Saturday, 21 March 2015

Believe you me

Just imagine you're going about your daily business when suddenly a magically reincarnated Eamonn Andrews, or Michael Aspel if you prefer, appears from nowhere. There you are, trying to shake the last drops of sauce out of the bottle of HP before settling down to watch Judge Rinder with a cheese omelette, and you glance up and he's looking directly at you, brandishing that big red book. In a split second you see your life flash before you, like one of those TV flashbacks which you know is a flashback because the colour goes all muted. That's you: pictured there riding your bike for the first time without stabilisers, playing the donkey in the school Nativity, pinning that Jam badge to your blazer, coughing on your first Rothmans. Then there are all the others: people you once worked with who probably don't even remember your surname are now merrily recounting some anecdote you'd long forgotten about the time you turned up for work in odd socks.

“Oh god, I'm on 'This Is Your Life'” you think, as the images continue to roll by in your mind and you just hope and pray that it glosses over that part where... well, you know which bit...

Only, you're not... because as you take a closer look at that red book you realise that it doesn't say 'This Is Your Life'. Oh no, it says 'This Is Your Lie'. Is this some kind of sick joke?  This is your lie?  Then, with a degree of glee that is frankly quite distasteful, Eamonn/Michael starts flicking through the book which is of course a big fat ring-binder file, and it's so stuffed full of pages that those metal clips won't even close, and sheets of lined A4 paper are now falling out all over the place and on each one of them...scrawled in blue biro because they go back way before the advent of Microsoft Word... a lie. Every single lie you've ever told in your life.

The first fifty pages or so are quite unrefined. You're about four and you've just realised that there is an alternative option to admitting to something that might otherwise get you told off.  No, I didn't eat any sweets / hide Sam's lego / pull the cat's tail. Then you start to get a bit more adept: Yes, I did do my maths homework / No, I didn't drink any alcohol at the party / Yes, I am eighteen.  Finally it gets a lot more sophisticated: Don't worry, you didn't interrupt me / Yes, I'm fine (or No, nothing's wrong ) / I'm sorry, he's out at the moment, can I take a message? / They only cost a tenner / I would if I could...

There's a little lie here, a little lie there, a couple of right whoppers which you really do regret and, to be fair, a lot of white ones which you told so as not to hurt someone's feelings.  However, just imagine if you were to see every one of them spelt out in front of you in black and white (or blue biro). No! you might exclaim, I'm sure I never said that! Honest!  But nobody would believe you... after all, we've all done it.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Random access memory #1

We both woke up this morning with hunger pangs. Don't know why, we'd eaten well last night, but maybe that was the reason and our stomachs were primed for more.
“I'm so hungry...” said Mr SDS.
“So hungry so angry...” I replied, without even thinking what I was saying, “so hungry, so angry, so hungry, so angry” and it started to take on a tune, “oh god - who did that?
(Weird, last time I heard those lyrics must've been over 30 years ago.)
“I can't remember... was it someone like Blurt...? “
“It begins with M... I'm sure it begins with M for some reason” I suggested, “a word like Material?”
“I think it's two words”
“Oh I can't remember. Let's Google it...”
And we had to find out before we could even eat breakfast (we weren't really so angry).

Medium Medium (of course!?): Hungry, So Angry (1981)

I can't stand Jeremy Clarkson but this seems kinda apt.

Friday, 13 March 2015


I seem to have a case of writer's block. Think I need the cerebral equivalent of Dyno-Rod to come and plunge my proverbial (verbal, even) pipes. Ideas for things to write about are floating about: the dead mouse, horsehair weaving, deep sea divers, recent forays into Northern Soul and a teenage pregnancy scare, with a bit of music thrown in if possible (I even had Deadmau5 lined up for the first topic, but have yet to decide what could accompany horsehair weaving).  Unfortunately that's all they're doing, though - floating. Maybe I will manage to flush them through at some point but right now I can't seem to.

So, in the meantime, please have a look at some pictures! I found these two ancient 'How To Draw' books in a charity shop. How could I resist?

Drawing Children by Victor Pérard, 1945

Drawing Animals by Victor Pérard, 1951

Here are some of the inside pages...very anachronistic:

I love this guide to facial expressions in particular:

There's even a picture of Buster Bloodvessel...

 but I can't quite bring myself to include Lip Up Fatty as a soundtrack today.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

Travels in East Anglia

Yesterday I jumped on a train to visit a friend I haven't seen in about a year.  The first part of the journey is on one with just two carriages. The second station it goes through is home to the East Anglian Railway Museum, so you never know what you're going to see on the track next to you when it stops there. I was very chuffed one time to see 'Captain Sensible' (in locomotive form...)

Nothing quite so memorable this trip but I take the opportunity to point my camera through three sets of windows as we pull up next to one of the exhibits.

And I like this logo.  You can't go wrong with a dragon red lion! (thanks, mondoagogo)

The view from the viaduct always thrills me; it's the height, you see – don't get many of them round here. It's about 80ft up and I love the way the houses below look like little models.

The train continues through the flat fields... the clouds give a real sense of distance. Gorgeous day, isn't it?

A few minutes later I'm on another train - four carriages this time.  We pass through Colchester.

What can I tell you about Colchester?  It's meant to be the oldest town in Britain, and in Roman times it was their capital here. It has a medieval castle, a zoo and a garrison and was also once home to Damon Albarn and Graham Coxon. Many many years ago I saw Joe Orton's play 'Loot' in Colchester - very good it was, too.

I take a few snaps as we make our way through more flat fields...

... and abandoned industrial areas.

My train journey finishes at Ipswich, where I walk across the bridge over the River Orwell towards the centre. I don't know this city at all and find its simple unfamiliarity oddly exciting.

What can I tell you about Ipswich? It's another one of England's oldest towns, home to the Tractor Boys (not a band but Ipswich Town Football Club).  Nik Kershaw once lived in Ipswich... as did a band I recall hearing on John Peel back in around 1980 I think, the Adicts:

Do you remember them and their Clockwork Orange look?

Anyway... I find my way to an old street and into a sweetly-scented gift shop, above which is a small art gallery, where my friend greets me. There's a sign at the bottom of the stairs warning that some of the work on show is not suitable for children...

I really enjoy looking at my friend's creationsand I'm so pleased to see them on display:

Then we walk down to the waterfront. It's a somewhat schizophrenic place; perhaps the same could be said about every city. The bright white yachts on the sparkling water are photogenic enough but other sights catch my eye more.

We have lunch in a quayside bar, watched over by this chap; I've no idea why he's there...

...and enjoy catching up on life over chips and a pint of Black Horse Stout from the local brewery, which the barmaid tempted us to try, because we'd asked for Guinness.  It tastes just like Guinness.

As the afternoon draws to  a close I decide to catch the bus home so I can enjoy a different journey and views from the top deck.  Parts of Ipswich's outskirts are grim.  In the distance I notice an end of terrace house with large words spray-painted across its grey wall 'KEEP AHHT! GUARD DOG'. The phonetic spelling makes me laugh but the thought of living next door has me shuddering. Then the bus swings out into open countryside again and I spend the next hour hanging onto the yellow rail as it lurches around the tight bends. I try to take some photos but not very successfully - this old barn looked more interesting from the other side.

I wish I could have captured the rotting exoskeleton of the old coach I noticed in someone's back garden, and the llamas too - we have lots of llama farms round here - but I wasn't quick enough, or steady enough, with my camera.  Never mind, I just love looking through the windows.

* for more info on the artist whose work I've shared here please email me

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Going South

I thoroughly enjoyed 'Reginald D Hunter's Songs Of The South' on BBC2 last night.  For a start, I really like our host

so I was happy to accompany him through the scenically stunning if slightly unnerving landscapes of Tennessee and Kentucky in his open-top car. We learned about moonshine in Gatlinburg, square dancing in Paducah and murder ballads in Knoxville...

The Wilburn Brothers perform 'Knoxville Girl' well as bluegrass, banjos, mountain dwellers, minstrels, and... oh, loads of stuff.  There's still time to catch up on iPlayer if you missed it.

It suddenly struck me too that I have an unerring soft spot for Glen Miller & His Orchestra's 'Chattanooga Choo Choo' from the 1941 film 'Sun Valley Serenade'.  Seems to me it's one of those songs we all just know from an early age but don't know quite why/how.   I'm now also a little bit hooked on the lovely Dorothy Dandridge's performance in the film alongside the Nicholas Brothers.

Next week Reginald takes us through Alabama and Georgia, and I'm looking forward to the final episode in Mississippi and Louisiana. (I thought of you, Erik.)

Friday, 13 February 2015

In the deserts of Sudan and the gardens of Japan...

I'm not quite sure how it started, but from the age of about nine or ten I had this real 'thing' about people from other countries. I was fascinated – obsessed, even. I loved the way everyone could look so different, with their unusual sounding names and exotic clothes and customs. On my bedroom wall, amid the cut-out sellotaped pictures of kittens and seahorses, was a huge world map I'd been given as a present. I wanted to visit all those faraway lands, see feather head-dresses and funny shaped buildings, and meet people with names like Olayemi and Natsuki.

This advert from 1971 may have had something to do with it.

Originally recorded by the Hillside Singers for the 'Buy The World A Coke' campaign, the New Seekers took their adaptation of it to No 1 in the UK charts later that year...

I had a bit of a crush on Marty Kristian, of course.

...not to be confused with this:

The verse was originally so similar that it led to Oasis being
successfully sued by the New Seekers, reportedly for $500,000

I found national costumes especially interesting and had a favourite book which I loved to look through

and which frequently inspired ideas and drawings of my own

When my Dad came back from European work trips he sometimes gave my sister and me a traditional doll from his travels like this one (although more often than not we just got bars of fancily-wrapped foreign chocolate. I'm not complaining).

I kept them - the dolls, that is, not bars of chocolate - lined up on my window-sill where the bright colours of their dresses quickly faded in the sunlight.

And in true geek style, my interest in the wider world outside my window also extended to stamp-collecting.  Most of the stamps I enthusiastically saved and stuck down on those pages came from the 1970s. Some of these British ones might be familiar, if you remember that far back.

 I rather like these stark looking German ones with their stern Health & Safety warnings.

You may have read elsewhere on this blog that the first album I ever bought was the Clash... but actually, now I come to think of it, it was this one:

Monday, 9 February 2015

Grée days

'Killing time'. It's a strange concept really, isn't it? - when every second, minute and hour dies of its own accord without our help. Usually it flies, and we take great pains to save it. But anyway, in spite of being a life-long pacifist, I was fortunate to find myself in the fairly unusual position of having a little time to kill the other day. I chose a popular weapon – an internet connection. The minutes soon expired as I searched for something and then happily lost myself in it; I was looking for the work of an illustrator I hadn't thought about in a while and whose name I'd forgotten. All I could recall was that he was French, or was it Belgian? and that his children's book illustrations were popular in the '60s and '70s. It didn't take long for me to find him – Alain Grée. (He is French.)

For me, Alain Grée's illustrations provide a perfect tonic at this time of year. Winter's dragging on and we've hit that point when it's just thoroughly boring now and the hopeful journey towards Spring seems to be taking forever.  Art always gives me a boost. This kind of art may look 'simple' but the ability to pare back so effectively takes a huge amount of skill; the bold colours and shapes are just right and with no need for outlines or overly fussy detail. Distilling the complexities of reality into blocks of colour and naïve form whilst retaining real interest and character is something I'm forever trying to master.  And his compositions are so aesthetically pleasing - gorgeous examples of the graphic style of their era which work for me on a nostalgic level as well as an artistic one.

A number of Alain Grée's educational children's books with their original '60s and '70s illustrations have been reprinted in recent years and their popularity continues. 

I could happily kill time with him any day.

Friday, 6 February 2015


A random conversation yesterday prompted an unexpectedly fond memory of something I haven't thought about in decades: my school rough book.

Ooh, I loved the rough book!  It was special because it was deeply personal: the one place the teachers could not go (and presumably still can't?)  At my school the standard rough book was really thick, far fatter than all the formal exercise books and unlike them it was bursting with promise; it felt nicer and I'm sure its paper even smelt nicer. Its pale blue cover was there to be adorned, uncensored... an exciting blank canvas waiting to be transformed into a work of art.  Like everyone else, on this I could make my declarations, for boys and for bands, carefully drawn in decorative lettering, bold characters with fancy serifs and blocked in shadows, or logos copied off record sleeves. Doodles of stars... eyes with exaggerated lashes... spider webs in corners... speech balloons...The Clash... hearts and arrows and safety-pins... secret initials... objects of love (and sometimes of hate)...

Inside were those jotted notes, not just from lessons but to friends, clandestine messages - 'I'm so bored!' - and in-jokes, games of noughts and crosses, scribbled alongside the algebra and French verbs. It was the place to explore different hand-writing, as if trying on clothes – does it look better leaning to the left or the right, with closed or open loops?  So uninhibited and unchecked.  No teacher would read it, mark it or judge it, and that gave it power. It went with me everywhere like a faithful friend; a reference book, diary and sketch pad all in one. Maybe I should start one up now and I could use it to jot down ideas for future blog posts and recommended music to investigate (plus it would help to practise the hand-writing, which I'm convinced is getting more difficult than typing).

I also wish I'd kept just a few rough books from schooldays, out of curiosity. I'm sure they'd trigger further long-buried memories. Like, who the hell was JD? And why did I hate Mrs Benson so much?! And what exactly is Igneous Rock? Answers on a crib-sheet, please.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015


Lately I've become something of an expert in waiting. Waiting for deliveries, waiting for answers to queries, waiting for the go-ahead on work projects, waiting in queues at the bank. Yesterday I waited nearly an hour for my optician appointment. “Thank you for being patient” he said when he finally saw to me. Have you noticed that they always say that - “thank you” - but never actually apologise or explain? No matter, there was a copy of Tatler to look through, several times, which I found so appalling that it was entertaining and after perusing its photos of the aristocracy, I'm still smiling at the sight of Countess Spencer's voluminous hair.

So after the horrible eye test I've been coerced into spending a disproportionate amount of my income on new glasses. Using one of those two-for-one offers which is never really as good value as it sounds, I've a black frame and a turquoise frame on order. I may regret the turquoise... When I got home I couldn't remember what they even looked like so I searched for them online; I found the black ones and then noticed the website's sales blurb that accompanied them:

'Resonant with smouldering embers and charcoal matt black, making this the perfect frame for the unassuming type who is ready to let loose'

I wonder who writes this stuff?  I'm looking forward to letting loose, though!


We couldn't resist playing some Aphrodite's Child on hearing about the death of Demis Roussos.

Aphrodite's Child: Magic Mirror

Dear Demis was undoubtedly groovy at one time although, as a fond friend remarked, in our minds he will always be linked to Abigail's Party.

By the way these are not my new glasses...

Mike Leigh's play is of course a masterpiece in uncomfortable but compelling viewing. I suppose it taps into the curiosity we generally have about what goes on behind the scenes in relationships and the strange gratification that comes from discovering that things are rarely as straightforward as they might seem.

That was resonant to me last week when I met someone I haven't seen in 8 or 9 years and we were trying to catch up in the time it takes to have a quick coffee. In the course of our general chit-chat she announced that her life had changed, most dramatically, on one particular day in April 2009. “But I won't bore you with all the sordid details...” she said. “No, of course..,” I replied gently, but the voice in my head was going, “Oh do! DO! Tell me everything, the more sordid and detailed the better!” and as I sipped the rest of my coffee I waited for her to drop me some little morsels that I could catch hungrily like a dog jumping at its owner's feet for titbits.  I'm still waiting...


Tomorrow I may have to wait in all day for a courier to collect some artwork, as I'm told he could come any time between 9am and 7pm.  I will not be reading fucking Tatler.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Walk with me (once again)

Patchy sun and a bit on the chilly ticket so put your parka on...

And off we go down the road.

It used to say Please keep cars off the grass but I think someone drove into it...

Here's that curvy crinkle-crankle wall - you remember I mentioned it before?

Ordinary objects in unexpected places seem to me as if they're trying to say something.

I've just no idea what.

If we turn left at the end of the street for a change we can head up the long drive towards a privately owned stately home.

Years ago I enquired here to see if there was any part-time work I could do, thinking I might be able to use some skills I'd picked up in my previous office life. “Well, I do need someone to help me get more organised,” the very nice lady of the house told me, “like reminding me when I need to go to the dentist”.

I didn't think it was the job for me. It would have been good to be surrounded by some of the animals here, though, most of which are rare breeds.

Like the Norfolk Horn sheep. This was the breed which brought so much wealth to this region in the Middle Ages because of the wool trade. But by the 1950s, their numbers had dwindled to just 15. Curious as they are, I can't get too close to their front ends today, they're too skittish. Apparently they're just as good as goats at jumping over fences.

A dog with curly black hair and floppy ears is resolutely ignoring his owner's calls. He's running the opposite way down the drive, intent on catching up with another dog at the bottom. “Archie! Get back here! NOW!” Archie just keeps on going, until he's just a few feet away from the object in his sights, upon which he loses his nerve completely, turns right around and gallops back to his owner, ears flapping wildly.

The horses aren't bothered about Archie's flapping ears.

These Suffolk Punches are always chesnut in colour. You leave the middle 'T' out of the spelling chestnut when referring to the strong russet brown of these heavy horses, it's tradition. Like the Norfolk Horn sheep, they were near to extinction at one time; in 1966 only 9 foals were born.

As the light changes fleetingly, my camera really picks up the rich colour coat.

No cars here today.

I can smell the Longhorns from a few yards away... can you?

Then turn round to face cloudy skies for the walk home. No scene is complete without a traffic cone.

And while I've got my camera with me I must just get a shot of Toby Tog!  You know how much I like being patronised by inanimate objects.

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