Don’t – Please Don’t – Look Back

London, Media, Reading & Writing, The Arts

I mean it. I really wish I hadn’t. Being limited for space at home, I decided to throw out my old paper reviews and articles, including those that my mum had insisted I keep in a scrapbook she bought for me (bless!)

When these became too numerous to track I kept just the well-written ones, and a handful of my own original articles. I re-read some stories written for magazines and found they were awful. I’ve just thrown them all out, and can see why other writers do the same. There were also many ‘style’ pieces, including coverage of a war that broke out between people I didn’t even know over something I’d said in the press. All phantom news, ghostly little storms designed to fill dead space, trivial nonsense.

At some point you stop talking about yourself in the press and other people start talking about you. When I tackled a group of zeitgeist novels about London back in my thirties, it seems people then assumed that was the life I was living. So there were articles on what I wore, where I ate and who I was seen with. There were published photographs of me sitting in very expensive clothes in dirty alleyways because it’s what the photographer thought was edgy, and there were even ones coming out of nightclubs, for Heaven’s sake. First, I hate nightclubs. Second, I’m just the writer.

It got worse. My opinions on subjects I knew nothing about were catered. This was because I had my own business, started young as a writer and for a long time looked about thirteen. When I hit fifty these articles all suddenly stopped and it was a fantastic relief, because you never have to be that self-aware again. The over-examined life is worse than the unexamined one.

There were a lot of press pieces about the film business, and reading a couple I’m shocked at how cocky I became. This process of sounding like an utter twat was relatively short-lived because my friends told me what was happening and took me down. To be fair part of my job was to keep confidence running high about my company but Hell, I wish I hadn’t said some of the things I said.

Luckily entertainment news is completely unimportant and ephemeral, and nobody can ever find that stuff now because the archives won’t have been digitized. I was almost tempted to keep one in which I was described as ‘Mr Cool, London’s hipster style guru’, an arrangement of buzzwords which just look humiliating and desperate.

I look back and think ‘Did I really say that to Eric Idle? Was I really so rude about Tyler Brûlée in the New York Times? My God, did I really call Zsa Zsa Gabor ‘a wizened Hungarian serial-bride’? In my defence, until ten years ago the gloves were off, and people were far more forthright in their opinions. Now everyone’s worried that embarrassments will turn up on Facebook to wreck their careers.

The stuff I’m proudest of are the long articles on British and American history, Watergate, 9/11 and other major events. Most of these required a massive amount of research and were commissioned by the Independent, and it comes as a shock to realise that nobody in the UK publishes such lengthy pieces now. Thankfully the New York Times still runs wonderfully in-depth articles – they put our press to shame.

Having started chucking stuff out, it’s hard not to just pick up armfuls and hurl everything away. So far two binbags are full, but I have tons more to get through yet. I once wrote a story called ‘Learning To Let Go’, but you don’t have to reach the point of dying to drop the ephemera. You can draw a line under it all on a sunny day when light is streaming through the windows and release all the chattery nonsense, then get on with doing something more useful.

27 comments on “Don’t – Please Don’t – Look Back”

  1. Peter A says:

    I have to ask because I feel I’ve missed something….

    Recently you mentioned Rupert Everett, Liv Tyler and Joaquin Phoenix re: Spanky (the film).

    Now I see a poster for Psychoville with Jude Law and Sadie Frost.

    IMDB shows nothing regarding these films. Were they ever made? Did they go straight to video/DVD? Have I missed something?

  2. Paco says:

    The mustachioed Mr Fowler looks like an eastern European assassin who’s favourite TV show is Miami Vice…. :))

  3. Jessica says:

    I would love to read some of the history articles you mentioned! Are they still available at NYT online archive? What are the titles of the articles?

  4. Alan Morgan says:

    Don’t mock the moustache, that’s a photo from a bad time for Mr. Fowler. They’d just found the tunnel under hut 14 and had restricted his red cross parcels.

  5. Stephen Groves says:

    Hi Chris,

    In which Euro bin exactly will you be placing these bin bags of ephemera?

    all best

    p.s. Can you sign them.

  6. andrea yang says:

    Glad to hear you won’t be turning up on the next episode
    of “Hoarders: Buried Alive” !

  7. Mike Cane says:

    >>>and it comes as a shock to realise that nobody in the UK publishes such lengthy pieces now.

    Kindle Singles.

  8. Dan Terrell says:

    Wait, Wikipedia reports your birth as being in 1953, which makes you 50th this coming year. (But you have typed “When I hit fifty there articles all..” past tense?)
    Not to be overly-personal(!), but – as an “elder” – is Wiki wrong again? Or are you rounding up as I do, which drives my wife nutters. “Don’t volunteer and don’t round up. If you don’t look and act older, no need to tell them. And if you do, quickly add I’m much younger, which I am.” I tell her it’s a coping technique.
    Anyway, having gone through the “Adjustment” phase I call it, while some insist it’s the mid-live tailspin, you may now be into the “Acceptance” phase (cleaning out) after which life should be quite all right again and less mentally stressful. More restful certainly than the “Passage” phase, which I think may have been suggested in a number of past columns. (Aside: I hated the novel “The Passage”)
    But a word of warning: Save the best stuff and don’t pitch out anything you might be able to use as a story trigger or as background material. Or as the basis of another book on your life. (Luckily my mum saved my letters from Afghanistan and Indonesia and these I can definately use, if I ever get the time to.)
    Meaning no harm with the above, but I’ve “Been There, Done Much Of That.” And if Wiki is off, leave well enough alone.

  9. Cat Eldridge says:

    Dan, he was fifty in 2003 as he’ll be sixty next year!

  10. Dan Terrell says:

    O Nuts.
    I see in the above that I typed “you” for “your” and “there” for your “these”. Sorry about that, but cut me some slack, mate, after all “I’m a senior citizen.” And I can hardly see the little white rectangle as me eyes aren’t what they used to be, sonny.
    Excellent, another advantage of “maturity,” but not for use around my partner. No, no. But possibly a dodge around a few younger, sharp-eyed readers

  11. Dan Terrell says:

    Nuts 2.
    Where were you Cat, before I typed that clanger and then reviewed it? Jezzz.
    Well, isn’t it lucky I’m much older than Admin. Senior citizen, I am and all.
    And good for Admin is the now proven fact that a person looking will naturally assumes he’s ten years younger. This nice.
    With this: a) I will NOT finalize my 2012 U.S. income tax today as planned; b) I will get the heck off before my good friend to the north arrives and posts; and c) I’ll order by express mail a copy of that new book I mentioned recently: “Deep Brain Stimulation”.
    Quietly slinking away into the tall grass I go.

  12. Martin Gore says:

    Admin, you are 59??? Really? My gast is truly flabbered. I read “Paperboy”, I obviously wasn’t paying much attention. I also notice, via the ever so trustworthy Wikipedia, that your birthday is the same as mine. All the best people are born in March 😉

  13. Peter Lee says:

    I remember that moustache picture in “Fear” magazine! Wasn’t the quote something like “I don’t breathe a thing I don’t see”?

  14. John Howard says:

    Stalkey, I’m your wing man. I already have the balaclava and duffle coat… Talking about embarrassing photos, I know my mother has one from the seventies when I look like a british Grizzly Adams. When I took the beard off I had to take my two year old daughter into the bathroom with me as I was shaving as I thought the idea of dad going into the room and this clean shaven stranger coming out might have freaked her out…

    The year 1953 was a very good one Martin as I was born that year as well.

    And admin, I got my American copy of Red Bride in the post today (Sorry Dan) and as previously reported there is this interesting photo on the inside sleeve of some guy doing a very good James Bond impression. Cant work out if that was part of your audition tape but Pierce got the role instead.

  15. Martin Gore says:

    John, well the date is the same, 26th March, except I was born in 1971. A wee snip of a thing, me ;)And Peter, I remember that photo in Fear, too. That was the magazine that introduced me to Mr. Fowler in the first place with an interview about the excellent “Roofworld”. I still wander around London looking up expecting (hoping) to see someone whizz between the buildings on a nylon wire.

  16. DavidF says:

    Unfortunately, Martin, this is now likely to be Boris Johnson.

  17. Helen Martin says:

    Or Putin on a state visit.
    Dan, Dan. You should be sentenced to a series of classes in rapid calculation. I have a tendency to lose the first decade of this century, too. Time must be whizzing by so quickly we can’t see it going, and that definitely is a sign of increasing age, although I’ve never understood the science behind it.

  18. Dan Terrell says:

    As do I for some reason, Helen. Wife often says: “You are a decade off, dear, but in my case I like it.” She does, too. Anyway, I meant to compliment admin and stumbled over a decade. Perhaps, better than a curb!
    But here’s the point. Anny Murra is at 5:43 PM here playing in the U.S. Open and a hard, hard game up. This is a great match. Suggest interested Brits tune in and go to work tomorrow tired.

  19. Steve says:

    Thankfully my wife doesn’t allow hoarding so I don’t trundle my past around with me. As for fame….which led to Admin being embarrassed and humiliated by his younger self….I prefer the anonymous sort. Oxymoron? Not when people don’t know your real name or what you really look like. Rather like having a secret identity. Shades of my 8 year old comic book loving self, which I don’t find embarrassing at all.
    1951 Was a good year, too. There was “The Day The Earth Stood Still”….and me.

  20. Dan Terrell says:

    I will type very slowly and reread before I hit Submit. The Andy Murray tennis game was about 5 hours and mostly terrific. Congratulations to him on a great Grand Slam and I’m not a big tennis fan. Well done G.B. You just keep rolling this late summer. I think I’ve got it.

  21. John Howard says:

    Thanks Dan, like you not a huge tennis fan. Was piqued when you said that Andy was doing well at the start of the match, but not enough to seek it out. When I got up this morning and found out that he had won my flaber was truly ghasted. Ah well, this was a good summer but winter will be going to hell in a hand basket with a threatened general strike. 3 day week anyone? Who says we British cant be positive. Oh wait a minute admin has a book coming out, all is not lost, hoorrah!!

  22. Peter A says:

    Scottish actor Sir Sean Connery talking about Andy Murray’s win:

    “I always felt he had everything and now it’s really come to fruition. I met him for the first time a couple of days ago. It’s great for Scotland. We’ve had a really great landslide victory. And stop saying he’s British, he’s Scottish. I have to go now because the champion is waiting.”

  23. Alan Morgan says:

    He is British, he’s just not English. The British Isles are all the big and little bits that aren’t France. I could well be wrong. You could go right back and then the British are the Welsh, pushed out by the Saxons, then the Danes, and all sort of others. Angles obviously, hence England. Welsh being the word for foreigner, or them-over-there. Just as the Cumbrians and the folk of Cornwall were welsh too. But the British Isles now, of which Scotland and England are a part. I think.

  24. Helen Martin says:

    Even if Scotland should secede (and they’re too canny to go all the way, just like our Province de Quebec) it would still be the British Isles as that’s a geographic descriptor not a legal one. There’s a whole website discussing the terminology if I could only find it. I can’t find the correct search words. It was a great site to get into discussions about the place of Wales in the Union, the status of Cornwall, the Duchy of Lancaster and all sorts of fun things. It attracted a number of Commonwealth law types as I recall. Everything seems to be quiet on that front since I haven’t had any word for a while.

  25. snowy says:

    I’m worried about our host, no post thus far.

    I do hope he is not lying helpless, pinned down in an avalance of ‘Sight and Sound’ magazines, unwittingly triggered by the decluttering.

    “What’s that Skippy…”

  26. Peter A says:

    Point I was making was when Murray got to the Wimbledon final he was British in the press, as soon as he lost he was Scottish. Hey ho!

    Kudos to 6Music for being brave enough to go against the tide and state in their news that he was Scottish, no mentioned of British.

  27. Alan Morgan says:

    Kudos all over for 6Music, Peter – that and Radio4Extra mean that the radio here is rarely off.

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