'Nice gusset," he wrote on my M&S knickers with a black marker pen, signing "JARVIS" inside an enormous hand-print drawn on the bum. (I wasn't wearing them, stupid: my best friend and I had very sensibly bought an extra pair along to the festival, especially for the purpose of an autograph.) While our other friends were into shouty Britpop or grunge or hip-hop, in 1994 Pulp was the silly, sexy and not very serious listening option. Most music then seemed to be about anger or drinking; Pulp was ironic. I'd bought every record I could lay my hands on.
A bunch of skinny, art-school poseurs in mismatched 1970s shirts and drainpipe cords, they played Moog synthesisers and easy melodies. The lyrics were Alan Bennett-lite narratives about sex parties in surburbia, or stealing a girl from your best friend, or hanging around outside the sports hall in the rain. Jarvis Cocker wasn't a particularly good singer, speaking most of his lines with a flat Sheffield accent. But he could perform. On a hot afternoon at Reading Festival, the home of macho rock, he did his odd dance, pointing his preternaturally long fingers, pouting, jutting out his hips, vamping up, kicking an invisible car-bumper.
That summer, after many long years in a wilderness of badly received albums that few people bought, Pulp finally broke into the mainstream. On its re-release, "Do You Remember the First Time?" made it into the Top 40 and the next year, standing in for The Stone Roses, Pulp stole the show at the Glastonbury Festival, the irony of "Sorted for Es and Wizz" spectacularly lost on the colossal crowd of ravers in front of the Pyramid Stage.
The signed pants are preserved for posterity in a glass clip-frame somewhere in the attic, and my fandom, too, is something I've mostly forgotten about. I was amazed to read yesterday that the original line-up of Pulp hadn't appeared onstage together since 1996, despite releasing several more albums. That makes sense to me; that was the time I stopped listening.
Brilliant as outsiders, they seemed to cope badly with success. The sound became overblown and the lyrics bitter. I didn't bother buying 1998's This is Hardcore, with its cover suggestive of a porn model busily at work. Even before the Brit Awards fiasco in 1996, Jarvis jumping up on the stage to present his own gusset to Michael Jackson in protest at the Messianic performance, I think I'd began to fall out of love.
No longer an outsider, the singer became a caricature of himself, grew a beard, became an elder statesman of British rock, a national treasure, and – what was it? – just a bit too knowing. Can a re-formed Pulp, due to play next summer at the Wireless Festival, be as charming and funny as they once were? One assumes, like Take That, that Jarvis and his bandmates miss the adulation of the crowd as well as the royalties, but the price an old fan must pay for nostalgia is high – in the case of the Pulp gig, an irony-free £48.50 per standard ticket. Throw in a pair of pants and I might consider it.
Rules for commuters
I've been lucky enough to ride the commuter route with Southeastern in the last couple of weeks, so I was interested to read that further overcrowding is due to hit our busiest trains in coming years. This is perfectly acceptable, but only if the following rules are strictly observed at all times by customers:
1. Touching, speaking, eating and, under certain circumstances, breathing, are all banned.
2. Mobile phones switched off or you get out and walk.
3. Anybody who takes an aisle seat next to an empty seat, expecting you to clamber over their lap, is also immediately ejected from the train.
4. No staring. You don't realise you're doing it, and it's creepy. And the window reflection counts.
5. Separate carriages for depressed, alcohol-soaked executives (of either sex) on the brink of divorce.
6. Break wind and you pay everybody else in the carriage £20.
Pilates stretches the bounds of comfort – and price
Just behind the curve, this weekend I tried out Pilates for the first time. I know, I know. How very Boom Years. But I was curious to find out whether it could strengthen my bedevilled back, and had noticed that one of London's poshest Pilates centres was offering a drastically discounted rate for beginners. Times are hard, even in west London.
That's how on Sunday I found myself lying on my back on a trolley, legs akimbo, trying to engage my ribs (I think that's what the instructor said) and not hold my breath. Aside from the disappointing absence of yummy mummies in eau-de-nil Brora cashmere wraps, Pilates was everything I thought it'd be: demanding, strengthening, a tiny bit boring. Unfortunately, after the sweetener for new starters, it's also prohibitively expensive.
So what is the next exercise craze? The American College of Sports Medicine has this week released its annual prediction of fitness trends. It dismissed Pilates as a "fad" that will finally fall out of favour next year. "Pilates has been very strong since 2008. But for 2011 it fell off the list completely," said lead author Dr Walter Thompson, who singled out the military-style "bootcamp" exercise groups as the future of fat burning. Joining the gangs of agonised men and women doing push-ups on the muddy grass out in Hyde Park; yes, that'll brighten up the inevitable gloom of early 2011.Reuse content