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If you’re playing a real drama like Hedda Gabler, you just kill yourself and go home and it’s over. But a soap like this is day after day and it stays with you. June Brown on playing Dot Cotton.

Lest by this that anyone thinks I’m depressed, I’m not. Actually to me what June Brown says is magic and funny. It is also how these forms function – it’s not only playing that counts: looking is a being-done-to, but also a kind of doing, like reading and breathing. So through lung fog I think about everything we go through and how. Tragedy/soap opera. Melodrama, another thing. Tragedy isn’t misery. About what is sustaining. What is day after day. What stays and how we get out of it. What moves and how against the lack of resolution. An ask to show me the show versus a frame rubbed out. The threat of the visible frame or the danger of its invisibility. The proscenium arch/one kind of television: this kind of television is a rubbed out frame, but we’re already done with it because we found others that are even more so. And then that really we all or this or me or art ought to be Hedda, but that it is or we are only because it is or we are the Dot who produces her:   .  .  .

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1

Thus Brandon in Brighton. Harry and I are in the Queens Arms because I wanted something to do and it is KKK: Kamp Kevin’s Karaoke. Smashing. Two halves of Fosters and we stand at an island table. It’s not late and there are just a few smeared around the edges. KK is sloping in a chair in the DJ booth, looking like it’s sophisticated and powerful yet entirely hopeless, emitting that really complicated kind of nasty you could also call spineless but that doesn’t necessarily mean what it seems. On the ledge in front of him is a small pile of paper slips face down with curled up edges like they’ve either been re-used or filled in and flicked with a damp thumb and an empty plastic jug for the spent ones.

Things get underway. I like it. Harry wonders how I know the lyrics without reading the words and I remind him of when I lipsynched The Greatest Love of All in Kumpelnest on Kerstin’s birthday and his total horror and almost walking out. Go figure. Anyway, KK announces “Now, if you’re thinking about slitting your wrists tonight here is the perfect suicide song… perfect suicide song, if you’re feeling miserable, here’s the song…. Would Brandon please come to the stage. Brandon. Where’s Brandon, come to the stage Brandon. Brandon…” And what it was in this was, sure, the suspense and the excitement at such a song, but also just what KK’s relationship to Brandon might be – like, it was indeterminable if KK knew Brandon, though I thought he must to try and get away with high camp negative capability/corporality but really it could have been a genuine irritation, karaoke fatigue exasperation and mild general contempt, fondness and familiarity, playing with a kitten you don’t like or possibly just spite.

Brandon mounts the stage. He came from nowhere and has no supporters in the room. Jeans and a sweatshirt, Reeboks but not fashionably so, just plainly with a peaceful face and mid-length, washed, mid-brown hair, a soft 1970s. These solo karaokers are incredible to me. To give and what to get? To sing and hear. To see and do. To act and witness. Call and response. What’s the request, to who? To be with…

My Way strikes up. Brandon gives a fair-enough account. He’s no SuBo but he holds his line and it’s smooth. We variously join him but he doesn’t need it. The song ends and before you’d imagine KK is on. He reads out the telephone numbers for the Samaritans and the LGBT Helpline and I do not know what register of reality we are on, but we are. Brandon leaves the stage and comes back to a half-full/empty pint glass that he’d left on the table where Harry and I are standing without me noticing before. I tell Brandon that he sang beautifully and that it wasn’t suicidal at all. Brandon rolls his eyes and drinks and goes off.

Time passes. A vaguely bedraggled trannie in her 60s arrives to It’s Raining Men, polyester, throws some moves on the way to her seat like a pro, neat tight sharp small uplifts of the arms, hup-hah, kind of. Within 15mins she’s having her photo taken with students who were out the back smoking until now. They’re all over the dancefloor like the kids at the end of Der Rosenkavalier accosting Baron Ochs: ”Papa! Papa! Papa!” only here I wished they wouldn’t because it’s got nothing to do with being human this kind of photograph which should be banned because it IS death. At least those kids who accosted Gregor and I when we were drugged by the mafia in that bar in Odessa actually wanted something real even though they were ten years younger than these ones – drinks, passports, kidneys and they themselves could have been boys or girls and they were selling sex with their friends and we couldn’t feel our legs but we managed still to “run” away… “Papa! Papa! Papa!”… and crawled up what were not the Odessa steps although they were just as many and only round the corner from the real ones and found our senses playing pool in Mick O’Neill’s Irish Pub. Wild dogs, lilac minks from limousines and packs of stray kids: scavenging alike. Happy Days. But I digress…

KK had a rest then started up again. A few numbers in… “OK… time for another depressing song. Brandon please… where’s Brandon…” the opening strains of the song are starting… Brandon, Brandon… we’re thinking, we’re all sort of looking around… is he… smoking?… “Brandon” [hesitantly, to self]… the opening strains repeat… Brandon doesn’t appear. No Brandon. No. Brandon has left the building. The song? The song he would have sung. “Let’s listen to it anyway.”

The Winner Takes It All.

‘Encore une journée divine.’

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2 – c.5

I’m going for a CT scan at the Cancer Centre where they are very efficient. I’m there on time as are the two other contenders with their chaperones. I’m the youngest and on my own. We all get called together and it’s follow-my-leader down the corridors. Leading is Marysister, the sister of Mary 1. Mary 2 follows, followed by Maryniece – Mary 2’s her aunt – then me.

Marysister is extraordinarily androgynous like someone out of Chaucer. Flaxen hair bobbed, kind of lank, trousers, all practical and chirping like Tourette’s of forced happiness as shrill as you like. It’s utterly unreal verging on psychopathic. The nurse says “Turn left”, Marysister loves it “Oh yes, yes, left, that’s it, turn left, ok, ok, lovely” and she turns left chirruping. And she’s chirping like this to infect the rest of us and it’s dangerous to rise to this bait. Maryniece does and soon they’re in league about journeys to get here, how everything’s on time, oh yes, very efficient here, always efficient etc. and they’re all pleased and proud at it all. And this continues as we sit in the corridor.

Maryniece is blocking Mary 2, but I can see Mary 1 in profile then Marysister at the end of the row. Poor Mary 1. She’s like benefiting from/the victim of Marysister’s psychopathic chirps and her pain is visible and it’s hard and extreme. Her face is absolutely fixed, half-bowed and her mouth is open. There are hardly any lips and it is hooked up into a totally frozen smile that is no smile at all, cut like a crescent moon and only occasionally might she say “yes” as thinly as you could imagine and not a muscle moves and she is there, frozen and it is like this, this picture of relentlessness. It goes on for this woman.

In a cubicle I get changed into a hospital robe the behind of which of course I can’t do up on my own and normally I wouldn’t care but what with all the Marys I do, so I have my coat over my shoulders like Larry Grayson or Mr Davis and my little socks still on which are bright green and bags banging around my feet and I come out skitting along and Mary 1 and Mary 2 are already trundled off on trailors for canulas. Marysister and Maryniece are now full flowing mainly because Marysister will not give up and then we hear why, which is what Marysister has been wanting to tell us all the time: Mary 1 not only has cancer but she is also suffering from chronic depression. Who knew. And well, then Maryniece says that Mary 2 is only there because her doctor’s receptionist who is a right little upstart rang Mary 2 up and told her she has cancer – Mary 2 lives alone and is in her 80s (Maryniece her 50s or older) – when actually Mary 2 does not have cancer at all, just some polyps on her lungs. I thought wasn’t that a plot in Shameless, but Maryniece got the first train from Kent to Holborn and gave merry hell at the surgery.

There’s more congratulation all round about efficiencies here and then some cussing of the government and what’s to become of this medical neatness and Maryniece says something that just stops us dead. What she says about the government, what she says is: “They have no mandate.” And it is like a radical truth you remember from some time ago when there was politics.

No sooner said than off I have to trot with my bags and my flapping bum and my little socks like a joke tip-tripping to the canula dept. and in it goes and I’m really good when I have a canula in, I can sit there dead still and after ten minutes a kid eating crisps is scrawking down the corridor towards me, his father is out of sight and half shouting but the kid is getting whatever he wants from the crisps and somehow thinks it’s his gaff and the kid gets to where I am and there’s no curtain and there I am, frozen with the canula and he must be thinking I am a statue because he’s looking and he’s looking and stuffing his face with crisps and he says to hid dad “How long does he have to be like that”. I am so not going to smile and indicate that I am not like anything, because frankly I’m thinking that’s all I need and kids are vermin at times like this and he’s uncontrollable this one on crisps and then a nurse comes and the dad doesn’t have a pound coin for the locker and the nurse lends him one easy as anything which is amazing, properly nice and the kid is pressing his cheeks against the glass of the office and they put things into a locker out of sight and I overhear and the whole time I’d thought they were there for the dad, but they’re not, it’s this kid that I couldn’t be with who’s here for an MRI scan.

I’m called into the X-ray room, lie down and give it my all.

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6?

I haven’t been to a film screening at the BFI for years. Sold out to the lame, the sick, the half-dead, Rachel and I, we hobble into NFT3 for over 2 hours of some of the most enthralling, stark, spartan and intensive work I’ve seen in a cinema for a long time. Bliss was David Bowie in a television play of Brecht’s Baal and a South Bank special introducing three made-for-TV plays by Beckett. Then something happens. Just as the bonus track starts to play – an additional film of Beckett’s Eh, Joe, which both Rachel and I thought was gilding the lily with its simply unnecessary emotion compared to the stringency and depth of televisual humanity at every single material level it could possibly have been constructed on, in everything that had come before – just as this one starts to play, down the left hand side of the auditorium some of us notice a figure. We see him from the back and it is precisely the figure that we have been watching in Beckett’s Ghost Trio 45mins ago, who does nothing to a window, a door and a platform until they lie and creak and show him nothing more. There is no doubt because this is not an anyone. The figure in the play and in the room has a severely hunched back, the upper part bent almost at right-angles to the rest of his body. His hair is long and white and he is wearing a floor-length coat. We do not see the face of the man in the room and slowly he is walking down the aisle, descending and he emerges into light and submerges into darkness like the characters in …but the clouds… or Come and Go. We want to speak about this, we want to talk to strangers and I make the kind of noise that isn’t a word to acknowledge this and there are shivers running all over me. I can’t remember when I can say the last time was that hairs on my body stood on end but they were, what now I have left of them. I am alive and this is my grave walking over me. The figure is slow and moves forwards like he did on the screen and just before a window appears in Eh, Joe, a final swift wrist of his in the room opens the Fire Escape stage right and: he EXITS. No alarm sounds but big fat round tears fall out of my eyes and onto my cheeks and I let them, plop plop plop. And there they are, and there we are and there I am and dot dot dot and nothing more.

no photo death

Best In Show. Sign outside Death: A self-portrait at the Wellcome Institute.

I’ve always been looking for a window and I have been thinking about this. What kind of window, and how, and why. I mean always as in both before all This and since. Before and since Emily Wardill and I were writing We Are Behind, but charged since then too.

I mean it literally, like looking for rooms with good windows (even from the outside I can look at any building anywhere with windows and think it would be an alright place to live because of what I imagine could be seen from it. It’s like men with legs. Most men with legs I like. Rivers, snow and body hair: all are things to do). And I mean it figuratively – not as in opportunism, but as in time and space (OK so I’m having another go at these) as they might expand into that kind of luxury described by a movement between inside and outside the more massive the better, which is how Berlin at its best is to me. Which is to say that this window, whatever it is, is relevant, a point of intersection not only in the most obvious sense but also and to here and now.

Paintings and theatre are all windows, but it’s of what kind that counts. They are pictures, the first windows. But what pictures? And why? Dead or alive, as in a record or a landscape + a weather condition? Still or not? Escape or enclosure? What pictures for me… I am sure it’s not that kind of ownership described in one of those novels by Forster where the EnglishMAN enters a room and walks always immediately to the window as if to see indicated through it something that He owns, pitiable, neat colonial dreamer, wherever. I do not want a window to own anything, to fix by a leg, a stick, a fence, a gun, a dress, a hat, the look that wards off

Mr and Mrs Andrewslike Mr and Mrs Andrews do us from their estate.

Actually, paintings might not be pictures like the first windows, but I am going back to them as if they are, or something. But whose lies are these for which I fall? They are blueprints, grids. For action, or action itself. Because they are, I have thought, building blocks even though to admit this is also that risk to admit history-as-ownership when I want to give it away. Anyone’s, everyone’s. Even if they are templates to be undone by being re-read, misread, read, is this enough to undo everything else? What is enough? When? Who for? What for? What do they become? Something seen cannot be unseen. But unwritten?

At best let’s say, this act of reading, this something being done, is like breathing by the means of this window that I am looking for, if it were found. It is a subjecting to time. It is looking-out-of and in-through simultaneously, the moving from the inside to the outside with as massive a lungful as you can, but gently. Breathing/reading/moving. Pictures are removed from time by their collection, by the institutions or individuals that collect them, by definition – they define each other in this way, lasting forever. But are paintings necessarily, in and of themselves, without time? Can it be that they are only made so by what is done to them? Maybe these cannot be separated one from the other. But I also want to say that paintings are not in and of themselves necessarily not subject to time – it is just our fear of death that does this – and so that to read them as such isn’t perverse, but joyful, its counter(part). A stop not to them but to this other mechanism, the defining, the knowing, the historying, even if not enough is undone by doing it.

Or, let me start again, I am going back to pictures now because I can, quite literally: not to all of them but to some of them. Those of them in fact that are opposite the Parliamentian Benches of the National Gallery, those free seats for all, with wide studded leather, crafted wooden arms, subdivided into sections that are my current gravitational pull if I have time on/in my hands – because it is a place to be and being there is alright – placed in with the Rubens’s, the Velazquez’s and, well, the Englishes; Turner, Reynolds, Gainsborough. Well, actually, I’ve never really got Rubens and I can’t hardly stomach Velazquez right now, so where I mean exactly is in front of Mr and Mrs Hallett on their morning walk:

6040728677_35e93961e4_zAnd here they are, and they are also owners, these two, I imagine, and I sat there not because I wanted to look but because I wanted to sit down and there I was, slap bang. I’d looked up before, and now I looked and I really felt that now, by now I know this painting and what I thought I know is that here are owners in a state of fleeting, the wild fever of themselves and money. I am convinced of this, here. They are portrayed, we’re told, on or just before their wedding day. The trees and their clothing are a lot more torrid than you can tell by this reproduction. She might be wearing her wedding dress. They are merchants if nothing else for me than by their cheap-fine trippery that could be bought, ribbons and bows like Gainsborough’s sisters sold. And every single bit of frippery is flipping or fripping in the wind like every single leaf and the hairs on the dog. Am I this leaf or that one? And the asymmetry of the opening in the trees to say from where they come, they are emerging in a whirl/trap/whip/bubble. Where are they going? This is the fever of the mercantile, the nascent class, the buyers, unfixed in the very moment of their being painted, of their painting, their frenzy. Oh, the worry fraught. Despite losing his fortune gambling on the horses though, these two still stayed married for 48years. So it’s a game and it’s not unkind, this fleeting surface a roll of the dice and what remains, but it’s a picture of fever painted in a frenzy, by halflight that is, using brushes on 10ft poles like how they say Gainsborough used to do. Half close your eyes and everything is stable. Feverish.

And as I’m thinking all this, a woman comes along with her daughter and the daughter sits next to me and the mother is standing. The daughter is facing the Halletts with me, the mother looking over the bench at the opposite wall – of Turners. The mother suddenly says, quite crisp and well perky like she just has to, without looking at her daughter “Look, darling, it’s just exactly like those barbecues we have on Sundays.” Which seemed pretty brilliant to me and I smiled at her and said this was wonderful and then she was at pains to explain to me that they lived near Shearness, or actually, now, more like Whitstable. But she went on about the Thames Estuary and just how beautiful etc. and then the reasons why and precisely because of it being absolutely EMPTY. Empty of others. The land is theirs alone. Alone. Alone. Alone. I thought I liked empty space, but it doesn’t describe the window. I am dead cold. It’s not the window. Paintings subjected to time are also + people, living, correspondences.

Not four days after I was sitting on the Benches in the National Gallery I went to see Skyfall with Mike + Dalston, selling out the Rio. Halfway through which, where does James Bond receive his new toys from the geek-youth new Q other than exactly – I mean really exactly absolutely – only sat in the same spot in the same room of the National Gallery as I had been – do-be-do uncanny – and none of the pictures had been rearranged that I could tell. But Bond and Q are facing the Turners which are behind the camera. In the background we see Reynolds and the Halletts. Of course, we see the Halletts. Rachel says what’s in the frame is what the director wanted to be in the frame and that’s why this very particular angle showing these things and I trust her and wonder if what is in the frame is seen if it is not seen by the characters? Or rather what do we see, the viewers, about the characters? Which is maybe what Rachel means too. That we are meant to see. Well, it’s also a game – this ‘aging’ spy, this ‘young’ kid, these new toys that are as old fashioned as they come (and go), a gun and a radio. So, we see England in the Halletts at this mid-distance, like permanence and definiteness. Their England offsets the other their’s intimations of Mortality. It stays like a feature film franchise, while they, as characters of course they stay too but only because those that play them also come and go. This play death.

This permanence is a fever, when it is a picture + time, which is what I got that day, sat there, not a sweat, but company, my keeping company (keeping me company) for a period of time. Of course, They who the filmmakers might stand-for, hide or represent don’t want England to be a fever, which is why the painting is in the mid-distance so as not to show its leaves. Like, it just doesn’t matter if general people die in a Bond film: they ought to, for the drama, no question, looks nice, is fine. Really this is an England They want to paint in a halflight of course, that’s showbusiness, in the same way that M does when she quotes Tennyson later on as the general justification for MI6: i.e. it’s only a superficial justification of Them working for “us”, as in it is no justification at all, but the very battlecry of the singular adventurer fighting to prove he’s Daddy, Ulysses with nothing but contempt for the “savage race / That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me” [my emphasis]. Even if “as though to breathe were life”, it is still Ulysses’ breathing alone that counts, in competition, “To strive, to seek, to find and not to yield.” It is me, me, me: the fevers. And that’s why we like James Bond: it empties, and by doing so is Their sustaining fiction, lies.

What I am trying to say is that the Halletts are England and fever but that I do not want to be alone as in like the lie of Forever, or an owning Mine, so they become voices and noises, the risk of others, I am producing them into company, the conditions of this window, a picture subjected to time, unsustained, temporal. Jubilant noises, but noises. Just like this photograph

lung 2

is the Thames Estuary at Leigh-on-Sea. And it is also those waters lapping over its mudflats, the fluid produced by cancer in the blood filling a lung, the chest around a lung from the bottom up, that could be pictured

fog lung

in an X-ray by the London fog from Martin’s flat on the 14th floor, which didn’t lift, which was why Harry and I went to Whitstable which is a weird place anyway, which nonetheless was before that dead cold and the happily lonely owner of the empty space for barbecues on a Sunday

whitstable

and James Bond property-less but not free, without his family and no M***** and because of the way it feels in my chest like the sound that this looks like; is it the creaking of a thin strap (one from Jutta’s Mad Garland I’d like) against a leather jacket as I walk, leathers on leather, or just bones, or the elbow creaking of the jacket itself, differently, softer? These waters lapping. If I move like this does it stop? Stop it. If I breathe like this? Lie like this? If I do not feel it for a moment is it gone? Can I find it again? I do not want it then I panic and I miss it. I’ll rummage. It feels like I could hear it, the sound of water constantly simmering in a pan for an in-breath and sometimes at the bottom of an out- more viscous, with deeper, bigger plops. And I fill it up myself with conjecture, something to do, time and space are taken up. Given up. it’s not this picture that I want is it.

Have I gone too far? I doubt, I doubt, I doubt and so I am alright really. I mean, it could also be a beautiful day

nice day 2It could also just be a beautiful day

nice day 4It could also be a beautiful day

nice day 1It is a beautiful day

nice day 3etc.

The trouble is that to have words put into one’s mouth is as violent as having them taken away. The window is not persuasion. Medicine is fact but it is also fiction: it is the trouble with pictures that are not windows.

But Lo! What’s this?! Other noises?! [Noises off?] Oh pitter-patter tinkle… could it be, could it… be… B… Ba-Bam… Ba- Ba-Ba-Ba—Ba-ambi… Ba-Ba-Bambi L.?!!!… is he coming?… oh come…