Things That Are No More #2: I’m Walking Backwards for Christmas – and forever

This is Michael Dickinson (filmed by me in April 2018) not far from Spike Milligan’s stomping ground. Sadly he passed away recently. He was a much-loved presence in East Finchley as well as other parts of London such as Camden Town. He came to East Finchley to visit the Phoenix Cinema (which BTW is about to re-open) among other things.

Michael was an actor, writer and campaigner. He suffered from a psychological condition called ‘retropulsion’, a compulsion to walk backwards, which is a symptom of Parkinsonism. He died from Peritonitis on 2nd July in his bedsit in Highgate, aged 70.

Michael was born in Yorkshire. He lived all around Camden Town in the 70s and 80s, then mov­ed to Istanbul. After 30 years living in Turkey and working as a teacher, he was deported back to Britain in 2013 after being arrested for exhib­iting a collage portraying President Erdogan as a dog collecting a rosette from George Bush.

He studied at Manchester School of Theatre in 1969. Michael acted and wrote for the Pentameters Theatre (which BTW urgently needs support to survive and has a crowdfunder on the go to that end) above the Three Horseshoes pub on Heath Street, Hampstead where he was considered a talented actor. His final play was about Keats whose manor included Heath Street. Léonie Scott-Matthews, who has run Pentameters for over five decades, witnessed when the condition kicked in: “I remember when he started walking backwards. He was in a play here. He got off the stage and just started walking back­wards. It was just after he had got back from Turkey.”

In a 2017 interview in the Camden New Journal Michael said: “I am not acting. If it wasn’t for the retropulsion, I would much prefer to be walking forwards.”

For some time he lived in a tent on Hampstead Heath. Other times his home was a cardboard box behind Sainsbury in Camden Town and various squats including Hampstead Police Station (also on Heath Street). Eventually he got more regular accommodation. 

The Erdogan episode took on international proportions. Michael arrived at the appeal hearing bearing a similar collage with Erdogan’s face on a dog’s body. During the shenanigans Charles Thomson, co-founder of the pro-figurative Stuckist group of artists,  wrote to the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to encourage the “strongest condem­nation of this prosecution”.  Thomson said: “The story got international media attention because they were trying to get into the EU at that time. I think without it he would have got a stiff jail sentence.” He described Michael’s art as “exquisitely wrought political collages”. Relating it to the movement he founded he said: “Stuckism is for individuals who feel marginalised and not prepared to kow-tow to the establishment. They are not afraid to be them­selves and often they pay the price for that.”

Besides plays, as a writer michael wrote dozens of articles, mainly published on Counter­punch. His output included various essays about his life.

Michael’s life is a perfect example of the richness of stories that can underlie people in our communities we are perhaps dismissive of or put in a judgmental box. Another such example from my own childhood community was Dr Stephan Hassan, known as the Edgware Walker. When I started working at Channel 4 the filmmaker-comedian Lee Kern (Co-producer of Who Is America? with Sacha Baron Cohen) gave me a copy of the film he had just finished (2003) as a tribute to a forwards runner, as mysterious as Michael Dickinson.

Lee’s affectionate film, The Edgware Walker, was first broadcast in 2004 (Channel 4). Its core message is that is is important to engage with such people where we live, including asking them questions as you would your friends and neighbours. 

Things That Are No More No. 1

39 films for Jake

The Big Chill
  1. The Big Chill
  2. Diner
  3. Apocalypse Now
  4. The Unbelievable Truth
  5. La Haine
  6. In the Name of the Father
  7. Platoon
  8. The Conversation
  9. I know where I’m going
  10. MASH
  11. A bout de souffle
  12. Pandora and the Flying Dutchman
  13. The Third Man
  14. Bulworth
  15. Running on Empty
  16. Chinatown
  17. Chaplin
  18. Vertigo
  19. Harold & Maude
  20. City Lights
  21. Enemy of the State
  22. Cinema Paradiso 
  23. Casablanca
  24. Dr Zhivago
  25. Mississippi Burning
  26. Blow Up
  27. Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid
  28. Bonnie and Clyde
  29. What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?
  30. Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid 
  31. The Great Gatsby (1974)
  32. The Parallax View
  33. Baby it’s you
  34. The Searchers
  35. Easy Rider
  36. Flirting
  37. Smoke
  38. The Hairdresser’s Husband
  39. La Lune Dans Le Caniveau (Moon in the Gutter)

    Bubbling under: Marnie, A Month in the Country, The General, Lethal Weapon, The Maltese Falcon, Betty Blue, The Accountant, 20,000 days on Earth, 2001: A Space Odyssey, All the President’s Men, Romeo & Juliet (1996), The Sting, Johnny English, The Bounty, 24 Hour Party People, The Remains of the Day, Cold War, My Life as a Dog, The Commitments, The Bourne Supremacy, Rolling Thunder Review, Modern Times, The Wild Bunch

 

La Lune Dans Le Caniveau (Moon in the Gutter)

My nephew Jake turned 16 this weekend – he has remarkably good and sophisticated taste in films, so as a bonus birthday gift I put together this list of films I love which I reckon he’ll enjoy too. His favourite film is Inside Llewyn Davis. That one has fond memories for me as I met & chatted with  Oscar Isaac and T Bone Burnett at the screening I attended, the latter being particularly charming, interesting and generous with his time. T Bone’s first experience on the road is captured in last year’s spectacularly brilliant Rolling Thunder Review.

Inside Llewyn Davis

Simple Pleasures of Summer

From Summer by Ali Smith, published this month, the fourth of her seasons series. I picked the quotation out for its reference to Simple Pleasures.

This section is from just after the bit where this lane with its grassline down the middle appears

What a great thing it must be, to be able to make a seat like that look so good.
The best thing is, it’ll last, he says. Decades. Simple pleasures.
Simple pleasures, she says. I was just walking along thinking about them. Well, about how I tend to wish pleasures were a lot simpler than they end up being.
He laughs.
He licks the cigarette paper along its edge.
Uh huh? he says.
Oh, you know, she says. How even when things are lovely it’s like we can’t help blocking them from ourselves. What a lovely summer it is and how, it’s like, no matter what we do, we can’t get near its loveliness.

This links to another key paragraph set along the lane in the image above:

The briefest and slipperiest of the seasons, the one that won’t be held to account – because summer won’t be held at all, except in bits, fragments, moments, flashes of memory of so-called or imagined perfect summers, summers that never existed.
Not even this one she’s in exists. Even though it’s apparently the best summer so far of the century. Not even when she is quite literally walking down a road as beautiful and archetypal as this through an actual perfect summer afternoon.
So we mourn it while we’re in it. Look at me walking down the road in summer thinking about the transience of summer.
Even while I’m right at the heart of it I just can’t get to the heart of it.

I call this the Beauty Stab.

Hitchcock’s Leytonstone

On my East London wanderings today I ended up in Leytonstone where I’d been meaning to go on a Sunday morning Hitchcock guided walk for months but never made it and then Corona kicked in. As I was driving into the High Street where Hitch was born (at No. 517) I spotted a mural of him on a side street and that prompted a small Hitchcock pilgrimage.

I got my very first job in the industry by attending a talk about Hitchcock’s The Birds at uni given by playwright David Rudkin – I met his friend, producer Stephen Mellor, after the talk and managed to get a runner job out of him at his company AKA in Farringdon. Director Alastair Reid was also at the talk – he’d recently completed the debut episode of a new series called Inspector Morse.

The first place I found was the site of the police station where Hitchcock was locked in a cell for a few hours at the behest of his father, William. Here’s how Hitch told the story of this formative event to François Truffaut:

“I must have been about four or five years old when my father sent me to the Police Station with a note. The Chief of Police read it and locked me in a cell for five or ten minutes, saying, ‘This is what we do to naughty boys.’ … I haven’t the faintest idea why I was punished. As a matter of fact, my father used to call me his ‘little lamb without a spot,’ so I truly cannot imagine what I did …” 

The lifelong impact of the trauma was an unwavering suspicion and fear of the police and judicial authorities reflected in his movies.

site of the Harrow Road police station (616-618 High Road)

Here’s a model of what the cop shop looked like when Hitch was a lad, made by illustrator and model-maker Sebastian Harding

Next I went in search of Hitchcock’s birthplace above his father’s greengrocery and poultry shop W. Hitchcock at 517 High Street. In 1899 when Alfred was born it looked something like this

one of the Alfred Hitchcock mosaics at Leytonstone Station

It was demolished in the 60s and the site is now occupied by a petrol station. Let’s just call it short-sighted.

The plaque is on the wall just to the left of the skip
Presumably he hasn’t got an English Heritage Blue Plaque here because the twats knocked down the actual building

While he has no national plaque here one was put up in in 1999 on the centenary of his birth by English Heritage at 153 Cromwell Road, South Kensington, London, SW5 0TQ in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea near his adult home. (I suspect he would have preferred Leytonstone).

In the vicinity of his birthplace there were various nods to Leytonstone’s finest son. 

Birds embedded in the pavement (though they don’t look much like gulls – the 3rd one up looks like one of the notorious London parakeets)
More un-gull-like birds in a mural beside his birthplace
complete with ‘lead pipe’ fit for murder in the billiard room
pub on the High Street

When I got home from the outing I stumbled across Vertigo on Netflix and hit play. It brought back memories of my last Hitchcock pilgrimage which was in San Francisco in August 2015.

Where Madelaine (Kim Novak) jumps into San Francisco Bay in Vertigo
Vertigo: Madeleine jumps
Coit Tower – how Madeleine finds her way back to Scottie’s apartment
Paramount Studios in Hollywood – from the same 2015 Highway 1 revisited road trip

Vertigo trivia: The opening Paramount logo is in black and white while the rest of the film, including the closing Paramount logo, is in Technicolor.

The original press book (or “showmanship manual”) for the film
A long way from the greengrocery in Leytonstone
.
Hitch’s cameo in Vertigo

(Apparently this is my 1000th post on Simple Pleasures part 4 – in August 2012 Vertigo was named the best film of all time in the BFI’s once-a-decade The 100 Greatest Films of All Time poll making it more than worthy to be the subject of this 1000th post)

Coincidences No.s 208, 209 and 210 – Sussex

Coincidence No. 208 – Kemptown

I’m sitting at this café in Kemptown, Brighton when I hear a familiar voice. I look round and the face is familiar too. I ask this young woman: “Excuse me but do you have some kind of clothes business in Camden Town? were are you in a film a while ago? “ At first Camden Town doesn’t ring much of a bell with her and I say sorry my mistake. Then she suddenly realises that she took premises temporarily in Camden Town sometime ago and that she is the woman I’m thinking of. She was in a documentary I commissioned a couple of years ago about psychedelics. I know her voice and face not from any direct contact but because I heard and saw her over and over in the editing process.

I didn’t even know she had anything to do with Brighton and associated her with Camden Town and somewhere up north where her accent comes from. 

Mind-Explorers-Poster real stories little dot studios documentary

Coincidence No. 209 – Saltdean & Lewes

My old friend N comes to visit me in Brighton. First thing in the morning I take him to Saltdean for a swim (which is something of an adventure as he hasn’t swum in UK waters for over two decades, he prefers hotter climes). As we walk to the beach we pass the Lido (opened by Tarzan (Johnny Weissmuller) in 1938). “What does Lido actually mean?” asks N (i.e. specifically). “Is it always like this?” I say that I think it’s usually a 1930s large open-air pool like this, although I was taken to Ruislip Lido as a child and that, from memory, was more of a lake.

a public open-air swimming pool or bathing beach 

At N’s request we go to Lewes in the afternoon in search of a second-hand bookshop. We go to the excellent Bow Windows in the high street. We browse, masked up, in the stifling heatwave heat. I examine a Graham Greene novel, one of the first books I lift from the shelf (are you allowed to actually lift books in the Covid era?). It is The Comedians (1966) set in Haiti. The hotel in the story is called Hotel Lido.

I speak to Enfant Terrible No. 2 in the evening. I ask what he’s been doing with his day in this heat. He has been down to Crouch End Lido he informs me, which is full of “old people” (i.e. 30 plus) doing lanes and, post-Lockdown, none of the young yahoos that used to be there seem to have registered the reopening, all of which pleases him.

Coincidence No. 209b – Saltdean & London

Walking beside Saltdean Lido to the beach I notice the name of the makers of the old pale blue iron railings sloping down to the pedestrian tunnel: J. Every, Lewes

At the spot where I normally park in front of our house in London N2 is a metal plate by the drain. It is made by J. Every, Lewes. The drain itself is made by J. Gibb & Co. Ltd., London. Why did London Borough of Barnet go all the way to Lewes for its drain stuff?

Coincidence No. 210 – Rottingdean

I am starting to read the new novel by Ali Smith, Summer. It just came out a few days ago and I have read and enjoyed Spring and Autumn (the latter for our book group which is where I first came across her). I read these sentences: 

She already knows she is never going to have children. Why would you bring a child into a catastrophe? It would be like giving birth to a child in a prison cell. 

This last sentence reminds me of a programme I heard a few days before on BBC Radio 4 about women giving birth in prison. I remember that I was approaching the traffic lights in Rottingdean when I was listening to it. Rottingdean is the village beside where I now live much of the time in Brighton.

Then comes the next sentence which I have not yet read or glimpsed:

And Brighton’s a good place, one of the best in the country for green things, the only place in the whole of the UK with a green MP

I had no idea the novel was set in Brighton until that moment. This sentence is the first reference to it.

John Hume – Respect

John Hume 1971 derry

At a civil rights march in Derry 1971

“Difference is of the essence of humanity. Difference is an accident of birth and it should therefore never be the source of hatred or conflict. The answer to difference is to respect it. Therein lies a most fundamental principle of peace – respect for diversity.”

John Hume – Nobel Peace Prize Lecture 1998

 

john hume

MP for Foyle & Leader of the SDLP

Alan Parker and the curse count

the commitments alan parker movie film

The Commitments (1991)

I met London-born director Alan Parker once – it was at the Dorchester hotel in Park Lane at some film-related event, around 2004. As we were walking out I took the opportunity to tell him a story about my younger son and The Commitments

Like many parents I tended to show my children movies too young, forgetting the detail of the content. One afternoon I was sitting watching The Commitments with the pair of them, connecting them to the Irish half of their identity. Enfant Terrible No. 2 disappeared off mid-movie for a few minutes to run upstairs and get the stopwatch his Auntie Bernadette had recently bought him. He then reinstalled himself on the sofa and carried on watching, shiny new present in hand. After a while he turned to me (he’s about five at the time) and said: “Dad, do you realise it’s 3 minutes, 48 seconds since the last ‘Fuck’?” like that was some kind of record in linguistic restraint.

I find The Commitments a pretty flawless film, the music performed with brilliant energy, the casting of Andrew Strong as Deco key to the success of the movie.

birdy movie alan parker 1984

Birdy (1984) – Nicolas Cage & Matthew Modine

Whilst I got as excited as the next kid about Bugsy Malone and the splurge guns, it was Birdy, which came out as I started uni, which made a real mark on my growing up. Matthew Modine’s performance is very moving, perfectly supported by a young Nicholas Cage.

Mississippi Burning movie film alan parker 1988

Mississippi Burning (1988) Willem Dafoe & Gene Hackman

Mississippi Burning remains one of my favourite Alan Parker movies. Although it’s probably looked down on these days for having largely white saviours, it’s as cinematic and compelling as you could wish. It would make a great double bill with Ava DuVernay’s  Selma. I’ll be watching it as a single bill this evening in memory and celebration of Alan Parker who went to the Big Studio in the sky yesterday. For me what he stood for was the ability to make entertaining and emotionally satisfying films which were accessible/mainstream and yet imaginative and substantial.

 

Quotation: hands on

After three months of Zooming these words resonate:

david hockney garden painting

A Hockney garden

“Everyone must leave something behind when he dies, my grandfather said. A child or a book or a painting or a house or a wall built or a pair of shoes made. Or a garden planted. Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die, and when people look at that tree or that flower you planted, you’re there.

It doesn’t matter what you do, he said, so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.”

(Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451)

Schema for Ulysses

To mark Bloomsday 2020 (or Zoomsday as it has widely become known due to Corona Lockdown circumstances this year) I’ve decided to publish Joyce’s 1921 schema for the novel (largely for my own convenient reference).

Title Scene Hour Organ Colour Symbol Art Techniq-ue
1

Telemac-hus

The Tower (Sandycove) 8am White & gold Heir Theology Narrative (young)
2

Nestor

The School 10am Brown Horse History Catechism (personal)
3

Proteus

The Strand

(Sandymount strand)

11am Green Tide Philology Monologue (male)
4

Calypso

The House

(Eccles St)

8am Kidney Orange Nymph Economics Narrative (mature)
5

Lotus Eaters

The Bath 10am Genitals Eucharist Botany & chemistry Narcissism
6

Hades

The Graveyard

(Glasnevin)

11am Heart White & black Caretaker Religion Incubism
7

Aeolus

The Newspaper 12 noon Lungs Red Editor Rhetoric Enthymemic
8

Lestrygo-nians

The Lunch 1pm Oesophagus Constables Architecture Peristaltic
9

Scylla & Chary-bdis

The Library

(National Library)

2pm Brain Stratford & London Literature Dialectic
10

Wanderi-ng Rocks

The Streets 3pm Blood Citizens Mechanics Labyrinth
11

Sirens

The Concert Room

(Ormond Hotel)

4pm Ear (Gold & Bronze) Barmaids Music Fuga per canonem
12

Cyclops

The Tavern 5pm Muscle Fenian Politics Gigantism
13

Nausica-a

The Rocks

(Sandymount strand)

8pm Eye, nose Grey & blue Virgin Painting Tumescence / detumescence
14

Oxen of the Sun

The Hospital (Holles St) 10pm Womb White Mothers Medicine Embryonic development
15

Circe

The Brothel 12am Locomotor apparatus Whore Magic Hallucination
16

Eumaeu-s

The Shelter 1am Nerves Sailors Navigation Narrative (old)
17

Ithaca

The House

(Eccles St)

2am Skeleton Comets Science Catechism (impersonal)
18

Penelop-e

The Bed

(Eccles St)

Flesh Earth Monologue (female)

We had a three hour reading session on Zoom at sundown with a reading from each chapter, we being the Charles Peake Ulysses Seminar of the University of London/Senate House. I read a section from Ithaca in which our protagonists, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, have a piss out back of the latter’s house after a night on the town.

Screenshot 2020-06-16 18.09.59

I re-started my third reading of the book today to mark the occasion. My plan is to keep reading it on an endless cycle until I drop into the black hole myself.

Then they follow: dropping into a hole one after the other.

[Hades]

My Ulysses library copies editions book james joyce

A big chunk of my Ulysses library

A Canadian academy award for ‘Take Me To Prom’

Take Me to Prom‘, the glittery creation of Canadian director Andrew Moir, won the Best Short Documentary award at the recent Canadian Screen Awards run by the Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television.

2020 BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY CANADIAN SCREEN AWARDS

I co-commissioned the film at Real Stories (Little Dot Studios, alongside my colleague Alex Hryniewicz) with Lesley Birchard at CBC (Canadian national broadcaster). The film is very much Andrew’s baby – he had a clear vision and he drove it through with absolute confidence in what was in his head.

The film revisits the iconic North American adolescent milestone of High School Prom through interviews with LGBTQ people ranging in age from 17 to 88, showing how things have moved on over seven decades (there is one representative of each decade).

take me to prom cbc real stories

It is currently Short of the Week (on Short of the Week).

take me to prom cbc real stories

We also co-commissioned the charming Finding Fukue as a CBC-Real Stories Original. I believe it holds the record for CBC Short Docs viewing on their YouTube channel (6.5M views and climbing). It’s a very different documentary to Prom but equally high quality – directed by Jessica Stuart.

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