I seem to be visiting a lot of universities recently. On Monday I went up to the Open University, where I met my MSc. supervisor and my ‘specialist advisor’ — both are a married couple of academics who work on the same area of research. My supervisor is Italian but has obviously lived here a long time so listening to her speech, which I tend to do on a weekly basis, is quite good practice for writing Kim’s dialogue. Strangely I was one of the few students (perhaps the only one) on the Milton Keynes campus because, despite having perhaps millions of students, none of them actually attend the OU itself on a regular basis — it’s all done at a distance (or in summer schools and the like).
Then it was straight down the M1 and A1 to City University on Monday.
Last night I went to the Wheatley campus of Oxford Brookes University. This was to go to an Association of MBAs networking event on creating a cv. Most of the other people there were students on the Brookes Business School MBA, most of them full time. It was quite interesting to chat to some of them afterwards about why they were doing the course — quite a few had enrolled due to redundancy and were looking to do something completely different (a little like James).
While I was there principally for non-writing purposes, it was also good background as the speaker, Corinne Mills, is a careers specialist. According to her consultancy’s website she’s been the careers expert on Chris Evans’ Radio Two show, Nicky Campbell’s Radio Five, on the Six O’ Clock News and in all sorts of print media. Unsurprisingly, she has an human resources background so I got myself re-familiarised with HR speak. I talked afterwards with someone who was MD of a leadership development consultancy (employing 18 people) whose business is to work with these terribly (self) important executives with massive egos — the world from which James has just been removed.
As it turns out, my existing cv seems to tick all the boxes already — probably linked to my ‘excellent written communication skills’ (as it no doubt claims dispensing with any modesty — as it must). Apparently 80% of cvs have spelling mistakes and 13% are seriously flawed in written content or presentation. There were a few classic, true-life errors quoted that passed the spell checker level of proof reading. One could apply to James though I might have to invent something original along the same lines if I wanted to use it in the novel: ‘My hobbies include cooking dogs and interesting people’.
In the reading I’m doing for the workshop on Saturday I mentioned a couple of pieces of background music that set the mood in a tastefully refurbished pub (‘marinated in a knowing, post-modern irony). These happened to be playing on shuffle on my computer as I was writing it. One is ‘Amoreuse’ by Kiki Dee, which is aÂ song that few people probably know by name but most people will recognise. It’s actually a FrenchÂ songÂ to which Gary Osborne put English lyricsÂ (who wrote ‘Get theÂ Abbey Habit’ and the lyrics to Elton John’sÂ ‘Blue Eyes’ if I rememberÂ correctly).Â Â
The other was one of my very favourites (and not just because of its drinking related title) — ‘Love Hangover’. I like the Associates version but the original Diana Ross recording is both incredibly seductive (in the opening) and then has the most incredibly charged erotic energy — the hi-hatÂ making it pound along. I think I remember some Paul Gambaccini programme on Radio 2 describing how that Diana Ross wasÂ reluctant to record such a blatantly sexual song atÂ first and the producer had to seduce her into itÂ with the lightsÂ turned downÂ very low.Â (There’s something similar about it on this website.)Â It’s unusual as it’s written by two women — Pam Sawyer and Marilyn MaLeod.
I came back to try and find it on the laptop and did a filter for everything tagged with the word ‘love’. IÂ don’tÂ consider myself to have a collection with loads of soppy songs and it probably removed about 80% of the tracks. However, I was stunnedÂ by how many ofÂ those that were left wereÂ tracks thatÂ I really like. Having ‘love’ in the title almost seems to be a predictor of quality. Of those that are on the playlist are gems like ‘Big Love’ by FleetwoodMac, ‘I’m in Love with A German Film Star’ by the Passions, ‘Sowing the Seeds of Love’ by Tears for Fears, ‘Love at First Sight’ by Kylie, ‘Tainted Love’ by Soft Cell, ‘Friday I’m in Love’ by the Cure, ‘I’m Not in Love’ by 10cc, ‘Justify My Love’ by Madonna, ‘Love Shack’ by the B52s, ‘Love is the Drug’ by Roxy Music, ‘Whole Lotta Love’ by Led Zeppellin, ‘Funeral for a Friend (Love Lies Bleeding’ by Elton John, Â ‘Damn I Wish I Was Your Lover’ by Sophie B Hawkins, ‘Saving All My Love for You’ by Whitney Houston, ‘Love is a Battlefield’ by Pat Benatar (I Love That) and, of course, ‘Silly Love Songs’ by Wings…though I wasn’t so enthused by ‘Boys (Summertime Love’) by Sabrina.
I’m not arguing the self-evident point that lots of pop songs have ‘love’ in their title but that I’m far less likely to skip to the next track when I’ve filtered for the word. This makes me think that. perhaps, that for a lot of artists that they are more confident of titling a song with aÂ potentially ‘cheesy’ like ‘love’ when it’s a strong, good quality track (i.e. because it’s good they don’t need to be defensive about it). Paul McCartney’s lyric to ‘Silly Love Songs’Â sums up this critical tendency. This is less true of the likes of Diana Ross but very true of the more macho male groups and singers. I think that may be a lesson for writing as well — if you’re dealing with emotions then it will work if you do it directly and confidently then that will be the best remembered of your work.
In the environmentally friendly spirit of recyling I re-used some of the novel extract I sent out to the writing class to create a poem to be workshopped when I went to Metroland poets on Friday evening. This was the first poem I’d read and it was quite favourably received. One poet said it made him feel disgusted, which I think was a compliment!
The day yields to the glow
thrown by vibrant, violent lettering,
lurid ribbons of plastic fascia.
Aromas of frying fat saturate
the air, oozing from the slick
of takeaways greasing the road
to the car factory.
Shards of compacted meat
weep from the window rotisserie.
Betelgeuse burns on a concrete post.
IÂ was in London yesterday for work purposes and had two quite contrasting experiences that could be used in research for my novels in progress. I had a meeting with a management consultant at Price Waterhouse Cooper’s famous office at 1 Embankment Place — this is the semi-circular roofed building over Charing Cross station that was featured in the last series of The Apprentice (the toga wearing corporate hospitality task episode) and it’s even recreated in plastic bricks at Legoland. We used a little wood-panelled boardroom with all services and facilities laid on by attentive staff (obviously meant to impress financial movers and shakers — I turned up in jeans and a jumper).
My PWC friend and I did a conference call to Palma de Mallorca where the chap I’m doing some work for is based. He was rather pumpedÂ up on testosterone and threw in phrases like ‘we really want them to drop their pants for this one’.
I had an hour or so to kill before I had to head back so I decided to take the tube to Mansion House and walk across the Millennium Bridge to the Tate Modern — both of which are mentioned in one of my synopses. On some previous occasions I’m ashamed to say the free toilet facilities in the Tate Modern have been more of a draw to me than the artworks. However, I had a more considered look around this time, albeit briefly.
I’d seen Miroslaw Balka’s huge empty container from the outside previously but this time I ventured inside. I even got to the back wall — something that seems quite a challenge when you make the first tentative steps. (Basically the box, which is 13m high by 30m long is completely dark and empty inside.) Although one wall of the container is completely open, surprisingly little light penetrates inside so as you enter and walk straight ahead, it’s really like entering a blank void (apparently one of the allusions the artist wants to make is to the Holocaust). Once you get to the back of the container and turn round you realise you can see reasonably well in the opposite direction (towards the opening) but framed against the light are other visitors to the gallery who you observe facing you and tentatively making their way forward into the void. This is quite clever and the most effective part of the experience.
I took a photo of it on my phone which is a bit blurry but perhaps the more effective for it — see the people by the side for an idea of the scale of the box.
I don’t consider myselfÂ a great fan of modern art. I can’t make my mind up whether I need to work harder to understand it or if that’s pointless because it’s all a big con. (I imagine there’s some truth in both positions.) However, I did enjoy three huge paintings by Cy Twombly which were basically red spirals and loops on a big white canvas. I’m a bit annoyed as I forgot their title — something to do with wine I think and they’re quite new. I can imagine some scenes in my novel where the characters go round the gallery and have difficult conversations while they look at particular works and those Twombly paintings would be very good (and not too hard to describe!).
Today I went to corporate IT land — Thames Valley Park in Reading which is home to all sorts of corporations including British Gas, Oracle and Microsoft (who I was visiting). On the way back I decided to do a (very long) detour to Oxford to visit a location I’ve written about in a section of ‘Burying Bad News’ — the Cowley Road. I deliberately took a less direct route so that I could drive right along the length of the road from about 10 miles outside Oxford at Stadhampton. I could see the industrial part of the city looming up from a few miles away and then drove past theÂ Mini factory and right down the road itself through the suburbs and outer city centre inÂ the rush hour traffic ending up at theÂ roundabout with the Angel and Greyhound at the bottom of Magdalen Bridge and then back again (getting stuck in big jams on the ring road).
I’m not sure whether to fictionalise the name of the road. I’ve certainly used artistic licence to make it seedier and grubbier than it actually is — although I noticed a few sex shops and dodgy bars. However, I’ve managed to doublt check thatÂ virtually everything I’ve described is really there — particularly a lurid row of takeaways, lots of newsagents and small grocers. In factÂ I may add in the pawnbrokers and cheque cashing shops…and there are plenty of buses going up and down so that’s true to life as well.