Tuesday, April 01, 2008

I Go To A Fenland Literary Festival, Drink Ale I Don't Like And Converse Briefly With Renowned Documentary-Maker And Humorous Journalist: A Report

Level of conviction in own genius: 7
Amount of creative activity achieved in last 24 hours: arranging: 1; poems: 1
Reading / Listening: ‘The Corrections’ by Jonathan Franzen / ‘Pink Cigarette’ by Mr Bungle, my new favourite song
Hair Day: bedecked with turquoise-green flower to match scarf and slightly lurid eyeliner

Bestowed my artistic largesse on the provinces last weekend by attending Cambridge Wordfest , part-organised by my finger-in-several-bookish-pies love. The first day involved much rain filling a wide puddle between an early morning slot with Lavinia Greenlaw and a very late-night one with some Open Mic slam poetry. Greenlaw was discussing her recent book, ‘The Importance of Music To Girls’, a pithily-titled book I read with not a small amount of (envy-tinged) irritation, seeing as it’s very little about music other than some overheatedly-rhapsodic poeticisms on a 70s disco track or two, and mostly about her angsty growing up. It may be snootiness but I’m not convinced how much she really knows about music; I really wanted to ask her who she preferred these days: Joe Lean and the Jing Jang Jong or Does It Offend You, Yeah? The evening slam was a bit stilted and crusty but I was inspired enough to pen some poems in the delightful Cambridge Blue pub on my unerringly optimistic willingness to taste Andy’s ales though unfailingly finding them rank. Here is one:

the candlelight plumbs
for rubies, lodged low
in this gothic, opaque,
sweet scum-covered
fairytale dark bog

it tastes like
an unwanted golden shower

Sunday saw us do a bit general brain spit ‘n’ polishing, a high-minded literary marathon that took in a talk by charming economist (not as paradoxical as you’d think! Economics is everywhere you see, in crime, dating, dieting!) Tim Harford, hard-bitten media debate with Adrian Monck and Allison Pearson and the-world-is-overconsuming rants by John Naish and ‘Shoreditch Twat’ founder and burner of brands Neil Boorman. Andy had introduced them all so I was eyeing him up rather a lot of the time but really, it was very inspiring. The perky, lemony icing on this rather wholemeal cake was a giggly hour with Jon Ronson, he of brilliantly deadpan documentaries about extremists who believe that human-lizard hybrids secretly rule the world on the one hand, and witty Guardo Weekend columns on the mortifyingly excruciating minutiae of life on the other. He was game, self-deprecating and wrigglingly funny.

We bumped straight into him at the station and he said a cheery hello, miraculously having recognised us from the back of the theatre. I beamingly gushed how much I’d enjoyed his most entertaining talk, which he seemed marvellously over-pleased about, before I skipped away to M&S on light feet as I always do having come into contact with a Real-Life Celebrity who is nice to me. We of course knew that he would be on the same train as us returning to civilisation, but resolved to stay well back; being a popular humorous journo, he would want some time alone rather than having to converse with us mere simpering minions. Respectfully then, we studiously avoided him on the platform but turned to find him at our shoulders. We headed purposefully away down the train carriage but he ended up sitting right next to us, and giving us a studiedly awkward grin and a wave. I started to worry that actually he would really like some company (we are an arty, magnetic couple after all) and that it appeared we didn’t have the slightest interest in talking to him further. Unsure which way to swing, I squinted inquisitively at his book which he held up: Nick Hornby. I showed him Neil Boorman’s tome (I had borrowed Andy’s copy to get it signed: NB was so chuffed that someone had come up to the unattended author’s table that I didn’t dare admit I hadn’t bought it and spent the next half an hour determinedly ignoring Andy in case he saw us together and was crushed) and gave him the gist, whilst inwardly cursing my incredible rudeness at shoving a book by another of the day’s authors in his face rather than holding one of HIS. Collectively, we briefly tried to remember the name of the artist who also burnt all his possessions on Oxford Street. We failed, and JR said, ‘Well, I’ll leave you to it’, which is SURELY the wrong way round! WE should have been the ones leaving HIM to it! He must have wanted train buddies. I’d gone about it totally badly, when I could have made a new urbane celebrity friend. Desperately hoping to make amends, I spent the rest of the journey looking as arty as possible (manuscript out, editing poems with a pen-chewing frown, talking loudly to Andy about his economics books), hoping he would engage us in conversation again, whilst of course studiously avoiding his occasional glances up. He gestured to me: my last chance to spark off a potentially lifelong friendship! ‘Michael Landy. That was the artist’, he said. ‘Oh yes’ I smiled, non-committal, and went back to my book. Rubbish. I’d reverted back to my achingly pathetic non-flirting teenage self, when I was in love with a long-haired boy for four years but could only hide behind my hair and whimper when he looked over, except now it was in a non-sexual celebrity-pal-wanting way. Self-defeated, I resigned myself to fantasising about JR writing his next column about us and how we’d tried to avoid him; how he’d been happy to talk but that we were far too cool and uninterested to reciprocate. Jon, how wrong you would be! Sigh.

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