Tuesday, 19 September 2023

Chronically iconic

Three times in 36 seconds!

Quite a feat.  According to my recent evidence, Vernon Kay currently holds the record for this particular accomplishment.  Some might even call it an iconic achievement.  But please don't, as I may be tempted to scream...    I nearly screamed at the car radio when he did it too.  It was a couple of weeks or so ago when it actually happened, during his morning slot on Radio 2 (not my choice of station): Vernon Kay used the word 'iconic' three times in 36 seconds.  (I know, such a nerd, I timed it!)

In the short segment I heard he used it to describe Jeremy Vine as the "iconic broadcaster and journalist", a few seconds later he announced Cathy Dennis as "the iconic singer songwriter" and then, just as I was drawing breath ready to emit a shriek of despair at this lack of verbal originality (my "iconic" detector now on full alert), in the very next sentence we were treated to his description of Cathy's big hits as "iconic, anthemic tunes".   And who knows how many other times it may have turned up when I wasn't listening?

Of course, once you tune into it you find yourself playing 'Iconic Bingo'.  For example, in their current TV ad, Lynx invite you to "smell iconic".  Maybelline cosmetics want to sell you "iconic foundation".  Magazine articles tell you all about a city's "iconic eats".  A quick look through some recent song lyrics and I find lines such as, "lately I've been feeling iconic", "I'm living so iconic" and "iconic brings us together"...   Arghh!

Every artist, every book, every film, musician and landmark - they're all deemed "iconic" now.  Some of them surely are; I've no issue with that - the adjective was once brought out only to describe something really special, something rare perhaps, undeniably symbolic or memorable, thus it made its point perfectly, we knew what it meant and it had gravitas.  So I can't help but find it irritating and a little sad really when terms which were once used sparingly and pertinently like this lose their value - it all seems rather lazy, dull and predictable.  We've such a rich and evocative vocabulary, full of choice and nuance; words are such brilliant tools and (last time I looked, anyway) they're free!  Instead of "iconic", mightn't it be more interesting to hear a few other descriptions in the mix, such as totemic / eminent / acclaimed / unforgettable / renowned / seminal / emblematic / esteemed / famous (or infamous) / distinctive... etc.?

I know language evolves naturally, meanings change and always have done, but some grate more than others.   When the same word is used to describe both the Eiffel Tower and your local bakery's doughnut recipe, you know it's had its day.

(Just as I type this post, a promotional email has popped into my inbox from M&S entitled 'Meet our icons'.  Who/what are these icons?  A checked suit, a roll-neck sweater, loafers and a top-handle bag.)

Siouxsie & the Banshees: Icon

Thursday, 14 September 2023

Still here

Red kite

Hello, how are you?!  Several weeks have gone by and the cobwebs in the corners of this blog are gathering cobwebs of their own, but I'm still here...

A bout of Covid (my first) knocked me back last month, but the leaden-legged fatigue and peculiar effect on the tastebuds (I couldn't have distinguished between a rice pudding and a vegetable jalfrezi in a blind taste test) thankfully passed.  Now I'm "in-between" work projects and, aside from many overdue jobs to do around the house, it's a pleasure to take a breather and get immersed in nature outside for a while.  So, screen time isn't a big draw at the mo.

Ah, but outside is, I'm addicted.  By day I've been spotting the biggest, fattest garden spiders I've ever seen, and have been exhilarated by my first ever sighting of a live grass snake in the leaf litter.   I can hear the mewing of buzzards (we've never heard so many round here before) and watch the beautiful aerobatic displays of red kites over the rooftops and fields (still relatively new to these parts and they thrill me every time.  Did you know they have a wingspan of around 5ft?!)  By evening, it's the occasional, surprising close encounter with a bat as it flits with beating wings in somewhat manic fashion past the honeysuckle - and my head.  There's evidence of a hedgehog's wanderings too (those animal faeces recognition skills come in handy) and I can't help but have a fondness for Mrs Brown Rat as she lifts her nose, ears twitching independently, to sniff me from a safe distance (although had to stop feeding the birds for now in an effort to persuade her to move on).  Still, a chiffchaff skims the buddleiah, delaying its return to Africa while the weather's so warm here.  A stunning hornet (the native European species) wows me with its size and tiger colours, and the Red Admiral and Peacock butterflies bask on the kitchen window frame. With surprising speed, Cabbage White caterpillars rhythmically munch through toadflax (love that name) pausing only to drop off neat little parcels from their opposite ends... who knew you could even see a caterpillar take a crap?! - all part of the cycle...

I could watch, and listen, and smell all this for hours; it's my salve... I recommend it to everyone, even if only for a few minutes a day. Even if it's just what I used to do when I lived in a top floor flat looking out at the orbweb spiders in the corners of the windows and the magpies bouncing on the opposite rooftops.  Just get whatever you can.  I'd recommend it to Putin et al.  Honestly, mate, I'd like to say to him/them in my Utopian dream world, just sit back and watch the bees and the birds for a while and wonder at the simple pleasures of nature, how marvellous and precious it all is, how it deserves our protection, and you might just feel a little bit happier inside and appreciate the value of peace and harmony.  Oh, if only...

Bumming about in nature doesn't leave a lot of time or motive for blogging but I really don't want to lose the blogging either- it's very important to me too, the source of some lovely friendships and also something of a salve.   So I will be back!  Just maybe when I've finished watching that wasp drinking from the bird bath and the convoy of ants on a mysterious mission running along the path....  See you soon.

Wednesday, 9 August 2023

Lady go diva

Argh, I do love a crappy play on words and that title certainly is one of my worst.  But, anyway, it’s the best I can manage to describe what I did the other day which was not to ride nude through the streets of Coventry, but instead to go down to that lovely V&A Museum in London with a couple of friends and catch the latest exhibition: DIVA.

And it was quite an experience, my first of wearing a Bluetooth headset while wandering amid the exhibits, so you get the accompanying soundtrack to each encounter at your own pace.  (If it goes awry and you can hear Maria Callas while standing in front of a picture of Siouxsie Sioux “just turn your left ear towards the display you want and it'll correct itself,” the guide had advised.  It worked pretty well.)  It was like a gentle ride in a time machine – at one turn you can be watching and listening to Mae West on a screen where a scene from I’m No Angel plays out and then, as you walk between the cabinets and travel through the ages visually, your ears are filled with each relevant artist’s songs, from Nina Simone to Bjork, Debbie Harry to Lady GaGa, Shirley Bassey to Madonna, etc.

Debbie Harry's outfit from Blondie's European tour, 1979

Sade's ensemble from her Love Deluxe world tour, 1993

The word “diva”, originally derived from the Italian for a female deity, is very broadly interpreted at this show and it does include some whom many may not think fit that description - for example, a few young 'uns who haven't really reached legendary status, plus a handful of male “divas” are also represented (a fine pair of Prince’s bespoke high heeled boots in particular caught my eye, such small feet!)   And the label can have a pretty negative connotation too.  But when it comes to this exhibition, who cares really? - I decided not to be picky in this context!  It's a general theme, and the result is a celebration of flamboyant costume, creativity and the performing arts and with a sprinkling of politics thrown in too (feminism, racism, gender).  I found the whole thing informative and interesting, especially as there are posters, photos and illustrations plus a few other little artefacts alongside all the eye-catching garments and I just love seeing them all for real.

Prince's boots

A Dolly dolly!

Sade's hand-written lyrics for 'Immigrant', 2000

I was especially excited to see some incredibly imaginative ensembles from the more distant past, for example this astonishing two piece (and Health and Safety nightmare) worn by Josephine Baker, fantastic! 

Perhaps what struck me most about the oldest outfits on display, particularly those from early movies, was their exquisite, quality craftsmanship and intricacy.  They were beautifully preserved too.  Some of the more recent ones, whilst more extravagant and ostentatious, just didn’t compare and had an air of fancy dress party about them, to me anyway (but don’t tell anyone.  Elton would be highly insulted, I'm sure.).  And I found myself reflecting on the thought that, at the other end of the spectrum, an elaborate, delicately crafted dress worn by Clara Bow, for instance, would have really only been viewed by its cinema audience at the time in black and white, with no chance to pause, rewind, replay countless times at home, etc., and no intent to linger on its detailed splendour as we might now.  So I'm just happy that I had the chance to do a little time travelling, and to linger on them myself.

Here's some footage of Debbie in that outfit, performing Heart of Glass at the Glasgow Apollo, as part of the live set filmed by the BBC on New Year's Eve 1979.

Saturday, 22 July 2023

Oh shit

I never thought the time would come when I would be posting my excrement through a mailbox - but the other day that’s exactly what I did.  And I suspect a few of you have done so too…

The reason being (other than fantasising that the person at the receiving end could be Jacob Rees-Mogg) I had a certain milestone birthday earlier this month and thus a couple of days later received an extra little birthday present from our lovely NHS – so thoughtful of them!  You probably know where I’m going with this: it was the bowel cancer screening kit in its neat card envelope, a cute little sample tube, complete with clear, illustrated instructions.  (I would quite like to have been commissioned for that artwork – it’s not every day you’d get to draw a job like that  get a job to draw like that.)

Well, I think it’s brilliant that we have the opportunity here to do these tests for free and at our own convenience so I was quite strangely excited to have a go.  And this post is just about writing itself with all its double entendre...

Anyway, it does take a little bit of what you might call ‘forward planning’ but honestly it’s no hardship, and then when it's all done, dated and ready to despatch, you can say you’ve pushed your excrement through a mailbox too, and write a blog post about it.

All of this brings to mind a song I particularly loved when I was 15 and first heard as the B-side of a much treasured and brilliant Buzzcocks single, ‘What Do I Get’  I know it’s not about the actual, erm, ‘substance’ (are there any songs out there that are?!) but as a swear word ‘shit’ is pretty excellent.  My poor mum and dad just kept shtum when I insisted on playing it at full volume on the family stereogram.  They did the right thing, of course, making a fuss would have just given me cause to rebel against them but instead they accepted it all with good grace. In fact my mum probably secretly liked it; I'm pretty sure that 'shit' (along with 'bugger') was her favourite swear word - she didn't hold back - and it has become one of mine too; it's the perfect response to stepping barefoot on an upturned plug, or when a handle on your Tesco 'Bag For Life' gives way and deposits your Maris Pipers all over the pavement, or if you have to answer the door to the postman wearing a freshly applied exfoliating clay face pack.  We've all been there.

The lovely Susie Dent explains more about it here (I thoroughly recommend her videos on all our favourite profanities):

And of course the song.

Buzzcocks: Oh Shit

Sunday, 9 July 2023

Yorkie bar(s)

When you find yourself in a bar or restaurant talking about everything from the Southern Freeez, Bruce Springsteen and Shed 7 to the perils of snoring, the loudest gig you've ever been to, terrifying Public Information films from our childhood and how you file your music collection as well as the joys of mashed potato and the cut of David Bowie's trousers, you know you've fallen in with the right crowd...

And so it was that I recently found myself doing exactly that in the esteemed company of fellow bloggers Alyson, Charity Chic (and Mrs CC), John Medd  (and Mrs M) and The Swede - all of whom I'd had the great pleasure of seeing at our first "mini meet-up" in Edinburgh* a year ago, but this time we convened a little further South in York.  It's a city I'd never before visited and one I'd definitely like to return to as it was something of a whirlwind trip this time, but I'm just glad to have made it. It was actually bit of a test for me too; earlier in the year, hard as it seems to imagine now, I couldn't even envisage coping with staying away from home and the sensory overload of such an event, so I'm glad to say that although things are sapping my concentration a little, I've now reached the point where I can push past it enough of the time.  And I'm determined to keep doing so!  I know I wasn't alone in having some background concerns on this occasion either, and very much hope that the trip provided as much of an uplifting break for others too.

But anyway, back to the point, York was lovely and the company was even lovelier.  My memories are awash with (amongst much else) random snippets of the very small but perfectly formed Blue Bell pub, a certain blogger's delightfully dapper hat, a charming multi-tasking bus tour guide, the unexpected views onto houses from the Medieval walls and the most enormous Calzone you've ever seen in the most welcoming Italian restaurant you could go to - all mingled with smiles, seamless conversation, good food, drink and laughter.   As I've said before about blogging, it's a fantastic example of  how geographically distant strangers can form connections and have that sense of understanding and camaraderie, all just stemming from what we've expressed in our pages.  I haven't been very good at keeping up with that side of things lately but it hasn't seemed to have mattered, so here's a huge thank you to all.  I have indeed fallen in with the right crowd.

Perhaps in future, depending on whereabouts in the country we end up, others can swing by too?

Loved this font on a building viewed from a section of the city walls

and this gorgeous beetle art around the corner from the hotel

*minus Martin who unfortunately couldn't make it this year

Wednesday, 31 May 2023

I feel alive, I feel the love

 “Enjoy the rest of your day,” the young woman said cheerily as she put her belongings back in her little crossbody bag and walked, in a faintly zig zag pattern, away from our table on the parched grass.  She had the sweetest, warmest smile.

My friend and I had just been giggling with her, giggling in that helpless way like we did when we were kids.  We'd spotted her walking in our direction, catching our eyes as she provided us with an unintentionally comedic scene: she was taking two or three steps at a time, then pausing to bend forward, hunching over to root around in her bag, but each time she did so the plastic beaker of wine in her other hand tipped forward too, spilling it on the ground.   She’d straighten up, take a few more steps, then repeat the bend and the rummage, totally oblivious to yet more spillage.  And again – more steps, another fruitless fiddle about in the bag and, oops, there goes the wine ...and she still hadn't noticed.

Wordlessly we motioned to her to use the table where we were sitting and she gratefully emptied her bag onto it, treating us to a running commentary on its contents, punctuated by infectious laughter.  It’s hard to find a lipstick in a deceptively deep bag when you’re a little worse for wear.  Bless her, she found it eventually, after the phone and the sunglasses and tissues and the hairbrush and TicTacs and a blister pack of paracetamol…  after which we provided her with the services of a talking mirror (“Yep, that’s fine! No, it’s not all over your cheeks!”) while she applied it blindly, trusting us not to let her walk away looking like Robert Smith.  Well, I felt a little flutter of  love for this girl in that brief moment, for her sweetness and her laughter and her tipsy candour, I glimpsed a little of my young self in her too.  Or perhaps it was just that I was feeling very mellow and just glad to be alive in the laidback, loved-up way that being outdoors surrounded by the sound of guitars and the smell of doughnuts can inspire.  The sun was shining too, at last.

The small music festival on my doorstep had started that day and, honestly, it was a proper tonic just to go and soak it all up. I’m so lucky, I’m sitting in my garden now as I draft this post out on a scrap of paper the following afternoon, and I can hear it from here: the bass a constant, some vocals drifting in and out as the breeze carries them to me, probably not even half a mile as the crow flies, across the green, the graveyard and a few rooftops. But on Saturday, to be right there (in a field very familiar to me for being populated by sheep and jackdaws the rest of the time) and just to “do” the whole festival thing was still special.  And even though the artists we saw were not ones I would have chosen to see in other circumstances, they were perfect for this moment; I let go of any pre-conceptions completely and just enjoyed what was on offer.

It was especially good too to witness three headline acts all featuring more "mature" women; very heartwarming when you are one yourself.   So yes, Katrina Leskanich is 63, Carol Decker is 65 and Natalie Imbruglia is 48.  They were all in fine voice, classy and energetic, and looked fab - and I felt kind of proud to have them on my home turf too.  Katrina & The Waves performing 'Going Down To Liverpool' was a highlight.  What's that you say?  Why yes, of course they did 'Walking On Sunshine'!  And whilst I can't think of any T'Pau songs I would actively decide to listen to, Carol Decker had some great between-song banter and I couldn't fault their performance.  Perhaps the biggest surprise of the night for me was Natalie... I've never really given her any thought; 'Torn' was one of those ubiquitous songs of the late '90s and that was about all I could think of but, you know, she really rocked out at times and I was far more impressed than I could ever have imagined; I got a bit of a Bangles / Susanna Hoffs vibe.  Good on her, because she turned me around completely! 

I could only make it to the festival on the Saturday night, but late on Sunday night we did at least get to hear Shaun Ryder's unmistakeable lilt drifting over to our windows and down the chimney on the northerly breeze.   Black Grape were playing and I hope he was suitably sweary, it wouldn't be Shaun without a few expletives surely?  

I'll be thinking about that, plus the girl with the giggle and the spilt wine, next time I walk through that field with the sheep and the jackdaws. They will still be just as much of a tonic.  

Any festivals happening for you this Summer?

Friday, 19 May 2023

Checking into the Chelsea, fanzine style


Welcome to an experimental 'fanzine format'  blog post!

Inspired by some comments on the previous post, and also influenced by my much younger fanzine creating self, I took to paper, pen, Pritt Stick and scissors to make this one.  I can honestly say, I've really enjoyed working like this, away from the computer screen.  I can also honestly say, it took bloody ages.  Still, it was fun and the only other downside is that there's no chance to edit it now, but I'm a long-time fan of the DIY ethos and the charm of imperfection.  As for the silly amount of time it took, well, sometimes don't you just wish that everything did anyway, and then we could all slow down a bit?

I hope that wasn't too hard-going to read...

Here's the link to the documentary:

and that great clip of Nico performing 'Chelsea Girls':

Thursday, 11 May 2023

Screened out

 Argh - my hand aches.  I've been doing that thing I used to do a lot of when I was younger - you know, when you hold a plastic tube with ink in it and move it around to form alphabet letters in different combinations across a piece of paper: some actual, physical, manual, how-we-used-to-do-it-in-the-olden-dayes writing.

I started, but haven't yet finished, hand-writing a new blog post but before I go back to that one I wanted to precede it with an explanation (also hand-written and to be transposed to what you see here).  I haven't posted on here for ages and feel I've been regretfully neglectful towards my lovely fellow bloggers too - I'm so sorry! Thing is, I've developed a bit of a problem with spending much time in front of my computer screen; I'm sure this must be due to the round-the-clock tinnitus and unfortunately it's just my brain's way of coping for now.  Reading and writing at any length on screen has become extra tiring and I'm finding it hard to concentrate comfortably, and then that effect has placed a kind of psychological barrier in the way too - sort of associating computer time with having that feeling and thus just wanting to be far away from it...  

Hopefully this will pass as it's still early days but in the meantime I decided to embrace the analogue instead.  And how good it is!  I always knew I was an analogue girl but when I'm immersed in all the things I already enjoy - like drawing, walking, reading a (physical) book and putting my hands in the worm bin (that's a bit niche, I know) I barely notice the noise either.  In fact, drawing is amazingly therapeutic and I'm sure there are some credible scientific reasons behind this to do with the parts of the brain that it engages and exercies - a subject I'd love to read up on more, apart from the fact that I'd probably have to do most of that online.

Anyway, after scribbling these words on paper and just typing up quickly here my brain feels so much less cluttered and fatigued in the process.  I think I'll try this method for a while to see where it goes - hopefully it will help me to revive this blog a little but, if all else fails - well, can I post you a letter?!

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