Stats wa-hey!

As I’ve more or less reached a statistically significant number of replies (nearly 90 at the last count), I’ll be closing my Readership Survey this evening. Full and exhaustive analysis starts tomorrow. Yes, “starts”. Come on, you should know me by now.

Also starting tomorrow: Big Blogger 2005. During the course of the next seven weeks, fifteen blogmates (myself included) will be battling to avoid eviction from the Big Blogger house, in what promises to be the best blogging popularity contest EVER. (All the Technorati links in the world won’t save you now!)

As Big Blogger has specifically prohibited us from pimping for votes on our own sites, I shan’t be saying too much more about the contest on Troubled Diva. Except to say that when it comes to voting time: look into your hearts, and do the right thing. And failing that: I know where you all live.

Finally, unless…

  • you’re a hardcore “Graphic Novel” geek,
  • you have a serious fetish for Hot Chicks With Guns,
  • you live your entire life in inverted commas,
  • you’re not bothered by a dull and poorly paced plot, an almost total lack of sympathetic, well-constructed characters, insane levels of stylised ultra-violence, and the sort of flip, sniggering, all-pervading, “chill dude, it’s a homage“, adolescent-boys-club amorality which started getting boring not long after Pulp Fiction,
  • you’re Neil Moviebuff, who maintained a spirited defence of it in the pub last night,

… then don’t go and see Sin City. Because all four of us who went to see it on Monday night – myself, K (who walked out), Mish and Alan – thought that it sucked a big one, dude. And if we thought it sucked, then it’s only right and proper that you should too. Diversity be damned!

(Stunningly creative and beautiful cinematography, though. I’ll grant you that. But a turd in a chocolate box is still a turd.)

See also: Oddverse: No matter when, or where, or who.

It would appear to be rev-chron Friday again.

Friday 29.

If all goes according to plan, my co-workers and I will soon be able to regularly avail ourselves of the services of a bona fide Reiki master, in one of the unused meeting rooms upstairs. Wow, how cool is my office?

Thursday 28.

While K meets a business contact in town, I do what I always do when he’s out of the house these days: burning CDs and importing them into iTunes. While simultaneously rating every tune which comes up on the Party Shuffle function, dragging particular favourites them into various themed playlists. Or else tidying up the standalone and “various artist” MP3s, by placing artist and genre titles in all the correct boxes. Once again, rock and roll brings out all of my darkest latent-Asperger’s librarian tendencies, as I obsessively mine order from chaos.

All I need now is my own iPod. And some portable speakers to go with it. And one of those FM adaptors that let you play it through your car system, or any other radio for that matter, without having to fiddle around with cables and input jacks. And then I will be happy, and freed from desire. In perpetuity.

Wednesday 27.

A quiet, relatively ordered day, enlivened only by a haircut and a fifty-quid-bloke visit to Fopp (Interpol, The Go! Team, Chungking). At home, still on his major folk/roots kick, K orders CDs by Oi Va Voi and La Talvera from a specialist world music store.

At the hairdressers, Ant and I discuss the slow stagnation of Nottingham’s gay scene. The sense of progress which characterised most of the 1990s has long since gone, as existing venues atrophy and a renewed sense of marginalisation creeps over everything. Not the marginalisation of an “oppressed minority” – for those battles have largely been won – but the marginalisation which comes with the realisation that vast swathes of us no longer need a gay scene, and have accordingly all but abandoned it. Consequently, there is now something curiously reductive about visiting a gay venue. It’s the feeling that rather than experiencing the freedom to “be yourself”, you are instead shutting down your options and selling yourself short; just another sheep-like punter in a dumbed-down temple of trash.

Still, there’s always dear old George’s. Thank God that there’s still one last bastion of polymorphously perverse Bohemia left in town, at least until it closes its doors for good in the new year. Then where will we all go to discuss contemporary Japanese cinema and trade stories of skanky blowjobs whilst tango-ing with trannies to Ethel Merman’s Disco Album?

Tuesday 26.

The meeting at the offices of the “well-known car company” near Schiphol airport goes quite splendidly – especially when I discover that I will not be required to spend three days a week in Paris between now and the rest of the year after all. A single day in Barcelona in the middle of November, and that should just about do it. (I’ll have to miss the Beta Band, but you can’t have everything.)

K rings me in the duty-free: could I let him know when I’ve landed, so that he can prepare the mise en place? Have you ANY IDEA how lucky I sometimes feel to have him as a boyfriend? Heart swelling with gratitude, I head straight for the Neuhaus chocolates. Which, if nothing else, is at least a step or two up from picking up a cellophane-wrapped bunch of mixed blooms from a garage forecourt.

Standing in the motionless queue at the gate, after numerous delays, I remind myself that none of this could possibly compare to the rigours of our journey back from the jungle this summer, via Porto Maldonado, Cuzco (where our connecting flight was delayed by a full day), Lima, Miami, JFK and Heathrow. Five flights, three days, minimal sleep, minimal food and drink, countless delays and frustrations, incompetent travel companies, surly cabin crew, ignorant and hostile immigration officials, lost baggage, a creeping feeling of absolute misanthropy AND the worst haemmorhoidal pain in six years. Hey, at least we survived. By comparison, this evening’s hour and three-quarters delay feels like a stroll in the park.

A couple of minutes later, a text flashes up from K. John Peel has died of a heart attack on holiday in Peru! As I read it out to my colleague, startled heads turn all around me before quickly snapping back into position, embarrassed at having betrayed themselves.

This news dazes and disorientates me. (Hey, Cuzco might have been grim, but at least we survived it; poor old Peely didn’t even get to see Macchu Picchu.) However, I carefully place any further reactions on hold until after dinner, when we switch on the telly. Shortly afterwards, I go upstairs and start scanning my regular blogs. Just about everyone I read has already posted a tribute to Peel. I scan wider; it’s the same wherever I go. Before I know it, it’s nearly 1am and I have been listening to Radio One’s tribute show for the past couple of hours, while wading through the mammoth discussion threads at ILX. I had no idea that Peel had meant so much to so many, for much the same reasons, at similarly formative times of their lives. It’s all a bit overwhelming. I resolve to write my own tribute in the morning, when my reactions have settled down a bit. (Yeah, like that was ever going to happen.)

(My personal pick of the Peel tributes: Caitlin Moran in The Times; Momus; Mo Morgan; Pete Ashton; Blogjam; “favourite Peel quotes” thread on ILX; digest of further links at No Rock & Roll Fun. Update: a superb late entry from Hydragenic.)

Monday 25.

The flight to Amsterdam is half an hour late, but I’m used to that: in my experience, roughly two-thirds of Bmibaby flights to and from Nottingham East Midlands are delayed by 30 to 40 minutes.

I’ve booked a hotel on the Rembrandtsplein, only a few doors down from the same Irish pub where I first met Caroline back in March. We pick up where we left off, discussing Bono and blogs and travel and music and politics and food and ooh, y’know, Life. I recommend the Hidden Cameras, whose current album would be sitting at #1 on my “We Listen” chart if only I could be arsed to update it.

(Everything about Mississauga Goddam suddenly fell into place on the day after Elisabeth and I saw them in concert at The Social three weeks ago. Before, I thought it was a pale retread of The Smell Of Our Own. Now, I think it’s the superior album by some distance. If you’re curious, then start with Builds The Bone, one of the most mysteriously beautiful songs of the year.)

Caroline (whose pioneering and consistently worthwhile blog turned five, yes five, years old this week) gives me the background gossip on the recent unearthing of Bono’s missing notes for the October album; a story which first came to light via her U2log fan site. However, as scoops go, this is as nothing compared to her promised… no, perhaps I shouldn’t really talk about that yet. I’ll let you know if and when it happens. Soul of discretion, that’s me.

“…through the bad times and the good…”

In the autumn of 1987, I attended a book reading given by Armistead Maupin, author of the Tales Of The City novels. After the reading, whilst taking questions from the audience, Maupin made the standard “everybody should come out of the closet now pitch” – as was customary in those dark days of overt establishment homopobia (Clause 28 was mere weeks away from kicking off) and tabloid-fuelled AIDS-scare paranoia. We all nodded approvingly.

The next questioner stood up. Considering it something of a public duty to be open about his sexuality, he had come out of the closet at work – only to lose his job as a direct consequence. Undeterred, he came out once again in his next job – only to be fired for the exact same reason. Since then, unwilling to jeopardise his livelihood any further, he had decided merely to equivocate about being gay, carefully skirting round any difficult subjects, while maintaining a suitably liberal “I think there’s nothing wrong with it myself” line where called for. A quiet flutter of pained winces and sympathetic headshakes passed around the room, our ideological bravado momentarily checked by the depressing reality of his situation.

For most gay people of my generation – born before decriminalisation, reaching puberty during an age where being gay was viewed as either sinister or ridiculous, coming out against the background of the emerging AIDS epidemic – this kind of artful semantic equivocation was learnt at an early age, and quickly became second nature. For me at least, coming out to workmates always felt like a deliberate kick against this instinctive urge for self-preservation. It always carried a vague sense of risk. It never came easily.

Just over two months ago, the unequivocally homophobic Section 28 was finally repealed by royal assent, the law no longer treating homosexuality as something that could be “promoted” to vulnerable young people, and no longer regarding gay partnerships as “pretended family relationships”. At last week’s state opening of parliament, the Queen’s speech announced that new legislation will give legal recognition to registered gay partnerships. And from today, it will no longer be legal for employers to discriminate against workers for being lesbian, gay, bisexual – or even heterosexual, for that matter.

I cannot remember that last time that I felt the need to be equivocal about my sexuality. I will say “partner” and “he” in the same sentence, in any situation, with no more than the slightest “so now they know” flutter in my stomach. I no longer watch what I say on the street, in shops, or in bars. I greet gay friends with a kiss in public places, without first checking around for potential trouble. OK, so I don’t actually skip down the street with my hand in K’s, but I’m not altogether sure that either of us would ever want to; some behavioural patterns are so established that it would feel false to attempt to change them. In short: we’ve come a long, long way, baby.

“Dermot O’Leary does the South Bank Show.”

I’ve been meaning to do a cultural round-up for about a fortnight now, but The Great Tiredness got in the way, and now it’s hanging over my head like a piece of overdue coursework. (18 years since I graduated, and I still get nightmares about unfinished essays, missed lectures, and stern memos flooding out my pigeon-hole.)

So, let’s get the backlog cleared with a lightening quick catch-up session typically long-winded piece, which has been hanging around in draft form for the past few days.

1. Dracula – adaptation by Liz Lochhead – Derby Playhouse.

draculalrgIt might be stuck in the middle of a grim shopping centre, but Derby Playhouse has been punching way above its weight for the last few years, showing up its larger Nottingham equivalent something rotten by comparison. A superb, imaginatively staged production which stuck closely to Bram Stoker’s original story, freed from all its cheesy Hammer Horror baggage. Like the Gary Oldman/Keanu Reeves movie version from about 10 years ago, only with a decent script and proper acting.

Derby’s current production is Joe Orton’s Loot, directed by Cal McCrystal, which has been picking up favourable mentions in the press. We have to go. We’ve been. Keep reading.

2. Mariza – Birmingham Symphony Hall.

mariza1116The fado goddess had K in tears right from the very first song, and all the way through the rest of the concert; afterwards, he needed wringing out like a soggy dishcloth. Indeed, K was so emotionally tuned into Mariza’s performance that he was even moved to clap along during the happy songs. I never thought I’d live to see the day.

His reaction was entirely justified, though; for rarely have I seen such pure emotion – powerful yet always controlled – so effectively transmitted from the stage. Mariza’s largely melodramatic laments for lost love connected with the whole audience, vaulting straight over any language barrier; you didn’t need any knowledge of Portuguese to understand the nature of the feelings she was channelling. Particularly effective were the mid-song pauses, where she would silence her musicians with a raised hand, then visibly search with her fingers for the next emotion, before bursting forth again with a shuddering wail. She looked stunning, as well: a platinum blonde Amazonian force majeure and diva incarnate.

3. The Cost Of Living – DV8 Physical Dance Theatre – Paris Theatre de la Ville.

dv8costBeautiful creatures in their underwear mingled with an inanely grinning and waving podgy bloke (“I only got this part because I’m fat! I’m worried that if I lose any weight, I’ll be out of work!”) and a powerfully built, startlingly athletic dancer with no legs, in a series of wonderfully inventive and superbly executed vignettes which nevertheless failed to form a suitably cohesive thematic whole. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t love it whole-heartedly – particularly the ludicrously gimpy dancing to Cher’s Believe. Nice to see my own chosen idiom of dance (perfected after many years of practice) represented so accurately on the stage. The show plays in Madrid from November 20-22, and in Leeds from November 27th 29th, and comes highly recommended.

4. Adrian Piper retrospective – Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art.

piperbgThe permanent collection didn’t float my boat one little bit – too dry, rarified, up its own arse – but the building itself turned out to be the real stunner, the breathtaking drama of its cavernous stark white spaces easily outstripping its contents. I didn’t like the Piper exhibition one little bit – by turns wilfully obscure and annoyingly preachy – except for one two-part installation piece, which left me reeling.

A plain white cubic structure stood in the middle of the floor, with an open doorway leading to a darkened interior within. On the right hand wall as I entered, a quote from Alexander Solzhenitsyn: “You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power — he’s free again.” Turning left, I found a darkened booth, with a single chair facing a smallish screen on the wall opposite. On one side of the chair, a box of tissues; on the other side, a waste paper basket. On the wall above the back of the chair: an image of a smiling George Bush senior, shaking hands with three or four police officers. As I sat down, feeling like I was entering a pr0n booth (what else could the tissues be for?), I turned my gaze towards the film which was silently playing on the screen in front of me; it was the famous video footage of Rodney King’s beating by members of the Los Angeles Police Department in the early 1990s. The video was looped, giving the impression that the beating never stopped. I had never watched this footage in full before, and sat there open-mouthed, mesmerised by the brutality. Perhaps the tissues were there to dry my bleeding heart liberal tears; or maybe their presence suggested that on some level, I was secretly getting off on my self-righteous outrage. Three or four loop repetitions in, I got up and left King to his fate.

piper2Further down the same gallery, an identically proportioned cube, this time in plain black. In the entrance, the same Solzhenitsyn quote, this time in white lettering on a black background. Round the corner to the left, the same little booth, chair, tissues and waste paper bin, its black walls leaving the area in almost total darkness. No film was playing this time, although I thought I could vaguely make out the image of a black face on the wall in front of me. I sat down; immediately I had done so, a bright light flashed on in front of me, illuminating the booth and revealing the screen opposite to be…a mirror. Rooted to the spot in shock, I found myself staring into my own eyes, my expression frozen. Behind me, and also visible in the mirror: the same image of Bush congratulating the cops. I had joined the group. A few seconds later, the light flicked off and the screen lit up, replacing my reflection with an illuminated monochrome photo of a badly beaten black man. Maybe it was Rodney King himself; I didn’t know. A voiceover started up, relaying a message of mournful defiance – I have completely forgotten what it said. As the tape finished, the light flicked back on again, leaving me staring at my own reflection once more, my fixed expression registering even more stunned shock than before. The message seemed to be: you are complicit in this, whether you like it or not. Take a good look at your reaction.

As I stumbled out of the black cube, feeling like I had been hit over the head with a sledgehammer, I caught sight of one of Piper’s large photo-montages on the wall opposite. A photograph of the hanging victim of a lynch mob was (as far as I recall) juxtaposed with a photograph of Martin Luther King speaking at a rally. Superimposed on these images was some text, which said something like: This may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility.

A pity, then, that the power of these pieces was so badly undercut by the knee-jerk, white-liberal-baiting, self-righteous, one-dimensional, overly literal preachiness of much of the rest of the exhibition.

5. Urban Interiors exhibition – London Commonwealth Institute.

Poncey furniture ahoy! K and I took the day off work to surround ourselves with three floors of Ligne Roset sofas, Seventies retro bedroom storage solutions, innovative glassware, simply sumptuous sideboards, and various sundry gorgeous little bits and pieces for the home, spread out over maybe a couple of hundred exhibition stands. In an adjacent lecture theatre, Kevin McCloud from Channel 4’s “Grand Designs” programme, accompanied by the show’s executive producer, talked for nearly an hour about the making of the show. By the end of the talk, we wanted to be his friend even more badly than before (as, I think, did the majority of the largely thirty- and forty-something female audience around us). With his relaxed, smiling, twinkly-eyed charm, off-the-cuff wit (he had us rolling in the aisles), razor-sharp mental agility (the entire talk was improvised on the spot) and his infectiously self-evident enthusiasm and passion for the subjects of his programme (both the building projects themselves, and the people behind them), we were completely won over by the man, and left the lecture wanting to be his friend even more badly than before.

Incidentally: if you remember the recent programme featuring the increasingly red-faced and hopelessly accident-prone guy with the house that stubbornly refused to be built (the one with the huge butterfly-wing roof that got ruined in the rain), then you’ll be pleased to know that a sequel programme will be airing next year. All that Kevin McCloud would reveal is that in the second programme, the building graduates from stubborn refusal to an active aggression against being built. We can’t wait.

6. Turner Prize finalists – London Tate Modern.

We’ve been visiting the Turner prize show almost every year for the past decade, and left in no doubt that, after an extended ropey patch, this is the strongest collection of finalists for years. While Willie Doherty’s video installation (“Re-Run”) admittedly felt a little bit under par, we would be perfectly happy for any of the other three finalists to win the prize next month. If we’re considering the cumulative impact of all their work to date, then in many ways the prize should rightfully go to Jake & Dinos Chapman – particularly on the strength of last year’s “Chapman Family Collection” White Cube show. However, purely based on the work on display, our favourite (and, judging by the hundreds of pieces of paper stuck to the walls of the concluding “comments room”, the clear favourite of a good 75% of the viewing public) had to be Grayson Perry, the transvestite potter from Essex. What particularly came across this year was the high level of skilled craftsmanship involved in most of the exhibits; definitely one in the eye for the “my five year old could have done that” brigade.

7. Mark Amerika – Bonington Lecture Theatre, Nottingham.

Positioning yourself as an Internet writer and artist, and going on to build a successful academic career from it, is all very well – but, as my similarly underwhelmed friend pointed out at the end of this interminably tedious lecture, it does generally help if you have at least some vague semblance of a literary background. In its absence, all we were left with was a clunking, shallow pseudo-profundity (“nomadic gurus of the electrosphere”, indeed!) wrapped up in layers of supposedly “innovative” and “experimental” technique, which wouldn’t even have made the grade on a late night Channel 4 show from ten years ago (back in those happy far-off days when Channel 4 still showed experimental artsy-fartsy videos instead of feral tit-and-bum-fests). This supposedly cutting-edge wow-iness was also badly undercut by the way that Mark Amerika displayed his various websites to us, opening each one in a titchy little window and then having to scroll left/right/up/down to show us all the content. (It was all I could do not to stand up and shout “Maximise! And press F11! For all our sakes!”)

Nevertheless, Mark Amerika’s talk did inspire me on one level: if he can get away with calling himself an “online writer”, then I most certainly can too. “Oh yes, I’m an online writer. Working with words and images, I deploy a variety of multi-disciplinary techniques to distribute my work in a broadly reverse-chronological format, in a medium which seeks to build overlapping networks of disparate yet interlinked online quasi-communities, whilst simultaneously encouraging active participation from community members in which the boundaries of “provider” and “consumer” are gradually broken down by means of an iterative process of… Well, you get the picture.

8. Chicks On Speed – Nottingham Rescue Rooms.

With most of Nottingham’s indie-gig-going demographic packing out Rock City for the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, this poorly publicised gig (i.e. I only found about it two days earlier) attracted barely seventy punters (I counted). Undaunted, the Chicks ploughed gamely on, but the gig steadfastly failed to ignite, either for them or for us. Disappointing? Oh, you don’t know the half of it.

Back in late 1999/early 2000, Chicks On Speed were my Official Favourite Band, and I became quite the completist: import vinyl singles, limited edition mail-order releases, the lot. For the past four years, I had therefore been longing to see them live, convinced that any Chicks gig would be an Event to remember – on a par with Le Tigre at The Social last year, or The Scissor Sisters at The Cock Live this year. Almost jumping for joy when I spotted them in the gig listings, I was even prepared to give up my first free night in Nottingham for a week – and my last free night in Nottingham for another week – to make the pilgrimage, despite not having anyone to go with, and despite feeling considerably less than 100% health-wise. Still, the packing for Paris could wait till morning, where there’s a will there’s a way, etc etc.

I did my best, I really did. I drank (alone), I danced (alone), I whooped and cheered (alone), and I almost succeeded in having a good time – but not quite. Still, it was nice to hear Eurotrash Girl, Mind Your Own Business, Kaltes Klares Wasser and We Don’t Play Guitars performed live (even if we didn’t get Glamour Girl, or any of their fantastic B-52s/Tom Tom Club covers), and the home-made frocks looked good (lots of netting), and the make-up was cool (lots of day-glo), and Alex, Kiki & Melissa are still Fabulousness Incarnate In Every Way, despite everything, even the empty room and the atrocious sound mix (way too much echo, vocals sounding like they were coming from backstage somewhere) and the fact that I shelled out 10 quid on a “limited edition” CD that turned out to be a radio interview from 2000 which lasted less than five minutes. Oh well, can’t win ’em all.

By the way: a big Troubled Diva Hello to Dave with the red hair (he said I had to mention the red hair), a previously unknown reader who came up and introduced himself after the gig. (“Excuse me, are you Troubled Diva? I read your blog regularly!”) The brief feeling of mild celebrity that this conferred upon me almost made up for the entire evening. Hello Dave – and Haaaaaa-ppy Reading!

9. Loot – Joe Orton – Derby Playhouse.

lootlrgDerby Playhouse does it again, with a sprightly, irreverent production (by Cal McCrystal) which had us bellowing hysterically on the back row, particularly in the liberty-taking second half. (Top tip: the middle of the back row at Derby Playhouse gives an excellent view, plus you get to be first to the bar in the interval, and you get to beat the car park queues at the end of the night). As with Dracula before it, there’s some great staging and cute little coups de theatre along the way, and the acting couldn’t be faulted. Wonderful to realise that there’s still plenty of creative life and fresh thinking in regional theatre – even ones that have been hidden away in shopping centres.

The five stages of working in Paris.

(posted by Mike, who has been up since 4:00 this morning and is therefore feeling a bit jet-lagged, even though the time difference was only an hour, and who is aware that what follows might consequently be a rambling, spaced-out jumble of a piece, but – since time is so tight in his newly acquired eurotrash-business-jetset lifestyle – is also keenly aware that it’s this or nothing, and that he can’t leave everything to his actually quite scarily talented guest posters, and oh God, he’s rambling already, OK, focus…)

1. This is bewildering.

Pitched into an unfamiliar (dare I say alien?) environment, where all life’s little details feel somehow other, one’s capacity for making the wrong choices increases exponentially. On difficult days, my expectations will shrink back to that classic, irreducible, middle-class English ideal: to get safely from one end of the day to the other without suffering any noticeable embarrassment along the way.

During my first week in Paris, this proved impossible. I pushed doors marked tirez, and pulled doors marked poussez. I caused bottlenecks in front of crowded Métro barriers, frantically scrabbling through my satchel for that sad little placcie bag containing my carnet of tickets. Given a choice of directions, I invariably set off in the wrong one. I struggled with suitcases, room keys, breakfast juice dispensers, coffee machines, small change, tables in cafés, plates of unfamiliar food (how the hell are you supposed to eat escargots, and why did I order the bloody things in the first place?), tips, the language (how I hated it when well-meaning Parisians answered my faltering French with grammatically perfect English, always, always, always – humour me, goddammit!) … embarrassment compounded embarrassment, leaving me feeling trapped inside a bad sitcom.

Mr. Bean Goes To Paris. Sometimes, I could almost hear the laugh track. I could even feel myself starting to pull the facial expressions. Behind closed doors, I sometimes did. Hey: got to keep yourself entertained somehow.

2. This is exciting.

Hang on a minute – I’m in freakin’ Paris! Cool as!

Pavement cafés! (Refreshingly free of all that creeping demographic segmentation, with hand-holding teenage couples bunched up next to gnarly old men, and neatly coiffed Madames next to merry groups of homeward bound office workers – every single last one of them smoking of course, but somehow getting away with it, because this is Paris, and this is what you do. Comme il faut, sort of…)

Beautiful manners! (None of that sod-you-mate Brit solipsism in evidence here, thank you…)

Timeless, understated elegance! (Thank God I got that ridiculous it’s-for-a-play-it’s-meant-to-look-stupid Hoxton Twat bleached fin hairdo chopped off in the nick of time…)

Iconic buildings! (Eiffel Tower, Pompidou Centre, Notre Dame, Louvre…)

All those sexy Marais ‘mos a-poutin’ and a-struttin’! (I’d do you, and you, and you, and you…)

Two nights running, I met up with Sarah, who had seen my shout-out on the blog a couple of weeks previously. Up until that point, my existence in Paris had been a steadily de-humanising round of work / eat / read / sleep. Now, I could finally start having proper conversations again. It still took a couple of drinks each night to unfurl my tightly sprung mental coils, but Sarah’s stimulating company gradually eased me back into a more functional, natural engagement with my surroundings.

Towards the end of the second night, I met Sarah’s charming Italian boyfriend, who spoke no English. So there we were, none of us native French speakers, conversing in the one non-native language which we all shared. My first proper French conversation in years. I don’t think I fared too badly, all things considered. The wine helped, of course – as it always does with foreign languages, relaxing you into a state where, the less you consciously try and search for them, the right words will instinctively start to bubble up to the surface of their own accord.

Sitting in the back of the Italian boyfriend’s car, zooming along the Seine embankment past all the illuminated guide-book sights, heading towards the twinkling Eiffel tower (that hourly light show turns out to look much better from a distance), I found myself grinning with glee. Wheeee! I’m zooming through night-time Paris in the back of a car! This is living!

3. This is fantastic.

Commuting to and from the office every day on the Métro with all the other workers, headphones playing Blur’s Think Tank or – best of all – Bowie’s Reality, newspaper on my lap, I started to feel like quite the proper Parisian. No longer the innocent abroad, but a seamless part of the crowd. Striding purposefully across the Port St. Cloud, with the crisp, clear Autumn sunshine lighting up the glass buildings ahead, and all those gorgeous height-of-autumn colours in the trees of the Parc St. Cloud, and on the edge of the Bois de Boulogne behind me. Heading back after an intensive (best behaviour in front of the client!) but surprisingly satisfying day’s work, to the hotel where they know me by name, and the little Internet place over the road, and my favourite local café/bar next door, and those wonderful early morning markets underneath the raised Métro tracks…oh yes, I’m up and running now, and lovin it lovin it lovin it.

4. This is routine.

Almost as soon as you’ve reached Stage 3 – the very next morning, in fact – Stage 4 stumbles up, bleary eyed, and clobbers you round the back of the head. In a trice, the thrill of the new evaporates, leaving you once again with that familiar feeling: same old, same old. After all: routine is routine, wherever you go. Suddenly, you’re back to wanting out.

5. This is enough.

You’re exhausted – okay, so it’s earnt exhaustion, “good” exhaustion – but no less knackering for all that. You feel ground down, fed up, wanting your man back, your home back, your life back. The misery of the shabby, over-familiar satellite lounge at Charles de Gaulle airport is the last straw – especially when you find that the bar’s shut. All your fellow passengers irritate you to distraction. The massed ranks of self-important business wonks are de-briefing into mobiles, with as much manufactured assertiveness as they can muster, all with the same emotionally distanced and faintly absurd vocal patina. There’s a tense Daily Mail type on your right, eyes narrowed and suspicious, muttering her inecessant litany of minor grumbles about absolutely f***ing everything to her silent, defeated looking husband, who looks as if he stopped listening years ago. You can’t get home quick enough.

On the plane, you put REM’s Bad Day on repeat, and crank it up nice and loud. When was the last time you kept hammering the same song over and over, because it gave you that “Yes! This is ME!” feeling? Pissed-off music for grown-ups. Bloody marvellous. Sipping your G&T from the trolley, you revel in your misery. In fact, you positively celebrate it. Dinner’s waiting when you get home. As you start planning your comic monologue, a wry smile creeps over your face.

I’ve not been in Paris this week. I’ve been in Cologne instead. Meaning a whole new set of unfamiliarities, of course – but somehow, I’m becoming familiar with the very state of unfamiliarity itself. If that makes any sense at all. (I can’t tell anymore; it’s getting on, I feel even more f***ed than I did when I started.) I’m beginning to sense that – for now at least, until even the familiarity of the unfamiliar ossifies into dull routine, as it surely must – this is actually doing me the power of good.