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.

Hmm.


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!
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