Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Caught by the fuzz

Had any interesting experiences with the police lately?

It's been a while since I have – the last time I spoke to them was when we woke up one Sunday morning a couple of years ago to find the back gate and shed door mysteriously open. Nothing had been nicked; the shed was in such a state at the time that the cobwebs made it impenetrable, and even the most intrepid of burglars would have found their courage and perseverance rewarded with no more than a rusty spade and a half-empty tin of Sadolin. But we told the police anyway just in case there was a spate of it in the area. They sent round a couple of bobbies - I have to call them 'bobbies' in this instance because they were old-fashioned and smiley with local accents, the type who ride bicycles slowly and wave at old people – these were not cops or pigs or old bill. They kindly suggested we could hang a little bell on the gate to deter any potential intruders. It kind of sums up where we live now.

That's not to say I haven't been on the receiving end of crime before; in another life and town my flat, my car and my handbag have all been broken into and I actually couldn't fault the responses of the police in each instance. But was that because I'd been the 'victim'?

I mean, it felt very different when I was in the transit van that was stopped by some cops on one occasion (of several) coming back from a gig in the early '80s. I was with Mr SDS' band, along with the other girlfriends and the mate who did the driving, when we were pulled over by a police car as we drove through a spookily quiet London in the early hours. We were young, scruffy, punky types. They were young, bolshy, smart-arse types. It was clear that they were desperate to catch us out on something and drugs would be the most likely haul, so we were interrogated, patronised, physically searched and separated and it felt shit, and actually quite scary.  When they eventually couldn't find anything they didn't apologise - they did give us a sticker for the van, though. It said, 'Mets Are Magic'. Pah.  There was only one place we wanted to stick it....

It seems so long ago now.... and so does this. What actually started me on this train of thought about the police was watching Britpop At The BBC on Friday night and seeing this clip. I just can't get enough of it. Isn't it the most compelling performance of an absolutely perfect song?

And then I thought about how many great songs there are about the police. Like this one from an old Pink Fairy....

...and this one which I saw performed live so many times in my youth

And then there's the Equals, Junior Murvin/Clash, Crisis etc etc.... there's always something to say about the police.  Where would we be without them, eh?

Saturday, 12 April 2014

Stomping ground

I went out yesterday; it's been a while! Put on my lipstick (the colour of a pimento pepper, I just noticed that it's called 'Kiss of Life') and went out to meet my two old schoolfriends. We go back 40 years and I've written about them before here. And one of them was the friend who wrote the letter I mentioned a few posts ago on this blog too. She had no recollection of obsessing about Sham 69 and Jimmy Pursey in 1978, by the way, but the evidence was there in black and white....  We got the giggles.

Our rendezvous, as usual, was in the town where we all grew up together. The town where we went to school, the town where we learned to ride bikes and swim, where we puffed tentatively on our first cigarettes, where we had our first clumsy kisses, our first pint of warm cider, our first naïve fumbles with dodgy boyfriends. Our first of many gig experiences too – which we reminded ourselves about when we'd finished our lunch and went on a mini-tour of our old stomping ground. We pulled in at the old maltings building which used to be our rather excellent little music venue, where we had seen the Banshees in January 1978, Adam and the Ants the following year, and countless other bands of varying degrees of notoriety and ability. In retrospect we reckoned we were so lucky, growing up in a rural town but only 45 minutes by train from London. We had fields, woods and riding stables at one end, a rock/punk club (and jazz and folk if you wanted it too) plus the Granada cinema at the other... our homes on the hilly streets between.

The town has changed; like most places it's bigger than it was even 20 years ago, new estates on its perimeter have spread progressively outwards like ripples on water, buildings in its centre have grown upwards like plants struggling to reach sunlight in crowded beds. But its heart still does have some heart, in spite of the increase in boho-chic shops with French names and the ubiquitous estate agents. The road by the market square still has its brick style paving, overlooked by buildings dating back to the 14th century, even though they now sport their Mexican and Italian restaurant chain frontages. I never really noticed the beauty of the architecture as a kid - you don't, do you? - never thought about the history of the half-timbered houses or grand Georgian facades.

But you didn't really want to read about all that, did you? No, well... if you really must know, my first naïve fumble was with a boy called John in the bushes by the playing fields behind my house, on a Spring afternoon after school. I really didn't know what he was doing, nor what I was supposed to do either, everything felt unknown and daunting - my childhood had been so very innocent up to then.  As I said to my friends yesterday: “It was hard...”   Oh, I didn't mean like that! That's for me to know and you to wonder about.  Growing up with lovely friends like mine, though, everything else really was quite easy, and picking up where we left off all these decades later always is too.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Photo phobia

In the age of the ubiquitous Selfie, I imagine that most kids grow up now feeling very comfortable in front of a camera. I don't need to harp on about how different things once were, because I know that you too remember the days of taking your roll of film to Boots for developing, then, feeling disproportionately excited, you'd collect your packet of photos a week later only to find that those which weren't over-exposed had brutally chopped off the top of your head instead. Plus you had to pay for them. The disappointment could not be over-emphasised.

I never liked having my photograph taken and I went through a particularly rebellious stage as a kid. Somewhere, in a box in a room in my sister's house, there are dozens of slides from our once-in-a-lifetime family trip to Germany, with shots from the Television Tower in Stuttgart and Black Forest castles and cobbled streets in the many towns we visited. In every one, I'm sticking my tongue out. Miley Cyrus had nothing on my six year old fotografizophobe (I looked that up). (I can still do a fair impersonation of Miley now, as it happens, just flick my hair up at the front and pull out ears to complete the effect... but not in front of a camera...)

So on our return from the European jaunt my mum took the multiple rolls of films to Boots for developing, then, feeling disproportionately excited, she collected her packets of photos a week later only to find that every single of one of them which included her spoilt little brat of a daughter was ruined by the horrible face that said offspring had pulled. Only my obnoxiousness was over-exposed.  I'm afraid I was a difficult child.

Then again, if you'd been forced to have your photo taken at the age of two whilst wearing a ridiculous knitted bonnet (and coat) indoors, you might have felt the same way. That's fear in that chubby cheeked face there. Fear.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Revelations and renovations

Bloody hell, what a week.  I don't know what was most shocking - seeing a skip fill up with bits of my home (more on that in a mo), or the enjoyment I got from the Chas 'n' Dave documentary, 'Last Orders' on BBC4.  I mean, this weekend we watched two music programmes - the one I've just mentioned and the one on Robert Plant, and there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the former was far more interesting and entertaining by a mile.  Did you see it?  Did you see the clip from BBC Breakfast Time when Chas 'n' Dave were interviewed by Selina Scott and Nick Ross?  Unbelievable.   "Tell me...why do you wear braces?" was one of the questions from Selina, with no attempt to disguise the snigger in her voice.  "To 'old me trowsiz up" was the simultaneous reply from the interviewees.  The look on their faces as they tried to keep it civil whilst being patronised and treated like some alien species by their smug and incredulous hosts actually brought the Bill Grundy/Pistols incident to my mind.  It really wasn't that far removed, and could just as easily have been John and Steve sitting on the breakfast TV sofa wondering what the fuck they were doing there.  I saw the Rockney duo in a whole new light after that programme.  Just wish I'd had a bit more respect for them when they did an album signing at the record shop I worked in during the early '80s.  I'm afraid I was slightly embarrassed about the whole thing at the time.

So that was one surprising revelation.  Here are some others from the past few days:

We took out a door frame and found the original red brick wall, layers of dark orange paint and some good old '70s (?) brown and white patterned wallpaper beneath it...  I love the way you get a kind of palimpsest (a favourite word, that - any excuse to use it) when you strip back those layers.  A snappy(ish) phrase came to mind, one that you don't want to try without your teeth in: "decades of decaying decor".

If I seem a bit out of sorts at the moment it may be because my kitchen looks like this

...which resembles a sort of warped Mondrian to my tired mind right now.  Whaddya reckon to the light switch hanging from the ceiling, eh? (if you look closely, top centre).  An art installation?

Meanwhile, back in the living room, it's all about plaster... but I'm liking those parallel lines.

And as for the back wall of the 1950s breeze block extension (also part of the kitchen), here's what it looked like earlier today.  When is a door not a door?

I'm shattered.  I can't wait until I no longer taste dust.

Monday, 24 March 2014

Letter from a friend, August 1978

The other day I found something that I hadn't remembered even keeping... it's a letter from a friend whilst on holiday - we had recently turned 15.   I've only edited out some location and personal details to preserve her anonymity! - the rest is absolutely genuine and verbatim.  It's so naively teenage and so of the time, I'm just going to have to hold onto it for another 35 years.

27th August 1978

"Just thought I'd drop a line to tell you about all the gorgeous punky boys I've been getting off with in Cornwall.  I'm having a great time - in fact I get asked out so often I can never decide which punk to date!  Last night I went to see Sham 69 and got off with Jimmy Pursey.

No... actually this is the squarest town I've ever been to - it's filled with straights - not even good-looking straights, just pathetic little prats with their mummies and daddies.  So far I've only seen one decent bloke - a skinhead who made some clever-clever remark about my Adverts badge like, "Ooh - she likes the Adverts!" (quick, wasn't he?) and a bloke I saw on the beach quite a lot, but who now seems to have disappeared - he's probably gone home (sight of my ugly mug no doubt!)

Did you read about the punks invading the stage when Sham 69 were on at Reading?  I read it in the Telegraph who are very biased, e.g. '"Punk rock fans were blamed by police for fighting..." etc etc etc.  And here's what the police said, "There has been more tension and aggravation than in previous years, this seems to have been caused by disagreements between normal festival goers and the punk rock element."  Cheek!  They can't even call us the 'punks' or 'punk rockers' - we have to be the 'punk rock element'.  I bet the hippies caused most of the trouble!

I went to see 'Herbie Goes To Monte Carlo' the other evening, which was quite funny, but nothing fantastic...

...I've bought myself a Gen X badge and an X Ray Spex badge (wow - highlight of the week!) and I've finally seen a black dog collar which I shall buy.

I'm really stuck on a clue to the crossword in 'My Guy' 'coz I feel I ought to know it.  The clue is 'Punk group named after a district in East London' - no, it's not Chelsea 'coz I've already got some letters.  I'll spell it out for you: B_T_N_ _ .  Any ideas?  I can't think of a group, never mind a district beginning with B.

Did you see 'Revolver' yesterday night? I didn't, because it wasn't on here - we're on Westward TV.  So there was me sitting there all on my Todd 'til half past eleven, and then they put on bloody George Hamilton IV and his guests!  I was really pissed off!  This letter seems to be getting longer and longer and I'm running out of space, so tatty-bye for now."

Tuesday, 18 March 2014


Life is so full-on at the moment I've just had no time nor energy to post or comment much lately (so sorry).  I'm still reading, though, when I have chance, and hoping things will return to a more relaxed pace soon.  Meanwhile, because you mean a lot to me and you know I would never wish to neglect you, here's a little something to make you smile...

I first saw 'Cheburashka', a 30-minute Russian animation from the 1960s, in the support slot to Eels on their With Strings tour when I saw them in Nottingham (several hours away but the tickets were free!).   Oh, it must have been about 8 years ago now... but what a great, different idea for an opening act.  I was somewhat smitten by the furry little big-eared, big-eyed character, just as I now am by the Meerkat idents used in the Corrie advert breaks - baby Oleg reminds me of Cheburashka - brilliant.  (Just a shame that's all linked up to advertising, they're too good).

So here's a poignant little song from the film, sung by Gena the Crocodile, to tide things over for a while in my absence.

Back soon.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Don't cry wolf

One I photographed earlier

Time to do a bit more PR for my eight-legged friends, you know how much I love them.

I've noticed a lot of wolf spiders about lately, mainly because the sun has finally come out these last few weeks and wolf spiders like it. On any warm sunny day, if you look closely at exposed walls, low lying plants or bare ground, you're bound to notice a few of these creatures, just basking. They come in various sizes and colours but as far as I'm aware they all have the same distinctively pointed abdomen and a blunt sort of head with quite obvious fangs. They also tend to sit around (you know what I mean) for a long time in the same pose - with their rather downy-looking front legs close together pointing forwards.

There are two things I especially like about wolf spiders. Firstly, as part of the mating ritual, the males offer their intended females a gift. It comes in the form of a ready meal – a dead fly (wrapped, of course, in the finest silk). It's not exactly altruistic; not only does he do it to get his legs over, but also because without this dinner it's quite likely he may end up being eaten himself. This way he can just get on with mating with her while she tucks in to her main course. I consider myself very geeky privileged to have watched this courtship behaviour one day last summer (and meanwhile, in an anthropomorphic parallel world, a wolf spider blogs about human voyeurism).

The other thing about wolf spiders concerns the female who takes great care of her egg sac and carries it around with her. A practical reason for this is that wolf spiders don't weave webs, so have nowhere to leave them as they are always on the move, hunting down their prey with stealth (and venom). Anyway, she carefully carries this cumbersome sac beneath her, raised up slightly from the ground so as not to cause damage, and then when the eggs hatch after about 7 to 10 days... oh, this is the bit I love... for the next week or so she carries her tiny babies* around on her back.  Wolf spiders – many species of which are common around the world – are the only ones that do this. Sweet, eh? Well... I'm smitten.  And it's funny how when you're interested in something you can effortlessly store all this useless information, yet still struggle with your nine times table.

 Good song, tenuous connection

* spiderlings (aww)

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Kitchens of distinction

Over the years I've fantasised about many things, some of which I really shouldn't go into here, and, in spite of what you may have gathered from one or two previous posts, Ricky Gervais is not one of them. Up until very recently, nor were kitchens. I've just 'accepted' all the kitchens I've ever known: the ones in rented, damp, down-at-heel flats with their oatmeal wallpaper, pockmarked lino floors and brown bead curtains in doorways... I'm a tolerant soul. Our last home was different in that it was a new-build apartment and its kitchen cupboards had doors that actually shut properly, but the ratio of available floor space to size of an average human foot was not great. I mean, we quickly learned that it was easier just to walk backwards than to attempt a full turn, especially when holding a frying pan.

We moved here over a decade ago, to a very different property - a 200-year old cottage with all the nice things that 200-year old cottages have, such as woodworm and an absence of right-angles. 'Charming' in estate agent speak. It is lovely- but tiny; it would be a two-up one-down with an outside loo if it weren't for a more modern extension tacked onto the back to house the kitchen and bathroom. Well, I say modern, but this 1950s addition is where things stop being quite so lovely. Someone – presumably someone with as much knowledge on building kitchens and bathrooms as me (perhaps less so, I was a dab hand with the Airfix Betta Bilda after all) – installed cheap units as wonky as a Rubik's cube in mid-turn and a shit-coloured lino floor (it makes you want to wipe your feet on the way out) complete with mysterious lumps carefully preserved beneath. The concrete step under the back door has cracked so much that when I open it on damp mornings I have to remove small confused slugs and the occasional back end (or is it front end?) of an earthworm from the threshold – I'm not exaggerating.

So it is with some excitement and anticipation that we've decided – and can now just about afford - to do something about it. And I think I must have finally come of age because, for the first time in my life, instead of fantasising about things like curry and kinky boots, I'm actually fantasising about kitchens. (Oh, and bathrooms. That 1970s peach suite has to go.)


Wednesday, 5 March 2014

Some time in 1981 (part two)

It's June already, I can't believe my 18th birthday is only a month away!

I've spent some time this week rearranging my bedroom and it feels more like a little pad, I pretend it's my flat. Now I just have my mattress on the floor and I saved up and bought a stereo (turntable, tuner and cassette deck).  New albums I've been playing to death lately are the Au Pairs 'Playing With A Different Sex', Psychedelic Furs 'Talk Talk Talk', Kraftwerk 'Computer World' and Positive Noise 'Heart Of Darkness'. I've put this great Nosferatu film poster above the bed. Scared the life out of me when it fell down in the middle of the night and I awoke suddenly to find a vampire on my head (although Klaus Kinski does look rather cute in a bald, pointy-eared, fang-toothed kind of way).  So now it's stuck back with an entire packet of Blutac.

He looks a bit rough in the mornings

College is ok - Jill came in to visit the other day, I miss her from the Foundation Year but she's fine, she's gone very London now and has been hanging out at Le Beat Route - I feel very provincial now by comparison!

Been a strange year without Dad in the house but Mum is a lot better after her breakdown. It was the worst she's had, we're used to her depression when she stays in bed all day but we knew that things had got bad when she started saying/doing really odd things again as well.  She obsessed about painting her bedroom orange and wanted us to do it for her. Orange! Then she suddenly started reading the bible - we have a really old one in the house inherited from Dad's side of the family but nobody ever looks at it.  We're all so non-religious and this just wasn't like Mum at all, the way she was talking about stuff too.  It was a few months ago now but anyway A called Dr Lewis, he came over and arranged an ambulance - they took her to hospital that same afternoon. It was horrible seeing her wrapped in a blanket and wheeled out to it, like she was physically ill even though she wasn't. I actually think she was relieved, though. It was as if she was feeling, “I don't have to try any more. I can just give in to it” - like she'd reached rock bottom but at the same time a turning point, a time to let the doctors step in I s'pose.  A and I both cried after she'd gone but we were relieved too, and then we were fine on our own, in fact it was really nice having the house to ourselves for several weeks. We worked out our menus (macaroni cheese every Saturday) and we kept the place clean, it was like being a true grown-up with a house of my own (but sharing with my big sister). Hospital visits were hard, I hated going.  But anyway she got better, came back home and things have returned to some kind of normality. I haven't seen Dad in ages, don't know what he's going to do about my 18th (maybe he'll visit, that might be a bit strange).

Great news today! P has bought tickets to see Kraftwerk at Hammersmith Odeon so K and I are going with him and L. It's on the day after my birthday and I can't wait! Now I'm just wondering what to wear.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

Girl Crush Sunday #2

Bobbie Gentry
(Roberta Lee Streeter)

I first saw and heard Bobbie in 1969 when I was six and she was in the UK charts with 'I'll Never Fall In Love Again', making it to No. 1. She was No. 1 to me too;  the crush I had on her was as big - bigger, even - than her hair. Talking of which, her long, dark, bouffant hair was a significant part of her appeal to me then (I hankered for two things as a kid, a head of raven locks and a Tressy doll, and never had either). When the song came on Top Of The Pops or Radio 1 I would abandon my Fuzzy Felt and be captivated by this American singer with her sultry Southern vocals and her flared trouser suits. But there was more to it: a warmth in her face and her voice, something special that drew me in. Whilst that still remains to my adult eyes and ears, I can see and hear so much more than that too now.

Here's a great track, with an interesting subject matter, which is little less well-known here as it didn't make the UK charts.

Bobbie Gentry on the Johnny Cash Show: Fancy

(Hat tip to Singing Bear over at Grown Up Backwards who included this on a recent playlist)

Friday, 21 February 2014

Snog, marry, avoid

I'm not quite sure how it happened, but I ended up saying that I would marry Boris Johnson. Actually, that's a lie. I do know exactly how it happened. The other day Mr SDS subjected me to a series of 'Snog, Marry, Avoid' scenarios, and he wasn't particularly generous with his choice of candidates. So when I said I'd marry Boris, it was merely because he was the best of a bad bunch, and I reckoned his bumbling babbling (and perhaps even a reminiscence or two about the Clash) would be marginally more fun than being shackled to the alternatives on offer who happened to be David Cameron and Ed Milliband. David Cameron got the snog - I mean, we wouldn't need to exchange political views, just a little bit of saliva.

In playing this game it's interesting how you find ways to justify your marriage choice above everything. I'm thinking: “Who would make me laugh? Who might I share some possible topics of interest with? Who could I bear to wander around Homebase with when choosing a new swing-bin?” Which is kind of what marriage boils down to in the end, I suppose, whilst the the snogging and avoiding become pretty incidental really (I could always keep eyes, lips and legs closed during the former, if required).

Anyway, I was shown no mercy, and the game continued. So now I have to snog, marry and avoid a number of characters, both real and fictional.

I'm snogging Jim Davidson, marrying Nick Hewer and avoiding Alan Sugar. It was obvious to me that I couldn't possibly marry or snog Alan, whilst – say what you like, but - I think I could tolerate a quickie with Jim. However, Nick would have to be the best for stimulating conversation; we could share our admiration for Susie Dent and bitch about Apprentice contestants, then we could play our own version of Countdown together on rainy Sunday afternoons, not bad.

Of Ricky Gervais' fictional characters I've ended up getting hitched to Andy Millman from Extras (because I think we'd understand each other's creative dilemmas), thus having a quick canoodle with David Brent from The Office (I feel a bit sorry for him) and avoiding the eponymous Derek (which made me feel really mean).

When I move to Coronation Street, bad boy Peter Barlow can get it on with me if he can find room in his busy womanising schedule, but I'll keep out the way of Owen Armstrong - although he would be good at putting up shelves and – this is the killer – I'll become the new Mrs Roy Cropper. I know, I know. But I reckoned he'd be faithful, kind and make me nice breakfasts.

Russell Brand, Liam Gallagher and Justin Bieber presented a dilemma. I wanted to snog and marry Russell and avoid the other two but them's the rules. You can probably guess my choices.

Never mind that they're gay: I'm marrying Graham Norton, whilst snogging Rylan Clark (cue clashing of teeth) and deftly avoiding Louis Spence who would drive me up the fucking wall.

And I was even given a crack at the women, thus marrying Emma Willis, kissing Pink (it just sounded good, and I think she might be a man anyway) and avoiding Emma Bunton.

I'll have to bat a few back, of course. Madonna, Cher or Mel B? Ann Widdecombe, Edwina Currie or Christine Hamilton? Valerie Singleton, Lesley Judd or Shep?  Hours of fun, and it beats that trip to Homebase.

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Where babies come from

It was so simple. I thought that all girls automatically had tiny babies inside them from birth and it was only when you got married that they started to grow and then you actually laid them, like a hen laying eggs. The fact that this only happened when you had a husband was due to the same kind of magic that allowed Father Christmas to come down our chimney in spite of the fact that we didn't actually have a fireplace. I remember jumping up and down one day and saying to my mum, “I hope I'm not making my baby feel sick!”. I was only about seven or eight; just for a brief moment there my mum may well have felt a little nauseous herself. The 'getting married' bit was the trick, though - maybe it was something to do with the ring. Anyway, when I got married, probably to the blonde-haired, blue-eyed Christopher, who had given me a clockwork helicopter for my sixth birthday, the baby would come out of my bottom and we'd all live happily ever after in one of those houses with the sticky-out windows that I'd seen on the way to Aunty Margaret's.

So it was all a bit of a shock when Elizabeth told me what really happened. Elizabeth was off school for a trip to the dentists that fateful day. It was a Wednesday, and on Wednesdays at 10 o'clock Mrs Williams took her class of 9-year-olds into the assembly hall whereupon she wheeled out the big television with wooden shutters on its tall stand and we spent the next half hour sitting on the floor cross-legged being educated and entertained, often by some rather excellent programme such as Merry Go Round. However, for some reason that Mrs Williams wouldn't explain, that Wednesday the routine was changed and we didn't get our usual telly session.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth, being a very good, studious, little girl, thought she'd watch it at home anyway before she went to the dentist. Her mum was upstairs cleaning the bathroom and left her daughter to it. If only she'd realised.

When Elizabeth and I sat together on the pudding stone at playtime the next day she was a different girl. She knew. She knew all about how babies were made... she'd seen it on Merry Go Round... and she couldn't wait to tell me. It was shocking. “The man puts his thing right inside the woman!” “But how? Where?” I was aghast. It was hard to imagine Christopher putting his thing... well... you get the idea.

By the time I got to secondary school, just turned 11, I felt I knew the basics, but I was surprised to discover it was complete news to some of my classmates. We had to watch a creaky, unimaginative film about The Facts Of Life, all very cold and anatomical, and one of the Bagwell twins fainted. I don't think she even knew about periods, poor thing.  But later in the year we got the gory childbirth film in our Biology lesson and with all the blood and guts and umbilical cords in that I nearly fainted too. It was even worse than having to look at the dissected pregnant rat (and I can still smell the formaldehyde from that particular traumatic event).

Then there were those conversations on the way home from school. Sarah T revealed what her biggest sister had told her she'd done with her boyfriend... that “she put his... you know... in her mouth!” We giggled uncontrollably, shocked, embarrassed and uncomprehending. Gradually we notched up a bit more knowledge, like when Tracy P found a load of torn out pages from Playboy and Mayfair strewn around on the footpath behind her house (how did they end up there?) She brought them in to school and we pored nervously over the naughty pictures, in disbelief, unable to compare those oddly pink bodies on the pages to our own not yet fully formed ones.. so much hair!...so much strange-looking flesh!...such huge nipples! These must be the kind of women who'd put their boyfriend's... you know... in their mouths!

I don't know what kids of that age know now, how much is taught or when, nor how much sense it makes to minds that may have already been exposed from infancy to the internet and Keith-ubiquitous-Lemon. There must be a fine line between a refreshing openness and too much too soon – but not having kids of my own I've swerved that particular challenge.

Elizabeth went on to be a midwife, by the way.  And by the age of ten Christopher and I were no longer talking, so I wanted to marry Simon, who had a bicycle with gears.

Monday, 17 February 2014

Old age and the war

Carole, my lovely French tutor, expressed her surprise recently at the degree to which Brits still go on about 'the war'. It's just not the same in France apparently, not a subject that takes much precedence. I'm sure there are some theories as to why the French feel that way which I don't feel qualified to discuss, but I don't really get why we still have such a preoccupation with it here.

It's become a source of ridicule in some ways, like when Uncle Albert of Only Fools and Horses was always trotting out his famous line of, “During the wa-ahr...” I never used to think about what people actually must have gone through; I'd switch off, it seemed so long ago and irrelevant, boring even. And I'd wonder why some discussed their wartime experiences with a nostalgic relish, as if they were good times, as if they were times to look back on fondly! But I think I get it more now. Those moments of extreme adversity, endured and survived individually and communally, are a big deal. Most of us ordinary (younger) civilians haven't a clue.

I have to remind myself of that when I'm frustrated by the old dears in the charity shop bumbling around and getting in the way of the box of CDs (or knitting patterns) on the floor, and when I'm stuck behind the elderly chap in the supermarket queue who can't find his reading glasses or the right change. It's so easy to disregard older people for all the obvious reasons, isn't it? Especially the ones who can't help talking shite. We've all been there I'm sure, stuck listening endlessly and patiently to someone who tells you the minutiae of their dull daily routine because they just want someone to chat to, but whose lonely desperation to talk has unfortunately become the very reason why people avoid them, and thus that lonely desperation cycle continues.  I know it could be me one day, struggling to get to grips with my Google Glass and ducking out the way of Amazon drones.  But who knows what they've been through, what they've seen, how they coped? None of it through choice.

I was reminded of this the other day on finding a letter from 30 years ago written by my mum to an ex-teacher from her school who had serendipitously gone into the bookshop where she worked at the time. In it she explained about her first days at secondary school where she started in 1939, amid pupils from several other schools who hadn't been evacuated.

“...It was a trying time as we spent a great part of the day in the sand-bagged cloisters of the school building trying to learn normal lessons with air-raids in progress...

In 1943 we were still experiencing bombing raids and I have a very strong memory of the day we received news of the death of our classmate, Pauline Egglesfield, who had been suffocated in the ruins of her home in Ilford. I also remember returning home one afternoon and as I neared the long avenue which led to my house I could see a dark plume of smoke. I flew home, that long mile, to discover that incendiaries had destroyed a nearby farm. Ilford received the highest percentage of doodle-bug damage, being at the range where most of the dreaded flying bombs eventually blew up”

Still, it wasn't all about the bombs:

...Uniforms were available but had to be bought with clothing coupons. I remember going to a very old fashioned drapers store to select the gym tunic. Mother would make the square-necked blouses and summer dresses. But, oh! The terrible little hats. This last creation was jammed down flat on my head nearly over my eyes. Eventually the girls managed to rearrange these little cloth affairs in a more flattering shape – but I almost ran away when I discovered they had to be worn at all times travelling back and forth to school.”

Glad to see my mum had the same thoughts about school uniform as I did.

Radiohead: Bones (not The Bends!)
I'm not usually a big fan of Radiohead, but this.... I think it's stunning.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Gmail is reading my mind

Lying in bed this morning, as I was wondering if we still had a roof*, Mr SDS suddenly asked, “Who did that song 'The Lone Ranger'? God knows why but I've got it going through my head”. I couldn't remember, all I could recall was a fuzzy memory of something with the name 'Kimosabi' in the lyrics, the rest of the song long lost to the vagaries of my ageing mind. Besides, I was more preoccupied with the thought of looking out of the window to find my shedio reduced to a pile of rubble.

I grunted and turned over.

“1970 something, '76? '77?” he prompted. Then it came to him, “Quantum Jump!”

It still didn't mean much to me.  So that was that.

After getting up to find that a) we still have a roof and b) the piles of sketches inside my shedio are not scattered across East Anglia, I was checking my email this morning. I've been using Gmail for the last year or so; are you familiar with Gmail's advertising in the side bar? I've had a few laughs from them. Your friend sends you an email that includes a phrase like, “...I was listening to Blondie's Parallel Lines...” and there on the right hand side are all those adverts automatically 'linked' to the message content, which in that instance would probably include something to do with hearing aids, hair bleach and how to improve your maths... Anyway I was reading a short email from a friend, thanking me for a book I'd sent him and passing on a phone number, nothing more. So why this advert:

What Is Quantum Jumping?
Discover Why Thousands of People
are “Jumping” to Change Their Life.


I'm not one of those people who believes there must be a deeply mystical reason for this odd coincidence and that someone somewhere is telling me something (presumably to try quantum jumping?) But it is weird, isn't it? I might have to check the bedroom for bugging devices.... hmm.

Later of course I had to look up Quantum Jump's Lone Ranger song on youtube. It came flooding back to me, especially that bloody 'taumatawhakatangihangakoayauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukypokaiwhenuakitanatahu' bit.
I don't think there can be many other songs which include such politically incorrect lines as this: “maybe masked man he a poofter” - it could only have been in the '70s!  Apparently it was banned by the BBC for its references to homosexuality and illegal substances too.  Having said all that, it was only a short step from hearing that to reminding myself of a song a friend introduced me to last year which I like a lot more... the association being a bit more relevant than I believe any Gmail linked advert would be, what with the thoughts of cowboys, drugs and stuff now so firmly in my head:

*hope you still have too.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

Knit it

Does anyone still knit? The last person I saw knitting regularly was when I briefly worked at a Benefits Office in the 1980s, there was a woman there with a leathery complexion who used to knit and smoke her way through every lunch-hour. The clicking of knitting needles punctuated by cigarette-sucking and her phlegmy cough still sticks with me. Oh and she used to suck boiled sweets too. Tucked them into her cheek whenever she took a drag.

I thought of her today whilst browsing the charity shops because I was irresistibly drawn to some 1970s knitting magazines in a box on the floor in Help The Aged. 'Golden Hands' they were called (and then I couldn't stop thinking of the Klaxons'  'Golden Skans' and I've had that going through my head all day). But the mags were only pence so I bought a couple, just for the pictures. I might have to incorporate them into something ironic and artistic some time. Before I do, though, you've just got to see them...

From the feature: 'Knit him a casual sweater'

 The caption says 'Meet Sacha and her brother Gregor'

This article tells you how to 'Machine knit a glamorous evening dress'

From the feature: 'Romantic party looks for mothers-to-be'

Friday, 7 February 2014

Some time in 1981

Got the bus into college today as usual, chatted to that girl who's on the secretarial course, she was enthusing madly about my eye make-up. I showed her my big green eye pencil, it's so fat it's like a kid's crayon, I love it! I draw around my eyes like I'm painting a picture, then smudge the black underneath them into it so it blends gradually, quite an art.

First session this morning was photography with Alan. He's a funny man, I don't know whether I like him or not, he's inoffensive enough, though. He's always telling us stories about how he used to photograph sixties models. Today he mentioned Celia Hammond, and there was another one whose name I've forgotten already, but he said that they had to give up on photographing her in the nude because her skin was so translucent that, although it looked alright in the flesh (literally), in the photos you could see all her veins! She must have looked like a road map.

Anyway he brought in his professional lighting equipment and was teaching us about how the lighting can change the mood of a portrait photo. Lighting from above is quite flattering, bringing out the shadows under the chin and nose, but lighting from below can give an almost malevolent look. Then he picked one of us to demonstrate on. Of course he bloody went and picked me, didn't he? I felt like a right wally sat there in the middle of the room while he ponced about with all these lights and everyone was looking at me. Wished I hadn't worn my baggy grey jumper, but at least I'd covered up the tatty neck with Mum's old green and blue scarf.  It still smells of her perfume.  I've got some spots on my chin, though, fuck it! Anyway he told me to sit with my head tilted upwards and look to the side for a classic portrait, really serious. I don't know quite how I did it without laughing, although I know I went a bit red. Thank god they'll be in black and white.

We're developing them tomorrow in the dark room, that should be fun, always feels like we're bunking off because there's so much waiting around time, always feels like a secret place too, must be the red light!

Katy was naughty at lunchtime. She'd brought in some dope. Apparently it's Red Leb. I think it was Black Leb that she had last time, that was when I tried it and ended up feeling so ill I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I was all over the place, I remember making some comment about Joseph and the Technicoloured Dreamcoat but I'd said Multicoloured Raincoat. God knows what the context was, I just remember that bit. Anyway Katy was well into smoking this Red Leb at lunchtime but after the last experience I didn't fancy it. I'm just not cut out for that stuff. Wish I was. As usual she rolled up some spliffs very ritualistically in the studio while John and Ray kept watch at the door. She doesn't care what she uses to roll them up on – she'd brought a Frank Zappa album in to lend me and she used the sleeve, bits of baccy everywhere. I'm not sure what I'm going to think of Zappa, I've heard of him but I don't know much about him, all seems a bit old to me. Katy keeps going on about a song with the line “Catholic girls with a tiny little moustache”... makes her laugh because she's Catholic.  But she hasn't got a moustache.  She looks like Kate Bush, and she never wears a bra. Anyway I'll give it a listen some time.

This afternoon we were working on our book cover designs. I'm quite enjoying being a bit abstract on this project, I've made a marbled design with ink and oil and I'm going to superimpose some kind of face on it.

Kris is doing the most amazing drawing for a Raymond Chandler book, from the perspective of looking up at someone, it's technically brilliant, I don't know how he does it. Bob, meanwhile, is doing a Jackson Pollock. He put large sheets of paper all over the floor and just splattered them with paint. He was pissing himself., getting paint everywhere, attacking it like a madman.  Don is running this session and he wants us to be proper graphic artists, all neat and tidy, and it's really winding him up that Bob is doing what he's doing. To make matters worse, Bob keeps coming up with all this brilliant bullshit about how that splatter there represents this and this blob here is meant to be that and he's just making it all up as he goes along, but there's nothing Don can do except twiddle with his beard.

Anyway that was college. Got home and Mum was in a bit of a funny mood. There was a pile of ironing in the linen basket and it was a load of Dad's shirts. I don't know why she's still ironing his shirts. Perhaps he hasn't got an ironing board at the place he's staying at. I know the landlord is a bit weird because he's not allowed to use the phone in the house, he has to go to a payphone. Not that I care. I hate him right now. I'm not going to fucking iron his shirts, that's for sure.
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