Friday, 10 August 2018

Brett Anderson: Coal Black Mornings

I recently finished reading Brett Anderson's autobiography 'Coal Black Mornings'.  Lucky me, I was given it for my birthday, back in July.  I loved it. 


 "I now feel an urgent need to impart," Brett writes of his decision to finally put something out there.  "I suppose I have come to a stage in my life where I want to come to terms with who I am, and exploring my past on my own terms like this is a way to achieve that".

And that's just how it comes across.  Brett writes so engagingly, it's rather like reading a lovely, personal blog - very real, very natural - in touch with his feelings, free flowing, idiosyncratic.

He also makes it clear from the outset that this was never intended to be a Suede memoir.  "I've limited this strictly to the early years," he explains, "before anyone really knew, or really cared..."

At the time of writing it he had no book deal and this, I think, lends great validity to his words and motive.  He isn't relaying clich├ęd rock'n'roll stories of drugs and debauchery to satisfy the appetites of editors or journalists or even fans; he writes this, the story of growing up and his life pre-fame, honestly and tenderly, for his son.

Even aesthetically the book doesn't seem like a traditional musician/artist autobiography.  There are no old photos from his childhood or college days and, whilst they would have been interesting to see, that might somehow have changed the tone.  Whereas the resultant product, with its broad white margins and spacious type, lacking the stereotypical orange-brown Polaroids of the 8-year old author on a Spacehopper, is tastefully, perfectly understated.

This understated visual approach complements one of the main things that struck me as I raced through the pages (it was hard to put down)  - Brett's modesty.  There's no ego.  Another thing that really stood out to his credit is the great respect he shows towards other people mentioned within.  It's easy to think of Brett in relation to Justine, to Bernard - and then naturally to the things we've read in the past - the sensationalist stuff, the conflicts.   But there's no bitchiness, no cynical slagging off or melodrama, instead yes, the lovely and very endearing qualities of modesty and respect.  He writes with warmth and dignity.

Brett's early life and family was not what you might call 'ordinary', but the longer I live the more I question what 'ordinary' actually is and whether it exists.   It doesn't matter whether you end up in a famous band or not.  Most of us, I'm sure, could tell tales about our upbringings, our families or friends and our youthful exploits which might challenge the definition of 'ordinary' to the listener, purely because it's different to theirs.

I also found it to be tremendously relatable.  Anyone born in the '60s, growing up in Britain with an interest in the music scene a little outside of the mainstream is bound to find themselves smiling and nodding on reading the many references to records bought, clothes worn and those teenage feelings that preoccupied us. Talking of his friend Simon Holdbrook, Brett writes, "Simon....with whom I felt the thrill of mutual outsiderdom; two small-town dreamers, trapped in a dreary suburban cell, yearning for the thrill and promise beyond. Like a thousand other dreamers in a thousand other suburban towns we were convinced that our experience was unique, but it made it no less special that it wasn't."

I could go on - I keep flicking back through the pages and finding sentences I want to share - so many moments that struck a chord, feelings expressed that demonstrate so beautifully a character with whom I find a surprising affinity - but that would only be my experience of this book.  If you're remotely interested in the man and not just the band, I'd really urge you to make it yours too.

With special thanks also to Monkey at Monkey Picks blog who first brought this book to my attention.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Lost for words - part two

“Once upon a time, words began to vanish from the language of children.  They disappeared so quietly that at first almost no-one noticed….”

So begins a beautiful book called ‘The Lost Words’, written by Robert MacFarlane and illustrated by Jackie Morris.


I treated myself to it, as a lover of language and nature and illustration – a large, heavy hardback, tinted liberally with gold, flooded with watercolour washes on some spreads and unafraid of the boldness of white space on others - a work of art in the truest sense.  Birds and letters of the alphabet flit and fly through its pages as the author casts magic spells to reinvoke the ‘lost words’ of the title.  What lost words are these?  Words like rapscallion and farthingale?  Erm, no - but tell you in a minute. 

Although categorised as a children’s book, it’s far more than that - not a story book but poetic and playful, written to be read aloud - like incantations.  But the story behind the book’s existence is also really worth telling.

Once upon a time (in 2007), the editors of the latest version of the Oxford Junior Dictionary faced a dilemma when they needed to find room for contemporary words like ‘analogue’, ‘broadband’ and ‘celebrity’, meaning that several others previously included would have to go.

I’ve no idea how I'd make decisions about which words to replace, and I realise it’d need a lot of thought, but I’d have difficulty culling any connected to nature, I know that.  The natural world is under threat from so many different corners and yet so vital to our well-being, I feel its vocabulary is at least one thing we can easily protect and ensure it stays alive in the minds of its future inheritors.

Still, unfortunately, several words I was really surprised about lost their place in the new edition.  Nature words, like these ones….

                                    Bluebell
                                                                                                  Magpie
                              Conker
                                                         Kingfisher
                                                                                  Blackberry
                                                  Starling
                                                                      Acorn
                                                                                              Newt

That's just a small example.  Maybe I'm being sentimental and old-fashioned, but I feel quite sad about this - I don't ever want a celebrity to have priority over a conker, in any form.

If you feel the same, at least know we’re not alone - when news of these changes came to light, there was quite an outcry.  (Read more here if you’re interested...)

And what better motivation could there be than that to create a sumptuous tribute to these newly 'lost' words, something thought-provoking and exquisite, both literally and visually, to be lingered over and treasured?  Indeed, the depth of feeling led to a collaboration between this hugely talented author and illustrator, and then to this remarkable book.   Not only that, but a proportion of the profits is also being donated to the Action For Conservation charity.  I guess that must be our happy ending.








Sunday, 29 July 2018

Logo love



Just a quick post to say how enthralled I am by the new logo/branding concept for the famous Battersea Dogs' Home, now known as just 'Battersea' - that's how familiar it is to us here in the UK, we don't even need to mention the dogs (or cats).

I love it.  It's so simple.

I adore the fact that a loose watercolour splodge in a totally unrealistic colour, with some basic lines, roughly drawn but at just the right angles, can signify something so utterly, perfectly recognisable. As an illustrator I find it easy to get hung up on the vital step between keeping something looking relatively realistic and reducing it to something that's only implied.  It's hard. The simpler something looks, the more difficult it may have been to actually get to successfully.  Often I think the best results are those we draw without inhibition, when we're instinctive and have tapped into another part of our brains, which is tricky when bogged down with all the trappings of convention and expectation and pressure.  Sorry, that's a bit wordy, and probably for much the same reason.  Anyway, yes, what I'm trying to say is that a kind of primal rendering often yields the most striking results.

And in this way, a bluey-purple blob, with a couple of uneven triangular lines and and a flat black oval in the middle is able to represent, so successfully, a particular breed of dog, and an expressive one at that, even though it has no expression....    Our brains and our imaginations will fill in the blanks, but they have to be given just the right directions first.

I reckon the creators of Battersea's new brand have got it absolutely spot on and I can't stop looking at their brilliant blobs.  Have a look here to see the full set of pussycats and pooches, created by illustrator Hiromi Suzuki.



Friday, 27 July 2018

The long hot Summers of childhood


It wasn’t just that one of 1976, I’m sure.  Perhaps we’re programmed to only remember sunny Summer days and the things we did on them, because I swear that all my childhood years were absolutely full of them.  No dull, rainy July mornings linger in my memory at all.

Instead the memories are characterised by the feeling of hot black tarmac under my bare feet when I ventured out onto the quiet bit of cul-de-sac out the front without my flipflops - footwear abandoned because the soles had already cracked and split like wafers.  Hard gritty lumps of road stuck to my naked heels like chocolate chips in cookie dough, is there something masochistic about that I wonder, a tactile pleasure bordering on pain? - and I loved the smell;  how do you describe the smell of hot tar?  Kind of oily, burnt-toasty, strangely satisfying.

We sucked on Ice Pops that melted so quickly you could drink the last few mouthfuls: undiluted fruity syrup so deliciously intense in flavour it almost made you wince.

There was the Summer gang - 1973 or ’74 perhaps.  Jill, Liz, Richard and me, rolling down grass hills, riding our bikes over home-made ramps of splintery planks, jarring our wrists on landing and carrying on regardless.  Bouncing psychedelic Super Balls against the back of the houses for as long as we could keep it up.  Thud thud thud; wall ground hand, over and over and over, getting the trajectory just right so you barely had to move.  I loved my Super Ball, me.


We didn’t want John to join our gang of Nerds-cum-Secret Agents.  We weren't sporty or tough in the least, we were normally pale, bookish children, but Summer meant being outdoors and uncharacteristically physical.  Liz's kid brother was too babyish, so we set a really hard initiation test.  It was dangerous, you had to jump off the high wall and land on Jill’s concrete patio, do some high-kick 'French Skipping' moves, other stuff too that we figured would test the limits of endurance for an average 9 year old.  All in a set order as well, ten or maybe twelve tricky manoeuvres which had to be remembered and successfully completed to join.  One of them might have been a spelling test - we were the kids who'd had first editions of Watership Down after all.  We met in Liz’s dad’s garage, sitting on old paint cans with dented lids or the faded deckchair sticky with abandoned spiderwebs and their previous inhabitants' dismembered legs.  It felt important and secret, even though we didn’t really have a clue what to do….  apart from setting difficult initiation tests for future members who didn’t exist.

John didn't get in, by the way.  We may have engineered that slightly.

It’s 32 degrees here today, I believe.  Just like it was every single day of every single school Summer holiday, the ones in the ‘70s that lasted for years and years.

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Lost for words - part one


The long dusty Summer continues without let-up -  sorry for lack of posting lately – less screen time, more sunscreen time.  Work, sleep, rat-catching (no killing involved, I would never - just relocation), books, freckle-cultivation, too much Prosecco (if there is such a thing).... is that it?

Well, not completely...   I also had a fab time at Latitude Festival, which must be just about the friendliest place on earth, quite otherworldly, and where I mistook the map symbol of a Pepsi Max Drink Station for the obelisk where I was supposed to meet a friend and ended up looking for a monolith akin to Nelson's Column when in fact it was all of about four foot tall.  But it worked, it all worked, and we pals all found each other amongst the crowd of thousands.

The whole experience has taken on a bit of an Alice In Wonderland feel now, and what with all that confusion re. size – first the tiny huge obelisk and then later, when texting my location: “We’re near big fish flagpole” and the hilarious reply: “Can only see a little red goldfish on a stick”.  When does a little red goldfish on a stick become a big fish flagpole?  Or is it all just relative?  Big… or little… who knows which is which in such heady surroundings?  And who cares - you are away from the violent, screaming world and in this escapist bubble, where complete strangers offer you their pink fondant fancies whilst bass lines rumble like trains through your guts.

I was only there for one day so missed quite a bit, but loved what I caught.  I thoroughly enjoyed Sleeper who were even better than I’d expected after all these years (also prompting a new girl crush on Louise Wener who was on top form and utterly charming).  Wolf Alice also hit the spot for me; I’d been really looking forward to seeing them and especially their performance of Giant Peach during which, as hoped, they wigged-out full Hawkwind-style...

It was also the first time in a long, long while that I’ve woken up in the morning with smudged eye make-up all over my face because I was too lazy to take it off the night before.  Ooh, a long while!

But there will be far better reviews and summaries floating around and I'm happy to leave more detailed descriptions to those who do it best; for now this is just a post to break the silence and to rediscover my blogging mojo which has been AWOL for almost as long as it is since I've slept in my make-up.  Irony is that I have had a few things I’d like to write about but just haven’t been able to find the words and the energy, somehow.

Talking of lost words, though, I’ve deliberately/foolishly labelled this as a 'part one' to force myself into following it up with another post, hopefully before the Summer is out, which is about a beautiful book I recently bought, and once I can actually catch those elusive words and put them into some semblance of order they might land on these pages soon.  In the meantime, thanks for bearing with me!

Sunday, 1 July 2018

RIP Peter Firmin

Such a shame today to read of the death of Peter Firmin, co-creator of the much-loved Clangers, Pogles Wood and more.  There's a lovely piece about him here.

In the meantime, I wrote about an exhibition of his work a couple of years ago, so - please forgive the lazy repetition today - here it is again as a reminder of some of his superb creations, ones that are sure to evoke many happy childhood memories for those of us of a certain age.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


(First posted September 2016)

The other day a friend from the West Country sent me this fantastic card in the post.


She would be staying in London for a while, cat-sitting, she said - did I have time to get down to the East End? So I made time for a flying visit yesterday.

We met at Liverpool Street, from where she, in her vivid blue jumper and me, in my new bright green coat, took a rainbow-coloured No. 8 bus


to see a large pink stripey cat (not the one my friend is looking after.)


More on that in a minute.

First we stopped at what must surely be one of the most memorable and wonderful East End caffs (or is it a restaurant?  or a greasy spoon?) in the city - E Pellicci.  Everyone is greeted like an old friend, many are old friends - it's no wonder.  Hugs, chat, banter.  Total warmth.  It's noisy, vibrant... just real.  A far cry from the English tea room vibe which proliferates around my locality - sweet as that can be for visits by ageing relatives, sometimes I feel what I can only describe as an underlying sense of uptightness to our rural establishments.  You couldn't get much further from uptight at this place, though.  I had a lovely cuppa and sponge pudding with custard and learned how to say my friend's name with an authentic Italian accent.  Loudly!  The ebullience of our host was contagious. The surroundings are interesting too - beautiful Italian art deco marquetry on the walls had been put in during the 1940s, the old cash till (think Open All Hours) is still in use; the same warm and welcoming family have run this place for over a hundred years on hospitality and home cooking - why change?

After good conversation and a sugar fix, my friend and I dash on up to the Bethnal Green Museum of Childhood.

This is where we see Bagpuss... and Professor Yaffle..


... as part of a small, but beautiful, exhibition of the fabulous world of Smallfilms - Oliver Postgate and Peter Firmin's creations that are forever lodged in the memories of those of us who spent our childhood in their joyous company.

Bagpuss was a bit after my time - first aired in 1974 - so, lovely as he and his companions are, I didn't get that same special thrill at seeing him.

I got my special thrill from seeing these, ohh! the Pogles!  My favourite!


Look at little Tog on the right.  He was some indeterminate species of animal, sort of squirrel-like with rabbity feet.  Apparently they all had to have weights in their feet to stop them falling over during filming.

"I'll be respectable when I'm dead, Mrs Pogle," says Amos (on the left). "Until then, I'll shout and sing as I like".  Go for it Amos!

The witch was extremely scary, I mean really scary, and even scarier to see pinned up under glass yesterday.  Apparently a number of stories were planned for the witch but were never screened because the BBC thought them too frightening.   I tried to take a photo of her but I think she cursed it as all I ended up with was a nasty black smudge.

If you remember Pogles' Wood, then you'll no doubt recall Noggin the Nog. I love the artwork for this 2-D animation classic.  I'm currently working on a book with human characters and, quite coincidentally, I'd recently been looking at some of Peter Firmin's illustrations for inspiration, so it was brilliant to see his work for real.  Look at this wonderful art for the Ice Dragon!


And then of course we have The Clangers.


They were a bit larger than I expected.  Peter Firmin's wife knitted them and apparently some of their space-age clothes were inspired by pictures of Twiggy.

Well yes.


And you can't have Clangers without Froglets, nor the Soup Dragon....


"Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?" I heard a young bearded man say to his friend in disbelief.

Don't you remember the Iron Chicken?!  I couldn't get a good shot of said chicken, but I must say it was lovely to see him again after all these years.

Well, it was good to see them all, after all these years.


Tuesday, 19 June 2018

Abstract moment of the week #9

I think the manufacturers of these protective gloves must be having a bit of a laugh.




Friday, 8 June 2018

Tribute to a remarkable, much-loved man

If you’ve been following the life and times of Matt Johnson and The The, you probably know that they have just embarked on a really special comeback tour but also that last weekend in the midst of this, Matt’s father died unexpectedly.   I know that he and his brother, and the whole family, are absolutely devastated at this huge loss and my heart goes out to them all; my deepest sympathies.  It is so very sad and perhaps especially poignant at this time.  Eddie was a remarkable, much-loved man and I can say this with conviction because he had also become very dear to me personally.

I am actually still struggling to believe he’s gone.  He was such a big character that I just felt like he'd go on forever.  I was going to pop round this week for our usual cup of tea and a natter (and a big slice of cake or a Belgian bun, he always treated me!) - something I’ve done dozens of times in the last couple of years.  Through the deep sadness following the illness and death of my good friend, his eldest son Andrew, it was something so positive; we had formed a lovely, easy connection of our own.  At first it was really that we had Andy in common and took comfort from that, but it soon became a unique friendship in its own right.  It was perhaps an unlikely bond given our age difference, but Eddie had a presence and timelessness about him which meant you could relate on so many levels and age was no barrier at all.  As I said to a friend the other day, how many octogenarians are likely to talk to you about anything and everything from jellied eels to Johnny Marr?!  I remember coming home from seeing him one day, smiling to myself about the fact that our two hour conversation had just ranged through so many subjects, from Brexit to Auf Wiedersehen Pet to pease pudding to J G Thirlwell!  

Just like Andy, he was a fantastic conversationalist with a cheeky sense of humour and I never tired of the tales of the extraordinary life he had led in his eighty-plus years.  This was a man who had mingled with some of the East End’s most notorious characters in his days as landlord of a popular pub, a venue where he’d also had the Small Faces rehearse in an upstairs room.   He had also coped with more than his fair share of tragedy.  And he could tell you fascinating stories about the past, but was not stuck in it.  We frequently talked about politics and current affairs, and he taught me a lot; in return he seemed to enjoy it when I shared some of my knowledge on subjects close to my heart such as birds and nature.  

But even more than all the things we enjoyed in conversation, he was caring, warm and generous, a great father to his immensely talented sons, and he allowed me to feel so included, being supportive and interested in what I was doing too, and  I valued that.  I just wish I could pop round for a cup of tea with him now and tell him - but I think, and hope, he knew.  

I shall miss him greatly.
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