Sunday, 19 November 2017

Rapture (Blondie at Brixton)


That’s the word.   That’s the feeling I had as the music and the cheers and whistles filled my head (and the delightful venue that is Brixton Academy) on Thursday night.  The love in the air was palpable.  As my gig buddy suggested at the end, it felt like the place was flooded with collective endorphins.

Throughout the evening I couldn’t help wondering as I watched her: what must it be like to be that woman on the stage, singing songs from across four decades, there with her ex-partner Chris Stein and fellow long-time band-member Clem Burke, performing to people she’s never met but many of whom have grown up with her?  What must it be like to BE Debbie Harry? And I think I was wondering that in a way I’ve never done before because, for me, it was her (and all of them - their)  real ‘human-ness’ that came across.  All the pictures I’ve looked at, all the magazine spreads, TV appearances and record covers, etc. became secondary because here, in the same room, were the real  thing.  In the flesh.   I felt honoured to share their space.

Yes, I'm going to gush: Blondie were fantastic!

Thursday was quite a big deal for me, to be honest, for several reasons.  Firstly it feels like I haven’t been to a gig in about 100 years; also I’d never been to Brixton Academy before (I loved it).  And Blondie must be the most ‘legendary’ band I’ve ever seen.  I apply that description because it’s at this stage of their career and although I’ve seen one or two other acts who are equally well-known now, I only saw those before they reached that status, with no idea then how the future would unfold for them.  So seeing Blondie on Thursday was the opposite – a band whom I first read about and heard early on in punk days but have only finally got to see all these years on, their fame now long-established.

Debbie Harry is, of course, truly inspiring.  It’s hard to believe she’s 72.  I was worried at one time about seeing her perform for fear of her not living up to what I wanted her to be - it happens.  But there was no need.  She looks, and sounds, as if she could go on doing this for another ten years at least, but the speed with which time passes plus the reminder that we’re all getting on a bit is another reason why I was really pleased to take this opportunity.

I’m not sure I can write a gig review as such, I don't really know how to and I would have had to jot down notes…. well, I was far too occupied being in the moment, happy just to be there and in such good company.   But I'll try and get some things down before it all becomes a bit of a blur...

There were certainly some stand-out points that spring to mind first – like the inclusion of ‘You Gotta Fight For Your Right (To Party!)’  in the middle of ‘Rapture’, and similarly the way ‘I Feel Love’was sigued into ‘Heart Of Glass’ to great effect.  I loved the impressive wigging out and guitar hero antics from the newer band members...

(Matt Katz-Bohen had one of these!)

 ...and some heartwarming spotlight moments on Chris (much respect to him.)  They were all excellent, though admittedly it was hard to take my eyes off Debbie.  I missed some of the detail in her banter and chat;  I’d read that the sound at the Brixton Academy can be a bit muddy due to the high ceiling, and it did affect the clarity.  Added to that was the odd tall person occasionally obscuring my view, so I think I missed one or two focal points as well, although the sloping floor really helped.  But none of that mattered too much, the connection and the presence were real, the adoration flowing both ways.

So all the songs you’d expect and perhaps hope for were played.  ‘One Way Or Another’ was the perfect opener as anticipation of their entrance reached its highest peak, followed by other hits  ('Hanging On The Telephone', 'Call Me', 'Picture This'....)  which were mingled with tracks less familiar to me from the 'Pollinator' album that was released earlier this year.  Everything just flowed... the jubilant energy just carried them, and us too.  'Atomic' really sticks in my mind still, all these hours later.  Then the inevitable encore started with an evocative mood shift via ‘Fade Away And Radiate’, before the uplifting ‘Union City Blue’, finally closing with ‘Dreaming’ - leaving electronic clicks and feedback etc. buzzing through the room while they said their goodbyes.  Glorious.  In between the main set and encore we were also treated to a screening of a collaboration with Joan Jett on ‘Doom and Destiny’.  The whole night was just the right blend of old and new material, all enhanced by the light show and huge video backdrop (special mention must go to the balletic film of a man who gave a whole new twist to the theme of pole-dancing, very homo-erotic!)  And Clem’s stamina was truly outstanding – sure, some might say he’s a bit flashy but, well - we want a show, don't we?  What a relentless, incredible powerhouse of a drummer.  I wonder who walked away with his discarded drumsticks at the end.

It was all being filmed for Sky Arts, but my memories of the gig will be different to seeing it replayed if I ever do, I've no doubt.  This time, at last, my associations with Blondie are characterised by the sensuality of it all, of physically being there, not just seeing them on film, or paper, or hearing them on record.  It's those other random extras that flesh out our memories too - like the two loved-up young men in front of us dancing together and embracing, and that long-forgotten feeling of my feet sticking to the floor as we shuffled out at the end of the night.   The sense of elation that you can only feel, not see.  And will Sky televise her wearing (and twirling) her 'Stop Fucking The Planet' cloak?  I hope so.

I know it sounds corny, but just being there returned me to a state of slightly childlike wonder. It was like being 14 again, even though it's forty years since I was, the same amount of time since Blondie first entered my consciousness.  Perhaps it would be apt to say: it's been a long time.

A warm shout-out to my charming gig buddy too for making it possible and being perfect company - these events are too special not to share, aren't they? 


Quick mention re. the support act, as I was wondering who they'd be: a sharp-suited quiff-haired  three-piece from France called Mustang, who gave us an energetic blend of Gallic pop/rock’n’roll/rockabilly in their native language, but were kind enough to translate their song titles for us (and 'Le Pantalon’ sounds so much better than ‘Trousers’).  Good fun plus they showed great humility and were clearly honoured at being able to open for Blondie, and in return were well-received by a supportive audience.  The whole feel-good factor of the night started with these guys, so all credit to them.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

In the flesh

Well, can't keep it to myself, I'm so excited because I'm going to a very special gig next week.   Not only is it far, far too long since I've seen any live band, it's also one I really ought to have seen decades ago.  But now, thanks to some lovely serendipitous circumstances, it's not too late, and from the sound of things they've also really got their act together again in recent months.

If the title of the post wasn't enough of a clue, here's another...

...a great early live performance of a favourite song

See you there!

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Pop socks

Over the years I’ve had long drinks, long hair, long weekends, long waits and Long Ryders records but one thing I’ve sadly never had, nor am I ever likely to have, is

L     L
O     E
N     G
G     S

That’s why it surprised me the other day when I tried on some new jeans I’d bought mail order, 'Regular' in length, which is normally plenty, to then find they barely reach my ankles.   I think it’s a thing now - having trousers a bit on the short side.  I mean I reckon they're making them shorter deliberately to suit a fashion trend as, if anything, I'm shrinking too.   I once heard that 'sock porn' is a thing as well, where you expose the naughtiest glimpse of sock – a flash, if you like - as a tantalising interface between shoe cuff and trouser hem. 

But showing just the right amount of sock is an art, apparently.  Your socks should be cheekily  revealed when you walk and sit down, but not when you’re standing.   I know.  Who makes this stuff up?!

The art of showing your socks in 1976.
Can you tell what the album is?

Arctic Monkeys: Knee Socks

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Scary scary night

Some while back I used to join up with a couple of friends a few times a year to go to gigs.  The problem was that we all lived miles apart so we had this convoluted way of meeting up.  I’d drive down from Suffolk to Pete’s house 50 miles away, then he’d take us to South Mimms motorway services to meet Tim who’d driven down there from Northants.   Then Tim would chauffeur us into London to the gig. 

So, getting there was fine.  And having a couple of decent gig buddies for company was absolutely great.  The part of the evening that really got to me was that third leg of the journey back at the end of our night out, the one where I had to drive that last bit home, alone through the early hours along mostly deserted country lanes.

Weary and frequently cold but not wanting to put the heater on in the rattling old Polo in case it sent me to sleep, that drive always seemed twice as long as it had been outbound.  The landmarks by which I calibrated my journey all started to blend into one.   But worse was the effect of my tired and over-active imagination. I had to fight with the more ridiculous fantastical fears that lurked in the back of my mind but which, in these dark and lonely conditions, gathered their own energy and jostled for space right up at the front, doing the stupidest things like turning lightning-struck trees into petrified witches, the shadows of road signs into gallows and kerbside shrubs into eerie, hunched over figures.  I can't tell you how many times I wondered why someone would be crouching motionless by the verge in the middle of nowhere at 1.30 in the morning. ... 

I never came across that lunatic axe murderer or the ghost of a headless horseman (of course I’d have told you by now if I had, it’d have been far more interesting) nor had an experience like Morrissey did on Saddleworth Moor. but by the time I arrived home it felt like it had taken all my strength to stay focused on the road and the radio and the promise of a warm bed at my destination, without thinking I’d witnessed something terrifying along the route.

Country lanes and empty fields are indeed beautiful on a sweet Summer afternoon but why is it that after midnight they transform into something far more sinister?!

Happy Hallowe’en….

John Atkinson Grimshaw - the master of a spooky moonlit scene

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Asperger's and Chris

I've just caught up with an excellent TV programme which, for reasons I can't really articulate, made me strangely tearful at times.  I was moved - moved by the nuances, moved by one or two things I felt in common, moved by the honesty, moved by the love of nature, by attitudes towards mental health and why we should value our individuality.  Just moved.  The programme was Chris Packham: Asperger's and Me.

You may already know from things I've mentioned before here that I feel great affinity and admiration for Chris Packham.  It's for many reasons - his deep love of nature is at the fore, but also his sense of outsiderness, his admission of social anxiety, and of course his musical and sartorial tastes.

I think a lot of us have a sort of autistic streak to one degree or another.  Not enough to affect our ability to function normally but perhaps enough to make some aspects of life trickier than we envisage it being for our peers.  Maybe just the merest hint of it, maybe not even something noticeable to anyone else, but the horrible feeling you get deep inside when you don't want to go to that party, or that wedding, or that work do, or whatever it is where everyone expects things to be a certain way and that way just isn't you.  When you feel in the minority - or maybe completely alone - for whatever reason, be it your interests, or your level of enthusiasm for something, or your lack of  enthusiasm for something else.  Where you don't feel you can fit in, because everyone else seems to do so with ease and so you must be the odd one out.  When you have to adapt the way you express yourself, when you tone down your inner voice that wants to rave about its weird passions that nobody else seems to get.  I think here, in this corner, it's a safe place.  But in the wider world it's sometimes hard to navigate.  Sometimes you have to fake normality.  Is that some kind of autism, being a bit unusual?  I don't know.  But I know that a lot of what Chris spoke about in his programme was absolutely relatable.

I'm pretty sure my dad would be diagnosed as having Asperger's if he were to undergo analysis.  An incredibly brainy, mathematical, logical man, he has no idea how to behave socially, how to dress or present himself conventionally, how to even be a 'true' father to my sister and me.  He's awkward, disconnected.  I see him in myself at times and I have to work at it.  I forgive him his inability to communicate normally with his own offspring.  It's just the way he is, and it doesn't make him bad.

My mum - very sociable and gregarious - was affected by mental health issues (clinical depression) and what with my dad... well, perhaps that's why I was precocious and difficult for a few years, maybe it's in that odd combination of genes!  I was happy to spend hours, days, on my own in my bedroom drawing, writing, reading.  My head was nearly always in a book - or making books of my own.  Or crouching outside on the step watching ants, studying woodlice, feeding lettuce to snails.  Hating new clothes, hating change.  Refusing to eat the baked beans that fell off the toast. Keeping a collection of butterfly cocoons in a plastic box.  Having to get back to my bedroom before the toilet flush stopped making a noise for fear of something bad happening if I didn't.  Daydreaming far too much.  It all kind of broke when I became a teenager. And then punk spoke to me, music and style and gigs and kindred spirits gave me an outlet.  It's okay to be a bit weird - embrace it.  You can be creative with clothes!  You can be creative, full stop.

Punk spoke to Chris Packham as a teenager too - it's easy to see why.

I really recommend watching it, if not already.  Here's the iPlayer link:

Thursday, 12 October 2017


 “More parsnips than I know what to do with!” laughed the man as he showed off his basket of home-grown vegetables.  And there’s nothing wrong with that, except….  



… “It’s all so twee!” I found myself saying.

Honestly, I think I said it out loud on my own in the room. The reason being the man with his too many parsnips was in a TV advert for over 50s life insurance and that meant it was aimed at....(braces self)  And maybe you too, either you now or the person you’ll be in just a few years’ time. 

I should add, it wasn't really the parsnips.  It was everything.  It was these advertisers' convenient vision of the over-50s – all pelmets and trugs and an oh-so-gentle sense of humour.   All tweed, velcro and lacy doilies. I felt so patronised!  I can’t bear being patronised and, oh god, I know it’s only going to get worse.  Fuck it. 

I’ve nothing against growing parsnips, just so you know.  You’re very welcome to show me your parsnips or any other homegrown root vegetables for that matter.  In a trug.  And I know all ads for any demographic are horribly generalised and broad, whether you're a teenager or a woman or a cat-lover or whatever, but it seems that the stereotypes for ‘older’ people simply haven’t been adjusted in decades.  They're more like a vision from the '50s than a vision of our 50s.  It’s as if once you pass 49 you instantly become some sort of sub-species, inoffensive and chintzy and dressed only in beige.  

These are not people like my peers and me - people who still go to gigs, or who like wearing pointy shoes, or who still have their old Joy Division albums in a dusty box in a room with an Andy Warhol poster on the wall, etc.  Insert your own version here.

(Note to advertiser: those parsnips can be inserted elsewhere.)

Monday, 9 October 2017

Where the wild things are

There, under a large pot I moved this morning, was a beautiful, tiny newt. 

The woodlouse on the far upper right gives
some idea of scale

That’s why I leave this place a little wild.  Sometimes part of me feels a bit ashamed of my garden, because I know it doesn’t conform, it's not beautiful or tidy or planned, but then I have to remind myself:  it really doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. 

I leave this little outdoor space pretty much to its own devices, with the minimum of maintenance, and I know that it looks like I can’t be bothered.  But I just don’t want to bother all the wonderful things in it that are doing very well without me.   I don’t want to bother – as in trouble, or disturb - the perfect cycle of nature, the happy micro-world within its boundaries. 

For me the rewards are all I could ever wish for.  Like that beautiful newt, an unexpected find, the first I’ve ever seen here.   And like the hedgehogs that visit every night.  The things they leave behind – nearly always in the same place – are the next morning’s confirmation of their fruitful foraging and, I know it sounds bizarre to get a buzz from seeing hedgehog shit, but I really do get pleasure from that proof.  Like this one, so conveniently left for me directly on a leaf!

(I promise I won't make a habit of 
sharing my animal droppings)

It’s true, I spend a good ten minutes every morning searching for and then burying numerous little hedgehog turds.

Last year, the evidence of one sleeping under piles of twigs and cuttings beneath the hedge was the sound of it snoring.  Actually, a bit more than snoring; it was also emitting a noise that I can only describe as being like a Smurf with a smoker’s cough.  A hedgehog with a cough isn’t a good sign, meaning it may have lung-worm, but this one seemed to be doing okay.  Then one day in late Summer I heard something else  – some squeaking and snuffling and… a kind of suckling sound. Hearing this every day for a week or so, it dawned on me that she may have had babies…

…She had.

One of last year's hoglets

I can’t tell you how ridiculously happy it makes me to think a hedgehog chose to give birth and wean her young here.

Unplanned flowers and herbs proliferate too.  Lemon balm and feverfew grow of their own accord, wherever they like, along with pink and purple toadflax.  Forget-me-nots grow in the cracks in the ancient paving. Strong-smelling calamint blooms long into the Autumn, self-seeding on the path, where I leave it to brush against my ankles amid honeybees and butterflies.  Nettles are great in so many ways - I leave a good patch of nettles, and at this time of year so many of their leaves have been neatly folded up by caterpillars, sealing themselves inside with silk threads.  A bramble bush compensates for its outrageously sharp thorns with its long season of luscious blackberries. Vast mats of clover creep over the old concrete patio, plumptious woodpigeons peck at its leaves, bumble bees are drawn drunkenly to its heady scented flowers.  Ivy shelters gorgeous, huge garden snails and secretive wolf spiders.  Buddleia and honeysuckle do their own thing,the knock-on effect of their nectar’s attractiveness to small insects bringing in low-flying bats and swallows at dusk to scoop them up.

Dandelions in Spring are as pretty and bright as any cultivated plant, so why not leave them? Goldfinches which, like great spotted woodpeckers, look far too exotic to be British birds, cling to their long stalks bending slowly under their minimal weight, and pull at the flowers methodically, filling their beaks with the delicate seed heads, then depart with a tinkling chirrup, as if to say “Thanks!”

There are bank voles, woodmice, shrews.  A stoat appeared one day, as did a slinky little weasel looking for prey.  Grasshoppers and crickets....a frog under the shed... exotic-looking beetles with bodies that shimmer like jewels prompt me to read up about their species, get educated.  Somewhere below the surface a mole has been digging, I'm stupidly excited at the thought of this mysterious underground visitor.  There's no neat lawn to disrupt, so it doesn't matter. Blackbirds and dunnock chicks hatch in their nests, secure in the overgrown hedges where the sparrows roost en masse at night, treating us to a late afternoon chorus of quite unbelievable volume.  What are they chatting about?! 

Everything’s a mess and everything’s alive.   I wouldn't want it any other way.

Monday, 2 October 2017

A bloody mess

Sorry it’s been a good few weeks since I’ve posted anything; no particular reason, just one of those phases when I’m not “feeling it” when it comes to writing - another temporary block perhaps.  And life, of course, puts other things in front of us, not that any of mine have been very interesting lately.

Today was a little out of the ordinary,  though!  I expected to be spending it drawing dragons for a new book, and if that sounds like a lovely way to spend time, I can confirm that indeed it is.  I love drawing and I love dragons.  I didn’t expect instead for Mr SDS to come home very early with blood all over his face.

Apart from numerous cuts and a swelling under his eye which looks like someone’s slashed it open and stuck an avocado stone under it, he’s okay - nothing got broken and he didn’t pass out after he smacked the gravel full pelt when he tripped and fell directly onto his cheek.   My dragons went on the backburner (probably quite appropriately) and I took Mr SDS to A&E.  His face was a bloody mess.

The NHS is wonderful.  I can't bear the thought that we could ever lose it; I’d happily pay more in NI, tax or whatever was needed to help keep it. And of all the things that could warrant a trip to A&E, something everyone surely dreads, it really wasn’t so bad.

Waiting in there for three and a half hours wasn’t so bad either, if you can find your own amusement.  It seems we were in stellar company, for among the names being called out there was a Tony Curtis, a James Dean and an Alesha Dixon.  What are the chances?  Of course none of them looked like their namesakes but I couldn’t help imagining what it would be like to be in some kind of surreal Celebrity A&E Waiting Room.

 “I’ll have to mention this in a blog post,” I said.  And so....... !

Take care, everyone.

Saturday, 9 September 2017

Nightboat to Northants

I’ve just been granted exclusive permission to publish a photo of someone whose name has appeared here several times over the years...

...Mr SDS. 

Here he is in 1981.  A bloke in creepers and a 'We Are All Prostitutes' T-shirt sitting on a folding chair by a river may not be as extreme as teenage goths grimacing on the beach in those ‘Embarrassing Family Photos’ websites, but still I love the way it looks a little out of place. I snapped him squinting in the Summer sun as the morning light bounced off his fluorescent pink socks, androgynous post-punk hair blowing in the breeze against a pastoral backdrop in the middle of nowhere.  (The middle of Northamptonshire, as it happens.)

That’s how it was, though, wasn’t it?  Holidays, weddings, funerals, etc. were difficult when it came to dressing ‘appropriately’.  We wanted to wear what we always wore and (of course) what we wanted to be seen in.  Which was at least appropriate to who we were and what we were into, as deck shoes and shorts had never been in our wardrobes.

A slightly better view of that T-shirt

The Pop Group: We Are All Prostitutes

I took that photo the first time we went away together.  We didn’t have much money, still lived at home with respective parents, but for a nominal donation we were able to borrow a little narrowboat for a couple of days from my mum's friend.  It was moored at a campsite in a place we’d never heard of called Thrapston.

The saffron yellow, bone-rattling, ex-Post Office Viva van got us there somehow.  Mr SDS had only just passed his driving test and I couldn't drive at all; I tried to read the map the right way up while he did his best not to show his inner panic.  We made it unscathed through Bedford anyway, which was quite a triumph.

Smells make memories, don’t they?  And if I ever smell that disctinctive whiff of paraffin now I find myself right back on that boat, sitting on the foam-cushioned bench seats (which disappointingly only converted into single beds with several feet between them) eating Heinz Sandwich Spread on Crackerbreads.   Weird, but I really remember that detail.  Sandwich Spread may have the colour, taste and consistency of sick, yet in 1981 eating food not bought by our parents in unfamiliar waterborne surroundings with my boyfriend was so exciting that I managed to keep it down.

More exciting, though, was just listening to the radio there. We heard a lot of chart singles such as  Kim Wilde 'Water On Glass', The Specials 'Ghost Town' and Tenpole Tudor 'Wunderbar'... they are the sound of that place to me still, the sonic equivalent to the smell of paraffin.

Let me take you back to a 1981 Top Of The Pops for a moment as a reminder:

I really liked Kim's boyish image

Then we listened to Richard Skinner’s evening show which usually featured a band in session.  That night will forever be associated with Soft Cell:

Soft Cell in session, Summer 1981

I remember thinking the last song 'Youth' was really something.

'Don't hide the photos
Or turn off the lights
I'm quite sure we've both seen
Funnier sights'

(People used to think Mr SDS looked a bit like Marc Almond; he was once offered a freebie jar of Dippity-Do hair gel by an older stall holder at Camden Market on the strength of it.)

It was when we wanted to go to bed that the spiders appeared.  Dozens of them. Every corner, every crevice, the low lamplight casting monstrous 8-legged shadows against the wooden panels.  Big fat juicy ones and long-legged spindly ones, stripey ones, ones with bodies that looked like baked beans and hairy varieties too.   It seemed to take forever to carefully flick each one out the window with a Queen's Silver Jubilee themed tea towel.  Thanks to that I conquered my fear of spiders, so much so that long-time readers will know I now actively love them.  But that doesn’t mean I ever want to sleep with them.

You must've heard the apocryphal tale that goes round schools about the couple who get lost on a nighttime drive in the wilderness?  – where the boyfriend gets out to seek help and later the lone girlfriend hears banging on the car roof, which to her horror turns out to be his decapitated head in the hands of an axe murderer.   It came to mind when I was awoken in the early hours that first morning by the mysterious, repetitive knocking on the narrowboat roof.  It sounded very close, very persistent.  Luckily Mr SDS’ head was still intact on the starboard bunk.

What was that noise? 

We’ll never know.

Probably ducks.

Later we wandered out of the campsite and into a time-warp: a grocery store in town, where a plump, rosy-cheeked lady sold us a bottle of Dandelion & Burdock. She was so friendly; I like to think she approved of Siouxsie’s lifesize face staring out from Mr SDS’ chest and my sleeveless Lurex top sparkling in the dusty rays of sunlight.

Strolling back to our moorings, every wooden gate we passed – and there were quite a few - came with a bony old man in a tweed cap attached to it.  Maybe it was the same man, skipping ahead unseen behind the hedges while we dawdled, just to mess with our townie minds.

It's funny how I remember all these odd snippets.  I can never see a man leaning on a gate now without thinking of everything I've described above. 

Did we untie the mooring lines when we got back, fire up the boat's engine and go chugging up the Grand Union Canal with our new-found freedom?  Course not!  There'd have been no turning back.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Ladybird ladybird

I just spent £7.99 at a charity shop on a little job lot of old books packed in a polythene bag.  How could I resist?!  They were 1960s Ladybird books, which everyone who grew up in Britain during their '60s and '70s heyday would surely, like me, find very evocative, and this was the one at the top:

I love that cover.

It looks like they'd all belonged to a boy called Graham.

They are a bit of a boyish selection, with tractors and cars, etc. - if that isn't too much of a gender stereotype - but Graham obviously liked his machines.

In my childhood home with two quite tomboyish girls (my sister had her Hot Wheels and I adored my clockwork train set), we definitely had the Toys And Games To Make book like the one in the picture.  Pretty sure we tried most of the suggestions in it with things we found in the sticky kitchen drawer.  You know the drawer, every household has one, full of bulldog clips, candles and miscellaneous hardware that “might come in handy one day” .  It definitely had corks and matchboxes, so we did alright. Ours smelt of rust and chocolate wafers for some reason too.

Hard to imagine many kids being impressed with the ideas in the book now, though...

I especially remember trying this one below and speaking to my sister in her bedroom, all the way from the bathroom:

What, no smartphone?

I've vivid memories too of owning a Ladybird book on how to tell the time, and another on Marco Polo; they all had that same feel, the illustrations very typical of their era.

From this batch, The Story Of Railways has some particularly charming images:

And is that a young Liam Gallagher making an appearance in the Cub Scouts volume?

Anyway I'm going to keep them for a bit - they're a part of history now.  I might even learn something (I mean, I'd completely forgotten what a 'vulgar fraction' is - Maths not my strong point)

And now I've a tenuous excuse to include this song too!

Nancy Sinatra & Lee Hazlewood:  Ladybird

Thursday, 24 August 2017

Boot Mending At Home and Other Stories

I just had to show you this - another odd little item of ephemera I salvaged from my late aunt and uncle's house when clearing it last year.  How could I not take it home?!  Inside it contains all the things you ever need to know, from a 'Cure For Drunkenness'

to how to make 'Curling Fluid For Hair'

and how 'To Cure Birds' Skins'  (why?)

Even better, though, are the adverts for other booklets by the same publisher - I would have them all if I could - I'm particularly intrigued by 'Should A Woman Tell?' in which Rev. A J Waldron discusses 'Heterodox Suggestions' (I think that's just another word for kinky?) and 'The White Slave Trade and Flogging' (surely some kind of code?)  Just what is 'The Woman's Question' and what is all this about 'telling'?*

Hopefully you can see/read more clearly if you want to by zooming in on this page or clicking on pics to view.

It's all delightfully tacky - I'd love to know how old it is but could find no reference to its issue date.

* UPDATE - I've discovered that 'Should A Woman Tell?' was a controversial play about the 'domestic morality problem'  from the early 1900s - an advertising poster's strapline for it reads 'Should a man demand from woman that which he refuses to give?'  So I'm still intrigued!

Monday, 14 August 2017


I'm immensely honoured to contribute to a post on someone else's very fine blog today (thank you, Martin), in which I fantasise about what would happen if a Mod hero was on the receiving end of a little feminine touch down amid the tangled trees.  Well, erm, something sort of like that....

To find out more, please click here and take a look (and a listen).

That's all!

A wild wood

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

A new amusement

I don’t like football so the idea of a fantasy football league doesn’t mean a thing, but ‘fantasy cover versions’?  Love it.  Thanks to Martin at the excellent blog New Amusements, I’ve been ruminating over ideas for these all week…    Please take a look at his introductory post to see what it’s all about and his first suggestion - anyone can join in.

I’ve picked something I’d love to hear covered by an artist I particularly admire, which is due to feature on New Amusements  next week.  And Rol from the brilliant My Top Ten has come up with something  truly inspired

It’s become a talking point here at SDS Towers too.  Mr SDS suggested he’d like to hear Kacey Musgraves singing Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Landslide’ (imagining it sounding similar to the great Dixie Chicks’ version) – but on looking it up he found a live version she’d done with Lady Antebellum, so it wouldn’t really count (it has to be true fantasy!)  Would still like to hear a studio version, though (so, if you're reading this, Kacey?!)  He was also reminded of a colleague from years ago who’d once said he fancied hearing Nirvana tackling the La’s ‘There She Goes’.     I can imagine that too, stretching Kurt’s voice nicely and perhaps delivered in the manner of the MTV Unplugged sessions.  See - once you start thinking about it….  

Please go drop Martin a line via his blog if you fantasise about such things too.   I'd love to see more.

Dear Mr Fantasy, play us a tune
Something to make us all happy
Do anything, take us out of this gloom
Sing a song, play guitar, make it snappy

(One for Paul Weller to cover, perhaps?!)

Thursday, 27 July 2017

A load of old musket balls

It’s five to 4.  The man in long khaki shorts has just come out of the portacabin in the car park and is picking up the pavement sign.   Typical.  The one time I’ve finally decided to stop and take a detour on my way to the Co-op to venture inside for a look and now I’m too late.   “Oh, are you closing...?” I ask.  I’m aware that I probably sound disappointed.  “Well, should close at 4, but it’s okay, I can stay open - no hurry,” he replies, looking at his watch.  Actually he seems keen that someone is interested.  So, once I’ve checked that it really is alright, and he definitely doesn’t having to rush off for anything  (“stay as long as you like!” he offers merrily), I enter  the portacabin and have a good look round.

There are a couple of tiny ornate Roman brooches which catch my eye.  They are delicate and beautiful, and all the more captivating for just knowing they’re over 1000 years old.  Next to them, a small collection of musket balls.  These look familiar – I’m sure I’ve found something that looks very similar in my garden, and I’ve kept it in a saucer along with a selection of broken crockery pieces, the ubiquitous pieces of clay pipe, flints - next to a bowlful of bird skulls.  Other items here in the Heritage Centre include Iron Age tools, Georgian coins, Roman buckles.  I love these things.  Little pieces of history, tiny remnants of lives left behind.  It’s nothing out of the ordinary, probably not even of value, and it’s around us all the time, beneath us, maybe not that far below the surface.

“It’s fascinating!  I’ll come back when there’s more time,”  I tell the man, and I will.

Continuing on my way to the Co-op with these archaic finds in my mind, my thoughts turn naturally to my current favourite TV series, ‘Detectorists’.  There’s so much to like about Mackenzie Crook’s charming comedy based around two men hoping to find the remains of a Saxon ship and ancient gold with their metal detectors (and even the word ‘comedy’ doesn’t quite do it justice): the pace, the humour, the pathos, the acting and characters. But as much as anything for me is the beautiful cinematography and my additional personal connection to the familiar mellow landscapes of its setting, as it was filmed not far from here.

I pick up some Fairy Liquid and a bag of Bombay Mix and head home, the back way this time, by the allotments.  A Red Admiral settles on the path in front of me, spiky leaves of globe thistles rub against the sunflowers, I notice a dead woodpigeon in the brambles, I drift along in a world of my own… make sure I don’t sprain my ankle again…. wonder if I’ll see the chickens, there’s a coop just along here… must check that musket ball thing I found when I get home, I'll be on the look-out for more now ….and then my thoughts are broken by a sound.  A strange, whiny, uneven sound, a bit like a gate swinging back and forth on rusty hinges, but not regular enough, too extreme.  It’s coming from the other side of the allotment, behind the trees, I think.  A sort of whistle but, no, not a whistle, more synthetic… sort of beeping…  where’ve I heard that before?

It only dawns on me as the path ends and joins up with the car park again at the back of the Heritage Centre that I’ve just heard a metal detector.  Or should I say: detectorist. Perfect.

(I wonder if they found anything.  Or (to quote) fuck all...)

A saucerful of secrets.  My equivalent to the 'Finds Table'.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Behind the wall of sleep

If I ever win something on the Lottery (unlikely, I don’t do it), or come into some inheritance (unlikely, no-one still around with anything to leave), or you're a generous philanthropist reading this now (lovely to meet you!) – there's something, not too out-of-this-world, I'd just like to do.

It's fairly modest: a kind of art project - travelling around Europe photographing windows.  Not any old windows, though; I know what I’m looking for - ones that, soon as I notice them, have a strange, déjà-vu effect, as if I’ve been on the inside of them, looking out.  I’ll be out of harm’s way, in the open air, but I’ll know that, on the other side of their small, dirty panes, up high and out of reach (always up high), all manner of unspoken danger and supernatural wickedness lurks.  I'll know because I’ve been behind these windows many times, in dreams.

The recurring theme (probably a common one?) is that I’m wandering through a building – often an old house with paneled walls and narrow staircases, like you see in creepy 1940s films, but sometimes they're industrial or 1970s office blocks – and I go higher and higher.  Everything's fine until I step into the very top room or space with that window, and then I feel ‘the malevolent presence’.   Sometimes I'm trapped, peering out at a normal world I can't get to.  I never see the source of my fear, just sense something very sinister in the room.  I'm sure a psychoanalyst would have an explanation.  I might not want to hear it, mind.

Anyway, maybe I'd overcome these disturbing dreams by capturing the physical image of the windows themselves? It would be great just to have enough freedom and funds to go travelling with a cool high-tech camera (once I've learned how to use it)  and then I could click away to my heart's content (in between eating linguine in Tuscany and visiting the Louvre in Paris. Perks of the job).  Let me know if you fancy doing the driving.

I s'pose that's what dreams are for, the daydreams anyway... that's where things start, tho' in this case it started with nightmares.

I'm unlikely to have time/money to fully indulge in something pointless like this, though. Who does?  It's a shame, isn't it -  all the things we might do if only we could just suspend normal life for long enough and take off with no other concerns.  Not major life changes or ambitions, just 'projects' - things that really are possible, but need a bit more than you have.

Meanwhile then, I took a short stroll locally (before I sprained my ankle!) and found a few high windows, the best I could do with limited time, anyway.  Here are just three crappy, furtive pics to try and show what I mean.  (I had to tell the owner of one that I was photographing a bird on his roof as I didn’t want to let him in on the unspeakable paranormal malevolence in his attic.)

Are they a bit creepy, or is it just me?  I mean, just imagine yourself, trapped behind them, where no-one can hear you scream....

Don't be misled by the pretty gable around that spooky top window 

Even the alarm won't protect from the evil presence in that attic room

The tiny ancient window up there on the left
offers no escape from the terrifying ghosts within

Monday, 10 July 2017

Dark night of the sole

How is it that sometimes the slightest of injuries can cause a disproportionate degree of pain?  Like paper-cuts.  Ugh.

I had a fairly innocuous injury yesterday afternoon when I sort of ‘fell off’ a strappy sandal and twisted my ankle .  The sudden spraining hurt but then it went all warm (actually felt very nice) and I carried on.  We were at our village’s annual Summer do and hung about to watch a band (surprisingly good), no problem to stand while they played their Who and Cream covers, didn’t feel a thing.  We enjoyed that special smell of trampled-on grass combined with deep fat frying that you only ever get at these events, then walked the half-mile back home, all was fine for an hour, and then, unexpectedly, the pain really kicked in.

It got worse, so intense I couldn’t put any weight on my ankle and had to crawl up the stairs to bed on my hands and knees (very undignified).  Lying there with my foot propped up trying unsuccessfully to get to sleep my thoughts went off on a dark dismal walk of their own.  My ankle was never going to be the same, I’d have to give up going out – going anywhere at all - and we’d need to leave our little home because we couldn’t fit a Stannah Stair Lift.  I’d get so fat through immobility that I’d have to be hoisted in and out of bed and end up featuring in a Channel 5 programme about the dangers of strappy footwear:  ‘My Sandals Ruined My Life’.  Oh, the shame.

Those dark nights of the soul are bastards, aren’t they?  I’ve had them before, where a hairline crack in the bathroom wall ends up with the whole terrace collapsing, and with it the entire fabric of your life.

I heard the milkman's bottles clinking at 3.30 this morning and next door’s dog barking at his footsteps...

...The first cars of the day crunching on the tarmac on their way to the 6am shift at the factory down the road.

As the darkness of the night started to subside, so did the worst of the pain, and so did the thoughts.  Resting the foot today, in between hobbling.  Throwing out the sandals.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Anniversary snapshots: 3rd July 1981

Blimey, I'm finally managing to write again! Thanks for your encouragement and understanding. But hope you'll forgive some retrospective indulgence...   It could even turn into an occasional series, tho' that might be over-ambitious.  Anyway, this started because I was thinking about a gig I was at on this exact day many years ago - hence 'anniversary' - and it dawned on me just how much has changed, although the band in question are still performing (albeit not the complete original line-up).  More on them in a mo.

First, time to forget everything we now take for granted about modern technology.  Rewind to an era when we weren’t all connected, forget having a home computer and transmitting words and pictures like I'm doing now.  I'm back to a time when we still had £1 notes and had to get photos developed at Boots and wait two weeks.  I won’t go on, you were probably there too.

So I'm in the early '80s, and 1981 in particular.  How was it for you?

The music I think of first is that post-punk / embryonic goth thing because I was really into those bands I’d heard through John Peel, like Modern English, Psychedelic Furs, Positive Noise, the Cure...

There were other new sounds too  - I loved the first New Age Steppers album with its dub rhythms...

...and still had allegiance to the anarcho-punk of Crass who released 'Penis Envy' that year.  I don't recall ever enjoying that in the way I did others, but it had its place.

These were varied times musically; I could play New Order’s ‘Ceremony’ alongside Dead Kennedys ‘Too Drunk To Fuck’ and Radio 1 could play Bucks Fizz next to the Jam. So much was going on.  Then, thrown into the mix, was something altogether different: electro ‘machine music' from a German band who’d already been around for over half my life.  Kraftwerk.

Kraftwerk seemed pretty old in '81 (in their 30s!).  I knew this because my sister already had Radioactivity in the dark ages of 1975, a record she'd been given by a German boy during a Town Twinning week.  I was 12 in '75, I liked Showaddywaddy and guinea pigs.  So, yes, they were ancient but, at the same time, so ultra-modern.

On Friday 3rd July 1981, I saw them at the Hammersmith Odeon.  It was the first time I’d been to a gig venue with seats.  I was used to black-painted halls with sticky floors and being close enough to a band to look up the nostrils of the guitarist and count the hairs.  Down there on stage – a long way away, no up-nosing for me - were four figures who looked more like androids than people, each producing synthetic sounds from a personal console, behind them a huge screen projecting the kind of digital graphics I’d only really seen on Tomorrow’s World.  

Honestly, this is what I mean about forgetting what we know today because back then it seemed so futuristic.  Like when we were little and tried to picture what life might be like in the year 2000 (all jet-packs and holidays on the moon), the computer world that Kraftwerk envisioned wasn’t one I could imagine living in.

Now, as I type this using familiar technology, their version seems retro, like Gameboys and Space Invaders do too. But in 1981 we were still gawping at magic flashing signs on the motorway telling us we were too close to the car in front as we travelled down to Hammersmith in P's Vauxhall Viva.

I’m not sure quite how Kraftwerk fitted in to my musical taste, they just did.  Seeing them felt like witnessing something special.  The sophistication of sound and imagery took us to an other-worldly place, where our hosts didn't seem fully human.  How different from the gigs I'd been to before.  At the same time it was highly accessible, especially in songs like the wistful electro-pop of 'Computer Love'.

We were enthralled for two hours by four automatons, but just occasionally they let slip their robotic façades and smiled, and we loved them for it.   They filled our senses.  It was such a memorable and awe-inspiring night.

And unlike gigs I’d been to before, the ones with sticky floors, there was no real fashion style dominating the audience - there were all sorts there, with no aggro.  P wore a black cape! I don't know why - or perhaps I do - I mean, this was an era when many of us aspired to be vampires, at least part-time.  K was wearing brand new purple creepers from Shelley’s.  I donned my moth-eaten black lace dress (my mum’s from the 1940s), my hair deliberately tangled.

In the foyer on the way out we spotted Toyah! ‘I Want To Be Free’ was in the charts - she was going to turn this world inside out and turn suburbia upside down.  I'm not sure how she got so far with that voice, but she did have the look.

 As we queued to leave the car park, we were amazed to hear a tape of what we’d just listened to being played back – someone must’ve recorded the set on a portable cassette machine. Maybe smuggled in under a cape.

Possibly still dazed from the Kraftwerk experience, P took a wrong turn as we headed home and started driving West instead of East.  We didn’t know as we drove towards Southall that something serious was happening there that night.   The first we heard was in the papers the next day - there was nothing then to tell us what was going on in real time, no tweets, no rolling news.  

Luckily we turned around in time, oblivious to what was unfolding further down the road.  Petrol bombs were being thrown and a pub set on fire when a violent conflict erupted after a number of Oi bands  booked to play the Hambrough Tavern brought many of their racist supporters to an area with a high Asian population.  That was another side to the hot Summer of 1981: riots.

It's weird to think of Oi bands, riots and Kraftwerk in the same breath.  I’m so glad I’d been in the company of the latter that night.  I don’t think Oi fans would’ve taken kindly to seeing us dressed in cape, creepers and lace, singing 'It's More Fun To Compute' out the car windows, and laughing at the ridiculous idea of that ever becoming a reality.


As for Kraftwerk, they're touring again with 70-year old Ralf Hütter as the only original member, and by all accounts their performances are not that dissimilar to the one I enjoyed 36 years ago today.  Whereas so many other things have changed...

Developed at Boots, July 1981

In the digital age, July 2017

Thought it was about time I said hello properly!

Monday, 19 June 2017

Mental block

Oh dear, this is odd, I seem to have lost the ability to write a blog post.   Even typing this feels like an upward struggle and I’m not sure why but, of course, the more I think about it the harder it gets. I’m thinking about it far too much now, I know, aargh.   Can’t tell you how many times I’ve tried and then scrapped an idea . How many times I’ve backspaced - even now when I’m writing about it – I mean, I just backspaced there without anyone knowing and took half the original sentence out.  There have been those paragraphs I’ve composed in my head in that sort of stream of consciousness way when I’m doing the washing up or brushing my teeth which seem to make sense – “Yes!” I think, “quick, write it down! ("Yes, when I've dried my hands!") but then when I try, the words just won’t co-operate.

So really, just to say – after a disproportionate amount of time and effort to even string this much together - that I’m still here and all is fine but I’ve come up against a bit of a block at the moment when it comes to blogging.  As soon as I can kick it out of the way, I’ll try again.  Sort of hoping that just saying this will be a start. 

Fuck that backspace and....  


Orange Juice: Rip It Up

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Did you see butterflies?

So excited to get the new Jane Weaver album 'Modern Kosmology' last week - I'm indebted to a couple of fellow bloggers for pointing me in her direction (so a BIG thank you, I think you know who you are!)

It's great (sorry for such an unimaginative adjective) - one of those that just gets better the more you hear it, the more you tune into the detail, the mood, the femininity.

Whilst I'm not a music blogger as such, I don't have a lot to say on other subjects right now, so will just keep to the song and keep it brief today.  'Did You See Butterflies?' is the new single; it's gorgeous (shades of Lush and Stereolab, as mentioned by others before) and I know that because I'm in love with it, I just want you to be as well!  Funny how music has that effect, but it's a good thing.

I did see a butterfly yesterday too.... not many around here just yet.

Jane Weaver: Did You See Butterflies?

Thursday, 25 May 2017


Long-time friends of this blog will know that I lost a very dear friend, who also happened to be a close neighbour, last year.

Whilst personal memories live on in our own minds, when someone is as creative and special as he was, it's really meaningful for those who knew them to see their talents continue to be celebrated and shared in their absence with a wider audience

So I just wanted to spread the word, as I'm aware many of you may already know his sleeve artwork from your own record collections, that there is a lovely feature about him/interview with brother Matt in the new edition of Classic Pop (issue 29) - available from all good newsagents from today.

In loving memory of Andrew ('Andy Dog') Johnson
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