Because we were teenagers

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It’s many years ago – sometime at the end of the 80’s – and I’m listening to that song. The one with the mournful synths, the one with the words seemingly plucked from deep inside me – the words I would share with you if only I could be sure you’d understand what they all mean. In my living room it’s a bit cold, we just welcomed autumn, a shiver runs down my back and the cat gives me one of his contemptuous looks for no reason at all. I start the record again, the needle trembles, settles, the record cracks a little, just like firewood in the old chimney – I sit back down on the floor, I could listen to this record a hundred times and more.

The phone rings, a strident siren, nobody in 2019 would ever be able to stand it but back then, as with all the other big, clunky, loud 80’s machines, we were used to it. It’s still ringing – I swear it could wake up the dead – I answer it because I have a feeling it’s you. Yes, it’s your voice, I was right – it’s a sign.

“Don’t speak for a bit, listen to this.”

The phone is plugged into the wall, I pull the cord as far as it will go, and hold the receiver next to the speaker.

“Are you there? Now, listen.”

It’s an order. it’s a prayer.

The shiver returns though I don’t feel the cold anymore, I’m nervously twisting the phone cord around my fingers – halfway through I stage whisper: “this bit coming up, you gotta love it.” I don’t know if you can hear me over the record player.

There – the song is over. I let the silence stretch for a number of seconds so I can pull myself together, I’m hoping you fell in love and need time to recover.

“Well?…”

An agonising beat

Wow…yes…wow.”

I hear hushed wonder, the tone is right, you got it – my gift wasn’t wasted.

The next day there is a kiss, and we’ve got many more phone calls ahead of us. But it was the music, the synths, the words – it was the record player that did the trick, that really started things.

Forget Spotify and the über modern hi-fis, forget instant sharing, forget digital and iPhones – none of it has ever been as intense – as real – as the old record player and the ugly clunky grey phone stuck to the wall.

And it wasn’t just because we were teenagers.

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Album of the Year 2018 – Paper Kites: On The Corner Where You Live

Idle blogs of an idle fellow

The worst thing about Albums of the Year pieces is  realising how much music has been released without anyone having told you. Mind you, most music sites seem to be competing in who can chose the most obscure albums.

The second worst thing is writing them. It’s my own fault. No one asked for my opinion on a rather narrow selection of albums released each year. And yet another annoying thing is that albums such as the brilliant Haiku from Zero by Cut Copy was actually released in 2017.

I was going to write a long list, but really there’s only one album of this year. Albums that stop you dead in your tracks are few and far between, which is probably a good thing, as I was driving when I first listened to it. But they do exist, and as neither GENTS nor Real Lies have released their 2nd album…

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One Saturday

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“It’s been a while since I was back on my old hunting grounds” says A, the reformed man-whore. “We’re staying up all night, right? Plus, Brexit isn’t happening so I’m fucking mad.”

“You’re not starting THAT” – this from S, Labour and Remainer through and through.

A wants to retort – I can tell – but he thinks better of it, thank fuck.
“Fine, I’m taking Nat to the bar.”

It’s Saturday crowded, ugh. Looks like we’re gonna be here a while.

“Let’s get shots, we’re gonna get him so wrecked he’ll admit Corbyn is a terrorist by the end of the night.”

We laugh and turn to look at S, he knows us too well, obviously caught the gist of it and he surreptitiously shows us the finger.

Back at the table with our drinks, in a dark corner of the pub, we resolutely avoid politics because we intend to stay friends, and alternate between other serious talk and general gossip. There are some very politically incorrect and tasteless jokes. Some reminiscing as well – it’s a typical boozy night between people who have known each other for years.

By 11 everybody is close to wasted.
“Right, clubbing!” says A like we’re on a mission, which I guess we are. He’s come down from London and will stay on a mate’s sofa – no way is he doing that just for a quiet evening.

It’s a short walk to the club, the streets are heaving though, the English are tough and walk around half naked even in the middle of winter. Some girls look like they couldn’t be bothered to get dressed and came out in their underwear – flesh on display always wins pitted against possible hypothermia. You can easily tell the foreigners apart as they all wear coats, hats, scarves, the lot.

Timing is everything – the DJ is starting the 80’s part of the evening when we walk in the club. None of the other 2 are as obsessed as I am but they get it – it won’t be a one-woman show on that dance floor.

An hour or 10 minutes later – who can tell, not me – we move on to the 90’s and I’m reminded once again no DJ is perfect because Alanis Morrisette (ugh!) is my cue to sneak outside to get some fresh air.

I walk straight up to a baby face who’s smoking. “Give us one?” My English is appalling when I’m drunk. He obliges happily. He lights it up for me and I take my first drag in fuck knows how long. Christ, it tastes like shite, how did I ever do this day in, day out? Instead of being clever and stubbing it out I persevere, like I’m punishing myself – it’s acrid, horrid and soon my head is swimming.

A appears as baby face is prattling on about something or other.

Shit. Busted.

“You didn’t!” He glares at me. Actually looks personally offended.

“Chill. I’m revisiting and it ain’t fun. I kind of feel sick actually.”

He doesn’t say another word, I’m dragged back inside – I barely have time to thank baby face again – disgust at catching me with a cigarette is all over A’s face.
Well, come on now. If I wasn’t so drunk, I’d say something, because this is a bit rich coming from someone who used to spend every weekend coked up to his eyeballs, but whatever – I’m letting it go.

Back in the club we’re assaulted by the heat of too many people packed in too small a place – another reminder of why I don’t like clubs – and alcohol fumes.

There’s more shots, more stupid jokes, more laughter and at some point
we reach the moment – that moment we came for – when there’s no more talk, no more drinking, just dancing, the whole planet could be in meltdown and none of it would matter because we’re caught in that euphoria, the moving to the beat and being alive. Only sex compares – nothing else does.

Late, I don’t know when, we leave and the cold hits me, immediately ramping up the feeling of intoxication.

“Where is my denim jacket… I’ve lost it. Guys, guys, wait, I LOVE that jacket – I’m not going home without.”

“I don’t remember you wearing it” says A, trying and failing to put on his own – he’s battling with it and looks ridiculous – the left shark in that Katy Perry video comes to mind.

“You’re so wrecked, what a fucking mess you are…hang on…WAIT. That’s mine, you lunatic!”

I snatch it from him and sure enough it’s my size 8 ladies denim jacket.

“Did you even come out with a jacket?!” I ask him, tempted to slap him into shape.

None of us remember, least of all him. This mystery won’t be elucidated tonight. I’ve had enough, I want my bed and I get into a taxi. A gets in with me.

“What are you doing? You’re going in the opposite direction! Get out ffs.”

I pause. Remember this is my good friend. “Are you gonna be okay?”

“Oh yeah. And yeah.”

He hugs me fiercely and finally gets out only to reappear at the window to tell the driver:
“Look out for her, she’s very special.”

I am quite sure I roll my eyes.

“Sweet. But I’m not 16! Go, go, go!”

I apologise to the taxi driver who no doubt deals with stuff like that all the time. I’m not sure I’d have the patience myself.

“It’s fine.” He says. “Good night?”

“Amazing” I reply.

In the morning I get a text from A:

“I’m dying, I’m so fucking glad I’m not working tomorrow. Top night though.”

I type a response quickly:

“I feel like an ice pick is lodged in my forehead but yeah – great night!”

Best of all, nobody even came close to guessing my heart was breaking.

King Kong Five

This song came up on one of my playlists yesterday and I was instantly transported back to a long ago gig when I was just a kid. 

I went to see this band with a boy called Xavier, we were both dressed identically: Black Bomber jackets, jeans and burgundy Doc Martens. He had the most amazing hair, chestnut brown, worn in a quiff that defied gravity and made me weak at the knees. 

Xavier and I had been circling each other for a few months by this time, we shared cigarettes and pints (I drank beer then) had long convos in the corner of our favourite coffee shop – there was chemistry between us but we hadn’t done anything about it, yet. 

The gig was what gigs were then: pure nervous energy, the feeling we were alive in that particular moment in time like at no other and the certainty there was no way we were ever going to age and die. 

The intensity and certainty of youth is almost painful to think about now. Xavier and I kissed for the first time that night, bodies melting into each other, while the singer was surfing the crowd…incredibly still belting the chorus of the song in English – with a definite French accent we were aware of even then. 

We kissed for the first time and also the last as Xavier ended up pushing me away with the words I would never forget: 

“I am not doing this with you. I’ll fall in love and you’re going places. I’m stuck here, I’ll be here forever, I’m going to be a builder with a shit life and you will do everything you want to do…once you’ve found yourself because you haven’t yet. This would mess with my head, Nat. I won’t let it happen.”

Man, we were so drunk but that kind of sobered me up and I was about to tell him that his rejection pitch was really corny and frankly shit when I scanned his face and saw the naked sincerity there. He actually fucking meant it. I wanted to say no, don’t sell yourself short, there’s hope for you, come on, don’t be an arse…but I knew what his life was like and I sensed he was depressingly right. Xavier with the great hair, good taste in music, fun and clever réparties didn’t have it in him to be anything but resigned. I tried to smile but couldn’t and just gave him a hug that I hoped conveyed everything I couldn’t say. 

Xavier and I were never alone again after that night, I’m not sure if that was his design or circumstances…until that day in the bar. I walked in and he was there, he knew I was leaving for England in a week’s time and we said our goodbyes while it was just the two of us. 

“I was fucking stupid, wasn’t I. You’re leaving and you’re not coming back.”

“Yeah, you were. But I’m only going for a year!”

“Nah, you’re not coming back.”

He had way too much insight for an 18-year-old guy. I didn’t go back. Though I did of course but my days of living in France were over even if I didn’t know it yet. 

Sometimes I think about Xavier, I haven’t kept up with many of that crowd and they all went their separate ways in any case, but I heard he indeed became a builder. I can’t deny I’m kind of curious about what happened after that but at the same time I don’t really want to know. I’d rather remember the intuitive boy with the quiff who made my heart beat so hard for a little while. 

*Thought I’d better add there is nothing wrong with being a builder and staying put, by the way. On rereading this, I’m thinking some people might assume that was my implication – it wasn’t. I’m not going to divulge things that aren’t mine to divulge but Xavier was trapped in many ways, family being at the heart of it. Thought this needed clarifying.*

Billy Idol – Brixton Academy

Best gig I’ve been to in AGES. Billy Idol keeps on ruling. Needless to say, I adore this review. Nothing to add – it’s perfect.

Idle blogs of an idle fellow

Last night a little angel came pumping on the floor
She said, come on baby, I got a license for love – Rebel Yell

It’s unclear what Sir Billiam Of Idol made of his Smash Hits magazine nickname, but it was always a sign of respect. The Bromley boy is back on his home turf; although it’s unlikely he brought his shamelessly self-promoting Billy Idol tour T-shirt at the Glades shopping centre. He’s in Brixton for a sold out intimate gig and it’s clear he’s making no apologies for the sort of cock-rock orgy that would bring Radiohead out in hives. It’s so uncool that it’s immediately cool, as he belts out Shock to the System with the enthusiasm of a groom on a Billy Idol karaoke machine. He looks like he was always going to look; like a rock star that’s offset good times with yoga retreats and good…

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When it snows

If I ever got married, if I was ever so inclined

To make another forever mine

I’d like it to be when it snows

Cheeks red with cold, perfect scarlet apples, breath like puffs of smoke

I’d want clouds, across the sky blown by winter wind

No sun blazing at my wedding

Imagine Rod Serling

Introducing the twilight zone

His face bathed in monochrome shades

All my photos in an album of sepia tones

Love may mingle with the snow, neatly filling the Hollow

As a tiny church nestled inside sleepy walls

Sets the scene

And completes the tableau

*This little something was inspired by the last lines in this gorgeous (and v. emotional – for me) tune*

Why?

He was just unlucky, he says, as he aligns his pills neatly on the table, each in the exact order it has to be taken. His face wears deep lines, his eyes are dull, his skin is that sickly off-white hue, his body is somehow reduced, shrunken – a man old before his time. And he is not even bitter.

“Nobody knew” he mumbles. “How could we have known?”

How indeed? Who could have guessed sex had turned into a game of Russian roulette?

On second thought, he thinks he was fortunate, actually, considering. He’s been ill on and off for 20 years, his body is ravaged by the more or less constant battles, but he is, after all, still alive when so many others aren’t. He attended countless funerals in his late 20’s, until he stopped going to them because he feared he had become desensitised.

We are talking via FaceTime and there’s no way I want him to see the tears in my eyes, so I force a smile and tell him that huge framed Madonna poster on the wall behind him is freaking me out.

He laughs, and orders me in that mock angry voice not to diss the queen.

I start singing “Like A Prayer”. He carries on, and we both can’t sing for shit but we slowly get into it, we know all the words of course, and go through the entire song, hand clapping and all, and by the end I think a little bit of colour has appeared on his sunken cheeks.

“80’s pop really was the best, wasn’t it?” He grins.

“Well, duh.”

We both laugh for no actual reason, and just like that, we are transported back to a time when we used to sing enthusiastically and dance crazily and laugh hysterically, a time when the future was still waiting, full of promises, a future that was uncertain, though if we were sure of one thing, it was this: we would always be friends.

And in this at least, we were right.

*Songs chosen because both he and I loved them then and still do. I’ve sweated buckets dancing to “Why?” over the years, it’s a fantastic song and it was just so incredibly relevant. As for “Smalltown Boy”, the 12 inch version is one of my favourite songs ever – it makes my top 10 list, easy.*

Instant Crush

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my half-closed eyes
spy
our shadows
moving on the wall
unsubtle silhouettes
sketched in haste
in bold and frenetic motion
stark in its execution
we’re writing infinite stories
on each other’s bodies
raw scribbled lines
words without rhymes
rough caresses
laced with
occasional tenderness
we moan shudder and gasp
as if taking our last breath
on those insatiable nights
filled with perpetual fights
to stave off the darkness
and postpone death

*First posted in 2015*

Gelato

Dancing, lost to the music, nothing else exists but my body and the beat

Vaguely aware that somewhere
in the crowd, in the small pocket of shadows
you are watching
my hips roll,
the curve of my arse,
my fervid arms scenting the sky with Guerlain’s Shalimar,
my chest rising and falling though I’m not breathing

Here on my ship,
the bit parts, hangers-on,
walk the plank – you and I are the leads in bleached denim sprung back from the 80’s

3 songs and I’ll go take your hand because

I can’t resist

I’m greedy,
craving summery things,
ice cream
smeared on my lips, dripping on my skin, running down my fingers –

je lèche tout – innocence and prescience blended in one oblique look

Sugar shot from a gun triggered in the sun,
No wasting such sweet taste 

est-il trop tôt for gelato laced with innuendo?

senses overload,

tonight, ti voglio

I know

that you also feel

the need, like at seventeen, to explode
and never see tomorrow

*To mark my Saturday session on the beach with my French gang and our dancing to this perfect tune which inspired me in so many ways I ended up totally ripping it off*