How much of that is true?

I get asked that question a lot about my performances and my writing.

I struggle with the idea of truth and fiction and how much people should be able confirm as "true". My work isn't meant to trick anyone, but it does present itself as some form of authentic experience being retold to an audience.

So what's my responsibility to the questioner? How should I respond when people ask me 'How much of that was true?'

I've been looking for people to speak at The Bad Vibes Club and someone suggested Nicholas Ridout. I read this essay of his, Performance in the Service Economy: Outsourcing and Delgation (it's on page 126 of the linked pdf), and in the final section he kind of sums up my ambivalence about answering the question, or maybe gives a good reason not to answer it.

'Theatre is, most of the time, a kind of delegated performance, in which actors or performers appear as representatives of or stand-ins for others and in which they carry out their actions as agents of higher powers, such as authors and directors. When a theatrical performance seeks to disrupt this familiar system of representation — such as, for example, someone appears on stage either as themselves or in such a way as to lay claim to a specific identity whose story or plight is being dramatised — a muddle often breaks out. This might be considered as a confusion between outsourcing and delegation, in which the right to present the representation of a certain identity is assumed to belong only to those actors or performers who can claim the authentic possession of that identity, so that they may plausibly and perhaps legitimately make the public claim that ‘this is my story’. This confusion arises out of a misrecognition of the function of theatre — albeit a misrecognition that much theatre and theatrical criticism has sought to encourage. Even when theatre is making no claim about the authenticity of its performers in respect of the story or situation they are representing, it tends to make the implicit and inclusive claim, addressed to the audience, that ‘this is our story’: the story enacted, such as the story of the House of Atreus or the tragedy of Oedipus, is the story of the polis that is supposedly gathered in the theatre. But at one and the same time the structure of the theatre itself makes the exact opposite claim, that ‘this is not our story’. This establishment of minimal distance is, I think, one of the preconditions of theatrical representation and so pervasive that even when the performers enacting the representation really are the very people they purport to represent, they are, in the theatre, only delegates at best'


I got back to London yesterday, dropped my bags off and went straight back out to meet someone for a drink. This morning I had to go to the corner shop with a hangover to buy something for breakfast. After a really bad lunch made from things I had left in the cupboard I walked down to Sainsbury's to do a proper shop.
  I wandered slowly around the aisles, buying the same things that I normally buy, but taking a little more time than I needed to. This bit between Christmas and New Year is almost unreal, which makes me want to bask in it when I get the chance.
  I normally go to the self service tills, but I saw a short queue for a manned checkout and decided to go with it. The checkout assistant was being really nice to the man in front of me, asking him about his Christmas and that sort of thing, but when it came to my turn she was a bit less friendly.

She tried to weigh my bananas and something seemed to be wrong. She kept picking them up and putting them down again, pressing the buttons on the till. She tutted and I said, 'What's up with the bananas?' and she said, 'They won't weigh, they keep flipping between weights.'
  She called a manager over who said something like, 'Not again'. They kept weighing the bananas, moving them on and off the scales.
  I said, 'What's happening?' and the manager said, 'They won't stay still. Look.' and she span the screen around so I could see. It was true, when the bananas were on the scale they flipped rapidly between numbers, which meant that the machine wouldn't confirm a price for them. The manager took the bananas off the scales and put my leeks on. I said, 'I don't think it makes a difference what's on the scales.' I was trying to be light hearted but I think it came off as sneering because they gave each other a look. And then when the screen showed a stable weight, they both gave me a triumphant smile. I laughed and said, 'Ok good, glad it's working now' and the checkout assistant said, 'It works just fine, it's the bananas, see?' She put the bananas back on the scales and the screen showed the weight flipping back and forth. Then she put the leeks on and the screen showed the correct weight.
  'What do you want to do?' said the manager and I made a face like I had zero idea what the options might be. 'Well, we can try another bunch, but it might not be worth it. It's been happening all week. Or, you can just get a pre-priced bag of bananas.'
  In the end I just left it, I don't like the bagged bananas, they are always a bit overripe by the end of the week.


The conifer trees surrounding the house like a wall might seem like a metaphor for something but they aren't. Several reasons:

1) The conifers used to be everywhere on the housing estate. A lot of people had them at the edge of their gardens. My family’s house had two of them in the front garden, one next to the pavement and one right outside the front door. A lot of residents got rid of them in the 80s and 90s. The housing estate was built in the 70s on what was previously wooded land. They cleared the woods, built the houses, and then laid grass and planted conifers on the gardens. On some of the bigger green areas they planted other types of tree, but in the gardens it seemed to be conifers. Probably because they grew fast.
That was the problem with the conifers - they grew too fast to keep a handle on. For obvious reasons, you don’t necessarily notice the day to day growth of a tree but then suddenly it’s undermining the foundations of your house and then you have to deal with it. Or maybe you sell your house with the giant conifer, and then someone new moves in and is like what the fuck is with this giant tree? and has it cut down.
But the conifers still line their garden, not close enough to the house to be a problem for the foundations, and Ken still lives there. I guess although he knows that the trees are much bigger than they were when him and his wife and two children moved in, they aren’t shockingly big (to him) or out of proportion with the rest of the garden and the house (to him).

2) You have to remember that I’m writing this maybe 10 (?) years after she killed herself and so the trees have grown a lot higher since then. Maybe 10 years ago they wouldn’t have looked so imposing, so much like the wall of a castle or a prison. They wouldn’t have blocked out so much light, or engulfed the street light on the pavement in front of them. They still would have been tall, then. They still would have blocked the house from view. (From certain angles. Maybe half of the 180° that you can normally see a house from. The house is actually on a corner, so you should be able to see it from more than just 180°, but it has a high wall running down the alleyway beside it which blocks the view of the side and back of the house. With a wall, it’s just there and you don’t really have a choice. You could replace it with a lower wall, but who would do that? The conifers have this point of meaning for me where I know that most people on the estate have chosen to get rid of them because they block the light, and because they got so tall so quickly.)

3) As I mentioned, the conifers do block the view of the house, but only half of it. When you walk past the house from the other direction you can look straight across the front garden and into the living room. They never had net curtains and when she was alive, she was often sat on the couch, staring out of the window. You saw that the TV was on but she wasn't watching it. Or she was only half watching it, and then she noticed you walking past and she caught your eye but didn’t smile. She was a pale woman and she had glasses and short red hair. Her pupils seemed very large and black.

4) Also, when she killed herself, they’d divorced and she lived in a flat in town. She didn’t even live in that house. So when she made the decision to do what she did she was in another place, without conifers surrounding the garden.

So the conifers might seem like a good thing to write about when you are writing about her death but they aren’t. They can’t really work as a structural metaphor.

She was not a sympathetic woman. I don’t remember her being very nice or kind or beautiful. Not that women should be beautiful to be sympathetic, but I find that I’m more sympathetic toward beautiful people. It’s either a personal weakness, or one of those anti-democratic traits of being human that are occasionally flagged up by some dubious, over-reported study by psychologists or market researchers.

She had tinnitus so the TV was always on in the living room and the radio was always on in the kitchen. Quite loud. She sat in the living room, and then we arrived with Joel and took over the living room to watch MTV and play on the PC at the back of the room. She moved into the kitchen and sat at the table. She read magazines and the radio was on loud, but it wasn’t drowning out the things she needed drowning out. She got up and cleaned the house, but the house didn’t need cleaning. Or it did, but not the sort of cleaning she could face doing. Then it got later in the afternoon and it started getting dark and she started making their dinner and eventually we left.

They say our ears are good at tuning out buzzes and hums. An evolutionary response to a noisy world. We need to ignore some sounds and pick out others - the dog’s bark, the voice saying hello, the car horn, the knock at the door, the stone in the water. You tune out the noise of your own ear’s machinery, but also more importantly, you tune out the external stuff. So, the buzzing of the dimmer switch in your living room. Or the high pitched whirring of your phone charger. And a lot of the time, you tune out noises that aren’t really constant, but that you don’t need to be consciously aware of. Like your own breathing, or a distant motorway, or the soft rustling squelch of your footsteps as you walk alone across a wet field, huddling into your jacket with your arms folded across your chest, cutting a strange figure, if anyone could see you, which they can’t. Or maybe someone did see you but they disregarded you. They tuned you out.

I was the same age as one of their sons. Me and Richard were friends at primary school for a while, but never really outside of school. He played football well and I did not. At different points when growing up I was both the bullied and the bully. Children are cruel.
The other son Joel was a year older than me but because I had a neighbour who was the same age as him, we ended up being friends. More like we were in the same drifting group of children who congregated in the streets, or in one living room or another, to play computer games, make jokes and occasionally have very organised wrestling matches instigated by a boy called Omar who was fun but obviously emotionally damaged in some way.
I never really liked Joel. He was very particular. He had his own opinions, which seemed to me very uptight and pretentious. He wouldn’t wear trainers or tracksuit bottoms because he didn’t like them. He got angry when you teased him, which meant that as we got older and more vicious in our piss-taking he was often an easy target. I think he is in IT now. Spends a lot of time in America for work.

One year I came home from university and my mum told me that Richard had been hit by a motorbike on the high street and broken his neck and all I could think was that it was pathetic that Richard still lived here and hadn’t gone to university like me.

We all thought Joel was gay and I can’t remember if it turned out he was or not. Maybe he just hasn’t had a partner of either sex for a long time. Maybe there were some teenage girlfriends and then not much after that. Like, he stopped pretending he was interested.

With both of these things, by this point Cathy was dead anyway so they are, like the trees, not as relevant to the story as they might at first seem.

I just looked at Beachy Head on google maps. I switched it to the satellite view and for a second imagined that I might be able to see someone jumping from the edge of the cliff but I couldn’t.
I didn’t really know where Beachy Head was, though I knew it was famous. I thought it might have been because of a scene in a film or maybe a celebrity suicide but it’s just the numbers. The figures. The amount of people tumbling through the air down toward the sea.

When I heard she’d gone to Beachy Head I kept thinking was it not a bit far? Google says it takes about two and a half hours to drive there from the town in Essex where she lived. But maybe it was practical in other ways. Like she knew that Beachy Head was a place where she could be pretty certain that if she tried to kill herself then she would succeed. Like she did her research and she knew that there weren’t any barriers or fences. That she could drive there on a weekday in the late autumn, park at the car park, and walk huddled over the sodden grass up towards the South Downs way and then instead of walking along the footpath in one direction or another, she could just carry on walking towards the edge. Or she walked for a while along the path, looking out across the sea but also keeping an eye out for a sheer drop. Because she wanted a sheer drop. She didn’t want to stumble off the edge to be bounced and broken and split by the rocks on the way down. Into the sea at terminal velocity please. Straight in. Maybe the impact breaks her neck if she’s lucky. Hopefully it knocks her out and she drowns.

I was maybe 17 or 18 and walking to college the day after bonfire night and I saw a long blackened wound in the conifers where someone had set off a firework and it had torn straight up through the trees, burning the foliage on its way. It stayed black for longer than it seemed like it should.
I remember coming home from university one summer and it had gone brown and the branches were bare. It was like that for years. Eventually the wound scarred up. The foliage is no longer discoloured, but nothing grows in the gap.

It’s the day after Christmas. As I walked back from town towards my parents’ house I noticed that all the lights in the house were off. Ken must be at his second wife’s place for the holidays. Maybe the boys are there too, or maybe Richard has his own family now. They aren’t boys any more.

The conifers are trimmed regularly. Maybe once a year. I think the council does it. The foliage is cut away round the streetlight that would otherwise be swallowed up by the branches. They cut back the lower part of the trees so that people can use the pavement.

Photos of wrapped things near my parents' house

I've totally fallen for someone who is, consciously or unconsciously, making me lose my mind via our sporadic email/text communication. To try and stop myself checking my phone every three minutes I decided to leave the warmth of my parents' sofa and wander around their estate.

On my way back from the pub yesterday I'd seen that the Roman wall that surrounds the edge of the park was covered with white tarpaulin, probably for repairs to the stonework. In the dark it looked pretty good - like a huge ghost ship - so I thought I'd walk up there and take some photos.

As I was putting my shoes on I saw that my parents' garden table was wrapped up in black tarp.

And at the bottom of the garden, I saw that my dad had tried to wrap this palm.

In the summer my parents' estate crackles in the heat and buzzes with memories that jostle for position in my head. It's an overwhelming feeling, but exciting. In December, with the dampening drizzle under a white-grey sky it just made me despondent. The paths were covered in dead leaves, everything looked dirty and sad.

When I come home for Christmas I'm always struck by how the houses covered in Christmas lights are in little groups or huddles. A row of four houses with glowing Santas or light-up animatronic reindeer, as though they'd been inspired by each other's festive luminescence.

I'd never noticed this little cul-de-sac where four houses facing each other all had caravans sitting on their driveways. The other three had their metal tow-bars wrapped, but this one was fully covered for the winter.

Then there was this barbecue on someone's drive, packed away until summer. I know that they are covered to protect them from the weather, but there is a particular aesthetic effect delivered by these wrapped things, like they are being hidden from view and yet at the same time, brought to our attention. A ritual humiliation of the objects that remind us of another time. Or maybe it's for their own good, they've been temporarily blinded so that they shouldn't see the damp, pathetic winter that renders them useless.

I'd noticed these rose bushes last year, but they were wrapped up again this year, poking out of the ground like frozen dancers or Guantanmo'ed plants.

And then I got to the wall. There was a guy with a can of lager and a dog. He spoke to himself or the animal in a rolling, aggressive way. Like he was angry at the dog for being dependant on him to throw the tennis ball.

The wall was being repaired. It gets mossy and chunks of it occasionally break away. Every now and again they erect a fence and fix up the ancient stones with new cement and salvaged brick.

The modern repairs will eventually take over from the Roman stonework as the structural support of the wall. Then what will they be saving when they repair it? It's a question that doesn't get asked here. Things need preserving because things need preserving.

Giant Inflatable Video Dump

You can thank Chloe Cooper for this. I woke up this morning and her and Bella were sitting in the living room watching these videos.

This guy has maybe 25 different videos, all shot in the same way. He is technical - he has loads of tutorial videos about how to modify your inflatable so that it's a "single chamber", so then it can take more pressure and hold your weight. He is kind of passive as well, in the way that he lays on the animals face down as they inflate.

His garden looks nice though.

These seem to be the more typical style of video - selfied rides on big inflatable horses.

There aren't many of these - it seems like this uploader is coming from a different subculture of girls popping things by bouncing on them, but has just ticked a few boxes for a different set of viewers. One commenter says, 'She got me all hot and bothered riding that blowup zebra. Why did she have to pop it and spoil this video?'

Actually, I tell a lie. Seems like there's quite a bit of popping.

And this one won't let me embed it, but it's totally worth it, it's a guy who dresses up as a tiger and plays with inflatable animals -

Happy Christmas one and all.

Fully indulging your bourgeoisosity

I just read this book.

My Struggle 1 by Karl Ove Knausgård.

Karl Ove Knausgård is a Norwegian author and he looks like this.

Some kind of Scandinavian lion.

My Struggle is a six book series - the first one was published in Norwegian in 2008, and the last in 2011. The title is the same as Hitler's - Mein Kampf. (In Norwegian, it translates as Min Kampf.)

People are really into it. In Norway the series has sold 450,000 copies (which is a lot, and in a country of fewer than 5 million people it's loads).

More than a few people have described the writing as Proustian. This is kind of an obvious reference point because My Struggle and In Search of Lost Time are long, autobiographical works. Both writers deal with memory, time and autobiography. They both use narrative to give lived experience the quality of coherence, whilst at the same time critiquing the possibility that lives can be coherent; that they can be made sense of, or reduced to a story.

But they are similar in another way, and that's because in his writing, Knausgård, like Proust, fully indulges his bourgeoisosity.

Here is Proust, by the way.

The indulgence becomes a form of confrontation. This confrontation is not political in a traditional sense - it is not a rejection of a value system. But it is a thorough critical analysis of what it is to be bourgeois. The critical analysis emerges naturally through a patient engagement with subject matter that is necessarily narcissistic and self-indulgent to write about. (The subject matter is the writers' lives and childhoods - which in different ways, were as middle class as their respective contexts allowed.)

I've read the first book of each - Proust's Swann's Way, and Knausgård's My Struggle 1. They are structured in similar ways. The first half of each is an uninhibited meandering through childhood memories, which seem to be revealed to the authors as they write them. At points the stories overwhelm you with banal detail. Both books make you very bored, and sometimes kind of angry at the writer for even daring to write about their childhood in that kind of detail. 'Who cares?' I kept thinking. 'I don't want to read these things!'. But in both cases it turned out I did want to read those things, and in fact the reason I wanted to read those things was because of the amount of detailed attention given to uninterrupted reminiscences.

 The second half of each book deals with another person, significant for the writer. This is where the books diverge in content, but not - I think - in spirit.

The second half of Swann's Way deals with slow decline of a family friend who drifts in and out of love and high society. It is a meditation on how people become attached to each to one another, what love might be made of, and how people trick themselves into believing the stories that they tell other people.  It is a melancholic story, but it is slightly detached from Proust and his life.

The second half of My Struggle 1 is about Knausgård's father who - while we readers were indulging in the details of Knausgård's childhood - became a hopeless drunk, moving back in with Knausgård's grandmother and ruining both their lives before dying on the sofa. Knausgård goes back to where he grew up, and with his brother, cleans up the house where his grandmother now lives in total squalor because of his father's behaviour in the last years of his life. It depicts the graphic reality of what happens when someone dies, and the physical and emotional mess they leave behind.

Different vibes admittedly. Knausgård's book is written in a different time - he uses the real names of people in his life, and he exposes himself to the reader in ways that Proust could never have done. But for me, the important similarity is that both writers prepare for telling the story of another person - whose stories are more "worthwhile" or "important" or "real" - by unflinchingly telling their own.

This unflinchingness is about unapologetically exploring the details of their own lives. The unflinchingness isn't just about representing the unappealing, shameful or horrific things that happen, but also the boring, comfortable, or banal things.

The title of Knausgård's book is a joke, if you hadn't already realised, My Struggle is meant to imply a mock heroic story. "What struggle?", it seems to say.

There is no excuse for writing books like Proust's and Knausgård - who wants a 3500 page autobiography of another Medium Rich White Guy? And both writers know this. But by fully indulging their bourgeoisosity, they manage to travel through some kind of ethical wormhole and turn that indulgence into a kind of self-reckoning. Both writers manage to convince you that hyper-indulgence is the only adequate response to the question of how they might go about writing a book.