90s, that thing you Do

When did it start and when did it end, this place inside of me that I call the 90s — as in, the 90s for me is a construct, right, not an actual time and a place (the place inside of me is a metaphorical place, a placelet to go along with the platelets and buy-to-lets that define our time)?  That time and place in real life (“irl”) is easily defined, as in, just look at the clock, and there it is, a range of times, a time span, defined by hours, minutes, seconds, making up a decade.  Even that is debatable.  Time is continuous, time as we know is contiguous units of (arbitrary) discrete intervals.  We know that time is flat, isn’t it?  There is no getting into a lift and heading up to a different floor of time.  I mean, this is me and my brother getting in a lift in an IBIS Budget in Birmingham.  We emerged on the same time plain (Digbeth).


But that prior time — that time of dial-up squawk preceeding my daily mail ‘delivery’, the mounting anxieties of the penny a minute internet bill, the empty places that were soundtracked by songs I listened to on the radio, on borrowed CDs from the library, on tapes – where does that time and place and essence live?  I didn’t know then what I know now.  I didn’t know that Web 1.0 would give way to Web 2.0 will give way to Web 3.0 (computer sentience, the Cylons, our eventual demise).

I mean, the 90s was shit at the time (gel, plastic clothes, Lads).  It’s shit when you look back too (Shed Seven, Sash! and News International).  Is it in me – as in, when I die, if I were to die now – would it be dissipated into nothing? Where do the memories of Shed Seven go?  John Major?  No one knows even now after all these footnotes to Plato.  We’re still on about it, as the world turns to piles of rubble and the cradle of civilization is rocked by the hand of God(s).


Now canned beer is sold at £5 a go and has brand names like HOBO (and my battery hovers constantly in the red zone, flashing, I’m tired, I’m tired).  Progress embraces the weary City folk only to chew us (who is ‘us?) up in a spewing washing cycle of irony.  That is, if (and ‘if’ is a big word) we escape the negative equity and the unjobs, the unpeople that we end up being when we live only to please ourselves and pleasure ourselves, seals, fat and stupid, bathing in the sun-strewn rocks off the coast of a nuclear sadness. Waking up to belief and waking up to believe aren’t the same thing, after all.

No, what we want is something beyond want.  Its to move beyond want without having to go through want.  To be spared even that small indignity of education, progress and learning.  To never have to be humble.  To be born into an Instagrammed picture of a sunset in Malibu or the Maldives.  To be there and suffused in a dim glow of satisfaction without first knowing the lack of that light.  The elders bequeathed to us (who is ‘us’, anyway) a deliberate hebetude of narcissism and New Feudalism.  The poet was right, in a way, a not very ‘satisfactory’ way of saying it : satis factory!, there has been enough commerce.  This is the new World and now we are the Products, the workers and the ones who get to complain into the ether.

The 90s : I, or “Also on the album is Gang Starr’s remix of “What I Am” by Tin Tin Out featuring Emma Bunton”

Even the light was different then: more slanted, more oblique, or perhaps this is just the sepia of the mind’s eye. I’m not entirely sure how widely known it is that Mica Paris did a cover version of U2’s ‘One’. It nestles, remixed by Perfecto, on an album called “90s Remix” that I am currently listening to. Mica Paris was born Michelle Antoinette Wallen 27 April 1969 in Islington, London. How different must her teen years have been to mine, hers spent singing gospel in the early 80s, mine reading sci-fi and writing bad poetry. Islington is pretty different from how it must have been in 1969, too. My teenage years were spent in the strange, oblique light of the 90s. Or perhaps this is just the sepia of trying to remember a time before web 2.0. Everything is sepia if you give it long enough. I’ve given the 90s long enough. Now it is time to try and understand.

Mica Paris released her version of ‘One’ on the album “Black Angel” (this album was Paris’ last album to chart in the UK Top 200 (to date)). It features production from Boy George and Raphael Saadiq. The record label was Chrysalis, and the year was 1998. The fact that 90s boutique remixers Perfecto got their hands on it (or were given it, and told to do something with it?) and the fact they did such a hamfisted job, are both intriguing if not hugely surprising. The melody is reduced to a strange, synthetic appropriation of Edge’s guitar track. Her vocal is overwrought and strangely neoliberal, the soulful original strangled in some yodelled notes that precursor the everyone can be famous histrionics of the X-Factor. Around the corner was SyCo, Gordon Brown, Clegg’s tears drowning truth in a bucket.

Also on the album is Gang Starr’s remix of “What I Am” by Tin Tin Out featuring Emma Bunton. Later, during the year 2013, Mica became a regular guest on ITV’s flagship show ‘This Morning’.

“We” say it’s a New Year

We, whatever that pronoun now means, move into the New Year.  It’s been a ‘festive season’ but I haven’t felt very festive: Black Friday rugby scrums, pointless mark ups and then “sales” featuring yet more scrums and midnight queues for merchandise.  “We” marked Christmas Day and we also observed the solemn drinking bacchanal that is New Year’s Eve.  It is odd to find words so ineffectual against a tide of news from around the world that grows darker and darker.  War continues, and against a backdrop of social unrest and inequality comes the inescapable truth that the 2008 ‘crash’ and its repercussions actually shifted money into the financial elite – the already rich, the tax-evaders, the ‘tycoons’ and ‘oligarchs’, the giant corporations, the grey areas where crime has a face that is bland, often-white, often greying and with a Home Counties postcode on their P60 return.  They got richer.  The middle bit took a pay freeze.  The poor people got fucked and the post-war welfare state was slowly disbanded in the name of ‘Austerity’.

“We” (there is no ‘we’, increasingly) sit here atomized waiting for Houllebecq to be proven right (again) and waiting for Burgess’s future to come into being.  “High Rise” happened soon after it was written (Barbican Tower, perhaps) but only really came true in the last few years with the poor doors and homeless spikes in Zone 1, proud and irascible and unrepentant.

It isn’t even a thing to do is it ; to write a “blog” ; it’s an irrelevance, a fart in the windy dark.


Reading Habits in Publishing


I am reading Philip K. Dick’s “The Penultimate Truth” at the moment.  It’s starting to perk up – Dick’s sci-fi is always laden with vaguely gauche but nonetheless compelling lingo and future slang.  It also has plot twist after plot twist – remorseless in some cases – which perfectly justify his work being in the Sci-Fi Masterworks series at Gollancz.  The completist in me wants the entire series.  The realist in me has read “Valis” and knows that there needs to be a quality control at play.  Not all Dick is good Dick.

Being a Twitter user, I’m connected to a lot of publishing types.  I suppose I follow them out of obeisance to what I ‘should’ be.  My brother recently, and cuttingly, described me as ‘brainwashed’ and there is a sense I think of having been somewhat institutionalized.  I realized that there are so many people in a certain place and rank in publishing tweeting and tweeting at each other little ‘cool’ bits of knowledge, and always talking about what they are reading.  It always something vaguely hip, or of the moment, or shortlisted.   I don’t really read like that, and never have.  I’ll follow my instincts, my urges and read what feels natural.  Admittedly, buying this latest batch of Dick novels (ha ha) came in the remainder section of Waterstones (Gower St, I almost feel compelled to add, to reaffirm my status – this was not a purchase in Waterstones Swindon or Windsor, darling).  But that was part of a malaise that I’d felt for a while that I was just reading reading reading what I felt I had to read.  “The Lay of the Land” by Richard Ford, the third Frank Bascombe book, was huge and sprawling and really needed an axe taking to it on the cutting room floor (to mix metaphors).  I am a huge fan of Richard Ford but the novel spoke of an almost invisible ‘editor’.  Copyedited very finely though – no mistakes.

We live (and have lived for a while) in an era of cultural capital.  There are books on Bourdieu on my actual list.  Oh, I’m reading this, I watched this, I went this play!, and working in an industry like publishing this is constantly on display.  It’s why drinking with the Production department is so refreshing – to have a pint with people who are quite happy to end the night eating cold baked beans out of a shoe.  They also drink much better in quantity and have a generally higher level of anger : not so much micro-management frustration at slipping deadlines but more an incandescent rage at everything that exists.  Production are nihilists and drinking with them is fun.  Editorial drinks seem to slip into a bit of a gossipy soft-soaping that leaves you feeling like someone has covered your head in a paper bag and made you breathe stale air for four hours.  People will moan about ‘systems’ and look back to the glory days and resemble the sad quarterback in the Springsteen song.  Glory days!  Oh they pass you by.

Retro Party Groove

I take the bike down the road to the Innsville.  It’s hot.  Baking hot.  Hot enough that I think of stopping at the Tim Horton’s but carry on and park up by the Bell phonebooth and go in to the air conditioned main bar.  The Innsville is really a hotel and restaurant but they have a circular bar with big, substantial hardwood bar chairs.  Wood-panelling abounds.  It’s a while before I’m served and I silently catch the end of the Argentina versus Belgium match.  There’s an Irish Canadian guy holding court.  Gerry sits at the end of the bar with his Molson Canadian t-shirt and Molson Canadian bottle.  Outside a diver on his way to Saudi is sunning himself before his flight out tonight.  He’s pounding through beers.  We talk, and Jacqui the waitress serves me a Alexander Keith’s Red.  I take a lunchtime Cubano sandwich which almost brings tears to my eyes.  We’re not in Kansas anymore, Dorothy.  This is a serious pub lunch.  Murray turns up (ex-trucker, retired 15 years). He tells me there is always work here.  “Maybe not the work you want to do, but there is always work.”  He has keen eyes and has seen more that I’d care to know about, given his line of work.  He speaks of trips up to Quebec City to make a little cash.  He eats a potato salad and heads off, shaking my hand.

After a while I tail it back to Bridgman Lane and serve up my new wife a cheeseboard on the farm, woozy enough from the couple of beers (well, three) that I take a Diet Coke with me and then I’m back on the bike and all the down Main Street West into Grimsby, ON.  The former Township No. 6, now renamed, held its first town meeting in 1790 when it was part of Upper Canada.  Its town bell, that rang out Canada’s Centennial on July 1 is in the Square too.  I sweep down past the Syndicate Restaurant and onto Main and there’s a big fuss going on in Teddy’s Bar.  I’m glad as the Netherlands match is on.  But turns out it is Teddy’s 50th anniversary and its packed out and there’s a band and the place is heaving with people in the Oranje.  I grab a couple of drinks and then a Clamato Caesar.  Randy is next to me at the bar.  He’s an ex-electrician that now has something ‘in the pipeline’ along with a failed marriage but ‘they’re still friends’.  I tell him that’s great and eat the picked chilli my extra spicy Caesar came with.  It’s as hot as a bakery in here and I go to take a piss.  Back out and I’m wending my way down Main St W again in the blazing sun, running along on the Serengeti Trail Bike that’s a clear couple inches too big for me and has no back brakes.  I see myself hitting the front set, going over the forks into the gravel, gouged out cuts and a deep gash that needs stitches.  I take it easy at the four way stops as a result.

I stop to take in the Nixon Hall and the Coxon place and the MG for sale (drop top 70s model, mint condition).  I take in the rolling fields backdropped by the Niagara Escarpment.  Maybe that Guinness was a mistake: heavy for a bike ride, no?  Gerry lives round here I guess (he was into ‘property’) and then there was the Newfie-born cop taking his chopper out for a spin.

“Do you wear ear protection?” I ask.  “My friend does.”

Gerry talks for him.  “We make helmets that take care of all of that,” he says, pointing to the gigantic helmet left on the bar.

The barmaid gives me a frosted Coors Light two pint pitcher as a souvenir and we head back later that night to take in the covers band, Retro Party Groove.  They play Stones and it makes sense, barroom grooves, a pub band with talent.  But when the Springsteen-ish lead man plays the notes to “Let It Be” it’s like someone beamed that music in from outer space and I know deep down I’m a Beatles man and whilst I’m reading Whitman and maybe getting off its retro party groove, I’m kind of wishing I could be Wallace Stevens and claim some of those perfect lines as my own.

Nottingham Modernism

I am currently in the East Midlands for the ICAME conference.  Nottingham University’s campus is the venue. It’s a beautiful, rolling hilly campus with a Modernist brute of a library near the centre. Also of note is the Trent Building which local luminary D. H. Lawrence famously dismissed.  I built up a small collection of pictures of big hulking brutes on the 34 bus into the conference this morning.  Here are some.


This way on campus. The next one was on the way in.


And this Vista greets the observer on Maid Marian Way :


And on another note


So, they do seem to love this kind of thing up here. Laura reported to me that she spotted men drinking in the Spoons before 10am. We can only assume they are night shift workers or just very committed to good times.

St Giles Hotel, Tottenham Court Road

A very interesting building. Not sure how successful it is inside but looks very striking set against the Georgian backdrop of Bloomsbury. Not sure how it got planning permission – very much of an era of glass and concrete and straight lines.


The central section creates a valley of a kind.


It’s imposing.  Underneath is Hudson’s House Bar and a Casino on TCR itself.  Have you stayed here? Let us know how you found it, atmosphere-wise.