I’ll Never Be Cool But That’s OK



I’m reading Arnie’s autobiography:

“When I was five, I was desperate for some sea monkeys but my parents couldn’t afford them. So my father put some sperm into a pint glass and we would gather round after dinner and watch it swim about.”

"I picked up the wrong glass!"

“I picked up the wrong glass!”


Esther says I’m as neurotic as a self-service machine in Sainsbury’s. It doesn’t matter how careful she is, she says, I will panic and call for help. “Approval needed” is my motto, she says.

She’s right.


I’ve come to Manchester on my own to see Ben Brookes and Tao Lin read out stuff from their new novels. I got the free samples on my kindle. I’ve got hundreds of those; I’m kind of obsessed with collecting them because they’re free. I’ve only bought the actual book once after reading the sample, and it was rubbish.

It’s at the Deaf Institute and when I go in there are lots of tiny tables set for two with candles. It looks like a speed dating night. And there are loads of youths and twentysomethings around.

I feel old. And bald.

I sit down near the merch table. A grumpy girl sits down next to me and sits facing away so we don’t have to talk. It doesn’t make me feel any better.

I start to drink even though I have to get the last train home. There are lots of people performing. There’s a guy called Socrates with a Socrates-like beard. His story is about a self-aware latte. Then there’s a poet in a velvet cape, she’s quite angry. There’s a loud, confident guy who I bet is never alone.

I still don’t like poetry.

Ben Brookes comes on. I saw him on Meet The Author on the BBC. On TV, he looked shy and very young and he was funny. At one point, his voice went squeaky and instead of over-compensating for it, he said, “my voice went really high then.” He looked uncool but was funny, like he might be alone sometimes but not when it counted.

Tonight he has a t-shirt on and his arms are covered in tattoos. That means he’s cool. He reads a bit of Lolito out, rubbing his hair up and down continually with the free hand, a nervous habit. He keeps mumbling, “this is boring, why did I write this?” People laugh and hoot. It’s very pared down and childish, but clever.

Then Tao Lin. He’s very shy and quiet in person. He reads out all the tweets he sent on a night when he went to see the Hobbit. He reads them from his phone in a disinterested disjointed way. It’s surprising how it adds up to a story that you start to care about.

Afterwards I stumble over to the merch stall.
I have Esther’s voice in my head: “You’re not bringing any more books into this house!”
I pick up Lolito and wait till there’s a gap in the girls around Ben.

What am I going to say?

“I saw you on the BBC.”

Why that?

“Oh, yeah. I was really drunk. I thought my mum and gran would be watching.”

“It was funny. Can you sign my book? Write…[I think of something witty] what it felt like on the BBC.”

What is this obsession with the BBC?

“I like your beard,” Ben says, “You look like you’re from Mumford and Sons.”

I hate them.

“It’s a bit thin,” I say, then realise he isn’t Esther and has no obligation to contradict me.

“They won’t let me grow a beard on this tour,” he says.

“My girlfriend says I have to get all my books on kindle now,” I say, “but I thought fuck it.”

I sound like a drunk housewife.

“I hate them. I was given one but I gave it away. Imagine falling in love with a book on the kindle!”

“I know,” I say, “Ugh.”

He gives me the book back. He’s put:

“I was underwater and my mum could see.

Be okay,

Never die.


I wish I was that cool.

I see Tao Lin and before I know it I have thrust a new copy of Taipai into his hands.

“I liked your set,” I say, “it was very dry. Can you sign my book?”
“Of course. What’s your name?”
“My brother’s called that!”
He gives it back. It says:

“To Vienna. That’s my brother’s name! Sincerely, Tao.”

For some reason, I really think he meant it when he wrote sincerely.

Then I have to run all fuzzy-headed for the last train home.
There’s a drunk man in his 50s on the platform.

“How are you?” he says.
“Fine. And you?”
“Good. I did karaoke and then went to a bar. There’s lots of old ladies who always flirt with me. “Did you kiss any cauliflower heads tonight?” my wife says when I come home. That’s what we call them. When they come up to me, I say “I’ve got lots of money and a big dick,” and they do this-“
He pats his heart and flutters his eyelashes.
“You’re a gentleman,” he says. “There’s not many left. I know a few. My children are gentlemen but I’m not sure about my grandchildren or great-grandchildren.”
“I’m sure they are,” I say.
“I don’t think so,” he says, without explaining.

The train comes and he goes to sit in another carriage. I’m glad because I might have said the wrong thing soon and had my gentleman status rescinded.


I’ve plunged my bag into an existential crisis. Since I visited BreeDee in Hangzhou over a year, I’ve had the only acid wash rucksack in town. That was until I went in Topman today on my lunch hour and saw a whole row of them. The same day, every zip decided to malfunction on my bag.

Now it sort of looks like a face after a stroke.


Me & Esther are watching a documentary about a serial killer. They haven’t got much actual footage so they have about 5 photos of him that they slowly zoom into.

This one zoom is longer than all the rest. It makes me want to scream because it’s like the night terrors I used to have, where I would see my bedroom wall closing in on me, slow but unstoppable.

A schoolfriend of the serial killer is talking about the fun they had together.

“We went on a walk to the heath and he picked a bell flower. Then he urinated in it and drank it in front of me.”

Then there’s lots of stuff about baths filled with blood with bobble hats and duffel coats in them, but I can’t stop thinking about the flower.

What’s a bellflower? If he had used a fox glove, would it have killed him? A pitcher plant would have been best, but I don’t think they are in England. I bet he couldn’t fit much wee in the bell flower. I wonder if it went on his shoes. I bet that’s why he killed- he ruined his hush puppies.


I want to go to another book signing.

Turns out Alexa Chung is appearing at the Manchester Waterstones to promote her book, called ‘It’:

“A truly one-off collection of Alexa’s writing, doodles and photographs, It combines stories of early style inspirations such as her grandpa and the Spice Girls…and reflects on heartbreak, how to get dressed in the morning, the challenges of taking a good selfie, and more.”

I think, Is this a joke?
And then I see this at the bottom of the page:


"Customers who bought this also thought..."

“Customers who bought this also thought…”

It must be a joke. No one buys Alexa Chung & Albert Camus.

Well, I would, but only because I’m perverse.


I’m in Spar and I hear a song I haven’t heard since 1994. I can’t remember what it’s called so I Shazam it. I have no shame. I lift my phone to the speaker as shoppers push past.

It’s Independent Love Song by Scarlet.

I remember me and Harvey talking about it. He called it by its initials I.L.S. which I though was really cool.
I spend the day listening to it. It’s so schmaltzy.

None of the friends I have now as an adult must ever know I like it.

I log into facebook and Shazam has posted up that I have been Shazamming and listening to it.

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



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!