Sunday, 22 February 2015

Going South

I thoroughly enjoyed 'Reginald D Hunter's Songs Of The South' on BBC2 last night.  For a start, I really like our host


so I was happy to accompany him through the scenically stunning if slightly unnerving landscapes of Tennessee and Kentucky in his open-top car. We learned about moonshine in Gatlinburg, square dancing in Paducah and murder ballads in Knoxville...


The Wilburn Brothers perform 'Knoxville Girl'

...as well as bluegrass, banjos, mountain dwellers, minstrels, and... oh, loads of stuff.  There's still time to catch up on iPlayer if you missed it.

It suddenly struck me too that I have an unerring soft spot for Glen Miller & His Orchestra's 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' from the 1941 film 'Sun Valley Serenade'.  Seems to me it's one of those songs we all just know from an early age but don't know quite why/how.   I'm now also a little bit hooked on the lovely Dorothy Dandridge's performance in the film alongside the Nicholas Brothers.



Next week Reginald takes us through Alabama and Georgia, and I'm looking forward to the final episode in Mississippi and Louisiana. (I thought of you, Erik.)

Friday, 13 February 2015

In the deserts of Sudan and the gardens of Japan...

I'm not quite sure how it started, but from the age of about nine or ten I had this real 'thing' about people from other countries. I was fascinated – obsessed, even. I loved the way everyone could look so different, with their unusual sounding names and exotic clothes and customs. On my bedroom wall, amid the cut-out sellotaped pictures of kittens and seahorses, was a huge world map I'd been given as a present. I wanted to visit all those faraway lands, see feather head-dresses and funny shaped buildings, and meet people with names like Olayemi and Natsuki.

This advert from 1971 may have had something to do with it.


Originally recorded by the Hillside Singers for the 'Buy The World A Coke' campaign, the New Seekers took their adaptation of it to No 1 in the UK charts later that year...

I had a bit of a crush on Marty Kristian, of course.

...not to be confused with this:

The verse was originally so similar that it led to Oasis being
successfully sued by the New Seekers, reportedly for $500,000

I found national costumes especially interesting and had a favourite book which I loved to look through


and which frequently inspired ideas and drawings of my own


When my Dad came back from European work trips he sometimes gave my sister and me a traditional doll from his travels like this one (although more often than not we just got bars of fancily-wrapped foreign chocolate. I'm not complaining).


I kept them - the dolls, that is, not bars of chocolate - lined up on my window-sill where the bright colours of their dresses quickly faded in the sunlight.

And in true geek style, my interest in the wider world outside my window also extended to stamp-collecting.  Most of the stamps I enthusiastically saved and stuck down on those pages came from the 1970s. Some of these British ones might be familiar, if you remember that far back.



 I rather like these stark looking German ones with their stern Health & Safety warnings.


You may have read elsewhere on this blog that the first album I ever bought was the Clash... but actually, now I come to think of it, it was this one:



Monday, 9 February 2015

Grée days

'Killing time'. It's a strange concept really, isn't it? - when every second, minute and hour dies of its own accord without our help. Usually it flies, and we take great pains to save it. But anyway, in spite of being a life-long pacifist, I was fortunate to find myself in the fairly unusual position of having a little time to kill the other day. I chose a popular weapon – an internet connection. The minutes soon expired as I searched for something and then happily lost myself in it; I was looking for the work of an illustrator I hadn't thought about in a while and whose name I'd forgotten. All I could recall was that he was French, or was it Belgian? and that his children's book illustrations were popular in the '60s and '70s. It didn't take long for me to find him – Alain Grée. (He is French.)

For me, Alain Grée's illustrations provide a perfect tonic at this time of year. Winter's dragging on and we've hit that point when it's just thoroughly boring now and the hopeful journey towards Spring seems to be taking forever.  Art always gives me a boost. This kind of art may look 'simple' but the ability to pare back so effectively takes a huge amount of skill; the bold colours and shapes are just right and with no need for outlines or overly fussy detail. Distilling the complexities of reality into blocks of colour and naïve form whilst retaining real interest and character is something I'm forever trying to master.  And his compositions are so aesthetically pleasing - gorgeous examples of the graphic style of their era which work for me on a nostalgic level as well as an artistic one.









A number of Alain Grée's educational children's books with their original '60s and '70s illustrations have been reprinted in recent years and their popularity continues. 

I could happily kill time with him any day.


Friday, 6 February 2015

Rough

A random conversation yesterday prompted an unexpectedly fond memory of something I haven't thought about in decades: my school rough book.

Ooh, I loved the rough book!  It was special because it was deeply personal: the one place the teachers could not go (and presumably still can't?)  At my school the standard rough book was really thick, far fatter than all the formal exercise books and unlike them it was bursting with promise; it felt nicer and I'm sure its paper even smelt nicer. Its pale blue cover was there to be adorned, uncensored... an exciting blank canvas waiting to be transformed into a work of art.  Like everyone else, on this I could make my declarations, for boys and for bands, carefully drawn in decorative lettering, bold characters with fancy serifs and blocked in shadows, or logos copied off record sleeves. Doodles of stars... eyes with exaggerated lashes... spider webs in corners... speech balloons...The Clash... hearts and arrows and safety-pins... secret initials... objects of love (and sometimes of hate)...

Inside were those jotted notes, not just from lessons but to friends, clandestine messages - 'I'm so bored!' - and in-jokes, games of noughts and crosses, scribbled alongside the algebra and French verbs. It was the place to explore different hand-writing, as if trying on clothes – does it look better leaning to the left or the right, with closed or open loops?  So uninhibited and unchecked.  No teacher would read it, mark it or judge it, and that gave it power. It went with me everywhere like a faithful friend; a reference book, diary and sketch pad all in one. Maybe I should start one up now and I could use it to jot down ideas for future blog posts and recommended music to investigate (plus it would help to practise the hand-writing, which I'm convinced is getting more difficult than typing).

I also wish I'd kept just a few rough books from schooldays, out of curiosity. I'm sure they'd trigger further long-buried memories. Like, who the hell was JD? And why did I hate Mrs Benson so much?! And what exactly is Igneous Rock? Answers on a crib-sheet, please.





Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Waiting

Lately I've become something of an expert in waiting. Waiting for deliveries, waiting for answers to queries, waiting for the go-ahead on work projects, waiting in queues at the bank. Yesterday I waited nearly an hour for my optician appointment. “Thank you for being patient” he said when he finally saw to me. Have you noticed that they always say that - “thank you” - but never actually apologise or explain? No matter, there was a copy of Tatler to look through, several times, which I found so appalling that it was entertaining and after perusing its photos of the aristocracy, I'm still smiling at the sight of Countess Spencer's voluminous hair.


So after the horrible eye test I've been coerced into spending a disproportionate amount of my income on new glasses. Using one of those two-for-one offers which is never really as good value as it sounds, I've a black frame and a turquoise frame on order. I may regret the turquoise... When I got home I couldn't remember what they even looked like so I searched for them online; I found the black ones and then noticed the website's sales blurb that accompanied them:

'Resonant with smouldering embers and charcoal matt black, making this the perfect frame for the unassuming type who is ready to let loose'

I wonder who writes this stuff?  I'm looking forward to letting loose, though!

~~~

We couldn't resist playing some Aphrodite's Child on hearing about the death of Demis Roussos.


Aphrodite's Child: Magic Mirror

Dear Demis was undoubtedly groovy at one time although, as a fond friend remarked, in our minds he will always be linked to Abigail's Party.


By the way these are not my new glasses...


Mike Leigh's play is of course a masterpiece in uncomfortable but compelling viewing. I suppose it taps into the curiosity we generally have about what goes on behind the scenes in relationships and the strange gratification that comes from discovering that things are rarely as straightforward as they might seem.

That was resonant to me last week when I met someone I haven't seen in 8 or 9 years and we were trying to catch up in the time it takes to have a quick coffee. In the course of our general chit-chat she announced that her life had changed, most dramatically, on one particular day in April 2009. “But I won't bore you with all the sordid details...” she said. “No, of course..,” I replied gently, but the voice in my head was going, “Oh do! DO! Tell me everything, the more sordid and detailed the better!” and as I sipped the rest of my coffee I waited for her to drop me some little morsels that I could catch hungrily like a dog jumping at its owner's feet for titbits.  I'm still waiting...

~~~

Tomorrow I may have to wait in all day for a courier to collect some artwork, as I'm told he could come any time between 9am and 7pm.  I will not be reading fucking Tatler.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Walk with me (once again)

Patchy sun and a bit on the chilly ticket so put your parka on...

And off we go down the road.


It used to say Please keep cars off the grass but I think someone drove into it...

Here's that curvy crinkle-crankle wall - you remember I mentioned it before?


Ordinary objects in unexpected places seem to me as if they're trying to say something.


I've just no idea what.



If we turn left at the end of the street for a change we can head up the long drive towards a privately owned stately home.


Years ago I enquired here to see if there was any part-time work I could do, thinking I might be able to use some skills I'd picked up in my previous office life. “Well, I do need someone to help me get more organised,” the very nice lady of the house told me, “like reminding me when I need to go to the dentist”.

I didn't think it was the job for me. It would have been good to be surrounded by some of the animals here, though, most of which are rare breeds.


Like the Norfolk Horn sheep. This was the breed which brought so much wealth to this region in the Middle Ages because of the wool trade. But by the 1950s, their numbers had dwindled to just 15. Curious as they are, I can't get too close to their front ends today, they're too skittish. Apparently they're just as good as goats at jumping over fences.


A dog with curly black hair and floppy ears is resolutely ignoring his owner's calls. He's running the opposite way down the drive, intent on catching up with another dog at the bottom. “Archie! Get back here! NOW!” Archie just keeps on going, until he's just a few feet away from the object in his sights, upon which he loses his nerve completely, turns right around and gallops back to his owner, ears flapping wildly.

The horses aren't bothered about Archie's flapping ears.


These Suffolk Punches are always chesnut in colour. You leave the middle 'T' out of the spelling chestnut when referring to the strong russet brown of these heavy horses, it's tradition. Like the Norfolk Horn sheep, they were near to extinction at one time; in 1966 only 9 foals were born.


As the light changes fleetingly, my camera really picks up the rich colour coat.


No cars here today.


I can smell the Longhorns from a few yards away... can you?


Then turn round to face cloudy skies for the walk home. No scene is complete without a traffic cone.


And while I've got my camera with me I must just get a shot of Toby Tog!  You know how much I like being patronised by inanimate objects.






Thursday, 22 January 2015

She goes in and out and in and out...

Last night I had this dream in which I was playing, of all the most unlikely things, an accordion.  I'd forgotten about it completely until I was flitting around the interwebs this morning and quite by chance I came across an article about, of all the most unlikely things, accordions.  "Ooh, what a weird coincidence!  I've just broken my dream!" I gasped, and went on to explain to Mr SDS how spookily odd it seemed that I should both dream about and read about, in the space of just a few hours, and of all the most unlikely things, accordions.


 "No, it was the Johnnie Allen song" he replied.

Ah... my memory is so short sometimes.  Last night, before I'd gone to bed, we'd been going through some music archives not heard in a long time, and it included Johnnie Allen's cover of Chuck Berry's 'Promised Land'.  It's a great song, isn't it?  And it has a very notable accordion break in it.   Of course...



Still, it was weird to be playing the accordion in a dream.

An accordion

A typewriter


Monday, 19 January 2015

Bubble 'n' Squeak

My Bubble 'n' Squeak didn't really bubble much yesterday but it did squeak. It was singing too... singing and sizzling away in the pan, a joyous mash-up of leftover potato and of course greens. Sometimes that's cabbage but this time the potato sung its squeaky chorus with sprouts and onion, seasoned with plenty of pepper and a dollop of Colman's mustard.

I love a bit of Bubble 'n' Squeak and apparently, so did George IV, the Prince of Wales.


Oops, wrong pic.

This is the real George IV:


In his day, it wasn't made with potato at all, but was a mixture of leftover beef or pork and veg although it's believed that the meat-free version with mashed potatoes that we think of now became the norm around the time of WWII.   Bubble 'n' Squeak even gets a mention in Byron's Don Juan and is gently ridiculed by 'Mary Midnight' (the alter-ego of a satirical writer called Christopher Smart) in a publication called The Mid-Wife, or Old Woman's Magazine, from 1753:

'Take of Beef, Mutton, or Lamb, or Veal, or any other Meat, two Pounds and an half, or any other Quantity; let it lay in Salt, till the saline Particles have lock’d up all the Juices of the Animal, and render’d the Fibres too hard to be digested; then boil it over a Turf or Peat Fire, in a Brass Kettle cover’d with a Copper Lid, till it is much done. Then take Cabbage (that which is most windy, and capable of producing the greatest Report) and boil it in a Bell-Metal Pot till it is done enough, or if you think proper, till it is done too much. Then slice the Beef, and souse that and the Cabbage both in a Frying-Pan together, and let it bubble and squeak over a Charcoal Fire, for half an Hour, three Minutes, and two Seconds. Then eat a Quantum sufficit, or two Pounds and a half, and after it drink sixteen Pints of fat Ale, smoak, sleep, snoar, belch, and forget your Book.'

Very Blackadder...

Of course I don't really know all this stuff, I just had to research it, unable to resist the yearning to satisfy some pointless curiosity about the history of such an endearingly named, typically English, dish. Next time... Spotted Dick and custard?

(Sort of defeats the object)


Nat Kendrick & The Swans: (Do The) Mashed Potatoes
with James Brown

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

Cosmic

I looked out at the sky yesterday evening and tonight in the hope of seeing a green light, up there somewhere near Orion's Belt. Of course it was too cloudy and I couldn't even see any stars, let alone the glowing luminescence of Comet Lovejoy which is apparently at its most visible around about now. Have you seen it? I find it hard to get my head around the idea that it's 44 million miles away and is basically a big lump of ice that orbits the sun. It'll be another 8000 years before it's back...oh... these numbers are just too big.


I remember being given lessons about the night sky at primary school. It's funny how so many little things I was taught at a very young age stick forever, but very little of what I try to learn now (like the definition of the word intractable for some reason) maintains a permanent position in my brain. Maybe it's just run out of space.  If that's the case perhaps 'recognition of Orion's Belt' should really move out in favour of 'having an ever-expanding vocabulary that includes the word intractable' - but it just won't budge.

intractable
ɪnˈtraktəb(ə)l/
adjective
  1. hard to control or deal with.
    "intractable economic problems"

  2. (of a person) difficult or stubborn.

When I was about six we learnt about Halley's Comet too, because there was another comet in the news around that time (I think). Teacher told us that Halley's Comet was the most famous one and that we would be lucky enough to see it in our lifetimes because it was due again in the far distant future...1986! The thought of myself at 23 was as mind-blowing then as hearing that Halley's Comet had been travelling around the sun for thousands of years.



Later, perhaps when I actually was 23, I thought it a wonderful coincidence that Bill Haley should call his band 'Comets'.  Uh.


I don't recall ever seeing Halley's Comet that year but maybe I wasn't looking.

As far as Comet Lovejoy goes, though, what a sweet name. I'd like to think it was named after the character from the eponymous, long-running but frankly rather crap BBC TV series (which just so happened to make its appearance in 1986 too and much of which was filmed around here), but in this case it's Terry Lovejoy, an Australian amateur astronomist (I'm so glad I'm typing, not speaking). But I still can't help picturing a different kind of star altogether when I hear the name and there are worse things to think about, I'm sure you'll understand.



Saturday, 3 January 2015

Cuckoo

I've never knowingly seen a cuckoo, have you? I've heard them... mostly in the long hot summers of my childhood... but not recently. It's easy to mistake the repetitive call of a distant collared dove for a cuckoo if you only catch the last two notes - in fact I heard one today - but, whilst our collared doves are happy to stay here however chilly our European winters might be, and coo-coooooo-coo their way through Christmas and New Year, our cuckoos will now be in warmer climes – Africa, usually, perhaps in Angola, or the Congo.

I suppose a more apt-sounding destination would be Cloud Cuckoo Land, which in my head is somewhere between Timbuktu and Shangri La... but which in fact (well, fiction) was a perfect city in the clouds erected in an incredibly short time, the imaginative creation of an ancient Greek playwright called Aristophanes. The name was first used in 414BC in his comedy 'The Birds', which I understand had nothing to do with Alfred Hitchcock...

Cuckooland also sounds like a suitable place for the birds' winter holiday but it turns out it's a cuckoo clock museum in Cheshire. Yes, you did read that right: a cuckoo clock museum.


According to the lyrics of the traditional English folk song The Cuckoo (or Coo Coo), it's a “pretty bird” who “warbles when s/he flies”. Bob Dylan covered the song, as did numerous other artists including Richard Thompson, Donovan and the Everly Brothers. The version I know best is by the Be Good Tanyas.


It's best not to anthropomorphise these birds though because, in human terms, they would seem dysfunctional at best and murderous at worst. The mothers had dumped their eggs in the nests of other smaller species and abdicated from parental duties completely.  The fathers had left the scene long beforehand, and their unknown young, once hatched, had been responsible for the deaths of all the biological offspring of their unwitting new foster parents. But if I can just compare one positive thing to human ability (or lack of), it's their incredible migration. The thought of it boggles my mind, as it does when I consider all creatures who travel vast distances under their own power. I don't know if they warbled, or perhaps even wobbled, when they flew, but once the breeding season was over our cuckoos left their roots for a nine month stay thousands of miles away.  The cuckoo weighs about the same as an i-phone, and its wingspan is similar length to a human adult's arm from shoulder to wrist. It can cover hundreds of miles a day at a speed of 50mph and a cruising height of over a mile, across continents and seas. (Don't even get me started on butterfly migration...)


The cuckoos will hopefully be back here in the Spring and we must all listen out for the first one so that we can immediately write a letter to The Times. The newspaper has been publishing 'first cuckoo of Spring' letters for about a hundred years now, so it's a tradition which really should be maintained. The only thing is to make sure you don't first hear a cuckoo whilst cleaning the loo or having your teeth drilled by a sadistic dentist. If possible, make sure you're somewhere really nice, somewhere you'd like to spend more time, and doing something that makes you happy, because superstition has it that wherever you are and whatever condition you're in when you hear the first cuckoo of Spring is how you'll remain for the next twelve months.

Maybe you'd like to be listening to the Cramps?




Thursday, 1 January 2015

Talent!

Happy New Year!

I love looking at everyone's blogs and being presented with such a wealth of talent.   There is just so much great art, music, writing, comedy and photography, both from bloggers and from others whose work is showcased within, a lot of which I'd never know about if I hadn't met you all in Blogworld.

Recently, the lovely and talented fellow blogger Yve over at Nightshade Dolls has been working hard on a unique collaborative project, 'Cult Of Doll' and a preview of it in the form of a Mini Almanac is available to peruse online for the first time today.

With its stunning design, beautiful illustrations and a delicious air of gothic mystery it gives a little introductory taster of some fantastical tales dreamed up by the 'one of a kind' doll and figurative artists involved to accompany and complement their creations.

Here's the delightful poster for it


and here's the link .  Just click on View to see the contents. I'm looking forward to further developments.



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