Monthly Archives: August 2014

The summer makes us godlike

This is a little something I wrote many years ago, which I’m putting up here because, well, we’re in autumn now, and that’s a time for wistful memories. The song tries to capture three things: the inherent melancholy of autumn, memories of bar-tending jobs during college holidays, and that feeling you have in your twenties (especially during summer) of being somehow immortal – with a simultaneous coda that you know this feeling will soon end.

 

Pretty Different

All the crowds at the bar tend to laugh

when he spills all his coffee

Sit around dirty tables drinking beer

and listen to the singer

Gotta rush gotta go now I’m late

I’m working in ten minutes

But I might see you later up there

you can sit

on my knee

in a booth

 

Chorus:

Well the summer makes us godlike

Look at me

Yes I’m strong

Don’t be long

And it doesn’t seem so random

Taste the air

Look at me

Yes I’m free

 

All the faces are screwed-up and ugly

but all that doesn’t matter

There’s a fire burning out of control

but I’m shielded by a door

Let us waste let us squander our money

no reason to adore it

‘Cause I know I’ll be meeting her later

she can sit

on my knee

in a booth

 

Chorus

Well the summer makes us godlike

Look at me

Yes I’m strong

Don’t be long

And it doesn’t seem so random

Taste the air

Look at me

Yes I’m free

Well the summer makes us godlike

Run away

Over dust

Over dust

 

All the crowds ask the same dumb old questions

are you a boy or a girl?

I just smile flick my hair dip my shoulder

I know that I’m not flirting

Gotta rush gotta go now I’m late

but all that doesn’t matter

‘Cause I know I’ll be meeting her later


Four legs good, eight legs terrifying

I never used to mind spiders. In fact, I quite liked them. I thought they were pretty cool, with their arched legs and 275 eyes and amazing ability to shoot webs from their wrists, like a non-man version of Spiderman. If you follow me.

I certainly never feared them. For me the term “arachnophobia” signified nothing more sinister than that fitfully entertaining Jeff Daniels comedy-thriller. I could never understand how someone would have a conniption fit upon spying a spider.

They can’t kill you – at least not in this part of the world. They don’t spread disease, and if anything curtail it by eating flies and other insects. And furthermore, I always believed the old wives’ tale that spiders bring you luck, and harming one will draw misfortune on your head.

Now: I still like spiders, and am still arachnophobia-free. But I am starting to get a teensy bit nervous about the little buggers.

Or rather, big buggers – and that’s the problem. My house has lately been colonised by spiders, and they are absolutely freaking enormous.

By Amazonian standards, perhaps, these aren’t so large. Down there, deep in the jungle primeval, arachnids possess the size, strength and long-term indestructibility of the average Volkswagen Beetle (no pun intended).

But in comparison to the normal Irish spider, they’re gigantic. We’re used to tiny little things that scuttle along your hand and are so light you don’t even feel them doing it. The odd time we might spot one the size of an unusually small Malteser and be so astounded we’d take a photo and email all our friends.

“Look at this monster!” we’d chuckle. “He’s MASSIVE! It’s like that film Arachnophobia! Only without Jeff Daniels hanging around!”

Oh, the laugh’s on the other side of my face now. Actually it’s been chased off my face in sheer desperate terror, whereabouts now unknown, and replaced by a hideous rictus of horrified disbelief.

The other evening I went to pull the curtains and couldn’t, because there was a spider up there about the size of a gerbil, only with twice the number of legs. Sitting up there he was, happy out, acting like he owned the place. Which, to be honest, he sort of does now.

I mean, I’m not going to get rid of these monsters, am I? For starters I’m an irredeemable coward. The traditional Irish midget spider I can handle; an extra from Eight Legged Freaks, not so simple.

Even the thought of these yokes crawling along my skin is enough to, well, make my skin crawl. So I can’t just grab one and toss it out the window. Besides, what if it bites me, or starts punching me with its horrible hairy legs, or enmeshes me in a huge web before injecting me with some chemical that makes my intestines slowly melt? Unlikely, I accept, but you can’t be too careful.

Telling them to clear off because they’re on private property won’t do any good. They’ll just laugh at me. Or maybe they’ll leap down my throat and choke me while I’m saying it, so it comes out all muffled: “Kkkhhrr rrrff, yyyrrronn pphrrvvvdd prrrpppuuhhrree.” Then they’ll laugh even more.

And I can’t just suck them up with the hoover and be done with it, because then my karma is screwed and I’ll be reincarnated as a spider myself. One that gets sucked up by someone’s hoover.

So my standard eradication attempt goes something like this: I lean forward gingerly with a cardboard box in one hand, the other ready to slam the lid shut. I edge it towards the spider. I kind of nudge the spider. I wail, “Oh come oooon, get in the box you bastard.” I nudge it again. I recoil in fright when it recoils in fright. I give up and vacate the room until January.

See, that’s the only silver lining on this cloud of invading beasties: apparently it’s an autumnal thing. By darkest winter they’ll all be gone somewhere else. Heaven? The Amazon? My sock drawer? Who knows – at least I’ll be able to draw the curtains without suffering an anxiety attack.

Until then I’ll be reworking that line from Animal Farm, “Four legs good, two legs bad.” For me it’s a case of, “Eight legs = bad multiplied!”


A mask that eats the face

This is a piece I wrote for LA-based style/arts magazine Flaunt – their Selfie Issue – which examines different aspects of fame. It’s a non-fiction essay, employing a little construct that the writer is working on a book and making notes. The version as ran in Flaunt was somewhat different to this – I’d actually forgotten that magazines sometimes rewrite your stuff to a considerable extent – but this is my original, ’cause I prefer it! If you want to see the edited version, get your ass to LA and buy a copy of the magazine, I guess…

 

Working on a new book. Not actually typing words or anything, but the idea’s been percolating in my brain for years now, seven or eight. About someone whose life is dull and unfulfilled, and they fall into a coma (the details can be worked out later) which, ironically, gives their unconscious mind free rein to imagine a myriad of alternative lives. More interesting, more exciting, more spectacular.

Essentially, the character – first-person narrative: let’s just say “I” for simplicity’s sake – I step into a series of new identities. I put on and remove different masks. And all of them, one way or another, lead to the ultimate mask, the one which notoriously “eats the face”: fame.

But it’s a price worth paying, right? Your face being consumed, in return for entering that sublime state of grace – the very modern rapture which is fame. And that’s the whole point in some ways: you want to be annihilated, deep in the core of boring, ordinary, insignificant you; destroyed and fashioned anew, reborn in the light of fame’s Morningstar, beautiful and dreadful all in one.

So: the book. Chapter 1. I’m in the coma and…

 

I’m the Star Wars Kid. I’m hefty and awkward, cartoonish in my movements. Let’s face it, I basically am a cartoon. Something outlandish and ridiculous for people to laugh at, and they are, millions of them, across the world. The dead-weight irrefutability of this realisation makes me nauseous. Hell is other people, alright. (Wonder what Sartre would have made of my situation? “Symptom of a society being cannibalised by self-disgust”, maybe. Something like that.) I’m so denuded of humanity that I don’t even remember my own name. This is no good, it’s worse than my previous existence (the real one, I guess you’d call it, although the dreaming mind, they say, doesn’t know any difference between one state and the other). I don’t want anyone laughing at me. Hell, I can do that myself. I make a mental note to track down and “field-dress” whatever malevolent little shit-heel put this online in the first place, then I bail out.

 

I’m an Irish immigrant at Ellis Island. 1905, early October by the slight nip in the air. The weird thing is, I actually am Irish – I mean the real, the really real me, the one who’s writing this, or not writing it as the case may be – and I’m somehow aware of that fact even as I’m this other person. Anyway. Let’s call me…Tom. Good, solid name. Don’t want to distract a global readership with ornate, difficult-to-pronounce Irish Gaelic names. I shuffle along with the rest of the line, towards a man with a walrus moustache, a brusque manner and an inherent decency in his aspect. He will, I’m pretty sure, give me a fair shot. Life will give me a fair shot. I take a deep breath and inhale stars and space-dust, galaxies entire. I think the mugginess of this room is making me feel faint. I breathe in again, deeper still: a continent-sized bolus of possibility. Man, that fills the lungs. I shuffle once more. In about forty years’ time I’ll be a regular working schlub, married, balding, bad knee, contented enough. But my child will be a huge Hollywood star. “Flame-haired Celtic goddess conquers the American Dream”: the sentimental backstory writes itself. It’ll help that she, like me, doesn’t have one of those ornate, difficult-to-pronounce Irish Gaelic names.

 

I’m a twentysomething moron who grew up in the long, dark shadow of Reality TV. As a consequence, like many of my peers, I now believe it to be natural, inevitable – and worse, desirable – to sing for your supper. Literally, in the infernal likes of American Idol, but also metaphorically, across a broad range of shows and occupations and industries. So, little nincompoop that I am, I think this is the way to get ahead in all walks of life. My mushy young brain is filled with the telly-babble of the genre – “following your dream”, “taking a chance”, “anything is possible”, “believe in yourself”. These, I reckon, are all that’s needed to realise my ambitions, and no need for all that boring old stuff like education, hard work or professionalism. So what happens? This happens: I bring my shiny smile and oddly draining exuberance into a job interview, a proper job – PA at a typically fusty book-keeping firm. I back-flip across the interview room, then do an impressive and extremely painful-looking splits. I sob, “I love you guys!” and bow to the shocked panel of accountants, one of whom splutters their low-salt cracker all over the Gary Larson desktop calendar. I am politely dismissed, though not before one of the panel tries to wheedle my phone number from me. So dreams can do comedy too, huh? Interesting.

 

I’m Leona Helmsley, I’m in heaven now for the last seven years, and you can cram it with walnuts, pal: I still think taxes are for the little people, always will. Even St Peter hasn’t managed to convince me otherwise. The Archangel Gabriel is giving it his best shot tomorrow. Pfft. Next.

 

I’m reading an article about some kiddie super-star who plays a kiddie super-star on some kiddie show. And I’m old or oldish, and I’m annoyed, reading this. I’m annoyed because society is obsessed with youth. Hey, I get it: the elderly must make way for the young, ‘tis the natural order of things. I appreciate that, really. But still. I’m a cantankerous old bastard and I’m reading this article in some rag I didn’t pay for thank God and I am a little bit furious. Because I can see now, clear as day: we’re neurotically fixated on youth, we’re mesmerised by it, almost enchanted. And for the famous, multiply that. You can’t have fame without youth, not really. Once a star passes some certain age, that’s it, kaput, don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And the culture, as far as this cantankerous old bastard can tell, is getting ever-more obsessive about youth. Movies, music, books, TV, you name it: we leer at youth, we creep on it. Chop it up and flog it off. Angelic children monetised and wholesaled. Sleazy teen voyeurism, vicarious rebellion, middle-aged idiots skateboarding to work in combat shorts. I’m about to burn this rag, get the inky taint of it off my fingers and my heart. Then my heart burns and beats me to it. Massive coronary, probably stress-related – ain’t that a bitch of an irony. I die but just before I do, I flip the finger at all of humanity and growl, “Youth fades, assholes, and fame is fleeting. You’ll see.”

 

I am a celebrity’s abs. Well, technically I’m a Reader’s Digest-style article about this celebrity’s abs, but let’s not get too meta here. Keep it simple: I am a celebrity’s abs. If you saw me from the inside – like a surgeon might, or God, or inner-body bacteria and globs of alien matter – you’d think I was nothing remarkable. Just muscle, that’s all. Indeed, if you saw me from the outside – say, between my cropped top and shorts, across from you in the gym – you still wouldn’t realise that I was anything special. You’d probably think, “Yep, they’re unusually well-defined, alright. But, you know, still just tummy muscles.” However, if you saw me in my natural habitat – on my owner’s YouTube page, which has clocked up 147million hits and counting – then you’d understand. Then you’d know that I’m not just any set of abs, but abs which are famous because of who owns them. And in a nice “circle of life”-type loop, this person is famous solely because of me. It’s symbiotic. It’s parasitic. It’s poetic and it’s copacetic. Abs and celeb: we’re one, but we’re not the same. And we got to carry each other, carry each other. On, on, ever on, down the marble halls of fame, mirror-imaging into eternity like a Borgesian nightmare.

 

I’m Andy Warhol. Cool. On my to-do list for the day/life are: invent the cult of celebrity as we’ve known it for the past four decades. Make popular culture a valid subject for artistic expression: from “culture” in the sense of TV, movies, media etc., to the flotsam and jetsam of the broader culture – advertising, industrial logos and so on. Articulate the mechanisation and atomisation of society and humankind. Reflect and partly initiate the saturation of post-modernism, in which everyone from Mao to Marilyn is of equal value. Fashion the artist as his own artistic statement. Create countless iconic images which will be pastiched and homaged to kingdom come. Develop at least two distinct forms of visual art, screen-printing and absurdly realistic drawings of coke bottles et al. Make groundbreaking movies which challenge notions of narrative and audience expectation. Rewrite my personal history and constantly negate my own utterances (a quintessentially modern thing to do, n’est pas?). Realise that, for good or ill, the image and the substance are now the same thing (hello, Baudrillard. Take a seat, McLuhan). Produce one of the most seminal albums of all time with The Velvet Underground and Nico; and don’t forget the “banana” cover, which becomes as famous as the record itself…I love that, it amuses me. And finally (for now), be as slippery, contradictory and ultimately unknowable as modern life itself. I’m Andy Warhol. The self-created myth deconstructing the self-same myth. The most sincere ironic-nod-and-wink that was ever made to the fame-hungry masses.

 

I vant to be alone. There’s nothing left of my face now, and what little is left of my soul vants to be alone. Turns out it wasn’t worth the price, after all.

The dream ends. The book ends. Everything ends, in the end. The End.


Gay sex boffin shocker

I used to work part-time in a tabloid newspaper, once upon a yesterday. Don’t worry, I wasn’t a Page 3 stunna – though I could have been – or a shifty bloke in a raincoat sifting through other people’s rubbish bins. (I do enjoy that from time to time, of course, but purely as a recreational thing.)

No, I was a sub-editor. For those not in this business we call The Media, that doesn’t mean, unfortunately, that you’re the deputy to the editor or anything (those are called, eh, deputy editors). It means you read, edit, proof and rework the copy – i.e. the articles – as they are filed by reporters. You also write headlines, source pictures and give out about every aspect of the job ceaselessly, especially the reporter who just filed a piece of rubbish on abattoirs or something that’s so offensively crap, it moves past bad to genuinely “offal”.

Sorry. I did say I’d worked for a tabloid.

And apart from employing puns so lame they’d probably qualify for some sort of disability payment, the other great staple of tabloid subbing is the use of the word “boffin”. It’s one of those weird media terms which are instantly recognisable to everyone, but never actually spoken or written by anyone in normal society.

Like, have you ever said, “Oh my nephew is studying science at college – he wants to be a boffin”? No, you haven’t, admit it. Nobody says gibberish like that.

Anyway, to get back to the point: tabloids love a boffin story. And there is a literally endless range of such creatures: space boffins discover this, biscuit boffins prove the other, octopus boffins, wheelbarrow boffins, cornflake boffins, probably a few boffin boffins too, which is a lovely postmodern twist.

But the best, of course, are sex boffins. We used to picture what, exactly, these pioneers of carnal exploration would look and act like, every time we’d have to sub a story on some new piece of research. (You know the type of thing: “Sex boffins’ new findings show that 78% of men think about Angelina Jolie 63% of the time while having sex with 94% of women etc. etc.”)

The most common way that information on the world’s sexual habits is gathered, I’m fairly certain, is by having people fill in questionnaires anonymously. Some of the tabloid stories, though, suggested a bit more of a hands-on – ahem – approach.

Like, there was this one story about how homophobic men, ironically, were more turned on than straight men when viewing homosexual pornography. And the report was full of the usual “boffins carried out a series of tests on a selection of men in laboratory-controlled conditions” and so on.

Christ. Imagine that being your job? You’d get home from work, crack open a brewski and spark up a well-earned coffin-nail, and your wife would ask, “So, how was work today?”

And you’d reply, “Yeah, it was okay. First I put on my white lab coat and Joe 90 glasses, as per standard operating procedure. Then I had to attach electrodes and wires and things to three dozen, well, wires and things, found in the trouser departments of a group of straight men, gay men, and straight men who hate gay men but in actual fact are attracted to gay men so maybe they’re not straight men after all. If you’re still following me, because to be honest, I’ve confused myself at this stage. Then we sat through four hours of hard-core pornography and monitored any or all stirrings in the aforementioned trouser departments. Marked them off, made little ticks in the correct boxes, the whole thing. We even measured the extent of arousal by a method so icky and horrible, my mind has now blanked it from memory forever.

“Then we broke for lunch. I had the salami.”

What a way to make a living. And I say this as a man who once shamelessly cashed in on Princess Diana’s tragically young and horrifically violent death by selling drawings of her while living in Japan. I used even put stuff like “Diana, Queen of All Our Hearts” across the top.

But at least I never had to work as a sex boffin. Which is good, because I think I’ve already seen all the homosexual pornography ever made, so the job would be really boring, having to watch the same stuff over again.

I wonder, actually, if these sex boffins really exist, or have they just been invented – possibly by a group of sex boffin-boffins – in a laboratory somewhere, then transplanted into the pages of The Sun and The Star.

Perhaps I’ll ask cheery stunna Gemma, 21, from Tipton, for her opinion the next time I meet her.