Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Grounded

Our friend Singing Bear of the excellent Warp Drive Duffle Buttons posted a nice tribute to Chris Squire yesterday.  News of his death prompted some spins of this brilliant B-side by The Syn from 1967 here at SDS Towers.  It was one of the first psych/freakbeat/whatever-you-want-to-call-it tracks I'd heard in the '80s, courtesy of the Psycho label's 'Perfumed Garden' comps (this is on the first one).

If you haven't heard it in a while - or at all - go on, treat yourself! It'll make you feel good.  More mod/soul than psych really, to these ears.


I'm off to give a talk to the WI in a couple of hours.  I'll bring you back some cake!


Monday, 29 June 2015

Bristol diary - part 6. Safe from harm

Did you know that lobsters can live for up to a hundred years in captivity? I learn this while admiring Patrick the Giant Lobster at Bristol Aquarium. He's fifty.

I love watching cute clownfish, very 'Finding Nemo', diligently attending to the tentacles of anemones (and that's not easy to say).  A group of schoolchildren are so excited that they beat out a rhythm with their feet on the wooden floor which could be mistaken for an African drum ensemble, and we watch delightful rays and wrasse get their lunch together.

It's an education... as are the exhibits in the waterside M Shed... dinosaur bones, a book bound in the skin of an executed man, posters, bus tickets, shoes, fossils...oh you know, loads of other stuff too... I forget now...all from this lovely city.  On one of many screens in the museum I watch TV news footage from the 1980 St Pauls Riot.

Later I ascend Christmas Steps, look in some unusual shop windows...


...then find the mysterious scarlet painted door that opens to The Red Lodge Museum, where portraits in the oak panelled rooms seem almost alive (they always make me feel funny, like you know their subjects personally).

I wander again, take some very random photos...

"Nice things in stock"... 

Yes





stop off at St Nicholas Market to absorb it all for one last time.

Records!

Unfortunately I don't make it to half the places I wanted to... I never get to Stokes Croft, or take a tour round the SS Great Britain (a queue earlier was too much).  And now it's my last night here.  I'm catching a bus to meet my friend and see the UWE art students' degree show at Bower Ashton tomorrow morning, and then getting the train home after lunch.  I'll just have to come again.

Same time, same place, next year?


Thursday, 25 June 2015

Bristol diary - part 5. Hell is round the corner

... So I'm standing outside the Arnolfini with three men, one of whom is holding a hand-made contraption up to my face, like a miniature slide viewer/binoculars thingamajig housed resourcefully in cardboard (!)  Kind of Blue Peter-goes-hi-tech... an old cornflakes packet perhaps... some sticky-back plastic.  I haven't a clue what's about to happen.

This is all new to me

The 'proposition' was to help test out a new app they're developing and be interviewed about it.  Why... what were you thinking it might be?!

 “Tell me what you think,” says the smiley tall chap with the floppy hair. He has a rather lovely voice too, now I can't see him, what with this whatchamacallit covering my eyes.  "Say what you see..."  I don't think this is going to be an episode of Catchphrase.

In fact I can't see anything. Nothing at first, just blackness. He and his bearded cohorts could be rifling through my handbag for all I know... or filming me anyway even though I declined... or drawing an ejaculating penis on my back in chalk... maybe all of the above... but I trust them! Then I see just this, a pair of doors, painted like so:



and the words 'The Garden Of Eden' above. I'm being taken towards it and the doors magically open outwards and let me in.  Oooohhhh!

This is what I see, but I see it opening out in front of me slowly in 3D...  all around me...



...and I'm riding on the back of a huge fish.

If I look down I can see the top of the fish's head. And as I turn my head... tilt it left, right, up, down again, I see creatures and trees and weird and wonderful things. Well, various elements of this section of Hieronymus Bosch's triptych (The Garden Of Earthly Delights). I'm asked to describe my experience as it happens... it's strange, spectacular, a little unnerving, travelling through a surreal parallel world, and I'm not in control, I'm on a ride, seeing an elephant on the left, a white giraffe on the right, birds flying all around... All the while with my feet firmly planted on Bristol harbourside on a sunny afternoon, near a couple sitting on a bench eating cheese and tomato sandwiches (that's if they're still there. I can't see them any more with this contraption over my eyes).

It finishes as I'm taken back through the black door.  Fortunately I don't have to continue my virtual journey through the final section of Bosch's triptych as pictured below; his vision of the underworld might have freaked me out a bit.


So it's ok, hell isn't round the corner.  My hotel room is!


Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Bristol diary - part 4. Wandering star

...I keep on walking.  It's around the next corner.


Ah, the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge! 

I'm enthralled by Brunel's elegant structure. It's currently undergoing work; on my side here the brickwork is draped in green tarpaulin and scaffolding and I can't seem to get a great photo - but never mind, just seeing it is enough.  I think it's beautiful.


The drama of the Avon Gorge makes me feel momentarily breathless for the second time today.  And everything else around here, big and small, is a joy to witness: the water, the views, the wild flowers, a friendly cat even (what's it doing up here?) and a blaze of fluorescent yellow as some miniature hi-vis jackets gather in the distance, worn by a troop of tiny schoolchildren.  (Either that or it's a gang of vertically-challenged scaffolders.)

I stop walking and just look for a while.  My camera seems redundant.

On the way back I get lost – I was going to say 'slightly' lost, but surely you're either lost or you're not?! - and meander the tranquil residential roads of Clifton (I think) in completely the wrong direction(s), not that it really matters.  I have the navigational prowess of a concussed butterfly.

But once I get back on track (the friendly couple who are pruning a tree and whom I ask for advice suggest I keep the sun on my right hand side, and it works) I recognise Queen's Road.


Here I stop off at the Royal West of England Academy of Art but it's being refurbished, so there's only one small room of drawings on show. Still, I enjoy them... as well as coffee and a slice of cake (orange and frangipane, since you ask).

I've been out for nearly four hours and decide to head back to the harbourside.  Outside the Arnolfini Gallery (also being refurbished - it's not my week!) I'm approached by three men, mid-thirties probably. Two with beards (of course, seeing as nearly every man in his thirties has a beard), one clean-shaven with floppy hair. They have intelligent faces, friendly smiles and, hmm...  a film camera and sound equipment...

Don't know what gets into me when I travel alone but it seems I'm up for anything. Well, almost.

So I say “Yes!” to their proposition (but “No!” to being filmed whilst doing it...)

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Bristol diary - part 3. Roads

The day starts with the most wonderful room service and a morning in the lovely company of another friend I haven't seen in ages.  It seems like this trip is as much about some personal (re)connections as everything else. I'm even feeling a bit overwhelmed - the combination of only having just arrived somewhere new and already the pleasure and associated poignancy of reunions.  I have the rest of the day to myself so I go for a  long walk... to get my bearings... psychologically as well as geographically.

I wander across town from Welsh Back to Clifton, taking various detours.  It takes as long as it takes; for once, time is of no importance.

Living amid the flat fields of East Anglia, it's also easy to forget what it's like to be elevated, to look down on rooftops and trees and to see for miles, and the first time I glance out from Brandon Hill at the view the vastness of it adds to my slight dizziness. It may not be that high up in the scheme of things, but it's SO different from home, and I just want to take it all in.

View from Brandon Hill

Cabot Tower, plus squirrel on bench

As I leave the main thoroughfares behind and venture into the back streets, it's very quiet, I barely see a soul...


... apart from around a corner where some students are packing up for the Summer.  The car boot is open and a pile of assorted ephemera being loaded into it by a dutiful dad.

I feel an unexpected sort of envy, witnessing them right at the start of their adult lives...who knows who they'll meet, where they'll go and what they'll do - they don't even appreciate it yet.  What must it be like to stay in digs on Royal York Crescent with those odd little storage spaces under the arches?  I love looking into them through the barred gates and at the stalactites of ceiling plaster plus all sorts of randomness: a discarded door, the figurine of a duck.   I believe this is one of the most expensive addresses in the city.  




I keep on walking.


Friday, 19 June 2015

Bristol diary - part 2. Be thankful for what you've got



Until recently we'd lost touch, but Bristol has brought us together again - we work out that we haven't seen each other for ten years.

She has Scoliosis (an abnormally twisted spine) which affects her posture as well as her breathing and makes her prone to really horrible chest infections. Apparently Frida Kahlo was one of the first patients to have had the same spinal surgery that she herself had in her teens. In spite of her disability, or perhaps partly because of it, she's plucky, determined, gregarious and driven. We meet up this evening, my first night here, and head out for something to eat.

Pink Floyd and Nick Drake are being played on a small boat moored on the floating harbour where we're served tapas by smiley well-spoken student types who may quite possibly be a little stoned.  We chatter merrily, catch up on a decade's worth of life - and it's lovely (even though the toilets are out of order).  Afterwards I see her off by bus and walk back to my hotel in the dark; the city centre streets, though alien to me, still seem busy and safe.

Earlier in my room I'd been looking out at this unpretty view, and I like it. It's that easy shabby reality which contrasts with the more antiseptic aspirations of corporate hospitality on my side of the glass.


 There are Christmas snowflake decorations stuck to one of the windows of the buildings overlooking the back yard, (saves putting them up again in December I s'pose) and feral pigeons flirting on the ridge tiles... and gulls! All of them make me smile.  We don't get many gulls round my way, so I poke my head round the voile to observe this one who appears to be posing for a fashion shoot or something.



Yes, yes, these pictures could be taken almost anywhere, I know - but I'm glad it's here!



Wednesday, 17 June 2015

Bristol diary - part 1. It could be sweet



So I'm heading for Bristol!

I know that little of what I'm going to do over the next few days is out of the ordinary to most people. But, right now, it is to me! (I'm out of practice.)

I have a piece of paper with an online booking reference on it but there's no office at my local railway station.  The guard says I can get my physical ticket issued at the connecting one and she reckons the four minutes I have between arrival and departure should be enough.  Should be.

...Two stops later I run up what feels like a hundred deep concrete steps to cross the bridge over the tracks, down the other side, more steps up to the ticket office, wait to be served.  Hand my paper to a surly-looking girl behind a greasy glass window.

“I've only got four minutes...” I say (not demandingly... more sort of desperately) and by now I've probably already lost three of them.

"It will take as much time as the machine takes to issue it and no faster,” she replies in monotone without smile or understanding and I have to press my face up to the pane to hear, making me feel disadvantaged, like a small child.

“I know...I just meant...”

She says nothing.  Maybe she's just having a shit day.

At the same time, the rumble... the elongated squeal of metal brakes... look over my shoulder... aargh, no minutes now, no time to wait for a machine.

“Oh! My train's here!"

Surly girl shrugs, hands me back my papers; I race back down jarring steps and make it into the carriage a split second before the doors close, without a ticket.

I'll spare you more detail but of course it's not straightforward. After much hassle I have to buy a whole new ticket when I get to London, even though I've paid for one online already and have all the proof.  Fuck it.  Because of this delay I only just catch my Bristol train and I'm flustered as well as out of pocket, so it kind of gets me off to a bad start.

But for now, never mind!  My frustrations drop away as we accelerate out of Paddington. I'm on my way now, on my way West, where there are hills! And warm accents where they pronounce all the 'r's!  Through Didcot Parkway and Reading stations where huge red kites (the bird, I mean!) circle above the tracks.  Onward through Chippenham and then Bath Spa, where the memory of once sleeping in a condemned squat by the railway line resurfaces vividly as we pass boarded up cottages behind overgrown buddleia (I'm sure it's the very same terrace). I disembark at Temple Meads late afternoon.  Excited!

Friday, 12 June 2015

Time in...

...perhaps you'll know where?!



this one (above) is for Singing Bear :-)





I loved it.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Time out


I'm going away!

It's time to jump on a train to a distant city, one I've never been to before, travelling solo...  it's a mini-adventure.  From all accounts it's a vibrant, friendly, interesting place (and there are a few of you who know it well too!)  I won't even be checking the internet.  I know!  Wild, eh...

I'll be off on Monday; so if you don't see me beforehand, I'll be tuning in again in a week or so.

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Gig memories

Scott, over at the excellent Spools Paradise, recently wrote a thought-provoking post about first, last and favourite gigs.  My first 'proper' one was in January 1978 when I saw Siouxsie & The Banshees at my local venue at the other end of town.  I've written about this before here so I won't repeat myself but it started me thinking specifically about how lucky I was to be going to gigs at the tender age of 14.  It was never accompanied by adults, just two or three friends the same age.  Our parents had no qualms about letting us go to these events, where we drank pints of cider, smoked and flirted with boys... we could've been doing just the same at a disco, I guess, but we had no interest in those.  It was live bands we wanted to see, not DJs, and punk we wanted to hear, not Boney M - and we were incredibly fortunate to have a safe and easy little venue in our home town which provided both on a regular basis.  The bloke on the door, who was a dead ringer for Dave Vanian at the time, never asked us our age.

That night at the Banshees, my close friend met her husband-to-be.  And not long after that, I first saw the man whom I later married, playing guitar up on the stage there.  Not that we spoke for a while, I thought he was too old (!) and he had a girlfriend.  But it was where we first hung out.

A few weeks after the Banshees' gig, Generation X were booked to play.  I was so excited, I could hardly believe it.  I spent about an hour drawing big hooks around my eyes with a kohl pencil and filling them in with garish colours, quite a work of art, just for Derwood.  And I was then so disappointed on turning up that evening to find that they'd cancelled.  Derwood had broken his arm or something.  The Jolt played in their place and I didn't think that much of them.  Not long after, Wayne County & The Electric Chairs came to town, opened by Levi and the Rockats.  We were all given Eddie & Sheena badges as we filed in; I wore mine with such pride.

One time none of my friends could make it but the headline band were The Automatics and I was keen to go, so I just went on my own.  Would a 14-year old girl be allowed to go to a gig unaccompanied now?  I don't know.  To be fair, my parents came down later that evening to see the local jazz combo who were playing in the adjacent bar, so they weren't far away.  At the end of the Automatics' set I waited alone in the foyer for them.  A big punk bloke who wasn't one of the usual crowd stopped when he saw me and asked, very nonchalantly,  "Do you want a fuck?"

Local groups played every Tuesday too.  The Newtown Neurotics were like the house band.  I must've flung myself around to their version of Blitzkrieg Bop more times than I can remember.  It's Colin Masters/Dredd's funeral tomorrow... a sad day.  But let's dwell on the good stuff - they were an important band to many and they certainly were in my formative years - decent blokes too.

In fact, the whole place was incredibly important, and I have to wonder if I'd be who I am today without it.

Here's a photo from those days.  I'm afraid I can't remember how I came to be in possession of it so I can't credit the photographer, but if it's MM and you're reading this, then thank you - and I hope it's ok to include it here!



I believe it was taken shortly before my 16th birthday.

In fond memory of AS too, pictured left.

Friday, 29 May 2015

Fur coats and fighting cocks

Fur coats were mentioned in the comments in my last post.  That's an issue for PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals), major campaigners against the killing of animals for their fur. Sounds like a worthwhile cause to me and one I believe in, but as an animal welfare supporter I must say I don't think PETA have done themselves any favours in general with a recent story that's made the news.  Have you read about Ye Olde Fighting Cocks?  If not... it's a pub in St Albans, one of several laying claim to being the oldest in England; I've been there a couple times some years ago and seem to remember eating a 'Johnny Appleseed' (cheese and apple) sandwich, sitting at an ancient wooden bench under its low oak beams, all very traditional.  In the 18th century it was, as you'll have guessed, the venue for cock fights.  PETA have now written an open letter to the pub requesting that it changes its name to better reflect modern sensibilities and to encourage an end to the association of chickens with such a cruel sport, and they've suggested the new one should be 'Ye Olde Clever Cocks'.

I'm sure you'll agree that even the most sensitive of animal lovers (of which I am one) can actually cope with the idea that a pub might be named after something so abhorrent without bursting into tears.  You know, like it or not, it's our history.  We can deal with it.  We can't pretend it, and all the other horrors of our pasts, didn't happen, and make the world all fluffy and cuddly, censoring the most tenuous references in order to protect our delicate feelings.  Pub names are part of our heritage, just like the traditional folk songs and fairy tales which form part of our culture and which also tell tales of cruelty and sadness.  Anyway I'm sure most of us would prefer PETA's efforts to be focused on the real, current causes and not to make themselves look silly with stories like this one.

Still, it did get me thinking about pub names in general. Here in my village we have eight pubs.  There are several animal names here - a Bull, a Hare, a Black Lion and a Swan.  (Our own Cock & Bell was also a venue for cock-fights.)  The most unusual name I've come across in the area is the Bees In The Wall near Cambridge.  Most of them are Kings' and Queens' and Saracens' Heads... alongside Carpenters' and Bricklayers' Arms, Robin Hoods and George & Dragons...and all those exotic red, black and white lions.  Although, I've yet to see a gold one!




Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Enchanting

Who hasn't, at one time or another, imagined what it might be like to be small enough to crawl through a cat-flap?


And do other fantastical things.







I bought this book a little while back, it's nearly 50 years old.  Lovely stuff.


The Enchanted Forest by Hans Malmberg and Gunnel Linde 1966


Saturday, 9 May 2015

Supergrass and a pet plant

I worked in an office once which had a drinks machine where, to get your beverage just the way you liked it, you pressed a sequence of audible buttons. So there was a choice of buttons playing different notes for coffee, tea and so on, and another set of them for number of sugars, another for degrees of strength, milkiness, etc. - you get the idea.  These are probably very familiar to everyone but it's such a long while since I've been near anything that can make me a drink and which doesn't also look like my husband so please forgive my explanation. Anyway, I loved ordering my sugar-free cappuccino with chocolate on top because pressing the buttons in the required order on this particular machine provided me with the additional pleasure of hearing the opening bar of Supergrass's 'Going Out'.  Or so it seemed to me.  Dah-dee-dah-dee-dah-dah... yep, definitely a sort of Casio version of  'Going Out'.   I think it was in the charts at the time.  I pointed this out once to the colleague waiting behind me for his cup of tomato soup (moderately lip-scalding, powdery lumps) but he didn't seem to know what I meant; I don't think Supergrass were his thing.


Anyway I was thinking about this today... the song and the band... because I had another Supergrass track going through my head and you know how these trains of thought go. The song I had on repeat today was actually 'Moving'. Moving, just keep moving... the words kept going round and round... actually it never got beyond that line.  And I had these lyrics in my head because I was admiring a house plant... I know, it sounds just as ridiculous as the drinks machine thing. Supergrass obviously move in mysterious ways. But it was another one of those trains of thought, because the plant does move, and she does just keep moving!


This has given her a strange kind of animal-like quality and I've begun to think of her as a pet.  Here she is in the morning:

 And here she is at intervals throughout the day:




 If you look closely at the leaves, like you're doing a spot the difference puzzle, you'll see how their angles have changed in each pic, until at night they're pointing as upwardly as they can. This is all new to me because I have a shit track record for looking after houseplants successfully (even supposedly indestructible yuccas have died in my non-green-fingered hands) and so this is the first indoor one I've dared to bring home in a very long while.  However, I'm pleased to report that she is currently thriving. Maybe she likes the music we play... ?

In the event that you're remotely interested, here's a time-lapse video of another Calathea plant, moving in the same way.  I bet they have a really hi-tech drinks machine in this office too.


Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Angel Haze

I don't normally just put a music post up here but I'm curious to know what you might think of Angel Haze.

I first saw her on last year's Glastonbury TV footage, with just one acoustic song ('Battle Cry'), which we recorded along with a load of other stuff. We weren't familiar with her but Mr SDS and I are open-minded to something different. We liked it but didn't really think too much more about it until playing it back some time later, when there was something about the acute conviction of her performance that reeled us in and the song itself stayed with us both. Later still Mr SDS investigated a couple of other tracks online which sounded good. So, last week, he bought the album 'Dirty Gold'.

I was out on the day that it arrived in the post. When I got back home, I asked him if he'd played it and how he liked it. “I'm knackered,” he replied. “It's so intense, I feel like I've been through it. But in a good way...” It's a while since anyone's album has done that to either of us. It used to be the case with, oh let me think.. Joy Division... Crass... Babes In Toyland. You know the kind of thing, when a collection of tracks are so angry, angsty, personal, sad, confessional or whatever, that you feel a little drained when it's all over.

It would be easy to define Angel Haze by her rapping, and equally easy to perhaps think, “But I don't like rap so I won't like this” but there's so much more to this than her obvious talent for articulating rhyming couplets at high speed. The varied and often lush instrumentation throughout the album, her sweeter melodic vocals that complement the harder edges, some ethereal effects and an evident lack of compromise (which I fear may not be so evident in time if marketing types get their way) put me more in mind of Neneh Cherry, Tricky, Massive Attack. Then on reading about her and appreciating her quite shocking background I can understand why listening to the album has the effect it does, and that that's no bad thing.

Here's an interview from The Guardian which explains a little more.

I must commend my husband on his latest purchase!


Angel Haze: Dirty Gold (from the album Dirty Gold)


Angel Haze: Deep Sea Diver (from the album Dirty Gold)


Angel Haze: acoustic performance of Battle Cry, Glastonbury 2014

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?
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