flip-flops & globs & hares, oh my!

-i write this sitting on a rock in the arse-end of nowhere. i actually got lost half an hour ago & ended up in some kind of farming metropolis, surrounded by agitated horses. but all is well; i am now enthroned in state upon a shapely rock, looking out at the valley. i think the purple flip-flops were a rash choice of footwear, though.

-so far my home-for-the-summer status is strictly theoretical. i think i’ve spent more time haunting ibby’s house, wandering the woods, facing down zenwriter among the dust motes & sunbeams of the library, than actually at home. all this going outside has put me into a state of being that i have not experienced since the age of ten: reader, i am tanned. it’s wreaking havoc with my whole scruffy impoverished pre-raphaelite aesthetic.

-a large & persistent golden retriever just appeared out of nowhere & disgorged a stream of bubbly slobber all over my rucksack. i wanted to be friends but i think he just wanted my strawberries. so it goes.

-i feel like the last person ever to discover what a fantastic writer hilary mantel is, but i finished wolf hall this morning. i think my favourite thing about it might be the awareness there of a not-quite-banished world just beneath that one, lingering in the grins & sneers of gargoyles, in carved saints, in bowls of milk left out for the fey-folk. in the ghosts whose language is the creaks of rope & floorboard.

-it’s so hot here. in the suburbs you can feel the heat striking up from the asphalt. i’ve been despairing over my wardrobe, which goes black, black, purple, black, maybe a bit of scarlet here & there, you get the picture; i’ve been hacking up old t-shirts with scissors & the result tends to be indecent but pleasantly breezy. i’ve also developed a habit of wandering around barefoot over the past few weeks; occasionally this bites me in the ass, because the pavement gets so hot it actually burns my feet. okay, yes, this predicament would be easily evaded if i put my damn shoes on, but where’s the sense of adventure?

-i’m also the last person ever to watch kenneth branagh’s film of much ado, but so much of it was just spot-on perfection. i laughed so hard during the benedick-‘overhears’-his-frat-bros-gossiping scene that there were tears streaming down my face. i think it was claudio launching into a full on wailing, breast-beating performance that did it. i couldn’t take it. i also LOVED how emma thompson & denzel washington played don pedro basically asking beatrice to marry him. he’s absolutely laying himself on the line- it’s very vulnerable- but he does it so lightly- & she gets this, & i love her response. she makes light of the situation, but she’s gentle about it, she does it in a way that doesn’t shame him. it’s very compassionate. i find it a really touching scene.

-i have finally, finally got round to reading hemingway! i’m about seven chapters into the sun also rises. it’s his first novel & the writing is very good, although there’s something a little too self-consciously ambiguous to it at times. i’m not sure what i’ll read after it- it’s between the thousand autumns of jacob de zoet & the well of loneliness. unless i’m feeling whimsical- in which case who knows.

-i’ve been rewatching season eight of supernatural. the whole amelia thing works so much better than i remember- it’s a difficult & delicate relationship, but there’s a maturity to it, & to the writing. sam is not in a younger brother role here; everyone is an adult; he & amelia are both weary drifters. it’s not nice (& oh boy neither are those colour filters) but it works. & my god- all the sam-dean-benny stuff is so WEIRD- by which i mean that there’s such an absurd jealous love-crossed vibe to the whole thing. they really go for it & everyone is seething & deceiving each other & lying out the wazoo. it’s completely horrible. i’m enjoying it so much.

-okay, so, a fucking hare just came lolloping into the clearing where i’m sitting on my rock-throne. with long graceful back legs & black fur in its ears & it sat up & gave me the most hardass stare you ever saw & then went gambolling off, presumably to bully its family. i’ve never seen a hare before. clearly i am at the centre of a teeming hub of wildlife.

-jo & i communicate through a convoluted system of in-jokes & personal slang that occasionally amounts to our own language. we undertook some artistic collaboration.


this resulted in her painting these lovely dancy little chaps!


jo’s selling them as stickers on her redbubble at castle of jo (& her cuttlefish are beautiful too). so, you know, go & buy them if you want your life to be filled with small jumping beans of joy. also to fund our olive habit.

-i’ve been plugging away at A Certain Project for weeks now, & i keep saying that i’m gonna go on one of my 31k-in-twelve-days kicks, but between all my reading- shakespeare in the morning, poetry in the evening, novels wherever i can fit them, plus things like, you know, socialising & exercising & watching stuff- i’ve been getting maybe seven hundred words a day done. i’m going to face the fact that unless i let everything else go out of the window for a fortnight, i won’t get this done. so i’m going to let everything else go out of the window for a fortnight. i’ll try & keep posting- probably little stuff- so that you guys won’t be deprived of my delightful online presence.

-you get no apologies for the title. ‘but isabel, do you have no shame?’ no, & you still get no apologies for the title.

-anyway, my throne is getting distinctly chilly, & i’m a little worried that the next visiting creature of the wild will be a grizzly bear or something, & most significantly i want to watch the joss whedon much ado tonight, so i’m going to attempt to flip-flop the four rocky miles home. pray god that i arrive with my feet still attached.


note: isabel did indeed retain her feet, although she arrived home with some exotically placed blisters & a sunburned neck. it moreover turns out that she was trespassing on land belonging to some fancy-ass golf club or other for most of her walk. she advises readers to wear sturdy shoes if they plan to go on extended hikes in the british countryside, & to watch out for friendly animals; the last creature she encountered was not a bear but an extremely willing cat, who ruthlessly exploited her back-scratching skills for a good ten minutes on her way home.




eraserhead, 1977

how do you even watch a lynch movie? pausing it every few seconds to google this or that oddball symbol or uncomfortable sex scene? frantically trying to ‘work out’, to analyse?

i find that i just have to submit to the experience. sit back & let the weirdo magic put me under, & read the meta essays later.

eraserhead is a bizarre experience, mind-bogglingly surreal, frequently wince-inducing. the first line of speech doesn’t arrive until fifteen minutes into the film, & this has a funny effect: it forces you to listen to what else is going on. & the first thing that comes into focus is the constant hum of industrial noise that underlies the film, like the roar of silence in an empty room at night, amplified. sometimes it builds & builds to screaming-point, panic-point. you’re worried that the whole landscape- a dilapidated, sooty wasteland of dirty windows & protruding pipes- will explode in a shriek of steam & black gas.

you could say it’s a film about fear of having kids. you could say it’s about fear of sex (& as far as blanket statements about its ‘meaning’ go, that’s my favourite one). there’s an utterly gruesome creature that’s supposedly a premature baby but looks like the sort of deformed kitten foetus you might find preserved in a jar of formaldehyde in a glass cabinet at an english stately home. its thin wailing pervades the film for about an hour,  incessantly, to the point where i, the watcher, was practically ready to mute the damn thing. there’s a brilliant scene where- after an unbearable period of the baby just wailing into the darkness- henry spencer’s wife bursts into tears, declares she can’t stand it any longer, & marches out.

grotesque imagery, largely of helpless creatures that resemble barely-alive pieces of raw meat being sliced open. an indescribably awkward scene where henry spencer goes to dinner at his girlfriend’s house, where the inhabitants seem barely human- her father has a fixed, horrifying grin; her mother attacks henry & starts sort of erotically mauling him while he stands frozen. henry himself is a drudge, a shy, pasty dishcloth-type who never quite dares to question the strangeness of the things that happen to him. near the beginning there’s a scene where the tension builds almost unbearably: henry gets into the elevator in his apartment & presses the button. it’s filmed from across the room, a voyeur’s angle. the elevator doesn’t move; henry just stands there. for a really, really long time. absurdly long.


it’s probably at least twenty seconds that you’re just staring at the screen, getting vaguely freaked out, because why is he just standing there- & then the elevator moves. you realise that he had known the elevator took that long to start, that he was used to this. he’s a man so accustomed to life within a dreamscape that although things scare & embarrass him, nothing shocks him. this doesn’t make him look wise.

then there’s one of the great standout scenes, a blowsy, delirious rendition of in heaven by a mincing schoolgirl with very scary cheeks:

it’s funny that that scene feels more real than just about any other in the film. or rather: it feels like that scene enters the land of the Real, the land of symbol & essence. it’s the vision in its hypnotic grating lushness, stripped of the little harsh bits of daily life that make up so much of the unreality of the film. & man, is it disturbing.

i wouldn’t call eraserhead incoherent; it seems to operate according to its own internal logic, particularly in the later scenes, as though governed by a sort of dream code. but it is is a hard film to write about coherently.

so did i like it?

i thought it was horrible. disgusting & burnt-up & uncomfortable & even a little bit woozily beautiful. i couldn’t have looked away if i’d wanted to, & believe me, i did.


opals & thunderstorms: the dreamscapes of rosemary tonks

my speech from the uea ‘reading matters’ conference 2018. performed whilst pacing around the auditorium in a dressing-gown & a faceful of fake diamonds.

rosemary tonks’ poems take place within a kind of highly extravagant dreamscape. she’s generally regarded as a quintessential poet of the sixties, but i’m not sure that’s really true. time is unstable in this dreamscape of hers- it’s decaying, like the rotting boards of the parisian waterfronts in blouson noir, like the velvet nights that her poems often take place within, as they swoon towards daybreak & the dream is over.

her poems are filled with anonymous hotel liasons and electric lights. they are poems of blood-caked traffic, of dust and narcotics, of modern life. but they also flicker with a half-lost past. the yellow fogs of victoriana are everywhere, and she has the romantic preoccupation with the divine dreamers and somnolents of classical mythology. soho is orpheus’s dark and tangled underworld; ‘hypnos follows me all day in a silk dressing-gown,’ says her narrator.

then there’s the opium-smoke that is the dark breath of her world. in sofas, fogs and cinemas, ‘the light is brown as laudanum’. then europe is suffocated by ‘hot fogs and poppies’. the victorian obsession with the idea of the east as the faraway magical “orient” is all over her writing. the result of these collisions of modern and victorian attitudes is a kind of wooziness, a decay of time. when tonks lived alone in paris, she swore that she met baudelaire one night on an empty street. here, in her dreamscape, she peels up the pavements to let out the ghosts.

and the resulting decay is voluptuous. tonks constantly manipulates our wonder and our disgust. there’s passages of overripe fleshy grotesquerie- for instance, ‘could i not read as well the tradesman’s hand/ with its magenta creases- whose soul turns blandly/ on a sirloin mattress to smile at the next meal?’ images of meat, of flies on meat, are everywhere.

but then there’s passages of luminous, synaesthetic loveliness, often to do with dreams- so long as they’re distant. in ace of hooligans: ‘the dream in fluent opal swam against his eyes/its waters sumptuously baited as the sea’. in ‘running away’- ‘i was a hunter whose animal/ is that dark hour when the hemisphere moves/ in deep blue blaze of dews/ and you, brunette of the birdmusic tree,/ spatter in spat diamonds/ drunkenly.’ aside from the sheer sensuous beauty of those lines, i think ‘birdmusic tree’ references the arabian nights’ tale ‘the talking bird, the singing tree, and the golden water’- again mingling the geography of this dreamscape of hers. it isn’t quite london or europe or the vague scheherazadian east, but a fantasy-place where they all meet and fragment.

her imagery of rotting flesh and turning meat- of erotic mortality- makes sense in this context; wonder and disgust are both valid reactions because her dreamscapes- her dark cities- are in a constant state of bloom and breakdown. there’s the ‘shabby thrilling twilight of the street’; the ‘rank elegance’ of rome; and, ultimately, in her poem ‘escape’, she acknowledges this- ‘and your soul knows half the flavour/ lies underfoot in dirty flagstones’. the beauty of decay is their enchantment. it’s what makes her dreamscapes so strange and so wonderful.

shylock, domestic bliss, i am a degenerate

-my rosemary tonks presentation is undone, A Certain Project is languishing on 23k, & all our tea-towels are starting to smell funny. but i don’t care because i’m reading ada or ardor & it’s so dense & sumptuous & weird & i cannot. put. it down.

-finished king john; onto the merchant of venice! this play is fucked UP. the part where he’s an anti-semitic stereotype aside, shylock’s dialogue is so interesting- there’s layers & layers of ambiguity there. he’s not a caricature. he’s complex. & bassanio is way more interesting than i expected him to be (i think i was anticipating another antipholus)- he’s an enormous fuckboy & terribly reckless with money & also the only character who actually seems to respect shylock & then there’s… the whole… thing… with… antonio…

-also i LOVE gratiano. there are just no boring characters in this one, guys. well, i haven’t met jessica yet.

-despite the fact that i have about sixteen films lined up to watch that i haven’t got round to yet (hello princess kaguya, hello lost highway) i’ve ordered the 2004 movie adaptation already. whoops. it looks good! jeremy irons is the absolute perfect choice for antonio, joseph fiennes’ hair is giving me stitches, & i may just be a huge sucker for the whole crumbling-venetian-glamour thing. okay, yeah, i am.

-i’m trying to restrain myself from buying call me buy your name on d.v.d. also an ophelia t-shirt. & the new fleurs du mal translation. the government probably shouldn’t give me money. i bought perfume instead of new trousers the other day. so, you know, on the one hand i smell like jasmine & sandalwood, but on the other hand i’m wearing holey purple cords. which is admittedly a look. lucy thinks i’m appallingly vain & she’s right. we were late to squad breakfast at ziggy’s the other day because i took an hour deciding which of my four black chokers to wear.

-i have a grand total of sixteen days left in norwich. & then it’s back to the dark & savage north, & lighting tallow candles to read by, & galumphing around in untreated sheepskins, & stewing young children in pots, & communicating in a complex system of grunts & gesticulations. (okay, full disclosure, my mother’s house is about sixteen times as clean as this flat & candles aren’t allowed upstairs anyway. & it’s like, five minutes away from the library, which is nice.)

-the main question is how on earth to say goodbye to everyone i’ve met here. of course i’ll be seeing jo, will, lucy & jamie again within three months- our lease on the Beverage Cult begins august, & we’re thinking about going to see as you like it at the globe in july, if we can scrape up the cash- but still. & it won’t be as easy with some of my other friends here.

-there is also the somewhat high probability that, Mallet Moron, banshee taps & minor floods notwithstanding, i will miss mcc. i mean, we have a balcony, for god’s sake. a balcony from which you can see the cathedral spire, & a lamp-post that illuminates the falling snow in winter. we have a topaz-eyed courtyard cat that i’ve only just got to like me. we have a river that the lights fall on like copper etchings. i have a bloody enormous desk that supports, atlas-like, my entire world, i.e my laptop, my complete works of shakespeare, my nabokovs, & quite a lot of tea. also currently my right leg.

-so, yes, going up north is going to be something of a shock to the system. but there are people that i love there too. & forests that drip with blackberries in august, & little bohemian theatre-cafes where i’ve read at open mic nights, & deep, dusty library archives. that’s one thing about being a wanderer, i suppose- to some extent, you carry your world with you.

-&, oh my god, hills. when was the last time i saw a hill? i don’t remember. it’s been so long.

-lucy has returned from hiding. we have fallen easily back into our delightful routine, by which i mean that every so often we emerge from our bedrooms so that she can deride my “rabbit food” & i can pillory her ridiculous love-affair with gravy granules (for god’s sake), & she mocks me for nerding out over the richard ii beach scene, & i throw overripe soft fruit at her & challenge her to arm-wrestles. ah, domesticity.


the new von trier movie. um.

wow, so, i just realised there’s a trailer out for the house that jack built, i.e lars von trier’s serial killer film. i’ve been psyched for this for a year & now i wonder what on earth i thought it was going to look like. as though this sort of material in these particular hands was going to be anything other than stomach-churning.

apparently it’s been critically panned, but when it comes to von trier what else is new. it’s attracted the criticisms his films usually get- pretentious, senselessly violent, etc.

i mean, i can see it. but also- having watched the trailer- this interests me. mostly because of that bizarre moment when the rain starts falling on the bloody road & he turns his face upwards.

um. don’t watch this if you can’t handle some pretty horrible shit. if you’re familiar with von trier: it’s the usual level of nastiness combined with grace.

one thing i do find really very funny about this is how even if they aren’t willem dafoe, the guys in trier’s movies all end up looking like willem dafoe. eventually.

the run-down (+ digressions on spn, ben whishaw, ‘a midsummer night’s dream’ et al.)

-so, i’ve just been informed by the doctor that, due to an unidentified muscle injury, i can’t do any high impact sports for at least a week. which means no running. which kinda sucks out loud, because i’m a running junkie & it happens to be my only really clear thinking-space & there’s nothin quite like that high. but i’m limping everywhere & the doctor was making noises about painkillers & Seeing How It Goes, so i guess i’ll just deal.

-so you see that title was a pun! man i’m clever

-in the mean-time i intend to get absolutely killer biceps in order to beat lucy in our next arm-wrestle. (the tally currently stands at one point to each of us, but she was drunk the time i won. & she’s butch as hell. & i have noodle arms. i don’t like my chances.)

-i’ve been workin on a post about the picture of dorian gray. the decadence is a bit of a fixation of mine at the moment. somethin about decayed elegance fascinates me. & then of course there’s the side of it where i’m a queer who finds the wildly obvious homoeroticism hugely enjoyable. it’s so blatant!

-there’s a dead bat in the courtyard. it’s so tiny- a ball of fur the size of my thumb with little leathery wings. i always find it so strange, seeing dead things. like envoys from another world that barely touches mine. it’s because i’m a city kid who watches too many horror films; it gives you an unrealistic attitude towards death.

-blew twenty quid on two huge volumes of t.s eliot’s letters yesterday (‘yeah, jo, let’s go in city bookshop, whatever could go wrong?’). i’ve only flipped through so far but my god the guy had an impressive correspondence. jean cocteau, alain-fournier, virginia & leonard woolf, antoine de saint-exupéry, james joyce, alfred knopf, ford madox ford, wyndham lewis- you name ’em, they’re in there. it’s a testimony to the network of excitement that surrounded the literary community then- the sense that a huge upheaval was happening (an upheaval, remember, which paradoxically was born of disillusionment, ennui, the inadequacy of words in the face of what the world had seen). i’d love to go back & visit that time.

-just finishing the last act of a midsummer night’s dream. man, bottom is such a sweetheart. onto richard ii next- i’ve been looking forward to reading it ever since i watched the hollow crown production. which is a fucking masterpiece & probably the best onscreen shakespeare i’ve ever seen. it might be my favourite of ben whishaw’s performances- & i say that as a ben whishaw fan & someone who numbers bright star & cloud atlas amongst their favourite films. at the beginning he’s this alien gold-draped figure, sort of remote, like half of him’s looking down from a distant star- & completely disengaged with his political duties. (there’s a wonderful quote about the casting process from rupert goold: ‘i wanted someone who was poetically distant in their soul.’) & then the rest of it’s the slow unravelling of this persona- little cruelties, pettiness, kindness, despair. martyrdom & redemption & narcissism get completely mixed up, are often indistinguishable from each other. & there’s a riveting scene in the throne-room where i held my breath the whole way through.

-for the past few months i have been very slowly rewatching spn. i’m just into season six now. lucy & my other flatmates staged an intervention last time i watched an episode because i was laughing so loudly. it’s been good to come back to it- remembering why i got obsessed with this ridiculous show in the first place. i forget how good they are with character stuff sometimes- what a quality of realness, of predictable unpredictable life, is in sam & dean. & in characters like bobby & john & ellen & jo & charlie & even the ones who only last an episode, like madison. hell, even in jess, although by rights she should be an irritating stereotype- instead you really believe in her kindness, her goodness, that sam could glimpse a better world through her. i don’t know how they pull it off but they do.

-i’m two seasons behind on spn, by the way. i’ll catch up eventually. i’ve heard things about season twelve that make me want to bang my head against the wall, but i’m pretty excited to get stuck into season thirteen.

-i’m currently sitting surrounded by books, drinking coconut & honey kefir because apparently uni has made me into a giant hippie. also, despite already being in the middle of about six books here, plus two more that i left at my mother’s house (wolf hall & a new york winter’s tale, if you want to know), i started reading the dresden files earlier. they’re the kind of semi-trashy that really, really appeals to me. harry dresden is an irritating chauvinist git & i’m exasperated with myself for liking him.

-on a serious kaleo kick this week. morose icelandic rock is a Mood, frankly.

-me & the gang- meaning lucy, jo, will & jamie- are catching the train down to house-sit (read: sleepover!) at jo’s this weekend. cue studio ghibli marathons & banana bread-making. it’s gonna be a fun weekend. even if i can’t pavement-pound my Manly Inner Torment away. sigh.


‘MirrorMask’, 2005, d. Dave McKean

Watched ‘MirrorMask’ yesterday. I sort of loved it.

It’s absurdly and sincerely bizarre. The images are strange, beautiful, arresting. And they are images- I wouldn’t call them shots- they’re glowing shifting flickering things, like the crackle of old jazz spilling from a gramophone. McKean uses slow dreamy fade-outs, jewel colours, wonderful sets. His painty fingerprints are all over it. Some of it is very stylised- elegant, poetic. Some of it is loose and soft and dreamy. It’s flashy and subtle, decadent and sparse. By turns it’s almost erotic.


It’s evocative. It’s gorgeous. And now I’m going to stop before the adjective police kick down my door.

This was created by the minds behind ‘The Sandman’. You can tell. I love both guys’ work. My composition A for my music GCSE was called ‘The Wolves In The Walls’ (my composition B was called ‘Lucrezia Borgia’, naturally.) If I had to choose an all-time favourite book, it’d be a hard tie between ‘Neverwhere’ and ‘Titus Groan’. I’m super excited for ‘American Gods’. When someone like McKean collaborates with writers I love, it makes me very happy; this was up my alley.

It’s not a perfect film by any means. According to Rotten Tomatoes it’s not even a good film. The plot is ridiculous, although this isn’t necessarily an issue. But it’s also very vague. So is the way it unfolds. Conflicts are not always given sufficient room to develop and breathe, or are resolved too quickly. There’s a lot of influence from ‘Labyrinth’, and I clocked several visual references. There’s even a Hoggle-like character. There’s elements of ‘Alice In Wonderland’, and these really work. The movie was filmed in Brighton instead of London, as originally planned; an excellent choice. Some of the buildings look like broken teeth.


Stephanie Leonidas is a smart and rather childlike Helena, like a ghost in her white pyjamas. She’s a true Gaiman heroine- reminds me a bit of both Coraline and Door- and I found Leonidas charming. Rob Brydon is compassionate and lovely as the father and less convincing as the Prime Minister of the fantasy land; it feels a bit like he’s winking at the audience to tell you it’s only a game. Oh, and Stephen Fry has a gorgeous little role as, uh-



The characters are reasonably well-drawn; there’s some very, very Gaimany humour. The script matters, but I wonder, in this case, just how much. Some of the images are intoxicating all by themselves- far more powerful than any other element of the film. What if MirrorMask were a silent film? There’s a whimsical sort of soundtrack, mostly just one instrument playing. That was because they couldn’t afford an orchestra, but i think that suits the film; there’s a loneliness there. Despite the fact that Helena makes friends along the way, she seems like the only sane person in a world gone mad. She’s an Alice.

There’s some beautiful stuff going on here, I think. Ostensibly this is a fantasy movie with a pretty typical quest + magic object + plucky heroine story. It’s also the story of a family, and this is very touching by turns. But it’s also a film about dreams. There’s a lovely sequence- a lovely wistful sequence- where Helena and Valentine wander through a pale landscape. ‘We often confuse what we wish for with what is,’ says Valentine. ‘These are the dreamlands on the borders. It’s all wishes, hopes, and memories. It’s all so familiar.’


I don’t think MirrorMask is trying to ‘say’ anything about dreams. Maybe it’s trying to be one. If so, it succeeds marvellously. But really the film’s purpose is to be luminously vividly wildly beautiful. And it’s pretty awesome at that too. Much of it is just beauty for it’s own sake. It won’t work for everyone, but it worked for me.

So, screencaps. Bask in ’em. You can thank me later.