Thursday, 1 October 2015

Shiny, shiny, shiny boots of leather

In a room with dark walls and long, purple, velvet curtains, the high chandeliers emitting only the dimmest glow from above, I was a voyeur. It was warm, and in the background slow, hypnotic music played, as I peered at the objects of desire in all their leather, fur, jewels, ribbons and buckles... out of reach... untouchable. Sex, seduction, submission and power were recurring themes throughout. Pleasure and pain.


Not just any old shoes. Well, some old shoes, yes.... shoes that were centuries old... others which looked like cars (complete with tail-lights, the Pradas worn by Kylie), fairytale slippers (including Cinderella's glass Swarovski one created for the recent Disney film) and tiny, tiny Chinese shoes to fit women's feet that had been bound so as not to exceed the “ideal” length of 7cm. 7 cm! 

(I did feel slightly sick at this thought.)
(I still feel slightly sick.)

The lovely V&A, one of my favourite places in London, is hosting a fascinating exhibition – Shoes: Pleasure and Pain. I'm sure I wasn't alone in wanting to visualise the original wearer of the knee-high red leather boots, with 40 pairs of lace holes threaded with gold braid, lined in silk, so curvily shaped to emphasise her slim ankles and sensual calves. She would have been wearing them nearly a hundred years ago.

Other pictures formed in my head on seeing the Christian Louboutin/David Lynch collaboration, the ultimate in fetish shoes. Like ballet pumps with heels which bent round so they were parallel to the base of the shoe, these were made to be...

impossible to walk in, so that

     the wearer of them

          can only


And they were designed to be viewed from behind too.... their soles are completely transparent.

A picture is forming in your head as well, isn't it? It's difficult for it not to, I know.

Men's shoes too: I wouldn't want anyone to think this was a show that could only interest women. Glorious 1950s winkle-pickers with impossibly pointed toes, biker style boots with straps and buckles (which I noted were from Shelly's... a place much frequented by my friends and me in the '80s).  High-heeled and fancily decorated in beads and studs were the boots worn by those most rugged and macho of men: cowboys. Glam rock platform boots and jewel-encrusted mojaris worn by Indian royalty 200 years ago defied gender stereotypes too. If you've any interest in history, design and society, you can learn a huge amount just from looking at shoes through the ages and, like so many things, they're a reminder that much of what we think of as 'modern' has been done before - long before.

I knew I'd be on foot most of the day, and have to jump onto tube trains and walk down busy streets, so I wore some comfortably worn-in zipped ankle boots. The chunky heels are wearing down and the toes are square. But it was obvious from the display I saw that, throughout history, the most significant and desirable footwear is, of course, not actually meant to be walked in.

Saturday, 26 September 2015

Random access memory #3

The outer sleeve of the fourth (or was it fifth?) album I ever bought was the thickest and stiffest I'd seen. The card was really sort of heavy, and had a wider than normal spine. There was a particular texture to it that made it feel different too; perhaps because of its matt silver finish.

I bought it some time in 1978, can't recall exactly when, but I remember playing it a lot and for some reason I have a specific memory of putting it on just before heading out to a party. I was kneeling in front of our ancient portable electric heater, a cumbersome thing, which fizzed and popped and clicked in a rather ominous way while emitting an intense heat the smell of burnt dust, but it was the best way to dry my hair. I simply knelt in front of it with my head bent forward so that my hair hung upside down and then when I looked up again, it had dried at right angles to my scalp. A light application of egg-white then set it into spikes.  I was doing all this while listening to the two-minute genius of Love Battery and I Don't Mind, etc.

I loved every track on that silver-sleeved album, but Moving Away From The Pulsebeat was probably the biggest surprise to me on first hearing and seemed like a grand finale.

The party was at a village hall a few miles away, with 1960s curtains at the windows and a little kitchenette area. Apart from a few school-friends I didn't know many there - except for The Postman. There was this cheery young postman who we used to see in town all the time, he was sort of punky but not quite, I mean he knew the music but didn't sport the look. Really smiley and always had a quip or a cheeky greeting. I don't know if I ever even knew his name... I probably did... but it's gone now. However, I can see his face as if it was yesterday, a little bit rodent-like, with blonde hair and a few too many teeth. Knowing him was really nice because he was one of those people with whom you could flirt a little, even though he was some years older - old enough to be a postman! - yet at the same time you knew nothing would ever come of it. That made it comfortable and fun without any of the stress of wondering what might happen next.

The Postman was a bad influence on my friends and me that night, though. We were only 15 and drinking orange juice, but he took us aside and told us about the vodka – he'd hidden it in the kitchenette. I'd never had vodka before. I don't know how much of it I drank but of course it was too much, because he kept topping up my paper cup and the more I had the less I cared. Further memories are a bit sketchy, but I do know that I ended the night by getting off with a young long-haired bloke. It was so wrong. He was wearing a greatcoat too. So wrong. We went into a back room and snogged in the dark amid the stacked up wooden chairs, table tennis bats and god knows what else - things with corners and edges. He didn't even take his coat off. It's going to sound bad but I know that I got a peculiar kick out of our complete incompatibility. I certainly never wanted to see him again; I couldn't connect with him on any level but this brief physical fling with 'the enemy' felt strangely defiant – rebellious, I suppose. I was rebelling against my own rebellion. Weird. Well, I was young and drunk... he must've been too.

I was back at that particular village hall for another party a few years later. The friend whose birthday it was had booked the Waxwork Dummies to play there. I don't remember a thing about them, though. Instead, my abiding memory of that night is the attention paid to my boyfriend, the young Mr SDS, who was sporting a fairly spectacular black eye. Just a few evenings beforehand he'd been waiting alone for his bus home from my place when three blokes walked past and, completely unprovoked, one of them punched him in the face. Awful. But he got a lot of mileage out of that black eye that night and - isn't it odd? - it did rather suit him.

Monday, 14 September 2015

Huffing and puffing

I was stood in a Post Office queue today, a couple of places in front of that man who you know. I know you know him, because he gets everywhere. He's been in nearly every queue I've stood in, in nearly every place I've ever been over many months and years; I'm sure you can say the same.

The minute he walks in through the door of the Post Office, or the bank, or the Co-op, and sees the queue, he starts. He huffs audibly, and puffs too. In his lengthy repertoire of sounds he also includes a tut, a tsk, a sigh, a tch, a pfft, a chuff and a sniff. He may pepper his puffing with a few half-finished sentences, along the lines of, “Oh now she's...” or “Oh what's he...?” as he obsesses over every action and interaction taking place behind the counter, then he pfffs and he phews and he hhhhs again. All of this is to no-one in particular but you get the feeling he wants to engage you in his show of disapproving impatience, hopes that you'll join in perhaps, or at least express some kind of solidarity – a casual eyes-heavenward glance or an insincere smile would do.

I felt so calm until he arrived – acceptant of the long wait, disengaging my mental gears and letting my brain coast for a while. I read a couple of posters on the wall, although I couldn't tell you now what they were about. I only noticed that the woman pictured in one looked a lot like the lady I see walking her dog every morning, but without the frizzy hair. I registered that all the generic white type on red packaging and advertising was a bit overpowering en masse. Far too much red everywhere. Would it look better if it was blue? Probably not. I looked at my phone and vaguely realised my clock is a couple of minutes slow. Must sort that out. I observed that the woman a few places in front of me had unusually thick ankles. What can you do about thick ankles? Not a lot... only wear trousers? Well, not only – I mean, wear a top too.... That kind of thing. It gets you through for as long as it needs to, an array of pointless thoughts filling the void of waiting, it's just what you do, just what you have to do.

But Mr Huff'n'Puff disturbed my relative peace. Once he started it was impossible to tune out. Huff puff tsk tsk “oh now what's she...” pfft huh sigh puff.....  it's incessant! I wish I could've told him to please keep quiet: it's simply a queue, it won't move any faster just because you're making all that fucking noise, I suppose I should feel sorry for you but I can't any more because you're your own worst enemy and all you're doing is getting to the rest of us now which is worse than just being stuck in the queue in the first place – in fact we were fine before you came in and made us all acutely aware of just how unfine it is. Grrr!  See what I mean...! I was ok until....

Next time you see him – or hear him (you're bound to soon) – do you reckon you might have a quiet word with him.... please?!  Oh and... he has a sister too.

Wednesday, 9 September 2015

Life in the undergrowth

Sometimes the things that thrill me are just plain weird and I don't know who - or what - to turn to as a means of expressing my excitement.  Inevitably, I come here.  You have been warned....

Yesterday evening I was snooping around in the garden in the hope of witnessing some interesting creepy crawly action.  I don't know quite what... woodlice fighting or spiders weaving or simply a snail munching its way audibly through a rotting leaf... any of that would've been great.  But I was rewarded with something I've never seen before, a little natural event that I found completely fascinating.  Out of the corner of my eye I just noticed this:

I didn't think much of it at first... it just looked like something a bird might have regurgitated, hmm.

Then I took a closer look and noticed a slight movement and I realised something really rather special was happening.

Well, something special in the world of the crane fly...!  It was emerging from its pupal casing.  

It was like something out of Alien - in slow motion.  Above you can just see its legs starting to unfold as it slowly struggles to get its whole body out of the pupal casing on the right of the pic.  Before its metamorphosis into this newly formed daddy-long-legs, it was an aptly named leatherjacket.

Now you can really see its legs and make out the closed wings on its back.  The stripes on its back (above) seem huge and dark, nothing like the pattern or colour we see on the crane flies that flit around our windows at night and fly haphazardly into our lights.  But during the process of emerging, this little creature's body stretches to around one and a half times its normal size.

By the time it had pulled most of itself out, its body was shrinking and the stripes were already starting to fade.

It finally managed to emerge fully, turned around and looked back at its discarded 'jacket'...

...which it then sat on for a while.  A long while, in fact (my knees were really aching by this point).

And then suddenly it went rushing off and opened its wings. I was ridiculously excited at having seen this emergence, which took about an hour or so from when I found it.  So I wished it well, and hoped it doesn't get eaten by a bird, swatted at by humans, burned by a light-bulb, trapped in a spiderweb, or have its legs ritually pulled off by a cruel child.

If it avoids those hazards it will live for a week or two, in which time it doesn't even need to eat...its sole purpose in this short stage of its life cycle is to mate.  Maybe that's not so bad.

Saturday, 5 September 2015

Triceratops for toddlers and the man in black

This weekend I'm drawing dinosaurs.  I'm being paid to draw dinosaurs! Sometimes I think I really must have one of the loveliest jobs in the world.

Here's the Man In Black to help inspire...

Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Making pop history

I had a lovely email via this blog from a researcher working on a new project from BBC Four, she thought some of the posts here would make suitable stories for it and asked if I'd like to contribute. The project has such a relatable and appealing theme - The People's History of Pop - so I was intrigued.  At the moment it's a crowdsourcing website, in partnership with Historypin, collecting anecdotes and associated memorabilia from all aspects of people's pop music experiences (not just meaning 'pop' music, but all genres).  The plan is for a BBC Four TV series to be made around it next year... sounds interesting!

Anyway, the PHOP site is welcoming more contributions:  photos, ticket stubs, teenage diary entries, video clips, etc. etc. - any memorabilia that you've kept and that helps to tell the history of popular music via your own experiences.  Go on... I bet there's something or other you still have that you could show (and as for you over there, I know you have!).  In some ways I'm wishing I'd kept more now, but I'm always clearing stuff out and mostly only retain the memories...  All those t-shirts, badges, diaries... all gone.  Still, even if you don't have yours either, the website is definitely worth a visit and the TV series should be fun.

Here's the link:  The People's History of Pop  (and I took up the suggestion and added a few little pieces to it too, which you may have seen before here or on my other blog).

The perfect lyrics!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

The caterpillar

It took a couple of hours to seal itself itself up safely inside the nettle leaf, pulling each side together with its thread, like a sewing machine.

Sunday, 23 August 2015

Bit on the side

I'm putting together another blog, as a kind of side-dish to this one.  All the same posts have been, or will be, on here, so for some it may be a repetition - it's just that the other new one will be like a specifically edited version of Sun Dried Sparrows.

It'll focus on the theme of growing up and the past, with a leaning towards (but not exclusively) my musical experiences.  So - no birds, no outpourings about families, no spiders or snails, no mention of my current work or art or country walks, etc.   However, there may well be reference to '70s childhood summers and the rite of passage into punk...

I'm getting it up and running with just a couple of posts at a time and intend to add more each week, so if you haven't read them here before, please feel free to visit

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Random access memory #2

I heard a song the other day - I can't even remember what or where and it was barely in my consciousness - but there was a staccato guitar in it and it prompted a thought.  A fleeting one - one of those that drifts in vaguely and out again quickly, like a faint wisp of smoke.  "That sounds a bit like Marquee Moon" went the thought, and promptly disappeared.

But it came back and this time it brought along a random memory - of late Summer 1977, the weather a bit like now, when I had just turned fourteen.  I was venturing - half of me tentatively, and the other half of me very brazenly -  into a lot of new experiences,  most of which revolved around boys and punk.  I'd only bought one proper grown-up album so far - the eponymous Clash first - and was saving my pocket money for more 12" vinyl.  What were they, about £2.49, something like that?  I couldn't just go out and buy one, it had to be planned. So the cheapo singles bin in Martins was always worth a look in case I could pick up something for 10p, something I didn't have to scrimp for nor plan, but something I could actually take home the same day and play.

A lot of band names were becoming familiar;  I was latching on to what I thought 'fitted' the punk scene, but often without having first heard the music.  I mean, bands like The Cortinas had the honour of getting their name carefully written on my school science overall in permanent black pen alongside the more obvious ones like Buzzcocks, Sex Pistols et al, even though I hadn't yet heard one track by them (the Cortinas, that is) .  I got it wrong sometimes... like, I thought Dead Fingers Talk must be young, new and very raw just on the name alone... wrote that name on my school satchel too... they weren't, though, were they?  And it was the same with Television.  It was a name which was linked to all this new stuff I was exploring with limited means of doing so, and I imagined that they must be making songs at least as aggressive as White Riot or snarly as Pretty Vacant, whoever/whatever they were.  So when I flicked through the cheapo singles bin in Martins and saw the 7" of 'Marquee Moon', I was quick to hand over my 10p and dead excited at the prospect of hearing it.

I remember walkng home with it feeling really chuffed.  I had to go past the petrol station which was usually a bit nerve-wracking because there were always some young guys working there and I didn't know quite how to strike that balance between feeling horribly shy and yet also wanting their attention.  Just having to walk past was a big deal.  Funny how you remember these odd details but I recall very vividly that this time there was a new petrol attendant there, a tall bloke with acne.  He smiled at me.  Actually he stared.  I think I got more of a look than I really wanted.  I didn't fancy him at all... but I sort of wanted him to fancy me... I smiled back.  Then I immediately regretted it, in case I was giving him the come-on, which I didn't really want to even though my heart was beating fast and oh now I'd never be able to walk past that garage again.  It would make it really difficult going into town because that was the main route,  I'd have to take that funny detour down the other side of the hill.... oh what was I thinking.....   Ha, they were confusing times, those early teens.

Anyway, I got home, unwrapped my new purchase and put it on the turntable on the family stereogram.  I was so excited.. hopeful for some thrashing chords, some fierce drumming, hadn't a clue what a song called Marquee Moon might be about, but I'd heard of The Marquee...

Erm, it wasn't what I expected at all.  It was weird.  And the B-side was more of the same!

So, I had to work really hard to convince myself that I could, perhaps, sort of, like it.  Or I could at least grow to like it... one day... maybe.  I played it again.  My sister came downstairs and said she thought it sounded a bit like Yes.  I didn't know what Yes were like but that didn't seem to me to be a good thing.

Well, I kept the single anyway, in my little cardboard box which I'd covered in an offcut of orange patterned wallpaper, and it stayed there amid what I deemed to be far more worthy 7"s by Buzzcocks, the Adverts, etc.  I did grow to like it in the end, although I have to admit, it took time.  And even now I can't be sure, I wonder if I like it really only because I just can't separate it from that time, that feeling, that age and stage in life, the mood it evokes... the memories.  These things are so inextricably linked.

I also got brave and walked past the petrol station again, continuing my ambivalent flirtation with a boy I didn't fancy one bit.  I never grew to like him, although even then there was this naive teenage thought process which went along similar lines to my feelings about the record... like, maybe I would if I really tried... should I just keep playing him again in case....?!

Tuesday, 18 August 2015


Just a quickie music post tonight and it's a new one.  It's also a very new one on me because I only heard it for the first time a few hours ago, and since then I've been jumping up and down thinking, who can I tell?!  Why, you, of course!

Mr SDS heard it earlier on the radio in the car, and said he thought I'd like it because it was a bit weird and arty. (He knows how to flatter me, that man.)  Described by Greg James this afternoon (yes, on Radio 1!) as being what you might get if you put David Bowie, Village People and Franz Ferdinand into a blender, WHITE are a Glasgow five piece and this is their new single 'Blush'.   I'd add that there is also a dollop of Edwyn Collins, a spoonful of Billy Mackenzie and perhaps even the merest pinch of Peter Murphy (sort of), oh and a sprinkling of sax that made me think of Blurt of all things.  Funk it all up and serve immediately!  I know that doesn't make sense but who cares.

Saturday, 15 August 2015

So, who are Robert & the Uptights?

Something is amiss in Coronation Street.

The lovely Lloyd (soul aficionado and part-time DJ with a big record collection) played by the lovely Craig Charles (soul aficionado and part-time DJ with a big record collection) has lost one of his singles.

It's by Robert & the Uptights and it's worth £1000.  Some of us here in the UK know what's become of Lloyd's rare and treasured soul 45 but I'm keeping shtum in case anyone is behind on their Corrie episodes.  But that's not the issue here.  What I really want to know is, does a Robert & the Uptights single actually exist outside Weatherfield?!

A quick internet search brings up a picture... but there's no mention of it on 45cat.  A highly knowledgeable and reliable source tells me it doesn't appear on any of their soul compilations or lists (thank you!). Could it be a hype?  Or a spoof? Could someone behind the scenes in Corrie, perhaps a soul aficionado and part-time DJ with a big record collection, have mocked up a convincing looking label and put it out there just to get us wondering?  Of course I'd love to know it was genuine.  Surely I can't be the only one who wants to know if a Robert & the Uptights single exists in the real world...  (or can I?!)

Thursday, 13 August 2015


Yesterday's funeral and associated experiences made me completely re-think a few things.

My dear aunt died on her 97th birthday. My first reaction to that was, oh, how awful - to die on your birthday. And then Mr SDS said he thought it was somehow poetic and I have to agree. A kind of perfect circle.  To be on this planet for exactly 97 years, not a day longer nor shorter; to come into the world and to depart it on exactly the same day of the year. It is poetic!

She had requested: no funeral, no ceremony or service, religious or secular, no eulogies, no music, etc. I'd never have considered that. Being non-religious, I just thought a humanist service was the viable alternative. To have nothing... nothing at all... seemed a slightly awkward idea. But it worked so well. The gentle simplicity, the complete lack of fuss, only the bare essentials of a structure, and just people talking amongst themselves (or not) as we stood in a group by the grave, well, that was rather poetic too.

So yes, it was a burial, not a cremation. I've always been on the side of having a cremation, no question, but my aunt's choice has made me change my mind. She was buried in a coffin made of plain cardboard which looked rather unnervingly like an office packing box (including those recessed 'handles'!) in a small woodland plot. No headstone, nothing to mark it except the nearest trees. Beautiful. Quiet. Except for the rustle of the oak leaves and the long dry grasses underfoot. That'll do for me!

I was inspired too by my aunt's 90-year old sister, in her chic pink dress and pearls, her head held high (well, as high as her short, petite frame allowed!), her natural air of dignified warmth and elegance which transcended age. I'd want to be like that too, if I could.

And then there was the strange reunion with my Dad. My wild-haired, ever-smiling, tall, thin, wouldn't-say-boo-to-a-goose, 86-year old Dad, wearing a shirt that I'm sure I recognised from about 1975. You wouldn't have known from my cheerful, confident discourse with him but it fucked with my head completely. Whilst unexpectedly shedding some tears late last night I realised I do have feelings for him - and it felt a bit alien. The trade-off with having a father who hasn't been in my life for decades and who hasn't taken any active interest in his offspring in that time was that I never needed to reciprocate either. I had let it all go some time ago. For years I had had it easy! Thus I've been shielded from all the normal anxieties one might have about ageing parents and I had relinquished my responsibilities too – always thinking of myself as not really having a dad, or certainly not one I need worry about; he had a wife who could do that, someone else to make decisions with. Suddenly, on finding out about his quite shockingly disorganised and unsatisfactory lifestyle and stuff it wouldn't be fair to talk about here, it's like being presented with a backlog of worry, pity, frustration, love and even a little anger (but that's not towards him) all in one big hit, rather than a natural accumulation, and consequent aclimatisation, over many years.  Actually seeing him too; whilst mentally he's as sharp as ever (and still participates in conferences in Japan!), physically, he is starting to show his age.

As of now, something needs to change, but I think it can...

Monday, 10 August 2015

Family ties

Sadly, I have a funeral to attend this week, for a lovely elderly relative.  It will be a fairly untraditional and very low key affair; she was from the secular and somewhat eccentric intellectual side of the family - my dad's.

I'd love to think I could be even just a little like her in my final years - still attending educational courses, travelling and embracing new technology into her early 90s and keeping healthy and youthful until very recently.  Funerals are so hard, aren't they, and this will be no exception, especially as I feel desperately sad for the husband she leaves behind -  my dad's brother.  In recent years, I've seen more of him than I have my father.  And this is where it gets weird and is the reason I feel the need to write something here... because my dad may be at the funeral too...

So, I was trying to work out how many times in total I've seen my father since he and my mum divorced around 35 years ago... There can't have been more than about a dozen occasions and the last time was around 2005.   He lives the other side of the country, frequently forgets my birthday (as he did again this year); he's only phoned a handful of times and then only when there's been big news (like when he was getting married!)  Oh and one time to ask if I could record something off the telly for him when he was at a conference in Japan....  that may not sound so odd until you know that it was completely out of the blue - we hadn't been in touch for a couple of years beforehand and I didn't know he was in Japan.  So our relationship seems pretty non-existent.   I know that on paper, or in the eyes of anyone more judgmental, it might seem like he's not a good father, yet I feel the need to explain that he is a good man - he's just, well I don't know, but I think perhaps he has a degree of Asperger's. He's highly intelligent, something of a mathematical genius in fact (god knows where those genes went - down the back of the sofa?) and I know he has a kind heart and a very gentle nature.  He's just 'different' - and I really don't think he knows how to 'be' when it comes to interacting with his two daughters.  I simply think that we are not a part of his world, but - and it's difficult to explain - there is nothing deliberate or harsh about that, it's just the way it is.

Anyway, I'm just airing this now because tonight I'm full of so many mixed emotions at the thought of seeing him, particularly on such a sad occasion, that I'm already steeling myself for it.  I may report back, or I may not -  but I've realised that however bizarre and confusing it might be,  I actually really do want him to be at the funeral, because I don't want the next time I see him to be at his.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Bring on the dancing boys

Nice arse

You know how it is - or at least, please tell me you do - when sometimes you just can't help looking at something you feel you really shouldn't.  No matter how much you may deny it to others, you can't kid yourself: you're looking, and looking again, and getting off on it.  It's a weakness.

Well I'm coming clean - this is mine (or at least one of them): men dancing in ways you don't expect.  I get this weird thrill from it.  I think I could watch all of these on an infinite loop...I just can't take my eyes off them.



Honestly, they just make me happy.

I mean, first of all, there's pin-up boy Jim Dandy from Black Oak Arkansas.  He's made an appearance on this blog before but, as I say, it's a weakness.

He starts to get particularly interesting around 2 minutes 20 seconds in on this clip.  Watch him strut his stuff - pull up a chair and open that bag of cheese'n'onion crisps (don't worry about the crumbs, you can hoover them up later).   It feels so wrong... but yet so right.

Samuel T Herring's name alone is the stuff of my dreams.  Then I saw him dance.  I wish the frontman from Future Islands didn't look quite so much like the bewildered love child of Elvis and Norman Wisdom but you can't have everything.  

"Mr Grimsdale!  Mr Grimsdale!"

Now... keep your eyes on the tambourine player from the 1910 Fruitgum Company on the right in this clip below from the German show Beat Club, performing Goody Goody Gumdrops (or cumdrops as I accidentally typed just now... honestly I did!...I know, I know: you didn't come here to read such filth).  God, I love him.

Finally, the Fine Young Cannibals and guitarist Andy Cox's bendy legs. Bassist David Steele is at it too. I'm thinking of those cardboard puppet things. Actually I can hardly bear to watch.  More!

Don't judge me.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Dem bones... (slight return)

I was recently reminded about a chicken bone necklace (thanks to a post over at the fine blog Across The Kitchen Table).  Oh, I loved that necklace - for a particular period at least.  Through what you might call the 'goth' phase, though it seemed different then ('81/'82). Anyway, I mentioned it here once a few years ago (when I was still quite new to blogging) and, being stuck for time and inspiration at the mo, thought I'd give that old post another airing... here it is.  Sorry for being so lazy!

 ~~ O o ~ :~ x ~: ~ o O ~~

The other day I mentioned to someone that, when we were children, my older sister had a pickled bat in her bedroom.  I know that sounds weird out of context but, for my teenage sibling who excelled at Biology, the obvious thing to do with a dead (but otherwise perfect) pipistrelle that had been found in the garden was to preserve it in formaldehyde and keep it in a jam-jar in her room.  It then formed part of a display that would have been at home in any scientific laboratory or natural history museum. If my memory serves me well the pickled numbers included a fish eye and a chicken’s foot, which were given space alongside various dried butterflies, a sheep’s skull and a tank full of (thankfully alive) African aquatic toads.  It may sound like something out of the set of a horror B movie or perhaps some strange herbal medicine emporium but as she was my big sis it seemed normal to me, and nurtured a keen early interest in all things natural.

If only I'd realised the value of drawing such things from life then rather than just drawing characters from my imagination, I could have sneaked into her room and filled a sketchbook with studies of these fascinating objects too.  But I think perhaps it did spark a rather subtle fascination for bones.  I’ve no desire to see or find any human bones, although I did like looking at the repro human skeleton we had hanging up in the art-room at school, but I do like it when I’ve been digging in the garden and come across a tiny bone from a small rodent or perhaps a bird.  They're so fragile and yet so strong, so insubstantial looking but so robust.  When you look at a bird’s skull, a casing so fine that it seems more delicate even than eggshell and the connecting bones as thin as a thread of cotton, it's a wonder that the bird itself could ever have been so strong and unbreakable to get through its life at all. 

It’s with some embarrassment that I recall using bones to make my own jewellery.  It seemed right at the time – listening to music that was part tribal, part goth (Southern Death Cult being favourite) – to accessorise with some strange ancient or ethnic objects, especially anything that could be found for free.  So, my mum boiled up some chicken bones from a roast dinner (I didn't eat roast dinners!) and a friend from college brought in some of his dog’s old teeth, and I strung them together with some wooden beads.  Here's a drawing I did at the time of the necklace I wore daily (usually teamed up with some earrings I’d made from the smaller bones).

Proof that my fascination with natural history has remained is that I still feel compelled to keep any bird skulls I find (although not in the bedroom...).   I think the small one below is from a goldfinch and the larger one from a starling.  Whilst I always prefer to see these wonderful birds alive and well, I like looking at the skulls just to remind myself of how amazing these delicate little creatures are underneath their feathers.  And if I were ever to find a dead bat, I might just be tempted to pickle it as well.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Hello, it's me

Oh, sorry it's been a while!  Are you well, everything ok?  Hope so.

I've been immersed in work.  The publishers - lovely Slovenians - have been totally brilliant, giving me a completely free rein on the whole book, leaving me to my own devices and ideas (I much prefer this to a prescriptive brief) and then approving it all very quickly without any changes (unusual!), so it's been an absolute dream job.

If only the bloody illustrator wasn't being a pain in the arse.  Now she's started on the final artwork and she's not happy with anything, keeps changing her mind, going for a new style, nothing she does is good enough, she keeps re-painting, trying out different paper, throwing things away, getting frustrated.  Working all hours and still there aren't enough in the day; you should see the bags under her eyes.*

Bloody artists!  An album title springs to mind: 'The Ever Popular Tortured Artist Effect'.  Couldn't remember where I'd heard it, anyway I had to look it up and see it's by Todd Rundgren.  I'm not familiar with much of his output but I do remember his multi-coloured hair, and I do like a couple of tracks by his early band the Nazz.  So here's one of them while I try and sort out this so-called illustrator.  She needs a chill pill.

*Not helped by her mobile phone going off at 2.42 this morning.  There was no caller, no text,  no voicemail, no record of anything or anyone in the log.  It just went off on its own....

Wednesday, 1 July 2015


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"... 


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


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?

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