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

Wednesday, 24 May 2017


As I'm drifting off to sleep Monday night, Mr SDS joins me having stayed up a little later, and tells me the breaking news he’s just read online.  Details are still sketchy, but it’s bad.

Oh no.  Your heart sinks, just sinks.  The world is a flawed, fractured place, full of twisted, tortured souls.  You shield yourself from it as much as you can, you try at least to be kind, caring, in everyday life.   It’s not hard to be those things, not really - is it?  To just get on with your own life and let others get on with theirs, peacefully?  We're lucky here, imagine life elsewhere... but still.  I slip back into a restless slumber, these thoughts swirling around, wondering what nightmare reality I’ll be reading about on Tuesday, things most of us will never be able to understand.

I’m due to go into central London in the morning too.  “Don’t go”, Mr SDS pleads.  “Don’t go if you don’t have to”.  But I do have to.  I’m very aware that I live much of my life – out here in the quiet countryside - inside a cosy bubble.  There’s the irony:  probably the biggest danger I face on a daily basis is that of an insidious, creeping paranoia about the world outside it.   I must defy that paranoia as much as anything else, I must go because I want to go.  

So I get on the train to London, and on the tube, mingle with travellers in crowded carriages; there are extra police around, there are serious faces, I don’t think that Manchester is far from anyone’s mind this morning.  But there are smiley faces too - cities are gutsy places and they remind you: most people are alright, most people want the same basic, harmless things.  In the city of strangers I’m one of them, not going to give in to fear.

I have such a good day, meeting with lovely friends I haven’t seen in years – catching up over tea and cake and paintings.   I’d have missed all this had I let stupid paranoia win.  It's over too soon, and I walk back to catch my train through the metropolis, lapping up its sharp contrast to my usual habitat, here where the sirens are my screaming swifts and starlings, and office blocks and cranes pierce the sky instead of oak and poplar.  

“This train does stop at Colchester, doesn’t it?”   My solitary daze is broken as the woman with two huge pieces of luggage, almost as big as her, asks me this.  I've just boarded too.  Yes, it’s the right train, so she sits across the aisle from me and continues to talk. 

“I’ve been travelling all day...,” she says,  “...come down from Manchester…”

Weird how one particular word, on one particular day, can carry so much weight and meaning and, right out of the blue, it unites us. 

I’m drawn to her face, and in a split second of silence I’m reading her expression.  I need to talk, it says.  I need to talk about something. She has the air of someone who’s been awake all night, with a body tired but brain still buzzing.  Her bright blue eyes are a little watery.  Then she starts to tell me that she’s in the army, and she’d been called on duty in connection with the Manchester Arena incident.

As other people start to board the train, filling up the seats around me, I could just withdraw from the conversation with the woman across the aisle.  But instead  I find myself moving seats, to be with her.  She needs to talk.  She needs to talk about something.

And so I spend the next hour in unbroken conversation with a complete stranger, who’s been awake for 37 hours and who, in spite of having been stationed in Afghanistan and served as a medic, tells me how intensely affected she feels by the night’s events.  By what she’d seen and heard, what she knew so far, what lies ahead too.  I let her talk.  My eyes are a little watery.

But we speak about other stuff too, and some stuff I never knew, because I’ve never chatted to someone who’s in the army, it’s a world away from mine - a world away from my cosy bubble.  I’m so glad I stepped out of it today; I learned so much more than I ever bargained for.  

There’s no punchline to this, no big revelation… I just want to express it.  My train companion is going to stay in my mind for a very long while.  She needed to talk, and I’m so glad I could listen.

Love and peace to Manchester.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Fare thee well

Just heard news of the death of Geoffrey Bayldon yesterday, at the age of 93.  One of my favourite actors, he was best known, I'm sure, for his fantastically animated and utterly convincing portrayal of Catweazle, the eponymous time-travelling character in what has to be one of the best children's TV programmes ever made.  Who could forget electrickery, the telling bone, Castle Saburac and Touchwood the toad?  And "Nothing works"! I'm sure its magic rubbed off on many of us of a certain vintage and may explain a lot...

He was known for many other parts too, not least the Crowman in Worzel Gummidge as well as a teacher in the superb film To Sir With Love; he even played the role of a butler in the tea party scene in Marc Bolan's Born to Boogie.

RIP Geoffrey.  Fare thee well.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

The power of pop

Just a quickie today, but had one of those moments yesterday hearing something on the car radio and I'm sure you'll know the kind I mean:  Mr SDS was driving and we were nattering away, but when the intro to this song started up I had to tell him to "Shhh!"   "It's almost a bit like power pop!" I said, "...'78/'79 jangly power pop! I need to know who it is..."

Tuning myself in, what I heard was actually sweet, shameless, modern pop.  The kind that just makes you want to smile because it's simply pure and real and catchy.

We then got stuck behind a maintenance lorry at some roadworks  'cause Anglian Water were digging up the pavement and I was so pleased because it meant I could hear the rest of the song without it having to battle against the engine noise (the joy of a start-stop system!) It will now forever be associated in my mind with that little section of the A131.

Anyway.... it was Declan McKenna with 'Brazil'.  He was just 16 when he wrote and recorded this. He looks so young in this original video, aww!  (It's since been updated - I much prefer this earlier one posted below).   But reading up about him reveals a maturity beyond his years; he self-released this as his first single in August 2015 and, in spite of his lightness of touch musically, his lyrical content is darker and political - a criticism of FIFA awarding the World Cup to Brazil in 2014 without addressing the effect of the huge degree of poverty on its people.

He's touring this month and has an album out in July.  At the risk of sounding like an old fart, he helps restore my faith in....oh dear, do I really have to say it like this?!.... the 'youth of today'...

Declan McKenna: Brazil

Monday, 24 April 2017

'Your Attention Please'

Well, at least there’s one good thing about the threat of nuclear Armageddon; it isn’t half inspiring.  I mean – the cover art on this pamphlet drew me in immediately.  

Fabulous graphics!  I found it on the floor of one of the rooms in my late aunt and uncle’s house whilst having a final look around on Friday before the house clearance people come.  It was next to a copy of this, a little bit of light reading from 1948:

and some other literature which I just had to save – like this (far more cheerful) 1951 programme from the Folies Bergère.  

I can’t resist this kind of ephemera, I love the history as well as the aesthetics, the connection to an intriguing past I don’t know.  But the ‘Death Stands At Attention - A Protest against the H Bomb Tests’ leaflet – created and distributed 60 years ago (and what have we learned?) - seems particularly, chillingly, apposite for today.  Click on images to enlarge for reading, if you dare.

Not that I’m wanting to dwell on it, but the idea of nuclear holocaust has been prominent in my psyche before now – if you were hanging around in the anarcho punk scene with Crass and Flux of Pink Indians in the early 1980s, as I was, it was pretty much mandatory.  However, perhaps one of the most haunting and memorable tunes to come out of the doom and gloom of imminent radiation poisoning was from a far more melodic post-punk band, Scars.  

There was something really charming about Scars.  They formed in Edinburgh in the late ‘70s, recorded a session for John Peel in 1980 and a second one in 1981, when they also made just one album, Author! Author!  It was a great album, but sadly the following year the band ceased to be and there were no more releases.

I remember listening to Author! Author! and in particular this song (first put out as a flexi disc that came free with the style magazine, i-D) and really getting the heebie-jeebies; it still sounds incredibly disturbing now.  But proof that the prospect of the end of the world is, as I said earlier, very creatively inspiring, so it's not all bad, eh  - every mushroom cloud has a silver lining.   I just hope with all my heart that this post isn’t too what you might call... erm... 'timely'.

Scars: Your Attention Please

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Excuse me, but aren't you....?

I saw the strangest thing in my village street yesterday: a little Paul Weller lookalike.

He had the whole feathery hair thing going on – the too-short fringe and the too-long bits in front of the ears, and he was wearing a nasty beige jacket and smoking something smelly which barely concealed the scent of an also rather nasty aftershave.  As our paths crossed I could see quite a facial resemblance: the slenderness and pointed jaw, close together eyes, a longish nose – although it was kind of like viewing Paul Weller in a Hall Of Mirrors. 

I assume he’s a fan and not getting paid for it, although I s'pose he could front a Jam tribute band .  It got me thinking, though… as a lot of fans do like to look like their idols, which comes first?  Do people remark that you remind them of someone and then you consciously assemble everything from there – not just the whole look, but wanting to buy their records and go to their gigs too?  Do you have to convince yourself, maybe even force yourself, to like the output of the artist you so naturally resemble?   Or is it pure coincidence that you’re already a fan and just happen to look like them too?  Almost like there’s something in the genes – for example, statistics show that  93% of people with Elvis-type (‘Elvine’) features also have an innate penchant for The King’s music.  But I may have just made that up.

When I was working in a record shop, one of our regulars was a Gary Numan fan, who really did look like his idol.  Of course the dyed hair and the black and red outfit helped with the illusion, but he already had the basics covered in his facial features.    Siouxsie lookalikes were also a common phenomenon in the ‘80s, but probably not too hard a look to achieve if you have the right make-up and some hair crimpers.  I’ve seen Princes, Rod Stewarts and even now there’s an assistant at our local B&Q who’s a slightly shorter version of Elton John.  I’ve often wondered if she’s an Elton fan.

I should’ve asked them those questions.  Which came first, looking alike, or liking a look?

Anyway, I saw the Modfather lookalike again this morning, getting his fags at the paper shop.  Well, there was something about him - I just knew from his demeanour that  it would really make his day to hear a stranger say to him, “Excuse me, but has anyone ever told you – you’re the spitting image of Paul Weller?!”  or, better still, “Erm, hello…. you’re Paul Weller, aren’t you?  Wow!”  Oh, he would be so chuffed!  So, feeling uncharacteristically callous, I’m afraid I didn’t say a word.

Thursday, 13 April 2017

I think I know just what you're longing for

The fabulous Lee Hazlewood is a name which has cropped up more than a few times on several of the music blogs I love to read.  Whenever it does I'm unable to resist mentioning how I'm equally unable to resist a man with a deep voice.  Mmm.

When I heard a striking song by a man with a deep voice last year I scribbled it down hurriedly in the back of my notebook.... and then forgot about it for a while, until rediscovering it recently (and being just about able to interpret the appalling scrawl...)

Only thing is I don't remember the source - was it on the radio? Was it on a blog?  Was it on your blog?  If it was then I'd like to thank you!  I love this song.  It's kind of cinematic, dark and brooding with shades of John Barry and as if from another era -  the additional female vocal from Marie Munroe (Hilde Marie Kjersem) made me think of Lee and Nancy, the whole mood made me think of film noir....  well, it made me think of many things.

I'd never heard of Sivert Høyem before but a quick search around reveals that he's Norwegian and used to sing in rock band Madrugada. Following a number of solo releases (including the 2016 album 'Lioness' from which this track comes) he has formed a new band called Paradise with Rob Ellis (notable for his work with P J Harvey, Bat For Lashes, Laika and others) and Rob McVey (Marianne Faithfull).   I'm not sure that anything else he's done will match up to 'My Thieving Heart' for me, but sometimes one song is all it needs.

Monday, 10 April 2017

In praise of geeks

“Geeks,”  I said, “Geeks!  That’s what you need in your life.”

I was trying to explain to my friend as we sat in the pub why I think she would benefit from having some people in her life who don’t follow the crowd.  Why it might be good to surround herself more with the type of people who, just as a ‘for instance’, would prefer to dig up dirt and find Iron Age brooches than to dig up the dirt on perceived love rivals on Facebook. 

This had followed on from a long and animated conversation about all the bad influences in her life, and then led to us drinking a toast to how, actually, we don’t really like 'people'.  To quote Charlie Brooker from the back cover of his excellent book, ‘Dawn Of The Dumb’:

“I don’t get people.  What’s their appeal, precisely?  They waddle around with their haircuts on, cluttering the pavement like gormless, farting skittles.  They’re awful.”

Of course I know not everyone’s like that  –  I know you’re not, for a start.  But we all know what Charlie means by ‘farting skittles’ and sadly, in her self-proclaimed bid to ‘fit in’, my friend has allowed herself to be drawn to their world. 

I sense that many of the people with whom she wants to fit in are also desperate in their bid to fit in.  They are full of insecurities disguised as material aspirations and boob jobs.  To fit in to what they see as ‘normal’ – to meet the expectations of others, the irony being that those ‘others’ with their expectations are also doing the same thing and so it goes on and on and the most shallow social stereotypes get reinforced.  To be true to oneself, to embrace one’s funny little ways, quirky interests, tastes and obsessions, to accept one’s imperfections and  to have a different perspective in a world full of farting skittles (I’m getting to like that term more and more) – well,  it makes you a bit of a geek.

I realised I was a bit of a geek from quite an early age; there was that time at primary school when my best friends were the ones who hated sport but loved reading - plus, they were boys.   Andrew and the two Ians (one with an extra ‘i’) shared my interests – we all liked drawing and tortoises and the Wombles and playing in the sandpit with our Itty Bitties.   It was a happy time in my life, but I realised that Andrew, the two Ians (one with an extra ‘i') and me were not quite like the majority of our classmates.  Later, my close girlfriends were the ones who went through punk with me, we revelled in being in a minority in our neighbourhood, and in our school, we liked the music no-one else did and the look that people ridiculed.  But then on Tuesday and Saturday nights we’d go down to our local gig venue and fit in effortlessly with all the other misfits.  We found our niche.

My friend said that ‘fitting in’ and 'wanting to be normal' had always been her desire, even in childhood.  She must be one of the few people I know who didn’t have a teenage rebellion.  But through not just going along with the majority, you find your own crowd of like-minded others, don’t you?  Work and broader social situations may require compromise, but there’s no point in trying to change yourself into the type of person who’s never going to ‘get’ you anyway.  

I'm hoping my friend will embrace the true geek in herself, and then she'll find some others who will embrace it too.  It's about time.

Itty Bitties.  In case you were wondering...

Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Selfish C**t dilemma

Several boxes of CDs recently came our way through a friend.  He used to sell CDs, so in amongst them are some multiple copies of one or two items.

This means there are six copies of ‘Authority Confrontation’ by the band whose name contains one of the most reviled words in the English language (with the exception of ‘Farage’).  This is a word I don’t have a problem with, but I know and understand that a lot of people do.  (Should you be interested you can read my - and others' - more in-depth thoughts on why it deserves a place in our vocabulary here: Something beginning with C  - and I'm sure it goes without saying that both post and comments contain a few expletives.)

Back to being given several boxes of CDs - well, I know that sounds exciting - and it was, until we opened them.  Oh, the thrill of the unknown! Surely a veritable smorgasbord of new sounds to investigate… a glorious cornucopia of audio surprises?   What marvellous gems could be in there, just waiting… waiting for our gasps of delight when we find them hiding amongst their less interesting neighbours, free them from the bondage of their plastic enclosures before succumbing to their shiny shiny charms and falling desperately in love?    Sadly none.   We’ve gone through them all and there are very few we want to keep, so we're bagging most of them up again now to take to the charity shop.  But at least that feels good; I love the way charity shops work, everyone’s a winner.

Here comes the dilemma.  Can you take six copies of a CD by Selfish Cunt to a charity shop? Would they even dare put it on display in Age Concern or Barnardos?  And if they did, would anyone dare buy it?





Umm.  At the moment they are still here.  But if you would like to own a free copy, all six are up for grabs, that’s more than enough to go round, surely?!   It could be like a competition!  Just tell me the most selfish thing you have ever done.  Or the least selfish thing…. 

…and it’s yours.

Feel free to swear.

UPDATE:  In light of Rol's and Swiss Adam's suggestions in the comments, it doesn't seem quite right to send a Selfish Cunt CD to someone who clearly isn't one.  Or at least not to accompany it with something else a bit nicer.  So if you have a lovely tale of unselfishness to share, I shall look in the box of CDs for other prizes. You never know what you might get! 

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Magritte for the masses - the cover art of the art cover, part 3. Includes substance abuse.

My chosen theme for an important Art exam is one of the finest examples of futuristic technology in existence.  It’s interactive, revolutionary, progressive.  I’ve picked something ultra-modern, a reflection of the fast-moving times we’re in. 

I’ve decided to portray a Space Invaders machine.   It is 1980, after all.  Space Invaders are taking over the world, or at least the pubs of the world.

And I’m going to draw it in oil pastels.

Only, trying to draw a stupid Space Invaders machine  in a stupid hot studio at college, with no previous experience of these stupid smudgy colour sticks I’ve bought is a bit like trying to paint the Sistine Chapel with lipstick.  We’re up against the clock too, this being an exam.  I keep having to leave the room to spray it with fixative which is a right pain, and gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “getting a fix” – or perhaps not.   The fixative smells like hairspray mixed with nail varnish, Evostik and vodka.  It can kill 30,000 brain cells in one sniff, or something like that, and if we knew all about CFCs and the ozone layer it would be banned, but we don’t - at least not for another nine years or so.

Anyway, every time I go out into the college corridor to sniff the fixative, Kirk is already there, sniffing his.  Kirk is one of my best friends.  He is tall, skinny, geeky, excruciatingly shy, a Sci-Fi fan with a dry, caustic wit, and he looks a bit like a young Catweazel, if you can imagine that.  I swear he eats nothing but cream buns and he wears those Cornish Pasty shoes.  He is also super-talented, an incredible young artist.  On a large piece of card he is portraying a wonderfully bizarre view from a window, abstract and full of dreamlike atmosphere, and it is a masterpiece - skillfully, expertly rendered – in oil pastels.  Even after several sniffs of fixative spray I think we can safely say he still has a lot more brain cells than me.

When the exam is over, Kirk has produced a piece of art good enough to hang in the Louvre.  Me, I’ve produced a piece of shit not even good enough to hang in the loo.

 I scrape by with a ‘C’  in my ‘A’ Level Art for a stupid smudgy picture of a stupid arcade machine being played by my disembodied hands; the whole thing looks more like a patterned jumper knitted by Aunt Ada after the malfunctioning sausage machine incident of '74.  However,  I’m very happy to say that Kirk is awarded an ‘A’ for his magnum opus.  Not only is it a brilliant piece in its own right, but it’s also an homage to another fantastic artist, René Magritte.

As you may know from the first part of this series, Magritte is one of my favourites, so this is where the cover art theme comes in, as it turns out that there are an awful lot more examples of Magritte's inspiration than Kirk's 'A' Level Art triumph and a Jackson Browne album sleeve.

Such as this…

Styx: The Grand Illusion

...and this…

Roger Daltrey: One Of The Boys

...this too.

Funeral For A Friend: Casually Dressed And Deep In Conversation

Some are slightly less derivative, but still clearly inspired by Magritte...

Heart: Greatest Hits

Gary Numan: The Pleasure Principle

There are also the covers which simply use original Magritte artwork, like these

Gladys Knight & The Pips: Visions

Jeff Beck: Beck-Ola

Alan Hull & Radiator

How brilliant and influential is Magritte?!  Far too many examples to compare and contrast this time, I'm sure you'll agree.  Mind you, I wish I could see Kirk's 'A' Level picture again and show it to you here; I have no doubt that it could still be a favourite...

... a bit like this was in 1980:

Space Invaders game

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