Wednesday, May 10, 2006

"If you let it, London will open up for you like an oyster...

"... Throw your head back and swallow it all down.."

"... And as soon as I had recognised the taste of the piece of madeleine soaked in her decoction of lime-blossom which my aunt used to give me (although I did not yet know and must long postpone the discovery of why this memory made me so happy) immediately the old grey house upon the street, where her room was, rose up like a stage set to attach itself to the little pavilion opening on to the garden which had been built out behind it for my parents (the isolated segment which until that moment had been all that I could see); and with the house the town, from morning to night and in all weathers, the Square where I used to be sent before lunch, the streets along which I used to run errands, the country roads we took when it was fine. And as in the game wherein the Japanese amuse themselves by filling a porcelain bowl with water and steeping it in little pieces of paper which until then are without character or form, but, the moment they become wet, stretch and twist and take on colour and distinctive shape, become flowers or houses or people, solid and recognisable, so in that moment all the flowers in our garden and in M. Swann's park, and the water-lilies on the Vivonne and the good folk of the village and their little dwellings and the parish church and the whole of Combray and all its surroundings, taking shape and solidity, sprang into being, town and gardens alike, from my cup of tea."

Phew. All that. From one dunk of sponge into your everyday cuppa.
A rather high-falutin' entry to just another workaday blog entry, don't think I don't know it...
But just as Proust's indulgence, from one nibble of a piece of cake, inspires and extends to a whole first volume of a 12-book, imposing epic, so... well, that same slim(ish) volume sets off again memories, and conjures up pictures... of, well, me struggling to make my way through Remembrance Of Things Past, as many before have, as many hence will, albeit in these circumstances lounging on a back-breakingly-flimsy Chamberlain Hall bed, the taste of bitter Seroxat tablets still upon my lips, my tongue, my back-of-the-throat, just seconds before they unfailingly failed to cure any lingering depression but succeeded in wiping me out, making my eyelids flutter more rapidly than the shutters of a Japanese tourist's camera, and basically having my far from compos mentis within minutes of trying to focus upon serious works of literature such as yer Prousts and yer Molieres and yer, er, Richardsons...

And yet, and yet... While I tried to struggle through Proust, and yet only made the end of the beautiful first-of-twelve volume - twice over, that's how richly good it was/is - the crumb of madeleine cake of which I've just been indulging, after a similar time apart, is the long-awaited BBC DVD release of Tony Marchant's 1997 drama series Holding On...

And, yes, it's had me gripped, all over again...

For several years I've been hope-fully, hope-lessly, haplessly tapping those useless words "holding" and "on" into search engines, eBay, amazon, without a great deal of success, propelled by ever-dimming memories of that bleak 1997 series which yet hurled the brain-equivalent-of-visceral type of thump, so many just-about-interlocking strands of rainy, rambling London-life heading into sharpest-sharp focus then suddenly withdrawing, just like your taxi home at the end of the late late night, in the glare of an early early morning, might just suggest and then immediately, instinctively disavow...

This was 1997 London, sure, it was 1997 Britain. You have your Noo Labour thinktank posh-gal cameo, earnestly tossing off an idea of "clamps for claimants" and barely batting an eyelid as Phil Daniels' bulimic restaurant critic can barely muster the energy to raise a contemptous eyebrow...

You have a classic TV serial which yet doesn't look brown or monochrome or faded, has "Design For Life" blaring from a party girl's scene yet now hoiks me up with a jolt, vaguely acknowledging I'd lovingly play that at a do I hosted these days, but the days when and where it would be a "current" and accepted backing track are now long gone...

Ah, those Britpop and just-about-Britpop tracks. Manics, Pulp, Blur. Those are still my music madeleines, in fact. "Parklife" - that's us Sixth-Formers, making the most of our lunch-passes to play Grand Prix computer games at Matt's round the corner, Parklife on incessant repeat-play. And Blur at Ally Pally, bingo-tastic.
Pulp? Well, that was the album of the first year, Morning Glory notwithstanding - the alternative album of the first year, I should say. And "Disco 2000" and "Something Changed" were Snobs floor-fillers supreme - not least for the ludicrous notion of a year 2000 ever coming around, and us ever feeling anything other than deliriously young...
And the Manics.
Well, that's a tale for another time... But those 'Design For Life' arpeggios - they rang out from the 15th floor across Birmingham and back again, come and have an argue if you think you're odd enough...

And yet... Holding On. Sure, it'll hurl you a brief snatch of your Britpop anthems. But the recurrent motif is an ominous growling cello, a traffic sound which builds up suddenly like Bernard Hermann's Taxi Driver bass, only ditching that saxophone treble for the sound of a string section playing the Jaws theme... very slowly...

That is, perfect. For the panoramic vistas over night-time London. But the close-ups as Phil Daniels' narrator Gary Rickey visibly disintegrates, his early-episode bravado giving way to nutrient-deficient rotting of the gums, the teeth, the cheeks, the eyes...

For the sudden spears into the bright blue eyes of David Morrissey's by-turns belligerent-and-broken taxman, alternately indignantly-inspired and shamed by his investigative Inland Revenue profession and position, prone to a sudden panic attack on the Tube, yet rushing home to "Mamma" and "darling" his elder sons in that odd ululation of deep-rumbling Scouse and emotion-rearing Cockney...

Really, David Morrissey and Lesley Manville - as the corruptico's seemingly-unruffled, evil-bitch PR ice maiden, turned frightened sex-dependent - are certainly two of the most compelling British TV actors my limited viewing indulgence has yet found, whether taking in Real Women, or State Of Play, or Blackpool, or basically, whatever...
How he found himself embroiled quite so deeply - and, indeed, graphically - in Basic Instinct 2 is a little more of a mystery, but fair play to him and his agent and his bank manager...

As I revisited the drama, I did try to think back to when I first watched. It struck a very vivid chord, and sensation. Maybe that's just the way we will all latch onto core emotions from a piece of art we not only admire and treasure, but deeply respond to and absorb.
And look for, delve into and pincer out, latch onto any vague nuance of a connection - many connections, the way such an inter-splicing series of inner lives, outer connections, is cannily making sure you do...
So? I was sure I'd pored into the first few episodes, tucked into my family Finchley home bed, my little TV crammed up close, Blur and Oasis and Sleeper and Bluetones posters still visible from the walls around me...
But then. I couldn't resist the temptation, this week, of looking up a few of the contemporary reviews. And it seems the first two episodes were broadcast on consecutive nights, Monday and Tuesday, September 11 and 12, 1997.
So... was I at home? Or were my mind and memory grievously deceiving me?
No, I think I just about was. Stooodent holidays going on until about the 15th of a month, three months after you'd recklessly broken up. Ah yes, those heady days of three-month summer holidays. Creeping perceptibly into autumn, but nevertheless...
It was dark. It was yet lurid. It swooped from one character to another, from highbrow to low-assuming, from chi-chi basement flats to Elephant&Castle tower-nightmares, from Norf to Sarf, from quiet desperation to displaced solitude to uneasy unions to queasy listening to basic, ignored illness...
And London.
Not your tourist board London, your gleaming red buses, and swoons around the Buckingham Palace fountain, and that invisible, 30-second road out of the city to Hampton Court and Windsor Castle.
No, it's the streets which remain anonymous until you pass by there and then you can't forget. "That's Goldhawk Road!" "That's the A205 through Catford, that terrible one-way system!" "That's the gorgeous Regents Park circle, Marylebone Road-edging..." "That's that kebab shop on the Kentish Town Road, where I caught the 134 that last time..."
And, in Holding On, the gutting, guttering climax of the first episode - that's where that pretty young girl gets suddenly, sickeningly stabbed by that poor young gabbling schizophrenic... just in a phonebox, there... on a London street, there...
Oh, look, there's the Screen On The Green glowing on behind her... And the Slug and Lettuce across the road... Yes, that's Upper Street. Similar now, same then...
Just a film... but just a street. And that's murder. That's sometime. That's London.

What's the film being advertised there?
Robert Altman. "Short Cuts".
Sick joke, for the scene.

Dead on, for the series.

That's my London. Somewhere. There.
I was living out of the city, for the first time, for a fair few months in a year.
And feeling, yes, lost.
And increasingly trying to identify myself as, well, me. Or a new me.
Birmingham. Everyone goes there, from all about.
Where are you from? London.
Cocky Cockney. Or southern softy. Immediately. Pick one, move on.
Yet I never quite did. But I got increasingly homesick for my home city, that lovely land I would gladly walk for miles on end, one measly Travelcard in pocket, camera occasionally clicking but mostly just soaking it up. Barnet to Bromley, Finchley to Forestgate, Primrose Hill to Putney - alliterate away...

So Holding On came as a clinging-on... A mild tick-off to mild fleeting elements of mild fleeting scenes - little bits of panic attacks, delusions, violence victimness, bulimia, delusions, deceptions, daft dreams...

But, then... Teenage then. I've since done much, much more than I ever imagined then, trudged the most depressing beats, mingled with bereaved families, talked with murderers, seen south London deeper than my superficial assumptions of a decade ago, dipped, bobbed, explored, hidden...

And what more do I know? Or appreciate?
Who knows?

But I react just as deeply to Tony Marchant's masterpiece, hurled back to those immediately post-Diana-death days of first transmission but easily now scorning with heavy hindsight those reviews which wrote the drama off as "already anachronistic" because this Diana-death Britain "has changed"...

Nah.
I politely declined, in that weird week-after, a German cameraman's request for me to stand looking at a tree bedecked in flowery tributes and "looking sad"...

No thanks, pal.
You can get me frowning, sure...

Only hurl me first the right, most delicate crumbs, that's all...