Somebody once told me to read Alisdair Gray, and I didn't listen to them. It was back in my unconfident early twenties, in a creative writing class at City Lit, after I'd just read one of my short stories aloud for the first time and had it roundly ripped apart by the class. The thirtysomething me would have taken it as feedback to make the story better, but the early twentysomething didn't write again for months.
I found Poor Things in a secondhand shop on my weekend in Devon; such a funny, stunning read, with Gray's beautiful anatomical line drawings and design. I won't spoil the story, but there's a strong thread about identity and how we form what comes to be ourselves, with the heroine Bella Baxter repeatedly introducing herself, as it to confirm it in her own head.
Repetitive interrogations ("What's your name?" "Freddie Quell" "Say it again") are all over The Master, a film that's a take on the origins of Scientology with Joaquim Phoenix as a displaced and furious moonshine-drinking sailor lost in the aftermath of the second World War until he falls under Philip Seymour Hoffman's svengali-like spell. Despite being tortuously long and full of unnecessary female nudity, the "processing" scenes, where Seymour Hoffman shoots brutal personal questions at Phoenix until he breaks down, are fascinating - read this monster New Yorker piece to see the parallels with Scientology.
Ben Affleck's Argo (cinemas are the best place to be when it's so cold out) also has him interrogating people about their identity but for very different reasons; it's the retelling of a fantastical 1980 CIA plot to break out six American hostages trapped in Iran through creating a false film company. The ruse is that Affleck's character flies into the country alone and then flies the lot out, with fake passports and new characters that they must learn inside out, right under the military's nose. I'd never have thought Affleck would become such a fine director but it appealed to both my left and right brain at once; a thrilling, politically charged story with pitch perfect Seventies outfits.
The Museum of London's one of the city's most underrated places, perhaps because it doesn't have the showy exhibitions other places do, but "Doctors, Dissection and Resurrection Men", which is on til April, is brilliant. It covers one of the city's murkiest periods; Victorian doctors were trying to learn more about human anatomy by dissection, but they weren't able to get enough bodies legally, so a roaring trade in grave robbing developed. Bodies were slipped in to hospitals and colleges during the dead of night and entered into the logs under invented names.
Another place with a new name (I think I might have stretched this theme as far as it'll go) is brilliant basement bar Reverend J.W. Simpson, named after the man of the cloth whose flat it used to be. Funny because when I worked over the road almost ten years ago, 32 Goodge Street was the "Capricorn Club"... the Reverend must have been very open-minded.
Still, it's a cool, cosy space with enormous sofas, a beautiful Art Deco bathroom you sneak into from a hidden door and a menu of great British cocktails like Port In A Storm (rum, ginger beer, lime), Mead Feasts, fizzes, cobblers and sours.