Friday, 15 October 2021

Walk with me (to the caravan park from hell)

Not far from me, if you go up to where the witchfinders once roamed, where jackdaws chuckle from the treetops and devil's coach-horse beetles scuttle across your path, cursing you with their scorpionesque tails, this is where you'll find...

... the caravan park from hell!

Oh, what horrors lie in wait behind those mildewed panels?  

A broken door, a broken window... there's something sinister about the way that curtain hangs half in, half out, as if trapped whilst trying to make its desperate escape... barbed wire spikes and stinging nettles conspire outside

Wait - is that a shadow I see moving behind the grubby nets?

(But I do love the way the patterns in the mould seem to perfectly mimic the intricacy of the lace...)

I'm glad to say there really is an innocent explanation for these creepy caravans - but why spoil a dark flight of fancy?!

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Rewriting history

I’m standing in the drawing room of a grand 17th century mansion, where the glassy eyes set in porcelain-white skin of the many portrait subjects seem to gaze over my head from every wall.  Henry VIII is tucked up there in the corner, an 18th century general takes up more space by the window.  A slim young man with fabulous long wavy locks reminiscent of Charles II is in front of me – and if it were not for his facemask and an English Heritage lanyard I could have believed he’d stepped straight out of one of those paintings.  But no, he’s very real, and also extremely engaging, recounting the history of this 100-room country pile and its occupants with such meaning, enthusiasm and a charming dash of dry humour that I’m captivated - if only he’d been my History teacher at school! (He also looks as if he should be in a band, which is rather appealing...)

Is it a "thing", I wonder, that history becomes more intriguing as we get older?  It's a subject which failed to engage me in my youth, yet now I find myself increasingly fascinated.  And that never happened in the school lessons delivered by Miss Jones!  She was quiet and timid – inoffensive enough but without any spark.  In soft monotone she’d read out long paragraphs for us to write in our exercise books, about Parliamentary Acts and… and… and what?   Proof of my lack of attention is that I honestly can’t remember.  Where was the human interest angle?  I’m sure my adolescent ears would have pricked up if only she’d thrown in a few gory executions, egregious betrayals and definitely a dose of syphilis or two.

So at school I responded to the tedium of writing out these passages, parrot-fashion, by trying out different ink tints in my fountain pen (remember Quink?) 

There was black, blue and blue-black, and my favourite was a fancy turquoise.  Ooh, the satisfying thrill of filling a real pen, squeezing the sides of the squidgy ink barrel, watching it suck up the kingfisher-coloured liquid.  Then I experimented with different handwriting styles - a lean to the right, a lean to the left.  Curly loops on my f’s, g’s and j’s one day, vertical mouse-tails the next.  Scratchy italics versus smooth cursives.  My History exercise book became a gallery of calligraphy and colour, and each lesson a place to drift into daydreams as Miss Jones droned on about whatever she droned on about - it’s just a shame I don’t remember a thing about the actual words with which I decorated the pages. 

I did shockingly badly in my Fourth Year History exam but it probably looked pretty...

Anyway, later on at the grand mansion last Monday, there were Capability Brown gardens to enjoy, a Victorian nursery and dolls house, one of the country's first 18th century flushing toilets to peer into (I said peer...) a painting of George II which led to a conversation about Elvis (seems they died in similar circumstances), huge glass cabinets of stuffed birds and mammals which sort of horrified and enthralled in equal measure, and a café which served wine and gin (yes, of course I did) - but best of all was the much appreciated companionship of two long-standing pals whom I’ve known since school, since Miss Jones' dictation and turquoise Quink.  God, I needed to get out, I've really been missing seeing my mates and in this instance it certainly is a lengthy friendship - we go back to 1974.  There’s a lot of history there too.

Sunday, 1 August 2021

Include me out

Oops.  I was just about to start this post with the words, “Don’t you just hate it when…?” but that would have been exactly the kind of generalisation which irks me enough to actually write something today.

It’s just that lately I've noticed more and more prevalence of the type of statement which begins “Because we all like… “ or  “Everybody needs…”  or "We all want...", etc.  And I don't like it!

It frequently crops up - on TV, in ads, in written articles, etc.  For example, “We all love a picnic, don’t we?” some annoyingly merry voice will announce at the start of an inane magazine show segment about strawberries, or wasps, or wet-wipes…   Sure, I don’t mind a picnic or two as it happens; you know, a bottle of wine and a crusty baguette will do very nicely thank you, and don’t forget the Brie, but I really do dislike the assumption that the entire population will feel the same way…

A little while back I was waiting at the dentists and a receptionist, a woman around the same age as me, announced to her colleague “Ooh, I can’t wait to get home and listen to some Michael Bublé!”  

“Mmm, yes!” her colleague replied as she printed out my next appointment card. “Everybody needs a bit of Michael Bublé in their life, don’t they?”  and with this she looked up at me expectantly.  Oh god, how could she even begin to think I might like Michael Bublé?  Oh please!  Did the 666 tattoo on my forehead not tell her otherwise?  (It’s at times like this that I do have a hanker for one).  I know it was a bid to include me but oh, I wish she hadn’t, because all I could hear was my naughty inner voice echoing around the chambers of my mind:

“No! I can’t fucking stand Michael Bublé!”   

 And all I could do was to be grateful that my facemask hid my involuntary grimace whilst hoping she thought I hadn’t heard.  Everybody needs a bit of Michael Bublé in their life?!  I would love to know what Iggy Pop might have said in response, although I appreciate that his presence at my dental surgery is unlikely. Even then, I can't assume that Iggy doesn't like a bit of Michael Bublé in his life and for all I know he might be a huge fan, but it would've been fun to hear either way...

Of course I was far too polite to suggest that I’d rather listen to some ‘60s psych or the Sid Presley Experience or King Tubby or any number of other artists/genres that I realise could have come across as being wilfully obscure. Confrontational, even.  I guess you could say I didn’t want to burst her bublé…

Anyway. I’m very glad we don’t all like or love or need the same things and it would just be fine if we could all stop being categorised as if we do.  Or is that me being presumptuous too?

Not Michael Bublé.  Instead, some great early '70s psych from Peru... !

We All Together: It's A Sin To Go Away

Friday, 2 July 2021

Birthday special

I had an important decision to make. A choice between my 6-monthly appointment with the hygienist or a slap-up lunch today.  Hmm….which to choose?!  The lunch has won (and it's so good just to be able to go out to eat somewhere, albeit with caution, and I've opted for Thai).  I fully intend to leave the restaurant this afternoon with some Pak Choi caught between my front teeth, garlic breath and coffee-stained molars, in an act of brazen defiance.  As that well-known adage goes: The hygienist can wait, it’s not every day you turn 58…!

See you again soon! 

Peter Hammill: Birthday Special (1975)
(a precursor to punk?!)

Saturday, 19 June 2021

Notes from a semi bohemian suburban childhood #3

I MUST get blogging again.  I must!  I must!  At last I've given myself a whole week completely away from work and routine to allow myself a recharge, and d'you know what? I think the writing cogs are just about starting to whirr again.  It may take me a while to get back to more frequent posting but I could try by revisiting some of the many mini-series I've had on the go here at one time or another.  At least that way there are old themes I can work with,  e.g. this one....

So yes, it’s on days like this that a certain "semi bohemian suburban childhood" memory comes to the fore.  Summer rain is pouring down as I type, distant thunder reverberates, and I suddenly find myself thinking about tortoises…

We were a family with animals.  As well as two tortoises we had cats, goldfish in the bathroom, a pond full of frogs and newts, a bat (albeit a dead one, but pickled in a jar following an unfortunate window incident) and a tankful of African aquatic toads (alive and well on a diet of earthworms) in my sister’s bedroom.  Let's not forget the guinea pigs nor, in the dark recesses of the larder, a house spider called Fred.  Of course Fred was not so much a pet as a squatter, perhaps several different squatters, but welcome anyway.  Occasionally we looked after the odd stray cat, and once fostered ducklings in an old metal bathtub.

But the tortoises… well, Twinkle and Toby roamed free in our long, hillside garden during the Summer months.  They were natural weedkillers, munching their way through the dandelions, and making the most of the shade cast by my mum’s small stone sculptures when the sun beat down on a clover and daisy-studded lawn.  And this is where I recall the rain and the storms, on humid holiday afternoons, when I rushed out to rescue the tortoises from the downpours and…   well, it was never as easy as it sounds.

I’d search everywhere.  I’d call their names.  Toby knew his (honestly!) and would often come when he heard it, suddenly appearing from within a flower bed with more haste than you might think possible, knowing that his reward would be a lovely sticky banana… and who doesn’t like a lovely sticky banana?   But on rainy, stormy days they were nowhere to be seen. 

The bedraggled cats would come into the kitchen and get pampered with a towel dry.  The guinea pigs would be safe in their hutch and the frogs and newts no doubt enjoyed the jacuzzi-like qualities of their rain-splashed pool.  But where on earth had the tortoises gone?

I would go on a desperate mission to find them.  Sift through the compost heap, check behind the stones in the rockery, peer through the screen of bamboo shoots… Then came the lengthy process of inspecting every single plant and flower – and there were a lot -  until finally I would be relieved to glimpse the back-end of a hard, shiny shell concealed in the undergrowth.   The tortoises had always burrowed face-first into the earth beneath something with thick stems and tight leaves, beautifully camouflaged like pebbles in the bedding.  Safe, asleep, oblivious to the weather and, unlike me, completely dry - of course.

So, the rain pours down and what am I doing, thinking back to around 50 years ago?  The only things with shells in my much smaller, flatter garden are the snails, and I rather miss having tortoises - but it’s funny how vivid the memories can be, prompted merely by the weather.  Time for a banana.

The Vagrants: Sunny Summer Rain

Saturday, 3 April 2021

The last gangs in town

I'm afraid life's a little fraught and tiring round these parts at the moment... My poor old mum-in-law is in a bad way, both physically and mentally, and every day (and night) seems to bring with it a new drama / development (with liberal sprinklings of weirdness) to ramp up the stress levels around me.  Of course we know there'll be no happy ending either so it's all a bit heavy-going.  Therefore please excuse a lazy post today in that I'm just going to share a video but I hope, if you have around 12 minutes to spare, you'll get the same pleasure from it, and perhaps reminiscences too, that I have...  

I was around the same age as these four lovely young guests appearing on Irish TV in 1983 and, in spite of our different family backgrounds and geographical location, I felt an immediate kinship - maybe you will too?   I'd have certainly spent the same amount of time and effort on my hair... and didn't we have a lot of it?!   The third interviewee, John, is particularly engaging, and reminds me very much of some of those brilliantly individual kids I hung around with in art school (well, of course!)  It wasn't always easy - but it felt so important at the time.

Ah, youth tribes, eh...

Happy Easter hols!

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Light refreshment

I have a theory that the first conversations one has on waking up are the truest indicator of your real state of mind. You know, before all the other stuff kicks in, when your brain is still freewheeling, your thoughts still oblivious to the baying hounds of things-you-must-do. That must be how a relaxed chain of topics, taking in the film ‘Scum’ and Mike Leigh plays, led us to an unexpected conclusion this morning. 

All I’d said was, “Oh, and do you remember ‘On The Move’ with Bob Hoskins, and that other bloke, I can’t remember his name…” 

To which Mr SDS replied: “Yeah, what was he called?  Tall, thin, strong nose…. he was in Dr Who too. And on the subject of removal men: Coo-ee, coo-ee Mr Shifter! Light refreshment!

“What?”  It didn’t mean anything to me.

“You know, the PG Tips ad with the chimps. Irene Handl did the voice.”

“Hmm, not really, remember we didn’t watch much ITV in my house… “

So middle class!” 

I know. I’m pretty sure I shared this mostly ITV-free childhood experience with Tracey Thorn, which always makes me feel a bit better. But we must’ve watched it sometimes, because:

“ I do remember some of those ads, though, with the chimps. I didn’t really like monkeys as a kid. Well, I didn’t like monkeys in clothes," I shuddered.  I recall a couple of the PG Tips commercials, but not this Coo-ee Mr Shifter thing.  

Anyway…never mind that, there are more important things and I needed to correct myself. “Erm, but chimps don’t have tails, do they? So they’re apes aren’t they, not monkeys. Only monkeys have tails," I continued.

“Yeah - chimps have those bob things”

“Like little nubs?” I asked. (I do like the word ‘nub’).

“Yes, little nub/bob things - like Manx cats. I used to think Manx cats only had three legs too”

“Ha, you were just thinking of the Isle Of Man flag” 

“Yeah, Manx cats: no tail and three legs”

I’m picturing it now. “They’d have to be sort of triangular. But what would the configuration be? Two legs at the front, one at the back? Or like the wheels on Del Boy’s van – one at the front, two at the back?

“Two at the front, one at the back.”  Mr SDS was clear about that.

But so was I.  “No!  It’d have to be one at the front, two at the back, so that they could jump.”

At which point we dissolved into unhinged laughter and I realised that lockdown life has most definitely taken its toll.     

(But, erm.... what do you reckon, where would the legs be?)

Coo-ee, coo-ee Mr Shifter!

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Wild and exciting

You want wild? You want exciting? What a week I’ve had! Other than the usual working, I liberated a ladybird, went for a walk, went for another walk and noticed Jonathan-from-over-the-road’s dog urinating on a fresh pile of sand which was about to be laid out for a new driveway (dramatic), waved to Dick from the other side of the graveyard (I should perhaps point out that Dick isn’t dead), and replaced the leaky sump on my wormery (a brand new experience). It really doesn’t get much crazier than that, but could I cope if it did?  I doubt it. 

Of course I’m grateful there have been no big dramas. I long for the peaks in life, but an absence of troughs is something to be glad about, at least. And Spring has made a tentative appearance here at last. Oh, I forgot to mention the bumblebee! I saw a bumblebee too. 

Reflecting on such an eventful time reminded me of a very obscure song from the archives. I had the chorus running through my mind and it’s such an unusual number I reckon it deserves a place here. Earth and Fire (no Wind) were a Dutch group, formed in the late 1960s and starting out as, what I suppose you might call, a progressive rock band, but with a bit of a difference in that they had a strong female vocalist, Jerney Kaagman. They were hugely popular in their native land but, to my ears, don't seem obviously commercial (until they later developed into more of a pop/disco outfit, continuing as a band for many years).

 Anyway, ‘Wild and Exciting’ from 1970 is interesting, charming, very European. Jerney’s vocals are distinctly ‘Teutonic’ sounding and really remind me of Siouxsie (did Siouxsie ever listen to them, I wonder?) The changes in tempo, the mix of acoustic guitar with the heavier chords and then some delightfully noisy freakout psychedelic madness that first comes in at around 1m30s …. who’d have thought this could be a Top Ten hit for them?  But it was in the Netherlands, as were most of their early single releases.  Plus I love this video, with Jerney’s big, frizzed hair, so very of the time (I couldn’t help contemplating how hard it must have been to maintain), a special little moment at the 1 minute mark and the unlikely setting of a football ground (why?!) 

Earth and Fire: Wild and Exciting (1970)

One more wild and exciting thing – I realised earlier that this blog is 10 years old today. Argh, I can hardly believe it, how is that even possible? I don’t feel it deserves much celebration given how absolutely terrible I’ve been at its upkeep lately but I’m thankful at least that one decade later we’re both still here... and, of course, if you're reading this,  thank you for being here too.
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