There’s an app for that…

After months of my shitty Samsung Tocco self-muting every time I put the bastard thing to my ear to answer a call – Hello?! Hello?! Can you hear me?! Hello???!!!!! Shit! Shit! Hello?! Now the screen’s gone blank… For fuck’ sake… Hello???!!!!!!! – having no vibrate alert and the facia peeling back like a manky sandwich, I have finally taken possession of a smart ‘phone. As some annoying fucker might post on their Youbook: Woop! Woop! Following the obligatory messing about with the different options and personalizationssssss, stroking the touch screen, downloading loads of applications – sorry, apps – that I’ll never use (my need to know the weather in Ho Chi Min City, Brisbane and Anchorage has already waned, and I no longer get much out of the facility for real time translations to Hutu), and burning a full charge of battery in a matter of hours ‘checking myself in’ on the GPS when I went for a dump (listed variously as ‘checking the roast’, ‘consulting the oracle’ and ‘dropping off the kids’; though that app might be handy if a rescue operation ever has to be mounted in response to a silent ‘999’ I make when trying to pass an especially vicious ‘Barrymore’), I started cross-referencing all my contact data. Mobile numbers, landlines, email addresses, web sites, Facetube, Twatter etc. And I did a bit of housekeeping and dumped some old numbers that I never use. One of the things I wanted to do while I was tidying up was add my own images to the contacts; and as well as the pictures from people’s Facebook profiles, I had some ideas of my own. So in my list I have Arthur Scargill, Marvel Special Agent Nick Fury, Bollywood star Vivek Oberoi, Gandalf and chronic gambler Robbie Box. Unfortunately not the real Arthur Scargill, Marvel Special Agent Nick Fury, Bollywood star Vivek Oberoi, Gandalf and chronic gambler Robbie Box, just people I know who for various real/ironic/sarcastic reasons suit Arthur Scargill, Marvel Special Agent Nick Fury, Bollywood star Vivek Oberoi, Gandalf and chronic gambler Robbie Box. Attaching the .jpegs (I was adding Oswald Mosley at this point) I suddenly wondered what my friends might have for me. I mean, do you know what ringtone a friend has assigned to you? Or even more dubiously, a work colleague? For instance, would the man who has the picture of Ted Bundy and the Police’s ‘Don’t stand so close to me’ as his ringtone in my ‘phone be aware of this? I suspect not. Because the deep seated power of our own ego means that we’d all like to think that we were down as Samuel L. Jackson or Errol Flynn with the theme from Miami Vice playing every time we call. But the truth is we’re probably all Marc Almond and get Tom Robinson’s ‘2-4-6-8 Motorway’ pumping out when we ring up.


But our private view of other people is perhaps not as unexpected as their private view of themselves. Again, my new smart ‘phone revealed some surprising insights. I was particularly amused, having sync’d this shiny new ‘phone with my contacts, when while trying to send an email the auto-complete kicked in and email addresses normally hidden deep in the digital bowels of Facebook revealed themselves. The address raised an eyebrow. As did However, the staunchly heterosexual silverback that is certainly has some questions he needs to ask himself. And I need to sort a new contact photo for him. It’s time to Google for images of Rock Hudson.

Why distant objects don’t always please

I always feel a peculiar sense of frustration when I’m somewhere which has a spectacular view or that has some kind of historical importance. Stood on the deck of HMS Victory, scrubbed and Brasso’d into Bristol fashion, trying to engage my mind with time and the moment and fuse it there forever. Or wandering widdershins around Stonehenge, conjuring up the spirit of long slumbering Druids with their golden sickles and bunches of mistletoe and all the sensations that have coursed through the site. I feel that I should be doing more and somehow seal the place in my soul like a photograph. The Caldera at Santorini, the Coliseum in Rome, Old Town Square in Prague, the view from the Military Road out at West Wight as you drive towards the white cliffs of Freshwater, the Chebika oasis in Tunisia. They deserve at least a Shakespearean sonnet or an enigmatic few lines that sum up its entire being, topography and the significance of that point in time being stood there in awe/wonder/bored/depressed/happy, in a definitive turn of adjective juxtaposed with a peculiar noun. Perhaps a funky haiku or something that would fit neatly on Twitter. A five word review. Stonehenge: Ancient rockery in a field. Buckingham Palace: Dysfunctional family in subsidized housing. For instance, the Pavilion at Brighton with the dragons clawing their way through the ceilings and down the chandelier in the dining room, crouched, waiting to hear Beau Brummell call the Prince Regent a bloater should become part of my story somehow. Same with the bazaar in Marmaris. And Salisbury where the original wooden crosses used to mark the graves in Flanders if fallen choristers are displayed. I feel like I should do more than mundanely wander past. I mean, what are you to make of the Taj Mahal (the real one, not the curry house in Wakefield; though they do a lovely Pakora), or the statues of Easter Island? The temple complexes at Ankar Watt? Maccu Piccu? Wandering around Dickens’ House on Doughty Street? The half ruins of Pompei? Or Bunker Hill in Boston, MA? Edinburgh Castle? How can we connect?


Linked to this love of place is my love of Gazetteers and guide books. I devour them stretched out at home on my sofa, travelling in my imagination, enjoying tourism of the mind. Through books I can go anywhere. I picture myself walking Wainwright’s fells just by reading the guides and following his routes in the hand drawn charts; this is the real life Spyglass Hill where you can roam for treasure like Jim Hawkins, as if tracking your progress on Billy Bones’ map. Back in the 1990s I explored London with Weinreb and Hibbert down every street and through every square through their encyclopaedia. I have been on the road to Oxiana with Robert Byron and gone around a 1950s Britain with Sir John Betjeman. Places and what’s written about them – and increasingly the TV series and the films shot in particular locations (Last of the Summer Wine has recorded Holmefirth and that sleepy part of West Yorkshire forever, in a similar way that Get Carter has ennobled parts of Newcastle, Gateshead and the countryside beyond) – act as markers in time, helping you to connect with people who passed through long before you. But the closer I get to the places and the people associated with them (Coleridge’s cottage in Nether Stowey, Churchill’s bedroom at Blenheim Palace, the kitchens and asymmetric façade of Nostell Priory) it seem that sometimes the farther away I feel and I’m left with a melancholy sense of impotence. I want to grab the places and digest them. Consume them into the DNA of my mind by osmosis. Instead I look in wonder and say, ‘It’s lovely, isn’t it? Fancy a drink?’


One of the problems with life is that time slips away from us imperceptibly. Until we’re brought to a sudden halt by an event. Usually a bad one. And then context comes rushing at us and we realize that the moment when we stood on the deck of the Victory and saw the sunset on Santorini were burnt onto our souls all along. But it’s still too far away to touch.


The Royal Pavilion, Brighton


In Brighthelmstone did fussocky, squab Prince George

A bumblin’ pleasure dome decree,

Where Dandies quiffed their buttered buns

And bits o’muslin entertained the golden ton,

Next to a frigid and quite intemperate sea.