Monday, March 01, 2004


Gradual Violence

I recently did an early morning desert island discs-type radio interview with Rony Robinson. I couldn't sleep the night before, and was rubbing caster sugar into my gums as I waited in the reception area of BBC Radio Sheffield. I was trancing with anxiety and fatigue: my eyes felt impossibly wide, like a giant squid's, and I couldn't feel my eyelids blinking. Here's a transcript:

RR: 'Tell me about the first song you've chosen.'
RW: 'It's Stephen Tintin Duffy's I Love You. I remember seeing him sing his first hit, Kiss Me, on Top of the Pops when I was fourteen, and I immediately knew -- that is who I wanted to be and who I wanted to look like.'
RR: 'And, have you achieved that dream?'
RW: 'I haven't, no. Stephen Duffy has straight brown hair, whereas mine is fair and prone to being curly. If I'd wanted to look like Robert Powell or Monty Don there would have been no problem …'
RR: 'He's right, folks.'
RW: '… a lot of work is needed with the hair dryer to achieve the desired effect. I used to wear a woolly hat in bed …'
RR: 'Really?'
RW: 'Each night I would succumb to the ritual of combing my dampened hair down, and then rolling the woolly hat snugly over my scalp. I used to sleep with my bedroom door open because I was scared of the dark; and my older sister still loves to taunt me with the story of how her and a friend, returning from the pub, used to have a hard time suppressing their giggles as they looked at me asleep in my woolly hat, trying to be Stephen Tintin Duffy in my dreams.'
[Song choice played]

RW: 'Stephen Duffy looked side-on better than any other pop star of his generation. I've recently been diagnosed with "Pop-Star-Eye Syndrome". My doctor explained that some pop stars - especially in the 1980's - developed a slight binocular imbalance in their eyes through constantly posing for photographers. The kinds of photographs that were used for posters, that kids put on their walls -- these caused the problem. On the posters, pop stars were pouting, opening their eyes wide and looking side-on. It was looking side-on in this awkward way that caused the damage; a gradual violence. Since the age of fourteen, I've looked side-on in the mirror to copy Stephen Duffy and now my eye-muscles are as delicate as overcooked pasta.'
RR: 'You make your living as a boom operator on The Bill, that's right, isn't it? Has your eye syndrome caused any problems?'
RW: 'I've worked on The Bill ... Yes, I always wear glasses while I'm working on set: they have a prismatic lens, which temporarily corrects the stigmatism. I do this because I think that not wearing them could lead to parallax problems, causing me to misjudge where my boom is in relation to the actor's mouth. For example, there's a danger I might overreach with the pole, so that the microphone is pointing down behind the head.
RR: 'And you write music as well as poetry?'
RW: 'I've always enjoyed recording the human voice - that's really the source for my music. Whilst at University, I worked voluntarily at a radio station, and used to take the equipment home to record myself and others speaking, and got hooked. I started to use non-linear editing software to treat the voices I'd previously quarried from the throat - pitch-changing and stretching them, frequently 'till they were unrecognisable. Ostensibly, the result is often just one continuous 'Ommm', but if you lean in closer to the stretched sound, it's possible to mine it for melodies, which I then loop and later perhaps use as an accompaniment to a strummed guitar or my own, untreated, singing voice.'
RR: 'We're talking to Rogan Whitenails this morning - a boom op. and poet, who likes a good stretch before breakfast!'
RW: 'Stretch the Sex Pistols' song, God Save the Queen – the part where Johnny Rotten sings "No Future" - and what you get is the soundtrack to Jean Renoir's 1937 film, La Grande Illusion.'
RR: 'You now work in London, although you used to study here in Sheffield?'
RW: 'I lived in Chesterfield and moved to Woking after having accepted a job offer to work as a sound engineer at a facility in London. Regrettably, after a period of temazepam and commuting, that particular job failed to pan out … Much of my book was written while I applied for work, without success, as a sound recordist or boom op.. I set up a sound effects business and took work as a background artist.'
RR: 'What have you been in.. as an extra?'
RW: 'I've been a Tie Rack sales assistant, whilst Liam Neeson acted in the foreground - that was for an airport scene in Love Actually. Later that same week, I was a Roman soldier in Gladiatress - I had to carry Sally Phillips across a prison set; from Tie Rack to Titus in a week! On the way back from playing a member of the literati in the Ted and Sylvia film, eight drunk lads got on the train and started wrecking the cabin and threatening me - calling me 'Elton' and stuff. I was still wearing stage make-up and a tweed suit ... I endured their chaos for half an hour, finally standing up to them when they harassed a girl who walked through with her head down: I pulled what I thought was one of the troublemakers off this girl - he had his arms round her neck - and then realised that he was in fact her boyfriend and had been shielding her from the thugs.'
RR: 'You like to be known as a Chesterfield poet?'
RW: 'I still do, yes. It's hard to say why. I wasn't born there. Chesterfield has a crooked spire, so when I first moved there, I thought: obviously this town cherishes difference, perhaps it will cherish me. It didn't - maybe I wasn't twisted enough. I studied and worked in Cambridge for a long period. In terms of poetry, I was always aware of the donnish consensii's views about anything unconventional, so I never bothered submitting - preferring instead to sing in a twee local band; the microphone's grill was the transodent tillage for my written couplets ... much of the verse I wrote in Cambridge had first been watered by the spotlit spittle of live performance. I then started to perform solo electronic 'mouse-mat' versions of my poems in a Cambridge cyber cafe. The entrepreneurial proprietor said he would publish me, and I've been selling my two subsequent collections of verse ever since.'
RR: 'Had your work been published in any magazines before your first collection came out?'
RW: 'Monkey Kettle is one of the few magazines I've ever submitted to: and it's a valued outlet 'cos it not only allows me to continue to develop the pyrotechnical self-pity motif, but I must also confess to being oddly turned on by the thought of my unrelenting rhymes being Ottakered in the heart of mysterious Milton Keynes - where the magazine is based.'
RR: 'Why Milton Keynes?'
RW: 'Milton Keynes has always intrigued me. As I was growing up, I heard sinister, Brothers Grimm-like tales: of how the planners got it wrong; they had remissly designed a town just for young couples, but those couples soon had kids; and there were no recreational facilities to keep them occupied; so the kids got bored; they turned into recalcitrant, hysterical urchins; they hollered, rioted and swiped the chairs away from adults who were about to sit down. Assuming the bondage of Blake's Jerusalem has long since been undone, it pleases me to imagine this 1970's generation now grown up, calmly perusing Monkey Kettle, reading my poems, sitting safely in chairs unswiped. But, of course, that might not be the way it was and is ... !'