September 2009


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I can’t believe I’ve waited 40 years to see “Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?”.

It’s such a bizarre film – the film that launch a thousand grand (dame) guignols – and yet it’s powerful.

Feuding sisters. Hollywood fame. Childhood jealousy. Psychological cruelty.

But the thing that shines out for me is the last scene. All the torture in the house has finished. Baby Jane has killed once – now she takes her emaciated, tortured, half-dead sister to the beach.

What a stroke of genius. There among the pretty young things of the 1960s surf set eating icecream, drinking pepsis – a Greek tragedy plays out its end game. I’m not sure which Greek tragedy but Joan Crawford certainly looks the part as she lies there all-but-dead on the sand.

It’s the images that stay with me rather than the plot denouement. The ash-grey face of Crawford on the beach – dehydrated, starved, black-eyed in the dawn. Like a corpse already.

And, of course, Davis running in the spray playing ball with startled children while handsome surf dudes run past. Snatching icecreams from a black icecream seller. Splashing in the sea.

And then that last image which reminds me of the end of La Dolce Vita (another bizarre gathering on the beach). The youth dance round the mad woman all in white while the two police man tend to her sister in black. It’s such pleasingly assymetric image.

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After a dithery early evening of abortive dates, I got in the car and drove down South to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern to meet up with Gary.

The great and mighty David Hoyle a.k.a. the Divine David was in residence, this time in musical mode.

I walked into him freestyling a sort-of Shirley Bassey primal scream over the maddest of electronica. It was – I found out – one of the founder members of Minty, Richard Torry, who was twiddling the knobs and it was blisteringly good.

At the end the grandaddy of gay protest, Tom Robinson, did a set. He was on amazing form – he’s got good pipes on him that one – and rounded it all off with THAT song.

But the real eyes-wide-open moment for me was the whiplash brilliance of Al Joshua – who was mesmerizingly good. He’s the front man of Infants and Vandals. I immediately bought the CD from the lady with the top hat who was toting them and even got him to sign it.

He is like Dylan meeting the Hidden Cameras quoting Rimbaud whilst channelling Jacques Brel. Which does not justice to the weirdly unique brilliance of it all. Listen and love.

And while I’m at it: long live the RVT.

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Do I love autumn? I’m not sure.

There certainly a deep-rooted delight in the hawthorn bushes being covered in haws, and dog roses in hips. I like eating the blackberries from the hedges and I love the smell of freshly shorn cornfields. I even like the nights drawing in and the first time I have to turn the heating on.

But as I was wondering out loud in the crew car the other day I wonder if – as we get older – the seasons become more and more poignant?

I’m sure as a schoolboy I couldn’t hold the memory of one season into another, the time passed so slowly. A summer was so endlessly long – there was no possibility of me remembering the idea of winter. Seasons all remained distinct. Now I can hold the whole cycle in my mind more easily – the years flitter by much faster.

I’ve often pondered about the human mind’s seasonal amnesia. I often think that we are designed to forget the possibility of winter in the middle of summer and vice versa. At the summer solstice it is biologically impossible to really remember that the trees will be stripped naked in 6 months time.

This explains the constant suprise and consternation we experience when the leaves do start to drop off.

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Perhaps it also explains British people’s absurd misery over the rain. As if in any other year it didn’t rain in England. As if Britain was a tropical island maliciously haunted by a temperate rain God that taunted us. Why are we always surprised and cross that it’s raining? It’s like being cross because it gets dark at night, or because we only have two hands not eight.

It seems we’re wired to forget the possibility of certain unforgettable things. Most obviously the onset of winter and dying.

Of course, winter isn’t death. The beautiful story of the seasons is that Persephone comes back up from Hades every spring. Death doesn’t win. It’s heartening. The sure-fire return of April each year reminds us that September is not the end of everything – just the shady side of the circle.

But as I get older I certainly think about the decline of the summer more.

This year I could almost grasp it as one long exhalation. The beautiful buds on the leaves in my street in April – like a pink-green haze – expanding outwards to that moment in midsummer where the extension is at its furthest. The leaves won’t get any bigger, the chlorophyll won’t reach any further. And then, like very slow elastic, the inhalation begins, the life shrinks back into the trunk. In and out.

I realise that for the first half of life – in Britain at least – we are trained to see Autumn as a new beginning, the start of school, a new term. This is a nice counterbalance to the second half of life where we tend to see it as the end.

I wonder if that’s why this morning I found myself leaping into the road to try and catch a falling leaf?

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