Question 16: Life on the Edge. Featuring a SURPRISE GUEST BLOGGER.

Jo asked:

How on earth do you get those crisp sharp edges on your garden beds at the country house? Hmmm? I can never do it here. Never.

To be frank, Jo: it’s a mystery to me as well. As lawn-mowing and edge-trimming is strictly a job for grown-ups, I leave that sort of thing to K. Besides which, maintaining the perfect lawn – along with making the perfect cup of coffee – is one his great passions in life. It would be churlish indeed to encroach upon his territory.

However, the question is an important one, and deserves a full answer from a proven expert in the field. So, for Jo, and for everyone else who has asked over the last year (cuz lemmetellya, us edges are LEGENDARY), I shall hand you over to K.

The next voice that you hear will be K’s.

Life on the Edge.

Try the combination of:

  • Nail scissors (straight blades only).
  • Set square and ruler
  • Advanced yoga techniques such as this:



For special occasions, eg. Gardens Open Day, a magnifying glass is also recommended.

As an alternative, and slightly more practical approach try:

  • Cheating. I can recommend the combination of an internationally renowned garden designer with a penchant for strong perpendicular lines, plus an expert ground force team to lay the perfect lawn with immaculate edges. From this starting point pure fear is an excellent motivator to maintain perfection.
  • An obsessive, compulsive nature which places the pursuit of precision over personal happiness.

Once you have lawn and lunatic in harmony, the following maintenance techniques should be applied on a weekly basis.

  • The edge of the lawn must be totally vertical and no less than 5 cm deep – beds have a tendency to encroach, so push the soil back with the back of a hoe.
  • Edging shears must be razor sharp and held at precisely 90° to the lawn edge. They should only remove the grass, under no circumstances should they cut into the soil at the lawn edge.
  • For the ultimate finish, I cut the edges first one way and then cut again in the opposite direction – sometimes directional tufts remain from the first cut which are removed by the second.
  • Remove all the grass cuttings by hand after finishing with the edging shears.

Enjoy, and please send me the photos!

Questions 13 to 15.

Three questions from Lyle:

13. What do you want to be when you grow up?


…and calm.

Shall we indulge in a little dream scenario? Oh, I see no harm in that.

The Guardian, October 13 2009.

Writer, columnist, critic, patron of the arts – and, on the eve of his much anticipated screen acting debut in the self-penned Forty In Forty Days, potential movie star in waiting – Mike Troubled-Diva greets us at the door of his surprisingly modest Barbican apartment. (“Most of our clutter lives in Derbyshire” he explains, his characteristically self-deprecating smile never far from his lips, as he leads us through to the tastefully appointed sitting room.)

Mike shares both his city and country addresses with K, his partner of nearly twenty-five years’ standing. Best known for his groundbreaking work in the field of animal cancer diagnostics, K has recently begun to scale down his day-to-day business interests, in order to devote himself more fully to the couple’s shared passion for seeking out and championing the freshest talents in the world of contemporary painting. (Mike and K’s Troubled Arts gallery, less than ten minutes’ walk from their apartment, continues to go from strength to strength.)

It is difficult to believe that, just five years ago, Mike’s creative output was known only to the readers of the Troubled Diva weblog, which he continues writing to this day. (“I’m afraid that the content has been a bit sparse over the last couple of weeks”, he mutters, distractedly stirring the freshly brewed pot of Earl Grey.)

So, you know, realistic goals and all that.

14. PDMG – a thing of wonder, or more bloody hassle than it’s worth?

This might sound horribly haughty, but what the heck.

Since our decision to have a garden was freely entered into of our own volition, tending the PDMG rarely feels like a hassle. One particular motivating factor: since both the design and the construction are of such an exceptional quality, we feel a certain sense of duty to the original creative vision, and to the people that were responsible for implementing it. To let the garden slide into an unkempt, weed-strewn wilderness would be a wanton act of vandalism that we could never countenance.

(Besides, since almost all the garden is visible from one point or other in the surrounding streets, the disapproving clucks at Gardens Open Day would be too much to bear. We are an essentially self-regulating community.)

Furthermore: the exercise and fresh air are good for effete drawing-room fops such as ourselves; the regular tasks have a certain therapeutic quality; the learning curve forms a pleasant ascent (give or take the odd bump); and regular physical contact with the constituent parts of the garden allows us to acquire a deeper knowledge, and thus to forge a deeper bond.

(Observe, if you will, how hearty son-of-the-soil words like “forge” and “bond” start creeping into my prose at times like these.)

In fact, so enamoured of the PDMG are we that we have just commissioned PDMG #2: The Nottingham Version. With the building plans already completed, that familiar anticpatory tingle has already started to kick in.

15. Will we ever see Mike TD entering Eurovision for the UK?

One of these days, I’ll record and post an MP3 of me wheezing and croaking along to the instrumental version of “Ooh Aah… Just A Little Bit”. Then you’ll have all the answer you need, matey.

Question 12.

Clair asked:
If you could play any film character, who would you be and why?

venicetI’d like to have a bash at playing Gustav von Aschenbach in Death In Venice, please.

Although the cross-generational aspect of his unrequited, hopeless desire is not something to which I personally relate, Aschenbach’s doomed plight struck a major chord with me many years ago, when I was still in the grips of my own similar obsession. Now that I am approaching the appropriate age for the role, I find that I rather fancy the idea of slowly rotting away in a deck chair, hair dye oozing down my forehead, to the strains of Mahler. Elegant, ridiculous decay, at once sublime and absurd: there’s something really rather delicious about it.

(The fact that Bjørn Andresen’s Tadzio bears a disquieting resemblance to the object of my own desire, and that Dirk Bogarde’s von Aschenbach bears an equally disquieting resemblance to my first boyfriend, only serves to heighten the perversity.)

Come back and finish what you started, Part 2.

Closure. That’s a healthy state to aspire to, isn’t it? Therefore, and since I’m feeling re-inspired by Anna’s current “You ask, I answer” exercise – which was in turn inspired by my own long-abandoned effort – I shall once again attempt to answer the questions which you asked me five months ago.

OK, hit me.

Question 9.
Vaughan asked (with rather more topicality at the time):
If you could choose one British pop act of the past decade to represent the UK at Eurovision, who would it be – and why?

Aha! An easy lob. There can only be one answer: the MIGHTY Girls Aloud. But only on condition that their entry was written and produced, like nearly all of their singles to date, by the pop genius that is Brian Higgins of Xenomania. The hooks, the looks: oh, it would be a stroll in the park for the lot of them.

Question 10.
Vaughan also asked (with seemingly as little topicality then as now):
Would you and K consider offering photographic greetings cards for other times of the year apart from Christmas?

(If you’re wondering what Vaughan means by this, then look here and here.)

How timely you should ask.

Last Christmas, we had fully intended to issue a photographic greeting depicting the two of us staring forlornly into space at opposite ends of the bench on the village green, adorned with the caption “We’re the only Gays in the village.” But, you know, pressure of deadlines, blah-di-blah.

You can therefore imagine our outrage at discovering, only this week, that Sky One will shortly be screening a reality TV series called The Only Gays In The Village, in which comedian Scott Capurro and three other as yet unidentified Urban Celebrity Poofs are sent to live in a farmhouse in rural Derbyshire for a few weeks – with the inevitable Hilarious Consequences, no doubt.

Yes: our entire existences have been pitched – pitched, I tell you! – and turned into mass entertainment.

So no, there will be no more photographic greetings. At least, not without full international licensing deals.

Question 11.
Finally, Vaughan asked:
From your extensive music collection, what five CDs would you save in the event of some natural disaster striking your home?

Firstly, let’s assume that the same natural disaster has also wiped out the country’s entire CD manufacturing and distribution networks, while still leaving the rest of our infrastructure intact. Because, love them as I do, I have never become sentimentally attached to a CD in the way that I was once attached to vinyl. A vinyl album or single is almost a living, breathing life-form in its own right (and my, isn’t the CBT therapist going to have a field day with that one), whereas a CD is just an inert – and entirely replaceable – software delivery system.

(Besides, which home are we talking about? Rock/dance/back catalogue lives in Nottingham, whereas soul/funk/jazz/world/latin/acoustic/downtempo stuff lives in Derbyshire. When we moved out there, I actually went through my entire album collection, separating them into “Urban” and “Rural” categories. Well, wouldn’t anyone?)

I’m playing for time, because this is a nigh-impossible question.



Well, I wouldn’t have much time to think about this, would I? So, in the spirit of the Mad Dash that would ensue, I’ll give you five off the top of my head.

Kevin Ayers – Joy Of A Toy.
The The – Soul Mining.
Leonard Cohen – I’m Your Man.
Ultramarine – Every Man And Woman Is A Star.
Maxwell – Maxwell’s Urban Hang Suite.

Something for most occasions there, I think.

Question 7.

Zed asked:
If you could live anywhere else in the world, which country would it be?

At the risk of coming across as a depressingly myopic Little Englander, my immediate answer is: nowhere. Horizon-broadening be damned; for all its glaring faults and myriad irritations, I like it here.

However, given the somewhat improbable choice between transportation or death (or serious maiming at the very least), I suppose I would have to plump for San Francisco.

I am, of course, well aware that San Francisco isn’t actually a separate country in its own right (much as many of its citizens might like it to be – although, come to think of it, that must be part of its appeal), but it is the one and only place which I have visited, and thought: yes, I could quite cheerfully unpack my bags here, and never leave.

What a blessed relief it is that Zed omitted to append the increasingly ubiquitous “…and why?” to her question. For I’m not sure that I can meaningfully translate SF’s appeal into words. There was just something in the air over there. Particularly one sunny afternoon on Russian Hill…

Question 6.

Zed asked:
Would you like to take up journalism as a full-time job?

Ah, pipe dreams. Well, it would depend heavily on the type of journalism.

Give me a cosy little opinion column in the second section of a “broadsheet” (can we still say that?) and I would merrily churn away at my copy until the cows came home. Give me some Cultural Artifact to dissect (gig, play, film, album, restaurant, exhibition) and I would bash out my pithy aperçus with gusto to spare.

However, give me anything in which competition was involved – scoping out a hot new story, fighting for an exclusive, pitching my wares/whoring my ass to every editor in town, schmoozing and charming and networking with anybody who might be “useful” – in short, situations in which the actual writing part of the gig would amount to no more than a fraction of the whole – and I fear I might flounder miserably. You may laugh, but self-promotion doesn’t come easily to me. No, seriously, it doesn’t.


Question 5.

Zed asked:
What do you see yourself doing in 10 years time?

…and, tellingly, I delayed answering for over a week. Feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Originally, I was going to cop out of this with a joke answer.

suelawleyMy castaway this week is a writer, broadcaster, actor, comedian, art collector, bon viveur, philanthropist, style icon, and much loved national institution. After the runaway success of his first novel, “Memoirs of a Troubled Diva”, he was famously cast as himself in the Academy Award winning film of the same name – a film which brought him firmly onto the international stage. A string of best-selling books later – not to mention the newpspaper columns, the one-man stage shows and the television series – he still finds time to update his weblog, Troubled Diva, at least once a day. He is – of course! – Mike Troubled-Diva.”

But that would be cheating. It would also be a somewhat laboured extension of a self-parodying comic persona of which I am becoming increasingly weary.

Which leaves me with no option but to attempt an honest answer.

Essentially, I have always shied away from specific long-term aims/dreams/desires. In fact, I find the whole notion slightly oppressive. This is probably because I have never really known what I wanted to do with my life; instead, life just seems to happen around me. Which, despite an astonishing run of good fortune, particularly in the last four years, is far from ideal – and, as I touched upon in an earlier answer, a recurring source of stress. Particularly at present, if truth be told. But that’s not something which I have the slightest desire to discuss here. Let’s just say that I’m actively working on turning a particularly sharp corner.

So the best that I can do is offer an answer in vague, general terms. In ten years time, I see myself as having successfully built on the groundwork that I started laying down in my early forties, following the extended pleasure-spree that characterised most of my thirties. I definitely see myself writing, hopefully with some measure of financial reward for doing so. I also see myself deriving a noticeably larger proportion of my identity, and sense of self-worth, from what I do, rather than from what I enjoy.

Question 4.

Demian asked:
(a) Do you remember the showering naked couple sculpture in the Arndale Centre in the 1970s and (b) what did you think about it as a young un?

Here, Demian is referring to the huge, gold coloured “Adam and Eve” statue-cum-water-feature that was situated in the middle of the main concourse of Doncaster’s Arndale shopping centre (now the Frenchgate centre), when it first opened at the end of the 1960s. (Indeed, not having properly visited Doncaster since 1986, I had only recently learnt, with some mild dismay, that the statue had been removed.)

I suppose that, with hindsight, shoving a gigantic sculpture of two naked people having a shower together into the middle of a shopping centre was quite a racy gesture for its day – though a lot less racy than the soft pr0n film titles (Naughty Knickers; She Lost Her You Know What) which regularly adorned the front of the Odeon cinema on the High Street. But I was too young to snigger. As far as I was concerned, this was simply a depiction of Mr. Adam & Mrs. Eve, innocently pleasuring themselves in the Garden of Eden.

And oh, what a garden of delights was to be found in our gleaming new Arndale Centre! Along with the new tower blocks at the edge of town, this was the clearest sign yet that Doncaster, like every other progressive, forward-thinking city, was busily transforming itself into the Space Age Metropolis of my dreams. For me, in thrall to everything that was smart, sleek and systematised, this transformation couldn’t come quickly enough. Tear down the Ancient; make way for the Modern. Chairman Mao would have been proud.

So, while more seasoned eyes saw only tawdry tat, which would date faster than the “unisex” fashions in the newly opened C&A, I viewed the Arndale Adam & Eve as a thrilling symbol of the unstoppable march of modernity, heralding an endless series of ever-brighter new tomorrows.

We weren’t to know.

Question 3.

Anna asked:
Are you happy? Could you be happier?

The short answer: Yes, and Yes.
The full answer: Christ, we’d be here all night.
The medium-sized answer, then.

As I’ve said a few times before, mine is an essentially contradictory disposition. Not only am I able to hold two equal and opposite opinions at the same time (if one can fairly call this an ability); I can also pull off the same trick with states of mind.

Thus, on the one hand, I’m a chirpy optimist, blessed with an uncommon degree of good fortune, who can never quite believe his luck. A sunny disposition, one might say. As difficult situations always seem to turn out right in the end, I tend to proceed through life in the cheerful assumption that they always will. Dangerously delusional, you might say; prophetically self-fulfilling, I would suggest. You are the architect of your own karma, and all that.

As someone who takes little in his life for granted, I will regularly experience sudden surges of pure joy at the circumstances in which I find myself. Particularly at weekends, in the cottage, or outside in the garden – places which feel as if they have been expressly designed to deliver utter calm and contentment.

(To say nothing of the happiness of being in a long-term, settled relationship with… but, as you know, we don’t do slushy. Take it as read.)

On the other hand, there’s an anxious, self-critical, fearful streak in me, which can see the downside to most things; self-subordinating, resisting change, missing opportunities. All of my happiness is therefore underpinned by a nagging sense of under-achievement, of doubt, of feeling that all of this has been fluked rather than earnt. That I am a passenger in my own life. Could do better.

Ironically, the greatest source of stress in my ridiculously cushy life is the fact that it is almost entirely stress-free. Karma’s a bitch like that.

Question 2.

Anna asked:
Post-it notes; should we object to anything but the ‘natural’ small, rectangular and yellow? Are novelty ones just Wrong?

Novelty post-it notes are most certainly Wrong. Not for any particular aesthetic reason (after all, the “classic” design is hardly a object of beauty), but for the simple reason that people are obliged to pay for them with their own money. Like biros and envelopes, all post-it notes should be either provided by – or swiped from – offices (or similar public institutions).

Question 1.

Anna asked:
If you could write yourself into any novel and affect its outcome, which would that be?

I would dive into the middle of one of the early volumes of Armistead Maupin’s Tales Of The City series – maybe the scene where Michael “Mouse” Tolliver wins the “Hot Buns” dance contest at the Endup – and would introduce myself as Someone From The Future.

“Look! I can prove it! Here’s a magazine from The Future! Look at these photos of Cher on her Farewell Tour! OK, OK, bad example. Well, let’s see what’s in the news section. Look, here’s your state governor, Arnold Schwarzen…”

“No, I have NOT been at the Angel Dust. Actually, I need to have a word with you about that shit as well, but… oh, I know, look what I’ve got in my pocket! It’s a tiny portable phone! Isn’t that amazing? And you can type little messages onto it, and it will even guess what word you’re typing! And it can take pictures as well! Neat, huh? You believe me now, right?”

“What? Yes, of course it’s got a built-in pocket calculator. Why do you ask? What’s the big deal about… oh, right; pocket calculators are still the Big Thing round here, aren’t… look, can I just get to the point? There’s this huge epidemic just around the corner, and you guys all need to start wearing condoms every time you f**k – immediately, do you hear – or else many thousands of you will be dead within the next fifteen years. Including your new lover, Michael. Yes, I’m serious. Serious as a heart attack, baby. Now, what exactly are quaaludes? Are they fun? Do you have any?”

(Yes, I’m assembling one of those questionnaire thingies. More info below.)

Not another bloody questionnaire thingy, surely?

That “You ask, I answer” questionnaire on my sidebar is now over four years old. This makes it about eighteen months older than the actual blog; it dates from my old Geocities home page, and was simply copied across.

As such, the questionnaire has now aged to the point where the merest thought of some of my replies makes me cringe with embarrassment. It has to go.

Which is where you come in. Yes, I know that it has now become standard practice for bloggers to ask this of their readers – but, if you’ll allow me a petulant A-List Blogger Moment, I DID IT FIRST. So there.

So, if you have any questions, then please leave them in the comments (up to a maximum 3 per person). I shall then endeavour to answer as many of them as I am able (there’s probably not much point asking me about the finer points of differential calculus, for instance). The results will eventually be copied into a replacement questionnaire page, and bunged on the sidebar for posterity (or at least the next four years or so).

Thank you. How kind you are.