Friday, 29 January 2016

Hotel Eccentrica

That crowded and damp, brain- hammeringly cut-throat London when it has the christmas bee in the bonnet -- one pictures that even the bees wear Santa bonnets -- sinks in a gargle of holiday themed Starbucks and laquered pop stars making fools of themselves. Here, on the French riviera, the brain enjoys mild wind and half-empty palatial hotels at a fraction of the price--the ultimate relaxation. We had our Christmas lunch at brasserie la Rotonde. Seating booths in pink velvet with yellow '70s style armchair tassel, wooden horses on golden swirly poles from a belle epoque carousel all around the upper seating circle, and azure blue walls with painted-on seagulls and palm trees ; panelled ceilings with trompe-l'oeil butterflies in a spring cloud, fairy lights, cherubs and clown figures, turn of the century stucco, all in psychedelically popping colours; I couldn't have been more lucky than to find this place. We had the multi-course Christmas lunch served by waiters who seemed to own the unreal spirit of this brasserie, which is itself only a small limb of the palatial extravaganza of surrealism chez Negresco. There is more, much more : the night before, we sat in the hotel's piano bar, all fauve velvet. I had a rosebud and red fruits infusion that came in a tea service my grandmother would just have loved. Pink rose motif, golden rim, and a rosebud lid, silver spoon of course ; and C had a fresh Mandarin juice. We sat there so gleefully listening to this ageing pianist singing jazz love songs in broken English and inspected the furnishings. Old Napoleonic uniforms are on display behind the bar, and then for the lavatories, the men's is inside a Napoleonic tent, and the women's in a pale rose boudoir with rose-patterned wall paper, silky pink and white stripes, pale rose doors, even a pink sink and loo... Enchanted is, for once, just the right word. 
On the way here, I had bought a Dior nail varnish, pink, in a shade called  "wonderland" ; if nothing elsd in me, then at least my nails were prepared for this amazement. Reading up on the history of the hotel Negresco left a bitter aftertaste behind all this magic. The bold entrepreneur behind it all was a Romanian hotelier, who had worked his way up from apprenticeships in Paris, London and Monaco. He was good with crowned heads, stars and multimillionaires, it seems; and the wikipedia article elusively states that "he became very successful" on the Côte d'Azur. Gangster? A french automobile maker financed Negresco's plans to build a sumptuous hotel for the super-rich in the early 20th century, but just as it opened, world war 1 began and the hotel was turned into a hospital while Negrescu was  drafted to the army. After the war, the super-rich no longer came to him, and he had to sell. When he died at 52 in 1920, he was bankrupt. One thinks of Proust's Search for Lost Time : here, as in the memory of Niçois palaces that were cut up into apartment blocks, the gone past is painfully grandiose and pointless, so much it hurts.
Like the 16,000-crystal chandelier gracing the main hall, only taken to the Negresco because its original commissioner, tsar Nicolas, was inconvenienced to take this delivery during the Russian revolution.

Numb Enough (Live from the Haunted House I)

How they talk to you, there
Walls, grey
Windows, milky
Showers, dirty
Floors, shiny.

No-one bought flowers,
Everything is far away and long ago.
I feel numb enough,
is my life on hold?

In darkness the mirror stays hollow
Puffing out clouds of tomorrows
The soul rises from the bed
Like a ghost floats in the air
And a friendly horse
Kicks through the grass
hello hello now
Are you numb enough

 I'm working on a collection of lyrics that I will then try to sing. Collaborators welcome. I'm Polly Trope, the author of Cured Meat.

Sunday, 29 November 2015


I see you have a lot of problems,
And you probably need time
But you don't have time, no,
You only have money, and
Time is money...
and so is mine.

Oh what a shame, what a shame that is,
What an awful shame for your wife and kids.
You think it will be okay,
But I can tell you now
That you will burn before me.

Naked and ready
In your hotel
You just happen to be
Addicted to porn.
Well it's a mean, dark city
And we're just like all those people
A London problem, an eastern promise
You promised your wife all of your income
Now you let blonde fake lesbians
who pretend to be swedish
Suck it out of you,
Just suck it out of you.

Oh what a shame, what a shame that is,
What an awful shame for your wife and kids
You think it will be okay
But I can tell you now
That you will burn before me

Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Stories about Smoking, Womanhood, Money and Age : Part 1

The moment I arrive in the smoking lounge, I start remembering an old self I had. It does not surprise me that even though a decade or more has passed, in which everything around it has changed at a ravishing speed, this old smoking lounge is still the same. Only the furnishings are a little more chipped – even more chipped – and the floor boards worn even thinner. The faces of the smokers within look just a little bit older and more worn-out. A classic case of the passage of one decade.

I sit on a wooden bench, which runs all along the side wall. An old coffee house table with a beer-stained marble top is unsteady on its feet before me. I kick it with one foot, and clamp it down with the other, to prevent my milky coffee from splashing out of its cereal bowl. I rock absent-mindedly back and forth, flick ashes approximately into an ugly ashtray of bottle brown glass, and imbue all my clothing with kilos of dead smoke, soaking every inch of my skin and the roots of my hair. I sit around by candle-light in this puffy silver, the chemical cloud.

It is February and I am happy to have found a place of comfort I still remember from before. I have come here to put a stop to my own unfurling life. This is where I will sit, day in, day out, and blow out every phantom of a painful story. This isn't London, where the money making wheel keeps everybody on their toes, where the soul's inner demons grow untended, well-watered by alcohol. This is a breathing space. And I'm smoking.

A few days go by. This place turns into a bar at night, and gets lively around late afternoon. In the daytime, I am largely alone here. A pleasing selection of indie bands and glamrock music is on the speakers, and I sit undisturbed with my laptop. My head is crowded: I am writing a book. As long as I won't make any new friends in here, it's perfect.

The first returning face will be a confused, somewhat traumatized-seeming black woman with a wooly hat, who walks in and out a lot with her arms crossed, muttering to herself, sometimes shouting, smoking, drinking teas, sitting motionless for half an hour staring out of the window, then getting agitated and leaving the place abruptly. I recognize the behaviour for having lived in a psychiatric ward before, and would love to offer her the feeling, in a small way, that she has an ally. Just in a small way : I am not able to help anyone in a big way. I want to be. This is part of my own get-well mission.

The seating order changes a few times, and faces reappear. I notice a tall and lithe, pale and elegant woman in her forties who always has perfect make-up and her hair in a bun, drinking red wine by the window and gazing out, with a closed moleskin book in front of her on the table. It is not long until she is joined by an intellectual type with grey hair and a velvet jacket, and I cannot help but eavesdrop as they sit and smoke – they are talking about other guests of the cafe, from yesterday or two nights ago. Apparently, someone said something a little too loudly at the drinking table. I notice that she is particular when it comes to hygiene, wiping the rim of her wine glass frequently. It goes with the perfect make-up, I figure. She looks attractive, chain smoking slim lights, and I like the sound of her voice, even if it sounds a little dry and a twinge depressed. It's February, in Berlin: ice cold and dark days. I zone out, again.

The days go by. These two women appear again and again. They know each other, as I soon realise, but they don't speak. The elegant tall one begins to acknowledge my existence: when she sees me coming in, she nods, and forces a smile. I know already that I would like to meet her, but I will leave it for her to make the first move. Let's see how long until...

One afternoon soon afterwards, I find myself sharing a table with an androgynous-looking young man. He has long blond hair and is extremely skinny, he is wearing a Japanese comics t-shirt with a shiny suit jacket, and has a sketchpad in front of him, into which he is busily drawing robots and fantasy machines. They remind me of the robotic monsters on display outside the cafe, and in the horror cabinet night club at the end of the backyard. As it turns out, he is a regular there as well. It is open until six in the morning, and people can smoke spliffs in there, which he tells me he quite enjoys. We end up sharing a bottle of red, and in the candle light I see the deep circles under his eyes. He tells me that he has been in and out of psychiatric clinics for the last few years. We talk at length about it, and it leaves me angry with the system – again.

In sum, my first conversation in Berlin ends up being about that. So much for leaving the past behind by moving somewhere new. We start to talk about the tall thin woman. It turns out he was waiting for her, but she failed to turn up. The bottle of wine he ordered had been for her, but now he is sharing it with me. He tells me that over the years, they have had a few erotic encounters, but that the connection always breaks off. On and off, like a faulty electric contact. I find it interesting, because I have already seen the woman. But something about prying on her stranger's love life feels dishonourable, and I shake off the thought of those two, entangled against a doorway, somewhere between here and the horror cabinet in the back. We split, and agree to meet again the following Thursday: same time, same place. Already in the parting, I have second thoughts about seeing him again but I decide to see how I feel about it one week from now.

What you've just read is going toward the sequel of my book  "Cured Meat: Memoirs of a Psychiatric Runaway",  available here:

Monday, 3 August 2015

Monday, 20 July 2015

Asif Kapadia's Amy Winehouse, Bulimia and Good Girls Gone Bad

It must be every bulimic’s worst nightmare to have their darkest secret broadcast on the big screen. Amy Winehouse had bulimia, as the public now knows. 
Asif Kapadia’s latest documentary repeatedly intimates that the leading cause of her death may well have been bulimia. Weight fluctuations and plastic surgery stories are the bread and butter of the celebrity media, and Amy Winehouse was not exactly an under-exposed star. She certainly became extremely thin during her rise to fame, and acquired some breast implants. We may dislike it, but we can’t deny that women in the public eye are subjected to an obscenely large volume of commentary upon their appearance, especially on their figure -- and women in entertainment most of all.

But for Amy Winehouse, the media focus in public portrayals always swerved to drink and drugs, to nocturnal escapades and horrible debacles. For Winehouse, the media had in store one very special thread of storytelling, a pre-existing Hollywood narrative: the “good girl gone bad”. Versions of this story were also spun out around Britney Spears, Lindsay Lohan, and in pride of place, Courtney Love.

The structure of this tale and its character is simple, and it goes back to the fallen women of Victorian horror fiction, and further. It weaves its structural thread all the way back to the beginnings of western narrative in ancient times. It is a tale of a woman’s gradual estrangement from society, often connected with a narrative of insanity. It is, at its heart, a tragic tale.

To a degree, prefabricated tales and patterns are a helpful cognitive tool in society; but they remain inventions. The invented narrative of the drug-addled rockstar links Amy Winehouse’s story to the Kurt Cobain story, to Jim Morrison, to the myth of Club 27, and the rich web of rock mythology. Here, heroin is a cognitive prop: heroin is rock’n’roll, is edgy, and totally glamorizeabe. Bulimia can not be glamorized. By its very nature, bulimia is characterized by secrecy, disgust  and shame. It refuses to be seamed together correctly with a public image. 

Kapadia’s film boldly begins to work the bulimia aspect in, and drops it soon again. Perhaps with an awareness that the public expects a feisty rock lioness disaster story, rather than a story of fragility and bruised self-esteem. Several of Amy Winehouse’s close friends and collaborators give their accounts of what happened, and they intensely medicalize the memory with many tenets of pop-psychology. We hear that when in the presence of an addict, one must show tough love, that addiction puts a strain on those around you, that Amy Winehouse lacked self-control, that she had all the options, but chose the worse options, that she did it all herself. All these arguments lead up to one conclusion: there is no-one else to blame. The overall picture begs the question if the system as a whole is to blame.

Taken together, Kapadia’s picture is fascinatingly documents the human instinct to recoil away from responsibility and blame when a tragedy happens. It is an important group dynamic at the heart of our social functioning, and this is where the “good girl gone bad” narrative becomes useful -- and comes back to haunt everyone. Once it is understood that this story is simply the repetition of an ancient pattern, of a tale of gradual estrangement and isolation in plain sight, what is left is the knowledge that as a society we are ill equipped to include and protect those whose character and life go beyond certain limits of the usual. And Amy Winehouse went beyond a lot of limits. First of all, her disproportionately high achievements, talent and success set her apart from the rest. Drugs came later. And bulimia was there the whole time. It is incumbent upon everyone who considers themselves modern, to ask if the “self to blame” model is not just... a bit lame.

Friday, 3 July 2015

a local idiot, for example the barman

When a local idiot, for example the barman, would talk down to me, implying that I was a bit dim, and some guy in a well-worn semi-dinner jacket would chime in charmingly from the bar stool next to mine, which would give me the inkling of a headache, the thought process began “hey, forget them” -- and it would whisper in my head, “these guys are non-guys. This whole conversation has no meaning. You're away from your life. Your brain is a sponge soaked full of substances. All the corridors are bendy slopes now. This isn't even technically actually happening”.
That extended to a million other things too, to the point that nothing was really happening at all any more, if you asked me.
Just fuzzy curves and blank space, where a life could be