mardi 20 décembre 2016


Sometimes a book comes along that I need to keep on my person at all times – moving it from handbag to handbag, dipping into it on every train journey; comfort blanket, talisman and Bible, all at once.

When I was much, much younger – I used to carry Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger around with me.  For a long time, it became Your Voice In My Head by Emma Forrest – still the wisest and most comforting memoir I can think of, I think that book has inspired me more than any other, and (crucially) made me feel like it’s going to be OK in the end.  And, more importantly, that it’s OK if it isn’t ‘OK’.  As Emma puts it far more beautifully herself: ‘Time heals all wounds.  And if it doesn’t, you name them something other than wounds and agree to let them stay.’

For months now, that book has been M Train by Patti Smith.  As I expect you know, the ‘M’ stands for ‘mind’ and it was inspired by a dream in which a cowboy (kind of a Sam Shepard-ish character, obviously) appeared and told her ‘it’s not so easy writing about nothing’.  And it is kind of a book about… nothing.

Well, that’s not strictly true.  It’s a book about writing itself, about travel, about coffee, about cats.  Above all, it is a book about loss.

It’s a very quiet book.  And while the young Chelsea Hotel energy of Just Kids is and always has been pretty much my lifeblood, there is something about the elegiac tone of M Train that fits my mood exactly these days.  I find myself coming back to it again and again and again.  The other day, I bought a new copy of it because I forgot to take it on a long train journey with me.

I comfort myself with the knowledge that I am just like Patti – and not just because I have copied her lightning bolt knee tattoo, not just because I cut my own hair and love Rimbaud and Rilke, and I too believe ‘people have the power’.

Patti and I have the same speed, as we both slouch around town in our flat boots and second-hand overcoats.  I work in bed to stay warm, writing furiously rather than putting the heating on, just like Patti.  I do all my best writing in bed, in the winter – always have.

Sometimes I go to cafes and sit in the corner with my notebook.  I’ve been to Paris and New York alone; I seek out graveyards.  When I was a child, I once took a whole roll of film in a French Catholic graveyard, just for fun, before I even knew who Patti Smith was.

It took me a while, but I love living alone.  Sometimes I go whole days without talking to another human.  I want to spend Christmas alone.  Maybe New Year too.  How very Patti of me.  In the new year, I might get a cat.  I enjoy the quiet; I’ve been trying to slow down – and I have.  Maybe I’m not so manic, any more.

Then it hits me.  Patti is a widow; her children are grown up; she has done the work, all her life.  She has earned her silence (incidentally just like Leonard Cohen – or ‘Jikan’, of course).

On my bedroom wall, I have the inside sleeve of her album Wave framed.  It is a picture of Patti dancing in a white dress and the Rilke quote:

“For one human being to love another, that is perhaps the most difficult of all our tasks; the ultimate, the last test and proof, the work for which all other work is but preparation.”

I want Detroit.  I want a Fred Sonic Smith.  I want French Guyana adventures.  I want it all.

I am exactly half her age.  I am just a 35-year-old woman staying in bed and freezing to death, typing.

This year has been a shift but my New Year’s resolution should probably be to get off this mind-train and get out into the world more…

lundi 19 décembre 2016

Our Rebel Hearts

I’ve known my friend N since I was 17 and he was 20.  These days, we can go months without seeing each other but we always pick up where we left off – the best kind of old friend.

I recently spent a PERFECT couple of days with him.  This was thanks to the 20th anniversary of Placebo’s first album.  Yes, really.  In our misspent youth, we would listen to Placebo together, get drunk and cry.  A lot, on repeat.

So of course we had to go to the special 20th anniversary show.  It did not disappoint (except for being at Wembley Arena and very much an ‘arena’ vibe – we have seen them before in venues from Shepherd’s Bush to Brixton to Reading Festival).  The greatest hits setlist had very few missteps (although we could bitch about a couple).

Every time I see Brian, my love for him reverts to starstruck 15-year-old levels and last week was no expception.  I could forgive him anything just for playing Lady of the Flowers and I Know (see: this list I wrote quite a few years ago).  Not to mention the Leonard and Bowie tributes that absolutely SLAYED me.

In short: thanks, Brian.

Funnily enough, it wasn’t a Placebo song I had stuck in my head for days afterwards.  It was Madonna.

N and I have grown up somewhat in the past 20 years, although our musical tastes have not.  Before the Placebo gig, we went out for a lovely lunch in Soho, had a couple of drinks – then on arrival at the venue, decided we fancied coffee and pain au chocolate.  We drank coconut water on the way home and were in bed by midnight.  Times have changed.

The next morning, we drank our coffee while playing with cats and watching Madonna's Rebel Heart tour DVD.  I am a somewhat casual, if enthusiastic, fan of Madonna; N is the oracle of all things M.

As is so often the case after seeing N, I am still feeling filled with positive energy – and also love for Madonna.  Watching her, I was reminded of her brilliance, ongoing relevance and general fucking fabulousness.  I have been listening to her on repeat ever since, and have had True Blue lodged in my head for days now.

Here’s a tiny reminder in case you need firing up, too…

Also, good timing after her astute and moving Billboard speech...

“If you’re a girl, you have to play the game. You’re allowed to be pretty and cute and sexy. But don’t act too smart. Don’t have an opinion that’s out of line with the status quo. You are allowed to be objectified by men and dress like a slut, but don’t own your sluttiness. And do not, I repeat do not, share your own sexual fantasies with the world. Be what men want you to be, but more importantly, be what women feel comfortable with you being around other men. And finally, do not age. Because to age is a sin. You will be criticised and vilified and definitely not played on the radio.

...I think the most controversial thing I have ever done is to stick around.

Let's hope she and her rebel heart stick around for a long time yet, please. 

mardi 6 décembre 2016

But could you hate me less?

A few people have been asking me lately what is the best starting point for getting into some serious Leonard Cohen listening.  My answers kind of vary.

The original 'Best Of' (the one with the brownish cover and the sexy smoking picture on the back, which opens with 'Suzanne') is definitely the classic in-road.  And it's wonderful.  I love it.  It's one of my most-listened to records ever.  The essential early classics.

However, I think I am unusual in that I am a big fan of mid-period Leonard Cohen; that's where all my absolute favourite songs are - his less-classic songs to me are where he gets really interesting.  It's where he tended to get a lot darker, funnier and sexier - all the really outrageous stuff (see: 'The Future', 'Don't Go Home with Your Hard-On', 'I'm Your Man', etc).  I love 'New Skin for the Old Ceremony' because it generally sounds drunk and angry (and I am often both) - it's patchy but visceral, with flashes of brilliance.  Isn't that what it's all about?  And of course 'The Future' must be pretty much the funniest, bleakest album of all time.

'Old Ideas' is a very underrated album, in my humble opinion.  I think it's up there with his very best.  It came out in 2012, and he was obviously looking very seriously at his mortality and his legacy at this point, with his trademark religious themes - and a really sly sense of humour.

I'm always saying it - humour is the most under-appreciated theme of his work, and this album really nails it for me.  As soon as he became old enough, he really started playing up to the dirty old man theme and it fitted him like a leather glove.

On a train yesterday, the song 'Anyhow' (from 'Old Ideas') came up on iPod shuffle, and I had to listen to it a few times in a row.  Dear reader, I was almost LOLing in the aisles (especially if you imagine these words in his slow, gravelly, deadpan delivery).  What a naughty, sexy old devil he was...

I know it really is a pity
The way you treat me now.
I know you can’t forgive me - 
But forgive me anyhow.

The ending got so ugly,
I even heard you say
You never ever loved me - 
But could you love me anyway?
I dreamed about you, baby
You were wearing half your dress.
I know you have to hate me - 
But could you hate me less?

I used up all my chances
And you’ll never take me back.
But there ain’t no harm in asking - 
Could you cut me one more slack?
I’m naked and I’m filthy
And there’s sweat upon my brow.
And both of us are guilty

Have mercy on me, baby
After all, I did confess.
Even though you have to hate me - 
Could you hate me less?

Oh, Leonard - you're like the worst kind of boyfriend and I just can't seem to quit you.  Admitting you were wrong - oh-so-charmingly - does not make it OK.  But I'll forgive you anyway.  Always.  There ain't no harm in asking.

lundi 5 décembre 2016

I Am Divine

On this freezing cold, very Mondayish Monday... I would like to share a fact I learned over the weekend that has delighted me.

Did you know that Divine was once on Top of the Pops and that 'You Think You're A Man' was produced by (of all people) Stock/Aitken/Waterman?  I had literally no idea.  This has slightly blown my mind.

I watched the documentary 'I Am Divine' at the weekend.  I highly recommend it.  There's something about Divine that is so inspiring - I guess that can mostly be put down to his utter fearlessness.  Zero fucks, personified.  Be a bit more Divine.

I first discovered John Waters films in the post-Divine years, when my little sister and I became weirdly obsessed with Serial Mom as kids in the early 90s, and then worked our way backwards.  Probably a bit weird of us, but we found it hilarious at the time.

It's definitely time for a re-watch now.  A lot of those films, I haven't seen in years.  This may be a Christmas project.  Yesterday, while out pottering in Brighton, I happened to find a Female Trouble T-shirt, which I obviously had to buy and is bringing me much happiness.

In other news, I have been re-listening a lot to Lift to Experience lately (deep soul joy levels, plus desire to marry Josh T. Pearson strong); the 'Vulgar' fashion exhibition at the Barbican is worth a visit (it's on until February).  Writing is mostly happening in bed, with a woolly hat on and many, many cups of tea.

vendredi 2 décembre 2016

Turn and face.

I like to think I am the least vain person in the world.  If anything, I am vain about not being vain.  However, I have been thinking a lot lately about my face.  Yep, that’s the sad truth.

My mum has always said to me ‘well, it’s easy not to be vain when you’re 16/18/24/28…etc’.  She’s right.  It’s also easy not to be vain when you have fairly unremarkable, but undeniably low-maintenance, looks.  Being able to get ready in a hurry does not necessarily warrant a state of elevated moral smugness.

I sometimes put ugly pictures of myself on Instagram, just because I get annoyed at the levels of perfect-selfie vanity on there.  But I’m as guilty of curating, and of vetoing a friend’s picture if I look fat, as the next self-obsessed idiot out there.

My Instagram profile picture is of me in a dressing gown with moustache bleach on my face.  I will admit: this is a joke that seemed funnier when I first started it, because at the time I had a boyfriend who thought I was sexy and hilarious.  The joke has started to seem less funny to me now I am single and followed by boys I fancy on Instagram.  However, changing the picture out of vanity seems to me like selling out (always the big fear) and I have thus far resisted.

Like everyone, I have my little mental tick-list of ‘OK’ and ‘not-OK’.  Armpit hair – OK.  Wan hangover face – OK.  Double chin – not OK.  Cellulite – not OK.  Now I’m 35 (and a half), a big consideration has started to be ‘old – not OK?’.  For the first time, I look at pictures of myself five years ago – or even two years ago; it’s been a hard couple of years – and really notice a marked difference.

When Leonard Cohen (or, as I like to call him: God) recently died, I spent a lot of time looking at photographs of him (and posting them on Instagram).  I was too sad to listen to his songs, but all I wanted to do was read his books and look at his face.  And what a face.  Interestingly, a face that just got better and better.

It occurred to me: I quite fancied LC when he was 33.  He was fucking beautiful at all ages, of course.  But I really fancied him most of all between about 45 and 60.  And at 82 – yep, still would.

His was a face that was improved by age, that looked like it was always supposed to be a bit craggy; it went perfectly with his persona and his work that every experience (the wine-drinking, the women, the dark nights of the soul, the Zen monastery years) was etched there, a badge of honour for all the world to see.  The elder statesman tone, the gravelly voice, the air of gravitas, the gentlemanly hat – and the battered, world-weary face.  Perfect.

I wonder how much of this was possible because he wasn’t straightforwardly ‘handsome’ to start with (I mean, not in a Robert Redford way or a Jared Leto way, or a Paul McCartney way).  His face was always more interesting than that.  As Leonard himself wrote of Janis Joplin: ‘you told me again that you preferred handsome men, but for me you would make an exception.  And clenching your fists for the ones like us who are oppressed by the figures of beauty, you fixed yourself, you said “well, never mind – we are ugly but we have the music”…’ *

Which got me thinking, this rule applies to very few women.  Many men are said to ‘get better with age’ – etc etc – but generally we like women to look like nubile youngsters – not craggy, world-weary troubadours.  If you’re a pretty girl who becomes famous as a teenager – well, when you’re 30/40/50, the world will apparently be fucking furious with you for daring not to look like a teenager any more.

The only exception I can think of is Patti Smith.  Is that because she kind of refused to play the game right from the beginning?  Or because Patti Smith is a special magical being, more about art than sex, more shaman than woman?  I am honestly not sure.**

It’s something I have been thinking about a lot lately because – to my shame – my own face has been troubling me.  I look older than I used to.  Obviously this is because I am older.  However, events of the last couple of years have definitely changed me from ‘looking young for my age and people often commenting on this’ to ‘looking at least my age and like I’ve been having a shit time of it’.  The frown line between my eyes has started giving me resting bitch face.

These are things I have never given a moment’s thought to before.  Of course, that’s because I’ve never had to.  I asked one of my best friends if she thought I should have Botox.  Because she is a brilliant friend, she didn’t lie – she agreed with me that my frown line has become unusually extreme, but said because I have a fringe I don’t need Botox.  This is the kind of logic that makes me love her.

Then Leonard Cohen died and I decided FUCK IT.  I want my life to be written on my face.  I don’t take any of it back.  I have always been a person who has opted out, dropping clues so that the world knows – if I wear a pretty dress, I don’t brush my hair; if I wear a skimpy top, you get to see tattoos and armpit hair.

I want lines and gravitas and to be a great artist.  On a whim, I wrote on the wall in my hallway the other day, where I will see it before I leave the house every day: ZERO FUCKS.

* As I commented to a handsome gentleman of my acquaintance recently ‘if anyone ever said “we are ugly but we have the music” about me, I think I’d be a bit cross’.  His perfect response?  To send me back an image of my own (pouting) face  a very flattering selfie that I had ‘ironically’ (read: vainly) posted on Instagram some time ago, captioned: ‘This for us ugly folks?’

** Interestingly, my mum is convinced that the only technically ‘ugly’ woman ever to be considered a popular sex symbol is Chrissie Hynde.  People often say I look like Chrissie Hynde, so I’m not sure what we can take from this observation.

jeudi 1 décembre 2016

You have to listen to the answer.

My sister is a little Trojan horse full of wisdom.  She said something to me the other day that has really stuck with me - 'if you ask a question, you have to listen to the answer'.  It's so simple and so true.

This was in the context of:
ME: 'Does X have a new girlfriend?'
SHE: 'I don't know.  I just don't ask.  If you ask a question, you have to listen to the answer.  I don't want to hear the answer; I'd rather not know.'

She's right and I'm trying to bear this in mind all over the place.  I'm naturally curious (read: nosy) and bad at letting things go.  I want to know everything - or at least I think I do.  So, I'm always finding out things I don't actually want to know, and then kind of wishing I hadn't.

This, it must unedifyingly be said, often pertains to the online presence of ex-boyfriends.  It's too tempting - especially when pretty much all your exes are artists or musicians etc with some sort of a public profile.  So, I have unfollowed some people on Twitter; I have stopped going on Facebook.

I recently looked at an ex-boyfriend's website and saw a picture of his new girlfriend that made me feel weird and horrible all day.  We're on good terms, it's fine - but there were various things about it that unexpectedly upset me.  I kept wondering why I had even looked in the first place, what I was expecting to achieve other than heartache - and I had no idea.

I'm not going to do it again.  There's no point.  It's just another way of asking a question to which I don't want to know the answer.  It's also bad for the soul (and creepy).  So, I'm not going to do it any more.

This year, one of the best things I've done is to stop looking at the Daily Mail online.  Honestly, giving up that one weird little habit has made my life so much better.  It was one of those websites that I hated but used to spend a lot of time looking at - kind of out of habit, kind of without thinking, kind of because I hated it.

As part of the same campaign I stopped hate-looking at things on the internet in general (I'm sorry to say it used to be a pastime that took up a small chunk of my life): the Mail online, annoying bloggers, Facebook profiles of old acquaintances I actively dislike.

I've never quite managed to give up smoking, and I've never stuck to a diet (or even started one, really), but I have successfully improved my life by giving up hate-looking at the internet.  It's that simple.  (And it was a stupid thing to do in the first place, but so's taking up smoking.)

So, I'm saying it here.  A little resolution.  I'm not going to look up any ex-boyfriends on the internet any more.

I'm not going to ask questions to which I do not want to know the answers.  Not in any medium.

Side note: In the last couple of months, I have also taken up chanting (well, I'm trying).  When I told my best friend this, she replied 'how very Tina Turner of you', which baffled me.  I have come ridiculously late to Tina Turner; I'm not sure why.  So, this week, a couple of days after her birthday, I watched What's Love Got to Do with It? (mostly for the chanting).  I now can't stop watching videos and listening to her.  She's incredible, as raw and authentic as I want to try to be, in a small way, in all areas of my life.  Tina is a whole new untapped inspiration for me, a discovery I am very grateful for.