Saturday, 26 July 2008

What’s going on

There’s too much happening, too much! What to choose, what to sacrifice, what to wear!? Can I go clubbing and call it research? Can I budget for overspending?

Homoelectric (Friday 1st August) have bagged a bitching line-up again with Horse Meat Disco making a return plus Tim Sweeney in the big room. Loads of extra-curriculars too in the shape of an 80s cabaret duo, a Swap Shop, and Get Cape, Wear Cape, Fly doing a DJ set. I might just be called elsewhere on quiff duties that night however …

A Day At The Races (Saturday 2nd August) is an all-day musical do split between Moho Live and Night and Day, the most exciting inclusion for me is Los Campesinos! but they also boast Four Tet and Suburban Kids With Biblical Names. 23 notes a head and selling out f-a-s-t.

The Warehouse Project have announced their 2008 line-ups taking you clubbing in sweaty style from September 26th to New Year’s Day 2009. Yowser. The venue is Store Street arches for the last time before it’s surrounded by flats. I am over-excited by the Eat Your Own Ears bash on the 4th of October. Reverend and the Makers, Tricky, The Whip, Late of The Pier (!!!!!) plus DJ sets from Simian Mobile Disco, Four Tet, Max Tundra, Eat Your own Ears and Will Tramp. For twenty quid! What a blinder. I have my ticket already. See The Ting Tings the night before at the Academy and make a weekend of it whydoncha.

Friday, 25 July 2008


A birthday treat was required for Young Neil, one that would impress but could be done affordably given there were more treats to come later in the month … Ning it is. Great name. Great location too at the rickety Frog & Bucket end of Oldham Street. I love this bit of the street, much more than the other crowded end with boring old shops and things. There’s nothing here but the Big Issue office, the City Inn spilling onto the street, and broken up building fronts. No doubt gentrification will fill in the space soon enough, particularly in the wake of this excellent restaurant.

Lured by the two courses for a tenner deal, this place was such a good find. Starter, main course and sundry all included in the cover charge, three quid for a beer, nothing spared on the quality or quantity. Great veggie options for me and fleshatarian stuff for Neil. Not every dish comes under the deal but what they do offer is veggie versions of almost any dish where it’s feasible to do so. I liked them already.

Neil had Peppercorn Calamari to start, which bowled him over. I had the Gado Gado, one of those gorgeous Indonesian salads stuffed with bean sprouts, peppers and fresh, crunchy vegetables, warmed through in temperature and also in spiciness with touches of red chilli. The whole thing was smothered in a gorgeous sweet satay dressing. It was a generous helping to boot, one that could easily do for a work lunch.

Main course menu is split into Malay and Thai and the variety is just enough to make you agonise pleasantly over your choice. I plumped for the Nyonya Lime Curry which was rich and sour and filling and sweet and everything I like in South East Asian cuisine in another generous dish. Neil had the Masak Merah, a simple flavoursome chicken dish that he raved about. Even the plain sticky rice smelled amazing. Great quality all round.

We didn’t have desserts but some sexy coconut ice-cream affair was on offer the night we were there. Confession time: I felt a heel for not tipping, our waiter was lovely too, and I’m normally born-again about that kind of thing, but the purse strings were quite literally throttling me. I will be back though for a full price feast with friends to make up for it. Plus they now do takeaway for city folk. The menu is on my table just waiting …

Saturday, 19 July 2008

The Novel and The Birthday Party

I'm occasionally ‘stumped’ by writing. Getting stumped is worse than writer's block because you can make the words go where you want them to and do what you need them to do, but you can't quite imagine that they will make a scrap of sense to another soul. I sit and eat French fig jam from the jar (Confiture Bonne Maman Figues - c'est magnifque) and wonder how to make these unreal people, who appear just by typing, do and say things plausible enough that someone might want to read about them. All this in full knowledge of the contradiction that, if anyone's life is set down on paper in similar terms, it might defy logic too. Frustration sets in. More jam. Someone once said, ‘Write the kind of book you want to read.’ It’s sounds obvious and simple enough, but it’s a tricky idea once you start writing. Nevertheless it will be my maxim from now on. Let's hope I can recall what kind of book I like to read having deprived myself of fiction for so long ...

Neil turns 31 meaning we have a precious few months where he is 31 but I am still 30 and can behave outrageously to emphasise my relative youth. I might start smoking again. Not. Optimistically anticipating sunshine, it being the middle of July and all, we begin mid-afternoon at the Horse and Jockey on Chorlton Green. I think I miss Chorlton a little bit. I lived there for over four years and commuted back and forth from there a long while after when Neil lived there. I spent a good deal of my early Chorlton days in the Horse and Jockey. We would go there to avoid the rent man and spend almost as much on beer once we were ensconsed in there. We'd go there when the house was too cold, when we were bored, tired of work, when it was sunny, when we wanted chips from next get the idea. It's nice to be back.

In glorious attendance are Paddy, Sarah & Jono with wee beautiful baby George, Ben, Katy, Matthew, Marie, Anna, Kirsty, Keith, Amy, Thom, Evelyn, Ed, Kate, Pete, Martin, G3 and perhaps even some people I've forgotten. The weather is mostly shit but we have a brilliant laugh. The plan is that if we're still upright at 10 we'll head to Helen of Troy Does Countertop Dancing at Charlie's. We're mostly plastered by about 7 so things don't look promising but alcohol eats up the intervening hours in that way that it has and before I know it we're on the dancefloor in Charlie's, Vogueing (cringe), wigging out to 'Push It' and generally being sweaty and fabulous. Stuart and Jack join us, as do Caroline and her friend, fresh from an apparently amazing Kylie gig. Do we get some Kylie played in honour? I can't remember. I meet lovely Lyndsey the joint head honcho of Helen of Troy. We have a brilliant time but afterwards are sad to learn that Helen and Charlie are to part and a new venue is to be found. Watch this space.

Appalling amounts of Shed Seven. I can't help myself. God I had some brilliant nights going to see that band. I wish I could say I was tempering this with something really cool and obscure but no, I'm watching Wet Wet Wet, Huey Lewis and the News and Go West on yutube every chance I get. I don't know what's the matter with me. I'll call it research as I'm trying to compile a list of my favourite ever music videos. Don't look at me like that, I could lie on these things you know. I'll be back in the bosom of Ed Harcourt and Elliott Smith soon, where I belong.

Friday, 18 July 2008


Out with the old … looks as though El Macho, the Mexican place on Portland Street, has closed down. A shame. Was it our only Mexican restaurant? I can tick it off my list of places to eat at least, it having resided there since 1997. Also Monsoons is looking suspiciously abandoned at the minute. Monsoons, the take-away next to Spar on Oxford Road, is such a Manchester experience. It’s the best place to watch semi-respectable suits abandon all willpower to their hangovers of a Monday and eat burnt meat in the window with their fingers. Monsoons is also responsible for the greasiest, shiniest patch of pavement in the city. At night it’s pretty scary and the staff are bad-tempered. I can’t remember if the kebabs are any good, having been either blotto or vegetarian or both on all of my visits, but it smells great when you’re hungry. It will be sad to see it go. Maybe it’s just a refurb?

And in with the new …University Place is the enormous flying saucer cum steel drum erection on campus. The whole ground floor is seemingly devoted to eating, which is nice. The building itself is fairly unlovable and lit by mysterious means since it has no windows above the ground floor. What’s more it symbolises, to me at least, the University’s willingness to haemorrhage money in the name of image while such thorny issues as paying staff agreeable salaries remain unresolved. The Maths Tower that preceded Uni Place was, I grant you, an eye-sore in its own right but, typically, I quite liked it. Anyway, the food. Cheap, good quality, quick, and for the most part pretty healthy. The canteen is all of these and comes replete with the added thrill of school-canteen style rivalry to bag the cool tables. I’ve had roast vegetable tarts and mushroom stroganoff on separate occasions and they’ve both been lovely, as have the sides. I might even forgive them the architecture for those crispy, yummy roast potatoes.

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Change and changes

A funny couple of weeks. An anniversary comes and goes of a school friend passing away. A friend of mine splits with his other half. Another friend gets hitched (more of which below). Another friend is newly diagnosed with a condition, which, while thankfully not life-threatening, is considerably life-altering. I run out of money once again, think about a pension scheme and maybe moving back to the ‘burbs and somewhere more affordable. It’s all very grown-up in that scary way in which you have to fashion adult responses as you go and hope that they are the appropriate ones.

On a partially-related note, I seem to be losing hearing in my right ear. I do believe this is middle age. It seems a little unfair since I can still smell my twenties just disappearing around the corner. ‘Turn and face the strange; ch-ch-changes', advises Bowie, right as always. I dreamt about him again by the way but I won't go into it here. Suffice to say that, considering the amount of time we've spent together by now, if he doesn't recognise me when we eventually meet I'll be nothing less than dumbfounded. My friend Joff owns a book called I Dream Of Madonna which compiles women’s various nocturnal fantasies about Madge. I’m going to write one about Dame Bowie, I could fill half of it myself by now …

So, after a leisurely Friday off work spent gyming, writing and having mad half hours with The Pugling and a Boots receipt, I hot-foot it to Chipping in the lush Ribble valley for the wedding do of my lovely friend Sam to the equally lovely Dan. I've known Sam for nineteen years which just ages the two of us quite unnecessarily. I unreservedly approve of Dan, he is an absolute diamond. Just the evening do for me this time so am half expecting the dress to be covered in cake or Ribena or somesuch by the time I arrive, but it and Samantha are pristine. It seems my girly friends do an excellent line in making beautiful brides. A semi-reunion of old school chums in the evening sunshine is not at all a bad way to spend a Friday night. Apparently the bride arrived at the reception by helicopter. Cue big chopper jokes. Cannot wait to see the video.

As promised, some nice Brit psychedelics. I always suspected I liked the psych-art-blues Barrett side of Floyd more than the later laser-prog stuff. Listening to 'Terrapin', 'Octopus' and Floyd's own 'Bike' affirms this. 'Terrapin' is just wonderful, it could easily be 'Miss America' off Blur's Modern Life Is Rubbish, or maybe even a 'Beetlebum'-era B-side. Blur are such magpies aren't they? They do it so well though. I think Damon and Graham must both have been immersed in Barrett at some point, it's all over Graham's solo stuff too. Have also been playing Leonard Cohen's Greatest Hits (the one with the sepia cover) where somewhat disappointingly my current favourite track is 'The Partisan' , the only one he didn't write. The sleeve notes are excellent, almost as cryptic as the lyrics themselves: 'I developed the curious notion that the Nazis were overthrown by music.' I have spotted the odd lyrical favour borrowed by Nirvana, and The Smiths of course: 'And everything depends on how near you sleep to me' from 'Take This Longing' which has some of the best lyrics I've read in my life. Morrissey was fifteen when this song was released, it must've been burned into his heart, it floors you. Leonard Cohen and Syd Barrett; put them on my fantasy diner-party list and laminate it.

Monday, 14 July 2008

Sound bytes

I know this is a hundred years old (released 2002) but the film, originally conceived from individual short pieces to accompany the Saint Etienne album of the same name, just came through the post on DVD and it is quite the most beautiful thing I’ve seen in ages. A montage of 24 hours in London filmed in nooks, crannies and jaw-dropping vistas all across the city soundtracked by the Finisterre album and punctuated with spoken interludes by various unseen Londoners on why they love/hate/idolise their great city. Magic. Get it.

Witnessed on Oxford Road:
Man wearing a camouflage army jacket with dark grey suit trousers, slip-on Vans in neon-pink and black checks, carrying a bag covered with a garish floral print like a roller blind from the 1970s. Huh?

Chris Jordan
Jaw-dropping photographs. The Abu-Ghraib montage and Hurricane Katrina images might be unsurpassable in terms of defining twenty-first century America. Any one of his images will amaze and frighten though.

From Manchester Lifestyle Hospital website:
“Cosmetic surgery procedures available: Breast augmentation, Breast reduction, Breast uplift … For further information visit”

Chalet Lines
Heart-breaking cover of my second-favourite Belle & Sebastian song. For some reason the very British references in this upsetting tale of sexual assault on a holiday camp are all the more moving in his sweet French voice.

Witnessed on Oxford Road:
Four scallies drinking in the street. Not surprising? It was Baileys. Huh?

MGMT remix
Unrecognisably filthy noise-mix of MGMT signature tune.

Pinned to my wall to encourage writing:

“Jack sweated so profusely while writing On The Road that he went through several T shirts a day … He started his book in early April 1951. By April 9 he had written thirty-four thousand words. By April 20, eighty-six thousand. On April 27, the book was finished, a roll of paper typed as a single-spaced paragraph 120 feet long.”
– Introduction to On The Road

“Once work gets a grip, depending on the work you do, it becomes the meaning of life for a while, as much an imperative as eating or sleeping. A career won’t be denied; it chomps away at your allotted twenty four hours and its hunger is satisfied only temporarily before the next urge, as sure as waves roll in from the sea … It has a life of its own.”
– Julian Clary, A Young Man’s Passage

“He had sold one painting during his lifetime. Three times was his work noticed in the press. But these are just details. The real Vincent Van Gogh is the man who has just done “five size 30 canvasses, olive trees”. To me, in context, one of the most moving and realistic descriptions of how a real artist thinks.”
– Alice Walker

Stereolab 'French Disko'. Never ever get tired of this, possible tune for October ... The Divine Comedy's cover of Ride's 'Vapour Trail'. I was expecting a pared-down chamber version of this track but they've kept the wall of swooshing guitars and brought the words forward and it's worked. Also a hundred years old I realise but, hey, I work. Am about to embark on a psychedelic trip around Britain in the 1960s, so John's Children, Floyd, Hendrix etc, I'm so bored of right now, right now.

Friday, 11 July 2008

Blighter in residence

After a week trekking back and forth from M1 to M19 to feed Pugling (Neil’s miniscule black cat) I decide the wretched ingrate is ready for some city-living so Dee and John kindly come and collect us in the car and we relocate the beast to a new habitat downtown. Some things you should know about The Pugling: he has only one ear; he doesn’t know he’s a cat, he thinks he’s a small hirsute member of the unemployed; he doesn’t miaow, he quacks; he won’t be told.

His behaviour is odd during his week in captivity, for which I don’t blame him. Only a flat to roam instead of an entire house, and no means of stepping outside to take the air unless I encourage him out onto the scaffolding that continues to blight our frontage. I was ready for this more than once given his rowdy behaviour, including being quacked awake at 4 am for the ceremonial ‘pointing’ at the food. I do think we formed a renewed bond during this time though. While I sang in the shower, The Pugling would stand outside the curtain and quack along. Writing was somewhat off the agenda though as the picture below will attest. That in the background is my computer screen, obscured.

Pugling has returned home now. Neil is back from France after two weeks sporting a farmer’s tan as predicted. I have started eating carbs again and blaming him. My cough has abated. I am not diabetic. I haven’t smoked in over a month. I’m probably going to live forever. This takes the pressure off finishing The Novel somewhat.

Computer game remixes. Seriously. Also indie indie indie for forthcoming mini DJ slot in October. You can never start planning too early. So, Echobelly or Shonen Knife? Hmmm ...

Thursday, 10 July 2008

End of June: Kro, Oxfam, Clique, Pan Asia, Sale

Braving the latest torrential downpour (hello? summer?) I meet Katie for lunchtime hot chocolates at Kro, her treat. It’s quiet without the students. I have marshmallows which I’m sure are verboten for a vegetarian but Katie pays so it doesn’t count. We chat and whine about money and jobs and fantasise about setting up our own literary agency in Manchester. First client me, of course, but thereafter uncovering the city’s great novelists, one literary cash cow at a time. This is the third person with whom I have bandied this idea about. It seems somehow arcane that almost all lit agents are still in Londontown, especially in this digital global submit-by-email age.

Next day is the weekend and since everyone is broke and we never ever have any fun ever I propose a night at Clique to console us all. I have nothing to wear as usual and realise my pit-stop for emergency clobber, Ryan Vintage in the University precinct, is closed out of term time. In desperation I head to Oxfam instead, the one near Big Hands, and within a minute and a half find an ace top and jeans for a grand total of eleven quid. I treat myself to an eight quid haircut on top and somehow manage to scrub up like an impoverished star for less than twenty notes all in. Love it.

Pre-Clique drinks at Amy and Thom’s sexy new flat up on Oldham Road at the back of the Express building with perhaps the last of the truly bleak/beautiful Mancunian vistas to be had, a combination of city edge lights, Salford tower blocks, industrial squalor and the sky. I arrive bearing booze, a set of shot glasses, a tea set and an Andy Warhol kitchen apron. Free passes on the door at Clique for Thom and I owing to some hideous fracas with the bouncers on our last visit which I won’t go into here (suffice to say the vile homophobe was sacked). Drink, dance, drink, dance, and in my case, sweat. The music fantastic as always. I never quite know how to describe Clique to the uninitiated. I will settle on ‘electronic not electro, pop not plop’. My four pound top is a mint find but I will invest in more breathable fabrics next time.

Wake up next day covered in glitter so listen to T Rex until it’s time to meet my folks for lunch at Pan Asia. Me, Ma, Pa, Dee, John, Emma and Clare all together, only Sean conspicuous by his absence, and Sam the dog. The hot and sour soup evaporates my hangover and we have an ace laugh and talk talk talk, moving on for drinks at Kro Piccadilly which is spartan but nice and central. I have hair of the dog then have to cut the afternoon slightly short and wing my way down to Sale where for a little soirée at Ben and Katy’s amazing house to soak up the leftover wedding champagne. Could that be the most decadent sentence I’ve ever written?

We drink into the wee small hours, Ben, Katy, G3, Sarah, Jono, Kelly and baby George. Well, George sleeps mainly, we drink on his behalf. Turns into a lovely evening. G3 regales me with his hilarious stories of (almost) stalking Kim Wilde. Taxi home and sleep the sleep of the dead. Wake bleary-eyed and ill-prepared for the arrival of a demanding new house guest …

Soundtrack: Every version I can find of Schubert's 'Ave Maria'. I want EVERY version, even Sarah fucking Brightman and the one off Muriel's Wedding. Bring them to meeee. And my song du jour is U.R.A.Q.T. by M.I.A. (the Root out mix). It's acronym-tastic. 'Bip bip bip on ya mobile phone ...'

Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Work Is A Four-Letter Word

My work mate Steph has upped sticks for London and a new publishing job. Her new life, living in Brixton, working on Euston Road, drinking on Brick Lane, sounds exciting and makes me mad jealous. Goodbye drinks are a sedate coke for me as I have blood tests in the morning so for the rest of the evening I have plenty of time to think. As always happens when somebody jumps ship from work, I immediately want to follow suit. In my experience people tend to leave Manchester for London or not at all, and particularly in this industry. There follows the inevitable, repetitive, frustrating, dead-end circle … If I want to stay in publishing I can’t stay in Manchester. I either have to go to Oxford (no), possibly Edinburgh (no) or London. If I move to London I’ll go from having a big, beautiful, bargain city-centre flat all to myself, back to having a bedroom in a shared house again, at thirty, not to mention making new friends, starting over, cutting back my spending in the most exciting of cities and kissing any chance of property ownership goodbye. I’m not sure I can do all that. Most importantly I can’t leave my other half behind. It seems I have to (and want to) stay in Manchester.

The next option is to get a job that isn’t publishing. Here I get the shivers. If I don’t stay in publishing what else can I do? I think I may be institutionalised after seven years. Seven years! I’m sure my skills are transferable, but to what? My saved job searches are depressing to say the least. There must be something else out there. I embark on a flurry of activity: endless job sites, company searches, friends of friends, entertain the prospect of freelancing … Soon I find a few days have gone by and I’ve done no writing. The Novel must take priority above all things. So I settle back into writing and the job hunt goes on the backburner. Before you know it, as always happens, another year will have gone by and I will be 31. Is 31 too old to get a new career? A new job even? I daydream about a large advance on The Novel …

Soundtrack: Acid House Kings, love 'em. I might overdose on twee Swedish music if I'm not careful but for now 'Sunday Morning' and 'This Heart Is A Stone' are a tonic. At the other end of the spectrum Amy Winehouse's Frank is sounding pretty good again, maybe cos the sun's out, briefly. Plus Cinerama and Squarepusher and Los Campesinos! Exclamation mark is theirs of course.

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

An Occasional Dream

My Bowie ‘thing’ has culminated in an amazing dream. This isn’t going to turn into some sort of slash fiction don’t worry. Things aren’t like that between David and I … The dream finds me on my way to a club to try and gather some of my mates and persuade them to come with me to a punk night across town. The club is ferociously hot inside with lots of staircases everywhere and people dancing all over them looking like extras from Lenny Kravitz videos and sweating profusely. I hear a rumour that Bowie is here tonight and, being an acquaintance of his (apparently), I try and find him. At the top of the highest staircase, underneath red lights, there he is …

He smiles as I approach. ‘Well hello’, he says in a gentle voice which I can hear without effort over the music. I smile and ask if he fancies coming to a punk night with me and he says something which, though I don’t remember it, illuminates something profound to me about the development of British music in the 1970s. As I’m reeling from whatever the revelation is, alarms begin to sound. The club has reached maximum temperature and we are being cleared out due to fire risk. David and I amble down the stairs as people hurry around us, damp and agitated. My friends follow behind including our mate Paddy who has somehow hurt his leg and is being pushed along in a wheelchair by my other half Neil. We head out into the cool air and David and I link arms in the Italian style and walk across town as the sun begins to light up the sky.

I don’t know what we’re talking about but we appear conspiratorial and gossipy to passers by. I think David might be smoking again. I seem to have quit, even in my dream, which I’m very pleased about. I look over my shoulder from time to time to make sure the others are following us. As we walk the city changes from Manchester to London and finally to New York. At one point David rests his head on my shoulder, just for a second. I am filled with joy. We approach a bank of yellow cabs alongside which is a queue of South East Asian transsexuals/transvestites. Bowie charms his way to the front saying ‘Ladies, would you mind ..?’ The girls move aside and David holds the face of the first and prettiest one in his hands and says ‘Thank you’. ‘Hey don’t touch my make up!’ she says in a tough Bronx accent. David climbs into the yellow cab, good-naturedly rolls his eyes, and is gone.