Friday, February 24, 2006


There's a guy who I see at the station most mornings, he's slight and pale, his hair's a little long. I believe he's Irish, but I don't know if this is because I overheard him speaking once, or if it's because of his appearance. He has that wistful, Irish look. His wife is short, round, black and looks annoyed whenever I've seen her. They have two daughters who are, through a happy coincidence of apparently unremarkable genes, very beautiful. They are always very well turned out, in blazers and boaters and are usually carrying musical instruments. The family as a whole is a kind of advert for reproductive diversification. I'm not jealous of the father. Although I'd like another child I have one surprisingly wonderful daughter. Our relationship is very different from that which the Irish guy seems to have with his daughters, which seems friendly, if a little formal. I've never seen him hug them or wrestle with them and that seems a little alien to me; my daughter spends most of her time trying to injure me in one way or another. It's her way of telling me she loves me, or hates me, or that at least she concedes the unfortunate fact of my existence.

It occured to me the other day, Wednesday in fact, as we stood on the platform waiting for a city-bound train, he was with his elder daughter, that it may just be that in so proper a household the kind of rough and tumble that most fathers have with their kids just doesn't go on. And then I thought, noticing once more the small tonsure of recession that his wistful Irish hair might possibly conceal from the rest of his family all of whom were a head and a half shorter than him, it could be that they don't know he's bald. Maybe they don't know.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Girl in the Decorated Room

Finch, returning to the small town where he spent his teenage years, falls under the spell of a young student, home from Oxford for the summer. He becomes a mentor to the girl, who is struggling to put an end to a strange and damaging affair with another older man, the proprietor of a shop selling antiques and knick-knacks, for whom she is working during the holidays. Finch investigates the other man and is disturbed to discover the true nature of the relationship between the girl and her employer.

Finch uses this information to keep the shopkeeper away from the girl, forcing him to sell up and move away. The girl discovers Finch's actions, though not the reason for them, and confronts him. Finch refuses to reveal the shopkeeper's secret, and he too is obliged to leave town. Driving back to the city he reflects that one can never really know what's going on between two people who live together, and that often one or other of them may not know everything. He resolves never again to involve himself in such things.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Last Night

I saw The Strokes. At the Apollo, Hammersmith. The tickets were a present from my wife. The Strokes, unfortunately, are one of those curious bands who prove to be less exciting live than they are on record. Their studied "we're too cool for you" pose is a little insulting, face to face, when you've paid £80.00. Musically the band are tight, if not dynamic, but perhaps the problem is that at a concert, specifically a rock concert, you want to wail along with the vocalist, and you can only really mumble along with Julian Casablancas. The specific difficulties of the venue, which is neither intimate nor JesusChristLookHowManyPeopleCameToSeeTheseGuys-grandiose and which is seated throughout, added to the sense of disconnection between the audience and the group. When Julian mumbled

" feelings are more important than yours"

I didn't feel as though I was in on the joke.

So we didn't see the end of the set. The bit where they played all the crowd-pleasers and Nikolai did a little stand-up routine. We left early, the wife and I. She pointed out, as we made our way back to The Glasshouse Stores for the rubber match of our one-day bar billiards tournament in which she ultimately proved victorious, that she had never seen the bars of a venue so busy while the headline act were on stage. Which was reassuring, in a way. Wisdom of crowds, and so forth. Of course she wasn't prostrate adjacent to the Strongbow concession at the Fleadh in '95 when Bob Dylan was halfway through "Hey, Mr Tambourine Man".

On reflection it's possible that they're right. The Strokes are too cool for me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Christ Church Spitalfields (continued)

Spring arrived, unexpectedly, in the East End this morning. And while a historic snowstorm spiralled on its prevailing path across the Atlantic towards us we took our coats off and went for coffee. It's a false dawn, obviously, but there are crocuses coming into bloom around my front lawn, the temperature has crept into double figures, and, for the first time since October I've stopped yearning for Spain.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Christ Church Spitalfields

It's a foul Sunday. The sky is a sludgy, featureless dome leaking unremarkable rain. I get to work early, hoping to hear the bells from Christ Church. There are no bells this morning, and the brilliance of the tower's stone is dulled by the rain. Everything is slightly less beautiful than it ought to be. Slightly less beautiful, those people trailing past my window than any other weekend.

In New York it's snowing, really snowing. It's quite a storm. The city will be quieter than anyone can remember it being. A certain wonder, and a sense of mischief will sometimes pervade a city unused to snow.

In London the rain continues.

Friday, February 10, 2006

St Mary Moorfields

Richard Finch, a man adrift in what he believes is a godless universe, drawn by an impulse he does not understand, stops into a small Catholic church hidden between shops in the heart of the city. There he lights a candle for his late father. He feels immeasurably sad, just for a second, and then his heart is filled with a strange, swooping gratitude. The sensation remains with him out onto the street. It's a clear cold day towards the end of a London winter. Finch walks back to work. The urge to give thanks recurs intermittently throughout the afternoon but his established lack of faith does not allow him anyone to thank. Eventually he tells himself, out loud:-

"That was a good thing that you did. It made you feel and remember good things. You should do it again."

Finch is not a stupid man, and he realises that this behaviour is an odd kind of rationalisation. Later he will find arguments, parallels that explain away, at least in part, what he has experienced. An example - If you were to visit a bar in a foreign city and you found yourself having a great time you might resolve to revisit that bar when you are next in that city - but nothing in his existing understanding can account for that itch for praise, for thanksgiving.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Be Here Now

I abandoned the struggle to live continuously in the present some years ago, finding the present wanting, and needing something to look forward to. I planted a camellia, and decided to grow my hair. Il faut cultiver notre jardin. I cast off several habits towards the end of my twenties but they are all related to this decision. I stopped buying cheap shoes and writing poetry. I stopped contradicting people just because I disagreed with them.

Now. There is beauty in the idea that because something is ephemeral it is itself beautiful, but the idea is flawed. A piss stain on the pavement is soon washed away by the rain. Safer to affirm that the beauty of a flower, say, is enhanced by it's transient nature. Freud wrote a charming and often overlooked essay on this theme - "On Transience" - in which the great humanist is troubled by ghosts from the Great War. You could look it up.

A very few things can distract me from fretting or reminiscence: the arc of a truly struck softball; my daughter's uninhibited laughter; girls. But perhaps, if you have built a life of relative comfort it is difficult to appreciate what you have.

Edit 10/02/06: The essay referred to above

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Six Months, Mr Tippet

I came across this earlier today. I presume that it's for real, but even if it isn't Mrs Tippet could be a Mrs Dalloway for the 21st century. I love the way clues are scattered throughout the prose, but I feel guilty, prurient even, reading it.

**edited 07/09/06 picture of me swapped for Ginny Woolf**