Saturday, 19 June 2021

Notes from a semi bohemian suburban childhood #3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Vagrants: Sunny Summer Rain


Saturday, 3 April 2021

The last gangs in town

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

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

Ah, youth tribes, eh...


Happy Easter hols!

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Light refreshment


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

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

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

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

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

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

So middle class!” 

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

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

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

“Yeah - chimps have those bob things”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Coo-ee, coo-ee Mr Shifter!

Saturday, 27 February 2021

Wild and exciting

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

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

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

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


Earth and Fire: Wild and Exciting (1970)

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

Thursday, 4 February 2021

Rainy day woman

 You know, there is something about walking at 3.30pm on a cold, rainy February day.  Oh, something special, something... a feeling, a memory, a Proustian rush, if you like.

I'm walking home from school.  When I get in, the cat will be sprawled out on the huge boiler in the kitchen, mum will be there, it will be warm, there will be condensation on the window.  The only light in the living room comes from the gas fire with its flashes of blue and pink licking at the grills, and the table lamp in the corner of the typical G-Plan shelving unit - it's ambient, not quite dark outside. I kick off brown shoes and damp white socks, give Cleo a stroke so she lazily licks my face (ooh, such a raspy tongue - like sandpaper!) - then I perch on the yellow stool at the kitchen counter to have a bowl of Weetabix with warm milk.  We seem to be incessantly hungry at 12 years old, I already had a gingerbread man from Simmonds on the way home (who can possibly ignore the temptation of sweet baked delights in the window of the best cake shop in town after double Maths and a Geography test?)  'The Changes' will be on telly soon.... chilling but compelling, I'm hooked.

Why am I telling you this?  Simply because I was walking at 3.30pm today - a cold, rainy February day - and the words I've just written were floating around in my head.  The rain soaks my hair and I don't care, the high collar on the warmest coat that has ever been invented (honestly, it's amazing, like a blanket) is turned up, stroking my cheeks.  Thank god no school uniform...no damp socks, or Double Maths, but I still get that feeling.   Green doors do it too, you know that really strong shade of mid green; I've no idea why.  Anyway I'll write this down when I get in and post it, I thought - not much, I realise, but a way to break the silence at last, if nothing else...!  

I appreciate that the comfortable memories of simple things from the past hold their appeal more than ever at the moment, but I've always had that rainy afternoon thing, a place to go to which can't be spoiled, and I like it very much.

Is there anywhere you go?

Thursday, 24 December 2020

A Merry Christmas to you...

Can't believe it's nearly here -  time to break out some seasonal piccies.  

I do love the beautiful work of the artist and designer known as Erté.  Born in Russia but moving to Paris in the early 1900s, he became known for his stylish visuals in many fields - not just illustration but also fashion, jewellery, theatrical set and costume design, and interior decoration.  What a talented man.  Seems quite a character too, if you ever get chance to read more about him.

So here are a few of his gorgeous Christmas designs  - such fantastic graphic style...   

Wishing you the best one possible in these crappy old times and here's to better days for everyone 'soon'....






And here's the man himself (looking not unlike Dave Gahan / Marc Almond!)


Thanks as always 

x





Saturday, 12 December 2020

Musical notes

Little scraps of paper abound in my Shedio, where I work all day with only the radio for company.  Scrawled words on torn off corners, hurriedly written, barely legible in magenta or turquoise or 2H pencil or whatever’s closest to hand.  All sorts of apparently random words and names.  Maybe they look like coded messages to a stranger’s eyes, yet to be deciphered, but once revealed they will disclose a dangerous secret.

I mean, a note I made just last week scribbled in purple diagonally across a ripped sheet reads:

Mancini        

       Shotgun

Hmmm....

Of course, I'm just being a fantasist, this is nothing as intriguing as a secret code, but for me it does point to something exciting.  My frantically scribbled notes (I'm very analogue!) are all aides memoires for songs I hear which make my ears prick up (I’m sure they actually do, like a cat’s, if only you could see them).  Songs that make me stop what I’m doing, artists who definitely warrant further investigation.

A little further investigation reveals that the artist in question here, Iraina Mancini, is a singer, actor, radio host, model and DJ, born into a musical family – her father is Warren Peace, a childhood friend of David Bowie, who also co-wrote songs with the great man and provided backing vocals for him.   Oh, imagine having a dad like that!

Iraina has already written her first solo album, but sadly there’s not a lot to hear from her out there just yet, however ‘Shotgun’ is her latest single release and I really hope it stops as many other people in their tracks as it did me the other day...  I think it’s gorgeous - sultry, darkly sensual and cinematic.

It probably comes as no surprise on listening to this to read that Iraina’s musical inspirations include French ‘60s cinema and Ye-Ye, Northern Soul, Serge Gainsbourg, and psychedelia... (right up my street!)

Iraina Mancini: Shotgun

Sunday, 15 November 2020

Somewhere Elsa

Sorry it's been so long!  Posts may be sporadic on here until at least the end of the year but I am still around...  just a little too bogged down with work.

However, there is a strange and fanciful other-world which I’ve been visiting lately, just sometimes when I get chance to briefly press pause on the repetitive cycle of mundane reality. We must each have our own other-world, I’m sure - or many. They may be trips back in time, or forwards perhaps. Dreams, daydreams, places where regrets are addressed or fantasies fulfilled… Nothing is out of bounds. 

In this one, I’m of non-specific age in an indefinable location, but it's a weird and wonderful artistic illusion where the me who lives inside my head slips comfortably into her groove. Here in this safe space, feeling uncharacteristically confident, vibrant and eternally youthful of course (it is a figment, after all), I will pour myself elegantly into a Lobster dress...

(1937)

and go to a party where maybe I’ll be introduced to Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo. Perhaps it will be in Paris?

In my version of events, of course, I won't be pathetically dumbstruck (I mean, I can't even think now what on earth I'd say!) -  and there will be none of the dark, nightmarish backdrop of  war or insanity...  or pandemics.   I'm doing 1930s Lite.  But it's the fashions of  designer Elsa Schiaparelli  which are drawing me in.   A slight obsession with her led me here. I bought a little book a while back; fell in love with her cutting edge ideas and was intrigued by her extraordinary life (definitely worth reading about.  Her personality was so adventurous that even as a child she had quirky ideas - she once threw herself out of a window with an umbrella in the belief that it would act as a parachute, only to land unceremoniously but uninjured in a heap of manure... )  

Her imaginative, playful collaborations and creations (although she objected to the word 'creation', thinking it pretentious)  and her eccentric style are just the escapism I crave, even if it is only to be in my head. Maybe it's spurred on by the simple desire to dress up and venture out somewhere special, something I suspect none of us have done in a verylong while.... 

So, just for now, when I could really do with a little taste of  alternative reality (or should that be surreality) far, far away from 2020 for obvious reasons, it may be one in which I would happily get away with wearing these gloves:

(1936)
this hat

(not sure of the date - 1950s?)


 these shoes

(1938)

these glasses

(1952)


 this brooch 

(1952)

this coat

(1937)
this bra!

(1930s)

and carrying this bag


(1938)

All thanks to Elsa.

Where would you go right now if you could?
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