Chapter Nineteen: The Dolls House

I went to see my mum yesterday and told her about the latest developments with the band, with Fliss and Violet, Flora and Katy and me; skipping some of the details of our night out in Leeds of course.  Despite getting a manager, I’m beginning to feel a bit fed up with being in Titanium Rose to tell the truth.  Oh, not fed up with the music, but fed up with the business side of things; recruiting Jenny Malone wasn’t so bad, but you have to kiss a lot of frogs in this business before you meet the prince(ss) who gives you your record deal, and that side of things has only just begun.  There have been a couple of labels that have expressed interest in us, but, well, we haven’t been interested in what they’ve had to offer us.  She was quiet for quite a while after I had related all this, and there was a strange look on her face as she got to her feet, and instructed me to “wait here.”

  She was gone for a while, and I amused myself by looking at the pictures of myself as a toddler that were sat on the mantelpiece.  God, I was an ugly child… I look like a ferret with malnutrition in most of the pictures from that time, sort of anaemic and skinny, a sickly looking kid.  I suppose I should consider myself lucky though because, had I been the rosebud or princess type, I would probably have even more of an inferiority complex than I do already; at least I know no one could be interested in me for my body alone.

  Eventually she returned, carrying a very old looking shoebox, which was covered in a thick layer of dust.  “It’s been up in the loft for years,” she explained as she blew at the lid before removing it.

  “What is it?” I asked.

  She handed me a tape; it was labelled ‘The Dolls House, demo, September 5th, 1980.’ Puzzled, I opened the case and peered at the cheaply photocopied sleeve inside.  There was a picture of three young punks, two boys and a girl.  I read the names: Rachel, (guitar and vocals) Tony, (bass and vocals) and Steve (drums).  I didn’t have a clue who Steve was, but Rachel and Tony were my mum and dad.  I was absolutely astonished. I turned to look at her, and she met my eyes, but I couldn’t read her face; her feelings were too carefully masked.  “You never mentioned this,” I said, at last, “either of you, you both tell me these romanticised tales of the punk years, but you never, ever, either of you…” I trailed off, my thoughts in turmoil.  “You told me stories, stuff that would impress me, but you never told me anything that mattered.”

  She steered me back towards the sofa, and sat down next to me.  “It was part of the time I was with your dad,” she said at last.  Her voice was quiet, her face tense, “It was all tangled up with that.”

  I waited, but I knew that this was all that I was going to get.  “Did you release any records?” I asked, cautiously.

  She shook her head, and said tensely, “We gigged around Manchester for a bit, played the Electric Circus a few times… We were told we were good, but nobody seemed that interested.  There was talk by the boys of Factory being interested, but it didn’t come to anything.”  Her expression became thoughtful again; “We played Eric’s in Liverpool once, supporting The Buzzcocks.”

  I peered again at the sleeve.  The woman in the picture had short spiky hair and was wearing combat trousers and Doc Martens with a ripped lacy shirt.  The two men had vaselined dark hair, jeans, and leather jackets and were sneering, Sid Vicious style, at the camera.  The text on the sleeve was typed as though on a battered old typewriter, and the songs were listed after the bands names: ‘Lovesick’, ‘Everything They Ever Told You’, ‘I Will Not’, and ‘The Only Girl On Stage.’

  “Did you write the lyrics?” It was somehow important to me to know.

  “Hhhmmm, some…” she peered over my shoulder, and glanced at the tracklistings, “I wrote ‘Lovesick’ and ‘The Only Girl On Stage’, Tony and I wrote ‘I Will Not’ together, and he and Steve wrote ‘Everything They Ever Told You’.”

  I closed the cassette case carefully, and put it down on the table.  There were photos in the box, of the same three young punks, along with another cassette, which I was informed was a live bootleg.  “Why now?” I asked at last, “Why show me all this now?”

  “I don’t know why,” she confessed, “it just seemed the right thing to do.  You were so happy when you started playing with the band; I don’t want you to lose all that.”

  “Like you did?”

  She sighed, “I didn’t lose it, I gave it up: It was a conscious decision.  I wasn’t committed to music as much as I was to acting, and the boys weren’t committed at all I don’t think.”

  I put the tapes, and the photos, back in the box, and put the lid on it.  “So,” I said, “why show me all this if it didn’t matter to you?”

  “It did matter…” she explained, “Just… not so much musically, not for me.  I didn’t like a lot of the bands we played with, or saw, around that time; too often it was a load of blokes farting about with guitars and not saying very much, but you, you like all the punk stuff, God only knows why, you should have your own music…” I opened my mouth to protest, but she had moved on by then, “But you’re good at it, and you enjoy it; you shouldn’t be giving up on it.”

  “I gave up being a dancer,” pointed out, “and I was good at that, and I enjoyed it.”

  “That was different,” she said gently, “You didn’t have a choice.  Now, you do have a choice.”

  I sighed, and leant back against the battered leather of the sofa, “Thing is,” I began, “I look at where we’re at as a band, then I look at what The Girls From Mars have got, and…”

  “Success doesn’t automatically mean happiness,” she said, “and it may be a cliché to say it, but are they happy? Is Violet happy?”

  We lapsed into silence again.  I took the lid off the shoebox, and unpacked the tapes and the photos once more.  I studied those photographs for such a long time, but they didn’t really reveal anything.  You wouldn’t have known that they were a couple, not from the photos.  Eventually, I asked, “Can I borrow the tapes?”

  “If you like,” she said, warily, “but… please don’t play them here… I don’t think I could bear it.”

  So, I packed up the shoebox again and brought it back here with me.  All evening, I listened to those two tapes.  The demo wasn’t much more polished, sound quality wise, than the live bootleg was, but I liked the spirit of it, and it had the lyrics printed on the sleeve.

  I studied those lyrics as I listened to the tapes, and I pored over the pictures almost as much.  But every time I came back to that picture on the tape sleeve, and to the woman in the middle of the picture.  I would have known she was my mum, even without the labelling, partly because I’ve seen pictures of her from that time before, but also because there is an echo, in the large eyes and the stubborn line of her mouth, in her face now.  She must have been, what? Twenty, twenty-one then? Twenty-one I think; older than I am now, but not by much.  She told me that The Dolls House split up two years later, when she was twenty-three and expecting me.  Was I the reason the band split up? No, she said, definitely not; they were splitting up anyway, both her and Tony, and the band.

  Why did Tony never tell me about their band? He’s not normally shy when it comes to talking about his past.  I didn’t want to think about why he hadn’t; I would never know why in any case, even if I did ask him: He’d just make a joke out of it, which is what he always does if he doesn’t want to talk about something.

  I think I know why she didn’t want to be around when I listened to the tapes: It would bring it all back, the unpleasant memories as well as the pleasant ones.  It would be like when I saw Terry just before Christmas; an experience I could have done without, and a reminder of a time I’d rather forget.  She wrote Tony out of our lives for six years…and then he suddenly showed up, I still don’t know why.  I was thirteen before I saw him again, and he was married then… and since then, the kids… my half sister, half brothers…

  I think they loved each other once, but I’m not stupid enough to say, “What if…” I know that they would be a disaster now as a couple; they’re just totally different people.  I think she knew that then, even if he didn’t.  She knew what she wanted, and needed, and she knew it wasn’t him.

  Thinking about my own life, my own musical career, I find myself feeling rather less sure.  I know what I want, and yet… I just don’t do enough to ensure that I get it.  I want Titanium Rose, I want us to succeed, and I don’t want to spend my entire musical career, such as it is, playing to fifty people at The Gates.  But at the same time, I don’t want to sell out; I don’t want to become just another prancing pop tart, another Spice Girls, or Girl Trouble, another Britney or Christina.

  I’m listening to ‘The Only Girl On Stage’ at the moment, which is probably my favourite of The Dolls House songs.  It’s surprisingly long for a punk song, very intense, with a relentless, climbing drum sound and fierce guitars.  There’s something very lonely about her voice, and the isolation in the lyrics speaks volumes I think.

            I am

The girl at your feet

I am

The only one

I am

The girl

I am

The only one

The only girl on stage

And when we play

It’s not my fingers

On the strings

Not my fingers

Playing chords

That they watch

It’s not the way I sing

It’s not any of these things

That they watch 

I wonder how much things have changed. I don’t think that life is perfect for girls in bands now, and I don’t imagine that it was always bad for my mum, but I’d like to think our experiences are different, and that it’s easier now.  The late seventies and early eighties weren’t the dark ages, but from such a distance away, they can seem like that sometimes.  It’s a gap that is too big for me to bridge: a whole generation, and from her point of view, from that generation’s point of view… I could never understand.  Maybe I shouldn’t try to; maybe it would be cultural theft, or cultural necrophilia or something if I bought too far into it all… because it isn’t my past to buy into.

  From a more personal point of view, I think that she’s been better at handling men than I have, and I’ve been thinking about it, thinking about him…  It wasn’t something I realised until tonight, but I know now.  Not just what choices I have, but what I want to do.

  (Later)

Katy phoned just as I was finishing writing this.  She and Fliss are leaving London today and should be back tonight.  I asked Katy if Fliss had told her anymore about the break up, but she just said it was probably better if Fliss told me herself

  (Later)

I was expecting Fliss and Katy to be back by now, but I’ve just had a call from Katy to tell me that they’re stuck at Stoke train station due to signal failure.

  “Do you know anyone with a car who could come and pick us up?” she asked, “I wanted to hitch only Fliss doesn’t want to.”

“No,” I said, “don’t hitch”

“Can Nat pick us up do you think?”

  “No, she’s in Blackpool for a gig tonight, she’ll have left already.” It was then that fate seemed to take me by the hand, and I found myself saying, “I know who I can ask.”

Launderette soundtrack watch…

Today’s soundtrack was Amy Winehouse’s ‘Back To Black’ on repeat. Don’t think I’ve ever heard all of it, it’s just one of those albums where you feel as though you have even though you haven’t. I’ve had ‘Rehab’ stuck in my head all day as a result, which works surprisingly well in a washing and drying setting weirdly… the family who came in especially for the dub reggae were a tad dissappointed though…

Came home with a longing yearning for Carmel and Sade

Chapter Eighteen: Fast Times Across The Pennines

Katy arrived to pick me up at 7pm; I wasn’t quite ready, so I opened my window and chucked my keys down to her so that she could let herself in.  I was just fastening the buckles on my boots when I heard her voice, from behind me, asking “Is Fliss’ room as neat as this?” I nearly jumped out of my skin.

  “How come you don’t make any noise?” I demanded as I spun round to face her.

  She shrugged, “Must have picked it up watching all those episodes of ‘Xena…’ with Fliss,” she surveyed me from head to toe, and shook her head sadly.  “I wish I knew where you got your clothes…” I looked down at my outfit.  It didn’t seem that remarkable to me, it was just the kind of thing I normally wore: Big boots, olive green, a-line mini skirt, tight, cropped, black t-shirt, bearing the legend ‘Sullen Teen’ (bought aged fourteen) in white lettering, and an ex-comprehensive type grey v-neck jumper, frayed and worn, tied around the waist: nothing very spectacular really.

  Katy was, of course, wearing her usual black: Black Doc Marten boots, black boot cut cords, black polyester shirt, and black leather jacket. Her peroxide blonde hair was tied back tightly and severely in a ponytail.  She glanced at her watch and nodded in a businesslike way to herself, “Let’s go.”

  The gig was fantastic; like a jagged flash of bright, frenetic, shiny excitement in a dull rainy week.  Ashleigh Nixon fronts Prick Tease, and she makes for an excellent frontwoman; she swung her glitter-drenched guitar as she snarled, and her brown and blonde hair fell forwards into her face.  The sound was hard, jagged, slightly dark grungy punk. “I’ve seen that snarl and bug eyed expression somewhere before,” remarked Katy thoughtfully as we made our way across the beer and sweat drenched floor, littered with fag ends, to the Princess’s Bar. It was situated in the dimly lit, smoky, table strewn half of the venue, and the wet floor turned to carpet as we walked. The dark wood of the bar was sticky with beer spills as I rested my elbow on it and observed a group of young teenagers, dressed in jeans and band t-shirts, and adorned with Hello Kitty and glitter as they danced to Sleater-Kinney’s ‘Little Babies’.  It was a school night, but they didn’t care; so what if the feedback from the bands tonight meant that they couldn’t hear the drone of tomorrow’s lessons? So what if they fell asleep in assembly, or forgot to do their homework, again? Teenagers have to study too hard anyway.

  The cigarette smoke was a heavy fug, clinging to us, wrapping us up, embracing us…  “You shouldn’t smoke,” said Katy as I sparked up, “it’s bad for you.”

  “Tell me something I don’t know,”

  “O.K, eighty percent of smokers die of smoking related diseases, if you smoke when you’re pregnant you poison your child, and…” she paused for emphasis, “you pay a large chunk of your earnings every week to the government, who squander it further on…”

  I raised a hand in surrender, “I get the picture… but I quite like killing myself, thank you.”

  “Well, at least stop blowing it in my face.”

  Soon we were joined by former Girls From Mars drummer Thayla, Alisha and Elidh from The Trashcan Princesses, the band who had headlined, and Bob from Dew, who with his languid body language, limp, fine hair, and scruffy jeans and t-shirt as usual looked as though he had only just got out of bed.  Alisha and Elidh, meanwhile, were staying true to the glitter mini-dress, high heels, fairy wings, tiaras and sparkle school of thought.  “Is Death Club One still going?” Bob asked Alisha.  She confirmed that it was, and he turned his attention to me and Katy, “You have to come to this club with us, it plays all these old goth records, and E.B.M, gothy trance stuff, industrial stuff, bit of dark metal, bit of indie… it’s a total riot.”

  Katy and I exchanged glances, “Sure,” we replied, “why not?”

  Death Club One was, appropriately enough, situated in a black pit at the bottom of a rather tired old rock bar.  It was the kind of venue that men with bad perms and leather trousers who played air guitar to Whitesnake records flocked to every night of the week, whilst downstairs their black clad, pale faced brethren hid from the light and danced to Christian Death.

  “Goth’s coming back you know,” remarked Alisha as we made our way, single file, down the pitch black, echoing, spiral staircase into the bowels of the club.  The thud of a JAMC record met our ears, an ear mangling guitar, relentless drums, gloomy bass… we had arrived.

  Soon the DJ had switched to Nine Inch Nails, and Thayla had produced a spliff, lit it, and was passing it around.  I took a few drags before passing it on to Katy (I can take or leave hash really) and she had it for a long time before passing it to Bob.  Before long, the four of us had worked our way through five spliffs, and I began to feel quite relaxed.  The music seemed louder and denser somehow, and it seeped into my bones and harrowed my soul.  The voices and laughter of those around me seemed to linger longer than usual, and everything felt clearer and more vivid, yet far away.  It was as though I was watching the events unfold whilst not actually taking part, and I felt drowsy and tired.  I was enjoying the music, the conversation, and the dark, intense, feverish atmosphere, but I wanted to go home and sleep.

  Katy and I left around two a.m and weaved our way, uncertainly, back towards the Princess and the car. I fastened my seatbelt just as Katy yanked us into reverse, and we shot backwards, right into some dustbins on the opposite side of the alleyway, and skidded to a halt with a loud clang.  We looked at each other, and broke into a fit of giggles, tears of mirth rolled down our cheeks as a dustbin lid rolled around in a circle before coming to a noisy standstill just behind us.  Finally, Katy changed gear, put her foot down, and we shot forwards into the night.

  Soon we were on the motorway, driving oh-so-fast along the never-ending road, lamp posts illuminating our way through the blank, still night.  All the windows were down, causing gusts of cold air to snake into the car and sting our skin as we giggled, shouted, screamed, and sang along with the goth CD’s Katy had purchased in a mad binge at Death Club One.  The Sisters Of Mercy were singing ‘This Corrosion’ as we zipped towards the Pennines, The Cure were singing about ‘Lovecats’ as we passed a service station somewhere near Huddersfield, and the March Violets were singing ‘Snakedance’ as we crossed the Pennines.

  The Shaman’s ‘Jesus Loves Amerika’ segued into Nine Inch Nails’ ‘March Of The Pigs’ as we sped towards Manchester.  We were travelling so quickly now, faster, faster, as the night moved towards the morning.  I glanced at Katy to ask her to slow down, and saw her head droop and her eyes close. The car swerved, violently, as I grabbed the wheel, steadying it, stabilising it.

  Katy jerked awake as suddenly as she had nodded out, “Huh?” she mumbled, “What happened?”  But I could tell from her eyes, suddenly wide and frightened, that she already knew.

  “Next service station,” I gasped, my heart pounding as the surge of adrenalin made it hard for me to speak, “next service station, we stop.” I surrendered control of the wheel.

  She nodded in subdued agreement.

  In the largely deserted, artificially bright, white and red perspex cafeteria of the service station, we glumly supped strong black coffee and wondered what to do.  A couple of lorry drivers were enjoying a fry up at the opposite end of the long, neon lit, room as Katy said, in tones of wonder and amazement, “My whole life flashed before my eyes… I always thought people made that up, but I remembered meeting Fliss at primary school, it was so real…”

  “You know,” I said thoughtfully as I downed the last of my coffee, “we probably shouldn’t be drinking this stuff, our heartbeats are probably accelerated enough already, accelerate them anymore and we’ll probably bring on a cardiac arrest.”  I went back to the counter and purchased two more coffees, two big plates of chips, and ten chocolate bars.

  “I remember when I first met Fliss,” Katy was saying, seemingly oblivious as to whether I was listening or not, “on a day in June in 1993… this plump little girl with a cheeky grin and her hair in bunches.”

  “Fliss is younger than you though,” I remarked as I divvied up the chocolate bars between us.

  “True,” she nodded as she speared chips with her fork, “I must really stop smoking hash…” she closed her eyes, and I moved her plate just in time.  She awoke upon impact with the table, “Ow…fuck,” she rubbed her nose cautiously with her right hand; “I think I may have broken something…” her nose was bleeding.  I handed her a paper napkin.  As she mopped up, she grew strangely pensive, “I know,” she began carefully, “that Fliss is growing away from me…”

  “Katy…” I began.

  “No,” she interrupted, “it’s alright… it’s not as though there’s anything I can do about it after all, it’s just…” she caught my eyes with hers, “don’t take her away from me, she’s growing up, I know, but… leave a little bit of the old Fliss, for me.”

  I smiled sadly, “I’ll try…”

  We took it easy for the remainder of our journey home for we were both weary and wary; ready for our beds yet kept awake by the fear that we would fall asleep at the wheel if we relaxed for even a second.  The haze of hash and alcohol was wearing off, and we were jumpy with caffeine and sugar.

  Katy slept in Fliss’ room.

  No sooner had I nodded off, it seemed, than the phone was ringing.  With a great deal of moaning and histrionics, I muttered, cursed, and staggered my way into the hall.  It was Fliss, she was crying, and she wanted Katy.

  Katy’s expression, upon returning from the call, was one of barely contained anger, “I could kill Violet,” she muttered as she flung herself down into one of the armchairs in the living room.

  “What happened?” I asked.

  “She asked Fliss to meet her in London yesterday and, well, you know Fliss; she went without so much as an argument.  The argument came later, when she got there, and Violet told her she’d been seeing someone else.”

  “Who?” I was shocked.

  “That blonde barmaid from Juvenile Hell, Amber…” she clenched her fists, “I could cheerfully swing for Violet” she got to her feet, “Fliss wants me to come and see her in London, she says she can’t go home to her mum and dad ‘cos she’s too upset, and needs someone to talk to. She said she can’t talk to her family about it, it’s not like…”

  “I know,” I interrupted, quietly, “She said, she’d have to come out to them first, before she could even discuss Violet.”

  “And even if she wanted to,” pointed out Katy, “now isn’t the time to do that.”

  “No.”

  She walked across the room, and paused in the doorway, “I’ll get myself cleaned up a bit, then I’ll drive back to Flora’s and pack.”

  I was apprehensive as I said, “You won’t drive to London, will you?”

  “No,” she shook her head, gravely serious, “I’ll catch a train.”

  Once she had left the room, I went back to bed, and slipped back into sleep almost immediately.  I didn’t even notice her leave.

Chapter Seventeen: A Fresh Start

Jenny Malone cut a distinctive figure as she made her way through the maze of empty tables with our drinks.  Her magenta hair was tied back in pigtails, a series of stick on jewels enhanced her eyebrows, and pale denim hot pants and an old Velocity Girl t-shirt, knotted at the waist, set off black clompy espadrilles.  As she placed the drinks down in front of us, (cokes for her and Katy, Reef for Flora, lemonade for me and Fliss) she said, “Of course, if I’m going to manage you, we’re going to have to make sure we understand each other, so that I can concentrate on what you want, as a band…”

  “As opposed to what’s best for us as a band?” quipped Flora.

  “Well, if you’re not going to enjoy yourselves, what’s the point in being in a band?” replied Jenny.

  We exchanged glances.  It had been Nat who had suggested that we approach Jenny about managing us; she hadn’t wanted the job herself, she said, and in any case, she was about to take over the promotion at Juvenile Hell, and didn’t think that she could devote equal time to both.  Jenny had the experience though, she said, she’d been a promoter, and she’d managed a couple of Liverpool bands before she wrote for ‘NME,’ so she would be a good choice.

  Flora took a deep breath, we had discussed it, so she was speaking for all of us when she said, “I suppose what we want is to get a good deal for us, one that will give us the time, space, and flexibility to create something really good.  We aren’t interested in being famous really quickly, we’d rather it happened at a natural pace, we want a career, not fifteen minutes of fame, and,” she took a deep breath, “we want complete control of our material and our image.”

  Jenny nodded sagely, “You realise that you will have to sacrifice some control in order to get signed.”

  Flora nodded, “We do, but we aren’t willing to become someone’s creature, we aren’t in this to be the next Girl Trouble or Atomic Kitten.”

  “What about the next Girls From Mars?” asked Jenny, tentatively. 

  We exchanged glances, “That would be O.K I suppose,” said Flora, cautiously, “but I don’t know if we’re ready to be hyped so much yet, we need space to write and gig more before we’re ready for that.”

  Jenny nodded, “Fine.”

  Now that our proposition had been made and accepted, Flora felt ready to raise yet another issue that had been troubling us, “What happens with you working for ‘NME’ if you go on to manage us?” she asked, “would you have to quit?”

  Jenny laughed, her face lit up as she grinned widely, “Hell no.”  She took a sip of her drink, then continued, “I’m pretty small fry, even if it were an issue, which it isn’t, then I doubt if they’d even notice.”  Flora seemed puzzled, so she explained, “NME’ writers are always setting up record labels, and then writing glowing reviews of bands that they just happen to release records by, not to mention all the sexual connections there are between certain male journalists and certain female P.R’s…”

  Katy grinned, “That’s useful to know…”

  We went on to Fab Café on Portland Street after our stint at The Twilight, and on the way we passed a series of large pink and black posters advertising The Girls From Mars’ first single for Hardpop, ‘She Sees Red.’  It’s about a girl in Bolton who got in the local papers for twatting someone with a chair at school after they stole her diary and put extracts of it up on the internet.  It was kind of an unusual choice for their debut single I suppose, but ‘Rock School Bitch’, which would have been my choice, probably wouldn’t have got them on the Radio One playlist like ‘She Sees Red’ has.  Fliss and I are going to see them next month at Manchester Academy: Very grand, and a very different venue to The Gates or The Twilight.

  I’ve been hearing ‘She Sees Red’ a lot, even before it got playlisted.  It doesn’t sound as scuzzy as it did when they did it live, but songs always sound different on record, so I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised.  I think the video surprised me more… I know Violet and Moyra had wanted to do a low budget re-enactment of the schoolgirl chair-bashing incident for the video, in grainy CCTV style black and white, but I guess the school said no.  As it is, it’s more like ‘Bad Girls’ than ‘Grange Hill’, with the Girls decked out in prison style uniforms, being mock arrested and so on, playing in a mock cell etc.  The pictures are very stylised and glossy, and airbrushed, with Moyra and Violet in the foreground, looking punkish yet glamorous, and Jane and Andrea in the background, looking more punk and less glamorous.  I suppose they surprised me because they were so unnatural but then, I suppose all publicity pictures are like that.

  The Girls From Mars are in London at the moment, doing press, radio, T.V… they seem to have been gone for an awful long time, and I could sense that Fliss was missing Violet as she gazed up at the posters in Piccadilly.

  “When are they back, Fliss?” asked Nat when we arrived at Fab Café, but Fliss just shrugged sadly, “Be your posters up around town soon,” she teased.

  Jenny shook her head sadly, “I don’t think they want to be famous,” she said, in mock sadness, “They’ve been saying that they want to ‘take things slow’.” She made inverted commas in the air.

  “I want to be famous,” said Katy, “but we should wait a bit, I mean, Fliss isn’t even legal for one thing.”

  Jenny nodded, “I thought that that might be something to do with it.”

  Surprisingly, I found myself agreeing with Katy.  It would be O.K for the rest of us because Flora and I are both twenty, and Katy’s nearly nineteen, but Fliss is only sixteen.  O.K, she’ll be seventeen this year, but even still, that’s young.

  The party broke up quite quickly at Fab Café.  Jenny left with Nat after about an hour, having arranged to meet up with Liberty and go on to Juvenile Hell, whilst Katy offered Flora, Fliss and I a lift home.  She has quit her supermarket job, and seemed to be in amazingly good spirits.  “This is really the start of something now,” she said as we drove along the A6, “I think we’re really starting to get somewhere.”

 “You said that when we signed to One Way Or Another,” pointed out Flora.

  “Call me flighty then,” called back Katy, drumming her fingers on the steering wheel “but I still reckon we’re getting somewhere this time.”

  As we pulled up in front of the flat, she turned to Fliss, next to her on the front seat, and asked, “Are you coming to see Prick Tease in Leeds next week? I’ll drive us.”

  Fliss shook her head, “I have to go home then,” she said sadly, “It’s Jack’s christening next week,” Jack is the name of Fliss’ elder sister’s son, born last October.  “I’m there all week.”

  Katy nodded, but I could tell that she was disappointed.  She craned her neck, and peered over the top of the headrest, to where Flora was sat, placidly knitting.  “Coming to see Prick Tease, Flor?”

  Flora shook her head, she didn’t look up from her needles as she said, “Too many clothes to make, too many university assignments…” her hands seemed to speed up as she spoke, “too little time…”

  There was a long, long pause, and then…

  Katy turned her attention to me, and said, rather aggressively, “I don’t suppose you’d like to come and see Prick Tease next week.”

  And to everyone’s surprise, including my own, I said, “Yes.”

Chapter Sixteen: Consequences

Dearest Maggie,

What I feel for you changes on an almost hourly basis.  Why must you confuse me so much? Before tonight I didn’t think that you felt anything for me beyond the most casual of friendships, but because of what happened (both here and at the club) I think you do feel something more for me; and I need to know where I stand.

  Maybe you never intended to tease me – maybe you did, maybe this is all a game for you – but I’d like to think otherwise.  Your lyrics are contradictory, like you, and even when it’s Fliss who sings them, I know who wrote them, if not why.  I don’t want to change you, I love you as you are, but I won’t fight a battle that I cannot win.  If you really don’t want me, I’ll walk away.  But I think you do want me, why kiss me otherwise? Why take it further when all you had to do last night was send me home? And if you don’t love me, why did Nat and I’s one night stand (and it was just one night) upset you so much?

  Think about it, that’s all I ask.  I meant it when I said that I didn’t want to hurt you; I love you too much for that.  You are intelligent, kind, talented, sexy and beautiful.  You are as volatile as a tiger and as fragile as a lily: That site named you well.  Whilst I want you more than anything, I was brought up to not touch what I can’t have.  Forget my past mistakes, for they were mistakes, just remember that I love you.

Fergus

 X

I had mixed feelings as I put down his letter.  Whilst I was immensely touched by its sentiments, there was something unnerving about it: He seemed to know me almost too well.

  Whilst I knew that I had to make a decision about Fergus, and about what I felt for him, I knew that such a decision wasn’t going to be easy; It wasn’t just about loving him, it was about whether he deserved someone as neurotic and generally fucked up as I am; could he deal with that? Could anyone?  Relationships aren’t easy things to keep together; they require sacrifices, so I know that it isn’t about whether I love him, it’s about whether I’m ready to be his girlfriend; and I’m not. But I can’t lead him on, and I can’t cold shoulder him either; he needs to know what’s going on. Because he expressed his feelings for me in a letter, then that is how I should tell him my story, but not now; I need a bath, plus I need to take my anti-depressants and get rid of this hangover as best I can.  I feel as though my brain has turned to syrup, and my throat is red raw, my breath must smell absolutely rancid.

  (Later)

I am ready to write.

Fergus,

Your letter to me was very kind, kinder than I perhaps deserve. It touched me and cut through the planet-sized hangover that I am currently enduring.

  I never intended to confuse you; it’s true that I didn’t want you, and that ‘The Battle You Cannot Win’ was written about you, but it wasn’t just written about you; there was someone before you, someone who hurt me very badly.  He made he stop trusting; stop loving, because most of the damage he did to me was internal, not external.  He made me hate myself, and he beat me when I tried to fight him.  I don’t see him anymore, and have seen no one else since him; I can’t.

  You are the first man to try to love me since him.  I didn’t love you at first, but I always liked you.  When we were on tour I felt a closeness between us that I’ve never felt before.  It wasn’t until you kissed me at the Twilight that night that I realised I was in love with you, but I knew then, just as I know now, that I can’t be your girlfriend: Because it wouldn’t be fair to you.

  I have a lot of problems, a lot of emotional baggage and fears that need to be dealt with.  Most days, I can do this, but not always, and until I have dealt with this, it wouldn’t be fair to be with you.  I think you know what I mean by this, because you experienced some of it when you kissed me that night at the Twilight.  I can’t down a bottle of vodka every time I want to get close to you, and it wouldn’t be fair for you to expect me to.  Please understand.  I love you more than I could ever show you.

  Maggie

 

(Later)

I decided to hand deliver the letter.  The rain had stopped, and the air was crisp and fresh, wafting on a breeze that numbed my limbs whilst easing my headache.  The roads were full of speeding cars, splashing through yesterday’s puddles, spraying muddy water, but the pavements were quiet as I walked.  I was glad of this because just walking was almost more than I could cope with; despite the cold breeze, my head continued to throb, and I felt as though I was in a dream.

  When I reached the sandstone coloured house, I pushed the letter through the letterbox and turned to leave.  As I walked back down the pathway, I could hear the door opening, and I panicked; I didn’t want to see him, for I was sure that I looked as terrible as I felt.  I had on a pair of baggy, shapeless jeans, a tartan shirt that I hadn’t bothered to do up properly, and no make-up.  I got up on my toes, and ran.

  I could hear footsteps behind me as I reached the bus stop, they were running, which just made me run faster.  But it wasn’t long before last nights shenanigans caught up with me, and I couldn’t run anymore; there was a huge stitch at my side that I needed to nurse.  It was no contest now, and he caught me easily.

  I reluctantly turned to face him, and he held out his hand to me.  I took it, and he led me back to the house.  He took me to his bedroom, and then left me there whilst he went to the kitchen to make tea.  “You look as though you could do with some.”  Whilst he was in the kitchen, I surveyed his room with considerable interest.  You can tell a lot about a bloke from his bedroom.  He had a computer and a Hi-Fi, along with a Sarah Michelle Gellar calendar and posters of Emma Peel, and Angelina Jolie as Lara Croft.  There was a pile of dirty clothes in the corner by the door, and the bed, with its black quilt and sheets strewn on the floor, looked as though a tornado had hit it.  I felt quite at home; swap the underpants for knickers, and throw a few bras in, and I could have been in Fliss’ bedroom back home.  Well, save for a few minor details, such as the smell.  Fergus’ room had a peculiarly male smell to it that I find difficult to put into words.  There was no stench of feet or aftershave, yet there was a smell.  A male smell that was somehow different to Fliss’ female smell.

  I walked over to his bookcase and read the titles on the spines.  He had all the ‘Love And Rockets’ comic books, some Alan Warner, Iain Banks, some ‘Buffy’ and ‘Angel’ novels, some football books, Billy Childish, Stewart Home, and… Truman Capote’s ‘Breakfast At Tiffany’s.’

  “Finished?”

  I jumped.

  He handed me a mug of tea, and then sat down on his bed to read my letter.  When I had completed my study of his books I wondered over and sat down beside him.  It was so quiet, so deafeningly silent, that I was afraid to drink unless I distracted him, and it seemed to take him forever to read the words that I had written.  Eventually though, he folded the letter up and put it back inside its envelope.  Then he turned his attention back to me.  “I wish you’d told me this sooner,” his voice was quiet, his eyes sad.

  “I wanted to, but it didn’t seem necessary whilst I wasn’t interested,” I looked away, “it was easier to have you think that it was because I wasn’t interested in you, then later, after you kissed me, there wasn’t time to explain even if I wanted to – you just left.”

  “I knew you were scared,” he said quietly, “I thought if I stayed then I would just make things worse.”

  “Maybe you were right.”

  He took hold of my hand, and I willed myself to accept his touch, “I know that the girl I kissed last night wasn’t you, or not the real you anyway.  I want to know the real you.”

  “The real me is scared and can’t respond to you,” I said sotto voce, “can’t give you what you want.”

  “How do you know what I want?” he asked, equally quietly.

  “What does any man want?”

  “I’m not any man.”

  I glanced around his room, and my gaze remained fixed upon his Angelina-Jolie-as-Lara-Croft poster, “Really?”

  He ignored the dig, “You wrote that you love me.  If you love me, and you know that I love you…”

  “I can’t be anything to you!” I cried in frustration, “I freeze when you touch me! I’m frightened by you!”

  “By me?”

  “Yes! I mean… no… No, that’s not what I meant…” I knew what I wanted to say, but it felt as though we were going around in circles, getting nowhere.

  “By men?”

  “Yes.”  I had said it at last.

  He stroked my wrist with his fingers, and I tried not to flinch as his fingers traced the path of a series of light, silvery scars on my wrist and arm.  When I yanked my arm away the faraway look in his eyes was replaced by one of concern, “You did this to yourself,” he said, softly.

  “A long time ago,” I admitted, equally quietly.

  “And do you still?” he asked, his eyes still on my arm, still seeing the scars.

  “That’s none of your business!” I shouted.  I couldn’t believe that he had asked.

  “Yes it is,” he met my eyes, and I could see how worried he was, “it is if I’m the cause of it.”

  “Well I don’t,” I snapped, “I haven’t cut myself for about ten months.”

  An awkward silence descended, during which I inspected my nails and Fergus stared at the floor.  His expression was one of brooding sadness, and I felt guilty.  I don’t know why exactly, or even what for, but I felt guilty all the same.  After a few moments of this, he jumped up and put on his coat.

  I looked up in surprise, “What are you doing?” I asked warily.

  “Taking you home.”

  As he parked the car outside our flat, he said, “Maybe we can’t be together,” and I felt as though I would cry.

  “Maybe not,” I agreed.

  “But just because we can’t be together now, it doesn’t mean never.”  I stared at him in surprise, and he met my stare with honesty and sincerity, as he said, “I’ll wait for you, Maggie; whenever you’re ready, I’ll be ready, but until then… no pressure.”

  I nodded, dumbly.  I could already feel my eyes filling with tears as I got out of the car.

  Fliss was waiting for me when I got in.  “Well?” she demanded, eagerness and curiosity written all over her little face, “What happened?”

  I burst into tears.

Chapter Fifteen: Drowning

Oh my God, what have I done? What the hell did I think I was doing last night? I’ve made a complete fool of myself and will never be able to face anyone again.  Stupid, stupid, stupid… Maybe if I write down what happened I’ll be able to feel a bit better about it, I can’t see it working, but anything seems to be worth a try in the harsh light of Sunday morning.

  Last night was Flora’s birthday, and we went clubbing to celebrate, we being me, Flora, Fliss, Katy, Nat, Violet and Fergus.  It was all planned weeks ago, before we heard about One Way Or Another going under, before I found out about Fergus and Nat, but Flora refused to un-invite anyone.  I didn’t mind seeing Nat and Fergus as much as I thought I would because, lets face it, I have to face them both at some point, but Katy was furious that Fergus was invited, she nearly didn’t come, only the threat that Flora’s feelings would be hurt if she didn’t changed her mind.

  The first club we stopped off at was Fab Café.  Fliss and I agreed to meet the others there at 7:30pm, but Nat and Violet were the only two people who had got there before us.  Violet and Fliss went over to the bar, and I watched as Nat got up and made her way through the maze of tables towards the toilets.  As she walked, the waistband of her jeans and the thick leather and studs belt moved slightly along with her t-shirt and jacket to reveal the tattoo of an eagle emblazoned with the legend ‘Freedom’.  As she pushed open the monochrome door, emblazoned with the iconic image of Emma Peel, which led to the girl’s loos, I got up from my seat and followed her.

  She saw me in the mirror, “Something on your mind?” she ventured as she turned around to face me, both her expression and tone politely interested.

  “Yes actually.”

  “Well, don’t keep me in suspense,” the light in her eyes, and the smile on her face, seemed to suggest that she had no idea of what I was about to say.  Maybe she did, maybe she didn’t.  It doesn’t matter anyway.

  “You and Fergus,” I began, “I know about it.”

  She shrugged, casually, and there was a long silence before she said, “We slept together.”  It felt as though she had punched me, and I realised that, deep down, I had been telling myself to believe a lie: that it had been a bit of harmless flirting, and that nothing beyond what we had seen on the video had happened.

  “You, you didn’t know?” asked Nat cautiously, “I thought you said…”

   “I saw you dancing with him and kissing him,” I hissed, “I didn’t know you’d fucked him!”

  She groaned, and then rolled her eyes in exasperation, “And I promised him that I wouldn’t tell you.”  She winced as I glared at her accusingly, “It was a mistake,” she explained, “a stupid, silly mistake.”

  I didn’t say anything.

  “It was a one night stand!” she protested, “He doesn’t love me, he loves you!”

  “Then why…”

  The frustration made her interrupt me, “Because everything happened at once! The label collapsed, you rejected him, Dew signed to Hardpop, he got a pay cut at work… he was depressed, feeling sorry for himself, he needed someone; it didn’t matter who.”

  “And you?” I asked quietly, afraid that I would cry.

  She sighed, “I was lonely; I was drunk… I think I needed someone that night too and that, like him, it didn’t really matter to me who it was.”

  I nodded in subdued silence.

  She laid a hand on my shoulder, “I wasn’t exaggerating when I said he loves you, he told me himself.”

  “I don’t care what he said…”

  “He thinks you’re an ice queen.”

  “What?” If I had been angry before, I was furious now.

  “He thinks you’re an ice queen,” she repeated, gently, “It infuriates him because you won’t let him get close to you.  He thinks you’re really sexy, and it annoys the hell out of him that he can’t have you.”

  “That’s not love,” I clarified, “its lust.”

  “But he likes you as a person too” she added, hastily “he said he feels comfortable with you, but that you freeze on him whenever he tries to get too close.  He wants things to be like they were when you were on tour; he wishes it could always be like that… You put barriers up, you scare him off.”

  “He doesn’t let me scare him off!” I protested.

  She smiled, “Still, you frighten him…”

  I laughed, “Me?”

  “Yes, you!” she was still smiling, “and you know why, you’ve made it your life’s work! That whole ice queen, don’t – fuck – with – me exterior, never letting anyone get close to you; you learnt it all from your mums Siouxsie videos!”

  “Apparently she isn’t like that,” I said quietly, “in real life.”

  “Which only proves my point!”

  “What point?”

  “If you want him, let him in!”

  I couldn’t believe that I was having this conversation with Nat, of all people, “I never said I wanted him,” I said cagily, unable to meet her eyes.

  “Then why are you blushing?” she demanded.

  There was an awkward pause, during which I met her eyes at last.  She seemed amused, and vaguely exasperated by the whole situation.  With a sigh, she took me by the arm, and said, “Come on, let’s get some drinks down us.  That’ll loosen you up a bit.”

  The others had arrived, I noticed, as Nat and I made our way over to the bar. “Two vodka and cokes please,” she said as she reached into her bag for her purse.  I was about to argue with her, but decided against it.  Maybe she was right; maybe I did need a drink to loosen me up.

  After a couple of drinks, we moved onto a new club that’s just opened in Piccadilly, called Juvenile Hell.  It’s quite small, but it’s cheap to get in, and it was absolutely rammed by the time we arrived.  The neon lights of the dance floor were complemented by red walls, which had been doused in red and gold glitter, and a couple of black PVC sofas were slung about the place, along with some benches and chairs.  The bar was decorated with fairy lights, and the cocktail list was long and creative.

  The vodka and coke that I had drunk earlier had made me feel sleepy, so I bought myself a Red Bull to wake myself up again.  A plan was beginning to form in my mind.  I had to seduce him, I had decided, but the problem was how.  I couldn’t do it sober, sober I was scared, so the only thing for it was to get hammered and seduce him before the alcohol wore off.  But would it work? It’s a tricky thing to pull off, getting drunk in order to do something, because too much drink renders you incapable of the task ahead.  I had to get the balance right; I had to be drunk but capable, aware but not frightened.  Having finished the Red Bull, I wandered over to the bar and bought a Blastaway, this would enable me to get pissed quickly, I decided, whilst not knocking me out.  Next down the hatch was straight cider (Blackthorns) followed by Snakebite and Black.

  The evening was beginning to feel like fun at last.  Fergus joined me at the bar, “You’re knocking them back tonight, aren’t you?” he observed with a degree of admiration.

  I smiled in what I hoped was an enigmatic fashion.  I probably looked pie-eyed, but I was convinced at that point that I looked alluring, “If you’re good, I might dance with you later.”

  “I’ll look forward to it.”

  Dancing seemed like a good idea, so I hopped down off my barstool.  The ground suddenly seemed to be further away than it had a few minutes ago, and I stumbled upon landing.  Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed Fliss and Flora exchanging worried looks as I righted myself and weaved my way over to the dance floor.

  I have no idea which records I danced to, or how wildly I was dancing, but hopefully I didn’t make a total arse of myself; I’d like to think I danced brilliantly, but hopefully I’ll never know.  Soon I was hot and thirsty, so I made my way back over to the bar, and to my new best friend the barman.  I asked him to prepare me four shots of Foxy Lady, (Amaretto and Crème de cassis, I think) which he dutifully did.  He watched as I downed each one, and then mixed me a Malibu and coke, which I was quick to finish in order to get back to the dancing.  Someone caught me this time as I stumbled off my bar stool, but I shook them off and staggered back to the dance floor unaided.

  The D.J had just begun to play Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s ‘Take Me Home,’ and I noticed Fergus.  He was watching me from behind one of the pillars that marked the dance floor.  I held his gaze as I danced.  I wanted him to come over and dance with me, but he was wary; I would have to make him dance with me.  I worked my way across the floor to him, and took hold of his hand; I can’t remember what I said to him, but it was mercifully brief as I was beginning to slur my words.

  He held me up as much as I held onto him, and I was aware of running my fingers through his hair.  That is, until one of my nails got caught and I had to disentangle it, which rather spoiled things.  I kept gazing at his face, just staring into his kind brown eyes.  There was a concern in those eyes last night that lasted throughout the evening once he realised just how drunk I was.  But that didn’t stop me from kissing him or him from kissing me back.  It happened at the end of the Sophie Ellis-Bextor record, after he had successfully steered me away from the dance floor.  I didn’t want to leave because I was having such a good time, but he had his arms around my waist and seemed determined to make me sit down on one of the sofas, which I did.  Then I hit him, harder than I intended to, and called him a bully.  I was being sulky and petulant, and he said so.  And that was when I kissed him.  I don’t remember too much of what happened after that.

  He was shaking me when I woke up, and I remember looking around the room, and blinking because the lights had been switched on and the club was emptying.  Fliss and Violet had already left, so he escorted me to the taxi rank.  He had his arms around me the whole time, and I leant against him as he guided me towards my destination.  I had thought that he would put me in a taxi and then catch a bus home, but he got into the cab with me, and my heart soared as I remembered my plan;  not for long though because I was soon asleep again.

  The next thing I remember is lying on the sofa with him and stroking his face as he ran his hands up and down my body.  I was aware of thinking that, whilst my knee high black heeled boots had seemed like a good idea earlier, they weren’t really suited to feverish sofa groping sessions, and the buckles were digging into my legs really painfully.  I was also aware that the short, tight black skirt I was wearing was riding up to my crotch, but then, I hadn’t dressed for this, had I? He was toying with my necklace, which is a silver and onyx pendant on a silver chain.  “Pretty,” he remarked, “like you.”

  “I’m not pretty.”

  “Really?” he kissed my neck, and I began to unbutton his shirt.  He followed my example and began to unbutton mine; too late, I remembered that I wasn’t wearing a bra, but if this surprised him, he didn’t show it.  As I leant over him, I could sense his fingers, lightly stroking my breasts, as I lowered my mouth onto his.

  Suddenly, I felt my stomach lurch as though it was trying to twist itself into knots, and I knew that I was going to be sick.  I stumbled to my feet and, forgetting that half my clothes were missing, half ran, half fell along the hallway and into the bathroom.  I sank to my knees by the toilet just as the bile rose to my throat, and vomited into the bowl.

  It seemed to go on forever, and when it was over there were tears in my eyes, and I was shaking; I felt terrible.  I sensed him put my shirt around my shoulders, and he helped me to put it on.  Then he passed me a glass of water and made me rinse my mouth.  I was sick again.

  When I had finished, we sat down on the edge of the bath and he put his arms around my waist as I rested my head against his shoulder.  I must have been crying because he told me to stop, which I must have done I suppose.  Then I remember trying to kiss him again, but I must have leant too far right because I overbalanced and fell backwards into the bath, pulling him with me.  I don’t remember feeling particularly perturbed about this at the time, and in a strange way it amuses me now, in fact I carried on as though nothing had happened, and re-commenced kissing him.  But he didn’t seem interested anymore.  He pushed me away and climbed out of the bath.  I heard him sit down on the floor and rest his back against the bath.  “What’s the matter?” I asked through a faceful of bath mat.

  “I won’t take advantage of you,” he said quietly, “it’s not right.”

  “Is that what you said to Nat?”

  He was a stream of fire and anger as he hauled me out of the bath, I struggled with him and slipped as he let go, and I felt an incredible pain in my left side as I fell against the airing cupboard.  I covered my face with my arms, convinced that he was going to hit me; but he didn’t.  He knelt down in front of me and waited until I had lowered my arms, then he brushed my hair out of my eyes with his fingers, “I don’t want to hurt you,” he whispered as he stroked my cheek.

  “You already have,” there was a slight tremor in my voice.

  “I know,” he whispered, “and I’m sorry.”

  And then I don’t remember anymore.

  I woke up in bed a couple of hours ago.  He’d removed my boots, but other than that… nothing.  As I turned my head towards the clock that sits on my bedside cabinet, I noticed a piece of paper, which had been propped up next to it.  It had something scrawled on it, my name, in Fergus’ handwriting.  He had gone, but he had left me a note.

London, Libraries, Fanzines…. Soundtracks

Yesterday I took part in an evening of talks to celebrate the launch of the zine archive at the Stuart Hall Library in London. I wouldn’t normally post about this, but thought some of my readers might be interested, if only in case they were wondering why this weeks chapter was late.

Anyway, I got up at 5am yesterday in order to leave at 6:30 and be at the coach station in Manchester for 8am, but I clearly overestimated the traffic on the A6 at that hour because I was at Chorlton Street for 7am. I texted David, who was coming along for moral support, and to give out handouts, to see if he was on his train yet, and he texted back to say he wasn’t – his wasn’t until 8:30.

The coach came at 8am, and took us on a prolonged (but not too much) trip across the Mancunian Way and through Whalley Range (where someone had painstakingly daubed ‘Vote Labour’ on a wall in gloss paint) and Chorlton (where they hadn’t) before getting on the motorway. An hour later we were travelling through an atmosphericly fog drenched Stoke-On-Trent to the bus station, one of the highlights in what turned out to be a very stop-start journey, compared to the Colne route that is anyway.

Still, we made the North Circular on time, and whilst shuffling through Hampstead I had cause to notice Arkwright Road, home of the Sely’s and the Gaunt’s in Stella Gibbons’ 1956 novel ‘Here Be Dragons’, and the offices of the Hampstead and Highgate Gazette, mentioned in the same novel. I imagine the Hampstead of 1956 may exist in some of the remaining architecture, but not in any other sense. (Actually, I’ve just checked, and it’s Arkwood Road in the novel, but I bet that was artistic licence….)

Got to Victoria at 1:15pm – early, and took until about 2 to get to my hotel. I was glad to be staying somewhere I’d stayed a lot of times before because I only really started to wake up after I’d checked in.

I met David over at Old Street around 4ish, and we headed over to Brick Lane and Rough Trade East, suitably near to Iniva, and suitably diverting for us. We spotted a lot of what he’s started to call ‘Biffy’ people, and what Sara terms ‘Hot Chip people’, both on our way to Rough Trade and in Rough Trade. I’ve never been to Rough Trade East. I went to the old Rough Trade West in Neal’s Yard once when I was fifteen and staying with friends, but otherwise am pretty much a Rough Trade novice. After much agonising over CD’s we can’t afford, but should buy, we left with the third Raincoats album (me) and a Shirley Collins Cd (David) and trundled over to Iniva.

The Stuart Hall Library was upstairs, and turned out to be a strangely comforting venue for the evenings event. We said hello to Librarian’s Sonia Hope and Holly Callaghan, who made us feel very welcome and let us use the photocopier to xerox more copies of my handout. I’d done 15 before I left Manchester, but 35 people were expected, so I printed 20 more. Unfortunately, when it came to putting them together I ran out of  time, and was becoming increasingly tired, so didn’t get very far. We left the remaining piles of pages with Sonia and Holly, who had very kindly offered to put them together and give them out from the library info desk in the coming days and weeks.

Next I was mic’d up, and the sound and powerpoint files were checked by a very understanding and kind techie gentleman, who must have been incredibly patient, given he had three of us to do.

I was first on, which I actually feel very relieved about in retrospect because it meant I couldn’t measure myself against the other speakers – Storm in a teacup, and Hamja Ahsan from the Other Asias collective. As it was, I didn’t feel that the talk itself went down that well – I thought the crowd looked mainly bored – but David, Sonia and Holly reckoned it went down well, and the very nice man next to me said he liked it. I felt people weren’t very interested, though I did feel I delivered it fine, and that it fitted the remit I’d been given. The presentation was fine once I’d got it started. I’d been advised to just start the mp3 off then press F5 to start the presentation, but when I pressed F5 nothing happened, so there was a brief moment of panic as I got it open and playing. Having done the rehearsal for David and Sara (who has PHD deadlines so couldn’t make the actual event) in David’s bedroom in Fallowfield the other week, I had more of an idea of how long it would take people to read each page, so I think I judged it right. It helped that the soundtrack was two songs, so I knew not to let too many pages go through to the first song, as that would mean I was going too fast. David got weaving with the handouts as I put the last page up, and then it was done.

Storm In A Teacup, a London based collective set up to help promote and encourage women in the arts, were up next. They seemed nice, and they talked about their various projects, the biggest of which is Ladyfest ten. They also do a life drawing project, called Swallows and Amazons, centred around the idea of unconventional life drawing models, in unconventional poses.

Hamja from Other Asias  was next, and – as I thought he might be from his blurb – he was very academicky. I think he gets away with it though because he does it in a very irreverent, humourous way. He was good, but I think he may have overrun his time. His projects are art and zine based, and are – as the name suggests – global and radical, mostly around representations of Asia, and Asians, particularly Bangladeshi and Pakistani. He is British Bangladeshi, and runs Other Asias with a Pakistani woman in Lahore.

I think both Storm in a teacup and Other Asias were very London reference-y, and that this went down much better than my Cheshire, Stockport, Manc, Salford refs: It was a young, hip, London crowd at the end of the day, and you win some, you lose some.

The Q&A went O.K. I let the others lead, as I felt that they were of more interest to people (plus more of their friends were there) but if I had something to say, I did say it, I just thought about it very carefully before I said it.

I had some nice conversations with people afterwards, but me and David were utterly exhausted, so we wearily trundled back to Old Street and got the tube to Euston.

We went to the late night M&S at Euston for our tea, and sat slumped in the forecourt of the station (all benches were taken) whilst David wearily ate his sandwich (I took my food back to the hotel as it was too messy for the forecourt) and we waited for the pendolino to decide which platform it was going from. When he was queueing for admittance to said pendolino, I left him and trundled – increasingly weary and laden – to the underground to catch the northern line to Tottenham Court Road and change to the Central line to Lancaster Gate. It’s lucky I know all three stations well, as I was barely functioning by then – I’d been up and on the go for 17 hours by the time I got back to my hotel.

The coach home this dinnertime was the Colne coach, and it was a journey with a fairly farcical beginning (for me personally I mean) and somewhere around the second hour in Cheshire, it descended into a a Kafka esque dark farce. Apparently there was a car overturned in a ditch, but I missed it because I had my walkman on and my eyes closed. It took 6 and a half hours instead of 5 and a half (I got off at Stockport: It would have taken at least 30 minutes more to get to Manchester)but it’s not as bad as last year when I was coming back from London in October and the engine in the coach conked out, leaving us stranded by Bowden Roundabout for ages. Think it was 8 hours on that occasion.

Before travelling, I’d made myself a CD to take with me, as I felt I’d need something to keep me going on the coach on the way down. It’s a mixture of songs that I downloaded for possible use in the presentation, stuff I was listening to anyway, stuff that was more Screaming in Public soundtrack, some punk series soundtrack stuff, and what I like to think of as general courage build up songs…

Clanned – Theme From Harry’s Game

(Acquired from my mum and dad. They always have a lot of Clanned CD’s. They buy a couple and they breed, so every now and then they have a sort out and get rid of the surplus Clanned’s… My aunt and uncle had a similar problem many years ago when they moved to North Wales, only in their case it was LP’s and the songs from ‘Hair’)

Hayley Westenra – She moves through the fair

(A few years ago I was obsessed with ‘Scarborough Fayre’, at the moment it’s ‘She moves through the fair’)

Jesca Hoop – Hunting My Dress

Laura Marling – Rambling Man

Go-Betweens – Streets Of Your Town

Kenickie – Robot Song

Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains)

Duke Spirit – Love is an unfamiliar name

Rip, Rig and Panic – Go, go, go

Bratmobile – Cherry Bomb

Delta 5 – Anticipation

Carmel – More, more, more

(Obviously…)

Neko Case and her boyfriends – Bowling Green

Pauline Murrey and the Invisible Girls – Dream Sequence (One)

(This was the second song I used to soundtrack my presentation)

Heavenly – PUNK girl

(This was the first song I used to soundtrack my presentation)

Metric – Hustle Rose

Rasputina – Brand New Key

Laura Nyro – Eli’s Comin

Florence + The Machine – Howl

Joseph Lo Duca – Tara’s Dance

People reading may wonder why I didn’t get the Pendolino to and from London with David. This is mainly because he is a student, and as such has a young persons railcard that gets him a third off rail fares, and I am not. If he finds a cheap discount ticket online and uses his student card as well, he can afford the Pendolino. Alas, I cannot.