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A Pint With Gavin James Bower


It would be easy and lazy to review Dazed & Aroused, by Gavin James Bower, as an easily written, lazy pastiche of Bret Easton Ellis’ Less Than Zero. And whilst the similarities are evident, and the author himself has spoken at great length about the influence the book has had on his novel, very few reviews of Orwell’s 1984 began by referencing the fact that it was a direct take on Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We. It simply isn’t an issue.

But let’s not get caught up in the name checking of the greats. Bower’s book is an accomplished, wry take on the world of modelling. For a debut novel, written in the first person, the simple assumption to make would be that this is more memoir than fiction. Not so, says Bower when we meet in a West End pub to discuss this book and his next, Made In Britain.

“Consciously, at the time of writing it, it wasn’t me. I took a lot of examples as an observer, of the photo shoots and scenarios that I found myself in and creating characters from there.” After two more sentences, and a draw on his pint of stout, Bower continues, “The disposition of Alex and how he views the world is very much a part of me…”

This isn’t as contradictory as it at first sounds. Bower modelled for “18 months, on and off” and never knew the success that Alex enjoys in Dazed. (“I was never a rich or successful model”). I use the term ‘enjoys’ advisedly. The arrogance and ennui that is so much of his character, the unquestioning acceptance of having a successful look always leaves the reader feeling that the best restaurants are not quite enough, and even partying hard after fashion week is an empty experience. Bower impresses on the point, “In all seriousness, Alex is an extension of me in many ways – a parody.” When discussing the limited amount of drug taking in the book, Bower is “making it up”, a charming reinforcement of the fact of the fiction here.

As we sit outside the pub, the day starts to close and the chilly spring evening takes hold. Royal Mail vans return to their nearby base, sirens wail and rubbish bins are seen to. Over Bower’s shoulder I can see a man pleading for a cigarette from one of the patrons that has ventured outside in the hope of an unmolested smoke. I am relieved when the beggar walks past, happily puffing away. This scene is startlingly similar to a repeating theme in Dazed;

“London is always about juxtapositions, always about that horrible clash – checking your Blackberry and emails on the way to work, whilst stepping over a beggar in a sleeping bag.” I mention that it felt close to being overdone. “Maybe remarking on that is not that clever to point out, but it is there.” Alex gets that there is the poverty there, he sees it, but “he refuses point blank to engage.”

And there it is. Graffiti, clothes, even the silent models are more interesting to Alex than people.

Bower started writing at university in 2002, which led to journalism jobs for Dazed & Confused amongst others. In 2007, suddenly unemployed, he set to paper the story that had been gathering momentum in his mind since his move to London, two years previously. He’s modest about the success of Dazed, and optimistic about writing the screenplay for it, and the forthcoming publication of Made In Britain, his second novel.

Made In Britain is the story of three 16 year olds set in Every Town. Charlie, Russell and Hayley are dealing with their issues, reacting to the world about them. Was it difficult writing about kids of this age? “I don’t know why I’m writing about 16 year olds, maybe it’s a fucking big mistake,” he laughs. There’s disarming honesty to this phrase, but clearly a confidence too. A sneak peak of Made In Britain is available here. Have a look around the rest of the blog; Bower is no Bret Easton Ellis, what he is, is a writer finding his own voice, in his own time.

“That’s good, Bad.”


The Date has a thing for Jeff Bridges. So it was that last night we took ourselves Haymarket way to take in the latest, acclaimed role by The Dude, The Starman, The Baker Boy.
I don’t visit the cinema too often; I get restless and prefer the comfort of home. This little nugget can be used as evidence that the place studying film at Southampton Institute of Higher Education, through clearing, all those years ago, was more a leap away from administering enemas to constipated adults liable to bite at any time, than a true love of celluloid. One thing I did learn in my truncated stay on the south coast was that cinema is an experience in itself. (I also learnt that the films of DW Griffith may have been ground breaking and all that, but they were dull and occasionally racist. That was the sum total of my year, although off-syllabus I tucked a couple of ultimately pointless skills up my sleeve.)
We draughted a couple of drinks away in the Tom Cribb over the road from the picture house, and stole in with some contraband Maltesers and sours. Big screen, big auditorium, big seats and a great big muttering nutter behind us.
Crazy Heart has seen Bridges nominated for an Oscar, and it invokes the spirit of last year’s sentimental favourite, The Wrestler. ‘Bad’ Blake is a washed up country star, sustained on one record, contstant cigarettes and a dangerous relationship with McClure’s Whiskey. “Sometimes Fallin’ Feels Like Flying” is the ancient, oft requested hit. A beautiful song which affords Colin Farrell a strong moment, in a fine short performance as Tommy Sweet. The small gigs are punctuated by one night stands with middle aged fans, until he is introduced to Jeannie, played by the more-beautiful-than-the-sum-of-parts Maggie Gyllenhaal. What follows is a love story of sorts, and its inevitable colouring by the booze.


He looks a bit like this in the film. But with a beard and a guitar.

What surprised me most about the film was the artistry of it. The soundtrack by Bridges’s friend T Bone Burnett and vistas caught by Barry Markowitz are woven well by first time writer/director Scott Cooper, and Bridges plays the lead with a weary lightness. Dropping the phone to dry heave his tattered guts into the toilet is bleak, and one of the low points of the film. The crazy behind us thought is was hilarious. This is no work of genius, but it is a good film, with fine performances and excellent music.
To end our experience, we retired to the Criterion, and sipped some bourbon. We raised a glass to the excellent ‘Bad’.

Shunt @ The Vaults, London Bridge Station


As it is such an unusual night in a terrific location, it’s going to be as difficult to write about Shunt as it was to capture some photos on my underpowered, flashless cameraphone – where on earth (in this flat) have I left my camera? My date suggested bashing out a few vignettes, as varied and separate as the high-roofed rooms, candle-lit in the vaults below London Bridge station. This is not to say that the place has a discordant feel; one is led deep into the bowels of the building in wondrous harmony. But I am getting ahead of myself.

I got there just after 8 and straight away was struck by the queue of people. Not commuters reinvigorating Oyster cards, nor weekday day zombies seeking the panacea of coffee. “Arty” is the crowd lining up for Shunt. My trilby, to my consternation, is ubiquitous. I snaked against the tide of the achingly hip and windily arty. There was the date, gorgeous as ever and after catching up, she informed me that inside her bag was a bottle of fizzy, chilled contraband. Without the intention of taking it inside to drink, honestly, we plodded slowly to the entrance and proffered photo ID. It was required of all; this had nothing to do with our supernaturally youthful looks.

Date’s bag was checked on the way in, and whilst fairly big, we were stunned that security failed to spot the Lanson (dahling). Our original intention to drink it by the river was abandoned. In fairness, the light is very dim, as the photos illustrate, and I’m not complaining. Partly due to this darkness, it’s difficult to get a handle on the layout of The Vaults. We wandered towards the back, taking the odd detour sideways. Large rooms with a few tables, a poetry space, a cinema with airline seats and a stand alone cube stage made of pallets, all served by bars. Live contemporary violin resounded through the halls, relayed by an efficient sound setup.

By the time we’d found the back, our eyes were acclimatised to the light. And we found a door out to the road behind, a chance to smoke, and reflect on just what in the name of God was going on in there. We agreed that it was pretty enchanting.

We crushed our cigarettes into the asphalt and showed our red-stamped wrists for re-entry. We’d identified a room with a candlelit table away from the growing crowd, and in the haze I popped the cork and poured two plastic glasses of champagne. This was all very civilised, I must say. I felt like Jay Joplin channelling Terry Thomas at a Sisters of Mercy concert. Well, I can say that now, because I’m a bit of a ponce; truth is I was simply having a great time.

In fact, the great time feeling meant we finished the bottle in double-smart time. Firstly, it was good, chilled and thoroughly drinkable, but more tellingly, we just didn’t want to get thrown out. Despite the meagre light and our secluded location, we felt highly visible. The photos posted here were taken in the most brightly lit areas. As we sat at the table, the violin played out, and a parade of sorts took past us. At its head, a broad white performer, dressed as a gentleman pirate from the 18th century, was spitting ragga rhymes. He climbed another of the temporary pallet stages and his poem played out over a few minutes, the audience flowing around him.
The story complete, a strange force drew us back out to the station entrance; a Cornish pasty seemed perfectly at home with our hunger and a stroll around strip-lit London Bridge station an interesting opposition to the vaults.

Sat once more with drinks in hand, new music floated through, influenced by The Doors from the L.A. Woman era. Drawn as if by sirens to yet another stage, we watched as the guitar wielding soloist plucked and strummed songs ranging in style from beach bum love songs to tormented blues.

Whilst not as cheap as our naughty sparkles, the drinks are pretty reasonably priced, and once our VAT and Organic Lager were drained, we dropped some tequila shots back and headed once more towards the entrance, this time to take in the art of Bob Aldous. With a central motif of cave paintings of deer, Bob’s work was not immediately accessible. However, the repetition bangs like a drum, the lighting no stronger than a campfire; the occasional candle casting shadows and the rippling reflection of water maintained the charade of Neolithic times. Date is vegetarian (the pasty was tomato, basil and herb, and bloody good too), so she was not as taken with the boar skins as I was. The deer motif is picked out on the hide of one Italian boar by smoking around it, a powerful yet simple device. Whilst Bob was probably a little irritated by my commercial concerns, a hangover from a previous life as a gallery owner, I found his passion and enthusiasm engaging, and the works should be seen.

There are two small cinema areas. We took some time to watch the collage of fact and fiction space scenes in a perversely intimate yet open space. This feeling of separation infiltrated us during our visit; there are many people around, but somehow the experience is so personal.

By now we were nearing our last train home. Another quick short and we took our leave of the place, high on liquor and the excitement of the new. On reflection we agreed we should have stayed, and next time we will, lost in the condensation streaked walls and high arches of a forgotten part of London.

Why Haven’t You Eaten At The Paradise By Way Of Kensal Rise?


In my opinion, there aren’t enough gastropubs named after GK Chesterton poetry. And in the opinion of many others, there simply aren’t enough gastropubs that would satisfy a gastronome.

The Paradise (as it is more simply known) does more than satisfy, certainly if the monthly dinner club is anything to go by.

The concept is simple. Once a month the first 22 people to reserve a space dine in the upstairs private dining room, which is decorated with tiara-wearing taxidermy. The table is long and you sit in the seat allocated by the excellent hostess, Zoe.

My companions were a fashion designer to my right, a banker across the table and a music producer at my left. My new friend the music producer was particularly generous with her food, so whilst I wrapped a mouthful of the bresaola around its accompanying celeriac remoulade (its strong bite a greater counterpoint than horseradish) for her, she gave me a spoonful of her pumpkin and parmesan soup.

The sea bass main melted in its sweet and sour jus and the venison was as pink and tender as one could wish for. Even with generous portions, there was just room for the delightful sticky toffee pudding with coffee.

All this, with a couple of glasses of wine, was only £25. At that price, a tip of less that 20 percent seemed mean. Eat there as soon as you can.

The Paradise, 19 Kilburn Lane, Kensal Green, London, W10 4 AE

Tel. 020-8969-0098

http://www.theparadise.co.uk

The World in a Pint


It’s a cosmopolitan town, This Here London. Let me explain.

I spied a book on Eleanor’s shelf today, as I replaced the Murakami tome I had finished last night. I was drawn to it because the author’s name is “Kurkov” which appealed to my Russophile nature. I drew it from its shelf and found myself with a book that stunned me. “Death and the Penguin” about a Ukrainian author who lives with his zoo-rescued penguin in a flat in Kiev. Whilst I don’t subscribe to religion of any type, I do firmly believe I was a penguin in a previous life, and my time in Kiev defines a part of me. And God knows I am trying to be an author.

The discovery of this book was all the excuse I needed at 4 in the afternoon of a Friday, and I closed down, tidied up, and printed off. CV in hand I hauled arse to The Chamberlayne pub down the road, who had advised me to bring in my unsuited resume earlier in the week. A new book, a pint or two, and the excuse of job hunting. All good.

So, I ordered a pint of Staropramen and handed over the sheaf of papers (which include references from Rodda and my brother in regards to bar work) to the barman. I sat and read the book, immersed as a penguin in the Dnipro, and as unlikely.

I met an author, @benjohncock, on Wednesday evening, at an event he and a good friend of mine had organised via twitter. And then on Thursday I visited the pub asking for work. The bloke I spoke to in the pub looked like Ben, and the two are merged in my mind. As if trying to elucidate the differences between two beers, 24 hours after drinking them. Anyway, this evening I felt like I knew the barman, but of course I didn’t.

As I started my second pint, a woman with a foreign accent spun behind the bar, knocking a pint flying on her way. She gave what can only be described as a Gallic shrug. She set about replacing the spilt beer, but insolently. And sexily. I knew before she spoke that she was French. She chattered awhile and my ear tuned in. This is in no small part to the re-arrival of Florine in my life, but more of her another time.

Sitting at the end of the bar as I was, those that stood near me were there only briefly. At one stage a man ordered a pint of Stella and then spoke with Ben-that-isn’t-Ben in a Slavic language, and I just had to know if they were speaking Russian. With everything before, it would have been a coincidence of note. Ben-that-isn’t-Ben furnished me with the fact that it was in fact Serbo-Croat.

And then something happened. I was taken in a reverie, no doubt dreaming up some shit to write about (possibly even this) and I found I was looking directly into the eyes of the French barmaid. This is no epiphany of love; I’m not about to Valentine you with first sight insanity. I merely thought about the French language. Formulated badly constructed phrases, delved my GCSE knowledge for tenses and gender. I tried to think in French – if for no other reason, it will help with my emails to Florine.

And then a Frenchman stood next to me. At first he ordered a pint of Stella (this is a decent pub with a selection of far better lagers), and made some calls. In French and in English and I got carried away, thinking of him conducting affairs and marriages in two languages. For some reason, I took out my notebook and wrote this (fearful eavesdropper that I am);

“He’s stood right next to me, the Frenchman. He describes the pub as La Chamberlayne in an exaggerated French way. I’ve already presumed he wants to meet his wife here for dinner. Or maybe his mistress. All I can think of in my defence should my nosiness (eariness?) be rightfully challenged is, “Je m’excuse, mais je comprends que j’ecoute.”

We can agree that the poverty of my French is outstripped only by the paucity of any social skills.