Archive for the ‘coincidences’ Category

Coincidences No.s 367 & 368

Sydney Levinson – Creative Accountant

No. 367 

4.V.22

I get a message via Facebook from an old colleague/friend, an artist/photographer, I met through Channel 4:

“Morning Adam, how are you? May I call – some sad news I’m afraid – Though you may know already – through Sarah T”

I don’t know already, no idea what it might be. We speak later. It turns out my old friend Sydney Levinson is dead. I haven’t seen him since before Lockdown. I last saw him when he invited me to tea in Mayfair at a place he really liked, lots of red velvet as I recall. 

This is the last time we were in contact:

a typical Sydney message

3.V.22

I am out with my older son, having a chat. He tells me that we need to be more verb than noun. He is quoting Stephen Fry. (Fry was paraphrasing Oscar Wilde whom he memorably portrayed in the 1997 film ‘Wilde’.)

“Oscar Wilde said that if you know what you want to be, then you inevitably become it – that is your punishment, but if you never know, then you can be anything. There is a truth to that. We are not nouns, we are verbs. I am not a thing – an actor, a writer – I am a person who does things – I write, I act – and I never know what I am going to do next. I think you can be imprisoned if you think of yourself as a noun.”

My son uses as an example a person he has met only twice – a person who DJed at my 50th birthday party and who the two of us bumped into at ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park, a person with whom he has exchanged but a few words – Sydney Levinson. “Like your friend,” he says, “the one who is an accountant and a DJ.” This of all people is the person he choses to illustrate transcending being a noun, being defined by a role. 

This, it turns out, is the day Sydney went to the big DJ booth in the sky. My gut feeling is it is spoken the moment Sydney took off.

Sydney Levinson was an extraordinary individual. He worked as an accountant but specialised in applying his know-how to arts businesses and artists who needed help with money. He was on the board of many prominent arts organisations, sharing vitally needed financial know-how. He also loved to DJ on weekends in West London and any time any place the opportunity arose. We first met as business mentors on an ICA (Institute of Contemporary Arts) scheme providing mentors for creative businesses, during Ekow Eshun’s regime at Herbert Read’s quirky institution. 

Here’s where I first wrote about Sydney in this blog in 2007. And here’s an account of Sydney’s typically open and generous connecting of people. And here’s the last coincidence Sydney featured in.

Sydney, I know you are hanging out with Joey, Johnny, DeeDee, Tommy and all the other forever young punks.

 

Sydney’s teatime companions

No. 368 

5.VI.22

I am reading Ali Smith’s latest novel ‘Companion Piece’. It seems to revolve around two words that come to one of the two protagonists in an auditory hallucination: “curfew” and “curlew”. I read a passage where a curlew, that strangest of birds, appears in a hallucinatory or imaginative or psychotic or magical scene, on her bed beside her dog, brought in apparently by a housebreaking waif.

27.V.22

I go to see a long-delayed (by Covid) gig (Ali Smith’s novel is about the Covid period in Britain). The gig is David Gray, performing his brilliant ‘White Ladder’ LP on its 40th anniversary. The gig is two years late. Before the show begins, at the Millennium Dome in North Greenwich (aka the O2) – I have been following him since the early days of his career with gigs at small places like Dingwalls in Camden Town and The Forum 2 in the Holloway Road, this time he is playing to the best part of 20,000 – a video plays on the big screens above the stage. It is David Gray talking about saving the curlew on behalf of a charity called Curlew Action – he talks about the bird’s “most haunting and unforgettable song” and concludes: “It would mean the world to me if you could help one singer try to help another.”

Coincidence No. 366 – Time & Timing

Sandy Denny with John Bonham, Robert Plant & Jimmy Page, September 1970

30.iv.22

I go to see the brilliant play ‘Jerusalem’ by Jez Butterworth at the Apollo, Shaftesbury Avenue with a friend (it’s my second time seeing Mark Rylance do this career-defining performance – I first saw it at the same theatre in 2011). Towards the end of the play we hear a hippyish English folk song – at first I think it is Vashti Bunyan, then realise it is actually Sandy Denny’s ‘Who Knows Where the Times Goes?’, which she wrote at the age of just 19. However I can’t recall her name (or that of Fairport Convention) on leaving the theatre (even though I used to lead historical walking tours of Muswell Hill and environs which included a stop at the house called Fairport where they originally rehearsed). 

The next day I am (unusually) reading the Sunday paper when her name crops up. I text it to my friend (along with the word ‘chaperone’ which I also couldn’t recall on the day). 

2.v.22

The day after that my young friend texts back the name of the song. (We also discuss Coincidence No. 367 which is that we happened to walk together past the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho on the way back from the play – he hadn’t heard of it, I explained the bombing outrage – it turned out to be the exact date of the carnage in 1999.) I text him back to confirm that that’s the song and send him a brilliant podcast about it – ‘Soul Music’ from BBC Radio 4. At just that moment the very song plays on BBC Radio 6.

 

Mark Rylance at the curtain call for ‘Jerusalem’ last week

Coincidences No.s 605-607

Coincidence No. 605 6/3/22

I read The Week over breakfast. The first Good News For… item is about the village of Cartmel in Cumbria where the L’Ecume restaurant has just got its 3rd Michelin star – the first restaurant in the North of England to do so and only the 8th in the UK.

We drive past a sign in Ditchling to Plumpton. It makes my Other Half think of the races and then the one & only race meeting she’s always wanted to go to – Cartmel.

I’d never heard of Cartmel before today.

Coincidence No. 606 5-6/3/22

I open my phone this morning and there is an enigmatic video clip sent to me by clothes designer/filmmaker John Pearse. It is a woman saying some lines from The Picture of Dorian Gray.

The day before yesterday: I want to look smart for a job (facilitating a senior management team process) and try on my wedding shirt made by John Pearse in 1995. In the end I pick another shirt.

Yesterday: I go into an exhibition at the Fashion & Textiles Museum in Bermondsey. It is entitled Beautiful People: the boutique in 1960s counterculture and the first exhibit is about Granny Takes A Trip, the legendary Kings Road boutique co-founded by John Pearse. One of the next exhibits is a jacket of George Harrison’s from that shop.

Coincidence No. 607 25/2/22

I am going on a run and want to choose a podcast. I decide on Radio 4’s In Our Time. I look through recent episodes and consider for a moment one on Peter Kropotkin, but decide in the end in favour of Walter Benjamin.

Two minutes later a link arrives from my Other Half. It is for the book Peter Kropotkin: Memoirs of a Revolutionist from Freedom Press. It’s not a book I would ever pick out but she reckons it is because we went on a walking tour of the Radical East End together recently at my instigation.

I have never bought a book about Kropotkin or any similar revolutionaries.

 

Coincidence No. 347 – Keats

A post on Simple Pleasures part 4, prompted by a Poem on the Underground eight days ago, quoted a famous line from John Keats’ Endymion

Three days ago a gift was received at ArkAngel HQ – an 1894 copy of selections from Keats’ poems published by Routledge (with whom ArkAngel is currently in discussions about a book).

Tawney was 16 at this time
The subject of the recent post

Just before drafting this post a quick search for RH Tawney revealed he is not some long-forgotten Victorian reader but a significant figure in British economic history. Richard Henry ‘Harry’ Tawney, according to that other double-initialled historian AL Rowse, “exercised the widest influence of any historian of his time, politically, socially and, above all, educationally.” Tawney was a leading Christian Socialist and a vocal champion of Adult Education.

He was born in 1880 (so was 16 when he acquired this volume) and died in 1962. On a plaque to him in Lissenden Gardens near Parliament Hill he is dubbed “Founding Father of the Welfare State”.

 

RH Tawney

Coincidences No.s 344, 345 & 346

No. 344 Magdala

16.4.21

I meet documentary filmmaker and Director’s Fellow at the MIT Media Lab Sheila Hayman at Parliament Hill. We talk about the Magdala pub, a short straight walk from where we sit sipping tea, infamous for being the site of Ruth Ellis’ shooting of her nogoodnik lover. I ask Sheila “What’s a magdala anyhow?” She also doesn’t know.

The next day I am reading a pulpy detective novel whose plot kicks off in the Holy Land in the 20s. The second chapter ends:

” ‘It appears to be a letter,’ I said slowly, ‘from a woman named Mariam, or Mary. She refers to herself as an apostle of Joshua, or Jesus, “the Anointed One”, and it is addressed to her sister, in the town of Magdala.’ “

Mystery solved. A town in the Holy Land which gave Mary Magdalene her name.

No. 345 Suze

9.5.21

I am reading the biography of Jerry Rubin by Pat Thomas, having enjoyed ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7‘ very much. An interesting fact that emerges is that Suze Rotolo, Bob Dylan’s girlfriend featured on the cover of the ‘Freewheelin’ ‘ LP, went on a visit to Cuba in June 1964 organised by the Fair Play for Cuba Committee based at Berkley. Jerry also happened to be on the trip. 

About two minutes before opening the book, I am looking at the contact print by photographer Don Hunstein on my living room wall (a limited edition of 25). It is the shoot for the cover of ‘Freewheelin’ ‘. Most of the time it is part of the furniture but the night before I was having a text exchange about Bob Dylan’s art and photos of him with a friend of mine after listening together to the Van gig at Real World and so today I am actually seeing it and looking closely.

No. 346 Prince

9.5.21

I am meeting the new Digital Experience Design MA student I am supervising, in Old Street. We walk around Shoreditch coming back via Leonard Street where I used to work when Little Dot Studios were based at No. 100. She asks me what my best ever gig was (The Clash at the Electric Ballroom). Then she tells me hers – Prince at some festival in her native Switzerland.

Exactly as she utters the name Prince we are at the window of Pure Evil’s gallery at No. 98 and facing us is one of Pure Evil’s tear pictures of …Prince.

by Pure Evil

Coincidence No. 541 – J’accuse

Raquel Welch & Ringo Starr in ‘The Magic Christian’ (1969)

When I look at Facebook this morning the first thing I see is a post from the past (2015) on its anniversary. It was a reminder that today’s the day (13th January in 1898) that Émile Zola accused the French government/establishment of anti-semitism in the letter J’Accuse. Yesterday was the day (in 2015) the French government sent armed troops in to guard Jewish schools. I also published a second post on the subject that same day 5 years ago (the Charlie Hebdo shooting had been the previous week on 7th January 2015): Today’s the day (in 1898) Émile Zola published the letter J’Accuse in a French newspaper. He was convicted of libel. Then took refuge in London. #jesuischarlie

I am watching the 1969 British film The Magic Christian this evening. It contains a Who’s Who of the 60s of swinging London including Peter Sellers, Ringo Starr, John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Spike Milligan, Christopher Lee, Roman Polanski and Raquel Welch. Raquel plays a bikinied Amazon (echoes of her fur bikini in One Million Years BC, 1966) in a scene parodying the slave galley scene in Spartacus). Among the first words out of her mouth are “J’accuse!”.

Priestess of the Whip (Raquel Welch):

In, out.
[Groaning]

In, out!
[Groaning continues]

In, out. In…

During my reign as Priestess of the Whip, I’ve never seen such unmitigated sloth.

Passenger: My god! What’s going on here?

Priestess of the Whip:

J’accuse!

How dare this intrusion? Who are these people?

Youngman Grand (Ringo Starr): Oh, these are me mates.

Priestess of the Whip: Out! Out!

[Groans]

Passenger: Oh, I say! Do that again.

Priestess of the Whip: Out! Out! Out of my galley!

I was watching the film because tomorrow night Entertainment Attorney and Executive Producer Vinca Jarrett, who I met last year in Duluth, Minnesota when I was doing a speech on diversity in TV entitled Not The Usual Suspects, is putting on an online film discussion group which I’m really looking forward to. These kinds of online communal activity, like Tim’s Twitter Listening Parties, at their best are one of the silver linings of Covid Lockdown, generating a genuine sense of shared experience and contact. 

While I was at it I made an edit to the Magic Christian entry on Wikipedia, noting the fleeting appearance of John & Yoko in the movie. My first ever article published on Wikipedia was the one on User-Generated Content. And here we are some two decades later with WordPress and its over-refined self-publishing service with these difficult to manipulate Blocks and generally over-boiled interface. In two days’ time it is the 20th anniversary of Wikipedia – launched 15th January 2001. The scale, accuracy and relative lack of conflict around this pooling of the world’s knowledge online is a testimony to what people can do together for no money. In contrast to the theme explored by The Magic Christian, which is that everyone has their price.

Front page of the newspaper ‘L’Aurore’ Jeudi 13 Janvier 1898

Coincidences No.s 291 & 292 – A London Boy

No. 291 All Things Must Pass

I go for my last run (of hundreds) in St Pancras & Islington cemetery. It’s only open on weekends at the moment due to Lockdown/Covid so this Sunday is my last opportunity. I am due to move house on Tuesday. I know every inch of this huge cemetery-cum-nature reserve and have deeply enjoyed the hours I have spent here running, walking and meditating. I jog listening to a BBC Radio programme (‘Archive on 4‘) about George Harrison’s first solo record ‘All Things Must Pass’. 

As I reach the gate coming out for the last time the narrator, Nitin Sawhney, reminds us that the record first came out in the UK 50 years ago on 30th November. This is 29th November. On the 30th I am packing up the house and home office of ArkAngel to move out. 

As I reach the side gate of the house at the end of the run George says (referring to the long recording process):

“…and it’s finished.”

No. 292 A New Dawn

I just received the following message (30 seconds ago via Facebook):

“Listening to it myself. Dedicating Nina to you. Xx”

It refers to this playlist, ‘Weekend at Home‘, created by my Best Man, and the track ‘Feeling Good’ (by Nina Simone). I’ve been listening to the playlist all morning on the first Saturday in my new home, where I’m sitting at my new ArkAngel desk.

About two minutes before the message arrived I got an email from a colleague/friend at Little Dot Studios. It was about somebody pirating ‘Surf Girls Jamaica‘ and at the end he asked

“How’s the new place?”

Exactly as I read the email these were the very words I heard from Spotify…

It’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me

Yeah, it’s a new dawn, it’s a new day, it’s a new life for me

And I’m feelin’ good

‘Feeling Good’ was actually written by two Londoners – Anthony Newley (Hackney) & Leslie Bricusse (Pinner) for a musical, ‘The Roar of the Greasepaint’ . As I finish off this post, on the ‘Weekend at Home’ playlist I’ve reached the track ‘The London Boys‘ by David Bowie. It was a 1966 B-side on Deram records which put out his early work. He sings it in a very Anthony Newley London style as Newley was a huge influence on Bowie when he was starting out. My move takes me back to my native postcode: London NW7

It’s a new dawn

Coincidences No.s 288, 289 & 290

No. 288 Black Lives Matter

I finish a documentary entitled ‘Black Rainbow‘. All through the production it has reminded me of a film I worked on a couple of years ago entitled ‘Black Star‘. The former is about black and trans rights. The latter about voluntary repatriation of an Afro-American musician from California to Ghana. They both are firmly in the realm of Black Lives Matter.

I am scrolling through Instagram the same day and I come across a post by the main contributor to ‘Black Star’, Sunru. His Insta name (unbeknownst to me) is blackrainbow333.

(2018)

No. 289 Friedlander

I am talking to my nephew about his Photography GCSE. He has been inspired on his main project by Lee Friedlander, American photographer and artist (b. 1934).

I am moving my whole library and in the process there is one picture book I decide to chuck. It’s because it is so big it doesn’t really fit in the bookcase. It was given to me a few years ago by an old friend who now lives in California. I helped her with a documentary she was working on – the book was my reward. It is a lovely copy – a signed, numbered, limited edition. It is of photographs by a photographer I had never heard of before receiving the book. A certain Lee Friedlander.

No. 290 Olympic Park

I am moving house and the new place is a new build constructed by Barratt Homes. I noticed in the contract that the sales operation was based somewhere in East London. Today, to distract myself from the drawn-out process of purchasing the place I go for a walk along the canal in Hackney. 

At the end of the walk I get to the old Broadcast Centre from London 2012 Olympics. I worked as a volunteer (Games Maker) in the summer of 2012 in the Press Centre. I cycled along that canal in the early morning to get to work there. I decide to go look at the Press Centre for old times’ sake – it was the best summer of my adult life. I look to see what businesses have moved into the building in its new phase. Barratt Homes have.

 

Coincidence No. 202 – Kane

I finish watching ‘Citizen Kane’ for the first time in years, showing Enfant Terrible No. 1. I notice how the final scene in Xanadu with all his art and possessions boxed up must have inspired the final warehouse scene in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’. 

Two minutes after the film finishes a message comes in to me from an old school friend commenting on the stuff I’ve been finding today as I sort out the attic and sharing with our Whatsapp group of schoolmates:

Ad – I’m thinking of that scene at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark where the Ark gets stored in a vast warehouse. Based on what’s emerging recently, I’m assuming your attic is something like that.

Final scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark
Final scene of Citizen Kane

Coincidences No. 114 & 115

WordPress is telling me I registered with it 14 years ago – digital time flies. To mark the occasion here’s one of those word coincidences we all have. The word is ‘helpmeet’ – “A helpful partner, particularly a spouse.” It comes from the Bible, in the King James’ version: “an helpe meet” for Adam i.e. Eve (Genesis 2:18). So this also marks the occasion of my Silver Wedding Anniversary this week. I always associate “helpmeet” with Eve in the Old Testament.

Now I haven’t thought about the word ‘helpmeet’, or even the more common ‘helpmate’, in many a year. But it cropped up twice today before 8.00am.

I am writing in my Faber & Faber Poetry Diary 2020. Opposite today’s date is a poem by Julia Copus, ‘Lacan Appeals to the Patient’. It has the line:

Beyond the clayey dark your helpmeet is waiting. 

It is clear this particular helpmeet is masculine and I think it refers to the sculptor in the poem which I understand to be the Creator, perhaps God, perhaps some other kind of artist or higher being. The name Adam means ‘red earth’ or perhaps ‘red clay’. It is the substance God moulded the First Man from in the Bible and this poem is about the shaping of “one’s selfhood”.

Started during lockdown, I am now up to page 242 of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Today’s page contains this line:

Helpmeat too, contrasta toga, his fiery goosemother, laotsey taotsey, woman who did, he tell princes of the age about.

To be honest I’m a bit lost in this chapter – it’s about the three children in the story, two brothers (a bit like Cain and Abel from Genesis) and a sister. It has a lot of references to fairy tales and nursery rhymes, hence “fiery goosemother” = fairy godmother meets goosey goosey gander. “laotsey taotsey” may echo ‘goosey goosey’. “Fiery” may relate to the fact that one of the brothers (the one this sentence is about, I think) is associated with the devil. “Helpmeat” will be a deliberate pun/misspelling as that is the nature of the novel. I’m fairly sure it is referencing biblical Eve. Joyce had a strong Eve character in his own life – his wife Nora Barnacle from Galway. What the woman “did” I’m not sure, but it might include eating the forbidden fruit. The man might well find that something to tell princes and others about. 

“laotsey” is a reference to Lao-tse, the ancient Chinese philosopher and central figure in Taoism. The Woman Who Did is a Victorian novel (1895) by Grant Allen. “taotsey” may be related to ‘tutti’ type words i.e. ‘all’. Finnegans Wake is constructed from such layers of meaning and reference. The trick with both Finnegans Wake and Ulysses is not to get too hung up on understanding every word. 

1st (trade) edition, Faber & Faber, London, 1939

My edition of Finnegans Wake is a Penguin Modern Classic. But of course the original publication was by the bold, Modernist Faber & Faber. So that is Coincidence No. 115.

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