The box of delights

Some years I was rooting around in the cellar at my mum’s house when I found a battered cardboard box full of old film reels. They were films my dad had made in the 60s and 70s. We’d never watched them.

At the time I didn’t pay the films too much attention. I had better things to do than watch old films.

But now? As I approach the middle of middle age, nostalgia is starting to tug at me. And 18 months of sitting around during the pandemic made me realise that actually I don’t have better things to do than watch a box of old films.

So I went back to my mum’s and counted up the films – there were around 50 of them in all. I took a handful home with me.

The film reels. I love my dad’s handwriting

I knew the films were silent 8mm reels but I had no way to view them. I asked around and got lucky – someone on my street WhatsApp group had a vintage 1960s projector she was happy to lend me. (This is perhaps the first time a street WhatsApp group has proved useful for anything.)

I set the projector up on my bed, precariously balanced on a stack of books, and I loaded in a reel of film. I pulled the curtains closed, turned off the light and pushed the button. Magic happened.

The mechanism whirred into life and a misty image appeared on the bedroom wall. I adjusted the focus and there was my mum, in her 20s, chatting to my aunt on a beach in America. After a few minutes my dad appeared; younger than I’d expected but as bald as ever, ambling awkwardly onto screen. It was ridiculous – here were my parents as twentysomethings, striding across my wall, preserved like insects in amber. Some celluloid version of them had been hiding in the cellar all these years. 

Brighton in 1970.

I tried recording the projections on my phone but it came out juddery and unwatchable. If I wanted to watch the films properly (and share them with my family) I’d need to get them digitally converted.

So I called my local Snappy Snaps. The good news was that they could indeed convert the films. The bad news was it would cost £40 per reel. Now, much as I wanted to see more of the films, I wasn’t willing to spend £2000 on them. I looked on eBay instead and found a man in Hull who would do it for £3.75 a reel. Take note, Snappy Snaps. Well done, eBay.

I did spend a few anxious moments worried that I had sent a box full of potentially irreplaceable memories to a random bloke in Yorkshire but a couple of days later an email appeared in my inbox with links to the first five films. 

More films followed; faded, flickering messages from a disappeared world.

Some of the films were of London, viewed through the eyes of my dad, new to the city and fascinated by the peddlers of Petticoat Lane and the changing of the guard. (He infuriated me by spending ages filming random buildings or buses, before I realised that I do exactly the same.)

London, late 1960s. I think the market is Petticoat Lane.

There were countless films of my parents in America during the year they both lived there; my mum looks stylish, sharp, a London girl in the States. My dad looks like the cat who got the cream, not quite believing his luck. It was bittersweet to see them both so young, and to realise that the story of my family (which now seems so set in stone) was once fresh and unformed.

My dad’s footage of New York in the late 1960s.

There were also a handful of films from Argentina. Black and white scenes of long-gone relatives in Buenos Aires and family holidays in Mar del Plata. One film features my dad’s cousin Gregorio who died in his thirties (I was named after him) looking cool alongside my dad. His children, now middle-aged adults, had never seen any films of him. It must have felt like a miracle.

Mar del Plata, mid 1960s

I don’t know why my dad stopped filming; maybe the camera broke, maybe he ran out of film, maybe he got more interested in living life and less interested in documenting it. I’m grateful he made the films at all. When the final emails from the man in Hull arrived, I felt a pang of sadness: I didn’t want it to end. I wanted to imagine another box of films, and another, and another, an endless supply of footage.

The films mean a lot to me personally, but I also feel like they also deserve a wider audience; they contain some wonderful footage of daily life across three continents.

New York in the late 1960s. My dad helpfully labelled the film ‘Hippies’.

These days we’re all used to the idea of documenting every moment in photos and videos. Millions of hours of footage are uploaded to YouTube every day; I can’t imagine how photos are uploaded to Instagram every hour. So it must seem odd to people born into a digital age that relatively little everyday footage exists of the generations before them. There is no video of my childhood. And I’m not even talking about the distant past – I was at secondary school for five years in the 1990s and there are maybe two photographs documenting that time. There are whole chunks of my pre-Internet life that only exist within my memories. I went on whole holidays without taking photos! I didn’t take a photo of the food I was eating for the entirety of the 80s and 90s! Historians will have no idea what I had for breakfast.

Over the last year I’ve become slightly obsessed with the idea of filling in some of those blanks, of finding all my lost films and photos and fitting together the jigsaw pieces of my pre-digital life. In the last six months I’ve scanned in thousands of slides and photos and loaded up old hard drives in search of photos. I suppose I’m trying to neaten up my timeline. Yes, I am quite boring.

When I think about my dad’s films, sitting for decades in a cellar, hiding in plain sight, it feels faintly miraculous. What I love most of all is the idea that across the world, in backrooms and shoeboxes, there are millions of old film reels and faded photos just waiting to be rediscovered; lost universes waiting to be brought back to life. Go find them all. Bring them back to life.

Half Argentine: a letter to Buenos Aires

I often daydream of Buenos Aires. 

Sometimes I’m leafing through the second-hand bookshops on Avenida Corrientes or drinking cafe con leche in Las Violetas on Rivadavia. Other times I’m in my dad’s apartment on Sanchez de Loria, on the 7th floor of a brutal grey building, gazing at the sun setting over white concrete. 

It is less a daydream than a longing; a yearning for another time and another place. I’ll be shuttling along on the Victoria line on a dismal London morning when my brain conjures the voiceover from an ‘80s Argentine hot dog advert and I drift away, bewitched. 

Maybe I’ve reached the age where nostalgia is my drug of choice. 

I first visited Buenos Aires in 1987 when I was 12 years old. We were visiting my dad’s family, most of whom I’d never met. We stayed in The Eleven Palace Hotel, a faded colonial-style hotel on the corner of the Plaza Once, a bustling local market full of Jewish pawn shops and backstreet stalls selling wholesale fabric. A dilapidated bus station brought a constant stream of shoppers in from the provinces. The hotel was nothing fancy; a neighbourhood place, chosen because it was a couple of blocks away from my father’s childhood home, where my Grandma still lived with my uncle.

Plaza Once, Buenos Aires 1987
The side streets of the Plaza Once, 1987

I didn’t know what to expect of Buenos Aires, other than knowing that it was the mythical city where my dad had grown up. We’d been on summer holidays to Menorca and Barcelona but this was different. There were no swimming pools or beaches – there were palm trees but there wasn’t a sun lounger in sight. Instead we found ourselves in a vast concrete sprawl of heat, dust, and graffiti.

Buenos Aires was what I thought a real city should look like: skyscrapers and traffic jams and taxis with their radios blaring. It felt alive. And yet so much of the city was also a snapshot of a forgotten time; every cafe waiter was stiffly dressed in black and white, attentively serving like a British butler. The lift in the hotel had an old-style scissor door – you could stop the lift between floors by sliding it open (we did this a lot). On the street outside the hotel the cars were held together by duct tape and optimism. The pavements were broken and there seemed to be real civic commitment to keeping them that way. Haircuts were stuck in the mid ’70s – Rolling Stone mullets for all.

Cars and colectivos, Buenos Aires, 1987

I met the Argentine family I’d only seen in photos. It was unsettling at first. I was a shy middle-class English adolescent raised in the suburbs. Everyone talked. Loudly. All the time. There were jokes I didn’t understand and heated discussions about politics (“Can you please stop arguing?” “What do you mean? We are just talking?!” “You’re shouting.” “This is how we talk!”) It took me a while to adjust to the volume. Nowadays I can appreciate the tactic of winning an argument simply by speaking much louder than your opponent. 

Still, I loved that holiday. We discovered submarinos (a bar of chocolate left to dissolve in hot milk) and chewed Chiclets (chewing gum tablets in a distinctive cardboard box) and went to Ugi’s, a bargain basement pizza chain that only did cheese and tomato pizza. We ate sandwiches de miga with the crusts cut off, like a parody of a genteel English tea. We took the subway on Linea A, with its antique wooden carriages and ceramic lighting. We rode in colectivos, the drivers decorating their cabins with every Catholic effigy that would fit on the dashboard. We marvelled that everything we bought, from Coca-Cola to leather shoes had Industria Argentina stamped upon it. My grandma cooked us knishes and my uncle taught us to play poker, gambling for matchsticks. 

Mostly, I loved that Buenos Aires belonged to us. Nowadays, it’s another big city on the global route and every half-adventurous traveller with a Lonely Planet guide has stopped off for a few days of steak and tango in San Telmo. But back then it was undiscovered. We didn’t bump into a single English-speaking tourist during that first visit. It was our own private world to escape into. It was our Narnia. It was magic.

That holiday was the last time we stayed in a hotel in Buenos Aires.

By the time of our next visit, my dad had moved back to Argentina and we stayed with him in his new apartment.

Avenida Corrientes, with the Obelisco in the distance, 1987


I used to say that I was half Argentine. I’m not. 

I was born and raised in north London, the son of an English mother and an Argentine father. I grew up in the shadow of Alexandra Palace (I watched it burn down twice. Once, in real time from the school playground, and then later that evening on the news, excited that somewhere so near to us was on television.)  I played football and Top Trumps, read The Chronicles of Narnia, Tintin and Asterix and spent the rest of my free time on my ZX Spectrum. Most Fridays we’d do a makeshift Shabbat meal, lighting the candles and saying a prayer, although neither of my parents was religious enough to keep Kosher or observe the Shabbat rules. I enjoyed a comfortable, unremarkable, middle class English childhood. I watched Grange Hill and Neighbours. I certainly wasn’t kicking a makeshift football through the dusty backstreets of Buenos Aires.

The view from our rooftop in north London in the late 1970s

There is a way to be both English and Argentine. There are historic connections between the countries; a wave of English immigrants settled in Argentina in the 19th century and quickly rose to prominence; you see it in place names – areas called Thames and Wilde. Football clubs called Newell’s Old Boys and River Plate. My dad grew up on a street called Virrey Liniers – when it reaches Rivadavia it changes its name to Billinghurst. The connections between England and Argentina still exist in the upper-classes; in the polo and rugby set, who travel from polo matches at the Hurlingham Club in Buenos Aires to drinks in Twickenham. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone posher than upper class Argentines, whose Englishness is preserved by never actually having to live in England. But that version of English and Argentine was never for me. Those people come from a different Argentina to my father, and exist in a different England to me. They scare me. 

No. I can’t claim that I’m half Argentine. 

We live in an age where identity is our currency. Anyone who has spent time on social media sees how quickly we all learn to leverage our identities; we intuitively understand how to take a small element of our existence and build a personal brand around it. What in my background lends me authenticity? What gives me the moral high ground? What makes me seem less middle class – less privileged? We play up the exotic, interesting aspects of our identity and bury the private school education and a childhood in the suburbs. We are different. We are special. Our views carry real weight. It’s a game I’ve also played, but honestly – what can I do with half Argentine? It doesn’t help me at all. I don’t look Argentine. I can’t pretend to be Latino (all my ancestors were European Jews). I’ve never lived in Argentina. I’m not a citizen. I didn’t grow up listening to Argentine music or eating Argentine food. I speak passable, imperfect Spanish. I’m incredibly proud of my Argentine roots, but what connection do I have that isn’t second-hand? What right do I have to claim a country as my own? I’d feel like an imposter.

If I’m not half Argentine, what am I? The best I can say is that I am more English than anything else. I am English but not completely. I’m incompletely English and incompletely Argentine. Mostly, I’m just incomplete.  

I’m also a Londoner, Jewish, middle-class, sexually indecisive and a Spurs fan. Like I said, incomplete.


I can’t write about Argentina without writing about my dad. 

My dad was the funniest person I knew. The jokes were often terrible but he told them with such warmth and mischief that you had to laugh. He was an artist by calling and a shipping clerk to pay the bills. He was short, bald and paunchy (thanks for those genes, dad!). He boasted that he stored soup in his moustache. He had a thick Argentine accent and a set of catchphrases that he’d deploy whenever the conversation lulled: “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is mystery!”, “Buy now, pay tomorrow!” “Never a dull moment!” 

He was born in Buenos Aires in 1936, the second of four children; two boys and two girls. His mother was either born in Argentina or arrived there when she was a toddler. His father was born in Ukraine, but fled – a combination of antisemitism and the unappetising prospect of being conscription into the Russian army. He spent five years in Romania before getting on a boat to anywhere that took him to Argentina.

I get the impression that my dad had a happy childhood. Where I stayed at home reading and playing computer games, he was out on the streets, skipping classes and playing football in the barrio with his friends; I think he was more comfortable in the company of others than I ever was. Being at ease with people is an underrated life-skill. 

He loved Boca Juniors and basketball (like me, he was 5’ 5” and insisted that the sport should be grouped by height, just as boxing is grouped by weight, with lower hoops for short people) but his true passion was art. He drew, painted and did woodcut prints. I don’t think he ever struggled with his art – he certainly struggled commercially, but I think he always felt a pure joy in drawing that never left him. If we went out for dinner his napkins would end up covered in doodles. He couldn’t resist. I’ve always envied him that certainty.  

One of my dad’s doodles.

In the early sixties he moved to New York – partly spurred by the desire for adventure, and partly because of the political situation in Argentina. It was there that he met my mum. She was trying her luck in America and ended up working alongside my dad’s sister. Introductions were made. When my mum returned to England my father soon followed. They were married a year later. 

I try to imagine what it must have been like for my dad, arriving in England in the late 1960s, having lived in Buenos Aires and New York; I picture it as The Wizard of Oz in reverse; travelling from a world of colour to a world of black and white. I recently unearthed a set of old 8mm films my dad took in the 60s: the films of New York are bathed in colour and movement. The films of London are grey and dismal; everything is steeped in tea and rain.

Buenos Aires is a geometric grid of blocks, a city built upwards not outwards. People live in apartments, not houses, with balconies rather than gardens. Everyone lives (quite literally) on top of each other. And on almost every block there’s a cafe, a panaderia and a kiosko; you can get a coffee and a medialuna without crossing a road. If I picture my dad as a young man in Buenos Aires, he’s making conversation on the stoop or waiting outside a bar or chatting on a corner. Life was lived out on the street. 

London is not a grid. It’s a series of villages, flattened out over centuries until they spread into each other; it’s a patchwork of meandering roads, lined with rows of terraced houses where an Englishman can take refuge without having to actually talk to anyone. For my dad the suburbs of north London must have felt like the countryside. He considered it a scandal that he had to walk 10 minutes to a corner shop. 

Buenos Aires from above, 2021
London from above, 2021

If my father was missing Argentina I didn’t know it. By the time my sisters and I were going to school my dad had a good job in town, the occasional exhibition of his art and plenty to keep him busy. He painted in the makeshift studio in the cellar, listening to Trevor McDonald on LBC on an old Roberts radio. On Saturday mornings he coached the school football team on the muddy playing fields of Durnsford Road. In hindsight I realise he dealt with his homesickness by pretending Argentina didn’t exist. He didn’t go back to visit and he barely spoke Spanish around the house. He blocked it out and tried to focus on his life in England. It worked, for a while.

It’s difficult to look back at the period through adult eyes, trying to remember how I experienced it as a child. I missed so much because I wasn’t looking for it. I had no reason to think anything was going wrong. He was my sweet, funny dad. Why would that change? 

In April 1982 Argentine soldiers landed in the Falklands. Days later Britain and Argentina were at war. 

My father’s colleagues at work were supportive, but it must have been hard not to feel unwelcome when the newspaper headlines screamed about ‘Argies’ every day for 10 weeks. He was one of the enemy. Decades later he told me that when he’d phoned his family in Buenos Aires, they insisted that Argentina was winning and that the British were retreating. Of course they did – the military dictatorship controlled the media. 

The conflict may not have lasted long, but the damage was done; by the time it ended he wasn’t just on the other side of the world, he was on the other side of the war. I doubt his problems started with The Falklands, but the conflict brought it all to the surface. A seed of unhappiness had been planted, and in the years that followed it blossomed into unbridled misery. Slowly, then quickly, he fell apart. 

They were long, unhappy seasons of indecision. I remember them as a pair of curtains, closed. He was desperate to return to Argentina and desperate to stay in London with us. He could not choose. He was neither here nor there. For a long time I think he was nowhere. 

And then in 1988 a decision was made. He bought an apartment on the corner of Loria and Moreno, two blocks away from his mother. He moved back to Buenos Aires.


At first he visited every year and we’d have surreal intermissions of normality. 

For three weeks he was back in the family home, smoking thick panatella cigars and leaving a trail of ash around the house. He’d drop me off at the bus stop for school and in the evenings we’d watch snooker and old films. Doug Mountjoy and 12 Angry Men. My most vivid memory of the time is that he made lots of salads and overused the word ‘condiments’. I have to laugh now, thinking about it. 

And then he’d return to Buenos Aires.  I rationalised his absence by saying that I’d rather have a happy dad on the other side of the world than a broken dad here, but it was a miserable bargain.

We visited him in Argentina the year after he moved back there. I recently rediscovered a set of old photos from the time and there is a grim, gallows humour in comparing our first and second trips to Buenos Aires. In one it’s spring and we’re all smiling, happy to discover this wondrous new city. In the other set it’s winter and we are in the sullen depths of adolescence; surly and resentful of the hand that life has dealt us. No one is smiling. The city looks suitably desolate.

The view from my dad’s apartment, Buenos Aires, winter 1989

It wasn’t all glum; there were advantages to having a dad on the other side of the planet. For two summers running in our mid teens my twin sister and I flew to Buenos Aires to see him. For all the family complications, it was glorious just to escape London for this other world. Arcades had sprung up all along Avenida Corrientes and we spent our afternoons giddily playing Out Run and eating churros filled with dulce de leche and chocolate. We’d play pool at The Richmond, an upmarket cafe on Calle Florida and eat cheap steak at a place on Belgrano that was overrun by flies. I was into comics, and in Argentina I acquired a taste for Fierro, a semi-pornographic anthology that introduced me to the greats of Argentine comics: Solano Lopez, Alberto Breccia, Muñoz and Sampayo. I’d disappear to browse the second hand bookshops on Corrientes, where the comics and graphic novels were piled up alongside cellophane-wrapped porn. It all felt tantalising and transgressive. I still read the comics; I still sense a faint residue of teenage anticipation. 

Copies of Fierro. I still have them.

Over time my dad visited London less often. Maybe he thought we didn’t need him as much. There was a blank three year period when we didn’t see him at all. I’d get a letter every six months, always slightly lagging behind me as he fumbled to work out who I was. He’d attach articles about pop stars I’d lost interest in years ago. I was resentful: I’d have preferred no letters to letters that reminded me how little he knew me. It didn’t really matter. By this point I was discovering girls and music and was too busy reinventing myself with a leather jacket to think about him. It’s never easy to know what to do with an absent parent. You don’t get angry at them – you get angry at the people who are left behind. (Someone once asked me how I felt about my dad, and I said: “I forgave him a long time ago, and I will never forgive him.”) 

Over in Buenos Aires he was slowly putting his life back together. He taught English and Art. He did his lino cuts. My parents divorced and he remarried an Argentine woman; a sweet, much younger Italian catholic who doted and fussed on him. I liked her a lot. 

We both worked hard to repair our relationship. As I got older, I visited Argentina more often. We’d see family or hang out in the centre of town or play pool in a grotty hall in Boedo. He’d show me his artwork and I’d show him my writing. We’d eat pizza and milanesas and empanadas and steak, the four basic food groups of Argentine cuisine. He’d haul me on a tour of the Boca Juniors stadium, even though I’d already been. Sometimes I’d go out drinking in Palermo or San Telmo and I’d stumble in at 4am to find him waiting up for me in the darkness; a bittersweet overcompensation for missing my teenage years.

Me, visiting the only Kosher McDonalds outside of Israel (at the time) in the Abasto Centre in Buenos Aires, 2000.

We’d talk about the past. About the decisions he made. He always told me that he loved me and that he was proud of me. I tried to believe him. We spoke about Argentina. He insisted he wasn’t really Argentine – he was a Porteño. “What do I have in common with a man in the provinces? Or someone from Santa Fe or Tucumán?” It was true. His domain was the 40 blocks from his apartment to the centre of town. The subte from Loria to Perú. Everywhere else was another world. He was a man who made it to New York and London but spent the last 25 years of his life living two blocks from where he grew up. He couldn’t escape home. 

Things improved. The Internet made the world smaller. He charmed my friends on Facebook. His artistic fortunes also changed: he had solo exhibitions in Amsterdam and London, and in 2014 he won first prize in the Salón de Artes Plásticas Manuel Belgrano, a prestigious national printmaking competition. I was proud of him. 


On a dismal evening in December 2015 I was hosting a quiz in a bookshop in Wood Green. I was tipsy. The quiz had ended and we were clearing up the debris with friends. My phone rang. It was my uncle in America. He was sobbing. He asked me to sit down. 

I sat down.

He told me that there had been an accident. My dad and his wife had been passengers in a car that was hit by a truck. They had both been instantly killed.

My brain kept telling me that it couldn’t be true, that it was ridiculous and unthinkable, while another part of my brain instantly knew it was utterly, irrevocably, undeniably true, as much a fact as my hands or gravity. I felt sick. I howled. Writing these words now, I feel an echo of that horror and panic. It never fully disappears. 

My mother and sisters were contacted and it was agreed that I would fly to Buenos Aires the next day. We needed to hurry; Jewish law insists on a quick burial and I didn’t want to miss the funeral. That night I flitted in and out of sleep, unsure what was real. I remember feeling so hot, despite the December weather.  

It was a 13 hour flight to Buenos Aires and I’ll be honest, it was wonderful. For 13 blessed hours I was on my own. No one could reach me to ask what had happened or to send their love. There was no noise. No chatter. No one wanted anything of me. I could pretend none of it had happened. I watched forgettable films and the in-flight map; I was a small dot, moving across the oceans. In some ways I wish that flight could have gone on forever; just curled up under a blanket, eating airplane food, neither here nor there but somewhere else entirely, suspended in mid air and suspended in time. 

Despite everything, it felt good to be in Buenos Aires. From the depths of an English winter, I suddenly found myself surrounded by the jacaranda trees and the smell of the city in summer. It was a dream. It was impossible to feel grief; there was too much to take in. I suspect it was harder for my family back in London. 

It took two days to locate someone who had keys to my father’s apartment. The same apartment he bought back in 1988 on the corner of Loria and Moreno. The apartment we’d stayed in so many times on holiday, with its wood-effect lino flooring and its fridge covered in magnets; with its view of the primary school opposite where the children played in their white school uniform coats; with the balcony on the 7th floor, where my sisters and I launched paper aeroplanes at the traffic below. With all of those things, but now without him.

We went in. The fridge was full of food in tupperware boxes; clothes were laid out on the bed, ironed and folded; a paper note was lying on the table – a reminder for later. Everything left as though they were about to return. There was something illicit and voyeuristic about it; I felt as though we were intruding on their privacy. But someone had to do it. We spent a couple of hours sorting through some of his effects, grabbing items my sisters had asked me to get. I picked up sweaters that smelled of him; one of his beloved baseball caps that made him look like an American tourist; a Boca Juniors polo top. I took an envelope of family photos and a set of his handkerchiefs. I still have them. We tried to make things as right as possible, and then we left. I planned to return when I could.

I never went back. 

The view from my dad’s apartment on December 22nd 2015.

Two days later, on a hot, sunny afternoon in a cemetery on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, we buried my dad. I didn’t know how to feel. I still don’t. And then a car took us straight from the cemetery to the airport and I got on a flight to London.

I arrived home on Christmas Day. Feliz Navidad. 


My partner often has to stop me talking to Spanish speakers in public; we’ll be having a perfectly pleasant walk in the park, and she’ll clock that I’ve overheard a couple chatting in Spanish and am lingering near them in the hope of crowbarring my way into the conversation. She’ll give me a look. 

I’m getting better at walking away. On the rare occasions I stumble onto an Argentine in public, I can’t help but accost them and start talking to them; I spill out the story of my life in rusty Spanish, never quite sure what I’m hoping for. It rarely ends well: they’re just getting on with their day and I want to engage them in long, nostalgic conversations about a country that they’ve chosen to leave. I suppose I’m yearning for a connection – with my childhood, with my father, with another version of myself I lost along the way. But they can’t take me back to the excitement of 1987. They can’t make me 12 again. All they can do is make polite smalltalk and then run away screaming.

Sometimes I like to imagine an alternative Greg, who grew up in Buenos Aires but whose father lived in London. I imagine summer holidays pacing the streets of Walthamstow or Wood Green, or gazing with wide-eyed wonder at Camden Market or Oxford Street. Which parts of London would I be nostalgic for? Would I have been obsessed with Angus Steakhouses or Our Price Records? Would I yearn for The Trocadero or the jingles on Capital FM? Would I romanticise double decker buses and The Piccadilly line? Would I dream of Cadbury’s Creme Eggs and PG Tips? I know it’s all ridiculous, but no more ridiculous than my second-hand nostalgia for Buenos Aires.

For lots of us, there’s a moment. A point in late adolescence when the world magically opens up; when you’ve escaped the tyranny of school but don’t yet have the responsibilities of adulthood. It’s a moment when you feel on the verge of great discoveries: sex and music and drugs and books and ideas. You know you are on the cusp of something special; it feels like just below the surface, all life’s secrets lie shimmering, waiting for you to dive in and find them. Great glories will be revealed. 

And then life happens. And most of the time it’s fine, and some of the time it’s wonderful, but it never quite matches that moment when you’re sixteen, ripe with potential, when every sunset blazes with meaning. I suspect a lot of people spend the rest of their lives in the shadow of that moment, never quite embracing the present, never quite committing to the here and now, always glancing back over their shoulder to an age when anything felt possible. It’s a trap, but it’s a very seductive one; it worms its way into you. It whispers all the things you want to hear. For me, Buenos Aires is that trap. There is a mythical Greg in Buenos Aires who still lives in the technicolor moment of a 16-year-old. 

I’m aware that my vision of Buenos Aires is a mirage. I’ve spent enough time there to know of the endemic corruption, the economic instability, the poverty, the squalor, the endless bureaucracy, the constant strikes and the perennially disappointing coffee. Every time I visited the overflow of crime and rubbish from the Plaza Once crept nearer and nearer to my dad’s apartment. I know that in real life it’s a city like any other, full of joys and disappointments. It’s not Narnia – it’s just somewhere else. Another place. 


It’s now five years since my father died and I’m a father myself. My life now is pacing around Walthamstow, walking my daughter to school, interminable afternoons in the park, an occasional commute into the office and even rarer trips to the pub. Argentina may as well be the moon. And yet Buenos Aires has worked its way under my skin; it seeps into my dreams. I can’t resist it. I find myself on Google Streetview, retracing journeys I made decades ago, I watch videos of bike rides around the city on YouTube. I scroll through photos of Nueve de Julio on Instagram. There is a vintage map of Buenos Aires on my bathroom wall and I stare at it endlessly; at the road where he lived; at the street where he died. 

Buenos Aires is the ghost that haunts me. 

There is a video of my dad in the house he grew up in. He’s giving a little guided tour, chatting to the camera in Spanish. His artwork is hanging on the walls and in the background the radio is tuned to Radio Dos Por Cuatro, playing non-stop tango. It makes my heart sing. It destroys me. 

A passageway in a house in Buenos Aires.
The passageway at the house where my dad grew up, which he later turned into his studio.

Argentina gave me my father and took him away from me. It was the country he loved and the country he chose over us. No, I am not half Argentine, but it was my father’s country and some part of it lives within me. I cannot escape that. I will return.

Por supuesto.

Goodbye, Poch

My dad was always more of a football fan than me; it came naturally to him – it was in his blood. He grew up playing on the streets of Buenos Aires and throughout his teens and twenties he and his brother Cacho would go to la Bombonera to watch Boca Juniors in every home game.

A Boca lino print by my dad.

When he met my mum and moved to London he married into a family of Spurs fans. He kept alive his links to Argentine football by helping Spurs new-boys Ossie Ardiles and Ricky Villa settle in London (a story I will save for another day).  Even after his marriage to my mum ended and he moved back to Buenos Aires, he would drag us on tours of La Bombonera every time we visited him. Often when I called him from London on a Sunday evening, he’d be listening to a Boca match on the radio.

My dad in the centre, with Spurs manager Keith Burkinshaw on the right. Spurs had just signed Ardiles and Villa and my dad offered to help them settle in London.

Football didn’t come as naturally for me. I loved playing in the school playground and on a Saturday morning with school, but as a kid I never went to matches and I wasn’t bothered about club football; I never had that romantic scene of father and son cheering together on the terraces – I was too shy and too middle-class; I was happier tucked up in bed with a stack of comics. It was only when I started university life in Leeds in the mid 90s that I started following Spurs on a weekly basis.  I began to realise that football was a way to make new friends and pad out flagging smalltalk – the cliché of football as a universal language is true.

And then over time, week after week, Spurs got under my skin. Managers came and went, we flirted with relegation and consistently underachieved. Bad results would ruin my weekends; last minute winners would have me swearing at the telly. And every so often we’d sign a Ginola or a Berbatov or a Bale and we’d behold… magic. (I should also point out that in 2003 I applied to be Spurs manager. I still have the rejection letter).

I did not get the job.

My dad was back in Buenos Aires and I was in London. For much of the last 20 years, before Facebook and Skype erased the distance, our relationship was restricted to a letter every few months, but football remained a small, tentative island of common ground. Over the years we rebuilt our relationship, and football was part of that. I remember talking excitedly to him when Spurs appointed Pochettino as manager; there was something so right about my club bringing in an Argentine, as though the stars were working for me and my dad. And Poch was great: warm, handsome, suave, clever and a brilliant manager. He made Spurs unSpursy. At least for a while.

And then in December 2015 my dad died. It was a sudden, violent death, and in that moment of trauma, everything in my life was smashed together. And in the weeks and months that followed, his death became fused with the fortunes of Spurs and Pochettino. It wasn’t quite as simple as me transferring my affections from one Argentine man to another, but it was hard not to cling onto Poch as I flailed around.

It was good timing: in the season after my dad died, Spurs threatened to win the title for the first time in 50-odd years (well, we never really looked like winning, but it was exciting to be leading the chasing pack) and when we finally blew it in the 2-2 draw with Chelsea I felt unexpectedly emotional. I hadn’t realised how much I wanted them to win it for my dad. But next season Spurs didn’t collapse. We just got better and better, and to my pleasure we added more Argentines to the squad. Here was the team that my dad and I supported (and my mum, bless her, who embodies the natural pessimism of the lifelong Spurs fan), full of Argentine players, playing magnificent football and tearing up the league. We didn’t actually win anything, but we were qualifying for the Champions League year after year and playing thrilling attacking football. We made it all the way to the Champions League final, but it wasn’t to be.

And then two days ago Pochettino was sacked. The team hadn’t played well for nearly a year, and Poch had looked irritable and distracted for some time but I was still gutted. It was the end of an era that felt like it had only just begun. And that’s a lesson life teaches you, I suppose: that the story doesn’t always work out the way it should. That you don’t always get the ending you deserve. My dad didn’t.

Spurs already have a new manager, and all eyes are on the next game. But right now, this feels less about football and more about a certain sadness. Another connection with the past is gone, and all those memories feel a little more distant.

He was handsome, wasn’t he?

London Tales

In 2006 my first novel, A Year in the Life of TheManWhoFellAsleep was published. A combination of material from my website and new writing, it was an odd novel, without much in the way of plot or characters. I liked it. It sold reasonably well for a first novel, particularly since the publishers The Friday Project were a new company, without a huge about of clout in the literary world. In 2008 the Friday Project went into administration (not my fault) and not knowing quite what to do, I bought up 300 copies of my book. (I could have bought 2000 copies but I had no idea where to store them or how to sell them). By chance, a few weeks later I stumbled upon The Big Green Bookshop, a local bookshop in Wood Green, pretty much where I grew up. I became friends with Simon at the shop, and we decided to sell A Year in the Life... through the shop, splitting the profits. It gave me a headache-free way of selling the book and gave them free stock and an exclusive grip on the all-important Stekelman market. Thanks to Twitter, there was a new-found interest in my writing and the book sold steadily, to the point where late last year we ran out of stock (I did make enquiries as to what happened to the other 1700 copies – apparently they were pulped).

Simon had been toying with the idea of setting up a small publishers, and he proposed that the first book be a reissue of A Year In the Life... I wasn’t sure. There was enough wrong with the book that I started totally rewriting it, which was taking ages. And I wanted to add new material, which meant that after a while it started to feel like a George Lucas revision of Star Wars, in which all loveable errors are erased and replaced by bad CGI. It didn’t feel right, so I stopped.

At about the same time, I started doing a little art project online. I was taking photos (mostly of myself and bits of London), screwing around with them in Photoshop, drawing on top of them and adding text.

They were stark black and white images, and they worked well. I put them on Facebook and Twitter and people liked them. Hooray. After a few weeks, a couple of people suggested I collect them all together in book form. Simon thought this was a good idea. I wasn’t sure, but decided to play along.

It was agreed that I would produce 100 images and we would collect them together in book form. The book wouldn’t have a story as such – it would be a moody collection of words and pictures.I had already produced about 40 images, but most of these were very low-res images – fine for the Internet but unsuitable for print. So I spent months writing and reworking the images, getting friends to take photos of me looking quizzical (thank you Matthew Carrozo). Finally, in July this year all the images were ready. End of story, right? Not quite.

Normally, when you publish a book, the author does all the high-faluting artistic work and some poor schlub does the technical side of laying it all out in print form. But in the case of Timeline Books (Simon had settled upon a title for his company) it was just Simon and I, and it fell to me to do all the layouts, including designing the cover. Now, when it comes to drawing stupid pictures I am good at Photoshop. But I’d never had any formal training in design and I’m notoriously lazy when it comes to details – and in design details are important. I got a trial copy of InDesign and with a bit of help from a graphic designer friend (Thanks Lee) I started laying out the book. I worked slowly and it took ages. I was constantly convinced I was doing it all wrong. In late August I finished, and had even designed a cover that looked pretty good.

Some early cover designs:


The final cover design:

Simon and I had discussed how we wanted to release the book. I knew from my experience with A Year in The Life... that I do not have a particularly high-profile as a writer but I do have a dedicated and loyal set of readers. It seemed silly to print thousands of copies of London Tales, particularly since my experiences selling my previous book had not been easy. It was decided that we would print 250 luxury hardback copies of the book, all signed and numbered. Rather than pitching it as a regular book, it would be a deluxe object of desire, accordingly priced. This made me a little nervous; I am cheap. I get my jeans in Primark. I own nothing worth more than £500. I was worried that no one would want to spend £40 on a book. I consulted the good people of Twitter and they gave me solid advice on pricing and told me to stick with £40.

Next came the challenge of putting the book together – selecting paper types and binding options. Again, this was not something I had ever considered before. Every few weeks Simon would present me with the latest samples from the printers and I would ummm and ahhh and bite my lip. I was sure it would be a disaster. Finally, having set aside my neuroses, we proceeded. Simon called the printers and told them to fire up the presses. I waited. And last week I finally got my hands on a finished copy of London Tales. And to my relief, it looks amazing. Even my mother, who normally responds to my work with a pat on the head and a sigh, was impressed.

Simon, being a marketing genius, started selling the book on pre-order earlier this week. We agreed that the first 50 orders would get a London Tales postcard, on which I would hand draw a little sketch/doodle (that will be fun!). To my relief, it is selling well. I must remember to put more faith in Simon. We’re also talking about doing a central London launch if we can find a sympathetic venue.

I suppose I should mention the content of the book itself. Despite the title, it’s not really about London. Or at least, it’s not about anyone else’s London except my own. It’s mostly my own wanderings around the familiar streets of north London suburbia – hence the cover showing a pollarded plain tree, rather than an iconic view of the city. There are lots (too many) pictures of me – but I’d like to think it walks the right line between self-analysis and morbid narcissism. Most of my writing walks a tightrope between silliness and self-pity. I try not to fall off.

As has been pointed out many times, I am a terrible salesman of my own work. My natural talent for self-deprecation means that whenever someone asks me about my writing I shrug awkwardly and list all the reasons they won’t like it. And yet, despite knowing that London Tales will not be to everyone’s taste, I think it’s good. That’s the most you’ll get out of me.

You can pre-order a copy here.

I’m not Gandalf or Magneto

Oh, the Internet and its memes. You cannot stop them.

About a year ago, Sir Ian McKellen took part in a Stonewall protest march in London. He was protesting against the pope’s visit to Britain and the homophobia of the Catholic church. He (and many others) wore Tshirts that proclaimed “Some People Are Gay. Get Over It.”

I saw a photo (by Dhruti Shah) of Sir Ian wearing the shirt and with my lightning wit, I decided to photoshop the tshirt so that it read “I’m Gandalf and Magneto. Get Over It.” It took me 15 minutes. I didn’t do it as a piece of political satire or to attack either Stonewall or the Pope. It was just me being silly. I put it on Twitter.

Then people started retweeting it. A lot. The comedian/actor Simon Pegg didn’t realise it was a photoshop job and retweeted it to his hundreds of thousands of followers, giving the impression that Sir Ian was actually wearing a Magneto-related tshirt (he later realised it was a fake and correctly attributed it to me. Thank you, Simon). The Internet went crazy. Most of my twitpics are viewed 300-600 times. In two days it was viewed over 250,000 times. Amusingly, people loved the tshirt and thought it was great that Ian McKellen was wearing it. I tried to make it clear that none of it was real, but by this stage it was out of my hands. The picture was no longer merely on my Twitpic account – it had been copied onto thousands of blogs and tumblrs. A cursory google of Ian McKellen Gandalf Magneto tshirt reveals page after page after page of pics.

Then, as these things do, it all died down. Some months later I was amused to read an interview with Sir Ian in Vanity Fair in which he talked of his disappointment with the tshirt and the fact that it undermined the serious issue of homophobia. I don’t blame him. (also, it is a dreadful, dreadful interview. The guy asking the questions is absolutely clueless)

And then all went quiet until this week. Because someone else has photoshopped Sir Ian McKellen wearing a Stonewall tshirt that reads “I’m Gandalf and Magneto. Get Over It.”

Here it is:

Now, when I first saw the pic I thought for a brief second that it might be genuine – that Sir Ian had seen the funny side of things and decided to wear a shirt of his own. But a cursory check on TinEye reveals the original pic:

And now this pic is sweeping the Internet. I’ve seen it across Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, and once again people seem to think it’s real. And those who know it’s fake have tweeted me to ask if it’s my work – it isn’t. I can’t see the point in doing the same joke over and over (unless someone missed the joke in the first place. And in this case, they didn’t.)

The odd, and somewhat frustrating aspect of this is why someone would bother to photoshop Ian McKellen with a slogan that isn’t even their own. I half expected my photoshop job to turn into a meme in which everyone inserted their own slogan, which at least demonstrates some creativity. But why someone would go to the trouble of repeating my “joke” with a different photo, I just don’t know.

Anyway, it’s nothing to do with me. Now, as with so much on the Internet, it belongs to history and to excited Brazilians leaving enthusiastic comments on Twitpic. The eerie thing about all such memes/phenomena is how quickly they spin out of your own control. You just have to sit and watch it blow over.

UPDATE: It’s January 2012 and the meme has mutated. Over the last day or so people have brought my attention to a photo of Harrison Ford that is sweeping The Internet.

“I’m Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Blade Runner. I’m Fuckin’ Over It!”

Unless there’s a hidden side to Harrison Ford and he has an unexpectedly nerdy sense of humour, I assume it’s a Photoshop. Also, the fact that it has three roles in it (Han Solo, Indiana Jones and Blade Runner) as opposed to two in the Ian McKellen pic means that eventually these spoofs will be like IMDB entries, with full lists of every actor’s roles, all in chronological order.

Given the way these things go, it’s inevitable that one day in 2015 a minor celebrity will wear an actual tshirt based on the Gandalf/Magneto meme. (I’m betting on a haggard Steven Seagal wearing a “I had a ponytail. Get over it!” shirt.) I may have to strangle them with my bare hands.

UPDATE: Here’s the original Harrison Ford pic. It was a grey tshirt all along! Thanks to the people who commented on my earlier blog and pointed me towards this pic…

Poppy Dinsey interview

I haven’t blogged in a while, but I thought I would revive my ill-conceived attempt to interview people from the Internet who I find interesting.

I started following Poppy Dinsey on Twitter a few years ago (drawn to her attractive avatar) and it turned out she was funny and interesting and made me temporarily interested in fashion. So we met up in London and ate burritos and it turned out she was just as lovely in real life.

Poppy runs a site called What I Wore Today, in which she takes a photo of herself every day and shows the world what she’s wearing.  

Armed with a hangover, I decided to interview Poppy on Skype chat. This meant a lot of typing and that odd overlapping thing where you’re both typing at the same time and nothing quite makes sense.  

Poppy Dinsey

Greg Stekelman: I’ve been following you on Twitter for a couple of years. How did the WIWT blog start? (that is a boring question, but necessary) 

Poppy Dinsey: It’s quite a nice story. I was sat on a beach (Newport or Huntington or Laguna, I should probably try and remember which one it was exactly so that I don’t tell the story differently every time I say it) and was thinking about New Year’s resolutions as it was a few days before NYE. And I just decided to see if I could photograph every outfit I wore every day for a year. 

There was also a side reason, a more sinister reason, but that’s the PR friendly version and 90% true. 

GS: Ok. We all have sinister reasons. Very few of us decide to splurge our lives all over the Internet simply to make the world a better place. 

PD:  It’s one of my most self-indulgent projects to date. 

GS: If I did what you do, I would run out of outfits after about a week. How do you manage to not wear the same clothes over and over? That is a terrible question. The answer is probably that you have loads more clothes than me. 

PD: By owning lots. I have wardrobes, drawers, external rails, suitcases… There are cases in my bedroom, office and bathroom. I also wear a lot of the same stuff repeatedly, but ‘in different ways’. 

GS: Yes. I do that as well. Sometimes I put my shoes on my head. 

PD: Do you ever wear high heels? 

GS: No. I quite like the idea of spending a few days dressed as a woman, but I have a beard and I find that beards and high heels don’t really mix. 

PD: I have always wanted a beard. And a penis, if I’m honest. 

GS: There’s still time. Technology is moving at an alarming rate. 

PD: Yes, I am wondering if I will choose the sex of my baby. And make it blue eyed and brown haired…

GS: Right. I was thinking about how exposed you are on your site. I post occasional photos of myself on Twitter but ultimately I quite like hiding behind anonymity. How does it feel having so many photos of yourself on the net? 

PD: I hate it in some respects. 

It can feel hugely unbalanced, people know a lot about me (or think they know a lot about me) and that’s not true the other way around. It can be weird when people tweet that they just saw me somewhere and I have no idea who they are, but they can recognise me because I constantly bombard them with pictures of myself. So I was asking for it really. I’ve ended up on a porn site (although I haven’t appeared on porn star facts). And I have some weird stalker people. It scares my Mother. 

GS: Oh dear. That’s quite unpleasant. I know what you mean about being spotted in public. I’ve had that, and in theory it should be flattering but in reality it’s quite alarming. It’s also odd because it’s like being famous without having any of the advantages of fame and fortune. I’m still mostly unemployed and skint. 

And I sometimes feel like without thinking I put a lot of myself on the Internet and then wonder if there’s anything left for my private life. 

PD: Yes it’s a bit weird. But generally people are awesome, I’ve been moved to tears by lovely emails from some people. (Cue sob story music) 

GS: I generally don’t get lovely emails from people, but I suspect I project a less approachable image than you do. 

PD: Well I like that people have decided I’m a bit short tempered (my FAQ/general rants imply that) and now start emails with huge apologies about being sorry to bother me. It’s quite nice. 

GS: Yes. Your FAQ is excellent. More people should write similarly comprehensive guides. Back to the questions. High fashion tends to be all about size zero women. You’re not size zero and you don’t look like you want to be, which pleases me. I hate the idea of women feeling constantly pressured into being stick thin. 

I realise that’s a statement, not a question. 

PD: I don’t know, I’m beginning to get a bit paranoid about that for the first time ever. I’m nowhere bloody near size zero and at certain fashion things I feel really self-conscious. I know fashion quite well, but that doesn’t mean I can always wear it well. I could style someone else to look amazing, but my options are more limited. 

I am spending more and more time wanting plastic surgery and wanting to stop eating though. I was never like that before.

GS: That’s my fear. Almost every single woman I know has some kind of fairly serious body image issues. Whereas as a man there are loads of things about my body I dislike, but I’m fairly accepting of it. 

PD: I’m extremely self-conscious about the fact I have braces. To the point where I decided before they were put on that I wouldn’t date anyone for the next two years. 

GS: I think women think about their bodies in the same way that men think about their cocks. In that a woman wants to be thin even if her bloke likes someone curvy, because it’s important for her to show other women that she’s thin. And men want to have big cocks, even if their girlfriend hates big cocks, because they want to show other men they have big cocks. 

That last statement reads like a load of sexual gibberish. 

PD: But it’s true. 

GS: I think it must be quite difficult for a woman operating in the fashion world and maintaining some semblance of mental health. 

PD: You can get disillusioned, when you’re around models a lot you can feel like shit. Then you can go to Sainsbury’s and realise most people are normal. And normal is fine. Most people aren’t that hot. Most fashion people aren’t ‘hot’ anyway, they’re beautiful. Classy. Untouchable. Scary. 

GS: Do you feel like you’re a role model for teenage girls who are into fashion? 

PD: I wouldn’t say I feel like a role model but I get more of a kick from emails/tweets from younger girls. That sounds fucking dodgy. 

GS: No. It sounds sweet. If it was me getting emails from young girls it would sound dodgy. 

PD: If I could speak at a school every week then I would. My cousins are my favourite girls in the world to hang out with and they are 13/14. Shopping with them is still exciting and fun. 

GS: Are you more interested in catwalk fashion or high-street fashion? Or both? 

PD: Nothing compares to the fun of watching live catwalks, I absolutely love it. It gets me very excited. But I can’t afford high end (generally), so high street fashion is where it’s at for me realistically. 

It’s always interesting to see which trends actually make it off the catwalk, because we’ll watch the shows and make assumptions but not every trend gets picked up

GS: I used to be quite interested in fashion. Not catwalk stuff. Just clothes because I was a teenage indie kid, and every musical genre had its own tribal uniform. Indie kids/rudeboys/goths/metallers/grebos etc. That seems to be disappearing. Everyone shops at Top Shop.

You can see someone in tight trousers, a leather jacket and a Stooges t-shirt and they’re actually a JLS fan, but Top Shop/Primark sells these looks to everyone. 

PD: Has it changed? Or are we older? I’m not sure. But part of me really hates how strong the trends are on the high street now. You can’t get simple clothes. 

And I don’t like people who purposely dress dishevelled when they’re rich. That probably sounds awful, but this faux-punk idea of privileged kids makes me gag. People that make an extra effort to look shit, ya know? 

GS: It feels like the high street incorporates underground fashion so quickly now that within a month of some weird trend, Primark are selling a copy for a tenner and everyone is wearing it. 

PD: Yep, definitely. It’s very, very fast. 

GS: But as you say, it’s also about getting older. I’d like to dress cooler, but that would probably involve me having the figure of a skinny 21-year old. And that isn’t me. 

PD: I have no idea why men wear skinny jeans. It makes me feel ill. 

GS: I think it’s so that people can admire the shape of their mobile phones in the jean pockets. 

GS: How many proposals/sexual overtures do you get per week? 

PD: Many a day. Some are becoming police matters. 

GS: Your FAQ mentions people offering to pay you for sex. Does that really happen? 

PD: It comes back to what we were talking about earlier though, if someone emails me asking to take me out why would I *EVER* say yes? They know so much about me (supposedly) and I know nothing about them. 

And yes, I get emails from married men and men offering to pay. Again, why someone would email from their work email address with their real name is beyond me. I could phone their boss. Or their wife. 

GS: Wow. That’s weird. Also, I’ve been on the Internet for about 15 years and no-one has EVER offered to pay me for sex. 

PD: How much would you charge? 

GS: That depends what people would want. I would offer a sliding scale, to take into account people on lower incomes who might want to sleep with me. 

I worry enough about what to charge people for my books, let alone for sex. 

PD: I’d worry someone might ask for their money back. 

GS: So, tell me about your obsession with Dustin Hoffman. 

PD: It’s pretty bad. I don’t watch Dustin movies because it upsets me too much. I haven’t seen most of them. It started with Straw Dogs, which is one of my all time favourite films.

GS: As a short Jewish man, your obsession with Dustin Hoffman comforts me greatly. 

PD: Do you like his voice? 

GS: I find it a bit nasal. To be honest, I haven’t thought about his voice very much. I like him. I love The Graduate and Tootsie but he’s been in so many rubbish films recently that some of the shine wears off. 

He’s an odd actor for you to obsess over though. In the sense that he’s not a conventionally handsome man. 

PD: I recently dated someone who was conventionally handsome, it was strange. I like older men generally, 40 plus. Although I am trying to be a bit more sensible about that… 

GS: You’re now going to be inundated by offers from older men. 

PD: …As older men generally come with a bit more hassle 

GS: Yes. Incontinence and prostate problems. 

PD: Well that’s another problem isn’t it? When I’m 50 they’ll be 70. But 70 years olds can be fun. (I haven’t slept with one) 

GS: When I meet someone who is flawless and conventionally beautiful, I struggle to envisage myself going out with them. I assume they are in a different league to me. I like beautiful people but they have to have a flaw, like a glass eye or a terrible skin condition, for me to consider going out with them. 

I think it’s interesting how we can have a veneer of confidence but underneath it’s just a mass of flawed assumptions. 

PD: My main pre-requisite is the ability to work hard and to not be bamboozled by menus in restaurants. 

GS: That rules me out. I do not work hard. My brain never stops working, but that rarely translates into physical activity. When I complete an 8 hour day in an office I genuinely believe I deserve a medal. 

PD: I have dated people who work less than me and it doesn’t work. 

GS: Before being a fashion blogger, you worked in tech. How was that? 

PD: It was amazing. And I still consider myself to work in tech really. I’m working on a new site and an iPhone app, things that I wouldn’t be confident to do if my background wasn’t in tech. 

I like working in start-ups and like working with developers, there’s a lot less fucking around. You just do stuff. 

Well you do piss around but it’s not like being with artsy types. 

GS: Careful. I may be an artsy type. 

PD: I like artsy types, but I wouldn’t go into business with them.

GS: My experience with tech people was that they were full of energy and ideas but were often sociopaths. 

PD: Yes but that can be quite nice, just getting on with things in silence. A lot of that is a stereotype, but if we’re going to go down the stereotype route then I prefer working with cold/direct/socially awkward people to OTT/fake/loud people. 

GS: Yes. I like a bit of both. To be honest, I’ve forgotten what it’s like to work with other people. Most of my work is done from a small room, with only woodlice and memories for company. 

PD: I keep my blinds down because I don’t want to be reminded of the outside world. 

GS: I find the sunshine outside my window a constant torment. 

PD: People who think you and I tweet a lot forget how much we are just “in a room”, to quote yourself. 

GS: Yes, indeed. 

PD: We’re devoid of human contact.

GS: It’s true. Sometimes I talk to people at bus stops, just to feel alive. 

PD: The postman can’t figure me out. 

GS: Let’s talk about something else. What books are you reading at the moment? 

PD: I’m reading The Upgrade by Paul Carr, Anger Management by Giles Coren andMidnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt. 

And I feel like I’m always reading The Saturday Times and Sunday Times, they last me all week. 

GS: Ok. Hmmm. Paul Carr. I remember Paul. He set up The Friday Project, who published my book. He also brought down The Friday Project, although he did have some help with that. 

PD: He signed my breasts recently. I love his writing. 

GS: I think he’s very good at being Paul Carr. I quite like him but I wouldn’t work with him again. He gets things done, but he leaves a lot of corpses behind. 

PD: Is it bad to love Giles Coren? Because I do love his wordmanship.

GS: No. I never know what to think of Giles Coren. On one hand I think he’s a smarmy, smug journo who only got the job because of his dad. On the other hand, I think he writes well, is provocative and doesn’t take himself too seriously. I think I’m a better writer than him, but that’s based on ego not evidence. 

PD: I adore him. And Victoria. I fucking love The Times full stop. Is that weird? I’m a bit paranoid that I love it too much. 

GS: No. Not at all, before it went behind the Paywall, I would read The Guardian and The Times online in an attempt to get a reasonably balanced view. I couldn’t exclusively read either of them. The Times offers a very comforting vision of a forgotten England, but it feels a bit detached. And right-wing. 

PD: Is Caitlin (Moran) a friend of yours? 

GS: Not really. We both used to post on Popbitch many years ago, and I’ve met her once or twice in the pub but that’s it. I think she’s a really good writer. I like her sense of humour and how irreverent she is. And the fact that she does it in The Times, so she’s not playing to her natural audience. 

PD: Yes I love her. I love them all. 

GS: I was about to write a long thing about ME and the media and then remembered that this is about you, not me. 

PD: Hah. Yes, it’s me today. 

GS: Do you have any secret plans to conquer the world through TV, etc? 

PD: Not through TV…well, maybe TV, but those aren’t what the plans are. I am building a new site and app and they are my focus for the next couple of years. They’ll be launched in July (I hope). And I would like to finish writing a children’s book that I have started. 

GS: Hooray. Do you have any final plugs or statements you want to make? 

PD: Please visit and tell your friends and email me if we can collaborate in any way and please help me meet Dustin Hoffman. Thank you x 

GS: Thank you.

Allanah Starr interview

Since I started the blog I’ve been interested in interviewing different people, and I thought I would seek out people who live other kinds of lives, or who perhaps have skirted beneath the mainstream radar – or just people I like or find funny. My first interview is with Cuban-American transsexual model Allanah Starr. I had hoped to interview Allanah in person as she is currently in London, but in the end we settled on me emailing her a series of questions, which she answered beautifully.

Anyone with a passing interest in porn probably recognises Allanah, even if they don’t know her name. She has her own website, has appeared numerous times on American television, hosts parties, has made a career in porn and filmed the first ever sex scene between a male-to-female and female-to-male transexual. She has also modelled for artists such as Marc Quinn in an exhibition at White Cube.

You were born in Cuba and then your family moved to the US? Did you feel like an outsider? Did you grow up feeling different?

I believe anyone who flees to a foreign country in search of exile initially feels like an outsider. We did not leave Cuba by choice; my father was a former political prisoner and we were in danger in Cuba. I was four years old at the time and I can only imagine what is what like for my parents moving to a foreign country without speaking the language, completely impoverished and having to somehow care for my brothers, sisters, and grandparents. As a child it was difficult because at the time I spoke no English and back then there was no assistance for non-English-speaking student immigrants. They basically put you in whatever grade level you were in and expected you to perform. It was sort of sink or swim and I sank for a long time. I had no idea how to even ask how to go to the bathroom in English, so there were many times when I just ended wetting myself in class because I could not hold it in any longer. And then of course I was highly feminine and different than the other kids and that of course set me up for the usual harassment and bullying one experiences at the hands of their peers when one is different. I learned that very young and I learned it the hard way. I never felt different until the other kids pointed it out. I was just being myself and I suffered for many years for just being me.

When did you decide to make the transition? How did your friends and family take your decision? Were they supportive?

I started playing with androgyny, make up, and gender bending when I was 14. I started doing drag when I was 18 and my transition began when I was 21. I don’t remember when there was a moment that I just decided that I was going to transition. I think it was more an evolvement of my femininity and consciously becoming aware of who I was. In hindsight, I now know that I this was who I was supposed to be and all of my thoughts and ideas when I was much younger finally made sense. Mine was never really a defining moment of sorts, it was just becoming self-aware. As anyone who has been in my position knows, there is always a moment of shock from those close to you as to your decision. I can’t say that my friends at the time were supportive. In fact they all pretty much discouraged me from doing so, except my early mentor India Brooks, who really believed in me. For her, I will be forever grateful because she really was an inspiration and gave e the courage. As far as my family is concerened, they believed at first it was a phase and then gradually they came to terms that is wasn’t and  just got used to it. My mother since has been wonderfully supportive and she is really my best friend. I am quite lucky in that respect.

You went to art college. What were your artistic influences? In some ways, it seems like you are your own greatest artistic triumph, in that you’ve had over 60 cosmetic surgeries. You’ve totally transformed who you are. Is that your art?

Beauty and glamour have always been my artistic influences. I have spent the greater portion of my adult life in search of beauty , glamour, and to be surrounded by beautiful things. If I were to pick my beauty ideals I would have to say Jayne Mansfield, Sophia Loren, Marlene Dietrich , Ava Gardner, Lana Turner, Elizabeth Taylor and Marylin Monroe would be at the top of my list. Those carefully constructed beauty icons I admire greatly because it takes so much discipline and effort to be those women. That is lost in today’s culture.  I am also a great fan of women like Grace Jones  and Diana Vreeland because they define a different type of beauty and are supreme definitions of style. Fashion has always played a big role in my life as well. I am very much into dressing for a purpose and not comfort. Clothes are my armor and a reflection of how I am feeling at that particular moment. As far as my cosmetic surgery, they definitely have been a means to obtain a certain look and maybe, yes, an art form. Marc Quinn told me that he thinks that I am an artist and that I am my own art work. I think that was a great compliment from a great artist.

Your look is very glamorous and over-the-top, almost a burlesque of femininity. Some transsexuals just want to blend in and look like the “average” woman. Did that never appeal to you?

No, it never appealed to me to blend in and look like the average woman. I could have gone that route and I think in many ways that does make life easier for some. I respect everyone’s opinion to define what they wish to look like, so if that is what someone chooses, I am certainly not critical of it.  I am a person who shies away from conventions and am definitely not afraid to stand out. As Truman Capote wrote: “I have always lived the life I liked. I have never skipped a pulse beat over what others thought”.

In terms of looks, who is your role model? You seem to go for a very curvy, retro type of glamour – more Jayne Mansfield than Kate Moss.

I think Kate Moss is beautiful but my aesthetic definitely reflects Jayne Mansfield much more than Miss Moss. I was always attracted to that kind of explosive beauty. Bombshells who were formidable women and took no prisoners along the way. I definitely molded my body that way. A femme fatal of sorts – though Miss Mansfield always played the sex bombshell who really wanted to be a housewife.

Do you ever wake up in the morning feeling low and just wanting to be anonymous – to walk down the street without being noticed? 

Yes, I have days like that, but unless I wear a burqa I know I will get noticed. That is the only drawback to being over the top. There are times when you don’t want to be bothered or want any attention and it always is there one way or another. Those are the days I don’t leave the house unless I have to. And If I must,  I put on my tunnel vision and don’t pay attention to anyone or anything.

It seems that there is greater public acceptance of transsexuals, but that there is still a pressure for male-to-female girls to “choose one side or the other”. That is to either live as a man or have a full gender-reassignment. Have you ever felt that pressure?

First of all, I certainly don’t think choosing not to have full gender reassignment surgery means you are living as a man. There are pre-operative transsexual women and post-operative transsexual women and the choice to have genital surgery for anyone is very specific and the reasons why or why not to are very individual.  Society is always trying to dictate others on how they should live their own lives and what they should or should not do with their bodies. I am a fierce opponent of that. You only have one life and one body so you should do with it whatever the hell you like to. I have heard post-op transsexuals criticize pre-op transsexuals and vice versa, and they both make me angry. From a personal point of view, yes it is something I have thought about it but something that I obviously have not done yet. And if I ever do, it will be a personal decision that will only concern my feelings.

You made the move into working in porn. Do you enjoy it or is it just a job?

It’s a job like any other. And like any other job if you don’t enjoy doing it, you will hate it. When I was actively involved in porn I enjoyed it.

You filmed a sex scene with Buck Angel, who is a female-to-male transsexual. How was that?

It was amazing. It was the first time ever a sex scene had been filmed between a female to male transsexual and a male to female to male transsexual, so it was porn history in the making. I am very proud of it because I think it transcended a sex scene and  became a commentary on gender and sex today and it’s interchangeability. Plus, I love Buck as a person. He was the one that got me involved in the Marc Quinn project, and I will be forever greatful.

In general, do women accept you or do you still feel resentment or jealousy?

I think jealousy and resentment can come from anyone. I  think I am accepted by anyone who is well evolved and open minded and non-judgmental, whatever sex they may be.

How many times a day do you meet guys who say “I’m straight, but I’d love to sleep with you.”?

More than I care to remember. The ‘am I straight’ card is the most annoying thing I hear because I hate when a man has to validate his masculinity if he is attracted to transsexuals. The one thing I loathe in a man is insecurity and that to me represents insecurity. The kind of sex you enjoy does not make anyone any less than a man or a woman – what you do in bed is not a testament to your masculinity or femininity.

Would you ever like to have children?

No. I think that is a very difficult and selfless job and one that I am not cut out for. I commend anyone who does the job of a parent well because it is a very hard job to do well.

Does size matter?

Of course. I am not sure which size you are referring to, but isn’t size and measurements everything in life :)?

What is your favourite David Bowie song?


What’s your favourite book?

Currently it is Slaughterhouse 5 by Kurt Vonnegut, but I mostly read biographies of people I find interesting-mostly the Hollywood stars of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

When was the last time you fell in love?

I am immune to that disease.

You have to spend an evening with Bruce Willis, Johnny Depp or Angelina Jolie. Who do you choose?

Angelina Jolie, because she seems the most interesting and dangerous.

If you were having a date over for dinner, what would you cook?

I would go to and order food. I can’t cook, darling. Cooking is not one of my talents.

You’re currently living in London? What have been your highlights so far? What’s been the biggest surprise/disappointment about living in London?

I love London, I always have. To me it’s like a marriage of European capital and New York City (the only relevant city in America in my opinion, because everything that is of any importance culturally happens in New York). I do miss my social life in New York City because in a sense I was very established socially in New York and here it seems like it has been harder to meet people here in London.  Also, I find London a tad bit more conservative than New York but I love the style of the people here. Nonetheless, I am happy being in between here and Paris. It’s a nice change to New York but I love all three cities equally.

Tell us a joke:

If I did so, I would have to charge you

Don’t cry for me, Argentina

The last couple of days I’ve been “getting in touch” with my Argentine roots. On Friday evening I went to an nice event/talk about Argentine comics and then on Saturday I went to a bar where 200-300 Argentines watched the national team getting trounced 4-0 by Germany in the World Cup quarter-finals. That was fairly disastrous. Still, I got to practise my Spanish and pretend I knew the chants everyone else was singing.

My dad is from Argentina. Born in Buenos Aires, he lived in London between 1969 and 1989, when he moved back to the city of his childhood. He visits Europe when he can.

I was born in London, England. I am English. Growing up, we didn’t speak Spanish at home, except for a couple of words. I remember feeling very English throughout my childhood, even if my name is Gregorio and my father is Juan Carlos. Nowadays I speak pretty fluent Spanish, but that’s thanks to years at university and recent trips to Argentina. My Spanish accent is still a mess of English, Argentine and Castillian Spanish (and American, according to one person).

When we were little kids it was too expensive (and probably too painful for my father) to visit Buenos Aires. I made my first trip there with my parents and sisters, when I was about 12 and from then on I visisted there every 2-3 years to visit my father and see family. There was a period between 1993 and 2000 when I avoided going. I’m not quite sure why. I’ll ask a shrink.

I call myself half-Argentine, but the reality is that I don’t know Argentina, I only know Buenos Aires and of that, mainly the barrio around my father’s place and microcentro. When I am in Buenos Aires I am there to see my father, not be a tourist. There are friends who spend 2 months doing the whole of South America who have seen more of Argentina than I have in my countless visits. They know Cordoba and Mendoza and Iguacu and Bariloche. I know the Linea A subway line. As a teenager my Buenos Aires was wandering the streets of Corrientes and Callao in my leather jacket, smoking cheap cigarettes and hunting through the book and magazine stores for comics and pornography. I loved it.

When I was young, Argentina was an impossibly distant, exotic place. There were few Argentines in London. There was no internet, so contact with my father was limited to occasional letters and phone calls. No-one went on holiday to Argentina. And I liked it like that. Buenos Aires was my playground. It was my Narnia. My secret world.

Now things have changed. I know countless friends who have visited Buenos Aires. It’s a staple part of the middle-class-traveller-seeing-the-world route. I know English people who have fallen in love in Buenos Aires and stayed here. And since the economic crisis of 2001, there are an increasing number of Argentines in London (as evidenced in the bar for the World Cup match). The barriers between England and Argentina have crumbled. I should be happy, but I’m not. It’s like the gates of Narnia have been flung open, and what was once my secret refuge (my secret identity) is now just another place in the world. The world is getting smaller.

Sometimes I’ll be chatting to a stranger and I’ll mention that my dad is Argentine and they’ll say: “Oh, I’ve been to Buenos Aires. It’s amazing, isn’t it?” and I’ll nod and agree, but part of me – a selfish part of me, admittedly – resents them walking through the streets that were once mine alone.

Hong Kong

I sit here typing this with a strange jetlag hangover from my trip to Hong Kong. It was an odd, testing trip, but probably worthwhile.

Travelling for work is always a challenge. On one hand, I the trip is paid for by others, and I get put up in a better standard of hotel than I’m accustomed to, but on the other hand, I can never quite shake the feeling that I’m totally owned by work – that I can’t just switch off, run away and go home. They own me, body and soul and that depresses me. So, as a rule, I avoid travelling for work, but I couldn’t really turn down the opportunity to see Hong Kong.

I was staying a massive corporate hotel, adjacent to a new, curvy chrome business park in the middle of nowhere. Everything about the place was modern, streamlined and stylish. It made me feel quite ill. There were no flaws, no dirt, no character. There was no sign of anything human at all. It was like walking around an abandoned space station. Actually, the worst part of the hotel were the arty soundscapes in the lift and corridors, as though silence was so unbearable that we needed piped pseudo-muzak 24/7. I have noted down the name of the ‘composer’ who wrote the soundscapes, and I do intend to hunt him down.

The trip was really divided into two phases. Night and day. By day, I would do my work or explore the city, and I really enjoyed myself, taking buses, trams and trains and doing all the things I promised myself I’d do. By night… oh dear… I would eat on my own in the various hotel restaurants, and then bed would call. Except I couldn’t sleep. I lay there, sweaty and confused. When I did nod off, I would wake at 3am, wide awake, feeling displaced and isolated in my hermetically-sealed air-conditioned room. The rest of my life… my girlfriend, London, my family, all seemed like fictitious fantasies as I slowly went mental on my own in a distant, silent room. And then I’d fall asleep just before my alarm woke me. This routine continued most of the nights, until I started taking sleeping pills. By the end of the trip, my sleeping had improved, if only slightly.

The city itself was amazing. It’s a strange collision of East and West, with Marks and Spencers sitting alongside wet markets where the still-live fish flap around on slabs. I ate, I shopped, I even went drinking with a load of Flemish Belgians. And I took lots of photos, because enjoying things is not as important and recollecting them afterwards…

Some things I noticed:

  • On the tube, they played a bad Chinese girlband version of You Really Got Me, by The Kinks, every time the train was about to pull into the station.
  • The streetfood absolutely stunk. Maybe my Western tastes weren’t up to the task, but a lot of stalls just reeked of hot, sweet piss. I had to hold my breath as I walked past.
  • There are lots of 7-11s in Hong Kong.
  • I saw quite a few mixed couples, but it was only ever white man/Asian woman. There were no couples where the woman was white and the man was Asian.
  • Instead of Oyster cards, they have Octopus cards. You can get your money back off them if you don’t use it.

I’m sure other pithy observations will come to me in time. Just as I was about to board the plane back to London, my glasses snapped in half at the bridge. I tried sellotaping them back together in Duty Free, but to no avail. I did have my contact lenses on me, so I tried wearing them for a bit, but the air on the planes is too dry and after 30 minutes I had to take them out. Which meant that most of the 13 hours of flight was spent in a state of almost complete blindness. I had to virtually press my face against the screen to watch the in-flight entertainment. No wonder I have a headache.

Now I’m probably going back to bed to see if I can sleep off the jetlag and fever.