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Marilyn

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Dancing in ankle-high mud with only a book to shield me from the rain, I am joyful and careless, surrounded by friends at some sort of music festival where I feel a sense of belonging. I stroll straight from this scene into my conveniently nearby home, the sprawling party outside could very well be in my garden.

Up the stairs and into my room an almost naked Marilyn Manson calls me over and points to some books on the shelves over my bed. He pulls out one covered with satanic symbols, turns to a page and finds what he was looking for, an intricately illustrated demonic figure. He points to the page and then to the space above his heart, and then to that self-same space on my chest.

Marilyn puts an arm around me, cradling my head with his chest and we lay back on my bed as his tattooist emerges from the corner with the loudly buzzing gun in one of his black latex gloves. He copies the image directly onto Marilyn, before me. It feels extremely sexual – I am uncomfortable and uncertain about what follows, but dismiss these feelings thinking that either way it’s pretty cool.

On the drive back from this festival a sudden commotion is diagnosed as the result of a flat tyre. We hop out and examine the damage.

… All of this I tell Noah as we drive to work. I have forced him out of bed very early to accompany me on my drive to work so that he can take the car back for me. A real beauty who would jump at the chance to play in someone else’s car.

I reward his kindness by telling him of the bizarre dreamworld I had inhabited moments earlier. This unsolicited monologue ends just as there is a loud crash and jolt, and the sound of metal grinding on concrete as we start to lop to one side. The giant pothole that I had not seen until too late has torn my tyre apart.

A few days later I wake to see a message from Noah at 2.30am, he is stranded on the way back from work. Two nails have puncture his tyre. The very next evening, at 1am, my colleague messages to say that she is stuck on the side of a road with a flat tyre.

A spooky coincidence that we all drive on the same fucking poorly maintained roads. I should start hovering.

Rotten

I was up early yesterday taking the boy to school, and getting myself over to the polling station before work. A long day that ended in bed watching the live election results until the early hours.

I woke up at 3.45am in excruciating pain, feeling as  though something were trapped between my teeth cutting into my mouth. My television remained dimly and audibly insistent at the foot of my bed, respectable journalists walking over giant colour coded maps, gesturing to an enormous digitised swingometer.

I stand in front of the mirror outside of my bedroom in this haze poking, proding and flossing in an effort to clear the invisible dagger that torments me. It sounds as though the exit polls were right and there’s a large Conservative majority. I stop and just look into my mouth and see there is nothing there, except for the fact that my back molar along the bottom of my jaw is missing a corner. This had to have been gradual but I’m only noticing now, part of my tooth has rotted away and is leaving exposed a part of my gum, a blackened crevice tucked out of sight

Nothing I can do about it now. I throw the floss away, turn the television off and try to get back to sleep.

Mans

I had a few hours to kill yesterday morning, and although I knew it wouldn’t be for me, I had heard only good things about Le Mans 66. I will spoil it, or try my best at least.

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I am not a car person. More a snowflake beta-cuck than a mans man. I picked my car up from a service last week and when the cost was 4 times what I had expected, I skimmed the list of parts and services, acted like I knew what what they were and just handed over the money. I feel threatened by people who know what they are talking about and feel there is some expectation that I should too.

Man and Machine

The relationship between men and cars is a strange one. There seems to be some disjunct between humans and technology as expressed in the film. Henry Ford II creates cars on a mass scale, factory lines of machines all making the same product. Ferrari is idolised for it’s sports car, we are told looking around the factory that each part is hand-made, which makes it that much more intimate – there is more of a craft, a relationship between man and machine.

When Ford initially try to produce a sports car in competition, they load it with data logging machines and sensors that apparently can’t detect the problems that are picked up by it’s very human driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale). He makes a claim that disputes the robot, rips it out and makes his point by sticking wool to the outside of the car. He is the motor-whisperer. He uses a female pronoun when talking about the car, and it feels genuinely more sensual than possessive. He has tapped into its potential, he knows that she wants to go faster. It honestly sounds like he wants to fuck it.

Precious Egos

Story goes: Ford try to make a deal with Ferrari, but are used and then insulted. Italian grandfather-figure Enzo Ferrari sends a message to Henry Ford II that he is fat and that his wife is a whore. This is motivating factor for Ford to want to win the prestigious 24 hour race in Le Mans, almost foaming at the mouth when he says that he wants to win.

They employ previous winner and driving celebrity Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) to manufacture the car, and he in turn hires the emotionally volatile Ken Miles as driver, to talk to the car, grease her up and find out her secrets.

The film opens with Matt Damon waxing spiritual in voice-over about the point at which a driver experiences transcendence, apparently around 7000 RPM (which to me feels just as arbitrary as Doc Brown’s 88mph). At this point apparently, the car ceases to be and the man is just floating in space. Or something to that affect. It sounded like a float tank.

Religious Masculinity

Ken’s wife is introduced in the film playfully roleplaying as a stranger at his garage, knowledgable about cars and turned on by the whole culture. They have a son (Noah Jupe), with whom Ken talks about cars mostly, they sit beneath the stars pondering the existence of the ‘perfect lap’. Young Peter plays with Scalextric, has model cars around his room and later his father’s trophies under his bed – the ultimate phallic prize for winning this manly competition of racing.

This 12 year old becomes my surrogate as he crudely sketches out the course of Le Mans and has his dad trace over each turn in the road explaining his method. In any other film I would feel patronised, here this is my lifeline. The connection between father and son through cars feels quasi-spiritual, this scene feeling similar to Four Lions when the father tries to explain martyrdom to his son through the analogy of The Lion King.

Any scene where I’m left alone with the grown ups makes me feel lost. They talk about parts and models, they make quips that make the men in the audience chuckle. When things get technical, I imagine those in the know, the manliest of men, are hypnotised with desire. The first 2 hours of the film felt like a segment from Strickland’s In Fabric.

The actual race in the last half-hour I did really enjoy. After Le Mans, we watch Ken get into a fatal accident and then skip ahead to Shelby visiting his family. He takes with him a symbolic gift: the wrench that Ken had thrown at him before winning a race. Before handing down this phallic baton, he explains in the most masculine of ways, that it is more consoling than words, it is a tool that can fix things.

Vroom Vroom

The sound of the engines roaring are a constant throughout the film. They hum and vibrate with varying intensity, growing with the tension of each race, effectively working just like the score.

More than this though, at one point the noise is used as a practical tool. A slimy executive is locked in a glass walled office and his shouts are drowned out by the revving of an engine.

In the final moment of the film, as Shelby returns to his car after giving the wrench to Ken’s son, he is still for a moment and tears form in his eyes. As one falls down his cheek, there is the abrupt grief-cancelling noise of the engine, as he wipes away his sadness, drops his sunglasses and drives off.

This is why you never see your father cry

Quantum Fomo

6 years since my first Glastonbury, I’m working the same jewellery stall and so have some idea of what to expect. I pack two bags too many, 40 beers and some shoddily stashed contraband. On the drive up I’m blessed with a hopeful weather forecast and a live session by Mattiel on 6 Music.

Arrive on Tuesday afternoon, set-up the stall and work through until Thursday afternoon. Sun shining bright, we bolt through Glade where some old dreaded crusties are throwing out D&B with some theramin for good measure. They look delighted; like they’ll be talking about this forever. A girl with a bejewelled face walks towards the tent with her hand raised high, clearly the first bit of live music she has seen, “This is going to be shiiiiiiiiit”. Bless ’em.

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Rush coming on but in need of food, we follow the path to the gate of Permaculture and grab a Som Tam curry, fire-side where some pakora is being prepped. Everyone here is volunteering, including the chef who has just almost cut off his finger. Onto the Greenfields we explore the installations of the Healing Fields, hand cranking a dragon made of olive oil tins and reanimating the head of David Attenborough by pressing a traffic lights button. A quick hug from the Lorax, forwarding the picture to my boy who cannot believe that I met the real real Lorax.

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We watch the sunset from Aradia’s Pangea – where there was once a DJ booth in a mechanical spider, with eyes that shoot lasers and legs that articulate and shoot fire, there is now a crane, that moves just like a crane. There are still jets of fire shooting from around the perimeter, but maybe more controlled since that spider roasted a kid a few years back. Hush now, the cranes moving a hook about. Apparently there’s a 5 year plan to build up this stage to it’s former glory, whilst meeting health & safety requirements and minimising the death count.

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Now dark, fly through the cabaret tents to catch some campy comedy and a campier trapeze act. Cold now, so some tea on a double decker doesn’t sound like the terrible idea that it is. Return meekly to camp with burnt tongues.

Up and out early Friday, up close for Ta’shan’s Foodie. Hungry now, grab something on the way to Mo at Other stage. Like a Europop Sia, produced to within an inch, but she is captivating. 2 songs is plenty though, back to Cabaret in the day time now it’s much more sprawling and interactive, leaking everywhere. Thought I’d be better at slacklining. Fuck it, Mac DeMarco’s on soon best dust off to get a spot up front.

Saw him a few days previously at Rough Trade in Shoreditch thanks to my shrewdly swift GF, a solo acoustic session with the intimacy that it implies. Now he’s in his element, albeit with the flu. Always undercutting the beauty of his falsetto, he perfectly interrupts the last sustained note of The Stars Keep On Calling My Name shouting REAL SAUSAGES REAL MASH in a Mockney accent – one of the food stalls behind the crowd.

Pit stop at the tent for a bag’o’beers and a bit of the other, climb up to the John Peel for some Pond. Turnover’s are tight now, catch Paint Me Silver before hot-stepping across the site to West Holts for Comet is Coming. Cut through Greenpeace and walk right into Mattiel at the Deforestation stage, no bigger than my fucking kitchen! I have to stay for a song, but my girl back home has already bagged us tickets to an intimate Mattiel show in a weeks time, so I feel some obligation to stick to the plan.

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Mind blown by some fish-gilled saxophany, I begrudgingly dance away from where Maribou State and Holly Walker will now appear, regrettably past where Idles will play The Park, to get back to work.

Lock up at midnight, up and out to catch some of Four Tet at WOW, not my vibe right now, head across the way to Pussy Parlour to discover Afrofuturist champions of self-belief: Oshun. Two female vocalists with soulful melodies and flow, singing, rapping, taking prayer breaks in songs and with rehearsed patter to each other underlining the message of the songs. Confusingly they have a DJ pushing a Sci-Fi narrarive, steering a spaceship through his laptop’s soundboard, and announcing arrival at different planets with dog-in-car-window glee. Utterly endearing and musically impressive, they are a baffling treat in the run up to tonight’s main event: Tank and the Bangas. The stage-setting fills some of the delay, as giant green cloud-shaped balloons are filled and placed about with other such decorations. The ensemble make it out at 2am and elevate the crowd. I am front and centre as Jelly lights the place up, wearing thin neon green overalls filled with green balloons that she releases throughout the set. Electric excitement through all of us. How to sleep after this.

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Work Saturday morning, missing Mattiel’s only listed performance at The Park. Head to the top of the hill there anyway after my shift to see the mystery guest. Foals – not my jam, shimmy over the hill to a little bar called The Crow’s Nest. Grab a coffee and realise that I’m standing next to Mattiel! Apparently having just played another unannounced pop-up, an unplugged set that was 5 minutes from me. I’m about to say something when she disappears behind the bar. Meet a veteran litter picker who gives me a hot tip for the evening, we trade recommendations and I head back to change my clothes and grab supplies.

Back to The Park. Kurt Vile and the Violators are playing, I queue for the Rainbow Tower to get a decent view. It takes longer than expected. By the time I get up there the sun is setting behind the stage and Kate Tempest opens her show with EUROPE IS LOST, the song that I revere her for. The wardens of the tower see my glee and let me stay for this song. I dip down into the crowd where Kate whips up a contentious spirit, her lyrics challenging government give berth to applause, stirring the discontent in us all. This I admire greatly, and I see it’s place here, but I want to dance – so I bolt to Avalon to catch some electrofunk in the shape of Ibibio Sound Machine. Cut into the crowd to dance it out to Give Me A Reason.

Wu-Tang’s C.R.E.A.M plays me out as I head past an impressive beatboxer at the Deforestation stage, over to the Wormhole. This venue is a new addition for 2019, an intimate two floor bar with a stage dedicated to the UKs new-wave of Jazz. I manage to get in quickly to see Sons of Kemet vs. Ezra Collective. The same saxophonist as Comet is Coming battles some trumpet, all with such intensity that the entire place, which is now shoulder to shoulder, with a couple hours of queue outside, jump in unison. It is exhilarating and never lets up, to the point of exhaustion. I lose my breath and my ankles numb. The highlight of the festival for sure.

I float out towards Shangrila and check out the Unfairground. It’s empty this early so I decide to get tentways to get more involved and pick up some company. I dive a little too deep and things get too wonky. Out to the Pussy Parlour, Kiddy Smile are now on stage, PVC clad men in drag with inflatable hair 3 feet above their heads dance in front of a giant inflatable mouth. It’s dancy but dark. The frontman, I recognise from Noe’s Climax, screams – for long enough that the music splits out, the music strobes, and it dips slightly into something terrifying. I want to get a picture to remember but have forgotten my phone. Ditch back and then to try and make it out to Shangrila but the tracks have been reversed for the night time route and things are already looking upside down from my point of view. Herded with the masses before taking refuge at a small stage where some jungle reggae is playing. People dance and skank, the guy next to us shouts that the music is misogynistic and homophobic. He’s not wrong, but that rhythm is the only thing that makes sense to me right now. Home please.

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Sunday morning, off to the Acoustic tent for Hackney Colliery Band. Toto’d through the crowd, quick sprint to West Holts for This is The Kit. Prize spot at the front but something about the setting, her voice and the lyrics move me to tears a few times, so I hope that I’m not distracting. I meet Kate from The Kit moments after at the tent adjacent, almost accidentally meeting Jeff Goldblum instead. This would have been fine.

Work until 1am, then head out to Shangrila properly, constructing a rave halo out of a flower garland and some LEDs on a wire. ICON and Block 9 for some techno with incredible panoramic visuals and bump mapping technology. Lose the group and dance solo through Shangrila, making sure to go to every open door and live act. Sleaford Mods bemoaning the fall of BHS at the Truth stage. A full lap, I ask if there’s any other place open on the site at this time (4am), probably not, okay I head back in and queue for Carousel and am greeted by a sweaty crowd and some hard D&B with constant builds and drops, whilst a collection of clowns dance a few feet away. A fight almost starts, an oddity, but the mute little clown girl leans in and wags her finger. We dance.

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Sunrise at Glade, hug some strangers en route back to the tent, listening to people glowing about this place and its magic.

Toys

Returning from a week away at the festival, my first weekend with the boy was filled with activities that included catching the latest, perfect-trilogy-breaking Toy Story 4. Best we catch up with the last film so it’s fresh in memory…

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I had watched TS3 at the cinema when it came out in 2010. A year into my university degree, it held a mirror up to my own maturation and matriculation. I had grown up with Andy, and now he was leaving his toys behind for college. It struck me that I was now in the process of leaving behind adolescence and the time for play was over.

This had some poignant resonance that I was able to push down, at least for the next few years of intermittent debauchery, but it bubbled up once again this second viewing, now from a different angle.

With the boy under my arm, we watched as Woody would make desperate plays to make himself relevant to Andy, not wanting to be left behind. The moment which appears to console and allay his neuroses is telling: he watches Andy hug his mother, who is crying, out of focus in the background, and realises that they are one and the same. As do I.

He understands that his time with the boy is transitory, it exists for a short time in which the relationship is close and intertwined, but then you have to move onto other things, invest your love somewhere else.

Andy is not just leaving behind his toys, he is leaving his family.

Realising that the bond I have with this boy under my arm may never be as strong as this present moment, knowing that eventually he will outgrow the role and no longer need me, I crumble and the tears stream from my face.

I saw my father cry twice: once at a funeral for a friend, and once as he told me, without words, that our dog had been put down. And now here’s me sobbing into an existential void brought on by a fucking animated toy.

I wipe my face and look over at the boy – smiling ear to ear, clueless of his Dad’s pitiful neediness – at least we have this moment now.

Balcooney

I’m partial to the odd deep dive into the bizarre recesses of the internet, delving into rabbit holes to plunder some obscure gold that I can show off to others given the right opportunity.

I found my moment a little while back, when I had free reign of a cinema after hours, celebrating a youngun’s bee-day. Whilst people floated about outside the auditorium I slid some of my finds on the big screen and cranked up the volume. Some take the bait, others I coax in by dancing towards the light.

I introduce a particular playlist that I had always had dreams of playing in a different context. My last flat was three stories up and my room looked out onto the high street, perfectly opposite a club called Urban 9. A similar building, this pay-to-enter, shirts-and-shoes joint matched my room in having music play on all floors. Although it had levels, it’s not huge inside, and this would mean that a queue would sometimes form outside.

My genius idea was to DJ a set to the queue outside from my balcony, lifting the vertical windows – like proper waist to ceiling Dawson’s Creek sliding motherfuckers – positioning my speakers and blasting some Dutch hip-hop to those unsheltered patrons thirsty for music. And like all ideas that I think are great, I tell someone and try to expand on it until it gets too big and becomes unwieldy. At one point we had planned a regular residency, with myself wearing a costume and mask, hosting a party in my flat, projecting the music videos on my wall whilst the music is thrown out across the road. Ridiculous.

I tried to stay true to Doug Stanhope’s credo that it’s only funny if you do it, but the simple plan grew until the point that I moved house and fucked it for myself.

So the night of this lad’s birthday I decide to sneak out my Balcooney playlist of Dutch hip-hop, and all it takes is one playthrough when I get asked the name of the artists. I say I might share my private playlist later.

It doesn’t matter, as it seems between them they have Shazam’d each and every one of them, digitally pick-pocketing me of my precious gold. This playlist had one lacklustre debut and now they’re off out in the world without me.

So fuck it, here is that playlist. I still plan to work this into a house-party that has a screen large enough to accommodate. Or I could always give a knock to my old place, in full regalia, and explain that I have a show to play.

(All of these songs have become favourites of my son. This one in particular which he requests every car journey. A child of 4 years old is truly the best captive audience).

buzz

Now that my eye has stopped twitching I’ve decided to temper my caffeine intake, to reintroduce it in moderate amounts so that I have a healthy relationship with coffee.

So if I need a coffee, I’ll have one. Or if I really want one, I’ll have one. I’m going to resist drinking out of habit, or too late in the day, and so will replace them with decaffeinated.

This morning I had some bits to do, and since I haven’t had coffee for a couple of days, I make my usual pot – a few heaped spoons of 5-Strength in a 2 mug sized cafe tier. (Isn’t this how recovering addicts OD? Going back to their usual dosage.)

I am now shaking. My hands are trembling as I type and my thoughts are coming in at double-speed so I can’t keep up with them anyhow. I have written out two reviews, typed a couple of emails, made some much needed phone-calls and I have done a few hundred press-ups in-between just to expel some pent up energy.

I can’t tell if I’m fixed or broken.

spasm

I woke a few days ago to find that my eyelid was constantly twitching. Pulsing for a second or two, it was funny at first and then quickly irritating, a day later concerning. I look up possible reasons and the all-knowing omnipresent Google doctor tells me it’s usually down to tiredness, fatigue, stress or caffeine.

I hadn’t had a great deal of sleep, which could account for it, I’m not experiencing stress, but I do drink a fair bit of coffee. I drink a lot of coffee maybe. Day two of my eye-spasms I cut out coffee and replace them with Old Fashioneds. I wake on day three with a pounding headache that I put down to the alcohol and a dancing eye-lid that must be the result of a curse from someone I have wronged in my life.

A few pints of water later and the headache remains. At this point I realise that maybe my body has become dependant on caffeine, so I abstain and endure the fallout. Think I’ll count coffees from now on.

Day four, no headache but still a taunting spasm above my left eye, not constant but just enough to prevent me from enjoying my life. At this point I’m gearing up for this little fucking nerve to become an affectation of mine, an identifying quality that people use to describe me – ‘Oh the one with the vibrating face?’

Today is day five and I feel clear-headed. Clear inasmuch as I have had a long decent sleep, have no headaches or craving for caffeine, BUT my eye is offering me the occasional little jiggle. Feels like it’s leaving. The websites say that they usually last a from a few minutes to a couple of weeks.

Maybe I should give it a name and embrace it as a character unto itself. Picturing it like Stressed Eric and the vein in his temple that would, in moments of stress, pop out of the side of his head and start talking.

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Less coffee today. Maybe just the one.

Super Blood Wolf

With ‘Space’ being the boy’s theme of the month, and his night with me coinciding with the lunar eclipse, I’d set up the evening: geared up for a 5am wake up so we could see it at its peak.

Before bed we watched footage of various planets through my projector – laid out on my bed as they filled the wall. With his shadow he would point out craters, genuinely gasping and speaking with hushed awe as they grew in size.

I used a rather ropey star-gazing app, with an unmuteable cosmic soundtrack, to see the constellations above the house. Of the few directly overhead, he took a liking to Taurus. One by one he would prepare the double-sided stickers on glow-in-the-dark stars and I would place them on his ceiling in accordance to their position in the night sky above. Laid down to sleep, I told him we would be up early to see the Super Blood Wolf Moon – the name being enough to secure his excitement.

At 2am he calls out for me on the monitor. I dash upstairs to find him with his lamp on, sitting upright in bed wide-eyed: ‘Blood Moon!’ I explain that it’s a little early and take him down to my bed until it’s time.

At 5am I check outside and find the pale red moon over the tall silhouetted trees, and find the right vantage point. I wake the boy, excited but tired, and wrap him in one of my hoodies before carrying him outside. The full E.T look complete when he points to the moon.

‘Yeeeeeah look it’s red! Can I go to bed now?’

Yes. Yes you can.