Saturday, 3 December 2016


The other day Mr SDS remarks that he’s experienced a funny sensation in bed the night before.  (Stop it…)   It was troubling him.  He describes it: “like a tickly feeling that started by my arm and then all of a sudden I felt it down my leg”.

“Probably just a nerve or something.  Or you know when you get an itch and it sort of spreads?” I suggest.

“Yeah, but it was just odd because it was, like, really fast.  Weird.”

Anyway, that was that.   I check the bed for spiders (possibly squashed) before getting in next night –  but thankfully no trace. 

A few evenings later I go into the kitchen to get a glass of water, when suddenly something small and dark scoots across the floor in front of me, over my foot and disappears under the washing machine.  Not a spider.  It has a tail.  And thus we discover that we have a mouse in the house. 

The following evening we’re assuming (hoping) the mouse has gone back out by whatever route it came in. We live in the country with all sorts of creatures frequenting the garden, so no big deal.  We haven’t heard or seen it since the night before and we’ve been careful not to leave any food/crumbs about.   I can’t see any tiny droppings on the floor and I’m well-versed in small mammal excreta (it could be my specialist subject on Mastermind, I can identify hedgehog poo at twenty paces). All seems quiet.

I’ll cut to the chase, literally - we are wrong about the mouse going back out.  Suddenly, god knows how, it's upstairs in Mr SDS’ little office room, it runs under his desk, disappears.  Ten minutes later, there’s a mouse in the kitchen… well, a tail hanging down behind an upper cupboard.  Its owner then makes a break for it across the worktop and down behind the fridge (but not before squatting briefly on the bread bin with a defiant stare).  Then back under the washing machine….  disappears.   Five minutes later there’s a mouse running around my workspace, here in the living room, where I'm typing this.  We try to catch it under a plastic bowl but it goes behind the bookcase and… disappears.

Oh no!  We don't just have a mouse in the house, I surmise - we have mice in the hice!

Well, I’m fond of all things small and wild with multiple legs and that includes mice, so I’m not standing on a chair shrieking or anything like that.  I do remember a long while ago, I was working in a huge office full of mostly men, many of whom were hairy-arsed seafarers (I can’t vouch for the hairy bits but I base the judgement on their beards), they’d  been employed as engineers, officers and Captains on massive international oil tankers, travelling the world for months on end, encountering pirates and tropical storms, weevils in their biscuits and all sorts.  One afternoon someone noticed a baby field mouse running across the large open-plan office floor.   All those rufty-tufty middle-aged mariners around and yet it was the new recruit, a 28-year old female admin assistant, who calmly knelt down and caught the panicky rodent in her hands.  (I simply cupped them around it gently and took it outside...)

So I’m fond of all things small and wild - hairy-arsed, even - but I’m concerned about how to deal with several mice running around our tiny home with all its quirky corners; I have visions of an infestation.  

I’ll cut past the chase now…the chasing bit was futile.  We bought a humane trap for £3.99 and left a piece of my favourite Tesco 74% cocoa dark chocolate inside as bait (the sacrifices I make!)  About twenty minutes after laying it, it had caught a mouse.  She was dead cute – as in cute, but not dead (I couldn’t do dead).  All pink nose and twitchy whiskers - I could happily have kept her as a pet, but we took her out for a ride in the car and released her by torchlight a few miles away in a hedge – I'm sure she’ll be fine, she’s a country mouse.

What about all the other mice?  Well, it's been a few days now and it seems there are no other mice, just one extremely clever one (except when it comes to resisting chocolate) who managed to move unseen from room to room, upstairs and downstairs, via her incredible stealth, or possibly the power of invisibility.  

At this point it also dawns on us about the mysterious sensation under the duvet....

Monday, 28 November 2016

Cheese and biscuits

There was this kitchen cupboard where my mum kept the biscuits.  I can picture it now, and opening it up to get to the old tins she kept for storing them in.  A particular lovely tin was the Cadbury’s Lucky Numbers one, and another was labelled Peek Freans (who used to make the Playbox selection, those classic biscuits which made your tongue sore through the customary licking-off of icing).  The Lucky Numbers container later became home for the collection of Betta Bilda blocks my sister and I played with (for some reason we never got into Lego, we just used to make lots of open plan white brick houses with green roofs, perfect in the ’60s and ‘70s).  Anyway,  I had so much love for those tins, more than they warranted really.   They were special, symbolic even - of the whiff of pink wafers and chocolate digestives, of biscuits which shouldn’t have been stored together (gingernuts and jammy dodgers, anyone?) whose flavours and smells rubbed off on one another due to the cross-contamination in space-saving storage solutions.  

 There was one other tin in the cupboard which preoccupied me, but for something other than its contents.  Barmouths or Gipsy Creams, Jaffa Cakes or even Betta Bilda - it wouldn’t have mattered, it was the picture on the side which captivated.  I think we'd been given this as a present originally, and that it was foreign; I remember the picture being of a woman holding a container and - this was the wondrous and fascinating thing about it – the tin that she was holding was also the one I was looking at!  And it was obvious that the woman shown on the tin that the woman on the tin was holding, was also holding a tin showing a woman holding a tin showing…… yes, one of those.   Although I couldn’t see it, I knew it went on forever - forever into infinity, too tiny to pick out with the human eye – but the thought alone just boggled my mind.  A bit like if you’ve ever thought too deeply about the vastness of the universe and you start to feel weird and dizzy and have to think about something mundane like hard boiled eggs instead -  in fact I have to stop myself going there now.

(Eggs, think about eggs!)

Anyway, this image fascinated me so much, I asked my big sister, who knew about mysterious things like formaldehyde and quicksand, what it might be called.  Was there a name for such a thing, a picture within a picture within a picture?  She didn’t know.  So, after much thought we made up our very own special word for it, and felt very chuffed.  I wish I could remember the word we decided on, I’m sure it was something that sounded suitably grown-up, like pictomath or propagraph – something sort of technical.

I hadn’t thought about this in ages, and then I just happened to fancy some cheese spread today, went to the fridge and took out the little box of Laughing Cow triangles when I noticed something that had simply passed me by until now – that the Laughing Cow is wearing a rather fancy pair of earrings...

Look closely at those earrings and what do you see?  Laughing cows wearing laughing cows wearing laughing cows wearing....

(Eggs!  Think about eggs!) 

Wish I could remember that made-up word!  A parapod?  A hypertype?

I've had to go and look it up of course… turns out there isn't one distinct technical word for the picture within a picture (or what's described as a ‘recursive’ image, I discovered) but the principle itself is called the Droste Effect.  What’s that all about?  Well, apparently it was named after the Dutch chocolate company Droste, who made a tin with a picture of a woman holding a tin with a picture of (etc. etc).   The very same picture as the one that was on the tin that was in the cupboard where my mum kept the biscuits.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

My bestest most favouritest songs ever ever - part 4

I've been waiting a while to post this favourite song, and now the time is right! As suggested by fellow blogger Swiss Adam from Bagging Area in an excellent recent post, with all the unbelievable crap that's going on around us politically and socially, we can at least resist by sharing some - to paraphrase SA (thanks!)  - 'up' tunes, songs to raise the spirit and put a smile on the face, etc.  Well, this one always puts a smile on my face - hopefully yours too.

It was actually the first song I'd ever heard by Nouvelle Vague, thanks to a friend who has inspired and delighted by sharing their musical taste with me via compilation tapes and CDs for many years.  Ten years ago, not long after the release of NV's Bande À Part album, a CD arrived which included this one, nestled alongside tracks by the Butthole Surfers, Favourite Sons, Saint Etienne, Ted Leo & the Pharmacists, .... see what I mean? I was inspired and delighted indeed.

'Dance With Me' has to be not only one of my bestest most favouritest songs ever ever but also one of the sexiest.  I mean proper (improper?) sexy: dirty kinky dark (insert your personal predilection here) sexy.

Let's dance little stranger
Show me secret sins
Love can be like bondage
Seduce me once again

Ohhhhhh!  (that's me, not the song lyric)

Credit must go to Lords of the New Church of course for writing it in the first place, but to me their original sounds like the Ramones channeling Duran Duran - nothing against that idea, in fact it could be quite interesting -  but once you've heard it stripped back and sung in a female French accent there really is no turning back.

To top it all, some clever person has worked out that it fits one of my bestest most favouritest scenes ever ever in the Jean-Luc Godard nouvelle vague film, 'Bande À Part', where Anna Karina dances between Claude Brasseur and Sami Frey (a scene which influenced the dance scene with Uma Thurman and John Travolta in Pulp Fiction).   With Nouvelle Vague as its new soundtrack, the circle is so neatly completed. Perfect.

(In the spirit of Swiss Adam's suggestion)
 Fuck fascism, dance with me!

(Thanks also to TheRobster at Is This The Life? whose post prompted me to listen to some NV again!)

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Life's great disappointments

Adam looking rather gorgeous 

I won’t mince my words: everyone said it was shit.  “How can it be?” we thought, “it’s a punk film!”  I’d already bought the soundtrack album to Jubilee, having fallen for the cover and its inclusion of tracks by Chelsea and Adam & The Ants;  I knew that Siouxsie, Jordan and the Slits made an appearance, so it had to be good.

“It was shit,” my boyfriend and I concluded after we’d made it all the way to an Arthouse Cinema in Covent Garden one Sunday afternoon in 1979 to see it.  It didn’t help that the film broke half way through and a very well-spoken, somewhat adenoidal, lecturer-in-film-studies type bloke came out to convince everyone to bear with him while he tried to fix it because it was at a crucial point in the narrative or something. 

Maybe I’d have more patience for it now, be more open-minded, but I'm coming at this from the viewpoint of my 16-year-old self and I was not impressed.  I guess I’d built it up too much in my mind.  Adam did look rather gorgeous and there is that track on the album with the corniest wordplay title and a Charlie’s Angels type theme which I reminded myself of today and I still like it for all its 70s-ishness.  Apart from that, though, Jubilee, for me, has gone down as one of life’s great disappointments.

Amilcar: Wargasm In Pornotopia

I reckon I’m very lucky to have led a fairly blessed life so far because I can’t think of all that many other disappointing things, except for toffee apples.  What other so-called treats deliver so much promise – toffee and apples for a start – dressed up as huge lollipops in shiny gold-red glazing, yet fail to live up to it every time?  They look so good, they taste so bad.  A difficult first bite, musty mushy apples, pips and toothache all spring to mind, although I’d be interested to know if anyone has any differing experience of them.  Is it just me?

Ok, now I'm thinking about disappointments, another of mine was the Brownies.  They were supposed to be  action-packed gatherings with mysterious initiation ceremonies  for secret agent style missions, interspersed with baked potatoes.  Weren’t they?  Instead, my enduring memory is of spending a whole Saturday polishing shoes for which I was awarded  a sew-on patch.  I also had to forego watching a favourite after-school telly programme (my uncool confession is that it was the Thursday edition of ‘Blue Peter’)  to become a bored Elf for an hour a week; no secret agent style missions nor baked potatoes.  Mr SDS tells me he was equally disappointed after joining the Cubs, having been led to believe after a Cubs Open Day that there were always going to be coffee, hotdogs and possibly armed combat.

My mysterious Brownie initiation ceremony

There’s one other thing I can think of right now as being a genuine disappointment in life and that’s Ghost Trains.  Much like toffee apples, their outer appearance is deceptive.  

It'll tear your soul apart!

I can’t even remember much about the last one I went on, and it was only five years ago.  I think it did indeed promise to tear our souls apart.  I've a vague memory of going through lots of curtains and getting sprayed with water but, come to think of it, it was worth the entry fee for the helpless laughter it caused my friend and me, so maybe not so disappointing after all, and better than Jubilee.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Happy scary families

Over the last six months my cousin, sister and I have been clearing out my late aunt and uncle’s house.  They were such lovely people but they did keep a lot of Stuff.  And you know what Stuff is… anything from out of date Oxo cubes to broken picture frames to soldering wire.  Seemingly random items share floor, wall and cupboard space, many untouched for decades.  For example, in a room lined with shelves of empty jars kept for jam-making and dozens of boxes of radio components,  an old cat collar and an odd shoe had been placed on a rusty bike.  No sign of the other shoe.  Nor the cat.  But we haven’t given up hope of finding either.

It was a hugely daunting and poignant task at first, but as we clear away numerous cornflake packets recycled into paper hoppers, programmes from 1980s theatre trips and… well just about anything else you can think of… we’ve uncovered more interesting items.  Letters written by my grandfather to my dad and uncle when they were evacuated during WWII tell of his fears and hopes in such uncertain times; they were in the same file as an original newspaper from 1945, its front page dominated by two words:  HITLER DEAD.   There are political books everywhere - it's all Labour Party, Communism and Anarchism.   Other ancient books, sepia photos and documents tease us with snippets of lives we're connected to but know little about.  For now we’re putting these to one side to go through later, when we have the time to be fascinated and educated by them without competing for space.  I may write more about these another day.

In the meantime, I’ve rescued a few little things that were destined for tip or charity shop.  So far, just a giant pencil, a cloth map of Suffolk from 1948 and a sachet of stir fry sauce with a long use by date on it.  It's like a real life version of that memory game you play on long car journeys.

I also brought home a tatty old pack of playing cards to look through, Jaques Original Happy Families.  John Tenniel, best known later for his Alice In Wonderland artwork, was commissioned to do these illustrations in 1851, when he was a cartoonist for Punch magazine.  At the time, Happy Families was a brand new game and became a great success.   Although these Jaques designs have been reproduced since and are still in circulation, I hadn't seen them before.  The Happy Families cards I played with as a kid were all smiley, jolly and child-friendly, not like these at all, which have got to be to be some of the most grotesque and alarming characterisations I’ve ever seen on a pack of cards.  Seeing as it's Hallowe'en, I thought I'd share some of my scariest favourites.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Your skin is black metallic

Chrysolina Banksi – what a lovely name!  I’d like to adopt it as a(nother) pseudonym.  The Chrysolina part sounds feminine, and the Banksi bit makes me think of:

The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum / Banksy

As a lover of small things with multiple legs I’d be happy to share the name with its original owner, this little beetle.  (I’m not 100% sure that he is a Chrysolina Banksi, but he fits the description.)

I found him lying on his back on the kitchen floor last night, so I helped him to his feet and guided him out the door.  Then this morning there he was, climbing the walls.  (A scenario which may or may not be familiar to you, but you know I won’t judge).

My photos don’t do him justice, for in reality it was like finding a shiny black bead (or pearl earring!) which when turned to the light gleamed a burnished bronze, decorated with the finest stippling.  Absolutely beautiful.

It made me think of this too; ages since I've played it - I still like it a lot.

Monday, 17 October 2016

Fear and A Field In England, part two

(Yeah, I know I wrote part one about 37 years ago...)

When I was a kid, I suffered from asthma and bronchitis.  Memories of carefree Summers eating Dalek Death Ray ice lollies and cycling up and down the road on Dobbin, my little gold bike, are frequently interrupted by less palatable recollections.  Those of damp Winters lying in my parents’ bed, short of breath and feverish, being fed spoonfuls of foul-tasting Tedril, a thick yellow medicine that looked a lot like the stuff it was supposed to help me stop coughing up.

My high temperatures led to hallucinations.  Some were innocuous – like reaching out for a non-existent glass of orange juice - but others seemed malevolent.  There was one I remember vividly to this day in which a rotating globe was floating above the foot of the bed.  There were numerical figures all around it, like a dial, and I lay there watching it move in terror as I knew that when a point on the globe met with the number 99, it signified my imminent death.  I probably didn’t think it in those actual words, as I was only 8.  But I knew I was about to die.  In a panic, I called out for Mum and as she calmed me down with her lovely soothing manner the globe went away, but what sticks with me is that I had been awake throughout, not dreaming, and that it could seem so very real, so tangible.

It’s perhaps partly for this reason that (other than a few brief encounters with my college pal’s supply of Red Leb, which didn’t really work for me) I’ve never had any desire to indulge in mind-altering substances. I'm not sure I want to unleash anything else from my darker imagination.

There were plenty of opportunities though.  Behind my college were fields and woods where magic mushrooms grew.  Ray, the best looking lad in my Foundation Art group, ate a load of them before an Art History lecture and laughed all the way through the Pre-Raphaelites.  He left the course soon after, or was he chucked out?  I don’t know, but he went on to play drums for a band fronted by his extrovert brother who, it was reported, would deliberately strip naked before opening the door to Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Anyway, what I’m getting to in a very long-winded way is the film that’s based all around one big magic mushroom trip: A Field In England. 

Or is it?  If you've seen the film, do you think it’s all a hallucination, or subscribe to one idea that the field represents Purgatory and that they’re all dead already?  Or something else altogether?  Did you think it was a masterpiece of surrealist black and white cinematography, or a load of pretentious old bollocks?

Looking through reviews of the film on IMDb, there are some very varied opinions, such as:

‘tedious hype’

‘wow, just wow’

‘a dull plot in England’

‘subversive and fresh’

In case you haven’t seen the film but want to, I won’t say any more except that in an interview with Dangerous Minds, director Ben Wheatley said he thinks “there’s too much reliance and importance put on clarity of narrative and that everything is explained all the time….  Script books seem to me to be written in a way that it’s like stories written by accountants – everything has to have its place, everything has to mean something, it’s very specific, there should be no ambiguity about what something means.”   He continues “… life is not like that, it’s much more complex and ambiguous and difficult, and that interests me more”.  Maybe it's best to bear that in mind before you start viewing.

I didn’t, and I wish I had - but I liked it.  I was immediately reeled in by the dialogue and the imagery, and loved the characterizations and earthy humour; however as this isn’t a film with an easy, coherent storyline it took a little while before I realised that I needed to just let go and let its madness take over.  Then it started to feel like I was watching someone else’s dream - or hallucination. It was only after a few  hours of it finishing that I found myself thinking about it more and more, like some kind of strange creeping infatuation, and for a while I became mildly obsessed by it.

There's one scene in particular that sticks in my mind as vividly as the taste of Tedril and my imaginary rotating death globe.  If you’ve seen it, you’ll know which one it is.   A huge part of its haunting, compellingly abstract power is due to the choice of music behind it, lush, dark, hypnotically cyclical.  This is it (not the scene, I wouldn’t spoil it for you, but the music alone).  It just works so well and every time I hear it now I can see Reece Shearsmith as he.... well....

Blanck Mass is Benjamin John Power, who I'm reliably informed is one of the founding members of Fuck Buttons.

I've also been reliably informed that it sounds a lot like Tangerine Dream’s Mysterious Semblance At the Strand of Nightmares.  That title does kind of sum up the film itself pretty well too.


Trivia note:  I was introduced to one of the very fine actors from this film at my friend’s funeral earlier this year, a lovely man.  It was quite strange to then watch him playing this part having met him for real a few weeks beforehand .   But I must say, I really hadn’t expected to be seeing his character's syphilitic penis ;-)

Friday, 14 October 2016

The song retains the name #2

We were ruminating about reincarnation.  Feeling particularly sorry for myself for reasons I won’t go into except to say it’s a female thing, I said to Mr SDS this morning, “When you come back, don’t be a woman”.

“I don’t think you get to come back as a human again anyway,” he said. 

“Oh, that’d be alright then, I wouldn’t really want to.  Humans think too much.”

“So what would you be?” we both asked the other, simultaneously.

Mr SDS suggested a dog, which might be ok, although I’d worry about not having a kindly owner.  I think I’d prefer to be something wild.

“How about a giraffe?”  he proposed. 

“Bit dodgy with all those lions around."

“Then what about a lion?”

I liked that idea.  At first, anyway.  Then Mr SDS reminded me that it’d be hard work, having to run around killing things all day.

Killing things all day…. not really my cup of tea.  I’d rather not be a carnivore.  How about a mouse?

“With cats tossing you about in the air before eating your head?”  He was right of course.  Not a mouse.

“A fish!” was his final suggestion.   I was pensive for a moment, imagining myself swimming around in the deepest part of the deepest ocean, weaving gracefully between the corals, fins flapping, miles from mankind and land and fishing lines.  It was all very Blue Planet, beautiful. That’s it: a fish.  Yes.

“But not a small fish… you’d get eaten by bigger fish”

“Then I’ll just have to be a big fish.  I won’t mind eating a few smaller ones.”

So that’s it, settled - I want to come back as a big fish.

And fish lead me neatly to today’s Song Retains The Name instalment, wherein I post tracks by a band whose name is also the title of a song by another.   You were worried there, weren’t you, that I might be leading to this man...

but there will be no Marillion on this blog.

I should add that for this series I’m allowing a slight variation in the name/song title if one is pluralised.  I call it the ‘s’ rule.   So we could have the Temptations, and then Heaven 17’s Temptation, for example, and not worry about the 's'.

This allows me to post these:

I can’t remember when I first heard Summer Fun! by the Barracudas, but I don’t remember it from the year of its release, even though it reached No. 37 in the charts at the time (1980) and they made it onto Top Of The Pops.  (Hat tip to my good friend who once made a cool little fanzine called Summer Fun!)

 I do, however, remember playing it in the record shop I worked in a few years later, when sixties beat and psychedelia, both original and revival, seemed to be making a more significant resurgence.  We made sure the shelves were stacked with Nuggets, Nomads, Lime Spiders and Standells, etc. (and I spent most of my wages on them).

This English band were inspired to call themselves the Barracudas after the song by the Standells, which could make my inclusion of the band a bit of an iffy choice as it’s not just a coincidence.  However I discussed this recently with my independent adjudicator and decided to let these through if I like the songs enough.  Therefore I can have both, so here are the Standells and their rather splendid song Barracuda, from 1967 (I think).  Ed Cobb wrote this, as well a number of other tracks for the Standells, but is perhaps most well known for having written Tainted Love.

(I really should have put the Standells before the Barracudas - oh well.)
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