Monday, April 28, 2008


I went to Oxford this weekend. That means spires, cobbled lanes, book shops and lots of clever sods cycling about in loafers and mismatched shirts. It's elegant, rich with history and tradition. And packed with posh people.

I felt clever just meandering through its streets, as though the brilliance of the sunlight bouncing off church windows was enough for my IQ to soar by at least 20 percent. It's a timeless place, which might explain why some of its students haven't arrived into the 21st century yet, seemingly lodged in a moment somewhere between 1985 and 1998. Voluptuous 18-year-old girls toss their long locks and strut, minx-like, in ruffled skirts and white heels. Every one of them is pretty, with the kind of glowing skin one only gets when one's daddy earns over 300k a year. Perfect and shiny, they pout with red-lipped confidence.

These are the kind of girls I loathed at school. They had horses and upturned collars and got into The Smiths in 6th Form because they'd finally clicked on, five years too late, that Morrissey was actually cool. In turn, I got ousted from the Duke of Edinborough Award project (selling hairbands) for having a 'bad' attitude, and never got to read my favorite Carol Ann Duffy poem in the poetry show because it was about the Holocaust and had the word 'piss' in it. Ah, poor me. I championed the cause of the fully-fledged, chip-on-shouldered outsider and never went to the balls or rowing or indeed any of the things on offer at my rather posh school. I took Ecstasy instead.

It's funny how old memories re-surface. Oxford resembles a much larger version of my school. But what I find walking thorough its streets is not what I found at school. The tradition, the rules, the ethos suffocated me, left me feeling a fraud.

We stayed in a suitably unglamorous B&B, to contrast with the elegance of the city. Three facts about Bronte Guesthouse - it won the National Hanging Basket Of The Year Award in 1995, it had a sock (yes, a fucking sock) hanging from the bedroom ceiling, and there was a particularly disagreeable something or other lurking under the bed.

I didn't want to leave. I wanted to move to Oxford and do an MA in Creative Writing and grow my hair again and start wearing flouncy skirts and saying 'Yah' a lot. Actually, that last bit isn't true. However, for all my reactions to the upper-class privilege that's so present in a place like Oxford, making it cloistered, perhaps, from reality, there's a part of me that adores it. It's more than just because it's pretty. It has serious, weighty myth.

I got back and found on the internet that the deadline for applying to the Oxford MA had gone. Damn. I could just see me in that black cape.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Back into the world

I've just cycled home from town. It's the first time in a long time that I've cycled home at night along the seafront. Being there felt like I'd left the television on low-volume for weeks, and finally just realised and switched it off. The fuzzy static in my head stopped - it was just my humming wheels, the breaking waves and the night all around me.

I put Kurt Wagner on my headphones. His voice felt like warm fingers stroking my tired brain. That particular Lambchop song reminds me of driving around in circles in Boston at three in the morning, my eyes dry and wide, high on sleeplessness and adventure. A white house appeared through the trees - unknown, hallucinatory. Life was very much like that drive to Boston back then - exciting and painful, turning corners that were never quite the right one.

I've missed cycling like this. The seafront used to be my constant companion, back in the days when I had things like free time. Passing one of the shelters looking onto the beach I spotted a life-size, stuffed penguin, just sitting there - part-comforting, part-menacing. As I stopped to take its photo, it sat there sizing me up, its beak high, fake furriness protruding from every seam.

I'm on a mission to not lose the sparkle that Andalucia gave me - the shine I felt on the inside, just walking through its streets and sleeping in its beds. So I'm currently putting certain things 'into motion' with my life, trying to keep the aliveness alive. It's no surprise to find myself back on my bike, then, and back in the silence that's Hove seafront at night.

I had numerous great ideas and snippets of posts to write about my holiday, but they all passed through and away before my fingers had even hit the keyboard. Maybe they'll come back and I can write them. It was such a good time, and the memories would clutch at me if I let them.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Thursday 3rd April - Granada

I watch a film without sound through a sheer net curtain in a dimly lit restaurant. The Moroccan boy's face on the screen is a mixture of pain, ecstasy and conviction, as the film veers from colour to black & white then back again. There is violence, dancing.

I’m thinking about Jacques Derrida - Algerian, teaching in Paris, deconstructing his own identity and life. I look at the painting on the rough brown wall - a group of Arabic women, clustering together. One of them is staring right at me.

I can't escape the fact that England has lost itself.

We drink fresh lemon and mint and we eat prawns, avocado, peppers, hake. I slurp orange blossom water and nibble at strands of carrot. The man running the restaurant looks like he should be mates with Leonard Cohen. They should be perched on plastic chairs outside, gurgling on a pipe, discussing Islam and tobacco.

I'm in a good place.

I woke up this morning from dreams that felt serrated, that cut me as I stirred. In them I’d witnessed all manners of catastrophe and ruin. The Whitehouse had been bombed – rock-stars and Hollywood actresses were stumbling to save their lives; grenades were thrown in.

Bodies flew from a glass building, people stumbled about, limbs hanging off. Those running away were shot, and a lone man walked away from the scene holding a gun. Moving onto another group on some steps, he sprayed them with bullets, then did it again, to make sure no one was left alive.

I woke up knowing dark things exist that are too big for my mind to let in, and that evil has a tangible feel to it - a smell, even. Then I walked off for breakfast at Plaza Nueva. Taking one sip of lemonade, things began to swim... I was fainting, sweating, nauseous.

Granada has got into me like sun rays through skin.

And so... in order to quell the intensity today ... I must avoid coffee and bullfights... dark women with intense eyes... golden, crucified Christs... churros con chocolate and dark men with intense eyes. I must not give too much thought to babies, sexism, gender, marriage, duende, sexuality, Rimbaud, my mother, David, my age, my thighs, my father or any of my exes.

Or the fact that I'm never sure what the right thing is anymore, or how much that even matters...

I shall do this at least for today. I see there's too much of me here, in Granada. It’s too much like something inside me - I see my face in every wall, down each street. I see ghosts in corners, sipping ron miel in ornate bars. I wonder who I've become and why I'm here.

And what to do with all this useless beauty.

In a dream the other night, C turned to me, angry, and said "People who live through archetypes, who treat myth and story as if it were more real than anything else, who can't live without a Muse, who get their meaning from magic - they're just victims of underlying psychological neurosis. It's all just narcissism."

Remember that ultimate moment of completion that you waited for? That longing to return - that untold promise of salvation, of umbilical love or grace? To recapture a lost heaven you knew was somewhere in your bones (god knows you longed for it until you could almost taste it, till you could almost feel it wriggling between your fingers and thumb... in the shrine room... in that bed... in that aeroplane...)

It came and went, every time. Through the fog of all those loves, the friendships, the drugs, the religion, books, laughter, sex, the incredible landscapes of existence... life rolled on regardless, blessing them all, taking them all away, each bearing the sign of their own dissolution, each imprinted forever in the sky.

This great, sad, immaculate machine, gathering no dust.

Saturday, April 12, 2008


The sun is quietly setting behind the hill. We arrived in Pampeneira this afternoon, my soul feeling like it was plunging into dead seas. Still, the music on my headphones was enough to make anyone laugh (I would dance on NBC and say 'George Bush shook hands with me', then I'd go and choke on a cock). Such a perverse contrast to one of the most exquisite landscapes in Europe.

Climbing steadily up into the safe palm of the Alpujarra mountains, I wondered if rest and peace might be possible here, now we were away from the intensity of Granada, with it's eyes, it's glinting moon, it's endless doorways.

Of course, I suspect that the spectre is still looming up at me over and across these mountains, with its too many sides to me desiring to live.

At six we drank coffee and walked down to the river.

All This Useless Beauty

It's at times such as this she'd be tempted to spit
If she wasnt so ladylike
She imagines how she might have lived
Back when legends and history collide

So she looks to her prince finding he's so charmingly
Slumped at her side
Those days are recalled on the gallery wall
And shes waiting for passion or humour to strike

What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?
All this useless beauty

Good friday arrived, the sky darkened on time
til he almost began to negotiate
She held his head like a baby and said
it's okay if you cry

She wont practice the looks from the great tragic books
That were later disgraced to face celluloid
It wont even make sense but you can bet - if she isnt a sweetheart
or plaything or pet - the film turns her into an unveiled threat

Nonsense prevails, modesty fails
Grace and virtue turn into stupidity
While the calendar fades almost all barricades
to a pale compromise

And our leaders have feasts on the backsides of beasts
They still think theyre the gods of antiquity
If something you missed didnt even exist
It was just an ideal -- is it such a surprise?

What shall we do, what shall we do with all this this useless beauty?

What shall we do, what shall we do with all this this useless beauty?