Sunday, 31 May 2015

Shaun the Sheep

First of all, what does the word ‘movie’ doing in a British film? That’s the worst thing I’ve seen since Morrissey wrote ‘favourite’ without ‘u’ in his autobiography. Disgraceful.

On a much more serious note, though, I admire Aardman Animations. For me, only Pixar in their prime (Toy Stories, Ratatouille and Wall-E) could rival them in terms of wit and imagination. Shaun The Sheep Movie (originally a brilliant mini-series where each 7-minute episode has more ideas than the whole of Frozen) is a full-length film that is never-ending, inventive fun. A self-styled day-off goes horribly wrong, the Farmer is lost in the city and has to be found and brought back home, but the sheep’s mischief is your utter joy. 

Watching this, you might keep asking yourself – how, how in God’s name are they doing all this? – but in truth, there’s just so much to admire here. Like the intricate plot and the heartwarming, unaffected humour of the whole thing. But ah Christ yes – technically, this is just breathtaking. 

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Designing ghosts

I do have a soft spot for a dodgy art exhibition. Just a few days ago I went to see a Moscow exhibition representing recent works of the British School of Design. I had no idea what to expect, which is a defence mechanism we have all developed. Modern art shows can offer you basically anything, from full marks to less than zero, and you should approach them blank and empty.

Inside, I saw a few scattered walls facing each other, with a bunch of photographs stuck to them. These photographs, you are led to believe, represent the interests/concerns/anxieties of the School’s students. The whole thing is rather unspectacular, but also intriguing in its own way. Young people’s ideas are rarely boring.

Yet the problem was obvious and very modern: absolute majority of these photographs are nothing without captions. Which is not the way photographs work: the counterpoint has to come the way of the image, not the way of a few words written underneath. Some of these words could be funny and witty and I do see the point of a good inscription, but this was like social network without the Internet.

One girl was good though. Sadly, I didn’t get her name and I probably violate the copyright in a rather ruthless manner here, but the photograph was too good to resist. The caption is just one word: “Ghosts”. Short and sweet. The girl has the style and the edge, and it’s evocative: you get an idea, you think of a song, you feel the vibe. Which I guess proves the point I’m trying to make: if it’s art, and I presume these works had to go through some serious selection process, the image should work on its own. This one does. 

Some others did, too. And even those that didn’t still had something to say. If only for a second or two, if only from a certain angle that might avoid you for the entire duration of your stay. Really, no art exhibition is entirely worthless. 

Friday, 29 May 2015

The Dancer

Interesting how some words stay with you. Random words, silly words, careless words. Words that were not even supposed to be taken at their face value (maybe). But these words haunt and affect you, for no apparent reason, and it might take years for you to break the spell.

There’s a particular song by PJ Harvey which I had avoided for years. It was an odd but strong comment from a person I knew long ago and in short it dismissed the song so snidely you would think Polly should be embarrassed for life. Bizarrely, the words affected me so much that I couldn’t listen to the song objectively. I never gave it the time of day. What made things even worse is that it was from PJ Harvey’s best album (up until 2011 in any case), To Bring You My Love

But then, just the other day, it finally clicked with me. Again, for no apparent reason. I’m not saying it’s better than the intense rhythm of “C’mon Billy” or the sheer guttural power of the title track, but my God what a song this is.  

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Most Important Place In The World

Those brilliant nighttime albums that very few people will hear. Bill Wells and Aidan Moffat’s The Most Important Place In The World is one of those.

A great Scottish record that is as tough as a Glaswegian midnight. Finding romance in dirty lampposts and smudgy brick walls. I loved their first album from 2011, Everything’s Getting Older, and this is done in pretty much the same mould. In a way, exactly what you would expect from a greatly talented and underappreciated Scottish pianist and composer and a man behind Arab Strap.

At one point it’s a dark, grimly narrated piece like “Lock Up Your Lambs” and at another you get the gorgeous, nocturnal “Far From You” that might just be the most special song in your life in case you happen to hear it in the right (and not especially glorious) circumstances. 

Best of all is “Street Pastor Colloquy, 3AM” that is joyfully anthemic and just a touch miserable. I love their style.

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Revisiting places

A book shop, an art gallery and a café. Also, I will have that same drink thanks.

I’ve been there already, maybe a dozen times, but that’s irrelevant. I will go there again just to make sure that the city is still alive and I’m not some kind of ghost roaming these streets.

After all, who wants to be a ghost?

New things will come your way, like they always do away from home, but revisiting places that made it special years ago is, in a way, like exploring the city anew.

You can’t beat the familiar sensation of going to the very same book shop and repeating the old trick: buying a book simply because you like the cover, the first sentence or the name of the author. 

So watch me carefully drag David Prete’s August and Then Some from the beautifully charred piles of book wreckage…

Tuesday, 26 May 2015


"Artists… impossible to live with but always worth the effort". I don’t remember who said that, but that’s the first thing I think about whenever I see a painting by Picasso.

Not even a colourful line from a Modern Lovers song, not a raunchy scene from a movie, not a particular episode from his biography – just a strong feeling of artistic passion resisting any accepted form of human attachment. 

That's all in his works. Strong man sitting, little girl swirling – never one or the other, always both. 

Monday, 25 May 2015

"I want to tell you about a girl..."

Typed off the top of my head, to the buzz of night:

And then he took to the piano, again, and then... ‘I’m transforming… I’m vibrating… look at me now’. Never has the ending of “Jubilee Street” sounded so violent and so invigorating. Marty hanging over the stage like some black apparition. Tom bashing your bloodbeat. ‘Larry from Knoxville’ doing the understated essentials. Warren writhing in the corner with whatever instrument he feels like playing. And Cave, of course, omnipresent as ever.

“Animal X” drone to start off, and you could bite the atmosphere with your teeth. Touch it, lick it, scratch with your tongue. The setlist (see below) is a wet dream. Cave keeps asking the audience what they want to hear (“Foi Na Cruz” seemed a popular choice – good on you, Moscow) and keeps playing what he wants to play. By track four, I’m in emotional bloody tatters, and track four is the raw and majestic “Higgs Boson Blues” which has slowly become…

Ah fuck it. There are no words. He did “God Is In The House”, for Christ’s sake. He did that. It was religious.    

SETLIST (from memory, after a glass of whisky)

Water’s Edge
The Weeping Song
Red Right Hand
Higgs Boson Blues
The Ship Song
From Her To Eternity
Stranger Than Kindness
Love Letter
Into My Arms
West Country Girl
Black Hair
The Mercy Seat
Jubilee Street
Up Jumped The Devil
People Ain’t No Good
God Is In The House
Jack The Ripper 
Push The Sky Away

Sunday, 24 May 2015

This Time Tomorrow

In a few hours now. I’m not sure when and how it started, but every time I’m about to board the plane, I play “This Time Tomorrow” by The Kinks. I have almost developed an odd feeling that if I don’t play this song (should I mention how good it is?), the plane will crash. At my rate, I must have saved a thousand lives…

Saturday, 23 May 2015

Writing to jazz

Early August, 1997. Burroughs is dying in his home in Lawrence, Kansas. 

Eric and Jordan call me to say the great man would be cold & gone tomorrow (how do they know), so we have to hurry to get there on time. Two years ago: Jordan completely naked, reading from Junkie in her wailing whisper, under a tree. Our dream: to see Burroughs. I think I’m in love with Jordan, but Eric is always there and I’m not. Also, he has a car. We get into the car and we drive off. I realise I forgot to tell my parents. I will find a telephone booth at a gas station on our way to Kansas. Jordan tries to read her favourite excerpts from Naked Lunch, but it’s getting dark already, and she can’t make out the words. I think she looks great, in her white blouse and her light yellow pinafore skirt. We missed a few gas stations and I realise I won’t be making that phone call. Jordan lights my cigarette, then Eric’s. First mine, then his. Eric asks us not to fall asleep as that would make him feel lonely. Jordan says we are insane. I think we are all getting tired.

Kansas is colder than Colorado, or maybe it’s just nighttime. Eric plays some insane jazz, fast and nonsensical, and Jordan opens whisky.

Finally, we are in Lawrence, and it’s breaking dawn now. We are exhausted and excited and happy and drunk. We start arguing whether Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch was good or not (I think it’s a masterpiece), and I just imagine Jordan in that scary typewriter scene. Her hair is wet. Finally, we see the great man’s place. Alcohol numbs the effect. It’s early morning, and the house is surrounded by dozens of people. Different ages. With books. Some are crying. One is wearing jeans exactly like mine. There are whispers everywhere: heart attack, dead, dying. Windows are sealed with wood. We are not saying anything, and not even trying to get through. We just stand there for five hours, until it’s confirmed: Burroughs is dead. Some old bearded guy to the left of us says the body has already been ‘removed from the premises’. Such a turn of the phrase. Some remain standing. We stand there for another hour, then leave. Not a word is spoken as we get into the car and drive away. I think my parents called the police. 

Eric breaks the silence: he saw Burroughs as he was carried out of the house, but I just think it’s bullshit. Jordan falls asleep on my shoulder. 

We are leaving Kansas.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Mad Men (finale)

This feels like an end of an era.

And we do get to hear Jim Morrison singing “The End”, a moment as obligatory as Don Draper sleeping with another woman. Still, when something dies, something as good as this, you would rather see it dead than wounded. Even if – oh God yes – you are left with the sore feeling that you just won’t find it again. For me, the best thing on TV since Twin Peaks (don’t fucking do it, Lynch).  

Final episode can never be satisfying, especially one happening after seven seasons of exquisitely plotted, intense drama. But in that world he created, world where everything comes at a price but the best things in life are free, Matthew Weiner could do no wrong. And while initially you may have shuddered at the shot of Don meditating among the hippies, the cynical smile followed by the Coke commercial was an ending as perfect as it was inevitable. Don had just seen Dick Whitman, in a scene you should be a stone to resist, and Dick Whitman was not what he wanted to be. Not at all.

Elsewhere, everyone gets what he/she deserves, more or less, and – mercifully – we survive the finale without a single death or a sudden tragedy. No cheap tricks, it’s all done with as much style as that first scene, season one episode one, in which Don is talking to a waiter. From Lucky Strike to Coca-Cola, this was a fascinating journey either too long or too short.

“One day they will be us”, Marie says to Roger, in a café, with a group of young people sitting around. 

“Tomorrow”, replies Roger.  

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Girls should avoid

Since I’ve been asked this a number of times, I believe there are two types that girls should avoid.

First of all, don't ever date a guy who wears shorts. A terrible mistake. He might look all right, he might smell nice, he might have a million attractive features, but ultimately he will turn your life into hell (worse – boring hell), and you will regret your choice for the rest of your days. Shorts are not the sort of thing that a man should wear. Unless he is playing football, in which case the logical question would be: “Why on Earth…?”

Secondly, don't ever date a guy whose favourite band is Joy Division. Nothing against Ian Curtis or Manchester, and it’s okay if the person you date likes “Decades” or even “Atrocity Exhibition”, but saying they are your favourite band is, I believe, a direct threat to your well-being. Anyone’s well-being really. You don’t want to end up swallowing Prozac for a living. Besides, who will think about the children?.. 

Now. If we are serious about this for a second, let me put it this way: find someone who knows what you want, not what you need. Rest will take care of itself.  

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner

You’ll never know what will make it so special and so memorable. There are flash restaurant dinners you won’t remember, and yet there are brief pub talks that will stay with you for many years to come. It’s that one little detail that someone else won’t even notice.

Those two girls who were sitting in front of us did not want to see some obscure British black-and-white film from 1962. That was a rainy evening in late November, and there was nothing else for them to do. They saw a poster. They bought two bottles of beer. They bought the tickets. They came inside. They looked at the screen. And they did not like what they saw. All through the evening, we just kept hearing the clink-clink-clink of the beer bottles as they were trying to balance them under their feet. They tried to get them out in the open, but the cinema was dark and silent and refused to play along. 

It was the combination of those, I guess, which made the experience of seeing this wonderful film so memorable. In the end, I ended up loving those girls almost as much as The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner.   

Tuesday, 19 May 2015

What to drink during Eurovision

Since watching Eurovision sober is an act impossible and totally unheard of, one should consider the drinks that go with it.

First of all, don’t drink champagne, not even if your country wins. Because that would mean you actually cared, and that’s a travesty in itself.

Whisky? Only if you are feeling desperate, and while we are all feeling desperate during Eurovision – there should be limits to your desperation.

Vodka likewise. The only situation in which you are allowed to drink vodka during Eurovision is if the count of bland ballads with no melody whatsoever at all gets to twelve (high probability actually). Then you might as well get aced out of your mind – because what the hell has this world come to?..

Brandy? Posh. Don’t be posh during Eurovision, it’s not that kind of thing.

I would also advise against wine. Red wine, white wine, rose wine – don’t do that. Even the cheapest sort would seem smug and pretentious and you don’t want to make a fool of yourself (because you have already done that – by watching Eurovision).

Beer? Yes, beer makes sense. Beer and cheap cider should do it, really, anything else would simply ruin the great social experiment that Eurovision is. 

P.S. Well, on second thoughts… Maybe a very small glass of wine if someone has a good song. Which is… well, you know… just not going to happen. 

Monday, 18 May 2015

Little Empty Boat

First of all, the song.

Religion and sexuality. Nick Cave is an artist who fully understands the importance of a counterpoint. Sorry for this mantra, but without a strong counterpoint good art cannot exist, however much effort you put into it. You won’t find a much better example than the beautiful and sinister “Little Empty Boat”, a B-side that is greater than most artists’ best.

Normally, I’m not a huge fan of this sort of analysis, but this will be an exception. First off, these lyrics are astonishing. Secondly, the song is stone-cold proof of Cave’s songwriting genius. Thirdly, this could be fun.

So off we go:

You found me at some party
You thought I’d understand
You barreled over to me
With a drink in each hand.

A girl. We all know her. Good Christian with a glass of tequila. Great songwriting should put you in the right mood from the very first line. The understated insanity of Cave’s piano line is good enough, but it’s the lyrical imagery that goes into your head like some seriously good drug.

I respect your beliefs, girl,
And I consider you a friend,
But I’ve already been born once,
I don’t wanna be born again.

Not a bad way to dismiss religion (I’d suggest remembering these lines and employing them when the time comes), but a situation when someone tries to convert you to some dodgy belief system is frankly annoying.

Your knowledge is impressive
And your argument is good,
But I am the resurrection, babe,
And you’re standing on my foot.

Two first lines are an effective way to kill someone with a good word, but it’s what follows that I find irresistible. You see, it’s not just the prospect of a girl taking you to bed to preach God. It’s also a terrific lyrical juxtaposition from Cave: ‘resurrection’ and ‘standing on my foot’. It’s what Robert Forster did in “You Can’t Say No Forever”: Yes my world’s tumbling down / stone by stone, to the ground / please take out the garbage. Anticlimax is a beautiful thing when used properly.

But my little boat is empty
It don’t go
And my oar is broken
It don’t row, row, row

Bad grammar. Who doesn’t love bad grammar used by an intelligent person?.. On a more serious note, though, the chorus provides great symbolism suggested by the title. The girl doesn’t move him sexually and he is not buying her phony religiosity. ‘Empty boat’ is a masterful representation of the feeling.

Your tiny little face
Keeps yapping in the gloom
Seven steps behind me
With your dustpan and broom

Verse two, and the imagery never lets go. ‘Dustpan and broom’ is another great example of a counterpoint, considering the subject matter of their ‘conversation’. In the meantime, don’t forget Warren Ellis’s looped violin which goes on and on and on until your sanity snaps.

I can’t help but imagine you
All postured and prone
But there’s a little guy on my shoulder
Says I should go home alone.

The girl won’t lay off, and his imagination is fired up. ‘Little guy on my shoulder’ is pure fucking genius. He is saying no.

But you keep leaning in on me
And you’re looking pretty pissed
That grave you’ve dug between your legs
Is hard to resist.

Well, if anything – it’s getting hotter. The party drags on, and the girl is drunk already. I mean, lines 3 and 4 are some of the most engrossing erotic imagery I’ve ever heard (some Austrian psychiatrist could excel here). It’s disturbing and addictive and electrifying and you know exactly what he is talking about. By this point, nobody speaks about religion anymore. Sexuality wins.


Give to God what belongs to God
And give the rest to me
Tell our gracious host to fuck himself
It’s time for us to leave.

Oh I do remember listening to this song for the first time 6 or 7 years ago. This was the verse that would not leave my head for days. Yes, sexuality won – and he will be going home with her (note the pronoun ‘us’). But it’s a version of her without religion that excites him. He ‘only’ wants the rest of her, and church stands in the way of lust. ‘Host’ here is both the host of the party and God, which I guess makes the f-word all the more disturbing.


We finish with frantic whispers. ‘Row… row… row’. So the boat does row in the end, and the song clanks and clatters and then slowly, uneasily bows out. 

In a word, a classic. What a songwriter this guy is. 

Sunday, 17 May 2015

Overgrown pond

As a kid spending every summer holiday in the village, I developed a particular emotional attachment to Overgrown Pond by Vasily Polenov. It was not that I loved this painting too much – no, ‘love’ would not even begin to describe it. I lived with it. The picture was hanging above my bed, it occupied my vision and my breathing space, captured my imagination and those brilliant hot dreams covered in sweat and mosquitos. Waking up or falling asleep, fighting insomnias in the half-dark of a midsummer night, I kept looking at the painting even in those moments when my eyes were fully closed or else staring at the ceiling or the white edges of my blanket. I grew up with that painting.

Which might not seem much to you if you see it in a reproduction or maybe in its original form in Moscow’s Tretyakov Gallery. The colour is mossy green, every last shade of it. You see a pond, some wild vegetation growing about and – most crucially – you notice a barely visible woman reading a barely visible book. ‘What’s the name of the book?’ I wanted to know, in those days when reading lost to football and The Headless Horseman was the only book I loved (but loved dearly, with the kind of intense devotion only a child can give). Well, I never found out, like I could never discern the face of the woman or even understand what attracted me to her. 

But then the village was no more, city swallowed it with jobs and schools and new people, and it took years for me (as well as a near-religious experience in Tretyakov Gallery) to recover that painting. Not the copy we had in the village, but a new, better one. Over my head, right where it belongs.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Classical thriller

I was feeling edgy, I was #5,399. It was a nightmare. The only thing that kept me going was the wickedly encouraging fact that #5,399 was not the end of the queue. No, I was somewhere at the start of this Kafka-esque fantasy, my name was K, and this could go on for hours. Or days or weeks or months or years.  

Fifteen minutes later I was #5,126, which was hell on Earth. I couldn’t do anything else, I couldn’t write one word. I could only watch how slowly the numbers melted away and my chances of success evaporated by the second. I was ready to pay more, to give them all my money, just to get out of this virtual slavery.

Heart was beating faster as I was approaching the nondescript number of 3,675, and in my mind I was praying to God the connection wouldn’t disappear to leave me in the snow. What a waste of human effort that would be. What unfair cruelty.  


But then, finally, it happened, and I smashed through the gates of Royal Albert Hall. Beethoven and Stravinsky would not be slipping through my fingers (like Kate Bush did one year ago), they took my money. 

Really, buying Proms tickets is a challenge. Online queues and helpless waiting. A boring thriller that in the end provides too much joy and excitement to care whether it was boring or not. A bit like that Edgard Varèse piece so brilliantly performed by National Youth Orchestra in 2012. Two months, which means the thrill of the wait just won't end. 

Friday, 15 May 2015

Western men

I’ve found this over the years. Every time someone talking to me mentions capital punishment, I don’t have much to say. In a way, arguing about capital punishment is like arguing about religion: there is no point. You can’t prove, you can’t persuade.

So every time I just end up mentioning a story I’ve once read. Young Amis and Hitchens are telling Saul Bellow about the sheer absurdity of taking away a life you haven’t created. The immorality of that. The senselessness. And Saul Bellow, being the great man that he was, throws this as a way of reply (quoting from memory, so I might be slightly off): “Yes, but what do you do with that son of a bitch who raped and murdered his own daughter?..” 

For me, any sensible conversation ceases after that. I’m not a Western man. I trust emotions, rational thinking has never done much for me. 

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Actual poetry

Well, you know. Unlike good wine, Hannah And Her Sisters is just getting worse with years. Because the person who made it married his adopted daughter (to say nothing of the alleged child abuse). Suddenly, all humour is sucked out of Annie Hall and Husbands and Wives is boring and predictable. Because… Well, you know.

And in light of Cate Blanchett’s recent revelations. You know there will be people, lots of them, who will genuinely start thinking that the Cousins episode wasn’t acting genius and who will refuse to watch The Dinner (her directorial debut) once it gets made. I’ve always been mystified by people’s ability to stop liking someone’s art once it transpires that this someone is not a perfect angel. Or has done something.

Maybe questionable. Maybe controversial. Maybe whatever.

Lifestyles, bad habits and criminal records tend to overshadow everything, and suddenly it’s as if art itself is not enough. Mark E. Smith is an abusive drunkard, but what if The Sub-Lingual Tablet is fantastic?.. There is a line here, yes, but I don’t know where it lies. Truth is, I don’t even want to know. Art is art, rest is for bores. 

Ezra Pound supported Mussolini. Shoot me, but that’s not what made him a worse poet than T.S. Eliot. Sometimes it’s the actual poetry. 

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Paperback on a bus

On a drowsy double-decker bus, beyond the dramatic heights of Seven Sisters and on the way to lively London via sleepy Brighton, Moab Is My Washpot served up another gem: “Past is a foreign country where everything is done differently”. Which is painfully true, and yet what if you can still understand that language and feel like the consulate is out of work and you are not getting the visa any time soon? And the past is still the present and refuses to let go? To let you go, and it still holds you by the lapel or the collar or the fuzzy locks of your hair? And what if they speak the same language and do things in exactly the same way? And what if a familiar face makes you go numb with vaguely recognizable joy? And those are the very same eyes that don’t even have the look of the past and instead have that same expressive wonder and you love them for it?..  

Bus driver never sleeps, but what about you. To the sound of drizzling rain and the dark, unreadable pages of the paperback, you are crouched in the corner by the front window and you press your face against the glass. Dimly beautiful, gently snoring countryside floats by. “Queen Of Eyes” by the Soft Boys starts playing in your headphones, but no, please no, that is way too loud. You need silence. You switch it off and slowly, slowly drift from past to present. And then back again. Until you wake up – in a foreign country.  

Tuesday, 12 May 2015


Imagine if Mumford & Sons were not called Mumford & Sons but rather – Sons & Mumford.

That way, you could tell people asking you about your tastes that you really love S&M. Or if there is a concert, you could say that you’re going to watch S&M tonight. Or else, someone might ask you if you liked Fifty Shades Of Grey, and you could say “No, of course not, but I’m really into S&M”. 

Possibilities would be endless. 

Monday, 11 May 2015

Hop Along

Admit it. You miss the “Take Me Out” days. The “What A Waster” days. The “Letter From An Occupant” days. Jesus, look at you, you even miss the “Is This It” days. Because those were the days when new music generated inexplicable euphoria that made you walk through the streets singing along with Alex Kapranos, chain-smoking into the washed-out faces of passers-by, and feeling that Taylor Swift will never happen.

For all the good music released since then, there’s been a severe shortage of that sort of excitement. So thank God for Hop Along – whose third album, Painted Shut, is a head-spinning rollercoaster ride. It’s criminally good. In fact, I think there should be some kind of law against the savage intensity of this thing. Like, erase a couple of songs from the album. Make the girl sing with less expression. Just tone it down by a notch or two.

Painted Shut. Too good. Charismatic post-punk with guts spilling out, adventurous and, somehow, tight and to the point. Like heavier Throwing Muses with less edge but more swagger, this band has just released an album of the year – even if I don’t remember any of these melodies once the album is over. The sound is one long powerful orgasm, and let’s not even talk about the goddamned vocal performances which are the most fascinating you will hear all year. Rasping, wailing, screaming, and never less than irresistible. 

For a while, those days are back. Cherish them

Sunday, 10 May 2015

Talking to kids about vampires

I was sitting on a bench the other day, trying to think of a way to finish the new short story. Around, there were all these kids riding bikes, leaping from one place to another, screaming.

Idyllic, but I couldn’t think.

Then one of the kids stopped near the bench and looked at me. Intensely, for what seemed like one whole minute. I thought I had to use that and told him I had a question. He sat beside me on the bench, excited and just a little confused.

As a way of casual street introduction, I told him my name, he told me his. Sitting there, the kid seemed both patient and restless, which was what most kids are these days.

‘Hey’, I said. ‘I’m writing a story about vampires, and I need your help’.

‘Cool’, he said, and made it sound as if it really was cool. (Though maybe it was.) He turned his whole body to me, and I knew I had his full, undivided attention. I could swallow him he wouldn’t notice.

‘You see, there is this main guy. He is a vampire. Years ago he was in love with a girl-vampire, her name was Claire. (At which point I winced: God, I made it sound like fucking Twilight!) But he did something bad once, he betrayed her. She needed him, but he was with another girl. Not a vampire. Which would have been okay if he bit her – but he never did. Are you following me?’

‘Yes’, he said. ‘Are you a real writer? I think it’s cool.’

‘Good. Now listen. He didn’t kill her, because he liked her too much. He needed something she could give him. (Of course, I couldn’t tell him what this ‘something’ was. This wasn’t sex education, and he was 7 or 8.) And then one day he thinks he sees Claire. Remember? That girl-vampire?’

He nodded, and I sighed with relief. God I was making it sound so simple, but then in a weird way this was like explaining to a kid how love works.

‘And she was this beautiful girl. With red hair. I mean, really beautiful. Late at night, they go to her place and then he realizes it’s not Claire. It’s Betty. That other girl he liked and couldn’t kill. She wasn’t a vampire…’

‘He should bite her!’ the kid screamed. ‘He should make her like Claire!’

‘Really?’ I said.

‘Absolutely!’ he said. He was so red and excited I thought he would burst, lose all his weight and fly up into the sky. ‘That’s what vampires do!’

‘Thank you’, I said, smiling. God I loved that kid. ‘You’ve just helped me a lot’.

But then someone called him and he said he had to go. I shook his hand, and he ran away (he certainly had something to tell to his friends). Ten metres away, though, he turned around and asked me what the title of the story was.

Second Movement’, I said and waved to him. 

I can only hope that one day he will read it, my short story. Second Movement. After all, he finished it for me. And the most precious thing about it was that he didn’t even understand why the main character had to bite Betty. But that was not the point. The point was that he got it right. Somehow, he knew how it worked. How love worked.

Saturday, 9 May 2015

Come and See

There are films that make you cry. Ones that make you look away in horror. That destroy you emotionally. Leave you speechless. Sleepless.

And then there is Come and See.

You can read a million reviews telling you what to expect. You can read the harrowing plot. You can see it called the most disturbing war film ever made. You can find out that Elem Klimov never directed anything ever again. You can spend years preparing yourself for this film. 

It won’t do. Because nothing will prepare you for Come and See. And that, believe me, that is a good thing.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Britain, you fucked up

Political writing is not really what I wanted to do here (and who are we to judge?), but I remember Cynthia.

Cynthia was someone I used to know. A lady from Northern England. The world’s biggest fan of Agatha Christie. She believed in ghosts. She had a doll house. She watched Coronation Street every night. She had a collection of Bob Dylan’s greatest ‘hits’. She had three cats.

And she simply had to vote Tory, there was no getting around it. In fact, I remember walking with her to the railway station in York and asking her that very question: “Cynthia, are you going to vote for Conservatives?”

And Cynthia, who had seventeen copies of Murder On Orient Express on her book shelves and who loved those cats as if they were her children and who told me there was a ‘spectre’ living in my room, told me this:

“I would rather slit my wrists than vote for Conservatives”.

In fact, she showed me exactly how she would do it. So vivid I still shudder from the memory. 

However, something tells me we won’t be seeing rivers of blood flowing into the Thames tomorrow. Which is a sure sign of what Britain did yesterday. It fucked up. 

Thursday, 7 May 2015

More than Rain

Tornado can kill you. Sun will make you explode with delight. Snow can depress you to no end.

Rain not so much. Rain is the trickiest, because rain is never straightforward. Rain is never one emotion. There is something irresistible about the grey October drizzle, and God knows the lovely shower at the end of May could make you cry.

Millions of artists have sung about rain, but it takes a special kind to do it properly. Tom Waits is your man.

“More Than Rain”, “A Little Rain”, “Bride Of A Rain Dog”, “Rain Dogs”, “Make It Rain”, “Rainbirds”, “Rains On Me”, and that’s discarding songs like “Stormy Weather” which don’t mention the word ‘rain’ in the title.

And these are not just titles. These are songs that reveal the juxtaposition in full. They make you think of a small crowd of people gathered at a funeral. Early morning. Grey coats and black hats. But do you see what they are doing? All these people in grey coats and black hats? They are… look closer now… they are smiling. The bastards are smiling. 

Was there ever another artist who made you love rain more than Tom Waits? 

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Bottle of champagne

Yesterday I asked my students to describe their earliest memory and tell me the emotion they had at that particular moment. I was expecting confusion and embarrassed silence, but in fact they were all ready to play along. They described to me those short snapshots in time that were by turns frightening, surprising, happy and sad. Often uncomfortable. But they were hooked.

“Oh that went well”, I thought by the end of it, and then this girl lightens up and asks me to describe my earliest memory. After so many confessions, I owed this to them.

It shot through me straight away, that afternoon when I was 4 years old lying in my kindergarten bed. Everyone was asleep, these being two quiet hours that I never learned to love. But the quietness I did enjoy, the silent snoring, the lazy reverie. Then my two kindergarten teachers who were sitting at the far end of the room took out a bottle of champagne and tried to open it. I remember the hollow sound of the cork plopping out of the bottle and hitting the ceiling and then jumping around the room as I jumped in my bed. 

I keep thinking about that afternoon which lasted no longer than five seconds. They must have done something to me at that moment, something drastic and vital and fateful, even if I could never really tell what it was.  

Tuesday, 5 May 2015


I think Tuesday was best described by Stephen Fry in one of his autobiographies:

Tuesday: February of the week. 

That is perfect.