Sunday, 10 February 2008

Camden Leisure Pirates

Blimey, a whole week has gone since the last entry. That's how time goes when you leave your thirties behind. And as you know I left mine behind years ago. It's what everyone talks about when they get old - how the time flies. Strangely, you never hear about this when you're young, no one ever mentions it. Maybe they do talk about it but you just don't ever listen, it's just a noise in the background like classical music, advice about pensions and invigorating walks in the country. No, the only occasion time flies when you're young is when you're having fun - which clearly, you never are as much as they tell you.

Anyway I've been thinking about age a lot this week. It's to do with Esther turning a month old last Friday, I think - my years are beginning to weigh. It started on Tuesday as I was getting off the tube. I'd been catching up on the weekend paper - the curse of the slow-reader/father combo - and had just finished a really interesting Hilary Mantel review of two books about depresssion. As I got out of the tube station I was thinking about what the article had said - largely semi-praise of the first book, a study of how people too often get fobbed off with anti-depressants instead of dealing with route causes; and a pithy put-down of the second, some fashion jounalist's navel-gazing study of how she dealt with her own depression. She read every book she could get her hands on, she claims, citing Kierkegaard (died 1855) 'who lived a few hundred years ago" as inspiration and having a go at her therapist's dress sense.

So, out of the station I come and bounding towards me comes a really attractive young girl in a Samaritans T-shirt. "Hello, have you got a couple of minutes?" comes the gambit. It is, of course, a charity rep who wants my sort code and bank account details, I believe the common term is Chugger (charity mugger). Normally I would have smiled apologetically and muttered "terribly late, sorry ..." in Guardian reader style. But this time, partly down to her attractiveness but also because I was thinking about depression, I stopped. She was elated and smoothered me with gratefulness. I later learnt that it was her first day as a Samaritans rep and I was the first person who'd stopped for her. In her excitement about this she said, "You know, you really remind me ..." and here, time stood still as I imagined what would come next; who would I remind her of? A mystery guy she'd met on holiday who she'd never seen again, a celebrity? an ex-boyfriend? No. "You really remind me of my best mate's dad!" she squealed. My face must have said it all. "Oh not in a bad way or anything! ... he wasn't old," she back-peddled furiously, fearing the loss of a potential customer, "he was good looking and everything ..."

So this is what the Samaritans have come to, I thought, actively going out and randomly depressing strangers on the street in an attempt to drum up business. The thing is, I do look older than I did. I think I was blessed for quite a while with looking younger than I was and now suddenly age has caught up with me. It doesn't help managing such young, attractive musicians. When we were out with the girl band before Christmas, for example, the digital photography was coming thick and fast and I inevitably ended up with a bunch of pictures on my phone, full of the sort of drunken revelry you'd expect when you go to Christmas parties and the booze is free and you happen to be in your twenties. I showed them to my wife and it was all going well until we reached one featuring me. I am looming up towards the camera, clearly thinking the 22 year-old female guitarist's prettiness is reflecting well on me. This is not the case: I look like a fat, balding regional DJ. "Christ, do I really look like that?" I asked. My wife, who is from the Bronx and doesn't really muck about when it comes to straight-talking, was uncharacteristically reassuring, "You just look a bit drunk, that's all."

"But… but … it's worse than that! All my features have been moved around - I look like a Picasso picture!" Etc etc. In my defence, I was very hungover and beginning to get The Fear.

"Honeybaby," said my wife, upping the longsuffering tone, "you've taken photgraphs of me which are much worse and I AM good-looking."

Incidentally, my wife is not arrogant or an airhead and doesn't have any of the negative traits that you would normally associate with people who proclaim themselves attractive. No, she just knows that she is good looking – and she is. How brilliant must that be! To KNOW you are attractive? I have good days and bad days and I bet that's pretty much the same for most people. I still have days when, to quote Joe Jackson, "I kid myself I look real cool" And as you get older you have more bad than good days, until, I suppose you just don't think about it anymore. It stops bothering you because you become invisible to the opposite sex.

My friend Andy, whose office I share, admits to having been through his midlife crisis already. Last week he told me that he had sat on the sofa the Saturday before, flanked by his wife on one side and his 5 year old daughter on the other, eating apple crumble and watching The One And Only. It crossed his mind that his younger self (the one which once shouted to me at the Reading Festival "Let's do all the speed we've got left and pretend we're the Clash!") would have pointed and laughed. Now the crumble/sofa interface is the height of sensual pleasure for him. Me, I'm still undecided.

At least the age thing hasn't hit the heights of my mate Russell, who whilst always having been the most eccentric man I've ever known managed to top even himself when I saw him on Thursday. I was talking about booking a recording studio for our Scottish band and how much it would cost per day (about £200 if you're interested, A&R-spotters). Russell said to me, "Imagine the peace you'd get in there - no noise from neighbours, no phones ringing, perfect air-conditioned silence - I'd pay 200 quid for that."

On the other end of the scale, I got a call from David, the man who cuts the remainder of my hair. He's a very well adjusted 40 something who after having given his flat to an ex-girlfriend finds himself flat-sharing in Camden with another guy his age. He's loving it and leading the life most of my generation only witness vicariously on Skins, Mistresses or sometimes it must be said, Scarface ... His flatmate phoned him up last week and asked if he could borrow his camera. "Sure," said David, "it's in my room - but why do you need it, you never take pictures?" "I'll show you when I get back!" he replied. When David did get back, his flatmate, who'd been up for two days with no sleep and, as we dads say, watching a bit too much Charlie And Lola, presented David with his camera. It contained a large collection of images of his girlfriend in various states of undress on David's pool table. After having phoned me up to tell me this story, he later texted me asking me if he should keep the images on his camera as his flatmate hadn't erased them ...

I was in Camden myself earlier in the week (not far from the Hawley Arms as it goes, which I have to admit, I never knew was a celeb hangout until the news reports about the fire started describing it as such; I'd always assumed it was a no-go tourist trap on the one way system, but that's what eulogy does, eh?) Anyway, I was in the Lock Tavern meeting a friend of mine, Phil, who manages bands too. He's been managing bands successfully for several years and I was hoping a bit of his luck would rub off on me. Anyway, we drank pints and talked about the changes in the music business - a typical Camden conversation - and then he went for a wee. I sat by the bar and having just had a pint was feeling expansive so started a conversation with the twenty-something guy behind the bar who was wearing a Joy Division T-shirt. Here's how it went:
Me: I saw them live when I was 13
Him (Seriously unimpressed) Yeah?
Me: Yeah, it was by accident, supporting the Buzzcocks - I didn't think they were that good to be honest - all that elbow-waggling and stuff ...
Him: (laughing out of politeness) Right
Me: (Now almost without the will to live) Funny, how they're seen as so brilliant isn't it ...

I realised half way through this that I was this old bloke sitting at the bar recounting war stories that the dudes still fighting don't really want to hear. I felt a fool - like Howard Moon talking to Vince Noir about jazz when all Vince wants to hear about is the Human League.

Still, at least I'm still trying. I'm not - in the words of The Mighty Boosh's Howard Moon again - dressing like a "Camden leisure pirate", or pretending to like bands that do nothing for me. But you know what, I can't help liking a lot of stuff that only young people are supposed to like and if that makes me look like someone's best friend's dad then so be it.

So anyway, the questions still remains, did I sign up for the Samaritans? The answer, I'm sure you'll be glad to hear, is yes. And strangely, just as I was putting pen to paper I heard a voice say, "Hello Ben!" and it turned out to be my old school friend Luke, whom I hadn't seen for ages. And that, I suppose, is one of the benefits of getting old, you amass friends who turn up at moments when you need them most. The girl tried to get Luke to sign up too but I don't think she was his type ...


  1. Thanks for telling me about this site! it's such a good read and made my very dark day in the land of endless darkness a lot brighter!

    Óli Arnalds

  2. Look back at the weekend's Camden inferno.

    Think about all those shops with very big chairs, very big dms, and very big milkshakes outside. Then wonder whether Camden could ever have had anything but a giant fire with giant flames.

    The Hawley Arms? Isn't that like the Good Mixer back in the day? Full of lookielikies and wannabes trying to find former members of Menswear?

  3. I had a similar revelatory moment the other day ... happened to see that Hadouken video, the one where they slag off all the skinny-jeaned indie types, and remembered that our neighbour's 16-year-old daughter's really into them. I bumped into her in the street and started theorising about them, then got home and caught sight of myself in the mirror ... a knackered 40-something mum with a pram, a small dog and Waitrose shopper in tow and realised why her eyes had glazed over. She probably went home and tore up her Hadouken posters in disgust.

  4. I often wonder why the person I see in the mirror, who under the right light can still look pretty fine (personal opinion, clearly) doesn't look anything like the fat drunken fool often found gurning in the background of office party pics.

  5. hey ben

    come 35(ish) i've figured the only sensible thing to do is to know your dress code (dark jeans, black shirt/t shirt, weather depending) and avoid mirrors.

    this tends to keep expectations on an even keel - with nearest & dearest and oneself. (on no account go leisure pirate). otherwise, i've learned not to talk to anyone under the age of 25 unless i'm half pissed. this way i think i'm charming.

    anyways - welcome to the blogolopolis-sphere. keep up the good works.

    i just got my own personal thing up and running too: (Links to geek-like work stuff on there too if you really want to get jazzed by web marketing talk).

    hope to see you in lewes soon? (come on - it's lovely. besides, we've called it quits on londontown for a while)

    talk soon


  6. CLP - are they wearing some of those stupid Westwood (Viv, not Tim) Bow Wow Wow style t-shirts? Sailing up the canal with daggers between their teeth...

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  8. I hope you have a nice day! Very good article, well written and very thought out. I am looking forward to reading more of your posts in the future.