banning of masturbation at middlesex

This morning I sent a letter to the sirs and madams of Middlesex University, who are in the process of closing the outstanding philosophy department there and have just suspended a whole pile of students and staff including my friend Pete Hallward. This evening I am continuing reading Susan Sontag’s superb Against Interpretation which leaves me ever more in awe of her. But oh how I regret I had not got to this paragraph sooner:

Jerking off the universe is perhaps what all philosophy, all abstract

thought is about: an intense, and not very sociable pleasure,

which has to be repeated again and again.

I would have used it in my letter which, alas, did not contain a single line in it that provided even a tenth of the pleasure of this one. The dean, though, should consider that final line again and again: philosophy has to be repeated again and again and again and again. Not stopped and banned and denied.


response to a short message spectacle

For just over the next two weeks I am going to try to record what I think I was thinking or doing or saying each time I receive one of Tim Etchells’ SMS, as part of the Norfolk & Norwich Festival, and lasting 16 days. I will print the SMS in bold and my thinking & doings and sayings in italics. So I begin:

Tired. Curtains opening. A voice. Want tea? A banana? Here’s some juice. So tired. It’s hung. And Griffin didn’t get in.

Unexpected ripples in the river water.

Light. Laughter. Who the hell is that? Stop linking it all to politics. This is beautiful. Ahh, the day is going to be ok. I can wake up. I can get up. I can begin to write. Embrace that text. This ugly phone with this gem now inside it. This small plastic black box always linked to war in Eastern Congo is now producing this kind of beauty. I should get up. It’s late . . .

Down by the station a faint smell of roses and turpentine and in the wings a crackling dryness to the air.

If my mother were still a painter I could smell her turpentine. Why did she stop? A perfectionist, she said, cannot accept substandard work. I would never be the best so I stopped. Resentment: the return to the old-fashioned railway station loved so much by Tony Benn. He said that on the radio I think, quite recently. Turps! That’s what we called it. Turps! How long did that line take? Is this a story? Should I text a response? Should I text back? Isn’t that what texts are for? Am I submitting myself to the SMS when in fact I should give back? Answer? Reply? Will there be hundreds? Will the phone crash with performance texts? Coffee now. Work. Meringue. Work . . .

All of which rekindled in my thoughts a troubling conversation I had some eight or nine years ago in this very city. The man said he came from Berkshire and was studying in Boston, but he seemed to me to have appeared from nowhere. Or should I take this section lower down?

The lights above the stage go dim for a moment like theres been some kind of power drain.

I suppose if I want it to I could give all of this greater meaning. Because it does feel a little bit like being followed. And I know what it is like to be followed, to receive unwanted messages from people you don’t know but who know you. The last time that happened it was a phone call. He said: So why are you really here? You say you are here formally for the reason of work but we have information suggesting you have other plans. After that, I didn’t go out for two whole days. Power drains. I know a thing or two about power drains. But they tend to be called cuts even though drain is a much more appropriate and evocative word. It also implies that the power has gone somewhere else. Where?

Should we be paying for this? A free performance? . . .

In the shadow of these words, fear of the devil, fugitive pieces, the boys throw their limbs out of open windows and open roofs, the engine running, the weekend beginning. But still, they call you madam and sir, their hoods and their helmets, gold price tags in a moon on the rim, so undersold by the mediators.

Kids look on with wide-eyed stares from the back or from bedroom windows.

See that! He is following me! The trick is to write the happenings before reading the short message. I don’t like cheats. This is wonderful.And it is I watching wide-eyed from my office window from the back at the kids in the cars and the jewel of merk that climbs the wall . . .

They are coming thick and fast.

Music. Faint at first, as if from backstage, or from another time. The sound – like something leaking in from another world stops abruptly.

Should I add another dash, or leave it thus? Who is sending these? A machine? A paid texter? Is he tapping out the first thing that comes into his head? Are they pre-pared lines? Is their a narrative? Where is he? Should I reply? Should I delete the performance as it comes? Deleting it might feel like betrayaly. Like standing up in the theatre and walking out: something that FE get quite a lot of. But my phone is old-fashioned and cheap: it doesn’t have a lot of memory. I’m going to delete them. I’m sorry texter. I’m deleting them. (But if I wasn’t re-writing them out here, would I still delete them? I doubt it.)

Big crowds, waiting & uneasy. Unsure where to look. Rumours circulate its started already or else it wont start til later thanks to technical difficulties.

I’m thinking: should it have written later as l8r? True to text formatting. I’m thinking: my mate Ruby, who has taught me so much about language (e.g. STOP AMPIN’ IN MY FACE), would have written, say, the first sentence of that text like this: Bg peeplz, w8ng n uneeze.

Fireworks. Silent ones. Amazing.

The last fireworks are bursts of white petals to spell words against darkness: A SHORT MESSAGE SPECTACLE. Then the velvet folds the words & the show has begun.

Is this a trick?

Dancers everywhere, in skimpy costumes. Backs straight. Big smiles. Eyes fixed wide.

In pink, and gold, and red, and yellow. No. Black. I’ve seen this somewhere. Funny how whatever the text says, I think of something I already hold in my memory. So each member of the audience, wherever they are, is having a potentially completely different experience, even more so than when you all see a show together, because at least in ‘the theatre’ you are all in the same space. Here, we are all over. I might be sitting on the loo when the next stage of the performance arrives. Or just bored on a bus. Or asleep. Which dream did that bit of the performance arrive in? Thinking of switching my cellphone to signal a sound when a text arrives so that, if I’m in bed at night, I will wake up to the performance as it goes. How will the lovely J respond to this? He is not part of the audience. Will he get cross? Are we all receiving the same text? Are we all receiving the same performance? Or is this one just for me? So naturally paranoid, perhaps I’m not cut out for the SMS!

One dancer amongst the trees. Another on a lawn. Like they were part of a bigger group that separated somehow.

Dancers in windows. Dancing privately. Like someone turned radios loud in all the kitchens or bedrooms and they all just started to dance.

More dancers. Like someone put them down randomly pretty much everywhere. One in a car park. Another in a big street, amongs the pedestrians.

My 70 year-old neighbour has agreed to pole dance for the street party.

What looks like another an old bloke high up on a rooftop.

The elderly dancer from the rooftop walks right to the edge. Pauses a moment. Then jumps.

Delighted he jumped. That was the last word that I couldn’t see. I’m so pleased he jumped.

In the short time of the old guys 40 storey descent a safety net is erected to break his fall. There’s applause certainly, but moderated by shock. Blackout.

J and I this morning were talking about narrative and generalising and weakening and neutralising stories. J was explaining that scientists do this too, not just writers and publishers and journalists as I was saying. So a scientist might conduct an experiment to try to find out how much time it takes for a pea, for example, to fall from a 40 storey building. The scientist will do the experiment, say, 10 times and each time, the time will be different. So the scientist will take an average of those 10 times and use that as the final time stated for a pea to fall 40 storeys. Which made me think about the way journalists will interview, say, one disgruntled voter who didn’t get to vote and that one disgruntled voter’s words will represent all disgruntled voters. How controlled, I’m thinking, will this narrative be? Sixteen whole days. Where are we going? I’m excited!

. . .

Of last nights safety net & equipment needed to set it up no trace. Of the dancers no trace. Of the ambulance which arrived for the jumper also no trace.

Received this whilst walking into Tate Britain to look a second time at Ofili’s paintings and to check out Henry Moore’s phenomenal war sketchings. I felt suddenly wrenched back into the control of the performance. Thinking (especially of Ofili): But I’m here for another spectacle now and you (whoever you are because you long ceased to be Tim) are interrupting with your spectacle. This irritation made me even more interested, however, in this whole SMS as a performance because this is one of the very points is that it interrupts the viewer/audience/receiver all the time/any time whenever It wants. A, er, harmless text with such a lot of power. And of course I’m annoyed because there is no trace of the performers. What’s going on?!

. . .

Still at the Tate. Finished Ofili. Coffee. More coffee. Iain Sinclair walks (or hobbles?) past. And then this comes:

A choir of 500 or more kids file onto the stage, forming lines arranged by height. A seemingly endless confusion about who should be standing next to whom.

Remembering Queen Elizabeth Hall and the kids. The amazing kids. Can’t remember the name. But there you go again: my memory keeps on interfering in everything . . .

The kids choir still setting up. Music stands are constantly adjusted & smaller kids having once found their places – are led off again to look for a toilet.

Noticing a growing difficulty I’m having with the sense that It is controlling me. I have to wait for the performance and I never know when it’s coming. When it doesn’t come for a long time I have actually felt quite cross! I can’t believe how impatient I am and how much I dislike the feeling of a texter controlling me. These sixteen days are going to prove quite complicated. When will I lose my patience? Will I lose my patience? So far, whenever I think I’m about to lose my patience with the waiting game, I end up chuckling with delight the moment the next SM in the S arrives. Forever charmed and seduced by It.

A tired old-looking woman at the piano next to the choir gives a sign & the kids begin to sing. Love songs. Lullabies. Protest songs. Religious songs.

I thought they were on the toilet? Or did I have them all go off in my head? The poor old woman. The only character I’ve felt sorry for so far. In my head, she looks miserable. The short miserable spectacle for her!

. . .

Woke up twice in the night to check my phone. One message. Resisted looking at it until this morning when I was properly awake. Thinking that was a mistake. If I’d opened it and read it, I could have had better dreams. As it was I had Clegg and Cameron invading my mind all night. That’s the second night running.

One of the choir kids faints & is dragged off to the side. The singing continues. Rebel songs. Novelty songs. Risqué songs. Pirate songs. Without apparent end.

There’s a lot that is faint. Faints smells. Fainting kids. Faint music. And now, a faint dislike of the kids. Haven’t a clue where this is going and beginning to wonder if I should start to write my own messages in brackets, to see how far it diverges from the SMS. I’m doing it in my head all the time . . .

The kids are still singing, tho as dawn comes many have crumpled, making nests from their own coats, curled asleep in bundles on the floor of the stage.

Ah: I had had them throwing up, having temper tantrums, and collapsing. Love the nests . . .

The stronger kids continue. Old songs. New songs. Forgotten songs. I Will Survive. Love Will Tear Us Apart. The Day They Broke The Bank At Monte Carlo.

First thought: Evelyn & Evelyn as opposed to Joy Division. Am sure TE and FE will appreciate E&E. Second thoughts: those fucking kids in the Tate yesterday, running from room to room screaming and shouting, as if it were a soft-play area, and their plummy parents chatting on their mobile phones loudly whilst every so often whispering sssshhhh at their horrible brats of children. I’m all for letting kids engage in art: I’m all against letting kids run riot in art and ruining everyone else’s experience because their parents think it’s somehow artistic free expression when it’s really ill-disciplined disrespect! End the tyranny of the parent!

. . .

Dr Kumar is nodding whilst holding my big toe in his fingers. Yes, definitely fungal. Wear clean socks, he advises, and dry shoes.

Only a few kids left standing now place faces, cracked exhausted voices. Roadrunner. Rock of Ages. There is a Green Hill. Waltzing Matilda. Pale. Blue Eyes.

. . .

9 kids left. The Internationale. Thank You For The Music. Yesterday. Ballad of a Thin Man. Nearer My Lord God To Thee.

The last time I heard The Internationale, I was watching Jeremy Corbyn MP sing. Old Labour.

An hour later and I’m trying to think more constructively about the experience of the Short Message Spectacle. Just been over here, reading the author’s thoughts – only briefly quoted – in the Times piece. It’s like your whispering in someone’s ear, says TE, and then comments on the phone being in the personal space, which indeed it is, and the SMS bringing a little bit of surprise magic through the day or night. I agree with this, as I’ve said above: it does feel like a bit of stardust sprinkled on the day and certainly, the first few I got just blew me away. Now I’m beginning to get accustomed to it. It still feels a bit like a paperchase: with that excitement and suspense each time I open the text but there is a small part of me that feels at the moment that I want to be even more surprised. But perhaps I’m being a bit impatient. I think a difficulty with SMS is that, obviously, it doesn’t just eliminate the visuals and the performance, but it eliminates sounds. So the messages that I read: I read. Someone else isn’t reading them. What I’ve noticed is that I therefore read them in my voice in my head which slighly depends on what mood I’m in. I think I felt the first few SMS were very very whispering – the pre-stage SMS. But since we’ve been on stage, there’s a part of me that has felt as if I’m just reading stage directions. I’ve actually quite enjoyed that. But I’m feeling like I want to be pulled a bit further. Pushed a bit harder. Strung out a bit tighter. Of course, this all may be to come. Early days. And I’m so impressed by the idea.

Perhaps what’s causing me some cause for reflection is that I have seen quite a fair few FE productions written by the extraordinary TE. I feel as though the text spectacle is working on familiar territory. It feels a little like an FE production by text, but an FE production that I already know (even if I don’t). Maybe that is not a problem. I’m thinking aloud here . . .

Only 3 kids left the stage a battlefield strewn with sleeping bodies. The last song sung before the lights fade slowly is Didos Lament by Purcell. . .

I wrote this “Such a fragile past: nailed down by multi-storey multinational hotels that rise from the city like giant up-ended coffins. Thirty-six hours ago the house next-door was pulled down and already I am unable to conjure its image. Demolition persuades me to forget the urban landscape before the new has even been erected. Conversations disappear in the foundations of company headquarters; disagreements and disappointments will be buried beneath the detritus of colonial architecture. Anything that may remind you of your life – extinguished by the magnesium modern.” And this came in as I was tapping out the last five words:

Of the kids, the choir and the music not a single trace remains . . .

Actors, battle reenactment societies, volunteers, Army Reservists and members of the emergency services restage great historical massacres . . .

I have spent so much time, you cannot imagine how much time, trying to take the great historical massacre and approach it from the micro minute perspective. The tiny, the small, the close up. And always always trying to maintain as much silence as I can, trying to setp in exactly the opposite direction that journalism pushed me down. I’ve had to unlearn everything I was taught and try to re-educated myself again. I feel like I’ve demolished a part of my brain and now I’m rebuilding it in the way that I want it to be: not the BBC. So it’s kind of strange reading a performance that goes back to the big, to the macro, the generic, without finding myself thinking very very hard about it.

Men wield axes with convincingly aggressive facial expressions. Cavalry charges into merciless cannon fire. Swordplay and parachute drops. Hand to hand combat . . .

Battle scenes continue sporadically with sounds of skirmishes and mortar fire. Hard to tell if this is planned or simply down to the enthusiasm of the participants . . .

This is an interesting line because now it is as if the texter is sitting with us in the audience, texting to us what he is seeing. He is not so much the author of the Spectacle as the only member of the audience who is actually there! The lone texter whose job it is to let the rest of us know what’s going on. So, presumably, if lone texter gets taken out, we’re all a bit fucked. End of spectacle. Will lone texter suddenly be killed? . . .

On a corner by a bombed-out 24-hour supermarket a badly wounded actor makes a final speech about the horrors of war and the lessons we all have to learn.

I’m sure I’m supposed to respond in this way. But I dislike the cliché: horrors of war, lessons to learn. I really struggle with kind of what you might call laughs about war, or what I feel I guess are slightly flippant references to war. I wish in many ways I’d get over that, but I so far I haven’t. Living in a war, on the edges of war never leaves you. You can’t unlearn it or shake it off. And I just have a total hatred for short comments of war that, I feel, are meaningless. But…

I also know, having seen and heard many FE productions by TE, that this is part of the point of them. I think. But I still struggle.

. . .

An interval. At last! I think. At last! Thank you thank you. I really need a fucking interval. People get drinks & talk about what’s happened. Some are pretty positive, others less so. Theyre missing a story & the songs bit was too long.

OK. Laugh out loud, as they say. I like this. Me the audience watching the spectacle of the audience watching the spectacle… I’d say: but there is a story, it seems to me. There is a plot, no? I really needed this interval. I’m starting to feel a bit ground down by the texts, they keep coming keep coming. I’m enjoying having to think about this, even though it sometimes annoys me, occasionally bores me, often makes me laugh loudly and inspires me. Putting the force into entertainment et cetera… But I am now an audience of an audience. So I am kind of spying on the audience with the help of the texter who is following me. Spying on spying on spying. I like that ripple effect. Excellent. . . .

A few overexcited kids go running through the crowd, knocking into people. Various adults yell at them but it makes no difference . . .

But what about me? Aren’t I in the audience any more?

A stern announcement is made requesting that people turn off their mobile phones the performance is about to start again.

Ha ha ha. How can I? This presents us with a choice of course and a reminder of how uncool mobile phones are if left on in most performances. This turns the orange ads on their head, n’est-ce pas!

Electric lights across the whole city flicker than fade to darkness. As if on cue, the stars themselves begin to dim, sparkle then blackout.

Nice. I like this.

A poem or short speech delivered in the darkness. Sounds like it could be a less well-known bit of Shakespeare. The last words are inaudible.

That second sentence is perfect for me. This might be my favourite text so far. My enthusiasm is beginning to soar. And I’m wishing I could meet the rest of the audience. Where are you? Who are you?

. . .

A castle on a hill. Before it a lake and to stage left a small campfire around which a group of noblemen or travellers are huddled together . . .

When the lights come up theres been a change of scenery and the whole town with its streets and roads and houses and buildings is gone . . .

A desert scene. Distant caravan of camels and nomads . . .

A jungle. A cavern. A busy street . . .

On board the deck of a giant star-freighter millions of years in the future the doomed captain makes a final video call to his lover. Static fills the screen . . .

I have been absent for a few days, away from the internet, and so unable to update here. Strangely, I met a stranger who had heard about this, the SMS, although was not a member of the audience. I’m sure there must be one near here somewhere, someone else, out there, not so far away, reading the same spectacle as me just a street or two away.

By the river a costume parade? Some people dressed as sheep, other as wolves, chickens & farmers. All hanging round as if waiting for a signal -?

A group of kids dressed as cosmonauts race to the waters edge, pointing & yelling at women dressed as mermaids, who float by serenely, waving from a barge.

This one caught me off cue a bit. Mermaids are always on my mind. I’m with the barge, with the mermaids, on the river. I love how this spectacle is working on my imagination. It’s like I’ve got this private little show of my own going on that noone – not even the texter – knows about fully.

Men & women dressed as deep sea divers sit back on a bench, staring vacantly. Their bulky helmets & visors arent helping them feel part of whats going on.

I notice that messages like this one, above, always have me imagine the FE crew faces. Noone else. Just them. So far they’ve each played a lot of parts.

As night closes in stray kings & princesses chat with a group of noblewomen or courtiers who struggle to keep cleavage stuffed into complicated Rococo outfits.

A snow scene with distant explorers. A thick blizzard which makes the action pretty much unreadable. Technical difficulties?


As the snowstorm gets thicker one of the explorers walks towards the audience. Hard to tell if this bit is staged or genuinely impromptu.

I wanna ask: SAYS WHO?! I’m the audience aren’t I!

The explorer removes gloves/goggles & thanks various people involved with organising the performance the teachers & volunteers, everyone who donated things.

The thanks continue. Parents in general. Dads for all their hard work on the scenery, mums for their late nights of cutting, sewing and fixing up the costumes.

His long speech completed, the explorer puts the paper back in his pocket & trudges back towards the sleds & dogs on the distant horizon. Curtain falls slowly.

Clowns. A complicated chase scene in which a great deal of mess is made using hoses that spray custard.

The clowns with the custard hoses encounter another group that have syringes full of a paralysing nerve agent. A fight ensues. Some clowns are paralysed.

Paralysed clowns cleared away by stagehands. A 3rd group of clowns arrive & inflict terrible injuries on the stagehands using insufficiently rubberised mallets.

Fighting continues though whether or not by design, its pretty hard to say. Various clowns & stagehands spill here & there into the night, brawling vigorously.

The police arrive to stop the affray but they too are quickly embroiled in the fighting. Some shop windows are broken. A bus is overturned and set on fire.

A doubledecker I reckon.

The inevitable stand off between police, clowns and stagehands becomes more complex with the arrival of protestors, marchers, insurgents & insurrectionists.

I’m definitely among the latter four groups.

Barricades. Running battles. Some long speeches about freedom & revolution yelled into megaphones. Beautiful quotations from Marx, Bakunin & Timothy Leary.

When the riot cops send snatch squads to capture ringleaders, a custard-encrusted clown makes a bid for freedom, scaling the curtains at the side of the stage.

Reaching the top of the proscenium the clown seems set to escape until the sound of tearing fabric brings our hero to earth, pooled in red velvet. Blackout.

I can’t do red velvet without thinking of David Lynch and a dwarf, or two. I just can’t.

Been hovering with this last SM for quite a while now. What are they playing at? I am in suspense. I am.

The neighbours have erected a 3-metre high fence, taking me back, unwillingly, to Johannesburg, the land of high fences and high walls where many neighbours don’t talk to each other because they can’t because they can’t see through walls or look over high walls or climb over high walls. Is this the beginning of our own march to fear, paranoia and high walls. God help us all said someone sitting in their car flicking ash on the road and throwing their turkey pieces cardboard box after it.

An interval. Another! Hurrah! I love intervals! People pressed against the bar, others pushing through the crowd carrying pre-ordered drinks on trays.

Some junkies make their way to the toilets in the park to take something that will make the next part of the show pass more easily.

Well, for the record, I’m gonna eat some pepper/mushroom risotto and finish a can of Coke. If I had drugs I’d take them: but this SMS does not need them. It is the shot in my arm I’ve been looking for. I’d still like to mainline Klaus Kinski though: that’s for the record too.

People read the programme, engrossed in actors bios. Trying to figure out why they recognise one talented actress from the barricades. Was she in a movie?

Sometimes people think that I am a famous actress. They think I’m Jamie Lee Curtis. Tis true. I’m not. Obviously. But I have had a free meal out of it in a Soho restaurant (a long time ago). I’ve also been accused of being a man in drag so it’s not all la-di-da, let me tell you. I’ve told that story so many times, you must all be bored. Let the show go on.

Announcements are made for the third and final act.

When is it finishing? Surely we can’t be anywhere near 16 days yet? We’re going back to our seats… and getting impatient…

The sound of construction work. Drills. Piledrivers. Diggers. Earthmovers. Vehicles reversing, hammering metal, cutting stone, pounding earth.

How will I know when it’s over? What will I do when it’s over? I remember how bereft I felt when 1001 nights ended. Already addicted to something new. Or, habituated. But am I concentrating on the spectacle, or just the receiving of the texts? Am I being tricked? Is it just me? Is this spectacle just for me?

. . .

Eating 99% cocoa chocolate. Not a thought. A fact. It is like cocaine but a lot more tasty. Thinking about Iain Sinclair again, strangely, having read some excerpts of Rose Red Empire last night which I just didn’t think very good at all. Sorry Iain. Not sure what’s going on there. It felt tired, unloved, uncared for and uninspired.

The curtains part to show a city transformed. Between futuristic buildings men and women with personalised jetpacks perform a complicated aerial ballet.

I’ve been thinking that I wish this spectacle show could have taken place without my knowing it was going to take place: without my signing up to it. I would have liked one day just to have started receiving the texts and the texter would therefore have to take the risk that I didn’t actually want to read the messages or partake in the spectacle but that I might well have. For some reason I seem to be having a problem with the fact I signed up to this knowingly.

The sky darkens & the jetpackers depart. In their place, above the Cathedral, a huge flock of starlings performs its own remarkable & surprising choreography.

Which is strange because I am always trying to get J to recognise starlings, particularly the ones on Coppermill Lane where, incredibly – and I would advise you all to go and see this – the mosquitoes/flies have begun performing smoke signals above the trees. The first time I saw this daily choreography of insects, I thought the trees were on fire and that this was real smoke twirling up into the clouds. But on closer inspection I could see this was tens of thousands of insects. It is a truly fantastic site.

A woman tells a story that never comes into focus. She rambles, losing track of her own plot. At one point those watching realise that she’s fallen asleep.

This could now become my favourite message. That one there. It’s brilliant. More more more. Keep them coming.

Noone’s sleeping round here. Two attempted break-ins within 15 minutes of each other. Two men trying to kick the doors down. An odd thing to do at a quarter to ten on a Thursday night on a cul-de-sac with other men running after you. But it seems they got away. And there I was with my hose-pipe. I could have squirted them if I’d been paying more attention.

In another square, actors arranged in tableau representing the lives of great figures from popular music. Elvis. Michael Jackson. Janis Joplin. Dolly Parton.

But only dolly’s still alive. Isn’t she?

Stages erected all over the city. On each stage, a group of actors set up in a motionless tableau. In one square, a series of depictions of the Kama Sutra.

Depictions of . . . interesting phrasing . . .

In another square, tableaux depict great suffering of humanity. Crowds of the starving, the homeless. Victims of genocide & persecution. All silent, motionless.

Some tableaux appear to have trouble maintaining their stillness. Even a cursory look around reveals a good deal of twitching, swaying and breathing.

Or is that us playing tricks with ourselves?

People from the tableaux representing athletes from various world-record breaking events mingle freely in the no-mans land between their respective platforms.

The artistically arranged residents of Dresden, Pompeii & Hiroshima also give up their assigned, if agonised positions to adopt more comfortable poses as the blackout comes.

As the blackout comes . . . also interesting. So we know what is going to happen in the spectacle now before it happens!

Creatures from the tableaux of Wild Animals, the tableaux of Mythical Beasts & the tableaux of Imaginary creatures appear to be on the loose around the town.

Persons from the Anatomical Tableaux rumoured to be at large in various pubs, cafes and public squares. The crowd aghast.

I wish I lived in this town. I wish I was in one of those pubs. I wish I could bump into one of the imaginary creatures. I wish . . .

Rumours that the dead are risen as part of the performance. That ghosts walk the streets. Smell of roses again, and turpentine.

The thing is: I’d like to see this performed now.  I mean, Now. Right now.

Rumours that the show is over. Or that the show will never end. That the show has taken over. That the show has no bounds, bounds, reason or edges.

Yes, Yes, Yes. Another brilliant line. Brilliant idea. This is what I like. And I’d like to perform this and for the show to never end. To never end. And for this to happen, really, right now, forever and ever. Reading stuff like this makes me feel very dark about those days as a journalist. Held within such tight boundaries. When, all along, I could have been doing, no, thinking, what the fuck I wanted.

Finale. Loud, horribly distorted music plays through loudspeakers fitted to buildings, making work, conversation or concentration of any kind almost impossible.

The loud music continues, never abating for so long that normal business can resume. Surely cannot? People take to the streets. Others fetch earplugs and take to their beds.

Take to their beds! On my bed. No earplugs. Kids outside shouting abuse at each other. Liar! Pants on fire! Shut your mouf! He said the F word! He did! He did! Get her to get the ball. Get the ball! Did she get the ball! I love the kids outside. I want to be playing with them.

The discordant music continues with a whiff of ill-judged avant-gardeism. Critics mutter. The public, seduced by earlier less taxing scenes, are thrown off. What? The scent! Ah aha ha ha. I’m laughing alot now. Laughing laughing laughing. Out Loud as everyone insists on reminding us these days. How else do you laugh for God’s sake?

Storms of continuing noise. A terrible terrible war of sound.

Is that it? Is it over? Is this it? Hello! Anyone out there? Am I all that’s left? Is it just me? Where are you? Is it over? Are you coming back? Is that the 16th day?. . .

Is this them? Is this still going?

Ah yes!

The music abates.

That it?

In the silence which follows, people move slowly, blinking in the predawn cold. The show is over & the world, as ever, appears to be unchanged.

Indeed. And I do feel a bit down. And a bit confused. And a bit inspired. And a bit drunk. And a bit hungover. And a bit amazed. And sure that the world of texting won’t be the same again. I have been inspired by this and have sent a few people my own mini SMS. Thanks Tim. You’ve so many ideas. So many. Bravo. And next time: I want to be in this show! Now I’m gonna read through the whole thing from the top in a day or two, or a week or so, and see what it is like to read back. So much happens between the messages that you sort of don’t follow the spectacle in the way you would a normal show. Sixteen days.

Africa: thoughts in progress

The three small syllables that make up the short word, Africa, are enough, it seems, in today’s world, to reduce most people to a sort of small-minded, self-confined, self-limiting mess. Those three syllables spoken in that particular order now inspire so much presumption and assumption and pity that it might be better to change the name of the continent entirely. It seems it has reached a stage of no return and I find it almost impossible to imagine that one day people – all of us – might understand those three syllables in a way which might give that entire continent a space of mutual respect in which to act. Never before (how grandiose) has one word been so overused and so misused so often. And the people of that continent, Africans, have come to stand for more than even they might ever have imagined. Africans are called upon to speak for everything that, in the West, is understood and presumed to be Other. Africans are invited to comment on our current electoral process, as if to add ‘colour’ and interest to a process that so many people here are, it seems, well and truly sick of. An African – a Kenyan – is invited to discuss with John Humphreys his opinion on our elections, as some sort of colourful (yes!) interlude to the otherwise serious debates of the Today programme. Why not a Venezuelan, or a Thai, or a Albanian, or an Italian? No. It must be an African because Africans are the furthest most extreme beings from our way of life. That is what we are led to believe and that is what most of us here believe. And even the Kenyan knows that he is being set up when he speaks on the lead news programme and so he resists the questions, which he fears are all traps, and instead makes rather banal statements about the possibilities for cheating whilst missing the bleedin’ obvious because he is too busy beating himself up about flawed Kenyan elections and his own belief that our system, here, is probably better. So when Humphreys gets cross, the Kenyan backs away even further insisting that he is here to learn something from our system. God Help Kenya. Humphreys got even more cross that the Kenyan – representing, don’t forget, an entire continent in terms of Today editorial (un)thinking – didn’t say what he was supposed to say. He just panicked and said more or less nothing of value. (Does anyone say anything of value on Today?) And, of course, being a colourful interlude, it was a supershort item so Humphreys had to hurry the Kenyan along – We haven’t got much time! We haven’t got much time! Quickly if you can! Quickly if you can! – increasingly disrespectful and intent on humiliation.

Having spent time living and working In ahhh Africa oohhh (actually a handful of countries but allow irony, friends) I have – for the last 15 years or so – become increasingly aware of the way in which European, mainly British, people (friends, usually) refer to that (my) experience. People tell me of their observations about how I have changed since I ‘came back from Africa’ or how I have never quite been the same since I ‘went to Africa’, as though I visited the underworld and lived down a dark cave full of water and bad, dark things that sent me a bit crazy. On the increasingly rare occasion I get invited to dinner parties in certain parts of Islington, if a political discussion occurs, certain guests will use Africa as their trump card to show that they are people who care. So a Hedge Fund manager around a dinner table in N1 recently told me that what he really cares about is clean water for Africans – a statement, one assumes, that no one in their right mind would ever try to take issue with. He cares that African people have clean water ergo he’s actually a nice guy even though he’s making (and occasionally losing) hundreds of thousands or millions or billions on hedge funds. Dropping the word Africa into a conversation is like dropping your faith into a conversation: Actually, I believe in Jesus and that’s why I want my children baptised. You can’t really argue with that. Likewise, stating that you care about Africans (all of them) and whether they have clean water is a religious statement, a statement of belief in goodness and pureness and honesty. (Of course, you rarely hear them say that’s all that they think Africans should have. Clean water! That’s enough! That is, joking apart, the nub of it, surely). Sometimes people say to me, people I may not know very well but have met through a friend of a friend, I hear that you have lived in Africa. Goodness. I have also lived as a cleaner in the South of France but no one has ever been in the slightest bit interested in that. I lived with two old dames and their cat and their tortoise. I cleaned bathrooms for German tourists, extracting pubic hair from showers, and cut up cabbage for the soup. I read poetry with the nude poet upstairs and had a brief relationship with an Algerian which the two old dames put a stop to. (They threatened him and told him never to set foot near their auberge again, but for weeks I thought he’d just lost interest . . . dear oh dear).

I have almost reached the stage where I believe that any interest in that huge and complicated continent can only be false and without meaning. Africa has become perhaps a parody of Africa. (A perfect example is the recent questionnaire in the Guardian colour supplement in which every single MP apart from Nick Clegg said that their living hero is Nelson Mandela: that brand, that special Mandela brand, somehow robbed and cheapened and exploited and stripped of all – any! – meaning because every fucking half-wit British MP insists that Mandela is, must be, the only possible, one and only hero. He’s black! He’s kind! He’s brave! He’s alive! And he fought the whites! Ah… and he also does not threaten us… but never mind about that folks.!Clegg, for what it’s worth, said JM Coetzee was his hero. A greater irony you could not get, though I have to say that Coetzee might be closer to my hero than Mandela. Although I’d probably choose a nobody in the middle of nowhere known by noone.)

Many over here, in the West, (the more genuinely well-meaning and reflective and considered among us) insist that only Africans can speak or write or sing about Africa (as long as it’s only Africa that they comment on – and they don’t try to expand their reach beyond the continent’s borders). They must do so in a way that Westerners expect and understand (before it’s even been done). The literature that gets published by Africans or that is published by people that the publishers like to think are Africans (when in fact they are Black Britons quite distanced from the continent) is, largely, literature that is acceptable to the mundane (and largely white) middle classes who still (like Cameron) get excited when they meet a black person. The regurgitation of the parody of Africa is now being produced by Africans themselves or by people who we like to label as African. If they step out of line, people struggle with this, especially publishers, and so the African (or the non-African who is labelled an African) does not get published. Of those Westerners who are “serious” about Africa, the duty is to criticise, like adults, the continent, so long as you have enough African friends (real ones) to show that you do really like Africans and you do really understand Africans, & it’s just that you really understand that the continent, Africa, does need help. Just call it constructive help. And you are prepared to give it. To devote your life to it. In any way possible. No other continent engenders such loyalty (faux loyalty?) as Africa. I have never met someone who is devoted to South America in the way that people are devoted to the entire continent of Africa. You might get India devotees, but that is a single country. You don’t get people who swear allegiance, devotion, commitment for ever and ever amen to the whole of Asia.

The narrative of Africa seems to have completed itself. No matter if Desmond Tutu is now inviting people to discuss the end of aid, the rise of China, the rich Africans and so on on the BBC . . . because, to a large extent, the panels with whom he chats are themselves caught up in the parody. Trapped. Tutu is allowed on with his polite guests precisely because they all know the confines in which the debate must remain. They all know the rules and references which confine discussion, reflection, thought, argument on Africa. Even if Bob Geldof is banned forever from ever doing more charity work to save starving Ethiopians, it’s too late.

The only appropriate response now is silence.