Jarvis Cocker meets The Lord of Rage


Last week I went to a Romantic Fiction Writing Workshop. I hopped on the bus to nowhereville (Chapeltown) and made my way to the library, where I found our coven of schmaltz-peddlers. The class was lead by a Jacqueline Aurora, a woman who specialised in Historical Romance for Mills and Boon. Her first 2 novels concerned ‘the Great Viking raid of 855AD’.

“When I sent my first draft off, Mills and Boon asked me to make the Vikings more…diplomatic” she said.

I could see I was dealing with a master comedian here, because she kept a straight face throughout the session. Either that or she was clueless.

The group is made up of retired schoolteachers, a blushing 17 year old boy, and me. Most of them are chummy because they belong to a local writing group. There’s a woman who was rejected by Mills and Boon, her plaintive voice carrying years of hurt;

“But I don’t understand, I read all the Mills and Boon books and I copied down lots of phrases exactly in my book”

Methinks that’s the reason?

“But I just don’t understand” she keeps repeating.

Here was Jacqeline’s tip on storyline:

“I’ll tell you what your plot is right now: Girl meets boy, girl loses boy, girl gets boy back. Don’t bother trying to make it more complicated, all that matters is the details”

A little later, we have to come up with our hero. The ruddy-faced eco-warrior next to me pipes up:

“He is 5’8 with ruddy cheeks. He lost his wife in a logging accident and wants to take the company down”

“Stop right there” says Jacqueline, “he has to be over 5’8 or no-one will give a shit”

“B-but 5’8 is tall in my family”

“I don’t care- no one wants a short-arse hero”

 “Let me tell you mine,” says the wronged woman in the corner, “I see a rugged Italian man called Antonio. He has thick curly black hair which just touches the collar of his shirt. He teaches Italian and writes poetry”.

West St. on a Friday night is full of Antonio’s who will promise you poems and give you piles, I reflect wistfully.

I decide to base my hero on Prince William;

“He is a Prince and feels like his life has been mapped out for him by the media and the public. He falls in love with a girl below his station at university, but she finds it hard to take the publicity and so leaves him. He has become cruel in the wake of his mother’s suspicious death, and rejects her at first. Both of his parents ended up with someone else, and he hates the idea of betrayal. She realises that he is her only love and they marry in great ceremony”

“Yes” says Jacqueline. “Next.”

So now I have decided to take Friday off work every week to start my romance novel. Apparently there are 12 lines at Mills and Boon including porn (Blaze: “a promise of intimate journeys and complete satisfaction”), “medical romance” (!!), supernatural (latest title “Lord of Rage”) and light petting (“Cherish”).

"Never had domestic abuse seemed so appealing"

I’m sitting here now, in Nile’s cramped livingroom, shifting my weight every few seconds to reduce the ring-sting I’ve had since my mega-poo earlier today. I reflect on how different life could have been. Yesterday I committed a low level act of fan worship by spending 2 hours in the cold awaiting the appearance of Jarvis Cocker at Waterstones. When I got there around 3.30, the queue was large and consisted only of emos. Mistaking the middle of the queue for the end, I suffered the puny evil eyes of purple dyed children of the corn until I realised I was stood next to Holly, a friend from back in the day (2001-2, the Floral Shirt Years). We had wrung those halcyon days of every last buttery drop of debauchery, tomfoolery and inanity. Her companion was a droll commentator on remembrances of things passed.

“Where is all the 70s polyester and tight leather?” I asked, looking round at all the faux-faded denim and baggy hoodies. Age is cruel mistress, feeding you exquisite joy before holding you static while the world is sped up around you, finally releasing it’s grip to let you stumble to a mirror and scream in despair at what stares back.

Anyway, Jarvis finally arrived with his girlf and jack russell (senior) looking like a drowned rat. As he looked up at the queue that snaked round every available space in the shop I caught a micro-expression of horror. A woman came round the queue saying;

“He’s not going to write an essay so write our first name on a post-it note that I’m bringing round. And you can only take a photo of him but not with him”

Why bother being there at all I thought, if he’s just going to copy the name on the note and you can probably get a better picture off Google? Because I love him, came the quick and clammy answer. When I finally got to the table, all the droll comments I had planned went out of my head and I ended up blushing at my choice of ‘Vienna’ for a signee. As I mumbled about being a “failed celebrity from Psalter Lane”, I was transported into Jarv’s head looking up at a delusional loon who would strangle my idol for a taste of fame. He just didn’t get me.

“Don’t talk about Psalter Lane, you’ll make me cry” he said.

And then I was elbowed away by a tweenie. When I got a safe distance away, I looked down at what he’d written:

To Vienna

…Aaaaah!

Jarvis

What did he mean?

“That’s like the song” Esther said when I got home.

“Vienna, like the song” I thought dreamily.

Jarv had got me!

Are you an N or an F?


I finish my day at work and automatically ring Esther to find out what she’s doing so I can do it too. This reminds of the joke about when spouses Kenneth Brannagh and Emma Thompson were inseperable in the mid 90s:

Emm: “Where are you darling?”

Ken: “I’m in the shed”

Emm: “Oh, can I be in it too?”

Anyway, unusually for them, Lisa and Esther are sat outside Starbucks having a coffee. I jump on an 82 (not an 88 since I was prevented from boarding one for holding a coffee: “Is that a hot drink?” “No, it’s gone cold” “Well you can’t get on” etc) and hop off the stop before Starbucks, sauntering in my most relaxed-looking way up to the cafe.

“Half F, half N” confides Lisa to Esther as I sit down.

“More F than N, I’d say” says Esther, “He has got a clean shirt on”

I tuck my shirt into my trousers, flustered by the attention.

“Oh no, that’s definitely N, tucking it in like that” says Esther with satisfaction.

Finally, they explain that they have been playing a game where they judge whether people are Functional (have a job and relationship, good self esteem) or Non-functional (on benefits, mentally unstable, or intellectuals) from the way they look as they walk past. I notice a funny man sat in Starbucks window behind us- he has a shock of grey hair sticking vertically up, a huge round belly and a spotted handkerchief peering from a pocket in his white tucked-in tshirt.

“So what’s he then” I say with as much subtlety as I can muster (not much).

“Oh, him. He’s a double N” says judge, jury and executioner Esther.

Next, Lisa scurries off up the street mumbling “Do me”, before turning round after about 3 metres and coming back. She is trying her hardest to look normal, which means she is surging forward with a furious look on her face.

Without having to confer, Esther and I proclaim “definitely an N”, to Lisa’s bitter disappointment. Now Esther goes for a wee, and after about 5 minutes reappears behind us, having sneaked out of the side door. She is unsurprised to learn her N status too.

Ecclesall Road is wall to wall with Fs, usually rich students with box fresh clothes, or kept men or women perched like vultures in the window of Nonnas, draining spousal money in the futile pursuit of real happiness. I think rampant materialism is a sign of something missing.

But if this is what it takes to get status in this world, I guess I am a player too, but only on week days. I am a wekend hippie and a fairweather flakey. I’m proud of my N/F mongrel ways.

 

I can’t get no sleep


My favourite time of the day to travel on Sheffield’s glorious buses is around 2pm in the groggy lull between lunch and school run. On this particular occasion I was roused from my torpor by the sing-songy voices of two women who chatted in the finest Queens English behind me:

“I’m bored” a boy moans loudly.

“Treat every moment with the utmost sincerity” comes the reply, uttered with enough volume and flounce to filter down into the handful of grimy ears on the bus.

“One tries to be sincere…” muses the mother’s bff wistfully.

“Yes, but occasionally one forgets…” she entreats

I twist my head involuntarily to see the faces that spawned this rancid pomposity. Largely unremarkable, both women are noticeable only for their pert posture and earnest eye contact. Buoyed by starched cotton and principles, they manage not to slump into their seats like the rest of us. As they leave the bus, I get a whiff of something I’ve not smelt for a long time- cleanliness.

"This is what I found when I Googled "utmost sincerity""

My day at work continues this exercise in diversity. I overhear a conversation between an earnest Mentor and a mole-like Autistic boy with a voice like the post-op transexual taxi driver on League of Gentlemen:

“I want to change courses. I’d like to do Criminology and that”

“Oh yes? And why is that then?”

“Well, I like Midsomer Murders. And I like CSI”

“Oh really?” (The Mentor is desperately thinking of how to inject some reality into this dream. I’m guessing mainly so that he don’t laugh in his face).

“And I’m interested in crime like murder and rape”

Other students are starting to look round at them now. The Mentor makes a last ditch attempt to steer the convo away from inadvertant pronouncements of megalomania. After a silence, they talk about the weather and everyone goes go back to their work.

When I have a moment at work, instead of eating or drinking, I log onto my newest obsession, Facebook Scrabble. I have found it the only anaesthetic that completely blocks out my bad thoughts. The simple task of shoehorning letters into squares acts like a blanket muffling everything around me. I have started to dream about it. Last night I woke up around 5am to the sound of a drunk girl on her mobile somewhere in the streets below.

“It’s a dead end. Listen Amy, this is not the time to be having this conversation. Shit, it’s another dead end”

Eventually she found the right way and disappeared from hearing. I remember now that I was dreaming in white plastic letter blocks. I was overjoyed when I realised that I had a really good word score when I used Vanessa from Eastenders‘ real name- in my dream it was CROZIER or LUCKIER or something. Oh lord, what am I becoming?

I am disturbed from finding the answer to this by the sound of the cat in rictus, telescoping her chubby body in and out to make herself barf. After two or three loud hiccuping burps, there’s the sound of a fat chav gobbing- it’s out, and I lie there thinking ‘oh god, any minute now it’s going to stink’. Because I still can’t be arsed to move, I sniff the air tentatively every three seconds until I catch a whiff of something. Before I know it, the light’s on and I am upright with toilet roll in hand, searching the floor.

For such massive upheaval, there are only two tiny patches of chunder. As I crouch over them, the smell hits me. I realise now that shit doesn’t just become a stinking thing upon exit through the anus, it wallows for hours in the mucus of the stomach, fomenting and brewing (“a hard poo’s a-brewing” as Bob Dylan sang). What I am picking up is young shit, as yet unformed by the piping bag of the sphincter. Retching, I throw the heavy tissue clumps into the toilet and flush with vigour.

Now for some sex. Esther still hasn’t woken up despite all this, but now I’m wide awake. As I flop down, my hand somehow ends up on the upper reaches of her pubes, accessible because she has had to cut the elastic band off all of her knickers to let her swelling cake-filled belly fall out. It turns out I am a feeder. Normally though, the feeder is thin because all they want is to indulge their ballooning partner. Think Jack Sprat. With me though, I stave off my guilt about perpetual snacking by getting Esther to eat the same as me. This also serves a second purpose: I don’t have to decide for myself what to eat- whatever she allows me to give her must be ok for me.

As I remember the sick, my sex part shrinks. I may be sick, but I am not turned on by it. As I listen to strangulated cries of drunken men singing, I release a series of absurd cartoon farts. They are the best kind, that sound ridiculous yet strangely don’t smell. Esther chuckles in her sleep, then wakes, and we tuck into the unwanted remainders of a Tesco Classic Chocolate Selection (reduced from £6 to £3, effectively duping us into believing it is more than a cheap version of Roses). What is left in the expanse of the disappointingly single-layered box seems like a feast at this time of night:

2x milk choc turkish delights,

2x orange cremes,

and 2x plain chocolate toffee (my personal hatred is reserved for these teeth-destroying rocks of pain, but I eat them anyway with a grimace).

Esther turns the TV on and flicks between BBC News and Sky News, watching the same 2 articles (death of Anwar al-Awlaki; Jacko trial) reported different ways: while Sky is all out sensation, the BBC is deadly serious, although they seem to be loosening their impartiality to compete. What you end up with is sexy newsreaders with straight faces.

"Doctor, Doctor, there's a child in my bed!" "Don't worry, you're just having a little stroke"

Dr Conrad Murray‘s face is undergoing a procedure on TV- mummification. As more and more damning revelations stream out live across the world, his face is lengthening and hardening into an Easter Island grimace of hopelessness. What surprises me about all of this is how most of the court time is spent in awkward silences, stutters and paper shuffling. This isn’t like the movies, though the accents help with the illusion. When I got Sky TV it was because I thought it was the ultimate in voyeur TV: Courts, houses and legs would all be opened up for my delectation. But it seems that the British version is still uptight about most of these. Would Court TV work over here? Would we really want to see a succession of scrawny boy racers and benefits scammers being chastised in bloodless English?

I’m sitting on the toilet now, and I hear Lisa and Dom come in downstairs. This usually has the effect of making me instantly grumpy- some sort of Pavlovian response to a stimuli that I can’t even remember. Something to do with being an only child, Esther would say. “No’, I tell myself, ‘I won’t give in to the grump’. A ridiculous jingle comes into my head;

“Challenge each emo-shun”

it goes, sung in the hyper-sedated voices of  a chorus of American life gurus. As I descend the stairs, I sing it over and over in my head. I enter the kitchen, closed off to prevent Devo from destroying the house. So far so good. As I say hello to Lisa, who has stolen my seat (keep calm), I notice that she has ‘re-appropriated’ one my favourite of Esther’s tshirts. I’m starting to lose it now. Rage or depression is never far from my door.

Instead of letting the fuckers in, I sit down and turn Scrabble on.