Sunday, July 24, 2011

Tears dry on their own

I've never really liked the use of "RIP", containing as it does a hint of mawkishness as well as delusion (the notion that the dead are somehow "resting", with the implication, presumably unintended, that they will also awaken at some uncertain hour). No offence, but there's a whole heap of well-intentioned but nonetheless hopelessly trite remarks that people are prone to use when someone's died: "goodnight" (so will there be a morning?), or even more mawkishly "night night", "sleep well", "rest well", "with the angels" (or, as a Youtube commenter on Amy Winehouse insisted, "with the angles", which is certainly a more interesting take on the situation).

When Princess Diana died, I was working in London and was drawn into an argument with a colleague, Emily (AKA "Enemy", but not to her face). I pointed out, wholly reasonably I thought, that up until the moment when the news of her death became public Princess Diana had widely been regarded, if she was considered at all, as at best an expensively-clad irrelevance and tabloid habituĂ©e, and at worst a parasitic waste of space. My forthrightness was foolish, of course, implying that I was contemptuous of anyone who'd buy into, or participate in, the ridiculous cascade of fawning coverage and the awful public displays of "grief" in honour of someone so hopelessly compromised. "Enemy" was terribly upset and angry, for she had been been part of the sleepwalking thousands wasting fresh flowers by leaving them in the park near Buckingham Palace as they "paid their respects". Things were never the same again after that, and I sat opposite her for another year having burned my bridges entirely.

I'm not implying there's any correlation between Amy and Diana, although I suspect the garage forecourts of Camden will be similarly denuded of cheap flowers today; in fact it is a source of genuine regret to me that Amy has died. I just find the popular consensus and public response to be excessive for what is a personal tragedy, which has happened to someone most of us didn't know and now never will.

A shadow covers me

Amy Winehouse, 14 September 1983 - 23 July 2011

Saturday, July 02, 2011

Now that's really something

I was lying awake this morning thinking about Edinburgh and about how certain streets and places connect directly to memories from my late teens and early twenties. The particular street I was thinking of is in the west end of Edinburgh, and connects Haymarket to Fountainbridge.

  • A family from a "community" near Ullapool (in the far north west of Scotland), whose two red-headed sons went to my school, had a flat in the street. (The first time I ever saw the older son, the one who was in my class, he was opening the car door outside the school as we drew up behind - he then bolted away down the street in the opposite direction, which I would also have been doing if I'd had the guts. For both of us, it should have been our first day at that school; it ended up just being mine because, as we were solemnly informed, he had "school phobia"; he didn't appear for another few weeks.) I was a bit intimidated by their flat: the parents rarely seemed to be there, and it was known as a drug hangout and a place to go after the pubs closed. My brother was friends with the younger son and in my prejudiced assessment, if he was drinking hard liquor at the age of 13, it was because he used to go that flat.
  • Me and my friends used to go a rockabilly nightclub (believe it or not such things were very trendy in the late 80s)  in Morrison Street, in the basement of the now long-gone White Swan pub, called "The Lazy H"; there, Edinburgh hipsters kicked the night away to an eclectic mix of "The House Of Bamboo", "At the Hop", and northern soul scene favourites like "Cross the Tracks". To get home from the White Swan, we'd walk along the street in the early hours. 
  • There, after a night dancing  at the Lazy H, I stood in a doorway talking to a friend and watched my much-lamented ex-boyfriend's brother, David (a dark-haired, good looking, insouciant character who first put the idea into my head of studying law; he was a law student at Aberdeen and it seemed very glamorous. Needless to say, when I actually went to Aberdeen, the scales fell away), walking along the street hand in hand with his new girlfriend, a very attractive girl called Louise, who always makes me think of this song. Louise had ringlets, but it seemed to work; she looked like Lisa Bonet. I was madly jealous of her, because she seemed to have everything.
  • When I started my job as a legal editor in 1993, I soon got terrible shoulder and back pain from poor posture while editing (this was in the days before computers, so I was sitting at a desk looking down). I went to a chiropractor and he cracked me around: the pain went immediately, in a rush of relief so powerful that it was almost like taking a drug. His clinic was in the same street. I enjoyed it so much that despite the cost I went back for a second session; he gently told me I didn't need to come back for a third. Not all chiropractors are charlatans.
  • My sister and I went for dinner with a friend of hers who had a flat there. It was in the days when everyone had just discovered woks and lots of people had one, but few people knew how to use them properly (soggy soy broccoli anyone?). My sister's friend had made a stir-fry with ginger, but had sliced the ginger into large chunks. I bit enthusiastically into a piece, thinking it was a nice juicy bit of chicken. This must surely equate to the moment (happily, not on the same evening)when my sister ate a piece of chalk that was nestling in a bowl of peanuts.
  • Me and my sister saw Edwyn Collins there, at Marcos Leisure Centre, in the early 1990s. He wore a checked "western" shirt with silver clips and (I could have sworn) a bolo tie, sat on a stool and played acoustic guitar to a hushed audience of devotees. To my sister's disappointment, he didn't play "The Coffee Table Song" (if you don't follow any other link, follow this one). I was hoping to see someone there who also (as a pseudonym, as it turned out) called himself Edwyn.

The street, of course, is Grove Street, but amazingly, I had such a mental block about the name that I couldn't remember it till I found it on Google Maps.