Words and music, July 2018


I still have no idea what to call this round-up of things I’m currently reading, watching, listening to and generally amusing myself with. If you have any snappy suggestions, do please share then with me. Puns appreciated.


I was lucky enough to see indie project Waxahatchee (led by Kate Crutchfield) in Brighton a couple of months ago, and they did not disappoint. Kate’s voice is flawed and sweet and her music alternates between no-nonsense indie rock and something altogether more dreamy. It’s her lyrics that really excite me though – she’s witty, sharp and knows how to aim a line right into your heart.

My favourite track is straight-up rocker Never Been Wrong: “you walk around like it’s your God-given right, you love being right, you’ve never been wrong” – we’ve all know that guy, right?

Other stand-out tracks are Brass Beam, where she’s still on a scathing streak: “I’d never be a girl you’d like or trust or you’d respect” and later: “you work real hard to herd your friends into a gallery / Narcissistic injury described as masterpiece” – I mean, ouch. You almost feel for the person who earned that kiss-off. And the altogether sadder, softer  Recite Remorse: “I always gravitate toward those who are unimpressed, I saw you as a big fish, I saw you as a conquest…” Painfully articulate.


You’ve probably already watched this, but in case you haven’t, what are you still doing here? Hurry, now, to Nexflix. The football’s over, Wimbledon’s done, the heat has gone on long enough*, it’s time to sit indoors and watch a show that’s half stand-up, half manifesto and when it ends, you’ll be left staring open-mouthed at the screen as tears roll off your face.

It’s a breathtaking piece of angry, righteous, fiercely intelligent comedy, that turns on you halfway through. I think it has the power to change stand-up for good. I certainly hope so. There are some dagger-sharp lessons in here: “you learn from the part of the story you focus on”, to name one, and if Hannah Gadsby’s contemporaries take nothing else from this show, I hope they take one thing: we need to be better at choosing the people we use as our punchlines. No more kicking down. That lesson is long overdue.

*it hasn’t, I’m just saying that because everyone else seems to be. Personally, I love this weather. I’m a closet Californian, but with more crisps and beer. And quite frankly, the day getting dressed requires more thought than just flinging on a dress or a shirt and some shorts is a day I’m actively dreading.


Ma’am Darling: 99 Glimpses of Princess Margaret 

Actress Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret

I got properly into The Crown. It was glorious escapism, lush and evocative, and the leads all gave incredible performances. My favourite “character” was – of course – beautiful, difficult, tempestuous Princess Margaret, brought to life in exquisite fashion by Vanessa Kirby. I mean, look at her. Talk about absolute face goals.

Anyway, it’s well-known that I adore a complex female character – cf. my love for Homeland‘s Carrie Mathison, Jessica Jones, and on a slightly less fashionable note, Holby City’s Jac Naylor (I like my onscreen bitches like I like my men: with cheekbones that are positively injurious). So it was perhaps inevitable I’d end up utterly fascinated by the Queen’s sister.

Initially, I wasn’t keen to read Craig Brown’s biography, as it had been heralded as “playful” and Brown has been praised as having “reinvented the biographical form”.

Now, I am a terrific bore in that I like good stories told skilfully. Nothing experimental, nothing too out-there – put it this way, the term I spent studying Joyce at university doesn’t exactly fill me with fond memories. And yet, I was so intrigued by all the good things that had been said about Ma’am Darling, that I went ahead and read it anyway. And what a stonking read it was. I gasped aloud with almost every turn of the page. You thought she was a bit of a ‘character’ in The Crown? In real life, she was on a whole ‘nother level. The things she saw fit to say to people, to demand of them! You’ll laugh, you’ll boggle in disbelief, you’ll feel for her almost despite yourself.


How To Be Famous, Caitlin Moran

You know when you wake up early on a day off, and you have that moment of, “yesss, I don’t have to get up for ages if I don’t want to,” and you sort of wriggle with the sheer pleasure of not being forced out of bed by a shrieking alarm? Or when you’ve been on your feet all day and you sink into a warm bath and just relish being in hot water for a few deliciously blank seconds? That is how Moran writes. She uses words like she’s absolutely relishing them; you can feel her enjoying language as she sculpts it.

It’s the writing sweet spot, when you’re so in the groove you feel magical, throwing lines and phrases like spells. And that’s what makes her such a delight to read.


Her latest novel is a sequel to 2014’s How To Build A Girl and we meet Moran’s heroine, music journalist Dolly Wilde, as she gads around London as Britpop reaches its heyday. Dolly is still friends with musician John Kite, whose career has taken off, and fame has her wicked, wicked way with Kite as Dolly watches from the sidelines. Lust, friendship, musicians, bold women – it’s not hard to see why I’m galloping through this book. But it’s Moran’s writing that delivers the story as if with a fistful of glitter.


Her ability to casually throw in truths that hit home with the cold metal accuracy of an archer’s arrow is brilliant: ‘”I’m so sorry,” I said eventually, because that’s what girls automatically say when something bad happens to them.’ And she’s laugh-out-loud funny, too: ‘I’ve had more sex with people called “Russell” (two) than I have with famous people (one) so I’m technically not so much a “groupie” as a member of the Russell Group’.

I’m only halfway through but I’d be surprised if I haven’t finished it by tomorrow morning.

Protesting in general, but Trump specifically

On Friday I went to the ‘Bring The Noise’ march against Trump in London. I had the day booked off anyway, and walking through the city in the bright sunlight, under blue skies and surrounded by banner slogans witty, poignant and angry – well, it felt like a privilege. A privilege to walk through a capital unimpeded, with thousands of others – men, women, children, even dogs – peacefully but determinedly making a point. And then a rally in Parliament Square, where speaker after speaker galvanised the crowd and made the case for equality, kindness, and being on the right side of history.

I don’t think marches like this change anything – at least, not immediately. But we must still have them. Because every pair of feet on the street on Friday day was a voice saying, “Not in my name. I object to what’s happening here” (and indeed it was posited today in the Irish Times that we’re essentially living out trial runs for some pretty dark stuff). It’s important, if you can, to publically state your position when everything seems to be taking a dramatic step to the right/alt-right/I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-the-alt-right. Because if things get any worse, if nothing else, we want to look back and say we tried. Don’t we?

2 thoughts on “Words and music, July 2018

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