Friday, December 28, 2007

My Friend Flickr

Hyde Park on that morning everyone got grounded. Sorry but it was beautiful

My last week in London has made me hungry for it. I stare so shamelessly, I'm sure I should have been arrested many times over. And now I finally have the means to record these extraordinary moments. My life on the road will be a success after all. I've joined Flickr. I'm staying with Mr T and he knew how to do it.

Still, I'm determined to have a simpler life after all this travelling is over. I don't want to learn new things. I simply want to sit and read the 600 or so books I've stockpiled over the last year because books are hideously expensive in Australia and they also don't have a habit of leaping out of Oxfam bookshops and grabbing hold of your wallet. I'll never have to leave the house again.

I've done some fun things in the last week including spending the best part of a day in Hyde Park skating and going on rides and joining the Christmas throng in Oxford Street for the last time. Whereas I dislike shopping, I quite like the sight of other people doing it. It allows me to indulge in moral superiority. It's an issue for me getting my backpack down to a managable weight in any case. Once you've filled it full of mosquito repellent and malaria tablets, there's little room for anything else. I've had to learn to live without an umbrella even.

Does anyone remember the television programme My Friend Flicka? It was a show about a kid and a horse. There were lots of these entertainments around at the time. In the sixties, people in the country waited until they were pensioners to have one lonely child whose best friend was either a dog or a horse or, on rarer occasions, a kangaroo. Quite often one of the parents died and the other withdrew to his or her whittlin' or weavin', leaving the poor child with no recourse but to confide in their hairy friend.

The series was based on a trilogy of books by Mary O'Hara which Ialso lapped up. There was a 1943 film with Roddy McDowell too. In those days it was mandatory to have Roddy McDowell in any child/horse/dog combination. Ken McLaughlin, erstwhile friend of Flicka the horse had a toothless old uncle Pete who 'cut his teeth on a branding iron'. They don't make 'em like that any more. I once even wrote a series of songs which had a working title of Thunderhead, after the second book in the Flicka series.

Once getting older just meant losing your teeth, whether or not a branding iron was involved, and settling into elasticated waistbands. I've resigned myself to a month with just one pair of shoes so you can see my resistence to 'not letting myself go' is low, to say the least. The other day I was at a party and a friend who's in her late forties told us she was asked by a train conductor to show her 'Senior Rail Card'. She has a young son who is often assumed to be her grandson but no way does she look sixty.

It occurs to me that the nip-tuck culture has created an expectation that sixty-year-old women will now look forty-five. I didn't go through the whole politicising process of the seventies to end up in a situation where I feel obliged to have a facelift just to look my real age. It's absurd.

I am however grateful for the delete facility on the digital camera. Any snap that dares to infer that gravity and I have engaged in mortal combat is despatched to the ether from whence it came faster than Shergar's ashes. I may be above nipping and tucking but I'm certainly not one for shying from ducking and diving when it comes to the cruelty of the lens. There is no chance of me looking like Flicka on Flickr...

Monday, December 24, 2007

Happy Christmas Everyone

I know it's last year's

But I'm 'On the Road' to quote Kerouac


xxx Pants

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Barney takes a well-urned break

Barney, as you've never seen him before

When you move house... Pause for gasps of astonishment - it's happened. There is a system in place after all to facilitate the selling of a much-adored home and the dream relocation. It's not just a Channel 4 fantasy. Who knew? My solicitor John, for one. Being a conveyancing professional, he finds the transfer of property not only routine but even mundane, judging by his singular failure to match my hysteria.

House of Pants has, this very day, passed into new ownership. The procedure is not dissimilar to how I imagine a ransom exchange going down. Your solicitor phones you to confirm that your money has been transferred into the bank account of your choosing. This triggers frantic phone calls from the estate agent, demanding to know when you're going to bring in the keys. You toy with them, the agents I mean. You have to. You also play with the keys. It's your last chance, after all? 'I'll be there within the hour', you say.

In reality, you're still hanging on the phone to Hackney Council's bulky waste service trying to get your old mattress and ironing board picked up. Yes friends, I have finally fulfilled my lifetime ambition of leaving my twenty-year-old Warren Evans mattress in the street. Only now can I truly call myself a Londoner.

I was also a bit held up waiting for people to collect all the superfluity I advertised on Freecycle. Miraculously, even my wackiest items found homes. What are the odds of four pairs of different sized Wellington boots (don't even think about asking), being taken by the same person? What would you say if I told you his name is Godfrey and his son runs an organic farming project? Result, hey! Three people phoned about a tambourine. Draw your own conclusions.

I dawdled away that hour and then some, largely because I could but also because I kept finding dirty patches even though I'd cleaned for a solid week. There is a weird rule of house selling that dictates you'll be forced to clean on a week of dull days only to find that the sun floods through your slimy windows on completion day, illuminating every organic red pesto spill you've ever failed to deal with appropriately.

After eleven years, you want to pick your own moment. It seems crazy after the months of fretting about it, but the situation demands that time bends to your will. So, I'm on the 236 bus, very likely for the last time, and the agent phones to tell me my buyer is there waiting to 'take possession'. Seriously, what do they think you're going to do - abscond with the keys? Apparently so. The key handover ceremony involves the agent taking a colour photocopy of all sets of keys and getting both the buyer and seller to sign the copies.

Do you have a kitchen drawer that looks like this?

Good, I am normal. I'm going to give you a piece of advice that you will never follow and neither will I. You will attempt to clean out this drawer approximately once every five years. When you do so, you will find at least one set of very large bolts. You will have no idea what these are and why you have them. There will be three of them which will give you the perfect excuse to throw them away. You'd think twice about it if there was an even number.

These are the 'travel bolts' for your washing machine. You would be wise to put them in an envelope and label them. No, I'm pretty sure I won't either.

Here are two of my three lovely removalists.
That's Pete on the left and Kevin on the right.

And yes, you will note that I've managed to transfer photos. After the fiasco of spending fifteen quid on a pointless lead, I ended up in Jessops in Islington where I had to discover from a ten-year-old that all I needed was a Universal Card Reader. Duh! So, why isn't anyone telling me this stuff?

Oh yeah, and Barney's been cryogenically suspended in the cocktail shaker. No one on Freecycle wanted it, so it was the perfect solution. I've never known him so serene. House of Pants is now a backpack. We're at large and will be in touch soon...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A Moving Tale

Family Fun while elegantly dressed on the South Bank in 2007

Never again. Once I get to the other side of the known world, I’ll never again put my jumbo sized stapler and me through the ordeal known as moving. To House of Pants, it was more disruptive than if Alexander McQueen had hooked up with Hugo Chavez and imposed a long overdue state of fashion emergency.
The photo above is of a family I don’t know. I took it myself last summer. I don’t think the faces are distinguishable enough for them to complain that I haven’t secured their permission to release the picture into the public domain. They ought to be glad, it’s a good photo and the little girl is elegantly dressed for drenching if I’m not much mistaken.

It's not, however the photo that I wanted to put up tonight. House of Pants now resembles a junkie’s doss house. For several days I've been sleeping there on my ancient mattress which I fully intend to leave in the street. I’ve been waiting a generation to do that. I will, however, phone Hackney Council's free bulky waste service and ask them the pick it up rather than just abandon it like everyone else does. I took a photo of the grubby nest in which I've been sleeping, but it's trapped in the Kodak like an outtake from Jumanji.

I also don’t have access to the picture I took of the lovely removalists from Birmingham who magically spirited all my stuff away. Quite what my assorted chattels plan on doing in Birmingham, I can’t imagine. I can only hope Barney stays away from the Bullring. I've had him cryogenically frozen in a charming 1950s cocktail shaker I had lying around. It seemed a shame to offer it on Freecycle when it could provide a perfect temporary home for Barney. I’ve never seen him happier and, to be honest, the silence is bliss. I have a photo of that too.

The removalists were incredibly efficient, and therein lies the problem. Somehow the little lead that connects the Kodak to the computer slipped through a crack in the security cordon I set up to separate the ‘needed on voyage’ items from the rest of the tat I got fed up sorting out and just piled in a corner. Needless to say, that lead and my spare contact lenses are now languishing in a warehouse in Birmingham and I have put the Bosch electric drill, my Gore-Tex jacket and ski gloves on Freecycle. I found them all in the rubble after the removalists had left. I actually ran down the street after them with my nearly new Dr Scholl's sandals and that was embarrassing enough.

So I slipped out today in time I didn’t really have, to buy another camera to computer lead in order to carry on posting my own photos. After wading through several layers of queue-disrespecting tourists in Peruvian bobble hats, I finally found a nine-year-old in Curry’s who appeared to understand what was meant by ‘a lead that connects a digital camera to a computer’. Seriously, these can’t have a specific name can they? What would you call it? A Kodakacon? A Compudak?

Mindful of the propensity of modern manufacturers to create unique connection systems in order to maximise income from accessories, I asked said nine-year-old, ‘are these universal?’ He nodded, of course he did, as he would have had I asked him, ‘are these a cure for cancer, do you know?’ So I get back to my house-sit and locate a chainsaw to open the carton. It clearly proclaims itself a Digital Camera USB Cable so there is no question of gingerliness on my part in getting to the produce. I need to liberate my pictures, fast. The lead does not fit the Kodak and my £15 is up the spout. Calling all Freecyclers - anyone want a camera to computer lead that probably won’t fit your camera?

It's now clear to me just how seriously difficult it’s going to be managing my cyber-life on the road. I haven’t even left town yet and I’ve already lost the ability to manage my images. I now have total sympathy for all of Britney Spears’s multiple personalities.

What used to constitute my ‘stuff’ has all taken a separate journey and I feel very free. I don’t worry about it because none of it is that important. Some of it gave me grief, and I’ve a few stories to tell, particularly about the piano – but that’s a post in itself.

You know me as someone who trusts no one – because I’ve said so often enough. However, when I travel, I become a person who trusts everyone. As soon as the backpack goes on, I willingly place myself at the mercy of strangers, and few have let me down. Perhaps I should spend the rest of my life travelling. I wouldn’t complain if offered that opportunity, believe me (provided someone could sort me out with the right camera/computer interface).

Leaving this city where I’ve spend half my life, and the flat where I’ve lived longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere else apart from the council flat across the road I left it for, is overwhelming to me at present. I like overwhelming, most of the time.

It was weird for me, and quite embarrassing, to have loads of strange men milling around House of Pants packing my, errr, pants. The worst moment was when they pulled out the washing machine. It had been in-situ for some eight years. The layer of grime confronting us made a mockery of the Quentin Crisp assertion that ‘after four years, you don’t notice the dust’. Believe me, it was noticed. The guys found they needed ‘a smoke’ immediately after its discovery. Either dust is very sexy, or they were revolted enough to absent themselves while I applied enough Cillit Bang to invalidate Kyoto. My final exposure as a slovenly cow was strangely liberating.

Ever helpful, the removalists explained that I needed a ‘blank cap’ to put over the hole in the pipework exposed by the departure of my now quite clean washing machine. I responded with my ‘I should know about this, why?’ look, whilst wondering if it had anything to do with contraception. It sounded vaguely familiar. Undaunted, the head removalist brokered a call to my local hardware shop who signposted me to a plumbing suppliers in Hackney Road for the ‘blank cap’ that would render my kitchen sink usable again.

Opposite Hackney City Farm, I found a plumbing shop full of young Asian men all calling each other ‘uncle’. The removalists insisted I take the companion part. It was a useful piece of advice as the term ‘blank cap’ meant nothing two miles down the road. One of the ‘uncles’ produced a piece of brass confidently. I asked how much. He said ‘One pound twenty.’ I’d given the removalists my last twenty-pound note to buy themselves a couple of pints. In Birmingham, you can actually get a couple of pints for twenty quid. There was next to nothing in my purse. I asked the ‘uncle’ to direct me to the nearest cash machine. He said, ‘how much you got?’ I was able to draw together 60p. He said, ‘Okay, okay, now go.’

When I got home, I found the cap fitted. There’s a lesson there but it’s far too esoteric to be contemplated at present…

Thursday, December 13, 2007


Where there are leaves, there's hope - Elegantly head-dressed Wednesday

Pants is at the very end of her elastic, emotionally speaking. Forgive my converting to first person. I want sympathy, and lots of it. I am distraught, seriously. The move is not going well, (Barney, will you shut the fuck up!!). I wish you to know that cyanide commercially available on the internet is not of sufficient strength to dispatch a hybrid, especially one of Barney's indomitable fortitude. I should have worked that one out from the speed at which he turned the tables on the yellow fever.

Whatever possesses hypoallergenic pet manufacturers to persist with conventional selfish genes, I can't imagine. Surely the trade-off for threatening the stability of the global environment by unleashing a potentially lethal cocktail of genetic tutti frutti upon the hearths of the developed world is that all the undesirable characteristics of traditional species are 'designed out'.

I look at Barney and I think, what is the point of you. Barney says he now knows how the Duchess of York feels (except for the whole toe-sucking and being Beatrice's 'mummy-and-best-friendy' thing - which not even Barney is prepared to contemplate).

Christmas, divorce and moving are even more stressful than death for most people. (Arguably, if you're dead, you're no longer stressed, and that's something to look forward to). I chose to do them all at once. Although, having your hybrid pet put into cryogenic suspension doesn't technically count as divorce, I'm sure the personal toll is equivalent. I checked it out thoroughly.

Someone rather creepy from Furriers 4 Justice contacted me because he thought I ought to be entitled to some compensation and wondered whether Barney had a decent coat. I told him I presumed so since a Stella McCartney cashmere blend hooded jacket at £1,495 appeared on my last credit card statement. Since the order was for a size 000 and was placed at 4.15am, I figured it wasn't a panic reflex on my part.

Moving, after eleven years in one place can throw your inner project manager into a major time-frame crisis. I always thought I could accurately predict how long it would take to complete any task. I also laboured under the serious misapprehension that I had hardly any 'stuff'. The three cavernous built-in cupboards at House of Pants have been sleeping Tardii. They conceal items I could never have imagined owning.

These new discoveries have created a massive time lag as I go, 'Barney what the fuck is this?' and Barney goes, 'how the fuck should I know'. Then we have to glare at each other suspiciously until one of us backs down and makes a cup of tea. Then there's the inevitable dilly-dallying over which pile the object I never knew I owned goes into.

There are five piles

  • Definitely going to Australia - books, underwear.
  • Not sure - anything that isn't familiar but looks like it might have a purpose.
  • Things to give to other people - tennis balls for my downstairs neighbour who's a tennis coach. Freeview box for my friend's son to watch the History Channel.
  • Put on Freecycle - virtually anything electrical that I can't get clean - which is most of it.
  • Backpack - the things I'll need for the next three months.

What I've noticed the most is that everything is so dirty and it's taking forever to get it all clean. Just as well Barney and I have had our diphtheria shots. (Now that I've decided on the cryogenic suspension, I'm looking forward to waking him up in gentler times. He might have turned into Buck Rogers by then).

The movers are coming tomorrow and I've managed to pack 25 boxes. In my panic, I'm sure to have packed important documents I find I need tomorrow, like bank statements and instructions on how to stop direct debits from being extracted from my account for the rest of my life. Oh, and I finally get around to signing up for online banking, beating down perpetual doubts about the security aspects, only to discover you can't transfer money internationally with it. Sorry? I thought the point of the internet was that it has no international boundaries.

Is it just me or is it so much harder to get everything done now? Maybe people with complex personal lives and an inexplicable penchant for switching utilities suppliers are used to this level of aggravation but it's all new to me. Why is it so difficult for suppliers to comprehend that you are moving house? Aren't we a predominantly transient population these days? Isn't it just a matter of hitting a key?

And then there's the insidious trait of modern city life which dictates 'what's my problem is your problem'. My new neighbour across the hall gave the neighbour underneath his old washing machine. Nice gesture you'd think. It's been sitting outside her front door, blocking the hallway for three weeks. I've left her notes telling her my movers are coming tomorrow. Still it sits there. Tomorrow I'll have to do something about that and live with moving men in my house for two days. They seem nice but they'll ask all sorts of questions I can't answer and I'll have to clean the bathroom tonight, just in case they want to dirty it up again.

Come Saturday, it will all be over. (Barney, will you shut the fuck up!)

Monday, December 10, 2007

I dream of...

Having a moment like this guy back in the summer of 2000. I snapped him in Islington on my way to a meeting I seriously didn't want to go to. The summer of 2000 was like that.

I dream of having this whole moving business over. I have nine pairs of scissors and can't find any of them. Going to India as an emigration interval was at least the stupidest idea I've ever had because it just makes everything so complicated. I'll love it when I'm there and it will all be worth it.

The demon that is Barney has flatly refused to help with the packing on the flimsy grounds that none of the stuff to be packed is his. Doesn't stop him using same I might add.

Anyway, must get back to the boxes. If you've got a mo, you might want to check out Barney's own webpage. He was memed by Signs so I succumbed to the pressure. I had a few emails suggesting I might be flouting the anti-discrimination laws, and even though they were obviously from himself, it hardly seems worth the bother to gag him. Barney is the hybrid for which 'enough rope' was invented.

I'm going to be otherwise occupied for the next week or so...

In the meantime, check this out - That's So Pants is ranked 3rd in London's hottest blogs over at London Daily Voices where Wednesday's post is also in the top ten this week.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Immeasurably Pissed-off Wednesday

Anyone had one of these lately, ever?

Twenty-five years ago, I left the then police state of Queensland Australia because of the total randomness of that state's interference in its citizens' private lives and because the music was better, obviously. For all this time, including living fairly precariously in squats and participating in decidedly fringe pursuits, I have evaded the attentions of HM Woodentops until now - one month before I officially resign my post as a council tax paying Londoner.

As a respectable middle-aged 'IC1 female', I was yesterday officially 'stopped' at Hackney Wick Station under 'Section 44 of the Counter Terrorism Act'. Admittedly, I was carrying a back pack. Our dozy little station serves about a dozen people an hour so why Hackney Police thought it was a reasonable use of police time to deploy ten officers to find some people to question about terrorism here is anyone's guess.

I was approached by a WPC who asked me if I'd be willing to answer some questions. Thinking this was a type of public consultation and since I'm currently harassing people for a crust under this very pretext, I truly thought it would be churlish of me to refuse. Next thing I know, Sister Sledgehammer has pulled out her fucking Stop and Searches book. Never mind the chummy, chummy approach. I had no right to refuse. Below is the net result of my encounter.

I've scratched out my personal details but it's hardly worth the bother since I know the police are keeping these on a database which was almost certainly hacked into by every under ten year old in the country before I'd bedded down last night.

The flimsy excuse under which I was 'stopped' was to ask me if I'd 'seen anything suspicious' on my way to work. I was tempted to offer that I'd noticed a Brazilian or two hastening to work but was wary of sparking a mass panic, if not slaughter. I thought the better and assured the WPC I'd nothing to report.

Before anyone gets steaming with me about the police needing to be seen to be vigilant when it comes to taking the threat of terrorism seriously, let me just say I'm very glad to have lived the last twenty-five years in a country where I am and feel free to protest. And I did. I told the WPC I found the method of approach invidious. Since the train still hadn't come and I liked the word so much, I harangued the Sergeant and demanded the name of the Borough Commander. I told the Jim Royle-alike Sergeant I'd write a letter of complaint. He looked so pleased I wondered if I'd inadvertently ticked another target box.

When I got to work with the Stop and Searches duplicate burning a hole in my hackles, railing for all I was worth, a black colleague quipped,

'You should try being black love.'

And rightly so. I have black friends whose kids could probably paper their bedroom walls with these things. I wouldn't expect to be treated any differently from my black friends' teenage sons in the same situation. But here's the weird thing. It seems to me my Stop and Searches experience was an exercise in collecting gratuitous but usefully comparative information. Put simply, they grabbed the opportunity to 'question' someone other than a young Asian male under Section 44 of the Counter Terrorism Act, because there was actually no one else around.

No one with a conscience wants the police to be constantly harassing young black and Asian men but, how is taking down the details of my attire going to avert terrorism exactly?

I snarled at the WPC,

'Well I certainly hope you meet your targets'.

She countered,

'It's not just about numbers.'

Stupid fucking cow.

If you're the type of person who thinks that you've nothing to fear if you've done nothing wrong, you might want to rethink. It's very scary but the police can't seem to find a better way of keeping us safe but to treat us all as a potential risk to safety.

Monday, December 03, 2007

The puss and the owly-cat

Bad news, for Barney at least. As you can see, he’s had an adverse reaction to the jabs for India. I suppose I ought to take some responsibility for it. I transported him in his especially adapted owly-cat basket down to our lovely practice nurse Florence. He moaned the whole way and actually inferred that instead of getting a tetanus booster, he might be being prepped for having his cojones disappeared. Suffice to say that mutual trust has never built in quite the way I’d hoped.

Fortunately for us, our local surgery is reckoned to be the best in Hackney. Admittedly that’s not much of a recommendation, but it’s incredibly efficient and there never seems to be anyone in there. I suppose that doesn’t seem like much of a recommendation either but I don’t think there’s quite the link between quality and demand when it comes to health services as there is say with restaurants. No sooner had we entered the waiting room than our names began to flash up on the big screen. I admit I was disappointed as I’d my eye on a Take A Break article about Britney Spears embracing her new hobby of plastic surgery. I’m so relieved she’s taking an interest in something. In any case, the expediency left Barney little time for protest.

I was surprised to discover that all the inoculations you need for travelling in India were available and free and could be done right there and then by the nightingale-like Florence. But that’s the NHS. If you’re in agony with a bung hip or urgently need drugs for cancer, you’ll be told to go to Germany or pay for your treatment yourself. If you only want to go on holidays to a place where you’ve a slim chance of picking up typhoid, you get to make an appointment convenient for you and arrive to find all the right drugs in the fridge.

Where I think I might be culpable in Barney’s present predicament is that I was possibly a little too cavalier in suggesting that he should have double the human dose of everything just to be on the safe side. I stand by my logic. Barney, being a hybrid, has twice the DNA of a standard species. I could find no evidence in my, (admittedly cursory), internet research to suggest that body weight should be factored in.

I have a feeling it might be the yellow fever. Those spots are really quite yellow and sort of weeping. I don’t want to alarm Barney so I’m keeping him in a darkened room while I quietly contact his originators to see if he can be cryogenically frozen for the next three or even six months. God knows I need a break. To be honest, I think it’s all for the best. I know Barney had his heart set on visiting the Maharajah of Katpur but there would have been all sorts of problems in setting that up as the ‘Maharajah’ is really a long dead London alley cat called Merlin. Barney has the infuriating combination of extra keen eyesight and ultra-suspicious nature so only the most elaborate of hoaxes would have sufficed. Who needs it?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

What Presence

Edwyn Collins in his studio by Henri Kyriacous

‘I’m learning to sing again’, Edwyn Collins tells a devoted full house of fans in the bijou Arts Theatre in London on Sunday night. This isn’t some crass pronouncement from a maturity-free Aimless Wino type celebrity with metaphors where morals should be. No, Edwyn had literally forgotten how to sing and walk and talk too. In February 2005 he suffered two brain haemorrhages, triggering a massive stroke. Nearly three years later, the resolutely clenched fist on the end of his motionless right arm testifies to the brutality of the assault on this man’s body.

I knew Edwyn slightly in the early 80s when we used to hang around with the Postcard crowd. Mr T knows him better since he’s much more adept at both hanging around and keeping in touch. Edwyn’s illness began just six months after Michael Donaghy died of a brain haemorrhage. I was in Michael’s poetry class and knew him neither long nor well but I’d been to his 50th birthday dinner just months before. It was a shocking thing. I knew how serious this was for Edwyn and had followed his progress on the website, where his wife and manager Grace had been posting regular updates.

Mr T got us tickets for this intimate gig, one of a series Edwyn has been doing to promote his album, Home Again. The last time I saw Edwyn was in September 2001 when he and Roddy Frame did an acoustic gig together at Festival Hall in London. They alternated songs and played a couple together. It was chaos. I wrote this in my diary,

Both were very rusty and three times songs completely broke down because they’d forgotten them and had to abandon them. Edwyn did it twice and Roddy once. Unbelievable. Is the art of performance dying?

In typical Pants fashion, I then went on to predict the crumbling of the civilised world. It hasn’t quite come to that, I admit, but at the time I judged I’d a right to expect that at a sit-down concert in Festival Hall, the people on stage could at least get through a whole song. If it had been at Dingwall’s I would simply have gone to the bar for the duration and ended the evening in a much happier state of mind.

They clearly hadn’t rehearsed. Roddy Frame could play the dictionary without rehearsing. Edwyn was obviously the subversive in this scenario. Twice he’d restarted a song only to get to the same place he’d capsized the first time. He shrugged. He collapsed into fits of his celebrated hacking hyena laugh. He looked to an increasingly exasperated Roddy to pick up the pieces. It rattled Roddy so much he folded too. The unthinkable happened. Roddy Frame had an unexpected encounter with fallibility. Backstage, Roddy sat scowling while Edwyn dismissed the fiasco as ‘a bit of fun’.

Cut to the present day. Despite the experience of seeing Michael Donaghy in an open casket, felled by this condition, I haven’t prepared myself fully for how Edwyn might be. Knowing that Roddy Frame is playing with him, I joke to Mr T ‘Well it can’t be any worse than last time.’ I’m actually expecting him to be playing the guitar.

It’s a tiny theatre and we’re very close to the stage, in a side seat, perched like birds of prey. Edwyn propels himself out of the wings opposite us with considerable effort, his left side willing his disconsolate right side forward. I quietly vomit tears. For the first few minutes I shuffle through a library of redundant emotions, looking for a suitable match as Edwyn begins, falteringly, to sing.

Edwyn delivers a blinding fifty minute set where he makes not a single error excepting the occasional moment of dysphrasia, another legacy of the stroke. He’s had to learn all his songs again, from scratch. He has the lyrics in front of him, on a lectern. The dysphrasia produces a classic Mondegreen. He introduces a song he calls Wrong Track Mind. (When I buy the wonderful Home Again next day I’m briefly disappointed to learn the tune’s called One Track Mind). Edwyn hasn’t lost his instinct for piloting. He constantly subdues the audience’s expectations with rehearsed phrases that remind us he’s still a work in reconstruction. ‘I’m getting there’, he tells us, ‘slowly’.

Roddy Frame is the second-best guitar player in Britain (after David Gilmour obviously). He has a tuneful but not quite distinctive enough singing voice and, for reasons no one can fathom, has never written a particularly memorable song (except Somewhere in My Heart which is recallable for all the wrong reasons – tonight a member of the audience only half-jokingly implores him not to play it). It seems as if Roddy knows too much and is just too careful about getting it right. Edwyn, on the other hand is the Mozartian lout with a hotline to the zeitgeist.

What Roddy’s done best for years is make everyone else sound good. He couldn’t honour his old friend more. It’s not until tonight I realise what genius timing he has. The band powers into Girl Like You. Roddy manages to simultaneously give Edwyn the beafy support he needs to carry his big hit and build breathless anticipation for that killer riff over two choruses, without creating any semblance of conflict. It’s remarkable. Mr T and I briefly visit backstage. I tell Roddy I like what he’s done with Girl Like You. He shrugs and says, ‘I had fun with it’. Edwyn doesn’t recognise me at all, unsurprisingly. He pauses over Mr T’s face and says, ‘you’re that Australian guy, aren’t you?’

There’s something about Edwyn Collins’s demeanour that tells you he accepts unquestioningly who he is now, a man interrupted. That takes staggering courage. The album Home Again, which you must immediately go out and buy, not only contains a treasure of beautiful songs, but a selection of lovely drawings of wildlife. Just as he’s learned to walk, talk and sing again, Edwyn’s learned to draw left-handed. He tells Pete Paphides on this Times Online podcast which you must immediately download and listen to, ‘I like animals and birds’. I guess that sums up the Collins philosophy. He’s a mountain-because-it’s-there kind of guy.

And elegant, still so very, very elegant.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

We need to talk about Kevin

The Rudd celebrates the end of a long drought - from the Sydney Morning Herald

Australians are waking up to the first new government in eleven years right about now. Labor has won the election. It was a result that, although widely predicted, few dared hope for. I know how great it feels and I'm very much looking forward to enjoying the new mood when I return to my birth-mother country early next year. That there's a pointless full stop, (and I hope this doesn't come across as gratuitous tautology on my part), after 'New Leadership' on the banner above, indicates a refreshing lack of slickness. After ten years of British New Labour's 'style over substance' approach to public interface, I find the lack of attention to presentation cause for celebration.

I imagine the conversation with brand for u on this campaign that went,

b4U: What's your goal for your new brand?

Team Rudd: We end up running the Government.

b4U: Yes, but what's vision behind that?

Team Rudd: More people vote for us than the other guys.

b4u: Whatever. That'll be $500,000 (please, thank you).

Money well spent.

There was, to be fair, a certain cringing at House of Pants over the Kevin07 campaign. I can only say in defence of the incoming Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, if your name does happen to rhyme with the calendar year in which you're making your first stab at high office, you should go with the linguistic flow. Kevin's just nerdy enough to get away with it, and sodding well did too. Sis Pants, who incidentally suggested the title for this post, tells me that locally the Ruddster is known as The Milky Bar Kid. As long as he continues the Kid's tradition of giving rather than taking, we'll get along fine.

When I talk to Ma Pants in the morning, I know she'll be thrilled with the
Ruddslide. She's a total Ruddite and won't mind me saying so. What we know so far is that the new government will withdraw Australian soldiers from Iraq and sign the Kyoto agreement. Already I feel as if I'll be going to live in a place that is so much more like the home that I recognise. I didn't know the place that imperilled and brutalised human beings fleeing persecution. I didn't understand the place that allowed working conditions to be eroded to a level below decency for the first time since the Great Depression. I do know that a change of government could make all the difference. It has before. And now there is hope of halting the march of greed and self-interest that made Australia all icing and no cake.

On ya Kev. The whole country woke up, smelt the low-fat latte, and saw that evil bastard Howard off. Not only did he lose the election, he lost his seat as well. Don't think you can start moaning about 'unfair dismissal' either Johnnie - you took away that right, remember? Let's hope your local Centrelink takes a tough line on lazy prats like you and hassles you to do voluntary work.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Wednesday will I be famous?

Pants with Pa Pants taken by Ma Pants a rather long time ago

I know, I know. It's all about me again and the presumption that I somehow represent elegance. All I can say is I have only my fantasies now. This is me and Pa Pants who died just before I came to live in England. I don't know where we are. From the background, you might imagine it is in Pa Pants's birthplace of Egypt, although I'm certain I didn't actually go there until 2001. Besides, I don't think they had Holden cars in Egypt. The picture is probably taken in Queensland, Australia, and since I am in my party dress, the location is most likely close to my grandparents' home in Coopers Plains and around the time of my fourth birthday. I don't remember the dairy farm country of the Brisbane environs looking like this so I'm wondering if Ma and Pa Pants perhaps contrived a photo in front of a large billboard. That would have been a very 5os thing to do.

The dress was dark pink (and white, obviously). Ma Pants probably made it because she made all my clothes in those days. I also remember with great fondness the little baby pink angora bolero I'm wearing which probably means it was passed down to a succession of dolls. By the time my younger sister was born we were into more serviceable clothes. We were outdoor kids and I don't remember much about the clothes from then on until I was old enough to make or buy my own. This photo was taken just before my sister was born.

Another era is drawing to a close. Ma Pants was about the age I am now when Pa Pants died. When I left Australia for England, I was about the age she was when she took this photograph. I was living in Queensland too, in Brisbane. I was in a band and itching to get out of Australia. Pa Pants had died on Christmas Eve, 1981. Of all times to go, he had to pick that one. But, after the initial spoiling of Christmas for everyone for several years, the family got into Christmas being more special because it was a time to remember Pa Pants. We can half fill our yuletide cup as easily as empty it in my family. We're fairly resilient in that respect.

The following Brisbane winter of 1982, which I probably misremember as unseasonably cold, was salvaged for me by the ticket to London which was burning a hole in my pocket. Crazy spending ensued prompted by the frenzied sale of old furniture from my old house. The country was going mad for 'colonial' style furniture which I'd bought for next to nothing while the rest of the country was hoarding Swedish teak. I sold everything, including the house. When I say 'crazy', what I mean is I bought a state-of-the-art recording Walkman and a stupidly expensive pair of pink leather pixie boots. They wore out in a matter of months in the harsh London winter.

I remember those last days in Brisbane on temporary work, skipping through the city plugged into this new fangled device, listening to ABC's The Lexicon of Love. As a child veteran of 50s cool jazz, courtesy of the Pants parents and my own autodidact pop education and praxis from playing school orchestra 'cello and clarinet and folk guitar, I really felt I'd matured artistically and was ready to conquer the world. And I just couldn't wait to get started.

Cut to the present. On any given Wednesday, like today for example, I travel to my temporary job in Ilford, which is nice and pays very well. From Ilford Station, I cut through a big shopping mall rather than walk down the dim, cold streets to my workplace. The mall is draped with pretty lights and Christmas grottoes and has been since the beginning of November. I don't even bother to protest about that any more. I do wish though that we could have had fairy lights in the trees in those dim, horrid years of the 80s when it would been really appreciated, rather than now when many of us can at least escape Britain cheaply and the feast of lights just shrieks 'global warming'.

It's fair to say I'm a little sad with the way things have turned out for me over the last twenty-five years. I love my life and I've never been unhappy in England. Frustrated yes, unhappy no. I don't do unhappy. I wish I'd been able to contribute more to the society in which I live, but it hasn't wanted my contribution. It hasn't wanted the contribution of most of its citizens. I know this because I've spent most of the last fifteen years gathering public opinion only to have it dumped into reports that would be either ignored or cut to fit a corporate agenda.

This morning, shuffling through this could-have-been-anywhere mall, I heard good old ABC, distilled as walk-on-by musak. Shoot that poison arrow through my heart, world...

Monday, November 19, 2007

Breaking News!

Pythagoras discovers the octave.

Like, where were you, man?

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Talk to the claw

The Maharajah of Katpur by Michael Weigall 1986

My neighbours moved out today. You can't imagine what a relief that was - not I hasten to add because I didn't like them, far from it - but because they and I have been on exactly the same sales trajectory with our properties for the last 15 months. We had the same mendacious landlord and the same sweet but slightly off-the-ball lawyer. That they completed today makes me believe it is possible.

I've spent the better part of this week trying to fit the vast amount of information required by the High Commission of India onto its one page visa form. I've printed out half a dozen so I can keep practising my miniature calligraphy with the aid of a philatelist's magnifying glass. I hope to be able to make my final submission next week. I've already been subjected to one major scare over this when the High Commission shut down its Special Delivery postal service for a time. I had heard this was the only reliable way to get yourself a tourist visa other than to start queuing immediately after you stopped queuing for Wimbledon. You'd roughly the same chance of success as well, so I'm told.

Barney, my hypoallergenic owly-cat is yet another complication in my plan to spend a month unwinding in India on the way back to my final resting place in Australia. When I sifted through the dozen boxes that had been in the loft for the last eleven years, I came across eight of the extraordinary Cat Empire postcards I'd loved and collected in the 80s. To me, they're just very clever dressing up photos of a very compliant cat who may or may not have been assisted by the powerful sedative Moggydon, incidentally the drug I intended to use to knock Barney out for the time it took me to regain my peace of mind.

Unsurprisingly, Barney perceived these found artefacts quite differently. And they say relationships with men are difficult. In short, a messiah paid a personal visit and the repercussions are still being felt at House of Pants. Never mind my entreaties that the 'Maharajah' to my certain knowledge was an (admittedly talented) alley cat from London called Merlin who operated under at least fourteen other aliases. I admit, out of sheer frustration, I screamed at my ludicrously expensive hybrid pet and that is wrong. I apologise in advance of a delegation arriving from the RSPCA's GenMod Team.

However, those damn pearls are so blatantly fake. I know this because I have a set of real pearls and they do not look like that. I showed them to Barney and he bit them. This is where I totally lost my rag. I shrieked, 'that's diamonds, you fuckwit.' What do you think Barney did? He sunk his big owl beak into my sodding finger, that's what. The small diamond thereupon is unaffected, proving my point. However, I suspect it will be quite difficult for me to play a flattened ninth chord for the forseeable future.

I had hoped that after all the trouble to have Barney classified as an interactive Bagpuss by D.A.F.T. (Department of Animals and Furry Things), I could just pop him in the top of my backpack with the zipper slightly open and no one at the border would be the wiser. I assumed they'd be so busy scanning the microscopic writing on my visa, they might not notice that my backpack was making its own way to the taxi rank.

The problem, as I've explained exhaustively in the past, is that Barney is not the ideal combination of owl and cat. For example, a cat sleeps twenty-three hours a day. What a blessing that must be for its lucky owners. Barney keeps owl hours which means he's on the internet all night gathering all sorts of misinformation. Having discovered the Cat Empire has its own national orchestra, there is no dissuading Barney that it has about as much global relevancy as UKIP. No biggy. It just means that we have to make a slight detour to Katpur to pay our homage to the 'Maharajah'. I can live with that if it means the little guy has something to tell his genome inheritors.

Fake pearls notwithstanding, you have to admit that Merlin (undoubtedly now deceased as this photo is over twenty years old), is rather elegantly attired. Barney has been at me to post an Elegantly Dressed Wednesday image that reflects his 'community' for some time. Until he came into my life, I had no idea that cultural diversity could embrace such a broad church, as it were. I'd like to be able to tell you that I feel enriched by the exposure to new points of view but when I continuously spend the early hours of the morning resetting all the spam filters on our shared computer after Barney has spent the night googling the words 'pussy' and 'lick', I'm afraid my natural inclination to tolerance quite deserts me.

Anyway, he's sulking now after our tiff. He's hardly touched his smoked salmon roulade with cream cheese cake dessert. Slowly but surely, we inch towards destiny, however hideous it might turn out to be...

Monday, November 12, 2007

gods of small things

A little over a year ago, I received a very charming, not to mention welcome note from Charles Johnson, the editor of Obsessed with Pipework. Three of my poems had been accepted for publication in the autumn 2007 edition. Not only that, he had even added the postscript ‘more poems at any time, please.’ I would have sent some too, except I thought I was going to be leaving the country any minute, as opposed to a decade yet to be determined.

When you send out poems you accept that the publication date might be further in the future than your head can find its way around. The knowledge that three little pieces of work over which I'd endlessly slaved had secured themselves a place on the page cheered me no end. My record is roughly equivalent to that of a mother leatherback turtle in getting my delicate babes into the world. Not only that, my poems are in the tenth anniversary edition and they’re the first three. Even readers with an attention deficit condition will probably get through at least the first poem. It’s about a bird and it’s very short.

Fellow blogger Matt Merritt also has three poems in OWP of which my favourite is Small Hours. Any poem that references Gary Snyder is going to get a nod from me. He was kind enough to mention me on Polyolbion too.

Nice occurrences are necessary to offset the immense, (and recklessly under-anticipated on my part), turmoil of selling up and moving on. So stressed am I that I have switched to Greenall’s Gin (cheaper and 40% proof) and started checking out the alcohol strength of wine. Did you know that some Chilean wine has an alcohol content of 14%?

I managed to persuade my kindly neighbour to get up in my loft today and fetch down a dozen boxes of books, notebooks and photographs that had been stored there for the last eleven years. He looked like a rather large chimney sweep when he emerged. I spent the afternoon sorting through the boxes to discover that I have two copies of several favourite books. I have three copies of Elizabeth Jolley’s Foxybaby, which I don’t particularly like and no copies of Palomino, which I love.

I also own two copies of T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets. I brought the heavily annotated paperback copy I had at university with me when I came to England in 1982. One day I’ll butcher it in the name of art. The other is a grubby second edition I picked up in Spain for 300 pts, which shall remain no more molested than it already is. I also discovered that I had a very large collection of out-of-focus photographs. I say had because I culled them with half an eye on the EastEnders omnibus this afternoon. To say the cut was arbitrary would be lending it more gravitas than its due.

This week House of Pants received double acclaim. I draw your attention to the newly inserted large pink feline thing on the sidebar. I have been awarded a Roar for Powerful Words from the Shameless Lions Writing Circle. The honour comes from The Inner Minx – thank you Minxie.

With reward comes responsibility. (Is there anyone out there who can do something about this btw?). I must now identify three elements I think essential for powerful writing. I can only perceive this from the Pants POV so here it is,

1) Believe you’re right about absolutely everything.

2) Outwit any opposition immediately (not as difficult as it sounds).

3) Love the written word more than life itself (I hasten to add this does not preclude enjoying life to the brimful, obviously).

It now falls to me to pass on the roar to five other bloggers. Well… you know I’m a bit of a bucker of systems at the best of times and even I know enough maths to realise that by the time this thing gets down a few layers, you will find it quite difficult to find someone who hasn’t got one. I’m not being mean or anything (Barney – shut the fuck up! A little friendly advice to anyone who has US$4,000 disposable income lying around – DO NOT BUY A HYPOALLERGENIC HYBRID PET WITH IT). Where was I? Right. By the power vested in me (however dubiously), I bestow a Roar for Powerful Words upon,

Baroque in Hackney – Ms Baroque spends her spare time teaching lions how to roar.

Reading the Signs – As a cartographer of experience, Signs has few equals.

Now I must return to turning over the dust of my own life. Put simply, there are still plenty of grubby boxes left to sift through...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Little Black Dressed Wednesday

Portrait of Pants by Barbara Bennett

The abandon with which I am currently exploiting Scorn and Noise's distinguished idea of celebrating Wednesdays with elegance probably deserves some kind of public flogging. (Please someone, I have so few pleasures in life). Pardon me, my manners have deserted along with my previously strict adherence to personal hygiene. I have forgone all sense of decorum by my shameless self-promotion, not to mention my attempts to raise awareness of artists whose work I own. Be assured that I am aware that I have a problem and I will seek counselling if hell is ever in imminent danger of freezing over. You have my word.

The problem is, (and this can't have gone unnoticed), in all things blog at least, I seem to have lost that je ne sais quois that made me want to kick against everything. Now that the world and I have agreed a trial separation (custody of kids goes to the world, obviously), I find my appetite for ranting to be roughly equivalent to that of the sex drive of a ninety-seven year old.

I have considered trawling the archives and recycling a continuous stream of 'best of Pants' posts, rather like one's beloved BBC does with its digital channels. The BBC delights in rolling out wonderful, wacky gems from its self-assessed 'golden era' that hardly anyone watched at the time but everyone remembers with great fondness, and rightly so. It then rather cleverly goes on to create shows in the same mode to capitalise on this touching nostalgia for false memory. Life on Mars - much as I loved you - you were that show.

Early Pants posts inhabit the same void. They were wonderful but no one was tuned in to them. You have my word for that - or you could visit the archives and post me a reality check. Or you could post me an actual cheque - I never knowingly refuse money.

I so easily slip off the point these days. Anyone who visits my comments might be aware that a well-known writer recently popped by to track down a long lost actor of his distant acquaintance through this blog. He'd googled her name and come up with That's So Pants (what must he have thought?), as another friend of this actor had commented that I looked like her in a photo I'd posted. The consequence of this exercise is a significant percentage of the blogosphere is searching for one Berys Marsh.

The other day when I was negotiating my half awake self through the increasingly chaotic transport hub of Stratford, East London, I thought I caught sight of my old friend Barbara Bennett who did several portraits of me in younger days. The one above is a pastel drawing. She also did a painting of me in that dress and a couple of casual pencil head portraits. I love these pictures and not just because they're of me (although I can't deny it's a big factor).

Barbara is a great capturer of the moment. I didn't prove so great at it. I lost Barbara's number some years ago and what I should have done was run after her screaming, 'Barbara, Barbara.' It's not that I care what people think, after all. It just didn't occur to me. And she slipped away.

In my own defence, that was the day I got onto the train at Hackney Wick only to have the driver announce,

'This train is full of vomit',

or so I thought. (Seriously, it isn't outside the realm of possibility on Silverlink Metro).

Actually what he said was,

'This train is for the moment... slowing down to comply with' ... blah, blah, wrong kind of leaves on the track, classic autumn lame excuse for slow running... blah, blah.

So I was chuckling away to myself about this lovely Mondegreen and trying to avoid getting trampled in the changeover crowd when I thought I saw Barbara and reacted more like an extra in Minority Report than my true self.

This EDW I present myself (again, boring, sorry) but also this great picture of me which I think does capture both my natural haughtiness (genetic fault - can't do anything about it) and my permanent sense of just not being comfortable, no matter where I am. It also sets in stone my weirdly lazy right eye (thanks Barb - history so needed that). For the record, that's a fan I'm holding, as opposed to a pan pipe.

So, I'm hoping that this post will put me back in touch with Barbara Bennett again. I'm going to leave Britain soon and Barbara was one of the first people I met when I came here. I hate goodbyes so much that I haven't even thought of how I'll handle all that. You can tell how crap I am at it. In less than two months I will leave Britain after twenty-five years of living here. How am I ever going to do this thing?

If only I could still fit into that little black dress...

Monday, November 05, 2007

Agent Prevaricator

PC backlash starts in Leicestershire - Pants

This weekend I’d timetabled in sending out letters to literary agents (in between episodes of X-Factor and reruns of The Lion Man, obviously). I got as far as downloading the most recent list of approachable reject slip compilers and set about trying to compose an interesting and engaging covering letter. I am still sitting here bewildered nearly forty-eight hours later.

I’m not the least bit interesting, a condition which becomes immediately apparent the instant I begin to talk about myself. I can’t get on with this whole notion of ‘selling oneself’. It’s gauche, surely, and obviously well beneath the dignity of any principled soul. A Chinese friend once told me she found job interviews impossible because in Chinese culture it’s considered bad manners to big oneself up. One is not ketchup!

Besides, writers aren’t supposed to be interesting, with the obvious exceptions of Hemingway and Ian Fleming. Perhaps if you’ve an ‘eming’ in your name, you’re entitled to some sort of exemption from dullardry. Most of us sit at our desks as day segues wearily into night, creating vim, vigour and vitality in our characters, rather than ourselves.

It’s also not that easy to value your inner assets when all around you make it perfectly clear that they think anything that comes out of your mouth should be being monitored for its pollution content.

Last Saturday night in the pub, I said to Mr T, ‘I wonder if there’s a link between googling and chaos theory.’ Mr T gave me a blank look. That in itself is not unusual and I was not put off by it. The very next day I sent off an email to an old Australian friend who is a reader in Mathematics at a respectable university. I knew that he had at least a passing acquaintance with chaos theory as I can remember him talking engagingly about it at a dinner party.

The O.A.F. wrote straight back informing me that, to his knowledge, there is no link between chaos theory and googling, although Google is based on a mathematical concept. Such is the esteem with which my peers regard my intellect dear readers. Imagine my surprise, coming to terms with the astounding news that search engines are composed of algorithms as opposed to thousands of little Google elves running around the blogoverse trying to string a series of seemingly unrelated words together.

Undeterred, I wrote the following back to the O.A.F.

My interest is not so much in how people locate information they are searching for on Google but rather what they do with the information they find while searching for something else. Crudely, I thought chaos theory was about exploring patterns in random data. It occurred to me that following up Google threads changes the course of events for millions of people on a daily basis, whether they're diverted for just a few minutes or stumble upon a piece of information that completely alters the course of their lives. What interests me is that, although wildly chaotic, Google users following threads in this way is both a pattern and traceable. It also occurs millions of times a day. I thought someone might be studying it.’

My reasoning was based on the popular illustration of chaos theory, you know the one that proposes a butterfly flapping its wings somewhere in a Thai jungle will eventually cause a tornado in Kansas. To my mind, googling is a unique way of finding out things that you didn't even know you were looking for. In that sense it has altered the course of history, no? These are connections that would not exist if it weren't for google searches. There’s a PhD in that for someone, surely. I haven’t heard back from my O.A.F. so either he’s feverishly developing my theory into some Nobel-worthy thesis or he’s waiting for the injunction to come through which will prevent me from ever contacting him again.

Anyway, where was I? Dear anonymous agent. I say anonymous because that you will almost certainly remain. I'm not the least bit interesting. I’m sending you my book anyway, because it is interesting. If you want to talk to me about it, I’ll be in India. I might not be able to take a call because I might be on the road. They say it’s best not to ride a camel and talk on a mobile at the same time. Send me an email. I’ll pop into the internet cafĂ© when I get back from tiger spotting.

I know what's going to happen though. They'll think I'm so boring they won't bother to read on...

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Smashing Pumpkin

Art by Mike Wade

There was a delectably dressed toddler in Ilford Town Centre late this afternoon dressed as a pumpkin. He was unselfconsciously parading his wee self about the mall to the delight of all assembled under the pretty mauve fairy lights festooning the pedestrianised high street. I could indulge myself in a moan about why we in Britain waited until gratuitous energy consumption by western nations was highlighted as a major contributor to climate change before discovering that lights in trees during the darkest days of winter make everyone feel better. You cannot imagine the effort of my restraint.

It’s Halloween and I’ll not be mean. Easy for me to say because I’m locked away in a second storey flat with a door entry system and so long as the five other residents in Greater House of Pants aren’t daft enough to buzz trick-or-treaters in, my supply of Marks and Spencer Humbugs that I received as a going away present from my next to last job should remain undisturbed.

I’d love to have taken a photo of the little boy in the pumpkin costume for Elegantly Dressed Wednesday. It honestly didn’t occur to me until I was on the second leg of my homeward journey but, even if I had whipped out the Kodak as a reflex gesture then there would have been complications. I’d have needed to explain to the mother what a ‘blog’ is and how her child would come to no harm as a consequence of appearing on a blog with a relatively small readership, especially since his sweet little made-up face would be indistinguishable from any other given pumpkin on the night.

But then I faced the agonising dilemma of how to present elegance on Halloween Wednesday. Unbelievably, because it’s so unlike me in my present chaotic state of mind to remember anything beyond what I have to do on a daily basis to put organic rye bread on the table, I remembered that I had the wonderful painting of a Halloween pumpkin by my friend Mike Wade stored away in my vast collection of incredible artworks. You are invited to enjoy at leisure.

It got me thinking. There’s a surprise. In my native Australia, we eat pumpkins. They are considered a food rather than a decorative item. Pumpkin soup for example was a staple of dinner parties in my fevered and impoverished student years. It was often served in the shell of the pumpkin as few student houses prioritised a soup tureen when stocking the common kitchen. It was more likely you’d spend your few spare coppers on labels advising fellow housemates,

This is my food so fuck off.

I could have bought a pumpkin and fashioned it into pumpkin scones. The first lady of fascism when I was a student at the University of Queensland, (a very fine tertiary establishment in a state then run by a transplanted Boer with a mandate numbering a dozen or so crony farmers), ‘Lady’ Flo Bjelke-Petersen, is probably most famous for her creation of this memorable recipe. I always preferred traditional scones as it happens. They taste floury in a way nothing else worth mentioning does. Scones don’t taste right without strawberry jam in my view and the colour/taste clash would make even Ugly Betty wince.

If I’d hoed that particular patch, I might have forked out five quid on a premium orange pumpkin as the poor spring and summer in Britain has forced pumpkin farmers to spend the last three weeks or so hiring out every spare tanning salon in the land in order to mature their pumpkins to the optimum hue for carving and internally lighting. Who knows if it would have been edible.

Halloween is one of those important festivals where everything has to be just so, don’t you know. So integral is Halloween to our cultural calendar that almost everyone struggles to recall why we have it in the first place. If you’re interested, here it is in a Wikishell.

I was fortunate enough to score some delicious sweet potato in my Abel & Cole box yesterday so I roasted that in honour of All Hallows Eve. I didn’t gouge it out and fill it with candles. I would have needed the collaboration of one Willard Wigan for that. It was a modest sweet potato that I carved into griddleable slices and popped on the Breville. It was orange though so a virtual trick or treaties to all you sweeties.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Rissoles at Dawn

Frozen Moment, Leicestershire. By Pants

Cows will actually stand and stare at you if you point a camera at them, which is, I guess, the reason that there isn't a Big Cow Diary on one's beloved BBC2 with Saba Douglas-Hamilton tucked up in a Prada fleece waiting to pounce on a rarely spotted beastie. In any case, cows don't have spots, only the occasional patch, as far as I know. I'm no zoologist.

I call them 'cows' as a shorthand but interestingly, there seems to be no word to describe this animal that can be either a cow or a bull. There is only cattle, which is a plural describing a group. I know it's the same with sheep but you can't say 'a cattle' in the same way as you can say 'a sheep'. Sheep are clearly designated as either rams or ewes. Goats are divided into billies and nannies. Pigs are gender defined as sows and boars. Even chickens are either hens or roosters. So how come the big guy misses out? Not even Wikipedia is sure how the whole mess should be presented.

No wonder these guys sought out the Kodak last weekend in the Leicestershire wilds. Clearly, they were pleading with me. 'Pants, tell us who we are and why we're here.' Fat chance of me being able to solve the bovine conundrum. I can't even get a fix on my own future. I might have simply spray-painted a large yellow 'M' in the frozen ground but that would have been cruel and sent the wrong environmental message. It most certainly would have attracted carrion from miles around and possibly a fleet of people carriers to boot.

Being out in the countryside very early in the morning has a profound impact on the way one perceives the world. At the very least, it requires you to reconsider the received wisdom that 'Britain is getting overcrowded'. Unless you think these bovine creatures are somehow a contributory factor, space deprivation doesn't seem much of a threat.

A weekend idyll can't be appreciated in full relief unless it's prefaced and epilogued by passing through an emotional passport control that leaves you in no doubt that you've simply attained a limited visa to explore a kindlier world. As a wakeup call to re-entering the urban jungle, the Number 30 bus to Hackney Wick rarely fails.

'You fuckin' caaaarrr', remarks the polite young lady as she shoves me aside and stomps up the stairs. There's no way that a demon vixen from Haggerston will stand between me and the top deck - the only bearable location on any form of London transport. I follow her up, hoping to secure a seat at the opposite end of the bus.

No such luck. Two seats, right at the back, facing each other. Defiantly I sit down opposite my insolent disparager, stow my weekend backpack under the seat, shoving aside several half-full KFC cartons and ... open The Guardian. It does the trick. She gets off two stops later.

Reflecting on the whole experience, I pause to ponder the original of the expression,

How now, brown cow?

I google it and discover it has no purpose other than to demonstrate the correct pronunciation of rounded vowels. Perhaps no one told the cows. Possibly they've considered the question and have come up with a bovine solution to the perplexing notions of 'how' and 'now' and could even have mathematically linked them. We may never know.

I've been fine tuning The Full English and fleshing out the scene I found hardest to write in which Ben attends a bullfight. In the time I lived in Spain I never went to the toreo. I did know a few bullfighters though and I was often invited to go. I'm against gratuitous killing. I understand that there are elaborate rituals that humans have devised to allow male domestic animals for which we can find no other purpose beyond the plate, to display some semblance of their natural behaviour via a battle. The question is whether or not there's any point in breeding domestic animals up to adulthood for the sole purpose of allowing them to display their 'natural' behaviour synthetically. Bulls would have once fought each other for breeding rights. I'm guessing that human intervention has rendered inter-bovine dating slightly more scientific.

When the lot of almost every living creature on the planet is controlled by some idiot politician, capitalist or oligarch with a jacuzzi-centred agenda, we could say we're all being milked, whether we have an awareness of it or not...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Simply Georgeous

George Eliot statue, Nuneaton. By Pants

George Eliot was born on the Arbury Estate just outside of Nuneaton in 1819. I want to write a much longer post about her once I've read Scenes of Clerical Life. Much of it is set in Nuneaton and the local Waterstone's sold me a copy of the Wordsworth edition for an inspiring £1.99.

I chose to spend the day in Nuneaton after a blow out weekend with my cousins the family Ozmicro at their charming somewhere up north cottage. The nearest town is the delightfully named Ashby de la Zouche. I know it as the place Ivanhoe is set and I know that because Heather is writing a musical adaptation of Ivanhoe in The Way of the Pear. So, I read it a few times.

There were several birthdays involved in the weekend and Pa Ozmicro had won a timely luxury Fortnum & Mason hamper. The empty box will make a useful clothes basket, I'm sure. There was a rugby match, I seem to remember, which we watched at the pub where OZ4 works. We were all quite glum about the outcome because not even Australians like the South Africans. Ma Ozmicro is a fabulous cook and OZ1 was visiting from Jersey. Family eh?

Pa Ozmicro dropped me off in Nuneaton at around 8am. I had a seat booked on the 2.35 Rich Bastard express which I intended to claim come hell or high inflation. I found a lovely Italian cafe called Leonardo's and ate a leisurely breakfast. It was only briefly interrupted by a nutter claiming to be a painter and asking me if we knew each other. 'Grow a long, grey beard', I told him, 'then come back and ask me again. And, while you're about it, invent me a flying machine.'

I found the library where the George Eliot collection is housed. Most people in the room were reading the sports section of The Sun. Nuneaton is not the thriving market town it once was. It didn't bother me because I had no competition whatever for the material I wanted to read. I didn't have a lot of time but I wanted to peruse her notebooks, observing her handwriting and thought processes before going out to imagine her in the town.

George Eliot's formal education ended at age 16 when her mother died. It was an unusual upbringing. Her father Robert Evans was a surveyor and land agent to Sir Roger Newdigate, the master of Arbury Hall and grand patron of literature. Born Mary Ann Evans, Eliot's road to self-determination would have been unlikely even for a man of her class. Her circumstances were exceptional. Although her mother's death required her to devote herself to household duties for a time, she was given free ranging rights to the library at Arbury Hall where she continued to educate herself to a classical standard that is virtually incomprehensible today.

I sat reading her notebook in which she considers Plato in Greek, Descartes in French and Locke in English. Naturally, there are also copious passages in competent Latin. Here was a woman so gifted in so many ways who was reliant on good will and even better luck to get herself schooled up. Even then, she had to publish under a man's name. Even now, she's still George Eliot and not Mary Ann Evans. More later...

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Pants Pendolinoed - Exclusive

It's beautiful, sleek and fast and everything a train should be, unless of course it's also expected to function as a conveyance, in which case it fails miserably. I know one's beloved Simon Hoggart of The Guardian is always rabbiting on about cattle refusing to travel on it but I honestly thought he was over-egging the omelette for dramatic effect and that he, however grudgingly, paid his tenner and moved up to first class. Now I get it.

Last Friday I took the Virgin Pendolino to Nuneaton and discovered yet another reason to despise 'Sir' Rich Bastard Brand Name. The Guinness Book of World Records people are interested by the way. Since I am the kind of anal retentive who researches travel well in advance rather than the hell raiser who takes a whim to whiz up north that I expect you all think I am, I managed to secure a fare rather less than the price of a package holiday in Fuerteventura. In the process, I secured a seat.

You may think a seat would be a mandatory requirement if you are travelling on a long distance train to, say Liverpool, and paying over £80 one way as the woman I ended up sitting next to did. Even when I've got a seat booked I arrive early enough to check the big board at least ten times and then ask two separate railway employees to ratify the information on said big board - computers have been known to be wrong and I don't want to start my holiday like poor M Hulot, running up and down stairs.

Just to be on the safe side, after I've studied the little board on the platform and satisfied myself that my intended destination appears before my eyes, I will challenge the conductor with a probing, 'is this the Nuneaton train?' Then, and only then, will I literally run down the platform frantically searching for an alphabetically designated coach before arriving in my seat a full ten minutes before the train is scheduled to depart. My personal motto is 'obsessive compulsives don't miss planes' or, in this case, trains. Besides, years of travelling on the Silverlink Metro have engendered a mistrust in trains leaving at the right time that I doubt I will ever truly overcome.

And it was as well that I did deploy every precaution in my vast arsenal on this particular trip. I assumed defcon 4 when I discovered a woman draped across my seat and the one next to it with a desperation I haven't seen since the Wimbledon queue on Day 1 in the sad days when Tim Henman was still playing. There was always the feeling that if you didn't get in before lunch, he would be out of the tournament.

The woman was easily seen off and I settled into my seat noting it had less leg room than you would expect to get on an under fives Disney ride. Shortly afterwards, the woman who'd paid over eighty quid parked herself anxiously beside me. There was a reserve ticket lodged into the top of the seat but she said there were no other free seats and she could only hope the person who reserved it had prematurely died. Apparently they had died or come to their senses, because she stayed put. She was one of the lucky ones.

Ten minutes into my one hour journey, I got up to go to the toilet. There are two of these serving around 240 people in 'economy' - yes, well - class. They are located at each end of the 'economy' section. The one at our end was broken so I had to hike through three carriages to reach the other. The full horror of a Friday night on the London to Liverpool was revealed as every available standing inch was occupied, including those concertina spaces between carriages. Since a Pendolino crashed not long ago, you might be forgiven for thinking that a nod to passenger safety might have been diplomatic, at least for a time. Chance, fine thing, Rich Bastard profit margin - work it out.

After virtually swinging my way through the carriages on the handrails, I ended up in a queue for the one serviceable toilet catering for approximately 500 people. I count myself extremely lucky that I was able to relieve myself at all. While waiting in the queue, I got chatting to a Liverpudlian guy perched on a fold down dickey seat in front of the toilet. He told me he'd seen it worse. He was drinking from a can of Special Brew which did not appear to be his first for the day so I can only imagine he'd hardened himself to the ordeal rather like a mutant from one of the Star Wars films that exists merely for the purpose of illustrating the relative horrendousness of the experience.

Forty minutes into the journey, I stood in another queue and bought a can of Carlsberg and a packet of Walkers 'Baked' ready salted crisps. It cost me over £3 and I just about managed to gulp it down and call it dinner before journey's end. I remembered the guy with the Special Brew on my return trip yesterday and bought a can of Stella and a packet of Hula Hoops (55% less fat!) from an off licence at a cost of £1.15 before boarding. It was a much more comfortable trip, although I still had to eject someone from my booked seat.

I paid £30 for my return ticket. I regard that as reasonable for a super fast service halfway across the country. Lordy, I can just about get from the West End to Hackney on the bus in that time. I don't always get a seat on the bus, but it's 80p not £80. If I was one of those poor sods relegated to standing over the coupling, I would have had something to say about it.

What makes Rich Bastard Brand Name the most vile and contemptible creature on the planet is (among a vast and diverse array of other things) that his trains have four 'economy' cattle trucks carrying five hundred passengers under the delusion that they are in a civilised country in which they are travelling on regulated public transport and an equal number of first class coaches with about three people in each one. It used to be that if the train was really full, you'd get an announcement saying you could use the first class carriages.

Clever railway people give you the choice of paying a tenner and getting an upgrade. I say clever because once the train has already left, there is no chance whatever of selling the hundreds of empty seats in first class. Did Virgin clock that opportunity? They did not. The sad woman who had forlornly tried to bag my seat told me she'd inquired about an upgrade and was told it was the full price - £161. You can get a return flight to New York for that - and you get a seat, provided you don't fly Virgin obviously.

And what could possibly have possessed the rail regulator to allow an operator to put on an intercity service with an equal number of first and economy class carriages? Has there ever been a time in Britain where that proportion would have accurately reflected the train travelling demographic? So much for demand-led services.

One could draw unfortunate parallels with past scary regimes whose gleamingly advanced railways were the emblem of their supremacy in all things. But then again, the fascists prided themselves on their trains running on time...