Sunday, 1 July 2018

RIP Peter Firmin

Such a shame today to read of the death of Peter Firmin, co-creator of the much-loved Clangers, Pogles Wood and more.  There's a lovely piece about him here.

In the meantime, I wrote about an exhibition of his work a couple of years ago, so - please forgive the lazy repetition today - here it is again as a reminder of some of his superb creations, ones that are sure to evoke many happy childhood memories for those of us of a certain age.


(First posted September 2016)

The other day a friend from the West Country sent me this fantastic card in the post.

She would be staying in London for a while, cat-sitting, she said - did I have time to get down to the East End? So I made time for a flying visit yesterday.

We met at Liverpool Street, from where she, in her vivid blue jumper and me, in my new bright green coat, took a rainbow-coloured No. 8 bus

to see a large pink stripey cat (not the one my friend is looking after.)

More on that in a minute.

First we stopped at what must surely be one of the most memorable and wonderful East End caffs (or is it a restaurant?  or a greasy spoon?) in the city - E Pellicci.  Everyone is greeted like an old friend, many are old friends - it's no wonder.  Hugs, chat, banter.  Total warmth.  It's noisy, vibrant... just real.  A far cry from the English tea room vibe which proliferates around my locality - sweet as that can be for visits by ageing relatives, sometimes I feel what I can only describe as an underlying sense of uptightness to our rural establishments.  You couldn't get much further from uptight at this place, though.  I had a lovely cuppa and sponge pudding with custard and learned how to say my friend's name with an authentic Italian accent.  Loudly!  The ebullience of our host was contagious. The surroundings are interesting too - beautiful Italian art deco marquetry on the walls had been put in during the 1940s, the old cash till (think Open All Hours) is still in use; the same warm and welcoming family have run this place for over a hundred years on hospitality and home cooking - why change?

After good conversation and a sugar fix, my friend and I dash on up to the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.

This is where we see Bagpuss... and Professor Yaffle..

... as part of a small, but beautiful, exhibition of the fabulous world of Smallfilms - Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's creations that are forever lodged in the memories of those of us who spent our childhood in their joyous company.

Bagpuss was a bit after my time - first aired in 1974 - so, lovely as he and his companions are, I didn't get that same special thrill at seeing him.

I got my special thrill from seeing these, ohh! the Pogles!  My favourite!

Look at little Tog on the right.  He was some indeterminate species of animal, sort of squirrel-like with rabbity feet.  Apparently they all had to have weights in their feet to stop them falling over during filming.

"I'll be respectable when I'm dead, Mrs Pogle," says Amos (on the left). "Until then, I'll shout and sing as I like".  Go for it Amos!

The witch was extremely scary, I mean really scary, and even scarier to see pinned up under glass yesterday.  Apparently a number of stories were planned for the witch but were never screened because the BBC thought them too frightening.   I tried to take a photo of her but I think she cursed it as all I ended up with was a nasty black smudge.

If you remember Pogles' Wood, then you'll no doubt recall Noggin the Nog. I love the artwork for this 2-D animation classic.  I'm currently working on a book with human characters and, quite coincidentally, I'd recently been looking at some of Peter Firmin's illustrations for inspiration, so it was brilliant to see his work for real.  Look at this wonderful art for the Ice Dragon!

And then of course we have The Clangers.

They were a bit larger than I expected.  Peter Firmin's wife knitted them and apparently some of their space-age clothes were inspired by pictures of Twiggy.

Well yes.

And you can't have Clangers without Froglets, nor the Soup Dragon....

"Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?" I heard a young bearded man say to his friend in disbelief.

Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?!  I couldn't get a good shot of said chicken, but I must say it was lovely to see him again after all these years.

Well, it was good to see them all, after all these years.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Abstract moment of the week #9

I think the manufacturers of these protective gloves must be having a bit of a laugh.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Tribute to a remarkable, much-loved man

If you’ve been following the life and times of Matt Johnson and The The, you probably know that they have just embarked on a really special comeback tour but also that last weekend in the midst of this, Matt’s father died unexpectedly.   I know that he and his brother, and the whole family, are absolutely devastated at this huge loss and my heart goes out to them all; my deepest sympathies.  It is so very sad and perhaps especially poignant at this time.  Eddie was a remarkable, much-loved man and I can say this with conviction because he had also become very dear to me personally.

I am actually still struggling to believe he’s gone.  He was such a big character that I just felt like he'd go on forever.  I was going to pop round this week for our usual cup of tea and a natter (and a big slice of cake or a Belgian bun, he always treated me!) - something I’ve done dozens of times in the last couple of years.  Through the deep sadness following the illness and death of my good friend, his eldest son Andrew, it was something so positive; we had formed a lovely, easy connection of our own.  At first it was really that we had Andy in common and took comfort from that, but it soon became a unique friendship in its own right.  It was perhaps an unlikely bond given our age difference, but Eddie had a presence and timelessness about him which meant you could relate on so many levels and age was no barrier at all.  As I said to a friend the other day, how many octogenarians are likely to talk to you about anything and everything from jellied eels to Johnny Marr?!  I remember coming home from seeing him one day, smiling to myself about the fact that our two hour conversation had just ranged through so many subjects, from Brexit to Auf Wiedersehen Pet to pease pudding to J G Thirlwell!  

Just like Andy, he was a fantastic conversationalist with a cheeky sense of humour and I never tired of the tales of the extraordinary life he had led in his eighty-plus years.  This was a man who had mingled with some of the East End’s most notorious characters in his days as landlord of a popular pub, a venue where he’d also had the Small Faces rehearse in an upstairs room.   He had also coped with more than his fair share of tragedy.  And he could tell you fascinating stories about the past, but was not stuck in it.  We frequently talked about politics and current affairs, and he taught me a lot; in return he seemed to enjoy it when I shared some of my knowledge on subjects close to my heart such as birds and nature.  

But even more than all the things we enjoyed in conversation, he was caring, warm and generous, a great father to his immensely talented sons, and he allowed me to feel so included, being supportive and interested in what I was doing too, and  I valued that.  I just wish I could pop round for a cup of tea with him now and tell him - but I think, and hope, he knew.  

I shall miss him greatly.

Friday, 1 June 2018

Growing up fast

I mentioned in my last post how "it felt like I’d grown up fast" the night I first went to a gig without my friends.   I also mentioned that I had quite liberal parents, who had no issues with me seeing bands and getting into punk in my early teens.  I suspect they also knew that the smell of Polo mints on my breath whenever they picked me up from a night out was only there to hide the whiff of cigarettes and alcohol, but they never said anything.  So it was all pretty good, back in ’78 and ’79, and I have such fond, vivid memories of those exciting and undoubtedly pivotal years. 

Things changed just a couple of years later when my parents’ marriage finally fell apart.

It had been on its last legs for a long while, to be honest.  I’ve made no secret of it: my mum suffered from clinical depression throughout her adult life and had had some pretty horrendous episodes.  At the same time, she and my dad were becoming increasingly incompatible; the two things were somewhat intertwined.  To cut a long story short, my father left home when I was 17, after a weird and painful break-up.  He's never shown any interest in me or my life in all the years since, which feels more shitty now in retrospect than it did at the start,  but that's another story.  Going back to when they split, I witnessed a lot of shouting, tears, and even some broken crockery.  Oh and mum playing David Bowie’s ‘Aladdin Sane’ album in the early hours (I couldn’t fault her taste there – a great album - but I can’t disassociate it from that period!)

Anyway, when my father finally left, my older sister had just moved out too, and so there was a really odd and uncomfortable period in my life when it was just me and my mum living at home, and my mum was suffering from depression.  She'd been hospitalised for it before so I was familiar with the scenario.  Sometimes she would spend days on end in bed, and I’d have to go and get her prescriptions and take care of her, which - being a snotty, self-obsessed teenager - I resented.  It's kind of what makes you resilient, though - natural teenage selfishness!   At other times she’d be up and about but behaving strangely – her actions could be a bit over-the-top or misjudged.   Not that it was always easy then for me to discern between what was strange and what was normal, because she was my mother – she was all I knew.  However, I realise that this is the reason why I sometimes still feel a certain discomfort if life around me gets a bit chaotic, and why I also feel the need to steer clear of anyone or any situation which might be toxic in some way. Do you know what I mean?  Some people seem to get off on all that in a weird way, but there are so many toxic people - toxic relationships - that can bleed into your psyche if you let them.   I just can’t go there, I need to protect myself .  One whiff of toxicity (it’s just like that smell of Polo mints masking cigarettes and alcohol) and I’m out.

But at the same time, something very positive came out of it, because I learned that I simply couldn’t depend on either parent at that time and thus, ultimately, I only have myself.  It sounds harsh but it was as if there was no role model I could really lean on mentally because one was absent and the other could be a bit doolally.   It felt as if there was no big, strong, 100% reliable, parent figure who could make everything alright.  Whilst leaving me feeling a little cast adrift -  unsafe, even - it also quickly instilled in me a very deep and strong sense of self-reliance, self-sufficiency.   I'm a big believer in the notion that we all need to take responsibility for ourselves and our lives, so much so that it irks me when other people don't.   I read somewhere recently that this often happens when the parents of teenagers divorce (which may be a different effect to that on those who are very young); their children quickly learn to develop their independence.

People have far worse situations to deal with when growing up so I've nothing to complain about, but the way our experiences shape us is something that fascinates me and I'm interested in the psychology of why we develop the way we do, and where some of our attitudes and characteristics come from.  I'm pretty sure the way I feel about self-reliance is as a result of my odd home life in those teenage years, and it developed in me an innate determination to achieve my personal goals and not to expect nor depend on help. Maybe it’s no bad thing sometimes to have to grow up a little fast.

A lighter post to follow next time!

Monday, 28 May 2018

Anniversary snapshots: 28th May 1978

On May 28th 1978 Adam & the Ants were booked to play at my local venue.  I was barely able to contain my excitement when I heard.  It was only five months since I’d been to my first gig, when Siouxsie & the Banshees had played at the same place.  Five months is a long time when you’re 14 and in that interim the venue had become my regular haunt, usually twice a week (depending on the demands of homework).  My three friends and I always went together to watch bands, drink cider and mingle with fellow punk fans.

We felt at home there in a way we rarely did anywhere else; we were all outsiders together.  Mostly punks, a few rock types, a couple of hippies and one or two general oddballs.  The club occasionally played host to artists who were not too well-known to overcrowd its intimate small-town setting, but were established or culty enough to have made it into the music papers or perhaps recorded sessions for John Peel.  Bands like Adam & the Ants who, in spite of not even having recorded their first single yet, had gained an underground following I’d read about.

And they were coming to my town!  Presumably with Jordan – the embodiment of London art punk outrageousness, the most outstanding looking woman I’d seen in the whole of this brave new underworld  - I was in awe.

But my friends couldn’t come that night.  At fourteen, and female, was I brave enough to go on my own and spend the whole evening there without them? 

“Well we’re going down to the Jazz Club later, so you can come home with us,” my mum said – meaning that she and my dad would be in the adjacent bar for the latter part of the night and my lift home was assured.  It was a deal.  (I was deprived of any excuse to rebel against them - they were too liberal!)

It was a warm, light evening as  I walked across town on my own, then waited nervously outside the door to get in, along with some unfamiliar faces who’d clearly come down from London - but the queue wasn’t as big as I’d expected.  And then I noticed the hand-written sign and overheard the conversation filtering through the line:  Adam & the Ants had cancelled.

So on this date 40 years ago I didn't actually see Adam & the Ants, or Jordan.  I saw The Automatics on my own instead.  Regulars at the Marquee and with a vocalist who'd briefly been a member of the Boys beforehand,  they were pretty good (listening to them again now, they sound quite power pop too).  And being on my own had its advantages;  I got chatted up by the guitarist from a local band who was also there on his own, a bloke a fair bit older than me, about 20.

 “Can I buy you a drink?” he asked. 

“Oh yes, a pint please”.   

“A pint of what…?” 

Beer”, I replied helpfully, thinking myself very grown up.

And then we stood together with our drinks, hardly able to talk above the noise.  I think the ‘beer’ went to my head a bit, because it wasn’t long before I turned round and kissed him full on the lips. Well, he looked like Mick Jones.  I think I took him a little by surprise.

When the evening ended, it was a little awkward, as I had to wait for my parents, which didn’t seem very cool.  But ‘Mick Jones’ and me said lovely if slightly clumsy goodbyes and, even without Adam & The Ants, I’d had a great evening.  Then I waited there in the foyer alone, as the last few people filed out of the hall.  A great big older punk bloke whom I’d never seen before – a Londoner, I think, maybe he'd been part of the Automatics' entourage – stopped and looked at me. 

“Do you wanna fuck?”  he asked, just like that.  Straight to the point.

I don’t think he was too chuffed when I said a polite “No thank you”, trying not to show my disbelief.

With that, he called me a “boiler” and marched out the door – just before my mum and dad appeared and drove me home - I didn't tell them.

It felt like I’d grown up pretty fast that night.

Adam & The Ants did come to my town in the end – in March the following year, six months before the release of  Dirk Wears White Sox.; they were great.  And I stood and watched them with the bloke who’d bought me that pint, as we'd been going out together for 2 weeks.

The Automatics: When The Tanks Roll Over Poland Again b/w Watch Her

Adam & The Ants: Zerox Machine 

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Look through any window

A very quick visual post today as the result of an afternoon out with friends yesterday.  Our outing included, but was not limited to, some of my favourite things: sunshine, spotty pigs, peacocks (elegantly named Dave and Steve), gargoyles, olde stuffe, a maze, beehives and macaroni cheese.  All in the same place too, just five minutes' walk from my home, but where I've never before ventured beyond the gates.  I've just looked through the bars longingly, many times, like a child pressing her nose against the toy shop window. Sometimes, ironically, places of interest are so nearby that you simply don't take advantage of them. "Oh, but I can go there any time," you think, and as a result you don't.

Anyway, yesterday I did, and took quite a few pics, including some of the spotty pigs and Dave, or was it Steve?  I merely ate the macaroni cheese.  We saw bees chasing a gardener (they didn't like the vibrations of the lawnmower, apparently) and fed the carp in the moat.  Of all the many beautiful, ancient and quirky sights we enjoyed, though, there was another favourite thing - or perhaps theme -  that kept catching my eye, all within this one location. What is is it about old and often tatty doors and windows that I find so appealing?  Something mysterious perhaps - and the idea that they are portals, that so many people have passed through or peered through them, over decades - or centuries.   I'm glad that now includes me.

(Inside the high, creepy attic - which easily fitted the
criteria for this)

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Def leopard

Yesterday in a small market town in Hertfordshire, two women were spotted looking at their reflections in the windows of a Toni & Guy.  “Let’s check ourselves out!” one had suggested, laughing -  and looking back at them, posing stupidly in the rain-spattered reflection, were two 55-year olds, smiling broadly under their umbrellas, both dressed in leopard-spot coats, dark jeans and black boots.  A bemused customer inside having her roots retouched grinned in the mirror.

We did turn a few heads.  I mean, I knew she had a leopard spot coat too – a bit different from mine in that it’s fluffy and a tad more golden in shade, but what were the chances of us both wearing them today?  We only get together a few times a year, reuniting here in our old hometown, the place we rarely visit now, but where we first met at school.   If it had been sunnier, I would've worn my green coat.  If it had been warmer, she would have worn her black jacket.  But it was cold and wet and we'd both dressed as big cats.

“Hey, but we’re cool!  We’re rock’n’roll!  We used to be in a band!” I assured my dear friend playfully  – we were never in a band, at least not a real one, but somehow we might as well have been, as that’s how it felt to be part of our little punk scene here, forty years ago.  You sort of felt like a someone; it was like a rural equivalent of the Bromley Contingent.  And some of its regular characters who weren’t known then did go on to be bigger someones.  It was as if there was something special about this town and its thriving underground music scene that nurtured its rebellious youth a particular way.  

As well as catching up on news and views over lunch, we luxuriated in a little reminiscing, about a time when we might both have killed for the leopard spot coats we were now wearing, but wouldn’t have been able to get one anywhere.  I'd been lucky enough to get a pair of tailor-made leopard print trousers (with a drawstring waist!) through a small ad in the back pages of the NME when I was 15.  The young fashion student making them up to order on her electric sewing machine knew she was onto something.  I loved those trousers like a pet - a rare, exotic pet.  You just couldn’t buy these things off the peg in the late seventies – in fact the only women you’d see in this fabric pattern (a scarf, or a skirt, perhaps) were also likely to be in their late seventies.  Okay, they probably weren’t, they were most likely only 55 too – but anyone over the age of 30 just got boxed into a category we thought of as ‘old’, didn't they?

Maybe that’s what the 15-year-old schoolgirls coming down the street thought when they caught sight of us as we wandered back from our reunion lunch with wine and garlic on our breath....  Oh - look at those two daft old ladies, both in leopard print coats!

(No! We're rock'n'roll! We used to be in a band!  Almost!)

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?
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...