Monday, 16 April 2018

Troubled mind

Ooh,  I had a troubled mind at the weekend. You know when everything feels a bit dark and well, yes,  troubling is definitely the word - because of things in your life which, at that moment, aren’t quite right.   They gang up in your mind and heckle you.  They don't let you rest. Some of them even slip slyly down to the pit of your stomach and bang on its walls.

The family problem, the letter from the council, the hot water playing up, the plumber not getting back to us about it, the work I couldn’t get right, then the blocked toilet, the bill for unblocking said toilet, more of the family problem (a constant backdrop to life at the moment), the worrying about someone thinking I might have done something I didn’t, the worrying about how to say something difficult to someone that makes a point I need to make (oh, the psychological knots we tie ourselves up in!), the work I still couldn’t get right, dammit – all niggling and nagging at the same time this weekend (funnily enough Monday morning wasn't so bad.)

But there was a saving grace!  I was reminded of a truly excellent song….

It's fucking great, isn't it?

Thursday, 5 April 2018

The haunted bathroom

If I were ever to try writing a ghost story, I’d want to base it on experience.  I don’t have much, but I’ll tell you this…

It’s about our bathroom, and some odd little things that are hard to explain.  It’s downstairs, next to the kitchen.  That’s odd, for a start.  But no, I mean the noises.   A little while back I went in there to wash before bed and heard funny sounds above me in the single-storey roof.   Maybe it was a cat or a rat or a bat - a fat bat - but whatever it was I was so unnerved I nearly did something that rhymed with it.  At least I would’ve been in the right place.   Still, I put the thoughts of a headless monk knocking on the pantiles above me to one side and carried on brushing my teeth.

Nothing happened for a few weeks.  And then the other evening there was another strange occurrence.  The toilet flushed on its own.  That’s weird, I thought - I hadn’t pressed the little button thing on the cistern by accident, had I?  No - but it was definitely flushing.  “I think we’ve got a ghost in the bathroom,” I said to Mr SDS, “and they’ve just used the loo!” 

It hasn’t happened since.  But, oh, something else has.  Two nights ago, shortly before midnight,  I was just trying to put some moisturiser on my face without my glasses on (always a bit hit and miss) when, well, how can I put this politely?  I heard a very long drawn-out, squeaky bottom burp.  A real ripping raspberry of rectal turbulence.  A proper classic blow-off.  Right beside me.  I mean, so close to me that I froze right there in the middle of its duration to check that it wasn’t actually me.  It definitely wasn’t.  Perhaps it was the soles of my slippers on the floor?  I slid them about a bit and tried really hard to make them mimic the anal acoustics I’d just heard but nothing, my slippers were silent.

“Now it’s farting!” I said to Mr SDS when I went upstairs.  He was already looking at me strangely due to the blobs of white cream in my hairline and nostrils.  Once I’d heard that spectral trouser trumpet right next to me I'd decided not stay in the bathroom any longer than I had to, and I definitely wasn’t going to look in the mirror for fear of what might look back at me.  Sod the moisturiser.  Even without glasses, a hazy headless monk was too much to apprehend.

It’s not exactly M R James but that’s my ghost story and it's true.  Have you ever heard of such a thing?  A farting phantom flusher?!  Whatever next - will I find the end of the toilet paper folded into one of those pleats like they do in hotels?   Who knows?  I’ll keep you posted if it returns...

In the meantime, here's some stonking '60s garage from an appropriately named band to blow the ghostly cobwebs away:

The Haunted: 1 2 5

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Abstract moment of the week #8

It took a moment or two to register - had I heard it correctly? - then I realised that, yes, I had.  The writers of Coronation Street, once again, dropped in a cheeky little name reference that could so easily pass by all but the most attentive of us.  I've noticed they do this from time to time, you could play 'Mancunian Characters From Popular Culture' Bingo with it - for example, in an episode a few years ago, someone casually mentioned the 'Mark E Smith Suite' in a conversation about some venue or other.  Last night, we found out - but only through hearing the briefest of mentions by a hospital radio DJ in one scene - that Audrey Roberts was in the 'Tony Wilson Ward' at Weatherfield Hospital.

It prompted me to have a little rummage around the 'So It Goes' archives.  Here's Tony interviewing Johnny Thunders and Walter Lure in 1978 -  unfortunately I couldn't embed it, so may not be available outside the UK - but a great clip if you can watch it.

And while I'm on the subject, there haven't been any music series like 'So It Goes' for ages, have there?  Much like the music papers, I relied on programmes like this in my teens to enlighten me about bands and artists, it was the only access.  Watching them always felt a bit edgy - they ventured into the margins.  Also, looking back you realise just how chaotic and unpredictable interviews tended to be - when did things become so slick and palatable?!

Thursday, 8 March 2018

Saint Etienne Therapy

Last night a woman who looked like a young Joan Jett threw me a Parma Violet and I caught it deftly in my hands, even with orange woolly gloves on.   “Not bad for an elderly woman!” she exclaimed as I did so.  I choked out a polite laugh, but inside I was recoiling in abject horror.  The word “elderly” was like a stab wound to my heart. 

Fortunately, it was just a very bizarre dream. The young Joan Jett lookalike was the girlfriend of a man who resembled a young Jon Bon Jovi and they’d come to my house to collect a massive box of records – about as tall as me - which I’d taken in for them.  I don’t know why she was throwing me a Parma Violet.  The writing on the record box said it contained Durutti Column albums and that it weighed 10 stone.   All so random and peculiar in the way that dreams frequently are (why Durutti Column?  Not as if I’d been playing any lately!)  But it was that ‘E’ word which stuck with me most when I awoke this morning.  Elderly.   It reminded me that one day, at least if I make it that far, I will fit that word.  I might be the elderly neighbour, the elderly customer.  The elderly patient.  Ugh.

I must admit, lately, I’d been thinking about how there comes a point in life, a while before the 'elderly' description, when we start to use the caveat “for your/my/one’s age”, e.g. “She’s not in bad shape for her age”, “Can I still get away with it at my age?”, “You’re still pretty healthy for your age”, etc.

Maybe that was what triggered the dream.

Anyway, where am I going with this?  Well yesterday, reading a post on Saint Etienne over at the ever excellent Charity Chic Music I remarked that Saint Etienne are the band who make me feel alright about getting old.  (Ah, that's probably what triggered the dream too).  

That really is exactly how I feel about them and I love them for it.  

Any time I get that unpleasant pang about the inevitability of ageing, I bring Sarah, Bob and Pete to mind.  We share some of that '70s past and attitude and the facial lines for which we traded our life experiences.  They've been around a long time and they're still innovative and cool, sorted and individual, real and unaffected and still doing what they do. Everything you could aspire to as far as I'm concerned. 

Lyrically, too, they know what to say to soothe my creeping unease at the ageing process, reminding me that it’s alright to be where we are now in the timeline of our existence because of all those great markers along the way which only those of us of a certain age can identify with.  I get that feeling: we’re all in it together.  You, me and Saint Etienne.

Take these two verses from Over The Border (Words And Music 2012)

In 1974, I bought my first single, from Woollies in Redhill
I started to memorise the charts, to memorise the leagues
Tuesday lunchtime at 12.45, Saturday afternoon at five o'clock
I didn't go to church, I didn't need to.
Green and yellow Harvests, pink Pyes, silver Bells
And the strange and important sound of the synthesiser

I was in love, and I knew he loved me because he made me a tape
I played it in my bedroom, I lived in my bedroom, all of us did
Reading Smash Hits and Record Mirror, Paul Morley and the NME
Dave McCulloch and Sounds, Modern Eon and Modern English
Mute, Why, Zoo, Factory
Cutting them up, sucking them in, managing the story on our own

And in the chorus, the straightforward acknowledgement of that creeping unease reminds me I'm not on my own either:

I'm growing older, heaven knows what's on its way

Then there's some simple philosophy which I think you can only really grasp fully when you get to a particular vintage, as in the words of Take It All In (Home Counties, 2017)

You've gotta stop and let yourself
Take it all in
Sometimes you gotta drop it all
And just take it all in
So smile and get it on
Just take it all in
Then you'll begin
To really see

No-one said it would be easy
No-one told you it would be fun
But you're gonna have to believe me
The party's just begun

Saint Etienne are not immune to a little wistful reminiscing either, for instance in 'When I Was Seventeen' (Words And Music, 2012)

When I was seventeen
My heart and head were full of brilliant dreams
Assembled in the light of a day
That seems so far away

And now
When I was seventeen
When I was seventeen
I thought we knew everything
We knew everything

No responsibility
Endless possibility
What on earth could possibly hurt me?

I know that getting properly elderly is going to be pretty awful but - there's no doubt - I always feel a little bit better about it when I think of getting there with them.
I call it Saint Etienne Therapy.

Saint Etienne: Twenty Five Years

Tuesday, 6 March 2018

Gigging, ligging and leek pie - Part 2

I said I would explain about the leek pie.

Leek pie has become synonymous with my memories of travelling around the country to gigs with my boyfriend’s anarcho punk band in the early ‘80s.  Leek pie!

It really wasn’t very rock’n’roll, was it?  Where were the tour rider requests with their bizarre demands to remove all the brown M&Ms (except of course we called them Treets back then) from the sweet bowl?  I mean, what sweet bowl? 

After travelling for hours to anonymous towns, taking wrong turns and arriving just in time to use the loo and for the band to soundcheck and prepare before the doors opened to the black-clad masses, there was rarely time to check out the local Chinese or chippy.  So it became the norm to take your own food – crisps perhaps, you might think, or Mars Bars - the sort of thing you could stuff into a jacket pocket and get a quick sugar and salt fix from. 

But with anarcho punk being all about doing it yourself, rejecting capitalist values and, in particular, strong views on vegetarianism, maybe there was resistance to this level of conformity from some quarters?   So one of the girlfriends began - very sweetly, really - to bring her home cooking to gigs in a Tupperware dish. 

I remember it well, arriving at Birmingham Digbeth Civic Hall, with its grandiose interior, all decorative ceilings and high windows, and as the band finished unloading their gear, a voice rang out: 

“Would anyone like some leek pie?”

I mean, I do like leeks, and it would have been great at any other time, but they are notorious for repeating on you and, I don’t know, what with it being served cold and the insides being a bit gooey and the pastry being rather flaky, it just wasn’t obvious pre-gig food.   And, this is going to sound really mean, but the whole hippie-commune-knit-your-own-yoghurt aspect of it just… well, forgive me, but... it can just seem a little too earnest.   There’s a fine line between earnest and sanctimonious and the home-made leek pie was in danger of crossing it.

That gig went very well in all respects apart from some shitty little dickheads at the front who decided to gob at the band by way of showing their appreciation.  Some of this landed on my boyfriend’s guitar and shirt.  Ironically, I have to say it looked not unlike the contents of a leek pie.   If only it had been - it would have saved all that worry about Hepatitis B.

There’s more irony to come.  Many years later the band played a reunion gig at quite a large, well-known venue and, things being so different this time around, there was a proper dressing room (with comfy armchairs and a clean loo and everything!) and… guess what?.... a gig rider!

Some food and drink was laid out by the venue staff on a little table, plenty for everyone, band and entourage.  Several cans of lager, Mars Bars and lots of packets of crisps.  I had to laugh when I saw most of them were Smokey Bacon flavour.

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Snow cake

With the yellow cake tin in one hand and my satchel on my shoulder I headed off to school with my friend in the morning snow.  It was a one and a half mile walk, down the hill, past the petrol station and the grocery shop where, in Summer on the way home, we’d buy Dalek ice lollies or Sherbet Dips.  The route took us through the outskirts of town until we got to the steep steps by the railway station. That was the mental ‘Nearly There’ signpost.   Next over the zebra crossing and finally the long, uphill avenue, joining fellow pupils straggling along in groups, like small flocks of sparrows in our drab beige and brown uniforms.

The yellow cake tin came with me for ‘Home Economics’ class.  We were going to be making a Victoria Sandwich.  Caster sugar, flour and margarine had been carefully measured out the night before and packed into the tin in plastic containers, alongside two large, loose white eggs.

We were quite stoical ‘70s children, perhaps because we had quite stoical parents who’d lived through the war and had eaten cakes made with grated potatoes and sand during the rationing.  I might be wrong about the sand.  Anyway - stoical - it’s just a bit of snow, maybe some ice, you walk to school as usual.   When you get to your classroom you thaw out against a radiator before Assembly, until a teacher tells you you’ll get piles if you stay there too long.  Whatever piles are.

But we skidded as we walked through town, landing on our bums and hands. Satchel straps slipped awkwardly off shoulders and my yellow cake tin landed and overturned on the frozen white pavement as I  tried to right myself.  Twice in succession my friend, my tin and I fell like skittles on the ice.

Oh - my eggs!  As I rubbed snow off my coat I had visions of a Victoria Sandwich making itself messily inside the tin.

Round the corner by the railway station, I slipped again.  Those eggs were never going to survive, but at least the steep steps were gritted and we were Nearly There.

We got to school and leaned on the radiator, getting the hotsies in our hands - the best bit about getting cold was that intense tingling when you warmed up; it was almost worth leaving your gloves off for.  I opened my yellow cake tin to find, inevitably, the two large eggs smashed to pieces, their sticky gloopy contents covering everything else inside....

........Only they weren’t!  Not even a hairline crack.  Dropped several times, they survived every skid and fall and thud.  What were the chances?

The Victoria Sandwich turned out nicely.  As with the snow, it only lasted two days, unlike the bruises on my bum.

One last reminder of the snow (I love this song and video) - it's thawing here now

Tuesday, 27 February 2018

The Study

In the house where I grew up my dad spent most of his free time in a room we called ‘The Study’.  If that sounds terribly middle-class, it must be because it was.  It was a spare bedroom really, but it had the airing cupboard in it -  and the central heating pipes and pumps  held noisy parties inside it every night, so you wouldn’t want to sleep there.

I’m wondering now if the room ever got vacuumed or dusted; it wasn’t easy to navigate. It was shelved from floor to ceiling on two sides and in the middle there was a 1950s kitchen table, with blue formica top and metal legs, not that you could tell.  Just like the other makeshift cupboards around the room, its surface was buried under ‘stuff’.   

By stuff I mean….well, for example, every single periodical that my dad had ever bought since 1959.  I can’t be certain but they had names like Practical Oscillator and Illustrated Semiconductor.  The sort with pictures of nude wires and semi-clad magnetic tape on their covers. 

Then there were

 bent coathangers (could come in handy one day)

a collection of used milk bottle tops (could come in handy one day)

dismantled plugs (could come in…. etc. etc. - I’m boring myself) 

ball valves, soldering irons, a lovely black and gold Singer sewing machine, a beer-making kit, a hostess trolley and a manual typewriter missing the E key.  

Empty chocolate boxes, the inner workings of old biros, a kettle without a lid.

Shall I carry on? 

A home-made – home-made!  by my dad! -  ‘tumbler’ device for polishing pebbles  - which was endlessly whirring, rotating and clattering like a washing machine full of stones (which it basically was)  yet not one pebble came out shiny, ever.   Why did people want shiny pebbles in the ‘70s anyway?  Just to be displayed in saucers on windowsills?

Broken radios, unidentified amplifying objects, spent matches, dried up Polyfilla, ping pong bats…. 

The irony is that I don’t think anything in that room ever actually came in useful apart from the noisy airing cupboard, and my lasting memory of its true worth was that it was where my mum once put a very weak newborn guinea pig  to keep it warm, wrapped in a towel in a box.  I came home from school to find this, much to my delight.  She (the baby guinea pig) happily survived and went on to live with us for several years, in a hutch in the shed.  Which is really where all the other above stuff should have been kept all along.

Wednesday, 7 February 2018

The time machine

I think I’m about to find a time machine in my garden.  I’ve uncovered two things that lead me to believe this.  Digging down in the sandy soil beneath the prickly hedge a few years ago, amid the calcified skulls of poorly sparrows who perished in the cold and fragments of clay pipe that look just like their bones, I came upon an escutcheon.

I even just love that word ‘escutcheon’.  It sounds so archaic. That little piece of metal which once decorated and protected a keyhole, a keyhole in a door to who knows where, from who knows when.

This little plot of land has been used by people for hundreds of years.  So I love it when I find the evidence of those who’ve left it behind, and long for the day when I might find an ancient coin perhaps, or a shard of pottery that dates back even further.  I love the way the worms, the moles, the ever churning, moving soil, turn up these random things.

Then, just a short while ago, amongst unidentified pieces of rubble and slivers of willow pattern crockery in the earth not too far below the surface, I came across this.  

It seems to be a door handle.   A broken porcelain knob,  and all that can be seen of a number, perhaps a date - 67 - stamped into the unglazed surface.

The handle bar now so bent, twisted, the rust growing around it like a living, organic thing.

A keyhole, then a doorhandle. More thoughts inevitably follow.  Thoughts of locks and passageways and portals.    And if you were to tell me that there was a strange and spine-tingling story behind these finds, I would love to believe you.  What tale might there be?  The time machine beckons,  it’s out there somewhere, I just need to find the key, literally.    I'll keep digging.

Where would you have it take you?

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