I like the tension that arises in certain photo portraits, such as this one of a famous novelist, as you strain to see what the person has brought to bear on the impossible, sorry act of posing for the camera.
Why did The Guardian- the good newspaper- choose to illustrate a small story about Interrailing with this photo? A beautiful woman exuding smug ease. No one wants to see that, especially, I imagine, prospective teen Interrailers. Could be wrong though.
One cold winter’s morning, I stood on a shuttered sidestreet in the center of town, trying and failing to work the parking meter by my car. As I battled to have it accept my pound coin, two women and their man-friend marched by, joking and laughing. They were just the sort of women who, I’m convinced, fucking hate me and wish ill upon me: the hard-faced, imposing sort lucky enough not to have gone to university; to earn instead ok money in the various professional niches populated by their kind. Suddenly, their guy-friend was standing next to me. He made to insert a two-pound coin into my meter. I craned round in confusion. “That’s too much,” I said, as if in a trance. “Doesn’t matter,” he replied with a smirk, dropped the coin into the machine, and immediately jogged away to catch up again with the chuckling women.
Though I’ve never seen one in real life, the inflatable arm-flailing tube man has featured in both a book and movie I’ve particularly liked. It’s clear that my destiny is entwined with this thing. In the book, the author mentions the shame he has felt when there’s a stranger in his house to witness how he lives- describing it as “flapping around in me like one of those large hollow figures through which air is blown.” He wants only for them to leave so it can die down. The tube man also features in the movie Nightcrawler, which I enjoyed very much. The film insists on the idea that deep down we’re all bastards- sunken eyed vampires- or so we’ve become, embodied here in the form of Jake Gyllenhaal’s ambulance chasing news cameraman. It’s yet another variation on Underground Man, a bit like my author above, but with the addition of the vampire myth (the grand meaning of which however has always gone over my head). The film’s hypnotic vision of LA is punctuated by lingering shots between scenes, including one of a green tube man, flailing in the hard glare of the afternoon sun.
Uncertain Smile is a song by 80’s indie band The The. An unhinged-sounding progression of six, then eight notes boldly rings out at the beginning of the song, and again at a few points throughout. The echoing electric twang of these notes is one element in a general carnival atmosphere, which culminates in a three minute-thirty long piano outtro, with bashing of keys, circling around and see-sawing between notes, tumbles all the way down the scale and surges back up.
The radiant 2013 incarnation of Natalie Portman, from her ongoing run of perfume ads, was really something. I mentioned it to a friend at the time and he immediately agreed. I can’t find precisely the image but this 2013 shot is close (even if the swimming pool and sunglasses bit isn’t very inspired).
I bought this in a discount pharmacy, one branch of an anonymous, volume-centric national chain. I had been meaning to dip my toe into the womanly universe of slightly more expensive conditioners, so I took my chance after entering the store on a whim a few days before Christmas. It felt daring picking it off the shelf, a push into uncharted haircare territory. Later at home I noticed the ‘wackaging’ they use. For example:
“For best results wash with Miracle Moist Shampoo (we would say that, wouldn’t we?)”
It’s nice looking. It could sit in the bog of a modernist mansion in the desert. The silver strips are supposed to be functional, sending a charge through your bare feet to measure your body-fat. That has never worked, however. The body-fat readings are totally wrong. This bit of irresponsibility on the part of the manufacturer really cost me in 2016, when I launched into a painful diet immediately after unwrapping the scale and taking a few horrified readings. But we all have to walk our own idiot paths, I suppose.
‘Above us only sky’
– The strapline on the signs at Liverpool John Lennon Airport; a lyric about atheism from Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, redeployed to uncertain effect.