Tuesday, 4 January 2022

Stone me!

Could it be?

Could it?

Could this object, nestled in the palm of my hand, have also nestled in the palm of another hand (probably a much hairier one) 12000 years ago or more?

Well, I don't know, but I've become mildly obsessed with this beautiful piece of flint I found in the garden and the idea that it might be a small Stone Age tool.  A hand axe perhaps, or a scraper.  It caught my eye ages ago and I kept it with the bird skulls, fragments of china, pieces of clay pipe and even a mummified baby rat amongst other random objects that comprise my personal little Garden Finds Museum (admission is free but please phone ahead).  I kept it because I thought it looked lovely; there's something compelling about it aesthetically - you could say that it "spoke" to me when I first discovered it in the soil.  It feels good too, it feels good in my hand.   It was only recently when I stumbled across some images of  Paleolithic tools that I suddenly thought about it differently and started to wonder if there had been some human intervention in its formation thousands of years ago.

My mild obsession has led me to numerous websites where I'm learning about things which might help identify whether or not that could be the case.  I'm finding out about striking points, bulbs of percussion, negative flake scars, distal termination and ripples - all sorts of things that sound like progressive rock album titles.  It's amazing what info you can absorb when you're interested and yet if you tried to teach me about managerial accounting or Coldplay's back catalogue I wouldn't remember a thing.

Perhaps it's more likely that this is just a flake of flint which was naturally battered by time and thermal changes and/or broken by the blades of a combine harvester, but I'd still like to fantasise that it came courtesy of a half naked man with strong, skilled hands and a pet mammoth called Brian*.  Ok, that last part might be a bit far-fetched, but still, could it have a back story?  I may try to find out more.  I'm prepared for a disappointment on the history front but its beauty remains, regardless.

And to go with it, here's a piece of Jurassic beat, very sub-Crampsian and not quite as old as it sounds...

Eddie Angels: Caveman (1993)

* After my friend's cat - not our lovely blogging pal!

Friday, 24 December 2021

Christmas wishes

Another strange year, another strange Christmas - but here's wishing you as peaceful, happy, safe and rockin' a Christmas as you can possibly have.

It wouldn't be the same without a weird Victorian Christmas card... 

And here's a nicely noisy, OTT guitar-drenched Christmas cover version from US punk band Atomic 61 to stir us from those mince pie induced slumbers:

Atomic 61: White Christmas

Take care, with love x

Sunday, 19 December 2021

Strong and warm and wild and free

Something of a more personal post from me today...   I had some news from a relative last week which pretty much blew me away - so much so that it’s prompted me to write something meaningful here, at last! 

I have this lovely cousin. For reasons I don't need to go into we didn’t see much of each other growing up; in fact it’s only in the last 20 years (and really only significantly during the last six or so), that we’ve connected. But I’ve found it really heart-warming and actually quite surprising to discover that, as adults, we have more in common than I’d ever realised. An affinity, I suppose you could call it. We’re both freelancers, both in creative fields, have several similar interests and tastes, and we’re on the same page politically, ethically… Maybe that shouldn't be unusual seeing as we’re related, but I know that isn’t always the case!

In many ways we don’t know each other that well, but I’ve missed seeing them over these last two years whilst the pandemic has overshadowed the days out we'd hoped to have.  But prior to all this, when my sister and I were helping our cousin to clear out my aunt and uncle’s house, we’d managed to spend some time catching up a little on each other’s lives. Indeed, we talked about a lot of things but one subject we’d never discussed, perhaps because we’d never felt any need to, was… sexuality. To be honest, I’d simply assumed my cousin was probably gay, and that was it - there was never any compulsion to have that confirmed or denied - after all it has no bearing on our relationship. 

And so the other day, the note in the card they sent - the gentle and thoughtfully worded little introduction to news that they knew would come as a surprise - moved me to tears. My lovely cousin is taking the incredibly brave and significant first steps towards changing their gender. 

I can’t tell you how much I’ve thought about them since first digesting this extraordinary news.   It was also really gratifying to read that they already feel happier having reached this turning point, with a new name to reflect it and the right assistance at hand.  I find it hard to imagine what a massive decision it must have been to make and keep wondering too about all the thoughts, experiences and emotions my cousin must have had over the years - many years. Decades, in fact, of not feeling at one with their biological sex, and not knowing where to turn for help, but finally being able to initiate some changes to enable them to be true to who they really are inside.  I have such admiration for them and feel so humbled, excited for them even, at the chance they are now taking to openly embrace their identity. What courage it must need, not only to make the commitment, but now to tell other people too – especially without knowing for sure how anyone might react.  I can only react with acceptance and love.

* * *

Billy Bragg has updated his 1991 single 'Sexuality' recently (you can read more here) but in the meantime here's the original...

Thursday, 25 November 2021

Jobs for the boys (and girls)

Another delve back to the '70s, not to Hyde Park this time but to the county where I did most of my growing up, courtesy of a copy of a local paper from that decade which turned up during a sort out at my mum-in-law's house.  

There's something about looking through old newspapers from a time you've actually lived through which is both interesting but heartstopping at the same time, don't you think?  Heartstopping in that it suddenly dawns on you that you really have been around for quite a long while.  But interesting for seeing the house prices, the adverts, fashions, names, even just the different journalistic style and the sort of things that made the news.  

We don't know exactly why my mum-in-law kept this particular issue from January 1975 (and sadly don't think she'd remember now) but it does have some quite unusual stories so perhaps that's why.  For instance, the front page is dramatic - covering the hijack of a British Airways 'plane at the nearby airport - a huge news story for a small town.  More amusingly, there's a report about some vandalism at the local cinema in response to it showing 'Last Tango In Paris'.  There's also the very important announcement that a record shop was opening its doors in the new shopping precinct - the place where I would later spend many a Saturday afternoon and most of my pocket money, of course, and which probably deserves a blog post of its own some day.

But in January 1975 I was 11 and I don't think any of those stories meant much to me at the time.  Nor was I old enough to be trawling through the job ads from the back pages.  But I did yesterday!   It was only then that I fully appreciated how, in 1975, I would've had to pass on quite a few job applications purely on the basis of being the wrong sex - it served as a great reminder of how much things have changed for the better in that respect.   I should say that not all the ads in the paper specify a gender (or age) preference, but where they do, it really leaps out....

So, no job in financial management or a tobacco kiosk for me back then...(not that I'd have wanted either, to be honest - I mean, whenever would I have had time to file my nails?)

Still, I could've earned £21.37 a week and got a free dinner this way! - -

I find this next ad interesting.  Seems we would have been allowed to assist in the cigarette kiosk of this supermarket, but not to manage the fruit and veg department.  And no men working in the canteen, thank you - stick to your butchery!

Here are a couple more...

Still, thankfully we had ballsy women like Suzi Quatro to help address the subject of equality in 1975.  Take it away, Suzi!

Suzi Quatro: Your Mama Won't Like Me 

Wednesday, 10 November 2021

Hyde Park in plain sight

I stepped into a time machine the other evening and travelled back to 1971, courtesy of a charming documentary currently available as part of a BBC Four collection on the iPlayer.  If you’re in need of some uncomplicated escapism and have 50 minutes to spare, may I recommend this unhurried wander through London’s famous Hyde Park amid a fascinating variety of human (and a few animal) visitors from 50 years ago. 

It’s a lovely location, but of course it’s the people who make this so interesting.  There’s the man in his swimming trunks standing on his head, the novice rider with no sense of rhythm, the humble 'Geranium King' who doesn’t like geraniums.  There are the Cockney boys eager to get on camera  (“woss it all abaht?!”) and the not-so-Cockney boys eyeing up bikini girls through their telescopes (“…an hour with her!”)  It’s like a community within a community, with unabashed orators and placard-holders at Speakers’ Corner, a fashion shoot taking place on the bandstand and a fabulously percussive performance of ‘Roll Out The Barrel’ - not on the bandstand.  Then there’s the lothario strutting around in his teeny tiny trunks who… well, don’t let me spoil it for you if you want to watch!   And so many others observed without judgement nor comment, the combination of which seems to illustrate in the simplest terms both the frustrations and joys of just being human - the collapsing deckchair and the squeaky wheel could have come straight out of a comedy sketch show.  Of course my favourite character is the beautifully spoken lady taking her beloved duck for a swim.  Where is she now?!

But one of the main things that makes this film report so delightful and immersive is its style.  It has such a lightness of touch which seems rare now.  There's no generic piano music in the background, nor those irritating pizzicato strings to lead us subliminally to an intended emotional reaction. No over-dramatic narration to humiliate its subjects and lure us towards a predictable opinion (I can't stand being subconsciously directed on what to think!) You can just let go and enjoy your guided tour... at a comfortable 1971 pace.

That’s how I like my observational documentary style.  You too?

Here's the link (Man Alive: Hyde Park):  https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p00rzvww

And the song to accompany Mr Lothario:

Roy Brown: Mighty Mighty Man

Friday, 29 October 2021

Keeping in check

Breasts!  Now I have your attention, I'm going to write about… well, yes...breasts!  Indeed, those delightful squidgy orbs possessed by a significant proportion of the population; what lovely things they are.

I’m on the subject because the other day I nearly found myself lying unconscious in a crumpled heap on the floor and, erm, naked from the waist up – apart, that is, from a facemask and a pair of earrings - with a woman I’d never met before, all because of breasts.  Not that I'm trying to be deliberately titillating (or maybe I am, just a bit; life can be rather dull at times…)  

Ah, those soft, sweet mounds!  They embarrass the hell out of us when they start to appear, arriving at a time when we’d probably really rather be without them.  Then there’s the dreaded first bra conversation, followed by a host of other potential humiliations until, hopefully, we learn to love and cherish them whatever their natural size, shape, or wobbliness quotient.

Assuming all is well (which I hope it is for anyone reading this) - they accompany us through various stages of life and then we hit a certain age when along comes the first routine mammogram.  I know medical procedures and the reasons behind them are not subjects to be taken lightly, but hope you'll let me off for expressing some stuff...

I mean, breasts are quite delicate really, aren't they? - and yet having a mammogram requires them being slowly squeezed (but not in a nice, warm, comfy way) and then squeezed some more, and then squeezed some more, into what feels like the impossibly tight aperture between two flat, unyielding plates.   Aargh!  If you're never likely to have one, please do have a little wince.   It’s like putting them in a vice.

So last week I braced myself for my third routine breast scan and thought I knew what to expect.  It’s an odd experience anyway, standing there topless with a kindly nurse trying to manipulate your torso into exactly the right position which is not one that comes naturally at all.  Hold your left arm up here, bend forward a little, place the side of your face against the glass, step back slightly, now step to the right, keep your waist front-facing, drop your shoulders down – it sounds like some kind of soft porn photoshoot.  At last you’re in the required pose (which is most awkward) and she’s able to place the relevant bit of you onto the platen and skip away to operate the machinery.  The squeeze begins - suddenly  I have visions of a car going into a crusher (sorry) - it is a little painful but nothing I can’t handle.

This time, though, I was warned that the compression would be a bit stronger in order to reduce the amount of radiation you’re exposed to.  I’m grateful for the second part of that phrase, if not the first.  And I don’t know what happened but, just as we’d got the right one out of the way and I was being positioned in the machine ready for the left one, I started to feel strangely whoozy.

Whoozy, dizzy, weak, giddy… suddenly I thought I was about to pass out… 

…what the hell?  

Oh god, what a stupid, inconvenient, ridiculous time to faint.  

Just as I believed I really was about to lose consciousness, thankfully my brain engaged enough to operate my mouth and tell the nurse.  She quickly rescued me and sat me down with my head between my knees until the room stopped spinning.  I was so embarrassed.  Indeed, I realised I was far, far more embarrassed about my peculiar attack of the vapours than at my state of undress.

Anyway, thanks to all the good people at our invaluable NHS, we get access to the incredibly sophisticated technology that scans and checks our body parts at no cost to us and I'm so grateful for that.  It's absolutely worth the relatively brief discomfort I describe above, I know - please don't be put off.  The nurse suggested that it was quite common to come over a bit faint, not just through anxiety at the procedure itself and all the connected worries, but that wearing a face mask during it can affect the way you feel and, perhaps most significantly, how you breathe too.  I feel sure that explains it.  So, next time I can only hope that, as I take off my top, my mouth and nose will also be as free as my wobbly bits.  If they could eventually come up with a nice, warm, comfy scanning machine as well one day, that would be even better.

Friday, 15 October 2021

Walk with me (to the caravan park from hell)

Not far from me, if you go up to where the witchfinders once roamed, where jackdaws chuckle from the treetops and devil's coach-horse beetles scuttle across your path, cursing you with their scorpionesque tails, this is where you'll find...

... the caravan park from hell!

Oh, what horrors lie in wait behind those mildewed panels?  

A broken door, a broken window... there's something sinister about the way that curtain hangs half in, half out, as if trapped whilst trying to make its desperate escape...

...as barbed wire spikes and stinging nettles conspire outside

Wait - is that a shadow I see moving behind the grubby nets?

(But I do love the way the patterns in the mould seem to perfectly mimic the intricacy of the lace...)

I'm glad to say there really is an innocent explanation for these creepy caravans - but why spoil a dark flight of fancy?!

Saturday, 2 October 2021

Rewriting history

I’m standing in the drawing room of a grand 17th century mansion, where the glassy eyes set in porcelain-white skin of the many portrait subjects seem to gaze over my head from every wall.  Henry VIII is tucked up there in the corner, an 18th century general takes up more space by the window.  A slim young man with fabulous long wavy locks reminiscent of Charles II is in front of me – and if it were not for his facemask and an English Heritage lanyard I could have believed he’d stepped straight out of one of those paintings.  But no, he’s very real, and also extremely engaging, recounting the history of this 100-room country pile and its occupants with such meaning, enthusiasm and a charming dash of dry humour that I’m captivated - if only he’d been my History teacher at school! (He also looks as if he should be in a band, which is rather appealing...)

Is it a "thing", I wonder, that history becomes more intriguing as we get older?  It's a subject which failed to engage me in my youth, yet now I find myself increasingly fascinated.  And that never happened in the school lessons delivered by Miss Jones!  She was quiet and timid – inoffensive enough but without any spark.  In soft monotone she’d read out long paragraphs for us to write in our exercise books, about Parliamentary Acts and… and… and what?   Proof of my lack of attention is that I honestly can’t remember.  Where was the human interest angle?  I’m sure my adolescent ears would have pricked up if only she’d thrown in a few gory executions, egregious betrayals and definitely a dose of syphilis or two.

So at school I responded to the tedium of writing out these passages, parrot-fashion, by trying out different ink tints in my fountain pen (remember Quink?) 

There was black, blue and blue-black, and my favourite was a fancy turquoise.  Ooh, the satisfying thrill of filling a real pen, squeezing the sides of the squidgy ink barrel, watching it suck up the kingfisher-coloured liquid.  Then I experimented with different handwriting styles - a lean to the right, a lean to the left.  Curly loops on my f’s, g’s and j’s one day, vertical mouse-tails the next.  Scratchy italics versus smooth cursives.  My History exercise book became a gallery of calligraphy and colour, and each lesson a place to drift into daydreams as Miss Jones droned on about whatever she droned on about - it’s just a shame I don’t remember a thing about the actual words with which I decorated the pages. 

I did shockingly badly in my Fourth Year History exam but it probably looked pretty...

Anyway, later on at the grand mansion last Monday, there were Capability Brown gardens to enjoy, a Victorian nursery and dolls house, one of the country's first 18th century flushing toilets to peer into (I said peer...) a painting of George II which led to a conversation about Elvis (seems they died in similar circumstances), huge glass cabinets of stuffed birds and mammals which sort of horrified and enthralled in equal measure, and a cafĂ© which served wine and gin (yes, of course I did) - but best of all was the much appreciated companionship of two long-standing pals whom I’ve known since school, since Miss Jones' dictation and turquoise Quink.  God, I needed to get out, I've really been missing seeing my mates and in this instance it certainly is a lengthy friendship - we go back to 1974.  There’s a lot of history there too.

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