Category Archives: my past


From hotel window, Houmt Souk, Tunisia, September 1987

I’ve already posted this picture and said I took it on my first ever morning outside Europe. And that now it makes me think about what’s wrong with the idea of “exotic”. This morning I remember that I had in my hotel room a slim volume of E. E. Cummings (thanks, Stephen). I liked the drawing of him on the cover and perhaps thought it would be quite good to look like that. I loved the poems.

I don’t remember seeing myself as some romantic Traveller, and I don’t think I even tried to write poetry on that holiday, only long postcards. But was there somewhere in the back of my mind a model of some Patrick Leigh Fermor-style young man that I was trying to emulate? Not that I’ve ever read him, but these memes infect you via unseen vectors. Maybe that’s how Jung’s collective unconscious works.

I also remember that on that holiday I also saw through the exotic: in a souk in Tunis, I remember thinking that this was as close as I could get, probably, to how I’d imagine a scene from the Arabian Nights, but it wasn’t magical, it was shabby, and I didn’t want to linger.

Continue reading Disillusion

Sunt lacrimae rerum

Liverpool One still trumps any parody I could make of it. This time, it was the ice rink on that high, artificial grassy hill. Behind security barriers, under a light, cold rain, happy shoppers skated round an Audi on a plinth. At least I found £1.22 in wet change in the grass.

My visit to the Liverpool Biennial began with the bafflement I’ve come to expect from encounters with a certain strand of contemporary art. It ended with a less predictable and explicable unhappiness. Continue reading Sunt lacrimae rerum


Probe Records

I have only just seen it, Julian…it takes me right back to our school days. Pete Burns working behind the counter…the sense of exploration as you sifted through the records. It was the darker half-brother of Penny Lane Records at the top of Church Street.

Penny Lane Records! I’d forgotten about that. Used to go in there every week on the way to the rowing club to check the bargains – which dictated my music collection – and buy the NME and Melody Maker – which didn’t. Then I mustered the courage to go into Probe. Bought Two Bad DJ by Clint Eastwood and General Saint, having heard it on John Peel. Thought, I’ve started living at last.

Living in the past

I asked for, and got, Porcupines by Echo & the Bunnymen and Gustav Mahler’s “Resurrection” symphony, both of which first appeared in my life about 1983; the first via Radio 1, the second thanks to Stephen Sharkey, who had heard it on the radio and was never the same again. Should I have got over all this by now?

The Liverpool links are that I was there at the time, that’s where the Bunnymen are from, and Terence Davies made what was for me particularly apt use of the Mahler in Of Time and the City.

Of Time and the City

Went to see Of Time and the City by Terence Davies on Sunday. I never know quite what to make of his films. The first one I saw, Distant Voices, Still Lives, in 1988, I reviewed for the university newspaper. “This is how to make films,” I wrote. “Cinematic concentrate. It’s an autobiographical picture of the lives of a Liverpool family in the forties and fifties; as remembered at the funeral of the violent and tyrannical father, then as the family ages and the children get married. If this sounds unpromising matter for a yarn, then you have in fact struck on the film’s weak spot. Its considerable strength, on the other hand, comes from Davies’ direction; the scenes succeed in the chronological disorder of memory; user-friendly features such as introductory and explanatory bits and references to other scenes are scornfully eschewed. The effect is exposure to the dramatic, emotional and aesthetic content of each scene in undiluted essence. The brew is not so strong and bitter as in Davies’ previous black-and-white Trilogy; but what does it profit him to distil it to such a purity if he will not add a tinge of soul?”

I think I have become less pompous in the past two decades. Not much, though. Continue reading Of Time and the City