as advertised elsewhere on this site, i have collected and edited my online diaries from 2002-2006, and called the resulting book ‘The Celestial Cafe’.
i feel like it’s a book i got by cheating – it was never supposed to be one! the diaries are gone from the website, but here’s a few random entries to remind yourself of the banality of it all!
available from the ‘Pomona’ website now, but in shops after Christmas.(there’s nothing so vulgar as a Christmas cash-in..)
August 28, 2003
San Francisco, California, US
Some holiday, this. I’ve spent most of it emailing, talking, walking and reading. Actually, this is what I do all the time and I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s just trippy to walk outside and find it’s still San Francisco, though it’s doing its best to act like Scotland in October. The wind is whipping up and the clouds are touching the street. It’s dark! I like it though. I’ve had to step into the Mission where it’s a few degrees warmer. It’s like Byres Road in Glasgow, or sunny Govan, a place where the local geography conspires to keep the air from moving around so much, or the cloud from obscuring the sun.
Mailing, mailing, talking my big fat head off. What are we building? What are we trying to achieve? Who’s going to care in 50 years’ time when I’m dead? In 50 years’ time someone vaguely angelic—I hope—will show me a list of things, deeds and words I was responsible for, and high on the list will be the trivial and absurd, while low on the list will be the self-important and broadly general. High up there will be a chance word to a busker or directions to a woman and her kid (they asked the right tourist), and low down will be the dissection of Stay Loose for the listeners of public radio, and an email about which publicity shots to pick.
I wonder sometimes how important the strands of our lives really are in the bigger picture. I suppose we believe we are roughly trying to build a better life for ourselves. A lot of the time, thankfully, we are doing what we must because circumstances and our genetic make-up won’t let us do anything else. But, from time to time, just by chance, we contribute a little brick, a little grain of sand toward something God would consider more worthwhile. I feel I’ve been caught up on the worldly side of things, but at least by stopping to think about it I’m readjusting my sights.
I’m in a tiny park, what they call a commons, between Valencia and Guerrero streets in the Mission District. When I stayed here in 1993 I used to sit here waiting for my washing cycle to finish. It’s nice to be here again.
I’m like a dog you throw a stick to. He’ll keep fetching the stick until he wears his paws right through to the shins because it’s in his genetic make-up. It’s in my genetic make-up to walk over hills in pretty green cities. There are hundreds of hills in San Fran, so it’s no fluke that I’m over here wearing out shoe leather and eating the odd burrito.
Speaking of which, I went looking for a burrito place I like in Noe Valley, a nice place in which to lean against the window and read a pocket novel. Unfortunately the place is now a card shop, so I wandered across the street to this rather well-to-do sandwich shop, which is where you find me now. A couple of hipsters of the best sort work here. The conversation between them seems to run at a tangent to what you might expect the clientele in this sort of place would talk about.
“You know, there’s three crates of music here. How come every day I come in to Enya? I think Brad’s got this little Enya thing going.”
One of the waitresses is sitting at the next table, and she’s yelling to waitress number two her musical opinions. And she’s right. The Enya question has resonance for us all. For 99% of earth’s population the line between the Cocteau Twins and Enya is an indiscernible little smudge, but for the 1% who are bothered about that kind of thing, it is a Red Sea parting of a kind, and we’re leaving Enya to fight it out with the pharoah, right? I’m going to the Promised Land with Liz Cocteau, oh yeah!
So she’s rapping away with waitress number two, and she mentions The Gentle Waves! Was I not in them? Small world. Then she mentions that ’they’ (whoever ’they’ are) have all the Belle and Sebastian records as well, and a bunch of other stuff. I must admit, I start sweating a little bit. I would’ve sunk further into my pocket novel except I’ve forgotten my pocket novel so I have to sink further into the sports pages like I’m finding the batting averages oh so interesting. When I get up to leave waitress number one hopes I have a lovely day.
You too honey. Why didn’t I just have a conversation with her? Oh well, never mind. Out on the sidewalk someone has written: “Fuck golf. Fuck Garth.” And I’m inclined to agree.
January 30, 2004
Heathrow Airport, London, England
After Japan, London is a drag. You quickly get used to the chipper nature of people over there, whereas everyone here seems sullen and dour. The fashion in Japan really appeals to me as well—I could spend all day feasting my eyes on the endless varieties of double-breasted jackets worn by the women and men. Their default city dress is so much more aligned to my aesthetic than here. And their taxis—shiny black and chrome, un-aerodynamic with the wing mirrors at the foot of the bonnet.
I didn’t bargain for this four-hour stopover. The flight from Tokyo was good, flying directly over Siberia, taking a slice off the Arctic Circle, chasing the daylight. “I haven’t been able to get the trivia machine to work,” I said to Beans, an hour into the flight. “No, neither have I. We should just go round the plane asking everyone to ask us questions.”
He looked out over the frozen tundra 37,000 feet below.
“Have you seen any wildlife yet?” he asked.
“I saw a pack of wolves.”
“You’ll have to look harder if you’re going to see the crafty arctic fox in his winter coat,” I said.
“Ah, the reynard!”
I have a general feeling of slight dissatisfaction being back, though I can’t put my finger on it. The concerts were terrific, the sound great. The acoustic was much more controlled than on the British tour, and, as I’ve said before, it makes all the difference. The acoustic is maybe my equivalent of the pitch in a cricket match, defining how the game pans out despite being of little interest to anyone but the performer. The pitch was playing real nice. I settled back to thrash a few fours around the ground.
I’m anxious to get on though. I’m in an ambitious mood. No disrespect to you, who may have been listening to us for a long time, but I want the band to start playing to a bigger audience. A new audience. I want us to delight and surprise you with every record we release, but at the same time I want us to break out. I may live to regret it, but you have to try it.
Let me illustrate my point. We were on our way back from playing a radio session in Tokyo and I was staring out the window of the van. I whined, rather randomly, to Bob and Stevie:
“When are we going to get a string of number ones, like Abba?”
“When you grow a pair of tits,” said Bob.
December 26, 2004
On the walk here the sun had just disappeared over the faraway Fereneze Hills. The university and surrounding minarets were doing their best to look like a Tony Hart composition from the 1970s.
There’s still a dusting of frozen snow on the ground. Nonetheless, when the university bell struck the still evening air, and the bird twittered suddenly, the mind of an optimistic young lad looked to the spring, and the remembrance of springs past leap down the years to comfort and cajole.
I passed the Queen Margaret Union, and from the top of Hillhead I can see the view depicted, pretty much, on the back of the Fold Your Hands sleeve. You would have to go to the laundry on the top floor of the QM to get the exact view, because that is where Laura stood when she depicted said view. Because I sent her there with her pencil and expensive paper. Because I used to stare out at that view while waiting for the drying cycle to end. That’s one of the tasks I miss, going to the laundry. At least it’s one of the tasks I think I miss when I fondly ponder the nicer moments and the reveries. The odd encounter with a revolutionary girl and her underwear, the endless letters written to the accompaniment of the spin dryers.
In reality it was probably just about twice out of all the years I did my washing there that I achieved a state of detergent bliss. It was satisfying to come away at the end of the morning with everything washed and folded, socks already paired, nothing shrunk, even the odd shirt ironed. What happens to the time now? I guess we’re much busier. For all your pleading for us to come and play in your backyards, I bet there’s some of you who wished we kept our 1997 work-rate up and kept hitting you with loss-making, unwieldy, four-track EPs. Please consider our sanity, though.
By 1997 or so I was increasingly embarrassed about sneaking into the union. I always wondered if I still looked enough like a student to get away with it. There was a point when I realised that perhaps I couldn’t pass for an undergraduate any more. What about a post-graduate? Or a mature student? And do postgraduates still have to do their own washing, or do they have a fag to do it? Did the fagging system still exist at Glasgow University, or did it ever exist? Could I even pass for a fag?
All these matters would flit through my mind as I made my way perilously past the caretaker of the building, who was meant also to be checking your student credentials. I even composed elaborate reasons for still being there, giving myself imaginary BScs and MAs, and had complex ideas of theses to hand to satisfy the curious janitor.
What was more of a beamer was that the caretaker damn well knew me and probably knew I was not enrolled any more. He knew because I also worked in the building for years. That still didn’t qualify me to use the laundry, but I had to get in there. There was nowhere else so cheap, so cosy, so… right on! It was there that I easily composed Marx and Engels. I can’t remember if there was a real-life subject of the song. Perhaps not. She was probably an echo of Communist Party meetings attended in rooms very close to the laundry.