of the last bus of the night
whistling ‘Baker Street’
Unpublished interview, 2010
I found this the other day. It’s an email interview I gave in mid-2010 for a zine, which I don’t think was ever published. So I’m publishing it now.
-First album ever bought, or ever loved so much that it could be considered your ‘first’ love.
When I was about 14 I heard a couple of Smiths singles – it was round about the time of ‘Panic’ and ‘Ask’ – and they changed my life and all the rest of it, so I saved up some pocket money and bought their compilation The World Won’t Listen. On cassette! The more I listened, the more I became convinced that Morrissey was stalking me. Because how else could he know everything about my life?
-if you could hop in the tardis right now, where would you go and who would you visit?
I would go to the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in 1830 and become one of the first train passengers in the world. And then I would take my 18-month-old son to see my dad, who died in 2002, because it will always tear me up that they never met.
-If you had to play one song only for the rest of your life what would it be?
‘The Red Door’ by The Aislers Set. Every time I hear it I want to draw a string of hearts around the world with a lilac felt tip but it’s too late because I’m already dancing.
-what are your views on gender roles in society?
Every day we receive thousands of messages, through media and directly from other people, that say or suggest we should or shouldn’t act in a certain way, or like or dislike a certain thing, according to whether we are male or female. Every single one of these thousands of messages is a lie. A vile and destructive lie. On a personal level gender roles stop us being the people we could be; on a bigger scale, they can manifest in violence and ultimately killing. Boys will only be boys if you keep saying “boys will be boys”. And then they’ll go and beat up their girlfriends and wives and start wars.
Now I don’t mean we should only all try and like the opposite things to what we’re supposed to. I mean I like beer and football. But I also like wearing glitter and sparkly plastic bracelets. When I realised that it’s perfectly possible to hold these two things in your hand at once, I felt a sense of great calm and balance. I think if we could do something about all those gender conditioning messages – equipping people to realise they’re a lie; sending out the opposite message; or just shutting them the fuck up – then a few more folks might realise it as well, and there might be a bit more calm and balance everywhere.
There’s been kind of a backlash lately, with some people claiming gender determinism for certain aspects of behaviour. Women are supposed to be good at ‘multi-tasking’, and there’s a left brain and a right brain, and stuff like that. I don’t know if there’s anything in this or not. But I don’t care either. We improve ourselves all the time by overcoming our ‘nature’ and becoming more rounded and complete people in all sorts of other aspects – we learn that sharing and peace are better than primal selfishness and violence. And gender is no different. If we followed this logic we’d still be like cavemen clubbing each other to death. And if this is really what you want, you can go out drinking in Leeds city centre on a Friday night. But I believe we can do much better than that. If we can’t, we might as well just give up on civilisation.
-where did you get your haircut!?
The ultimate responsibility for this remarkable barnet lies with a stylist called Michelle, who used to do my hair a few years ago when I lived down in Birmingham. She won an award for being one of the best hairdressers in Britain. And then she left the job because she could earn more money making sandwiches. Now sandwiches are a fine and noble pursuit, necessary to human existence, but it’s a twisted kind of society that values beautiful hair less highly than a concoction of bread, cheese and Branston pickle.
Um. Well, I don’t really watch films much. More of a books person, me. If you twisted my arm I’d say Donnie Darko and Ghost World and stuff like that. Films about young people who are outsiders. There’s something eternally appealing and perfect about that, I think. What do you mean arrested development? I used to love Hal Hartley’s films as well. The Unbelievable Truth was great. Is he still on the go? Excuse me, I have an appointment with Wikipedia.
I watch government information films about the railways from the 1950s, 60s and 70s as well. But you really don’t want to hear about that.
-most valuable lesson learned in high school (because i needed some motivation at the time of writing this question).
Bullies actually don’t back down if you stand up to them. Girls actually don’t like having love poems written about them. But if you’re clever enough, you actually can achieve good exam results without doing any work.
-what things do people do that you find endearing, or characteristics you like in people?
Here’s a thing: an alarming number of my friends are receiving treatment for depression. And it’s not that I go looking for depressed people to make friends with, or anything like that. If anything, I’m pretty useless at supporting them, really. So what’s going on? This is my theory. My friends are kind and uncynical, and they believe in good things, and it’s actually this that draws me to them in the first place. But under capitalism people who are kind and uncynical and believe in good things are increasingly likely to be bullied and impoverished by their employers and the state. Our oppressors believe that the only people who deserve to be happy are people who are selfish and ruthless.
Oh, it looks like Hal Hartley is still on the go. He made two films in the mid-2000s anyway. I’ll have to check those out.
-are there any notable rising musicians, or local ones, that you’d like to point out, or that you quite like?
Yeah, there’s this band I did a couple of gigs with the other year, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, I dunno if you’ve heard of them, they might get quite well known in a few years’ time? Ho ho. That’s me having a laugh, that is. Other bands as good as the Pains include my friends from just up the road, The 10p Mixes. Also, have a go on The Rocky Nest. You already know Pocketbooks, right? I’ve listened to Withered Hand a lot over the last couple of years too – they’re much more downbeat and un-pop than my usual thing. Across the whole world I guess my favourite new discovery is First Base, from Toronto. They do cute, Ramonesy, 90-second pop. And that’s the best pop of all.
-the last book you read, or the last interesting thing you read
I’ve just finished the new Ian McEwan. Do you have Ian McEwan in America? It’s called Solar and it’s about a Nobel laureate physicist who belatedly accepts anthropogenic climate change but lives an unsustainable personal and ethical life and denies the coming catastrophe there. Unusually for McEwan, it’s really funny.
-favorite season, and favorite things to do around that time
When I was young and miserable I didn’t used to like sunny weather. Now I’m older, and mostly happy, I love the summer. As long as it’s not too hot, of course. In the summer I like to go and visit my mum in Cleethorpes, where I grew up, and take long walks down the beach. And take long walks in the hills in Derbyshire. And go to the Indietracks festival. As well as hearing lots of sparkly new and old indiepop bands, it’s a precious chance to catch up with friends from all over the world. And ride on beautiful old trains. In my head the whole year seems to revolve around it now. Indietracks – it’s the new Christmas!
The full moon an O,
vapour trail an oblique slash:
"I was only five, but I remember running around [the boat] with the other children. My saddest recollection is seeing half a dozen of the women standing at the rear of the boat, their shawls round their heads like my mother, waving goodbye to the island until it was out of sight."
Norman John Gillies on the evacuation of St Kilda, 82 years ago today
Tweedmouth, 22 May 2012
At the other end of the bridge is Tweedmouth. I turn left and follow the estuary. And I pass behind the dock, fenced and gated off, and I pass behind the lifeboat station, frustrated. Tweedmouth is keeping me from its waterside.
The fences give way at last and I drop down to the beach and feel the dry sand slipping and shifting under my boots. I sit on a beached tree trunk and eat and drink, and watch a sea angler cast and reel. I walk again, to the end of a thin spit of sand – the spot I saw yesterday from Berwick, at the other end of the bridge. I watch the cross-currents of the sea and the estuary, feeling the strangeness and disorientation of the tide coming in on three sides at once.
And I wonder what it’s like to grow up in a place like Berwick. It’s probably as frustrating as the out-of-the-way estuary town I grew up in, 200 miles south along this same coast. But whatever else there might not be, there’s always the chance to meet your lover at this spot, at the end of this spindly finger of sand jutting into the tide. Demanding they come and find you out here, as dusk dips into night, demanding they cross the Tweed’s high bridges, hurry behind the dock and the lifeboat station, over the beach, and embrace you, surrounded by the darkness and the tide coming in on three sides at once.
I track back along the spit, take the other side as it widens, the sea side, counting waves. I watch a red and brown Crosscountry train roar along the top of the sea cliffs ahead, starting the final leg of the east coast main line to Edinburgh. I pass dog walkers and a great square chimney, scramble up a bank of rocks placed to thwart the sea’s campaign of erosion against the land. I sit on a bench and look along a little row of houses – St Helen’s Terrace – and pull a small white notebook computer from my bag and I type this.
I wish you could see this sky: the sky of my sleeplessness. Clear, inky, watery, indigo sky. Venus the brightest it’s ever been. Bats tumbling under a fat half-moon. Brown diagonal vapour trails making an envelope of the heavens, an invitation to be opened, destination unknown. And behind the rank of poplar silhouettes to the east, the beginnings of the bright horizon, the smoky peach encroachment of dawn.
I wish you could see this sky.