Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Look East

One of the lovely and unexpected things that has happened since I signed with an agent a couple of years ago has been the amount of work I've had from overseas publishers. Since then I've worked mostly with American clients, as well as Korean and Australian, and I don't know why they should turn to a UK agent nor wish to source UK illustrators but I'm very happy that they do. So if there's one thing that Britain does appear to be quite good at, it's in the provision of artists!

Today I'm particularly happy as I've just had confirmation of a book deal with a publisher from somewhere I know absolutely nothing about: Slovenia. It's great news in itself and will keep me busy until Spring next year, but the thought of working for Slovenians has really excited me too. Perhaps it's no surprise then that it's piqued my curiosity and I've spent a little time this week reading up about the place and the people.

Slovenia, like so much of Europe it seems, places great importance on the arts and even has a Cultural Holiday named after one of its poets, Prešeren Day. It's home to several hugely talented illustrators.  I love these exquisitely atmospheric paintings by Marlenka Stupica...

and the darker, intricate and quite haunting work by Arlenka Sottler

as well as the simplistic, humorous images by one of the country's most popular children's book illustrators, Lila Prap:

Slovenia is also the land which gave us the band Laibach.

I guess Laibach must be the country's most well-known musical offering, so I delved a bit deeper and found something else, a rapper called N'toko (real name Miha Blažič). This isn't my normal cup of tea at all but I found it oddly quite charming at the same time and I've posted it here for the video as much as anything else - for the Slovenian street scenes and characters.

Plus, if you like spuds, as I do, Slovenia has something special. There is an annual Festival of Roasted Potatoes, organised by the wonderfully named Society For The Recognition Of Roasted Potatoes As A Distinct Dish.  How good is that?

Sunday, 19 April 2015


They say it's possible for a man to 'laugh' a woman into bed. So, to test that theory out, I met up with three different men and set them the challenge, without their knowing. Looks didn't come into it, for these three men happened to be identical triplets.

Ok, so it's far-fetched, but please feel free to imagine.  These three identical triplets each had one special thing about them. The first had a truly amazing car. The second one had an incredibly massive... oh, I don't know... shall we say, for the sake of argument, stamp collection? (But I know what you were thinking.) And the third had a really great sense of humour. Their dad, a funny philatelist who drove an E-type Jag, was unfortunately out of the picture.

Triplet Number One smelled too much of Autoglym and the way that Triplet Number Two kept licking his lips was really off-putting. However, Triplet Number Three had me chuckling with his naughty innuendo, his inventively twisted perspective on the world, his linguistic prowess and his imaginative flights of fancy and I realised that, in loving his sense of humour I was also loving the way his mind worked and it felt good. You may wish to return to reality here rather than imagine the outcome, but I bet you still know what it would be: out of the three of them it'd be Triplet Number Three who'd most likely eventually have me, ahem, rolling on the floor.

Why should a sense of humour be so potent? By humour I don't just mean the memorising and re-telling of jokes, which can, on the contrary, be a huge turn-off in the wrong hands – it's a dry wit, wordplay and the abstract which works its magic on me. Apart from getting off on laughter-induced endorphins, I find myself feeling a huge sense of affection for someone who can make me giggle. I adore the fact that it displays a creative mind and, if the humour is a little edgy, there's something thrilling, maybe even a tad dangerous, about it too.  With those feel-good chemicals already producing a legal high, it's not hard to see why it's so attractive. That's whether you're male or female... whoever you are, if I admire your wit, then I'm more than likely going to admire you too.

Anyway, I was reading about the 'laughing into bed' thing, and the scientific theories behind it. Well, if it's true, it's due to all that evolutionary stuff about women being choosier than men in finding a mate (mainly because women undertake the risky bits in procreation, have a limited reproduction span and need someone who'll stick around and support them in bringing up the sprogs - you know the sort of thing.). In spite of what it looks like on Jeremy Kyle, us women are subconsciously seeking out successful and intelligent men to father our little brats and ensure their well-being.. A good sense of humour is an indicator of intelligence... one that's hard to fake... and because it's an interactive quality, it requires emotional and social intelligence too. If he's got those attributes, then, theoretically, he's more likely to succeed in life generally... and we're more likely to want to have his babies. There's more to it too, apparently - that men tend to instinctively develop their sense of humour to a greater degree than women do and use it competitively to make an impression (even if not consciously...)

So, could Triplet Number Three really have his wickedly witty way on the strength of his humour?  Or... hmm... would it just be down to his tickling stick?

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Beat box

A box of singles came into our possession recently via Mr SDS' uncle. It was this uncle who, as a 19-year old, first introduced the very young Mr SDS to music and his copies of Melody Maker around 1965. But that's Mr SDS' story, not mine, and may one day be told in more detail in another blog if I could ever convince him to write one, which seems unlikely.

Is this a tantalising image, though? Are you perhaps eager to know what gems might be in here? Feeling the anticipation, even from that distance? Enlarging the photo and straining to identify each record company sleeve, teasing yourself with the thought of what it might contain? (Maybe you're the kind who notices that there's a CD rack in the background of a scene on a TV programme and turns their head sideways to try and read the spines?)

I was reminded of those responses on reading a post over at the excellent blog Feel It which took me back to the days when we used to go to Record Fairs quite frequently. Flicking through this box of old 45s brought it all back too.

It seemed like it was every weekend in the early '80s that we'd take the train down to London for a Record Fair but I think that's my memory taking liberties. Anyway, we went to quite a few. I grew tired of it long before Mr SDS did, but it probably didn't help when I started a full-time job in a record shop, seguing my work time and leisure time just a little too much (as well as working every Saturday). Still, for a while they were exciting. I remember how resilient we had to be, prepared to search through every suitable box and crate, tirelessly and hopefully. Frequently the promise was matched only by the disappointment, but you had to keep looking – how could you pass by a box of singles and not look?!

The Record Fairs we went to always seemed to be held in somewhat downmarket hotels - maybe they still are; I wouldn't know. But I can picture them now: large function rooms with burgundy patterned carpets, scuffed woodchip walls... smoke and dust caught in rays of sunshine coming through a window in the dingy bar area... that particular breed of dealer with the greasy comb-over wearing a conker-brown cardigan, resting his not-insubstantial beer belly against the trestle table. We got to know the good ones and the not-so-good, the pleasant and the patronising. We got used to rifling through crates of albums in dusty plastic outer sleeves with corners that cut our fingers. The hand-written indices and barely decipherable price stickers. That smell - the smell of vinyl! Cigarette smoke too... body odour... coffee... mildew... fried breakfasts. Fried breakfasts? I don't know why I'm getting this memory of the smell of egg and bacon, but it's there nonetheless. And punters all but salivating... over boxes and boxes and boxes of vinyl.

Anyway, what was in the uncle's box? I'm sure you're dying to find out.

Well, it was just the usual Elvis, Beatles and the Rolling Stones....etcetera...

Tuesday, 7 April 2015


Last week the charms of Ipswich lured me to its heart once again. I may be exaggerating. Anyway, I decided to give myself a day off and my friend there was at a loose end, so I hopped on a double decker bus and travelled the highways and byways of  * 'Silly Suffolk' to its county town to meet him for lunch.

Now I didn't take my camera this time, so you're just going to have to imagine things. Like the road that's about halfway between here and Ipswich which goes by the wonderfully evocative name of Wilderness Hill. If you know East Anglia, you'll know that hills are not our most prevalent feature, nor is our countryside particularly wild (although Stowmarket town centre on a Saturday night may come close). A more apt name might be Mild Bump.

After an hour of flat fields punctuated by mild bumps, Ipswich comes into view. I'm looking out for the house I saw last time with its sinister message to 'KEEP AHHT!' Ah, there it is! This time I notice more detail. There's a boarded up window to the side and more writing. It says


It's just a wild guess but... d'you reckon the literary genius concerned had run out of paint? Or did they just run out (on hearing the sirens)?  Either way one can presume that they uttered a few expletives like “flipping heck” before returning to their flower-arranging, safer in the knowledge that neither they nor their 'GAURD DO' would be disturbed. And I've just had to 'correct' the auto-correct for the second time as I spelt that.

Some graffiti on the side of another nearby building has a more positive message. Taking up the whole space, in letters that must be at least a foot high, are the words

  I LOVE M ?

The question mark made me smile. Is it there to tease... to tease every Michelle or Mary or Mark who walks by, to wonder if it's for them?  Or is it a desperate expression of mixed feelings?  “Erm, I think I love M but, I'm a little put off because they've got terrible spelling and a bit of an attitude problem.  Still at least they lent me their spray paint”.

Anyway, lunch was fine. I asked my friend to source somewhere cheap, easy and unpretentious. “You're going to love the inside of this place,” he announced and took me to a grand-looking building in the centre of town. I did love the inside. It's curiously schizophrenic. In previous lives it had been a theatre and a picture house; there are chandeliers, balconies, sweeping staircases, a high ceiling and elaborate archways. That's if you look in a generally upward direction. At ground level, though, there's something more spit and sawdust about it. Tacky, even. I quite like that. We got a sandwich, side dish and a pint all for £5.99 and I was the barmaid's "sweetheart", "love" and "darling", several times over, which was nice, as she was quite macho.

Late afternoon I headed back to the Bus Station, following an elderly woman in a purple T-shirt. Groovy colour, I thought. Shame about the slogan on her back:

'Take back control of our country.
Vote UKIP' 

 I had to look away.  Maybe she was the one who wrote 'KEEP AHHT'?

The bus got back at 5.30pm and I went to check the time of the last one onward to my village. Oh. 5.23pm. That's how it works around here. So I walked home, about four miles. I don't often walk those kind of distances, especially not in the rain, and especially not in heeled patent boots. Never mind, it was good exercise, I should walk more.

Mr SDS arrived home from work a short while after I did, carrying a strange looking device under his arm. “Yeah, the customer offered it to me - she doesn't want it any more and I thought you'd like it,” he said with a smile.

“What on earth is it?”

It's a walking machine... Ha!

Still, I love it. I said I should walk more. (It's either that or get a dog.  I mean, 'DO...')

* 'Silly Suffolk': a corruption of the name 'Selig Suffolk'.  'Selig' is an Old English word (also German) meaning blessed, happy, fortunate.

Friday, 27 March 2015

What we get up to when we're not there

(before the new hairstyle)

Rylan Clark has grown his hair long and dyed it a rather fetching shade of aubergine. Or is it burgundy? I don't know but it's very shiny and sleek; it looks like nylon. Or doll's hair. Or perhaps doll's hair IS nylon. Anyway, I only know this because I met him the other day when I went to some launch event thingy at a local university. He was kind enough to escort me from Reception across the grounds to the main hall and I was struck by how genial he was and wonderfully easy to talk to. It was like we'd known each other for years. We were getting along so swimmingly that he put his arm around me as we walked and I can still recall the soft feel of the loose-knit cream jumper he was wearing. His arms were so long that his left one looped right around then up under my armpit and at one point he... well... I suppose, had it been anyone else, like a straight man doing it without my permission, I might have used the term, “touched me up” or maybe “copped a feel”. And it would've been a very different scenario. But somehow, it just wasn't like that. It was a kind of comforting and chummy “cupping” instead. Dare I say, enjoyable?

Nothing particularly memorable happened at the venue after that but I arrived home in the afternoon and noticed from the kitchen window that Mr SDS was outside, hanging up the washing. For some reason, he wasn't using the normal line; instead he'd erected one of those rotary airers. I didn't think we had room for one at the bottom of the garden but I was obviously mistaken. I walked down to greet him and was somewhat confounded to see that, having pegged out all the pillowcases, he was now hanging up the suet cakes for the birds. There must have been about twenty of these at least, all suspended from the cords on the airer itself, so that they actually hung right against the clean laundry.  Only it was, of course, now no longer clean - instead every item was encrusted with hundreds of little spatters of white fat. One half of me was delighted that he should be putting out the bird food (that's usually my domain) – and so much of it too! - but the other half was appalled at his choice of where to place it.   Very unlike him. “What are you doing?!” I called out, my surprise matched only by my annoyance. I never got to hear his reply. I opened my eyes slowly and the light filtered in, accompanied by sounds too, the sounds of the morning... a distant song thrush, tyres on the road, the whirring of the central heating pump as it stirred into life. I lay there and reminisced. Rylan Clark copping a feel!

I know nobody ever really wants to hear or read about someone else's weird dreams (unless they're in them, so Rylan may be interested) but in the absence of anything meaningful or riveting to say here at the moment, I'm afraid that's what you have.

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Believe you me

Just imagine you're going about your daily business when suddenly a magically reincarnated Eamonn Andrews, or Michael Aspel if you prefer, appears from nowhere. There you are, trying to shake the last drops of sauce out of the bottle of HP before settling down to watch Judge Rinder with a cheese omelette, and you glance up and he's looking directly at you, brandishing that big red book. In a split second you see your life flash before you, like one of those TV flashbacks which you know is a flashback because the colour goes all muted. That's you: pictured there riding your bike for the first time without stabilisers, playing the donkey in the school Nativity, pinning that Jam badge to your blazer, coughing on your first Rothmans. Then there are all the others: people you once worked with who probably don't even remember your surname are now merrily recounting some anecdote you'd long forgotten about the time you turned up for work in odd socks.

“Oh god, I'm on 'This Is Your Life'” you think, as the images continue to roll by in your mind and you just hope and pray that it glosses over that part where... well, you know which bit...

Only, you're not... because as you take a closer look at that red book you realise that it doesn't say 'This Is Your Life'. Oh no, it says 'This Is Your Lie'. Is this some kind of sick joke?  This is your lie?  Then, with a degree of glee that is frankly quite distasteful, Eamonn/Michael starts flicking through the book which is of course a big fat ring-binder file, and it's so stuffed full of pages that those metal clips won't even close, and sheets of lined A4 paper are now falling out all over the place and on each one of them...scrawled in blue biro because they go back way before the advent of Microsoft Word... a lie. Every single lie you've ever told in your life.

The first fifty pages or so are quite unrefined. You're about four and you've just realised that there is an alternative option to admitting to something that might otherwise get you told off.  No, I didn't eat any sweets / hide Sam's lego / pull the cat's tail. Then you start to get a bit more adept: Yes, I did do my maths homework / No, I didn't drink any alcohol at the party / Yes, I am eighteen.  Finally it gets a lot more sophisticated: Don't worry, you didn't interrupt me / Yes, I'm fine (or No, nothing's wrong ) / I'm sorry, he's out at the moment, can I take a message? / They only cost a tenner / I would if I could...

There's a little lie here, a little lie there, a couple of right whoppers which you really do regret and, to be fair, a lot of white ones which you told so as not to hurt someone's feelings.  However, just imagine if you were to see every one of them spelt out in front of you in black and white (or blue biro). No! you might exclaim, I'm sure I never said that! Honest!  But nobody would believe you... after all, we've all done it.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Random access memory #1

We both woke up this morning with hunger pangs. Don't know why, we'd eaten well last night, but maybe that was the reason and our stomachs were primed for more.
“I'm so hungry...” said Mr SDS.
“So hungry so angry...” I replied, without even thinking what I was saying, “so hungry, so angry, so hungry, so angry” and it started to take on a tune, “oh god - who did that?
(Weird, last time I heard those lyrics must've been over 30 years ago.)
“I can't remember... was it someone like Blurt...? “
“It begins with M... I'm sure it begins with M for some reason” I suggested, “a word like Material?”
“I think it's two words”
“Oh I can't remember. Let's Google it...”
And we had to find out before we could even eat breakfast (we weren't really so angry).

Medium Medium (of course!?): Hungry, So Angry (1981)

I can't stand Jeremy Clarkson but this seems kinda apt.

Friday, 13 March 2015


I seem to have a case of writer's block. Think I need the cerebral equivalent of Dyno-Rod to come and plunge my proverbial (verbal, even) pipes. Ideas for things to write about are floating about: the dead mouse, horsehair weaving, deep sea divers, recent forays into Northern Soul and a teenage pregnancy scare, with a bit of music thrown in if possible (I even had Deadmau5 lined up for the first topic, but have yet to decide what could accompany horsehair weaving).  Unfortunately that's all they're doing, though - floating. Maybe I will manage to flush them through at some point but right now I can't seem to.

So, in the meantime, please have a look at some pictures! I found these two ancient 'How To Draw' books in a charity shop. How could I resist?

Drawing Children by Victor Pérard, 1945

Drawing Animals by Victor Pérard, 1951

Here are some of the inside pages...very anachronistic:

I love this guide to facial expressions in particular:

There's even a picture of Buster Bloodvessel...

 but I can't quite bring myself to include Lip Up Fatty as a soundtrack today.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Travels in East Anglia

Yesterday I jumped on a train to visit a friend I haven't seen in about a year.  The first part of the journey is on one with just two carriages. The second station it goes through is home to the East Anglian Railway Museum, so you never know what you're going to see on the track next to you when it stops there. I was very chuffed one time to see 'Captain Sensible' (in locomotive form...)

Nothing quite so memorable this trip but I take the opportunity to point my camera through three sets of windows as we pull up next to one of the exhibits.

And I like this logo.  You can't go wrong with a dragon red lion! (thanks, mondoagogo)

The view from the viaduct always thrills me; it's the height, you see – don't get many of them round here. It's about 80ft up and I love the way the houses below look like little models.

The train continues through the flat fields... the clouds give a real sense of distance. Gorgeous day, isn't it?

A few minutes later I'm on another train - four carriages this time.  We pass through Colchester.

What can I tell you about Colchester?  It's meant to be the oldest town in Britain, and in Roman times it was their capital here. It has a medieval castle, a zoo and a garrison and was also once home to Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon. Many many years ago I saw Joe Orton's play 'Loot' in Colchester - very good it was, too.

I take a few snaps as we make our way through more flat fields...

... and abandoned industrial areas.

My train journey finishes at Ipswich, where I walk across the bridge over the River Orwell towards the centre. I don't know this city at all and find its simple unfamiliarity oddly exciting.

What can I tell you about Ipswich? It's another one of England's oldest towns, home to the Tractor Boys (not a band but Ipswich Town Football Club).  Nik Kershaw once lived in Ipswich... as did a band I recall hearing on John Peel back in around 1980 I think, the Adicts:

Do you remember them and their Clockwork Orange look?

Anyway... I find my way to an old street and into a sweetly-scented gift shop, above which is a small art gallery, where my friend greets me. There's a sign at the bottom of the stairs warning that some of the work on show is not suitable for children...

I really enjoy looking at my friend's creationsand I'm so pleased to see them on display:

Then we walk down to the waterfront. It's a somewhat schizophrenic place; perhaps the same could be said about every city. The bright white yachts on the sparkling water are photogenic enough but other sights catch my eye more.

We have lunch in a quayside bar, watched over by this chap; I've no idea why he's there...

...and enjoy catching up on life over chips and a pint of Black Horse Stout from the local brewery, which the barmaid tempted us to try, because we'd asked for Guinness.  It tastes just like Guinness.

As the afternoon draws to  a close I decide to catch the bus home so I can enjoy a different journey and views from the top deck.  Parts of Ipswich's outskirts are grim.  In the distance I notice an end of terrace house with large words spray-painted across its grey wall 'KEEP AHHT! GUARD DOG'. The phonetic spelling makes me laugh but the thought of living next door has me shuddering. Then the bus swings out into open countryside again and I spend the next hour hanging onto the yellow rail as it lurches around the tight bends. I try to take some photos but not very successfully - this old barn looked more interesting from the other side.

I wish I could have captured the rotting exoskeleton of the old coach I noticed in someone's back garden, and the llamas too - we have lots of llama farms round here - but I wasn't quick enough, or steady enough, with my camera.  Never mind, I just love looking through the windows.

* for more info on the artist whose work I've shared here please email me

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:

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