadline) but also that if I do not eat chocolate pie, and if it is not laden with the largest dollop of thick whipped cream that is possible to spoon on in one go, I will not be responsible for my actions. Everytime I shut my eyes, the sweet squishy image there reminds me that this is no idle threat.

It is now 4.19. I note that my first cravings began at 1.40pm. I feel the way one does when one first falls in love with someone who you know is just plain bad for you, but your rational mind is powerless to intervene. That damn Kylie Minogue song keeps returning to me, "I just can't get you out of my head.. you're all that I ever think about ..". Sure. Every night, every day, just to be there in your arms .. oh dear.

Surely it is not right for a pudding to hold such power over me? To tantalise me, its pale-brown filling wobbling ever-so-slightly? Its crust, crumbling under the firm touch of my finger. The swell of cream, burgeoning over the side of the plate like wild sea foam crashing against hard rock. It is not right, I tell you.

The truth is, today, I am a victim of my female biology.

Now bring me pie. Please!!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Pea soup for the soul

In my new and recent bid for healthy living, I have not only purchased a video, The Crunch - The Latest, Most Effective Way To Flatten Your Stomach for 59p from Barnardos, and almost severed both my knee joints and done temporary damage to my nether regions by cycling at top speed just about everywhere on my new friend, Jeopardy, but I have also been making healthy, vitamin packed soup. In fact, the same soup, for the whole of the last week. Pea soup has, as all things are wont to do with me, become a bit of an obsession.

Up until last week I didn't actually own a fridge with a working freezer compartment, instead having one with the equivalent of Antarctica at the top. Having waited one year (yes, that's ONE YEAR) to get my lovely companions at my letting agency to supply me with a new one, finally I arrived home one day to find another fridge plonked unceremoniously in my hallway. Unfortunately upon perusal I discovered that (oh, why was I not surprised by this) the new fridge was broken in exactly the same place as the old one, ie, the freezer door had bust. Twats. However, thanks to Bob's handywork, some superglue and a hacksaw, a new freezer door was finally installed, allowing me untold new pleasures, such as the buying and storing of frozen peas.

One happy byproduct of making pea soup is that I get to indulge my little pecadillo of munching on handfuls of peas straight from the freezer as I go about my business. I remember, growing up, that my sisters and I were all big fans of frozen peas, helping ourselves to huge bowlfuls of them from the freezer, eating them like sweets. In fact, my sisters and I developed several unusual eating habits in our youth, such as munching raw Supernoodles straight from the packet and eating a variety of baby foods from glass jars. However, the chief favourite in our house was Farley's Rusks, sometimes whole, sometimes mashed. Ahh, heaven. I only grew out of eating baby food in my twenties, at about the same time I stopped blagging half-fare tickets on train journeys.

My diet was relatively restrained in my youth compared with my sister, who, apart from the raw noodles and baby food, seemed to exist almost entirely on a diet of nail varnish, Wagon Wheels and plastic forks, which she devoured with relish. No plastic cutlery was safe in her clutches, and my mother regularly complained of my sister eating up the last of her best shade of Rimmel.

Anyhow, his latest batch of soup is mighty fine. Nutritious, thick and hearty, and an amazing colour, I'm in pea heaven.

Other news - well, apart from the fact that Charlie is STILL in the Big Brother house, despite the fact that she has shown herself to be The Spawn of The Devil, so foul-mouthed and manipulative she is, and that Liam has been wearing a gimp outfit in the BB house all day as part of one of their tasks, I've been having another unsuccessful trawl of poetry sites on the Web in the hope of finding poetry I can relate to and respect. There seems, however, to be an overload of male 'poets' who seem to think that writing about shagging in lifts and going down on hairy women makes them somehow the enfant terribles of the poetry circuit. No one seems to have told these boys that simply obsessing about what one does, or would like to do, with ones penis does not make one Charles Bukowski.

Ok, I'd better go, my book is calling and my arms are sore.