53: The book launch and the spider
Hello, I hope you’re doing well and keeping safe.
Here’s Border Crossing issue #53. A warm welcome — and thank you very much if you’re newly signed up.
I wasn’t planning to write more about me — but that’s what happened this time. I go with the flow, I hope you don’t mind. Also trigger warning: this one has a spider in it.
By the way, if you play Fantasy Premier League, I run a mini-league. You’re very welcome to join using the code: qi3116.
A beautiful James Baldwin binge: four wonderful essays on Baldwin’s life and work, all in one New Yorker ‘Sunday Reading’ collection.
Radiolab’s podcast miniseries The Vanishing of Harry Pace is a three parter about Black Swan Records founder Harry Pace, the great early 20th century African-American activist-entrepreneur, who vanished from history. It’s followed by three especially excellent coda episodes (including a great interview with Rhiannon Giddens on minstrelsy) which expand the series into a deeper exploration of pioneering black music makers.
If you can access BBC iPlayer, Clara Amfo’s interview with Billie Eilish is an interesting watch, regardless if you’re familiar with Billie’s music. I love that the Eilish family lived in this particular neighbourhood: a decade ago, my old friends Stephen and Jane lived right there — literally 150 yards from the Flamingo Estate location used in this TV interview. So I spent a ton of time in that corner of the world, through mellow Los Angeles winters. Billie and Finneas would’ve been small kids playing out, right around the corner. I wonder if we crossed paths.
I don’t remotely understand this but it’s worth a go: Natalie Wolchover reports in Quanta on the first ever — apparently successful — building of a ‘time crystal’ inside Google’s quantum computer.
The Guardian’s gallery of finalists in Potato Photographer Of The Year 2021.
The book launch and the spider
Last month, up in Crystal Palace for band rehearsal, Jenny was chatting and mentioned in passing an old mutual acquaintance, Eugene. We both knew him way back when we worked at the Press Association, twenty years ago. But despite it being a memorable name, I don’t remember Eugene. He was a nice, friendly guy but we probably only overlapped a few weeks at work. After I left, basically I never thought about him again. I can’t picture his face. However, it turns out Jenny and Eugene are still in the same circle of friends and recently crossed paths working on something — I can’t remember the details of that either — so his name came up. Just in passing.
I didn’t think about it more, I didn’t look him up online, nor mention him to anyone else, nor type the word ‘Eugene’ into any computer or phone, anywhere. Nevertheless, a few days later, and for the first time, Eugene shows up in my Facebook page ‘People You May Know’ feed. Oh, the inevitable omniscience of the algorithm.
I rarely engage with Facebook’s ‘People You May Know’ feed. When I go on Facebook, I try to be in-and-out. But seeing Eugene’s name pop up, I mulled it for a while, which caused me to scroll through ‘People You May Know’ with more concentration than usual. Then I spotted another former colleague from the same job, who I’d also not seen for more than fifteen years, Alex. Here was another Jenny connection: the winter before Covid, at Jenny’s last Christmas party, apparently Alex had been there and I’d walked right by him without realising it was him. Back when we worked together, Alex used to be a waif-ish indie pop Bowlie type lad, however these days he’s bulked out and grown a big bookish beard. Now he looks more like a writer or a philosophy professor. I hadn’t recognised him at all. Anyway, eighteen months on, now the odd outcome of spotting Eugene’s name was, I decided to ‘add’ Alex as a Facebook friend.
All of which is merely a preamble.
I should be clear: I haven’t worn this fleece jacket since leaving the house. It’s a warm afternoon, so I’m carrying it over my arm. It’s a soft, light jacket, like a zip-up cardigan, except it has a useful hood you can unroll from inside the collar, if it suddenly rains.
It doesn’t look as shit as that description implies.
When I get off the train at London Victoria, I need the loo. Nervous, with my face-mask in place, I traipse down the steps into the public toilets. It’s busy. Despite only needing a piss, I go in a cubicle, to avoid standing among the closely bunched clamour of men all waiting and weeing. The cubicles have got larger. In the cubicle, I hang the jacket on the hook. After I’m done, I wave my hand in front of the sensor and the loo auto-flush kicks in.
Then, as I turn around, I see crawling around the pocket area of my jacket an enormous fat-bodied spider. A real giant. I stare at it. The spider couldn’t have come from anywhere in the empty, plain-walled cubicle or I would’ve noticed it. It must have been in my jacket the whole time. Or maybe it snuck onto the jacket at some point earlier on my journey. Maybe it was a train spider. I am suddenly incredibly tense: I pull a handful of toilet paper from the dispenser and clutch at the beast through the paper, lobbing it hard at the floor. The tissue paper half unfurls as it falls, enough to create drag and lose all its velocity, in a kind of parachute effect. Somehow, I’ve missed the floor altogether and watch the crumpled mess of toilet paper containing the enormous spider fell straight down into the toilet bowl. For the briefest second, in a mist of guilt I imagine it drowning. But immediately the spider clambers back into view, emerging on top of the dampening tissue. I grab my jacket and sweep out of the cubicle. A man is waiting outside. He’s much more smartly dressed than me, with a proper suit jacket. I walk smartly off towards the stairs, as he goes in. Behind me, inside the cubicle he gasps out a rasping shriek.
I’m avoiding the tube. I walk along Victoria Road, pass by Parliament, through the square with all the statues, then up through Westminster towards Soho. On Whitehall a dreadlocked man on a tricycle with a large sound-system gaffer-taped to the back is arguing fiercely with three police officers. He doesn’t want them to impound the sound system. They must’ve let him go, because as I walk by the entrance to Clowning Street with its heavily armed guards, he rides by at a sedate pace, booming very loud music out behind him. I had assumed it would be dub reggae or The Levellers but he’s playing Britpop hits. Blur and Pulp. Ew.
Chinatown is busy, though nothing like pre-Covid crowds. I walk up Wardour Street, across Oxford Street and zig-zag north–west. When you cross to the north side of Oxford Street, especially at dusk like this, once the after-work crowd has dissipated, it’s astonishing how quiet and small-town it feels, compared to Soho.
On Little Portland Street, a narrow minimalist dive bar called The Social clambered out of the toilet water, onto the dampening tissue paper of the London publishing scene. It has a unique smell. I’ve got a ticket for a White Rabbit Books night there to celebrate David Keenan’s new novel Monument Maker. This won’t be your average book launch: it’ll get ritualistic and mindbending. Very funny, too. Spider Stacy of The Pogues will read Yeats. There’ll be a cosplay blessing with chocolate coins, with Lally Macbeth in a big hat, soundtracked by a passage from Monument Maker and Matthew Shaw’s heavy drones. John Higgs will speak about his book William Blake Vs The World and read beautifully from Blake’s intense The Marriage Of Heaven And Hell —
But now, from between the black and white spiders a cloud and fire burst and rolled through the deep blackening all beneath.
Electronic composer Richard Norris (who was The Grid) will chat with Jennifer Lucy Allan about The Foghorn’s Lament. Apparently he’s done a remix of one of the foghorns. Jennifer makes foghorns sound alluring and mystical. Finally, Belfast author Wendy Erskine will preview her own new book, before attempting to interview the visionary Keenan, who’ll be in full flow on his writing and thinking. That’s what will happen. It’ll be very good.
For now, I arrive early doors and the first person I see at The Social is Alex. Yes him, who I’d not seen for fifteen years, who I’d not recognised at Jenny’s party in a couple of years ago, but whom I’ve only just ‘added’ as a Facebook friend last week. In the heart of the vast city that I’ve visited just twice since March 2020, here he is.
We both act casual about it, just one of those things. We get drinks and sit together, catching up, desultory half-shouting over the DJ before the show starts.
What are you doing for work? I ask.
I’m still working in arts listings, Alex replies. Then he says: do you remember, back in the Press Association days, that guy Eugene? Yeah, I’m working with him.
get in touch
New Folk Friday — weekly Spotify playlist for new releases in folk, psych, songwriting and americana, updated each Friday.
The Hudson Records Mixtape — Spotify playlist for the Sheffield record label, updated every two weeks.
Loads of love, as always. Please look after yourself and your people.