I begin this at home, in that calm period before I leave the house and throw myself on the mercy of public transport during the couple of hours that used to constitute rush hour but which has been relaxed and expanded to include everybody who roughly goes to work between 7am and 9.30am. Which, in London, is a lot of people. Day three, then. You may or may not have noticed that I have been wearing black t-shirts all week. This is unusual. I have tried to “grow up” in terms of how I dress over the last six months and have started to wear shirts as a matter of course. But I threw an old black t-shirt on and I quite liked the way it looked around my neck again. Being me, I have plucked out an identical black t-shirt every day. I’ll grow out of it again. But with the short new haircut, it’s a close as I’ll get to looking younger now that I am not young. The danger is, as you get older, “younger” clothes make you look even older! Why did nobody ever sit me down and tell me when I was young what being old would be like? (Still, I had Nick Cave’s Tender Prey on my iPod on the way to the station this morning, and City Of Refuge made me feel alive and vital and excited and dark, and that’s not something I expect to lose, even when I’m 56, or 66, or 76.)
I have reverted back from Israel by Martin Gilbert to When The Lights Went Out by Andy Beckett, the book I was reading before I allowed Israel to queue-jump when The Promise was on telly. I have returned to Beckett’s book, because a) it didn’t deserve being bumped, it’s absolutely brilliant, and b) I have grown weary of the way Gilbert tells the story of Israel, which is a compelling story that needs to be told, but perhaps not in the relentless, plodding detail of the way Gilbert tells it. I may yet return to it, but for now, I’m back in the 70s in Britain, and enjoying the fourth section, The Reckoning, which begins in 1944 at the Bretton Woods economic forum where the International Monetary Fund was founded. Britain in 1944 has been described by Beckett as one of the “creaking left-leaning nations” in need of international handouts. Between 1947 and 1971, Britain borrowed more from the IMF than any other country! It’s a compelling story, but compellingly told. (The copy of the book I have is an advanced proof which Faber kindly sent me. That’s why it’s all orange and plain. But I kind of like it.)
And here is today’s packed lunch, minus the boiled egg, which was in a pan boiling when I posed the still life. I have a packed day ahead, too, with a long stretch at Radio Times, followed immediately by 6 Music. The elements of my lunch will be released into my system at regular intervals. Well, that’s the plan. I might just scoff the chilli and the yogurt in one powerless sitting. We’ll see. (Can this diary get any more interesting?)
On the train, which was standing-room-only (I don’t even look for seats on trains in London; I stand by default, assuming that if I sit down, someone more deserving will get on and I’ll have to give up my seat anyway, so I cut out the middle man), I saw a man reading The Economist, who carefully tore a section of the top of the front cover off and tucked it into his pocket, leaving a gaping hole in his magazine. What was it? Was it something from the advert on the reverse side? This was at the top of the page, don’t forget, so it can’t have been a phone number or a form, which usually appear at the bottom of an ad. Was it a coverline that he really liked? Or was it actually the magazine’s logo? Maybe he was embarrassed about reading a right wing magazine in a recession caused by the very system the magazine seeks to support. (When I was a Marxist, I had a letter printed in the New Statesmen correcting the figures given by the then-editor of The Economist in a column he’d written. I was very proud. My figures were based on research I’d done while writing my biography of Billy Bragg – they were to do with the old truism that standard of living improved under Thatcher, when in fact it improved for the richest people, but got worse for the poorest, a far less convenient truth for her cheerleaders, which included the then-editor of The Economist. This may well turn out to have been the only time in my life where I felt confident enough to challenge anyone on economics.)
A mention, I think, for Before The Fall, a mind-blowing new compilation album from Ace Records gathering together 24 original tracks that have been covered by The Fall. Outside of the obvious ones – the Kinks, R. Dean Taylor, Sister Sledge – these are mostly proper nuggets and obscurities covering rockabilly, Australian punk, US garage, dub reggae, novelty pop and at least one entry from a 1974 New Faces. I can’t stop listening to it. Mark E Smith is a certified genius against whom all geniuses must be measured, and this album reveals new layers to his brilliance, without him even playing or singing a note. Dan Maier, TV Burp writer and Karaoke Circus judge, helped compile it with the admirable people at Ace. Details here. A few years ago, they asked me to provide a Top 10 for their website, based on their rich back catalogue; although the biographical details are woefully out of date, it’s still there.
I arrived at Radio Times to find a new computer on my desk. In the subsection of the open-plan office where the Film Unit sits and where I get an actual desk despite only being in one day a week, we have been magically upgraded from the old monitors to these slimline new ones with no big, humming monolith beneath the desk. Typically for Apple, you have to feel around an apparently smooth, buttonless area on the back of the monitor to find the on/off button. (I have looked it up and it seems to be a 27″ iMac. Nice.)
As you can see from the picture above, which I have taken using Photo Booth on my MacBook, I like to have both computers open when I am at my Radio Times desk. I am like Rick Wakeman. And, instead of actually writing 650 words about motion-capture technology for the magazine, I have just taken a picture with the iMac’s Photo Booth application, just because I can. Now back to work.
Even though you can’t tell, this building is where they film The Thick Of it, specifically the bits where they’re walking up and down big modern wooden staircases. It is called The Media Centre, and you can’t get a mobile signal in it. There is a measure of irony there, isn’t there?
I will post this now. I will always remember where I was when I found out that Elizabeth Taylor had died: sat at my desk in the Radio Times office, packing my bag to leave, having satisfactorily written 650 words on motion-capture technology and Disney’s decision to pull the plug on the proposed digital remake of Yellow Submarine, directed by Robert Zemeckis, following the box office failure of Mars Needs Moms, which is released here in the first week of April, but has bombed over there. Because Radio Times is a weekly, we don’t really go big on obituaries, as they always look out of date. I don’t imagine I’ll get through the rest of the day without being asked to write something about Elizabeth Taylor for the magazine to mark her passing. It is sad that she has died, and she really was one of the great movie stars, and the first actress to be paid $1,000,000. (When she co-starred opposite Lassie in Lassie Come Home, she was paid less than the dog. Mind you, the dog, Pal, was male.)