Make like Patti

I went to New York recently (she says casually like Cindy Crawford would, or a businesslady from the 1990s).  Okay it was April in fact, but it’s been a turgid few months since then, filled with regret and lassitude at no longer being in New York so it has taken me a while to write.  New York is ridiculous; having haunted my imagination since I was of Athena poster buying age, I wasn’t disappointed  by the steam from the drains, the yellow of the cabs or the sheen from the mirrored skyscrapers.  It all felt unreal and familiar.


Boozed up and jetlagged, I took notes from every day of my stay, but do you really care what I did?  Does anyone? That’s my business.  From childhood, I vaguely remember ‘slide shows’, where we would formally gather with other families at nieghbour’s houses to have a guided tour, with projected images, of what they did on holiday. You may remember Don Draper singing the praises of the home projector on Mad Men, but he clearly never visited the denizens of Hull, because all I recall of the slide show is the click and the whirr of the machine and Uncle Brian or Aunty Sue telling us the date and time that the picture was taken, where it was taken and normally who had been sick or was about to be sick at the time of execution.To be honest, if I ask you ‘how was your holiday?’  Just say ‘fine’ or ‘shit’ and leave it at that (actually if it was shit, I’ll probably want to know why.  I’m such a schadenfreude freunde). Looking at my travel journal (which I imagined as a full blown epic) I can tell where I got bored of writing about what we did, because it becomes a ‘did list’.  And it’s awful.  If you really want to know what I did, go and read ‘Just Kids’ and pretend that I’m Patti Smith.  That should do it.


So now, we’ve established that I’m not going to give you the blow by blow of my trip, what am I going to do?  I’m just going to write about two things that I noticed, that’s what.  


New Yorkers have to have the last word, which means, as a Brit, you can get stuck in some serious politeness showdowns.  Here’s an example from a restaurant that we went to.  It’s between a waiter (played by Don Draper), me (played by Patti Smith) and my husband (played by Betty White – why not?)


HUSBAND:  I see what you mean about slide shows and i totally agree.

ME:  Great

WAITER:  More water?

ME:  Yes, please.

WAITER:  You’re welcome

ME: That’s great, thanks

WAITER:  Not a problem

ME:  Great job, well done

WAITER:  My pleasure

ME:  Lovely.

WAITER:  Fantastic

ME:  Nice one.

WAITER (running away, shouting over shoulder)  ENJOY YOUR MEAL!


As a Brit, I like to patronise waiting staff, to make them feel cared for and listened to, but most importantly I like to seal off the conversation by having the last word.  Every rejoinder takes away from my benevolence!  Really, I should face facts; my platitudes are squat: a damn big tip is worth more than a feigned grin and attentiveness.


Unless our visit coincided with a Tresemme conference, the men of New York have hands down collectively the best male hair I have seen anywhere on ths planet!  It is spectacular: lustrous, bouncy and product free.  Curls the colour and density of wet sand, worn long, nestling on shirt collars and flopping over foreheads.  Full white clouds of cauliflower.  A crisp afro.  I had full blown middle aged man hair envy – something in the water, perhaps?


Yes: everyone shouts at each other a bit, sandwiches are massive and the skyline is amazing.  But should you visit  New York, I recommend that you check out the pompadours and try to out-polite a waiter.  


And pretend your Patti Smith.  But that’s just a general life lesson, isn’t it?


The shellsuit in my head

When I leave in the morning, it is generallly darker than when I return in the evening.  Some people I know would find this incredibly depressing and the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder are well-documented.  I know, because I convinced myself that I had this once and even bought a lamp to help me, but I don’t really. Have SAD, I mean; it turned that I was always grumpy and tired and that actually, I had anti-SAD.  I’m at my best in the morning and I genuinely (sort of) enjoy being an early riser


Larks and owls and what kind of person are you and all that stuff aside, I derive pleasure from getting up early, because when I was young, getting up early was associated with a big adventure or treat; like the pre-dawn shufflings of Christmas day or the strategic planning of a trip to the airport before going on holiday.  My dad took this part of the trip very seriously.  The car journey to the airport would normally take about 3 hours and if it was an early flight, parental discussion for weeks beforehand would revolve around such crucial topics as optimum positioning of luggage in boot and the necessity of a centralised bumbag holder for the placement of passports and tickets. The night before we set off, my sister and I would be charged with making the back seat of the car as comfortable as possible.  This was the most exciting thing ever for me.  As a 7 year old, the backseat of a car is huge and ripe with possiblities (particularly in the pre-seatbelt era), so I would spend hours deliberating on where to put my pillow and blanket for the journey.  The car was my house – thrills!  


The possibility of sleep the night before an early start diminishes with age, but even at seven I remember being beside myself with aniticipation at going in the car to the airport in the middle of the night!  I don’t recall being enthusaistic about the holiday to follow and nor can I remember which country we ended up in afterwards.  But I do remember being lightly shaken awake, forced into my ‘travelling gear’ and carried to the car.  I normally slept throughout, which suggests that anticipation of travel is better than travel, which in turn is better than arriving.


A note on travel attire.  One winter, my father booked us a last minute jaunt to Spain.  The weather in England had been pretty terrible, which added spice to planning our voyage to the airport.  Assuring us that it would be ‘white hell’ on the motorways, dad fretted, cogitated and formulated on the additional time that we would need to catch our flight.  He decided, and we agreed, on leaving at 2 in the morning for a 10 o ‘ clock flight, giving us an extra five hours.  Travel kit became even more essential; it’s one thing to dress for comfort but what about durability?  What if we became stranded on the motorway in an avalanche or blizzard or something and have to rely on our wits and survival instincts to get by?  Once you consider these questions, there’s really only one answer for a family of four of varying ages, sizes and genders:  we’d all wear our matching shellsuits!  That way, the helicopters or SAS rescue soldiers would know that we were a team and we’d get airlifted out of the snowdrift together, of course.  At two in the morning, the atmosphere in the car was tense, but by the time that we arrived at the airport, a mere two hours later, two hours during which we hadn’t seen so much as a flake of snow, , we felt a bit like dicks. Prepare to fail?  You betcha!  The phrase ‘white hell’ is still used in my family to imply that someone is overplaying their part.  But that trip also had its uses.  Sometimes, when I’m dozily and reluctantly pulling myself together before the crack of dawn, I like to don the shellsuit in my head and relive that jolt of excitement that I felt as a kid.  The adventure begins ….  



In the Co-Op with Bobby Womack

Noises Off: Day 2 of living without extraneous sound (or audio-fast as a wise and brilliant friend described it)

The morning silence is the best bit, I find.  It gives me the space to let out all the random fragments of song that have collected over the night (this morning: Native New Yorker) without weaving them in with all the other thoughts that have accumulated over the course of the day, the Breakfast news, alarm sounds and 6 Music.  To be honest, it’s rather like singing flat out in a sparsely populated concert hall and therefore quite awkward.  I hear the song, I try to offer it lodging, but ultimately it just peters out of its own accord.

Subsequently, all songs sound strange and ridiculous to me. In the Co-Op, Bobby Womack and Damon Albarn seem a mightily dramatic accompaniment to buying vinegar and tampons.  If I genuinely stop and listen, it is absurd.


Likewise, the man opposite me on the train plugged in and closed his eyes, as if dozing off at the start of a long flight.  Which in a way he is. If we’re unhappy with our predicament, music is a means of escape or at least a distancing and if we’re feeling good, it simply highlights our mood.  But for me, music is a conduit – how much do I really hear on the way to the mindset  where I want to be?  Not much, it would appear, as I’m beginning to appreciate the other soundtrack a lot more; the whine of the train engine, the clink the wheels make over parts of the track which seem less secure, this reminds me where I am.  Which is not too bad a place, in fact, certainly no worse than in the Co-Op with Bobby Womack.  

Reflections on a toilet


Following on from my bid for positivity (see previous post), I am celebrating the smaller,  more overlooked things in life.  You may wish to think of me as an urban Thoreau after you’ve read this because I am reflecting like a really reflective thing, like something that you would get out of a cereal box and fit to your bike spokes …yessss….that reflective.

Today I have been mostly reflecting on ladies toilets.  Loos.  Public bathrooms.  La-va-tory.  I have a particular disdain for the latter; phonetically too close to ‘laboratory’, although in some ways I guess they are both twin chambers of pain and hygiene.

Ho hum.  So here are my cumulative reflections on public restrooms (notice how transcontinental I am with my terminolgy?).  This list is more or less in praise of the loo as an area which recognises no cultural or class divide.  Ideally, I would like to see if women in other countries have similar or different experiences to me.  Don’t worry, there is no scat in the following list.

Observation 1:  A woman will have always been walked in on during the act at least once in their life.  Those doors are not consistently up to scratch.

Observation 2:  A woman will have always tried to hold the door closed with her foot or hand while trying to reach the bowl with her behind to pee.  I think this usually stems from being traumatised by first hand experience of observation 1.

Observation 3:  Wiping someone else’s pee off the bowl.  I’m sorry.  I had to ‘go there’.  Besides, we’ve all had to do it.  With pursed lips.  And a little bit of tissue.

Observation 4:  Deliberating over asking your cubicle neighbour for toilet roll.  The disembodied hand under the gap, proffering bog paper like a white flag.  It’s a bit like the trenches, except you’re the surrender monkey who should have checked the necessaries before you sat down, sucker!

Observation 5:  Speculating on the provenance of the damp patch on the toilet roll.  You may have gathered that I don’t frequent the Ritz very often.

Observation 6:  Being distracted by the little lady on the sanitary disposal bag.  Why her?  Why anyone?

She's sooo purty .....she looks after my tampons

Observation 7:  Having to pretend to wash your hands for longer than necessary because some woman is taking forever on the hand dryer.  Or awkwardly sharing hand dryer with them, eyes glazed, breath held.  It’s too intimate.

Observation 8:  Ruminating on the creative process behind hand towel and hand soap colours.  Did they market research what colour hands respond to?  And did aforementioned research point conclusively to the colour ‘light teal’?

Observation 9:  The quiet charm of encountering a good hand dryer.  And indulging in it.  A Dyson Blade is like a work of art.

Observation 10:  Fear of the exit door handle. In fact, any handle in that room (especially flush).  Do you cover your hand with your sleeve?  Or just avert your eyes?  Seriously I need to know.  This is important work.

And gents, I apologise if this has ruined the mystique of what goes on behind the gilded ‘Ladies’ sign.  I’m sure you imagined it to be like a Disney cartoon back there, with little bluebirds flying around, delivering scented towlettes and flushing the chain for us.  I’m sorry.  But if you would like to share anything that you would class as a globally resonant toilet-based observation, I am very keen to learn.

Your thoughts are welcome.

Unsung hero

Rod - Back in the day

Friday night, Pier 39 Disco, Cleethorpes seafront, 1996.  At around 2 am in the morning,  one unlucky reveller’s head will meet the murky sand far below with an umitigated thump.  Or at least it seemed that way to me growing up. ‘Man (18 )falls off Pier’ was a headline so common in Saturday’s edition of the local paper that it was relegated to the nethers of page 5, as regular and as comforting as the crossword.

We never pretended to be glamorous.  And even now, should you ever take a trip along the seafront, you’ll soon realise that the image we Friday night partygoers adhere to is sturdy chic.  Cleethorpes is next to Grimsby and Grimsby (contrary to popular belief) was named after the Viking settler Grim.  Is it possible that the Nordic King lives on in his descendant’s predilections?  Friday night’s ladies on tour offer up a fixed expression, defiant of the bitter cold wind, standing proud in their too short skirts, oblivious to their corned-beef legs.  There’s more than a whiff of the stoic about it …..

So we’d drink too much, fall over, snog, fall over, cry, snog, fall over.  A harsh and punishing regime of ‘entertainment’.  But we endured it.  And that’s just outside the clubs that dot the seafront like a worn out piece of tinsel on last year’s tree.   At least inside it was warm and you were less likely to get hit by a boy racer.

More than ten years on I go back to my old haunt and am amazed by the transformation.  Latterly it smelt of smoke – now it smells of body odour!  Otherwise….plus ca change.  There’s the same mix of Euro sounds and always the floorfillers, the floorfillers never change.  In a club that more than a little resembles any club in any town , there’s nothing finer than the sight of my former PE teacher break abruptly from conversation to take to the floor for YMCA.  We’re not cutting edge in Cleethorpes.  Once innovation realised there was no where further to go beyond this outpost of the estuary, it stopped calling.

Then it happens.  I was hoping it would.  Straight after Barbie Girl, the DJ drops a fat one – Don’t Stop (Till You Get Enough).  Glittering funk reverie flushed with M J’s sublime falsetto vocals.  The floor fills.  Suddenly I want to jump behind the decks, seize the mic and scream the truth at the top of my lungs – ROD TEMPERTON WROTE THIS SONG AND HE CAME FROM CLEETHORPES!

Not ready to form Saturday’s page 5 byline however, I asked fellow clubbers if they knew the identity and origins of the guy behind the record.  Apart from killing what little buzz is left, I’m met with general indifference – I assume it’s because they can’t hear me over the tune.  Maybe they just want to hear the tune and not my wisdom and who can blame them?

But for me, the knowledge that Rod Temperton son of  Cleethorpes, wrote great songs fills me with immense pride.

You see, the only time that Cleethorpes comes up in conversation is at the butt end of a joke on a Jim Davidson tour video.  Eternally aligned with the crap, the shit and the generally fucking awful.  Of course, we’ve had our fair share of celebrities from the area – Norman Lamont’s mum, and Mrs Mangle from Neighbours  – but for someone as close to the glamour, the very Studio 54-ness of it all as Rod Temperton, well, that strikes me as something worth shouting about.

Quincy Jones described him as the finest songwriter of his generation and a ‘real bad brother’.  Having seen footage of how Quincy and his crew rolled in the studio back in the day, I would imagine that Rod would have to have the capacity and aptitude of 20 men to garner such admiration.  Meanwhile, Temperton, R. would become a credit on the backsleeve of albums for artists such as Aretha, Mariah, Boyz to Men and Donna Summer.

Forgive me for not mentioning beforehand that Temperton co- wrote the uber seminal (if that’s possible) Thriller.  Thriller!  I only didn’t mention this earlier, as I felt sure, dear reader, that you would have collapsed in a dead faint.  May I also mention at this juncture that Rod has won a Grammy and been nominated for an Oscar for best original song for Miss Celies Blues from the Color Purple? Lyrics by Rod and Lionel Ritchie.  And he continues to work – most recently contributing to Carey’s comeback.

Quincy, Michael, Aretha, Herbie, Mariah and Rod.  Our Rod.   The mixing desk is a powerful position in the recording industry and he was Quincy’s right hand man!  This man worked at Ross seafood Inc and we know next to nothing about him?  Cleethorpes, you are missing one serious trick.

Why should we  hide such a fine and aspirational light under its bushel?  I believe this may have something to do with Rod himself, who is still writing and presumably finds it difficult to get from any one of his homes in Switzerland, LA or…., to open a school fete or cut a ribbon in a car park.  On the other hand, maybe it’s something in the local water.  It seems to me that Cleethorpes suffers from a grave lack of self esteem and is happy to be allied with ANY form of recognition.  Like a middle age divorcee, being the derogatory punchline is better than nothing at all and maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t know how to maximise its assets.

So I am calling for a local campaign – a tribute to Rod – undoubtedly Cleethorpes’ ultimate unsung hero, and one to unite generations and musical tastes.  Local council, I want a statue erecting on the seafront – I think he’d like it there – and I demand that you find in your budget the funds to fly over Mariah or Quincy or Aretha to unveil it.  Then a slap up fish dinner in Steeles’chippy afterwards.  Its what Rod, and Cleethorpes, deserve.

For Mrs Mangel, however,  I think we should go with something smaller on Freeman Street.……

In the club

Forgive me, sad old sop that I am.  I still hope, when someone casually mentions ‘meeting at my club’, that at some point during the evening an elderly gent will challenge me to circumnavigate the globe in a hot air balloon or a juggernaut or some such.  This is how delirious I become at the casual mention of ‘one’s club’.  Naturally, I don’t belong to any – as none, quite rightly, would have me.  And its all in the belonging, isn’t it?  The possessive pronoun is king.  ‘Fancy going to a club?’ is not the same and should not be confused because ‘a club’ means vomit and techno and no comfortable seating.  But ‘fancy going to my club?’  Wowee.  That’s decanted port hitting crystal, cigar smoke and bottle green chesterfields. Much more welcoming.  Old men.  Paintings of dogs in mocked up courtroom scenes.  I’m thinking Hogarth, Hobbs and Harris tweed.

Before I disappear up my own portcullis, I’d like to point out that I’m not an idiot.  I went to a red-brick university and I appreciate that clubs are redolent of a particularly nasty brand of the good old days – when Empire was all and Britannia ruled the etc etc.  A previous boyfriend belonged to The East India Club – how unnecessarily colonial is that?  But for the purposes of today lets (say we can) wrench the style from its context and reach a concensus – old school club aesthetic is hot and I get excited when I think I’m going to get in one.

So when my oldest mukka, Chas,  drops an invite to her club (hers, not mine) into the conversation, I pounce on it.  Impatiently, I ask her what the odds are on discussing the Suez Canal with a bulldog in a bowler hat over boiled eggs and soldiers?  She doesn’t understand.  Ah, if only she could see what clubs are like in my head….

Instead, we’re left with the reality of her club, the one that really exists, that she belongs to and I don’t.  And here I am outside its entrance, somewhere off Moorgate, in scuzzy chic Hoxton.  Its evidently so cool that it looks like shit from the outside .  I’m a little dejected –Mayfair it isn’t.  I’m already downgrading my pre-selected topics of conversation.

I am suffering a severe status downgrading as well – this club, behind the mystery door is busy!  Tanned people in good but bland clothes saunter in and up the stairs.  They know how to get in.  I don’t.  Snatches of conversation put me at ease but set me up for what’s to come.  I over hear one member say to her guest ‘Go in, have a drink, just see who talks to you.’  Are we, as mere guests, not allowed to instigate a little chat? This is not and has never been my idea of a basis for a good night out.  And I’m beginning to think I’m a little out of touch with what member’s club means….

So here’s a simple guide.  Using tonight’s venue as a template, I will enlighten you as to the differences between a members club and a bog standard bar/restaurant.

The good about clubs

  • Less people.
  • Nicer décor.  Inside it sort of looks like Monica’s flat in Friends – exposed brick and fire escape, low warm lighting and a dull bronze bar façade and ceiling.
  • Bar staff – both hunky and less arrogant than other places.  I’m going to go with ‘bar staff from Amaretto advert’  as my point of reference.
  • Key difference in my view – loads of people check on you all the time.  Like a really good BUPA hospital.

The bad about today’s clubs:

  • People stare at each other.  Obviously this happens in all bars, and some would say it is in fact, the sole purpose of bars, but when there are less people around, it’s a little de trop.  I think this exposes the club psyche – members are hoping that the exclusivity of belonging will introduce them to those of a higher status – but isn’t it entirely possible that the club will be composed purely of people who were stupid enough to pay in this hope?  Hence, at one point the place looks like its holding some kind of en mass plate spinning event, so many heads swivelling in different directions.
  • Nicer décor, nowhere to sit.  I love plonking down somewhere comfy in a bar – it’s the only way to drink.  But I’m informed by my friend, that all seats are reserved.  Even the shy retiring banquette in the corner?  The modish stool cum work-out apparatus?  Apparently yes, all are booked up – despite the fact that they remain empty for the time being.  So all around me, weary Londoners are shifting from foot to foot, looking enviously at unfurnished furnishings.  This strikes me as Britishness at its most ridiculous – there are enough seats free for everyone, yet we prefer to queue and practice our passive aggressiveness.  Someone who followed the rules and booked may show up and be horrified to find some royster-doyster in their seat.
  • And this brings me to the staff.  Wonderful and attentive as they are, beyond providing one with a constant supply of booze (2 cocktails and a bottle of Rose by this point), there’s not much they can do to relieve the situation.  So we try some low level bartering…’We’ll see what we can do’….’You’re at the top of the list’…a constant reassurance of how popular one is, with no guaranteed results.  Maybe this frustrating game of monopoly appeals to some, but I just find it ….frustrating.

So back to the first bottle of Rose, which has now been turned on its top and deposited on the bar.  We’re onto the second – this is as thrillingly close to sampling the Bullingham Boys’ way of life as we get.  Finally we are allowed table and nourishment.  Never has it been so needed.  We’re quite tipsy by now, so my notes get a little garbled, but I recall being led to a table on a lovely exposed terrace just outside the kitchen.  Great, food is forthcoming.  Another man in a white shirt greets us as old friends, so I assume he is a waiter.  He steers us towards the fish.  Now coming from Grimsby, my friend and I always have a line ready for this.  Its not a good one, but it plugs the gap in conversation.  This time Charlotte chips in with ‘Well, we’re from Grimsby, I think we’ve seen enough fish’.  See, I told you it wasn’t a winner, but it usually raises some sort of smile.  Instead, the waiter immediately breaks all ties with us as we decide to go with the cheese.  It’s the only word I could make out on the menu in my half lit, half pissed state.

Cheese is rustic, served on a wooden board that I SWEAR has been stolen from my mother’s house circa 1983.  Its fine, it all tastes of Rose by this point, anyway, but I can’t say that it feels like the sort of welcome sustenance one would appreciate at this stage of the evening.  This may explain my surprising determination to find Pot Noodle when we eventually leave.  The cab home is comfier than anywhere that I have sat throughout the preceding events.

I could talk about the toilets, that were lovely and the hallways, which were lovely and it was all lovely but it wasn’t a club.  Not my club, the one I belong to in my head.  I could also shamelessly borrow from Groucho Marx here, because I feel he has a point.  I don’t care to belong to any club that would have me a member, but I’d like to add, if I may, that I don’t care to belong to any club that wouldn’t have me on the books, either.  Not if they flatter to deceive in the way that tonight’s little haunt did.  Smiling, welcoming, but a club to belong to?  To aspire to?  I’ll stick with Wetherspoons.

Club in my head
Club in reality. More like Lasseters off of Neighbours.