I’ve known Rhodri Marsden for about six or seven years. I don’t remember how we met. He’s a journalist and ace keyboard player with bands including Scritti Politti. His new book, Crap Dates, is out now. He’s doing a Crap Dates Workshop at the Big Green Bookshop on February 9th.
Crap Dates by Rhodri Marsden.
Here’s my interview with Rhodri, done in the little text box at the bottom of Skype:
Greg Stekelman: Hello Rhodri.
Rhodri Marsden: Hello Greg. Are you OK?
GS: I am ok. Theoretically I am not drinking for a few weeks but I’ve just had a sip of Talisker and I’m quite pleased with it. How are you?
RM: I’m fine. I’m drinking some red wine called Palo Alto. It’s from Chile. I thought Palo Alto had something to do with Californian technology, which shows what I know about shit.
GS: Shall we do the interview? Just typing. I’ll bung it on my blog sometime soon.
RM: I thought we’d already started.
GS: We had. It was a trick question.
RM: I knew that. (I didn’t know that.)
GS: Most people will probably ask you about the crap dates you’ve been on. I’d like to try a different angle. How disappointed are you by England’s series whitewash against Pakistan?
RM: I’d be more disappointed if I’d actually bothered watching the humiliation. I pay god knows how much money each month for Sky Sports and then England go and ruin it all by making me turn off the TV in disgust.
GS: I was a bit disappointed but I didn’t really care. It seemed an odd series. In Dubai or somewhere. I like listening to the cricket on the radio but I don’t really care that much whether we win or not unless it’s against Australia.
RM: I care quite a lot.
GS: Like an English Faith No More.
RM: At one point I convinced myself that I could control the movement of the players using my mind. You must get that with Spurs. I ended up writing a column about it. It comes out tomorrow. I mention Allah at the end and I’m worried about reprisals.
GS: Yes. I do get that a bit. I like fooling myself that I have control over the players, when in fact I am powerless. I do the opposite in life: I pretend I am powerless when in fact I could change things if I wanted to.
RM: You take your trousers off to affect the fortunes of Tottenham Hotspur. I’ve seen you do it. I mean on Twitter.
GS: Yes. I do it. But now it’s more of a comedy conceit than anything else. I do it to please my followers rather than change the game. I’m a terrible whore.
Rhodri's new beard.
GS: So, tell me about your new beard. What inspired it?
RM: The short answer is vanity. Do you want the long answer? Please say yes.
GS: Yes please.
RM: Because I do gigs with Scritti Politti I invariably end up being sent photographs of myself on Flickr and so on, looking like a massive baldy potato head. That’s actually what made me start wearing a hat.
RM: Then just before Christmas we did two gigs in Dalston, and because of the angle I hold my head at when I play the keyboard, I just displayed a massive double chin.
GS: I’m also receding and somehow found myself growing a beard. We cling to hair, wherever it may appear.
RM: As we all know, beards cover up all MANNER of double chin issues. And so it has proved.
GS: Yes. Beards are good like that. I haven’t seen yours so I don’t know where the cut-off point is. Some men let their beards run all the way down their neck. I prefer a straight line just above my Adam’s Apple. You?
RM: I’ve kind of fashioned a graduated approach under the chin. It’s working quite well.
RM: But the reason I did it now was because Simon & Schuster said that they might end up getting me on BBC Breakfast to promote the book. As far as I know that’s not happening, but were it to happen I wanted a beard to hide behind. Because I’d be terrible.
GS: I think you’d be good on TV. I’m always impressed by your poise when you’re on stage. You snap into Johnny Showbiz mode.
RM: I’m fine talking to rooms full of people, and I’m fine on the radio, because I can REFER TO NOTES. You can’t do that on the telly. You’re just there. I’d panic. I panic on the radio when I don’t have notes. It’s embarrassing. I just laugh nervously and say “Yes, well, there you are then.”
GS: Ok. I thought I might use some the old “dating” questions I came up with last year.
RM: I think you should.
GS: What is your favourite pair of shoes?
RM: Maybe you should explain where these questions originated. Or maybe you can interpolate that into the NARRATIVE.
RM: Anyway, I’ll just answer the bloody question.
GS: Ok. I’ll quickly do the narrative. “Rhodri and I were in a pub full of people and I started randomly interviewing people, asking them silly questions. Rhodri liked the idea of it, and asked me to send him a list of silly questions. I did it. The end.”
RM: My favourite shoes are plimsolls from ASOS. They are £12 each. They last approximately one month of pounding the streets ofLondon. I bought six pairs just before Christmas and I’ve just got through the first pair. Slung them in the bin yesterday, and put on a nice fresh pair.
RM: The reason I bought six pairs is because they were reduced to £6 each.
GS: That’s very good. Romantically, I thought everyone should have a much-loved, well-worn pair of brogues. But you’ve shattered that and shown me that shoes, like memories or love letters, are disposable.
RM: I’m a chucker. I don’t hang on to anything.
GS: I’m a clinger. Like the guy in MASH.
RM: I recently shredded a big folder full of letters I exchanged with my wife in 1995, before we got married.
RM: I hung onto them 10 years after we divorced, which is pretty good going for me.
GS: Theoretically, you’re right. It’s good to let go of things. I just find it very hard to do.
RM: Can I tell you why I shredded them?
RM: It’s interesting.
GS: Yes. Of course. I’ll tell no one except the people who read this.
RM: Well, she was (and is) Hungarian. And while her English was perfect, when I was writing to her it was kind of important that the meaning was explicit, you know? I couldn’t slather on layers of stupid irony because she’d have written back saying “Not sure what you mean on page 4.”
RM: So I was reading these letters back, and it just didn’t sound like me. And I got to a bit in one of the letters where we were talking about having to get married, for visa reasons. And I said “I think this is the best chance for our love.” And at that point I decided to shred them. I was wincing more than I was reminiscing. I can never spell reminiscing.
GS: You got the spelling right. That’s quite a sad story… onto the next question: Do you have a nickname?
RM: Not really. A lot of people call me Rhodders. I can handle that. My ex-girlfriend calls me “bobble”, but that sprung out of our mutual loathing for baby-talk and pet names. So of course we ended up doing it.
GS: I have on occasion called you Rhodders, but I feel bad because it reminds me of Rodney from Only Fools and Horses and no one wants to be compared to Nicholas Lyndhurst.
GS: What was the first single you bought?
RM: “Club Tropicana” by Wham!
RM: It meant a lot to a 12-year old boy, this depiction of excess in some sun-drenched holiday resort.
GS: Does the song still mean something to you? Sometimes a song hits you at just the right age and despite not being a particularly great song, it owns you for the rest of your life.
RM: Of course it does, yes. I love it. I can’t think of anything I used to like that I disown now.
RM: There’s stuff I like LESS. But nothing I’m embarrassed about. Guilty Pleasures my ARSE.
GS: I think the first single I bought was The War Song by Culture Club. Or rather, I pointed at it and my mum bought it for me. I don’t think I’ve listened to it since I was 10. But enough about me.
RM: War is stupid. People are stupid. Love means nothing in some strange quarters.
RM: Or something like that.
GS: It’s simultaneously quite profound and fairly shit. Like a lot of art.
GS: Have you ever vomited on someone?
RM: No. I had a 21-year vomiting drought, which lasted from 1990 until just before Christmas when I got that bloody norovirus.
RM: I was very proud of not having vomited for 21 years, and now I can’t say that any more.
GS: Still, that’s a very long period. I’m impressed. Most of my vomiting has been through drunkenness. Are you a good drunk? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you properly pissed. Only slightly tipsy.
RM: I’m careful to only drink not-very-strong beer and limited amounts of stronger stuff. I know my limits quite well. I’m quite a jolly drunk, but in bad times I get very weepy. Bawling my eyes out on the tube and all that. Sheesh.
GS: Which tube was it? Do you remember? I bet it was the Northern Line.
RM: Of course it was. I’ve lived in Tooting for 15 years. I’ve spent most of my life on the Northern Line.
GS: Paul Simon wrote a song called The Northern Line, but I don’t think it’s very well known. You should write one. Hang on, I’ve just realised that Barnet to Tooting song of yours is about the Northern Line. I’m a bit thick.
RM: That’s not really about the Northern Line. It’s more about going out with someone that you’re in total awe of. A dangerous business.
GS: Yes. But let’s pretend it’s about the Northern Line.
RM: When I wrote it my girlfriend at the time said to me “Er, that’s not about me, is it?”
RM: I said “No.”
GS: As a writer or songwriter you obviously draw from the people around you and it can be a bit awkward. Both when you’re saying good things and bad things.
RM: Yeah. I do this weekly thing in the Indy about MY LIFE and it’s difficult. I can’t write about the things I want to write about because I know there’ll be a knock on effect. Not because everyone’s reading it – just cos it’s indiscreet and rude.
GS: You’re quite established as a journalist these days. Do you ever yearn to write a novel or a play?
RM: I can’t do it, Greg. I’ve not no imagination. The Indy asked me the other day to write a 200 word fictional scenario to illustrate the concept of online behavioural advertising. I couldn’t do it. I just froze.
GS: I ask that out of misguided snobbery. People sometimes think I’m a journalist and I’m at pains to point out that I’m a writer – as though I’m a tortured artist. Also, I’d be a terrible journalist.
RM: I’m good at observation. And being coherent. That’s about it.
GS: Those are excellent skills. And anyway, a lot of fiction is just observing things and changing people’s names.
RM: I’m totally envious of your imagination, without wishing for this to descend into mutual masturbation.
GS: No. Because we’d have to be in the same room to do that.
RM: And have our willies out.
GS: I think everyone is jealous of what other people can do. Skills that other people have – music, maths etc – seem like magic to me. When I see someone play a musical instrument it’s as impressive to me as them levitating or mind-reading.
RM: DRAWING. People who can draw. I faint. Oh, that’s you again. We should probably just get married.
GS: Yes. They have a place for us these days.San Francisco.
GS: Your mention of the word “willies” made me think. What do men call their penises these days? Have new words evolved since we were children?
RM: I know a woman who went out with a man who referred to it as his “ziggurat”.
GS: Wow. What a twat.
RM: I’ve just looked up a picture of a ziggurat, and all I can say is that I’m glad my cock doesn’t look like that.
GS: It’s like that early stage of a relationship when you and a lady are trying to work out the best words for your bits. Because you can’t whisper sexily “I’m going to put it inside your womblehole.”
RM: That would be difficult to pull off, I agree. Avoid all childish words while engaged in the act of love. That’s my hastily constructed motto.
RM: “Guffed” is another word best banned from the bedroom.
GS: Yes. There’s normally a good six months when farting isn’t mentioned at all. A wonderful period in any relationship.
GS: So, about the book. Shall we talk about the book?
RM: Might be a good way to round off, yes.
GS: Yes. Have you had a good response to it from the people quoted in the book?
RM: Well, I asked everyone if I could use their tweets, and all but three said yes.
RM: 300 yes, 3 no. Not a bad result.
RM: And I’ve written more words for the book than other people have, which makes me feel marginally better about piggybacking on their wit.
GS: Yes, but the whole point of the book is that it’s wide… it’s lots of people’s experience of crap dates, rather than just your own experiences.
GS: After reading it all, who do you think comes off worse in the dating game? Men or women?
RM: Men, by about 3000 nautical miles. Arseholes.
GS: Yes, that was my impression
RM: Oh, maybe I misunderstood the question.
GS: No. You understood it perfectly.
RM: Men are arseholes and women have a great deal of misery to bear.
GS: Yes. That’s probably one of life’s lessons. I wouldn’t patronise women by claiming they can’t be as monstrous as men, but men do seem to me more consistently insensitive and monstrous than women.
RM: Yep. I’d be interested in stats about whether more men dump women than women dump men. But regardless of that, men would do it in a more annoying way.
GS: This is true.
GS: Do you have any last words before we both go to our (separate) beds? Any statement you’d like to leave us with?
RM: I’ve just spent 20 seconds trying to think of something profound, and have failed completely, so the answer is probably “No.”
GS: No. That’s a good way to end.