Thursday, 18 October 2018

Shout out to my unsung heroes #1

Late afternoon, high Summer, sunshine, warm water.   I was elated; I had just managed to propel myself across from one end to the other – only the shortest distance, but still -  my first width! With no armbands!

Do you remember that feeling when you learned to swim?  The moment of transition, I mean. Much like learning to ride a bike - the first time you manage it unaided comes as a big surprise.  There’s a sense of disbelief.  In your head:  Are you sure no-one's pushing me?  Are you sure there’s nobody helping? 

And then, it sinks in: there’s no turning back, you won’t lose it, you’ve got the knack, you’ve got it!  and you’re away.  There are still things to learn, but the biggest block of all – the lack of confidence to try – has been conquered.

Mine happened in Mrs E’s back garden.  There was a small group of us, we were about nine or ten years old.   The school trips to the local indoor pool had been awful for us.  We were the inferiors in this scenario; we couldn’t join the main activities because we hadn’t yet learned to swim.  So the teacher cordoned us off in a tiny secton of the shallow end, gave us armbands and (pretty useless) polystyrene floats, shouted out a few instructions which made us feel worse (it wasn’t instructions we needed, it was understanding) and treated us as a major inconvenience to their proceedings.  Fellow classmates dived and jumped in at the deep end and we just tiptoed about nervously, never daring to venture beyond where our feet could touch the floor, not believing our clumsy little bodies were ever designed to float.    I already hated Rounders, I dreaded Sports Day and now Swimming was another thing I couldn't do properly.  You know, it still irks me today that my school experience in general (both primary and secondary) didn’t place as much value in the ability to draw pictures as it did in running or hitting a ball.  How different things might have felt if it had.

However, Mrs E came to the rescue, and here I am writing about her because I started thinking about the unsung heroes in my life – nothing grand or dramatic, nobody saved me from sinking in quicksand or from falling down a well, but there are people I think of whose inspiration in one form or other made a huge personal difference.

She had this little pool in her back garden and had come to some arrangement with my school to start teaching the non-swimmers in small private groups each week.   No more trips to the local indoor baths with their stench of chlorine and fiddly lockers.  That Summer in her garden she nurtured my confidence with great patience, kindness and individual attention, until after a number of lessons everything just fell into place.  I'll never forget that moment, just as I'll never forget the cycling one either.  Anyway, it was just something she did and enjoyed, and once I’d learned there was no need to go back and I was off to secondary school and I hardly ever saw her again, nor had much reason to think of her.  But all these years on I realise what a simple difference she made - not that I do a lot of swimming these days but the point is:  I know I can.  Any time I’ve ever lowered myself into a pool, fooled around in a lake, or let the salty waves of the sea support me as they rise and fall and tangle seaweed round my feet, I  should thank Mrs E for teaching me to trust in myself.

Wire: Our Swimmer

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Name that tune

A very quick lazy post today, but this clever and original music-related artwork really appeals.  As someone who thinks visually (often to my detriment), loves nature and who has difficulty remembering lyrics, I think I’d like every one of my favourite songs to be illustrated by graphic artist Katrina McHugh.

Take a look here.....

Saturday, 6 October 2018

More dancing boys for your delectation

Some may call it kinky.  It certainly is a little perverse.   Maybe you share my thing; and if so, it’s okay, you’re safe to admit it here and we can wallow in our weird taste together:

The strangely compelling fascination for the unconventional footwork (and hipwork and armwork and more)  of certain musical men.

I indulged in this personal fixation here a few years ago, and treated you (I hope) to the tantalizing delights of the one and only mind-bendingly raunchy Jim Dandy...

Quite possibly my favourite pic of all time

...closely followed by Samuel T Herring from Future Islands, a goody-goody tambourine-wielding tootsie-pie from the 1910 Fruitgum Company and those Fine Young elastic-legged Cannibals.  Take another peek here at the clips if you like. But this is the gift that keeps on giving and I have more…

…like Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods.  The first time I really, really took proper notice of Sleaford Mods was when I watched this performance.  It’s utterly compelling, in so many ways – but it’s Jason’s feet and hands which give me that extra tingly feeling, the one which leads me to press Rewind and Play over and over again.  The more he says no….. the more I think yes.  Yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes yes.

So Mr Williamson, what have you done to find gainful employment?

Q. What’s the opposite of a Sleaford Mod?  A. A Moody Blue, I’d say - I do like these random contrasts.  Yet, still they have something in common, something so subtle and sublime that you really have to see it to believe it….  if you have a look at this performance by the Moody Blues of ‘Ride My See Saw’ from 1968, keep your eyes on the moustachioed maitre d’ in the dickie bow, otherwise known as Ray Thomas.  In the first 35 seconds his legs/feet positively shimmer.  By the time we get to 1m 42 seconds he starts to slowly wind up his arms with the tiny remote control secreted in his left hand and then goes for it with a very brief but oh so perfect peak – the elbow flourish. Stay with the song for another minute or so for a further glimpse of his slippery soles and whisking wrists.

I'll ride your see saw, baby.

Are you into it?  Oh go on, say you are, do.

If you're a similar age to me (but perhaps only in the UK) maybe you also remember Music And Movement sessions at school from when you were maybe around five or six?  You could be anything, a tree blowing in the wind, a train trundling down the tracks, in a parquet-floored hall which smelt of Mr Sheen, in your vest and pants and your little black plimsolls.   Just like Thom Yorke, I think.  Well, not the vest and pants.  Never mind the  momentary moves just posted above, so fleeting and so teasing - we want more.

So let me leave you with Radiohead and the very memorable video for Lotus Flower. A full five minutes of frolicsome free-form - I just can't look away!

I would so love to see people dance like this at a wedding.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Anniversary Snapshots: 24th September 1993

I should’ve posted this a couple of days ago really, but never mind, it’s still a 25th anniversary, give or take a few days!  The anniversary of the very first time I flew.

I had the chance to travel through my work on a complimentary trip.  Free flight, free hotel and free entertainment laid on - I know, pretty good.  Destination New York!  Just for the weekend.  Never been on a ‘plane before and my first flight was to be 3500 miles across the Atlantic – talk about nervous / thrilled / overwhelmed, all at once. 

I recorded the experience in real time through a few scribbled notes.   It’s strange when you look back on things like that and try to recapture the memories, not just of where, but also of who, you were at the time.   I loved the feeling of flying,  I remember that.  So enthralled by the beauty and stillness of the world from above that I recall thinking, “if we crash and I die, I don’t care, it’s worth it.”   Must say, I don’t feel the same way now, but it probably wasn’t a bad way to get through my first flight.

So that bit was good before we'd even landed.  Then, the excitement of my first glimpse of America.

I made notes as we came into land:

There are just loads of huge lakes and woodland.   Now more built-up – also lots of boats and light aircraft. Getting ready to land, can see the cars on the roads. 

We’re in the US and I can’t take it in!

A ride in a fancy stretch limo took us out of JFK and into Manhattan.

Some of it looks like London… until you look upwards!  Impressive NY skyline.  Little old houses in amongst blocks, I scrawled in my small spiral-bound notepad.

I was with a group of strangers, all in similar roles, travelling for their work.  It’s one of those situations where you’re with people, but you feel quite alone really too.  We were taken to a jazz club the first night to eat, the ‘Red Blazer Too’.

Jazz, sautéed mushrooms was all I had to say about that.

Later, I added briefly and clearly suffering from jetlag:

Yellow cab back to hotel.
No – look at TV and video in cabinet.

Nirvana news item on WNYW! “Morality in the media”.  Knocking the lyrics.  Kmart not selling. “Rape Me”.  News item: Wildman of 96th Street...  a long-term resident, mental inst., murderer!!

Then dozed off, but not before noticing and being bewildered by there being a phone in the loo.

Next morning, some sight-seeing.

Really interesting.  Harlem. Famous places – Madonna’s house, etc. . Central Park beautiful. Upper East Side – rich.  Upper West Side, saw 96th Street…

(No 'Wildman', at least I don't think so.)

I took photos.



Central Park

We did a bit of walking about and I quickly jotted down other things of note, as an aide memoire:

So many yellow cabs. Jewellery/watches, bartering. People seem nice – not aggressive. Good atmosphere in Chinatown. Turtles for sale.  “Have a pleasant Sunday” 

(I’m not sure who said that and when, it was Saturday.)

I remember it was weird, though, seeing a policeman with a gun.

That night we had a late dinner at somewhere called China Grill

…Left there gone midnight.  Back to hotel for change of clothes.  Off to ‘China Club’, back 3.50am! Bit of a dive but pics of famous people who’ve been there on walls. Keith Richard, Rod Stewart, etc. and guitars on walls.  Mostly club/soul music. V American in feel. No hassle, no bad atmos, just people enjoying themselves. 2 Buds then cab back and off to bed.

I clearly didn't realise at the time, though, quite how cool that club was according to this feature

Beyond Hip and Unhip, There's the China Club

Back when the China Club started, Reagan was president and Adam Ant was a major musical figure. After fifteen years as one of the hottest rock clubs in history, it's as strong as ever. (Where do you think the Yankees party?) The secret? No attitude.

I suppose I was just not with the people I'd have chosen to go there with!

The following morning, I walked to Tower Records, just round the corner.  Felt I couldn’t go to New York and not buy something in a record shop and I seem to remember that in the UK in 1993, Tower Records seemed a bit of a novelty. 

Breeders and Buffalo Tom, good prices, I wrote (and bought 'Last Splash' and 'Big Red Letter Day'.)  Weird mag called Nose – brutal pics!  But I wasn’t that impressed with the store, overall:

Not much, weird selection, ‘Rock + Soul’ together!

After that it was a boat trip. I found some photos earlier that I’d taken from the deck, shots of the Twin Towers, and it feels a little strange to look at them now.  I didn’t get as far as climbing up the Statue of Liberty, but I bought a mug in Macy’s, with a pictorial map of New York on it (I do like a good map) and some Hershey’s bars in a little deli in a side street where I suddenly felt as if I’d walked into a film set, all those plumes of steam rising from the manhole covers....  it all felt quite surreal.  Actually, the whole place felt like a film set.  What a a brilliant city to visit, though, on my first ever flight.

I wonder if the place has changed all that much in 25 years?  Perhaps in some ways yes, but not in others  - much like us.

Friday, 21 September 2018

Tigers and nightcrawlers

The box arrived a couple of weeks ago:


I sometimes wonder what couriers make of these packages when they load them onto their vans.  I’d be curious, inclined to press an ear against the taped up cardboard in the hope of hearing something –  a clue - scratching or yawning or purring perhaps.   Checking the corners for a protruding claw or the tip of a scaly tail.   Or smells.  Seepage, even.

Inside this box was a small bag, filled with something soft.  I thought it might wriggle but it didn’t move, and it didn’t make a noise, or smell or seep.  I was very excited….

…My Tigers and European Nightcrawlers had arrived!

I didn’t know before I bought them that worms could have such exotic names.  It’s not just me, is it, for whom  ‘European Nightcrawler’  evokes images of neon cities under black skies, of mysterious women smoking long cigarettes and trains rumbling hypnotically through a dark forest landscape to the soundtrack of Bowie’s  ‘ Low’ album?

So I’m now the proud owner of wonderfully titled wild tigers (Tiger Worms, aka Brandlings and Red Wigglers!) and nightcrawlers, all 500grams of them.  Did you know worms have five hearts? They are also of course eyeless, toothless (ah, imagine a worm with teeth), hermaphrodites, who breed prolifically, and I’ve become the custodian of a small colony making their home inside a special Wormery bin. 

I’m already getting disproportionately fond of them, giving them all names – there’s Mavis, and Fluffy, and Tinkerbell….   No,  it’s okay, don’t worry, I’m just sticking to Worm, it’s easier that way…  What I didn’t know before researching the whole Wormery thing, though, was that they’re quite sensitive creatures and do require some care and attention  – they need time to settle in and adjust to their new surroundings (often trying to escape on their first few nights, I eased them in by leaving a solar light on to start with) and it’s important not to overfeed them, let them get too cold or hot, etc.  So you know, I’ve been like a protective parent these last couple of weeks, checking up on them regularly, chopping their food into tiny pieces, making sure they’ve plenty of bedding to snuggle down into, bless ‘em.  They seem to be doing well so far.

And then the point of it all – they get to devour all our kitchen scraps, and turn it into top quality compost.  So basically, in return for decent food and lodgings, they pay us in shit.  Strangely, it sounds like a good deal to me.

David Bowie: Subterraneans

Tuesday, 4 September 2018


"D'ya wanna know something really scary?" I said to Mr SDS as I went up the stairs to bed last night.

"Fucking hell, no! Why would you tell me something scary when I'm going to be trying to sleep soon?"

I think he was imagining the worst, that maybe I was going to tell him that the narrow crack in the bedroom wall had opened up and was letting in giant bloodsucking moths and rabid rats. I wasn't, it hadn't, they weren't.

It was just my slightly horrified realisation that this year it is 40 years since I went to my first ever gig. 

40 years!

1978.  I went with my dear schoolfriends that January, and we got photographed by the local paper before the show, posing defiantly in our home-made punk gear, me with food colouring in my hair, one of us sticking her tongue out, all of us 14 years old (and a half) and a little tipsy on cider and excitement. Siouxsie & the Banshees were fantastic - and they hadn't even been signed up by Polydor yet.

As for the three of us - well, we're still alive, and we're still well, and we're still friends, albeit now divided by a few miles, and it seems fitting that we're going to experience some very special live music again 40 years on, later this week.

D'y wanna know what we're doing?  We're off to Birmingham's heartland - on Friday, this is the day, this is the night! - and we'll head out to the venue at dusk; I know I'll be infected by enthusiasm.  It's no uncertain smile I'm wearing on my face right now.  Enough clues?!

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 clichéd 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….


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.

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