The latest in a series of attempts to atone for my writing laziness... we are now up to events of mid November.
I'm usually a very appropriate traveller, by which I mean that if I'm going to a place I have to learn all about it ahead of time. I'll read about its entire history, look for any films or fictional works using it as a setting, listen to music that comes from there or is related to there. I have to attempt to absorb the very essence of the thing so that I feel connected with it. And here I am again, ready to travel south with a book that collects together the experiences of various Londoners past and present. It's all so very... appropriate. But there's a problem.
I was early in getting to the train station, and my wanderings took me up onto Princes Street. In the cut-price book shop they had 'Barbed Wire Kisses: The Jesus And Mary Chain Story' with the improbable price tag of £2 on it, brand new. Since my London book was in my case (one of these airport pull-along types, in tiger print naturally) and the Jesus & Mary Chain book was in my hand, it was this that I opened while waiting for the train. The Reid brothers' sullen Scottishness was a thing of glory. William was 27 by the time they put out a record; he'd been meaning to get around to being famous since punk swept the nation but the brothers had been too busy sitting in their living room watching tv and listening to records to actually get around to doing it. When they went to sign their deal with Warner Bros they all just sat there on the record company sofa saying absolutely nothing until their manager turned up half an hour in to find out how things were going. Former member Douglas Hart remembers the backstage atmosphere as being more like a funeral wake than a rock and roll gig.
In my favourite interview, not just of the Mary Chain but possibly of anyone anywhere ever, 3/4 of the band are being interviewed on Belgian tv. Douglas Hart speaks two syllables, Bobby Gillespie ignores the process entirely in favour of getting off with the girl he's brought along while Jim Reid... well, Jim Reid has just been told that the presenter is a massive fan of Joy Division.
All the way down on the train I'm reading this book and listening to Psychocandy, it becomes all I want to do in the world. Psychocandy finishes, what to do now? I know, I'll listen to Psychocandy again. This has nothing to do with London, although London is in the book as they move there and live in squats. This is all about me and what I'm interested in and what I want to do, so that instead of arriving in London feeling like a tiny speck brushing over the weight of all the people and years that have come before, I get off the train in the mindset that I now own this town, and I'm going to do whatever the fuck I feel like, awright pal?
So what exactly is it that I do feel like at 11pm in Kings Cross on a Wednesday night? I check into the hotel, unpack my stuff, get into bed with my book and listen to Psychocandy again.
My sense of direction doesn't work in London. There's nothing to tell you where you're going, no features visible from any distance away. Streets curve around on you quietly when you're not looking and suddenly you're heading west while thinking you're still going south. The journey from Kings Cross to The Mermaid is the same one I undertook a year ago, but precisely because of that reason I decide to vary it by walking a parallel street. It's only when the signs start saying 'City Of Westminster' that I think "hang on, that's not right...". I correct my course onto what I think is right, but there's a problem. The river has gone. Who took the Thames? Put it back, I need it! I'm going to have to relent and bring up Google maps. It tells me that I've drifted quite far from where I'm supposed to be, and I'll be lucky to make this conference on time.
When I was part of the delegation looking at potential new office sites for the charity, I made some interesting realisations. The head of the estate agency came out along with his assistant to show around our Chief Executive, her PA, our Finance Manager and me. The head honcho seemed vary wary of me in my brocade patterned trousers and giant black (faux) fur winter coat, in that way that the great and good of the business world always seem to be wary of me. In Glasgow I had taken it for a lack of respect, but in my dealings with the office search I came to realise it was actually something different; they just don't know what to do with me. I'm an oddity, they don't know what to talk to me about, they don't have any frame of reference to get hold of who or what I am. The awkwardness and fear of social faux pas is actually all on their side. Me, I'm free, to do what I want, any old time.
Our Chief Exec has actually suggested that I consider presenting at some conference or seminar, about how I "achieved buy-in to data security procedures" through the use of humour. Some of my written procedures communicated to the team on confidential waste ran as follows:
When it's over, leave no way back.
Parting with your document with personal information is like reaching the acrimonious end of a long relationship; disposal is not enough, you want to pass its wretched body through sharp mechanical blades that will chop and dice into a million pieces. For that we have Julian, our shredder. Make sure you use him for all your paper; please continue to dispose of body parts elsewhere.
If you must store it, store it securely.
Sometimes it's not over and you just want to hold on. With both documents and former partners, the best option here is to retain them in a securely locked facility where they will never hurt anyone ever again. For documents, a drawer or cupboard will suffice.
Leave no evidence
Exit your desk each night as if it was the scene of a crime you have just committed. Put everything nicely out of sight, perhaps wipe down the surface to avoid prints. Dispose of any leftovers you may have left in the printer, intray or threshing machine.
If you take on board these top tips then you will soon be living a secure, well-adjusted life, just like me.
It remains something of a minor miracle to me that anyone should put me in charge of anything, and constantly I have a feeling that I'm somehow getting away with something. In my last meeting with our outgoing director she claimed to have learned some things from me and praised my managerial style and approach. I said that was a bizarre thing to hear because I don't consider myself as having a style or an approach, in fact I feel I generally have no idea what I'm doing and am just bumping from one scenario to the next. The answer to that was as true as it was simple; that's all that any of us are doing.
Around the city in the dark with a camera. London is busy everywhere, all the time, and I find myself naturally seeking the sheltered and out of the way corners. The constant flood of humanity is fascinating, every person has an individual life, a complex structure of who they are and what they like and how they define each of these. Here and there I catch little fragments of conversation, all the accents and languages of the world.
Camden High Street. I was joined late last night by Sharon, who came down the west coast line from Edinburgh via Carlisle. A guy is wandering slowly down the street with his eyes wide and bloodshot. Hell of a place to be taking a trip. A lot of people just standing around at the market, not part of any stalls, seemingly not part of anything, just hanging, watching. I glare at one of them, as if to say "I know your game". In any case I have two of the best defences against theft that you can find. One, my coat is so furry that even I can barely find my pockets half the time; for the first day that I wore it I didn't even know there were pockets. Two, I don't actually have any money to be stolen.
I'm stopped in the street by someone who informs me that I look like I'm in a band. He hands me a cd, he's a rapper and he's trying to make it in London. He's all polite and earnest but on the cover is a guy who looks like he's ready to shoot someone. I hold it up next to him;
"This is you?"
"Yeah man, that's me man"
Hip-hop is just like rock and roll, it's a whole lot of front. And why not, after all? I tell him that ok, I don't have much, but I'll give him everything that's in my pocket. I scoop it all out and deposit it in his hand; it looks like about £3.57. He taps his hand on his heart.
"Wow man, that really means a lot, because like... you've given me everything, man, you know?"
I nod that I do indeed know. But perhaps I look doubtful, because he asks me if I believe him when he says that.
"Sure", I say.
"You know like, you've just met me and boom, you've given me everything, that's like the world."
That seems a bit over the top, but he does seem genuine about it all, and I suppose for every person who stops to talk to him there are probably 50 who push on past; I can see how someone just taking a couple of minutes would become a highlight. Especially when people in London are dicks. I'm sure they don't mean to be, I'm sure it's a product of the environment, it's just that everywhere is busy all the time, so just to go about your day you have to be fighting to shout the loudest or push the hardest. I'm just drifting on through.
We're about a minute down the road when I exclaim "Aww shit!"
"What? What?", cries Sharon.
"I just realised I gave him my trolley keyring as well"
The defining sound of Kings Cross is the blasting of car horns. It's so impossible to get anywhere that again only the loudest and pushiest have any chance of making it, or so they would have themselves believe. The loudest are those behind the wheels of public transport, taxi drivers press their horns in blasts of 3 or 4, the especially skilled can produce a little arpeggio of maybe 7 or 8 mini blasts in one go. They are second only to the bus drivers, who seem in a constant state of fury and agitation.
When we leave London, Sharon's narrative becomes that I "refuse to get the Tube". That's not true, I don't refuse; I was never asked. But the city is on the surface, why sit in a dark tunnel underground when you can be walking through streets? We walk from Kings Cross to Islington, to meet up with Sharon's Spanish friend. We talk for a bit about London and she says many things which do not surprise me to hear confirmed. London is a very competitive place to live and work, she says. Everybody is trying to get ahead and you have to fight hard just to stay still. I leave them in a pub and set out on foot through the dark streets to reach the British Museum. Late opening Fridays there are one of the best things ever. Room to move that you never get during the day. Want the Rosetta Stone? There it is, walk right up to it, walk around it, sit and look at it for half an hour from a bench if you want. During the day? Start pushing your way to the front; when you get there you have around 30 seconds before you're engulfed by the crowd pushing their way to the front from behind you. And a bench? FAGGEDDABADDIT. I spend a good deal of time looking through the books in the shop, and am then horrified to realise I've spent almost all of my available time. There's enough time to run up to see the Standard Of Ur, which was absent from its case on my last visit, but then the staff are aggressively chasing people out of the museum quarter of an hour before closing.
I'd seen very little, but that was the way of another crammed London trip. Three nights, one full day. Arrive late, sleep, day at conference, wander around city in dark, meet Sharon, go to hotel, sleep, wander to Camden, meet friend, British Museum, sleep, train home. Done.
On the train I open up another book, Alan McGhee's 'Creation Stories', in which the Mary Chain naturally feature. Chapter 2 begins with the bold title script '2: London', after which begins the first line of the chapter: 'Andrew Innes, what a bastard'.