Saturday, December 19, 2015


Years ago, cloning meant all sorts of exciting things. The chance to photocopy relatives and pets, to maybe live forever. Nowadays a phone call to tell you you've been cloned means only one thing - boredom and hold music.

My bank very nicely called to tell me my card has been having fun in New York. The simple fact that this is unusual behaviour tells you all you need to know about my life. Worse, they recited a litany of recent purchases for me to confirm. "Lidl? Yes, that's me. Poundland, yes, also me. Aroma Chinese Buffet? Yep." Pause. "Expensive Shop in New York? No. Really Lovely Sounding Restaurant also in New York? No."

This kind of cloning is as humdrum as my life. But then a terrible penny drops.
"You've cancelled my card?"
"Will it still work for picking up train tickets?"
For once my bank is baffled.
"Have you ever bought train tickets online?"
"And when you go to collect them, is there any chance that my card will still be valid?"
No sir, probably not.
"Have you ever phoned a Train Company?"
My bank laughs. My bank actually laughs.

There then follows a quaint interval where my bank sweetly tries to find the right telephone number for the train company. "Bear with me, Mr Goss, I'm having difficulty finding a number for Customer Services. Or any number for them."

I find a number for Great Western Railways. It's at the bottom of my booking. It is, of course, the wrong number. You only find out about this after endless recorded messages, button pressing, more recorded messages, a travel update, a suggestion to use the website, more recorded messages, and finally someone in India with a cheap headset. They put me through to someone else who tells me to call back on Monday.

We live in an age where cloning has become routine, where your bank can tell when you're having the wrong kind of fun, and yet restaurants in New York remain the height of romance and train operating companies remain the depths of despair.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

In which the owner of my cafe dies

The first day I moved into my flat, he made me a chicken sandwich for a pound.

The cafe downstairs was always busy, explosively so when all the building work began in Kings Cross. Builders spilled out onto the tables in a dazzling array of massive arms and chips.

It was a great cafe. The set breakfasts were always puzzlingly huge (would the No 2 or the No 4 guarantee you'd be able to eat again that day?), and the corned beef omelette an unlikely jewel.

Even though I prefer to sit in the pub of a morning (the coffee was nicer), I'd still go in for the £2 eggs on toast, or for lunch with a friend. The prices never went up.

The owner was famously hard-working, always said hello, and was very kind about my awful Turkish.

When the cafe was shuttered at the weekend it seemed odd. Then the sign popped up.
Ah well, I thought. One of those sad little things. He worked so hard, he chain-smoked, he loved his own cooking - of course life wouldn't let him enjoy his success.
Turns out I was wrong.
There was a woman standing outside the cafe this morning, smoking a cigarette and crying.
"You know he got shot, didn't you?" she said.

Oh. Up until then I'd not connected the weekend's shooting in Wood Green with that sad little note. Why would I? But, of course, it turned out he'd worked hard, he'd made money, he'd opened a second business. And he'd sat down outside for a cup of coffee when he got shot.

Wood Green Shooting victim Erdgoan Guzel

Thursday, July 02, 2015

The Fight

There are things you wouldn’t expect me to get involved in. A fight is one of them.
Ten minutes before I’d been at my Turkish evening class, singing along to a youtube song about a man who has loved, lost and now stands outside her window burning her photos. Anyway, you know, a warm happy summer night. And there I was, pedalling home on a Boris bike and there was this woman screaming on the ground.

I watched, as you do, with that casual “oh, that’s unusual” way as a man bounced her head off the pavement, tearing at her hair as he kicked her over and over. And she screamed. How she screamed.

It was all bizarre. The street outside Euston station was crowded with people. None of them particularly noticing. And I just glided past on my bike. Because these things don’t happen. People do not try and open up the heads of blondes on warm summer evenings.

At some point my brain registered that this was A Thing. My brain then looked for the people rushing to help. There were people. But they weren’t doing anything. A pub full of people sat opposite looking at it like they’d look at a passing bus. And then I sort of swerved onto the pavement and into the fight.

You’re probably wondering what unlikely combat skills I possess. Well, I once did kickboxing (achievements – one ugly yellow belt and a collapsed buttock). But really, that was so long ago, and the man was still hitting the woman, this weird, horrid, woman-smashing rage. And I was holding a bike and couldn’t work out how to punch him, let alone hold a bike and punch him. So I shoved the bike at him. I ran over his foot. This got his attention. And then I started shouting at him.

Crawling on the floor, sobbing somewhere was the victim. At least the man had stopped hitting her. I think I may have shouted “You do not hit a woman”. I think I may also have said “Fuck”, which balances out the Edwardian flourish. But basically I was standing there, staring at a really very angry man with a cross tattooed under his eyes. His fist was bunched up and he was going to hit me and I thought this would really be quite annoying. I’m quite sure it would hurt, but I also had my shopping somewhere and that really needed to go in the fridge and also, did I mention it was a Boris Bike? It would have to go into a stand before I got an excess fine. Anyway, there he was making to hit me, but I just kept on shouting. Who, anyway, who gets a cross tattoed under their eye? Who walks in to a parlour and says “That’s what I want, just keep it classy, yeah?”

By now some people had left the pub and come over. The kind of people who should deal with crises like this. Stocky men who looked like fridges, wearing horizontal stripes - giant bumblebees. They sat the woman down on some steps where she curled up, crying with pain.

I was holding a bike, my shopping, and also keeping a weird angry man with a silly tattoo at bay. “Could you call 999?” I asked the crowd. “Um,” said the crowd, "Can't you?".
"Seriously?" I said.
So, we all ended up calling 999. I’m amazed we didn’t end up with the coastguard.

All this while the man stood there, glaring very angrily at us all, because we were stood between him and the woman who he clearly fancied hurting some more.
“You don’t know what she’s like,” he said. 
“Fuck off,” I said to him.
And he did. Which is annoying.

The gap between him fucking off and the police turning up was long. Someone took a photo of the man’s back. “It may help,” he said.
We all tried making small talk. Even the victim. The kind of pointless small talk that happens when everyone’s run out of things to say. I felt an absurd urge to tell people about the song we’d learned at my evening course, but thank god I didn’t. The victim’s name wasn’t Claire, but let’s call her that. She suddenly looked up when one of the 999 calls asked for her mobile number.

“Oh,” Claire said. “It’s not on me. He must have took it.” Someone had emerged from an office building to try and help. He had an iPhone 6. “It was nice. Like that,” she said. He offered her a cigarette.
We talked about phones for a bit until the police turned up.
I kept thinking of the man getting away. One of us really should have been doing something about him.

As to what it was all about and why it happened, the accounts that emerged were all over the place. Claire said she’d never met the man before and he’d just attacked her out of nowhere. The people from the pub said they’d seen them drinking together on the steps for an hour before he’d attacked her.
“Yeah, and then he was kicking her for a bit and I stopped it,” said the Man From The Pub, telling his story to the policeman. This was, I thought, a bit rich. But then again, he looked much more like the kind of person who would stop a fight than me. “I’m from Sunderland,” he said, “We don’t have that there.”
“Oh, did you drive up?” said someone else. “What road did you take?”

“I just wanted another drink,” said Claire. She said she’d just wandered out from her hostel and it had all got a bit confusing. She kept patting at her head, tugging out clumps of torn hair. She seemed quite out of it. She was holding a bottle of beer. She may have been drunk, she may have been in shock. “So this is London,” Claire said. “You can keep it.”
Everyone from out of town agreed.

The man who’d taken a photo of the attacker’s back showed it to the policeman. He nodded politely at it. “Doesn’t matter,” said the policeman. “We’ve got lots of cameras. He’ll be on them all.” Which is both reassuring and a little creepy.

The Metropolitan Police are odd. As an institution they’re weird. They keep shooting people who don’t have guns. And yet, individually, whenever you meet any of the police, they’re marvellous. Also, due to all the jumpers and protective jackets, slightly larger than life. Two police came round to my flat last summer. It was like having tea with a Dalek and a Black Cab. That vague “how do they get through the doors or even fit on the sofa?” sense. And, last night, the urge to say “you’re wearing all that? In this weather?”.

But the policeman, clearly a local, was amazing.
“I’ve got no-one,” said Claire. “I don’t know anyone.”
Two tramps shuffled past. “Alright, Claire!” they waved.
The policeman waved at them. “Can you hang around and take her back to the hostel in a moment?” he said. “Oh, and don’t forget I’m seeing you both in court next week.”
“No worries,” saluted someone holding a sleeping bag. They stood and waited, drinking from a bottle of what looked like Baileys and Cider. The kind of cocktail you make when your parents are out and you wonder why no-one has ever put white wine and crème de menthe together.

At this point Claire stopped patting down her ruined hair and instead shook her bag. “Oh that’s funny,” she announced casually. “My money’s gone. He seems to have taken all my money. I don’t suppose any of you have any spare change?”

At some point the policeman said we could go. The Sunderland Bumblebee went back to his pint, and I went to put my shopping in the fridge. We left Claire being looked after by the policeman. Fuck knows what was going on with her evening or her life, but no one deserves being kicked across Eversholt Street.

And as for the man, the man with the cross tattooed underneath his eye? Well, no-one seemed in any hurry to find him. No need. After all, he was on all the cameras.

Monday, June 08, 2015

My mother's view of the NHS

The frequently amazing John Peel said "It's a terrible thing when we feel sorry for our parents."  While my Dad lumbers around like an 83 year-old ox, my Mother has spent the last year being grumpy about being frail at a mere 73.

In the last year, she's had so many heart operations even she's lost count, and the medications for that are interacting with the medication that is saving her sight. A woman who has  always obsessed about nice views is now in danger of having none at all.

Having given up on BUPA as the premiums made her depressed, she's now learning a lot, very rapidly, about the state the NHS is in. She used to work in nursing, so she's full of praise for the quality of care she gets. "They ask if they can use my first name. I like that.". The NHS has proved adept at flinging her from one end of the country to the next and providing her with great care along the way.

It has been a bit trickier moving her to the next county. She is in Taunton. The local eye specialist is in Plymouth. It is an hour by train. But, for various complicated funding reasons which my mother honestly doesn't understand, she can be treated there, but not by the NHS. They simply can't quite guarantee moving the funding across in time. Nobody doesn't want to, and yet it is fiddly. She wishes to see the Great Eye Consultant at the local Centre of Excellence - and this is, in theory, what the last few years of NHS Patient Choice reforms have been. In practice, you have to be very patient while waiting for your choice. If my mother had waited, she would be blind by now.

Instead of which, my parents cheerily tell me they've taken out a loan. They're even looking at the horrors of equity release ("Well, a house is one thing. But eyesight is another, dear."). My mother has discovered that the power of even a very little money works wonders. Suddenly all the forms and automated appointment systems that a 73 year old finds so confusing are whisked away, and instead my mother has a new hobby. Having afternoon tea while The Great Consultant stitches away at her eye, saving her sight.

A skilled sewer, she admires his technique ("He fitted four stitches in a millimetre the other day") while deploring the material he's working with ("My eye's had it. It's fraying as he sews it. If it was a sofa I'd reupholster from scratch.").

It's an odd situation. One made more so by it being a long drive to Plymouth than my father can do in a day. So they take the motorhome, and park up at the hospital. Dad makes himself some toast and reads the paper, and mum goes in while a very patient man sticks needles in her eye. "It's not why we bought the motorhome," she says. "But it does very well."

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Bison Are On 30th

A friend suggested going to San Francisco for the weekend. So I went. Mostly so I could say "I went to San Francisco for the weekend."

I can recommend it. Mostly because, if you're ever worried you drink too much (and I am), fly to America for the weekend. The resulting jet lag guarantees that a glass of wine is really all you need.

San Fancisco is wonderful for so many reasons. For a start, you have to love a city that looked at the available models for a public transport system and went "ooh rollercoasters". Even buses require a strong head.

I should, at this point, tell you something about the wild gay scene. I walked through it one night trying to get home before I fell asleep. Some gays with fantastic arms and amazing chesticles staggered out of a bar. One tripped over a bike.
"Get her!" seethed one.
"You go girl!" cried another.
"I am Miss Thang," said the one who had fallen over. "Oh boy."
I believe that's sass or something.

The people of San Francisco were amazingly helpful and polite. Sort of like an interesting Canada, or a sincere LA. If we looked lost, someone would always offer us directions, or a lift. It is the kind of city where you can walk up to a total stranger and ask for directions to the bison in Golden Gate Park and be told "Oh, right, yeah, the bison are on 30th." Even the tramps are terribly polite. While we were filming one of them called out "Let me know if you'd like me to get out of shot, wont you?"

In amongst it all is a weird fading hippie chic. You can walk into a shop and buy Guac-Kale-Mole. You can also be sat next to a walking Robert Crumb cartoon on the bus. "My landlord wants me out. My lawyer, I got a lawyer, he says I'll get six months rent free. So I'll buy myself a winnebago with a shower. A real nice shower. Then I'll go see my friends in Mexico. They moved out of Haight last year. Over the border and back to pick up welfare once a month. They live like kings there, they live like kings. They have servants. I want servants. I'll drive my Winnebago to Tijuana." And so on. Possibly to the man opposite him. Possibly to himself.

The only rude people were at passport control. If getting into America is hard, leaving it is even harder. The border guard excelled at a unique form of aggression, seizing on incomplete tickets with a joyous "Uh-oh, we have a problem here!". As we left, she'd found a baby's ticket was missing her full name. In vain did the family try and explain the baby hadn't yet been christened."Uh-oh, we have a problem baby here..."

Here's a photograph of some shoes we found outside our house. Someone had built a bus-stop overnight and someone else had left some shoes at it. No-one could work out if it was art or rubbish. I took a picture and a woman leaned over. "You didn't take a picture, did you? What will they think of us in England? Do you want to take the shoes - in case anyone over there needs them..."

Thursday, May 21, 2015

How Things Go At The Moment

I'm having a great time briefing writers at the moment. But the general complications of being me keep getting in the way.

I'm massively behind with work. I'm supposed to be writing a comic novel, but I'm not in a comedy mood at the moment. So, the comic novel sits in a corner, becoming more and more of a problem. 

Meanwhile, as I said, I'm trying to brief other writers. "You should," I said yesterday, "read an article from Vanity Fair. It'd be really helpful."

I offer to scan it. Simples, as the meerkat used to say. A horrid hour passed, one in which I scanned the document, discovered it was unreadably watermarked, tried to buy the software, crashed the modem, figured that scan would do, then lost the file, so rescanned it on my phone, accidentally triggered an in-app purchase that flagged a fraud attempt in my iTunes account, started shaking uncontrollably in the kitchen, and then found the original scan in dropbox.
So, after an hour of this shenanigans, I had two copies. Both unreadable.

I wrote a florid letter of apology, about the only writing I seem to be doing at the moment, and then, just as I was about to press send, discovered the article was on the Vanity Fair website.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

And So To Bed

This morning I emailed an employer to thank them for paying me. Their server rejected the email as "inappropriate content."

And that was just the start of it. Today was a day where the music of the spheres was a beautiful misalignment of unhelpful emails. Fired from one project, deluged with paperwork by another.

"Go back to bed," urged one boss, and she was right. This last week has been a succession of mornings where I've got out of bed and regretted it.

I knew I'd done the right thing when, as soon as I reached the bed, the cat joined me. Bedrooms are lovely places. We work so hard to make them nice, and then spend as little time in them as possible. I intend to rectify that for a few days.

I can't make the world a nicer place. But I think, just for a while, I shall only be replying to emails that make it worth getting out of bed.

Monday, April 13, 2015

On The Death Of The Black Cap And London Quirky

A drag queen ate fire the first night I went clubbing at The Black Cap, and another drag queen ate fire there last night, probably the last Sunday I will ever go clubbing at the Black Cap. Because the Black Cap has closed. Sometimes it was a great cabaret venue with a nice roof garden, sometimes it was a great roof garden with some dodgy cabaret. I saw out my 20s there. I danced through my 30s until I realised dancing was silly. The Black Cap was a bar for all occasions. You could go for a drink with friends, go to read a book and chainsmoke on the terrace, or just get smashed and dance with strangers. Sometimes you'd go and it'd be a bit tragic, sometimes it would be the best night of your life. You could go see the same jokes you saw 10 years ago, you could go see something you'd never see again. You could go home alone, you could have sex on the bar.

The Black Cap was great because it was always there. When I worked in Cardiff and was only in London at the weekends, I'd make a point of going. Just to feel I'd done something. It was even open on Christmas Day, which one year was brilliant. I'd spent the day working in a basement in Broadcasting House, the rats scuttling through the ceiling just above my head. On the way home, I stopped off at The Black Cap. It was utterly dead, but that didn't matter. I'd far rather nod along to Rachel Stevens in a roomful of not-quite-strangers not-quite-friends than just not see anyone all day.

The Black Cap was a local, in the proper, old-fashioned sense of the word. It was exciting enough for me. In the last couple of years it became a bit too exciting - it had suddenly become roaringly popular, reinvigorated by a whole new generation of cabaret stars - events sold out, the bar rammed with people younger and prettier and cooler than anyone I ever knew had ever been. But you know, I'd still go for the occasional drink. That was the thing about The Black Cap - it was a local. It'd always be there. If the new wave of performers went away, if their audience declared the venue "tbh ovah", it'd still be there - a great place for a drink.
But no more.

Because London no longer needs quirky places that are in it for the long haul. Everything is now a pop-up, a passing fad. One day a cereal cafe, tomorrow a Nando's. And we always need luxury designer flats, ideal for the first-time buyer with a six figure salary. Just like you and me.

My friend Ben has charted the steady death of quirky London through the vanishing cabaret spaces over at Not Televisio. Cabaret venues are like the mining canaries of redevelopment. When the singing stops, the bulldozers are moving in. Ben helped overturn proposals to Camden Council to have the pub partly turned into flats. These were rejected because the pub was a living community space. So the owners solved that one - they simply shut the pub. Now all they have to do is wait a bit. And then, once it's just a dead reminder of what it was, it can be flats.

There are all sorts of arguments that waft around vaguely about all of this. "Oh, gay people don't need their own venues", "Tinder for shags and All Bar One for dates", "Drag's not really my cup of tea", "Well, the scene's really in Dalston these days". Yeah yeah yeah. But it's nice to have the option. Also, please stop pretending Dalston is a one-stop-shop Elysian Fields. It's not. It's Dalston. It may have nice bars and sky-high rents, but it's still pretty horrid. For heaven's sake, they even shut the Overground off at weekends, so they may as well put up a fence.

London is broken. Even if you can afford to live here, you're hardly going to have that much quality of life. We passed an estate agent yesterday advertising a bunk bed in a shared room for £100 a week. You'd be sharing with two strangers. For the same price as you can get a nice 1-bed flat in a city outside London. If you wanted to buy my flat, you'd need to be earning about £125k. Imagine the kind of person who earns that. Now imagine them living in a dodgy ex council flat in Kings Cross. Yes. It's all very well putting up those nonsense luxury flat adverts about mumbling Jamie Dornan lookalikes growling "I worked this city to live this city and now London is my playground", but let's face it - you're earning enough to buy a castle and you're still going to be looking out at drugs dealers pissing over the bins. But, be warned. If you've had enough of London being your playground, and just fancy a drink in your local, forget it. It's not there any more. Still, at least there'll be a Nando's.