Thursday, 30 June 2022

A matter of death and life (part two - life!)

I must say there is nothing quite like the comfort of a good hotel bed.  (Where do they get their pillows?  So perfectly plump and firm!)  The kind of bed where you should be able to slip under the fresh clean duvet, fall asleep instantly and have glorious dreams for the next eight hours….   But I didn’t.  I lay awake for ages.  So many thoughts, images, feelings were jostling for attention in my brain, refusing to form an orderly queue or to go away and come back in the morning.  And this was only the first night!

Earlier that day I’d boarded a sleek, new (and very exotic sounding) Azuma train and travelled 400 miles northward.  Having not been on a train these last two years the experience felt strangely new again.  I mean, even a visit to the onboard space age circular loo seemed a glamorous excursion.   All silver and symbols and sensory controls, I half expected to see the lovely Lieutenant Uhura waiting outside when I emerged. 

But the views from the train window were most definitely earthly and I loved the way the landscape changed from the flatlands of home to… ooh, hills!  And rocky outcrops!  Towns and cities I’ve never visited teased me with momentary flashes of their most striking assets.  The bridges spanning the Tyne…  Peterborough and Durham Cathedrals piercing the skyline…York Minster too.   Quirkier things as well, the curious ‘Mallard’ sign… 

And I’m pretty sure I let out an audible gasp at my first sight of the sea which, in spite of it being named the ‘East Coast Main Line’, still somehow took me by surprise.  It was like that feeling I had as a child en route to a seaside holiday, the excitement at turning a corner and suddenly seeing what seemed like a magical ocean at the edge of the world.  I know, I’m romanticising, it was a rather chilly looking steel-grey North Sea.  But still…

Eight hours after leaving home that morning, I was disembarking at Edinburgh Waverley Station – amazingly my very first trip over the border into Scotland - to be greeted by our lovely blog pal, Alyson.   It was great to see her familiar face; we had met up just once before in London and felt then as if we’d known each other for ages.  And that’s the beautiful thing about blogging, the way strangers can connect, get a sense of understanding and camaraderie, just through what we express, and how…  but more on that later.  As if I hadn’t been excited enough by the journey, there was so much yet to come – a few more people to meet, some for the first time, others to reconnect with, places to see,  music to hear (not just the bagpipes on the Royal Mile which take busking to a whole new level), tales to be shared, drinks to be consumed – naturally - and hugs (hugs at last!)  to be had…  A long-awaited bloggers’ ‘mini-meet’ had finally, appropriately, come together in this beautiful city. No wonder I didn’t sleep very well that night... my senses were most definitely working overtime.


More in part three.

Monday, 20 June 2022

A matter of death and life (part one)

What a week it’s been…

The phone call from the hospital came last Sunday afternoon and we knew that a long and difficult saga was drawing to a close.  My dear old mum-in-law’s health had been deteriorating both mentally and physically for the last couple of years, so it wasn’t unexpected.  We saw her for the final time on Sunday evening, short of breath and unresponsive, but there was a peacefulness about her too and I like to think she was still somehow aware of the familiar voices and comforting touch, and perhaps they helped her to just let go.  Still, feisty to the last, she hung on for one more night and then finally went on Monday afternoon.

Well, my mum-in-law has made an appearance on this blog before and now seems a good time to remind myself of that.  I mean, she was the mother of an anarcho-punk guitarist with an occasional penchant for black nail varnish, whose girlfriend used to turn up at their home from the bus in a pink velvet jacket and leopard spot trousers… she was bound to pick up on some rock’n’roll trivia!  Proof came many years later, when she was in her 80s, and Mr SDS spotted her filling in a crossword puzzle with the letters:  M  O  T  O  R  H  E  A  D .  The clue was simply ‘Lemmy’s rock band’…   

We naturally started to harbour secret suspicions that, tucked away amid the kitten ornaments and well-thumbed copies of the TV Times, there might be a copy of ‘No Sleep ‘Til Hammersmith’.  Not only that we thought but, perhaps carefully disguised within a Tom Jones album cover, there would also be an original issue of ‘Piper At The Gates Of Dawn’, after we noticed this completed puzzle page:

 


(It's not very clear but the box on the right has the clue ‘Pink Floyd founder, ____ Barrett’)

Anyway, here’s to my mum-in-law Eileen, who lived a long and happy life in the same little village where she’d spent her childhood.  She loved her crosswords and her fish’n’chips, and was so generous with the bulging bags of crisps, chocolates and biscuits that she gave us every Christmas that we probably still have a few packets of Jammy Dodgers and onion rings left in the back of the cupboard from 2006…   I fondly remember the early days of getting to know her when she’d feed us with Findus Crispy Pancakes (the cheesy ones) and the best home-made date cake I’ve ever tasted.  RIP Eileen.

Unfortunately, therefore, it wasn’t the best timing that the morning after she died I was due to be travelling 400 miles and staying away in Edinburgh until the Friday, but it was for a brief yet exciting adventure that had been 2 years in the waiting, and Mr SDS wouldn’t have wanted me to miss it.  It felt strange to leave him home alone at such a time, but at least we could communicate by phone and it was only for a few days.  And what a few days!  From thinking and talking so much about death at that moment, I was lucky enough to go off for a fantastic new experience in the loveliest of company (which you may soon, if not already, be reading about elsewhere) and it was at the opposite end of the spectrum: positively life-affirming.

More on that in part two!

In the meantime, what’s it gonna be?  Motörhead or Tom Jones?  Oh, go on, let’s have a bit of both…


Tom Jones: I Gotta Know (1964)


Motörhead: Live To Win (1980)

Saturday, 4 June 2022

Connected and more

 Oh god, I had forgotten how good it could feel.  It’s been a while!

But last night, after a couple of years without any, the visceral and emotional pleasure of experiencing live music again felt even more special than I’d expected.  It was positively life-affirming.  And it was practically in my back garden!

Ah, what a lovely evening.  Against a clear blue sky the sun slowly descended into a horizon studded with ancient trees and an elegant church spire; on the other side of the gently sloping field the turrets of the stately home hosting the event glowed in vivid pink illumination.  It’s an absolutely beautiful setting for a tiny music festival and incredibly for me it’s only a two minute saunter from my front door (a crow could fly there in a few seconds).  I could hear the bands sound-checking through the kitchen window earlier.

But to be there, in amongst it – it’s that thing, isn’t it, of sharing the joy, the atmosphere, the whatever-it-is that live music gives you which is hard to describe – with your fellow human beings, hence my use of the term life-affirming.  With no pressure on us and a couple of tickets bought ages ago, my friend and I wandered down for our prescription of festival elixir just in time to catch the three bands we were most keen to see.  This being a very small, inexpensive event, it tends to host artists who’ve been around a while (or who’ve gone away and come back), you know the kind of thing.  But no prejudice on my part, I’ve been around a while too…

So, all power to Stereo MCs, Electric Six and Ash.  I loved them all.  And I got a strange kind of pride and sense of connection that they were playing in my home village and were so well received – it felt kinda personal.  It was perhaps especially heart-warming too that the festival could go ahead again and had quickly sold out, having been postponed for the last couple of years.  Plus there was no mention of that other thing that's apparently going on this weekend... what a delightful, hedonistic bubble.

All three bands completely delivered – Stereo MCs just made you want to dance and smile and celebrate, the sun warming your face, high on energy and life, timeless.   Electric Six were slightly, wonderfully mad, as you might expect –  especially eccentric frontman Dick Valentine with his introductions (“Song No. 1” , “Song No. 2”, etc.)   And Ash – well, I’ve loved Ash for a long time but had never seen them play – and here they were celebrating 30 years since their first rehearsal in June 1992 when they were 15 years old, and now on stage with a little entourage of young offspring at the side  – that alone is enough to make you smile isn’t it?  They were superb, tight as fuck, with a well-chosen setlist highlighting both characteristic pop melodies and those harder choppy guitars.   I have long wanted to hear Girl From Mars under the stars…   Ohh, at last.

So yeah, I had forgotten how good it could feel; what a difference it makes to your well-being to be entertained by proper talent and immersed in vibrant, live music with your fellow humans, not to take it for granted either.  I’m a little loved-up, to say the least.






Thursday, 26 May 2022

This is the age of science and technology

Ask me about the reproductive cycle of the earthworm and I’m your woman; engage me in conversation about obscure 1960s British psychedelia and my eyes will light up.  But talk to me about technology and I want to run to the hills and hide in a treehouse where the only signals I can receive are from the birds and the butterflies… that’s ok, I speak their language.     The other stuff, the bytes and the apps and the nano SIMS, just aren’t my bag.

And it’s hard to be like this, don’t you think? It’s an easy, lazy excuse to say it’s just an age thing, as I don’t believe it is.  My dad, for instance, has always been very technologically minded; he keeps up-to-date and understands it all, no problem - he’s 93.  But I never have been, I’m just not wired that way.  My brain seems to effortlessly absorb facts about the mating rituals of snails and tells my hand how to draw (on paper) every day, but goes into panic mode when faced with questions about synching data and sharing app contents via NFC or whatever it is.   Is it so wrong to feel like that, is it so strange?  I feel quite out of step thanks to the way my mind works much of the time.  I can look out of a window for hours and not tire of it for one second, but with only a phone in front of me to scroll through I would be bored in no time.  I honestly don’t know how people manage it. 

As a result, I’m an avoider, and hence instead of doing things incrementally I’m now having to make (what feels like) a massive leap from a 9 year old phone which started playing up last week to something far more sophisticated than I deserve.   I got butterflies thinking about it, I could feel the stress levels rise, a sense of resistance – it’s ridiculous, I know.  There’s only one thing for it  - I must find a way to make it exciting…

To paraphrase Maya Angelou, "... if you can't change it, change your attitude".   I’m getting there.  It's shiny!  It’s a gorgeous, sumptuous shade of red! I mean, yes, it is aesthetically pleasing, I must admit.   And… it performs magic!  Ooh, plus I’ve bought a snappy leather case for it too.  Whoo hoo!  All I have to do (when my network upgrade finally gets activated…therein lies another tale)  is to switch it on.   And just hope that somehow, in some small way, it will switch me on too.

Here's 'Reality Poem', with its line that I borrowed for the title of this post, by Linton Kwesi Johnson, from the superb 'Forces of Victory' album which, quite shockingly, is now 43 years old.


Friday, 29 April 2022

Jackdaw days

He was free to come and go, I didn't want him to feel trapped or unable to wander wherever his natural instincts took him.   So sometimes he slipped through the gate and took a walk down the path behind the cottages to who knows where, and I wondered if I'd ever see him again, but then I'd look out later and, ah - there he was.  He never went for long.

Strikingly pale eyes.  Satin blue black back, smoky grey head.  An adult jackdaw in the garden - nothing that unusual perhaps but, unfortunately, in spite of no signs of injured wings or legs, this one was unable to fly and he'd been quietly taking refuge here for two weeks.

I know I shouldn't let myself become so emotionally invested but I seem to be wired that way... worrying about cats and sparrowhawks and foxes getting to him, worrying that he'd starve, so I did my best to provide food and water and not to spook him when I was outside.  There were places for him to hide and shelter, and he seemed to be doing ok given his fundamental weakness.  He was too shy, and too fast on those two legs, to attempt catching for 'rehab' purposes - besides, I didn't want either of us to go through the trauma of trying.  So my wish was that eventually he'd find the energy to stretch those shiny wings and take off to the treetops and chimney pots, and to be as free as a.... well, of course.   Just as a jackdaw should be.  In the meantime I knew he was vulnerable and prepared myself for a less happy outcome - but at least I'd know I tried my best.

All these thoughts of jackdaws had me searching for an appropriate song...  and I was pleasantly surprised to find one.  It also happens to be from an artist who has been much lauded over at Brian's place and his name is Martin Newell.

Our lovely blogging pal Brian over in Seattle is so much more familiar with Martin Newell's output than I'll ever be, so I really recommend reading up about him and having a listen to some tracks there. But I first came across the man as the vocalist with the band Gypp, a fairly local outfit who used to play various haunts in East Anglia in around '78/'79 including the one I frequented as a young teenager.  I just have a memory of a skinny, very English and rather eccentric wild-haired guy in a hat and I think probably very little has changed in the interim and, although I don't remember much about how Gypp sounded at the time, listening to some of Martin's much later songs I can hear '60s influences, shades of Robyn Hitchcock and The Dukes Of Stratosphear.   I was also interested to read about him and his later band The Cleaners From Venus (what a name) in the wonderful and highly recommended book 'Lost In Music' by Giles Smith (it's about time I read that again I think, and if you haven't, then why not?!)  Blogger won't let me insert a youtube version of the Cleaners From Venus song I have in mind here - 'Jackdaw Days' - but I found it on the Bandcamp page so here's a link:

The Cleaners From Venus: Jackdaw Days


Sadly the jackdaw died this morning, but it was peacefully in the undergrowth, thankfully not savaged by a cat or sparrowhawk or fox.  His last two weeks in the garden were hopefully pretty chilled with food, water, shelter, lots of bird company and this peculiar woman looking out for him.   Inspecting him more closely as I went to put him in the ground today, I started to wonder if he simply died of old age.

Sunday, 3 April 2022

Daylight robbery

I don’t know whether we look more like ageing beatnik chicks or Mafia wives, all of us dressed in black and with chic boots and dark glasses.  One friend wearing a smartly tailored coat, the other with her nails immaculately polished, me with crimson painted lips.  We make our way to an old building at the end of town - coincidentally the same place we’d convened many times long ago - in fact, over forty years back.  It was once the venue where, with wide-eyed adolescent adulation, we'd watched Siouxsie & The Banshees perform before they’d even got a record deal and where we’d seen Adam & The Antz many months prior to the release of ‘Dirk Wears White Sox’ (oh, how to make yourself feel ancient!)  Also where the Newtown Neurotics and Crass became our local heroes.  I could go on.  But it's certainly a building full of ghosts from our past, and I half expect to see a gaggle of punks around each corner and to delve into my handbag for Polos to hide the smell of forbidden cigarettes from my parents.  Ah, there are parts of me which would go back to that time in a heartbeat; I’d skip the teenage angst and the school night curfews, but…yes, the gigs!

Anyway, here we are at our old stomping ground (no longer that music venue and arts centre), three women in our late fifties, about to embark on something completely new.  That’s one of the things about getting older, isn’t it?  That there are fewer and fewer ‘first times’.  But this experience is still uncharted territory; it’s definitely the first time any of us has robbed a bank…

An hour later, as orange lights flash and alarms sound around us, we are sitting in the back of a transit van, leaving behind us a trail of gold bars, magnetic keys, bank cards and a gun.  Oops, did I say gun?  I do of course mean a grabber stick.  We’ve ordered a pizza for a security guard and laced it with laxative so that he’s waylaid in the loo.  We’ve hidden in cupboards, hacked a computer and fiddled with frustrating padlocks.  There was that moment when each of us tried to turn one of those number locks by torchlight, on the underside of a table it was, too - but the glare was too much for our glasses…that’s the problem with varifocals, I find.   I must bear that in mind should I ever want to pull off another heist.  Still, in spite of that somehow we’re not quite yet too old for this malarkey, because it’s undoubtedly one of the daftest, silliest things I’ve done in a long while and the laughter along with our bank-robbing ineptitude will remain with me for some time.

Of course no security guard was harmed in the process and the gold bullion was made of wood, but as far as those ‘first times’ go, my first ‘Escape Room’ experience was a good one... 


Well, it had to be this!

Thursday, 17 March 2022

Desert sand

Yesterday afternoon, here in the East of England, the skies turned an eerie yellow-brown before swathes of grey merged with it like watercolour paint and the rain came lashing down. 

This morning, dry and sunny, the sky is fresh forget-me-not blue, but what’s this stuff on the doorstep? On the window-panes? On the gutter, on the lid of the water butt too … dusty orange splatters and little powdery piles of…. paprika?! I wipe my finger across it softly - ah, is it sand? Indeed, a quick online search tells me that Storm Celia has picked up Saharan dust and blown it across Europe, and now much of it has landed here in the puddles of yesterday’s showers. 

I can’t help but like the thought of that and find something strangely romantic about the idea that part of a desert over 2000 miles away has ended up in my garden without any human intervention. I feel the same about migrating birds and insects, fascinated by the mystery of their journey, the pure power of nature, and how these phenomena somehow shrink the world. 

It reminded me of my one visit to a proper desert, 25 years ago. I was lucky enough to get a free trip to Dubai, thanks to a job at the time. It wasn’t the same Dubai then as it is now – not so much the millionaires’ megacity with its rapidly accelerating construction and outrageously tall skyscrapers, but instead both lower rise and lower key. Away from the hotels and souks and the creek with its (suitably) creaky dhows were those vast expanses of butterscotch sand, punctuated by tufted grass and some lightly smelly, but really rather lovely, camels. They struck me as being very gentle creatures. The sheer quietness of the desert was like nothing I’ve ever known. 


I found that trip memorable, even before the plane touched down. The two young Arab women seated next to me as we left London were stunningly beautiful and long-limbed, heavily made up and wearing designer label Western clothes - I felt hideously ugly, stumpy and shabby beside them.  Friendly and sweet, I think they felt sorry for me as, just before landing, they offered me a generous spritz of the expensive perfume they were spraying on themselves. Oh god, I clearly smelt as bad as I looked (and readily accepted). Then, in their tight skirts and shiny high heeled shoes they took it in turns to disappear to the loo and came out fully concealed in hijab and abaya, ready to return to Emirati culture after their British jaunt. 

I was with a small band of strangers on that trip and we did all the usual touristy things - getting bumped about in a dune buggy as well as on a camel’s back, trying out a hookah pipe, all that. I also spent a free hour in a very modern shopping centre and found a store selling music. It was very mainstream but I like this thing of buying music when you go somewhere unfamiliar so that it's inextricably linked to your travels whenever you play it. In this instance I picked up the best thing I could find which was ‘Man’ by Neneh Cherry. Not an album I kept in the long term but, who knows, after being donated to a charity shop maybe it ended up thousands of miles away once again,  just like this morning's desert sand.



Sunday, 6 March 2022

Songs that make you smile

How are you doing?  I must admit that, like many I’m sure, I’m finding the ever-increasing sadness, insanity and worries about the world quite difficult to deal with, especially from our position of relative powerlessness.   We can only do whatever kind things we can from this distance, whilst finding our personal coping mechanisms and, hopefully, talking things through as needed.   I thought I’d also have a look at what the professionals recommend and decided it might be an idea to tackle it from a different angle, as in, how do you talk to your children about this stuff?  Not because I have any young offspring to help through it, but simply because I reckon I could do with having a grown-up chat with my own inner child!

I read this article by Philippa Perry, author and psychotherapist, she of the black-and-white hair and missus to lovely artist, ceramicist and national treasure Grayson.  I think she speaks a lot of sense here, but there are a couple of things she says which particularly stood out for both my adult and inner child self.

There’s this one:

"The best thing we can all do if we are not in a war zone is to appreciate the relative peace we have..."

And this:

"We can remind them that concern is natural and it's good that they feel for people getting bombed and fleeing their homes, but it is our duty to enjoy our freedom as we have it now..."

Thanks, Philippa.  I think there can be a tendency to feel guilty about this but of course it helps no-one, so a duty to at least appreciate and enjoy whatever freedom we have sounds balanced and healthy.  It's also one of the reasons I had an urge to blog again today (I know, so soon!), because I've been thinking about songs which are so enjoyable that they just make you smile, whatever else is going on in life.

When I say "smile", I mean those genuinely involuntary ones - those big, helpless beams, those goofy grins, maybe with a little spontaneous laughter thrown in too.  They probably don't happen that often in response to a song, but maybe there's some mileage in the idea because there are a couple I can think of already at least.  And here's the first one - it's 'Hertz' by Amyl & the Sniffers, and it gets me every time.

Amyl & the Sniffers: Hertz

I've a lot of affection for this bunch of Australian punks anyway but there's just something about the way that their enthusiastic singer Amy Taylor makes her demand so forthrightly - "TAKE ME TO THE BEACH, TAKE ME TO THE COUNTRY!" - which tickles me.  I think it's that odd combination of quite a romantic notion being expressed in such a forceful, bratty way.  There's no subtlety, although it's all about getting away from the city to be somewhere nicer, with fresh air, hand in hand with someone, with the breeze in her hair (as well as a little backseat love action.  And fish'n'chips. Sounds pretty good to me).  What with that, her unadulterated accent,  the song's irresistible catchiness and the OTT guitar break.... anyway, it simply makes me smile like an idiot, usually when I've heard it on the radio while I'm working and I'm just grateful that nobody but the sparrows can see me. 

Are there any songs which just make you smile, no matter what?  Is there a potential series here, I wonder, open to guest contributions, if you fancy telling us more?   You'd be very welcome, always.  Our inner children could probably do with some extra smiles.

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