I cannot over-state how excited I am to have spent a weekend in my own bed, with no deadlines and nowhere to be, free to have as many and as long lie-ins as I like.
Toronto was great, and you’ll be hearing all about it soon, but not taking an extra day’s annual leave to come to terms with the jet lag was not my smartest plan. Which is why my September round-up is coming to you even later than originally planned.
September was also a month of travelling, albeit to slightly less exotic destinations. I’ve shared my trips to Derby and Biggar on here already, and I also took a trip to Manchester to see The National perform. Sure, I could have seen them in Edinburgh a few days before but a) it’s actually easier, and cheaper, to get to Manchester on a Saturday than Edinburgh on a Thursday; and b) Manchester has Fafa.
My friendship with Fafa dates back to our time on a certain music message board from 1999 onwards, which means that she has truly seen some of my absolute lows and stuck around regardless. We talked about this a bit actually, as I tucked into a ridiculously photogenic slice of cake at Home Sweet Home: about how great it is when the giddy more.now.again-ness of your teens and early 20s dies away, and it turns out that you just really, really like each other’s conversation and company.
Plus, everybody needs a friend with whom she can have full and frank conversations about her vagina.
At the start of the month, we headed up to Stirling to see Denise Mina win the the McIlvanney Prize 2017 for her historical crime novel The Long Drop. It’s a fantastic book which I’ll be reviewing in next month’s post, based on a true story set in 1950s Glasgow about the serial killer Peter Manuel. Getting to see my husband recognised for his own brilliant book, which chair of the judges Lee Randall said some lovely things about during the ceremony, was an experience I’ll never forget, as was the torchlit procession down from Stirling Castle led by Ian Rankin.
Here’s what else I got up to over the month.
Dirty Dancing (1987): Because, growing up, pretty much all I did was read books there are huge holes in my knowledge of films and TV from my childhood. Long story short: no, I had not seen Dirty Dancing until Charlotte asked me to go with her to an open-air screening organised by Not On The High Street (and let’s not talk about how this film is older than Charlotte, hey?).
Leaving aside that I was clearly the only person in the audience who didn’t already know every beat, every song and every line, and who didn’t fancy Patrick Swayze (“he’s deid, Janet!”), I actually… loved this? Leaving aside the whole “holiday camp for gigolos” setting which you’d have thought would have stuck in the public consciousness way more than a throwaway line about watermelons, a combination of some thoroughly modern sexual politics plus one of the hottest on-screen romances of all time has made this a thoroughly belated entry into my all-time favourite films. ****
The Babadook (2014): When both you, and your favourite supporting character from your favourite show, spend months hyping a film in your head it’s only ever going to be a disappointment. I was rooting for The Babadook throughout, both due to his newfound status as a fabulous gay icon and because the kid in this film is quite frankly the worst and somebody ought to have ate him. Sadly, it was not to be. Plus, you know, spoilers. **
The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, season 3 (Netflix): Like Orange is the New Black – a comparison I’m sure nobody ever expected to hear, but bear with me – Kimmy Schmidt is one of those Netflix shows with a central character nobody cares about, but which you keep watching because the supporting cast is just so. damn. good. Highlights from the third season included Titus Andromedon’s incredible Lemonade tribute, The Good Wife‘s Josh Charles as a complete bonehead and a major plot for the absolute queen of the show, Lillian “rubbing alcohol? You don’t tell me how to use you!” Kaushtupper. ****
Nell Zink – Nicotine (2016): The first book from the Reading in Heels subscription box seemed to set the pace: offbeat, eccentric literary fiction, by and about women. While I wouldn’t describe Nicotine as completely successful – structurally, this book about wannabe squatter (don’t ask) Penny Baker and a house held up by a delicate pyramid of buckets of human faeces reminded me of Blood and Guts in High School, or specifically why I left the half-finished book in the loo when we left our last flat – but the prose is whip-smart and tight and hey, at least I finished it. ***
Eva Dolan – After You Die (2016): By setting her police procedurals in Peterborough’s Hate Crimes unit, Eva Dolan puts a really interesting spin on the genre – one which, in post-Brexit Britain, seems to have even more resonance. The third book in Dolan’s DI Zigic/DS Ferreira series tackles disability discrimination and is grippingly and sensitively done – and, despite clear callbacks to events of a previous book, stands up well on its own. ****
Ann Patchett – Commonwealth (2016): Now, this is how it’s done. Ann Patchett’s masterful tale of two intertwined families eschews shocks in favour of quiet tragedy and beautiful, melodic writing. My eyes were a little damp by the end… ****
CN Lester – Trans Like Me (2017): It should come as no surprise to anyone who has ever read their meticulously researched, yet incredibly readable blogs that the musician, academic and activist CN Lester did not produce the tell-all trans memoir so beloved by the tabloids. Instead, CN blends personal experience with academic rigour to create a clear-eyed, non-judgemental work that sensitively tackles everything from gender neutral pronouns, to puberty blockers, to Caitlyn Jenner. I raced through this book, which I’d argue is essential reading for anyone in 2017. *****
I feel like every album by The National gets progressively weirder, less immediate and more rewarding, and Sleep Well Beast was no exception. I’ve also been loving Mirah’s Sundial EP, in which the experimental, otherworldly-voiced songwriter teams up with composer Jherek Bischoff to rework and rearrange some of her best-loved songs.
I also spent much of September mourning Taylor Swift’s ability to write the perfect pop chorus by playing 2012’s Red – minus the snorefest Ed Sheeran co-write – on repeat.
Margaret Glaspy, Leif Vollebekk @ CCA, Glasgow, 9th September. As already discussed, in which two incredibly powerful songwriters bring a Glasgow room to its knees.
The National @ O2 Apollo, Manchester, 23rd September. I can’t imagine The National will ever play a night to match that one in Glasgow, that ended in an a capella “Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks” and us leaving the venue to that winter’s first snow – but they’re still one of my favourite bands to see live, and a hometown cover of “Love Vigilantes” was an excellent touch. Support act Luluc, a rich, intimate, boy-girl guitar duo with an Aaron Dessner-produced album, were a great choice of opener.
- Torres and St Vincent are subverting sexualised rock-star archetypes (Vulture)
- Back in 2007, The Guardian’s Laura Barton went in search of the feeling captured in Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner” – on those very same roads (The Guardian)
- Decades after banning alcohol, Iran admits it has an addiction problem (New York Times)
- Everything you never knew you wanted to know about the DuckTales theme, which is now stuck in your head (Vanity Fair)
- How do live with yourself after accidentally causing a death? A fascinating, well-written and sympathetic profile (The New Yorker)
- Dirty Dancing’s abortion plot is depressingly relevant in 2017 (The Pool)
- the Benefit Brow Bar;
- finally remembering to take a picture of Glasgow’s old Parks and Recreation branding;
- getting my first proper arts feature in The Herald;
- grown-up life chats with the people who still remember your drama;
- elderflower tonic;
- The Slabb boozy and “fully loaded” chocolate bars;
- my dad’s cheese on toast;
- Lime Crime metallic Velvetines