Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Flying Electric Spiders

That should so be the name of a band, shouldn’t it?  A no-holds-barred garage band whose super-fans throw gigantic fluffy spider toys on stage at gigs (so much more hygienic than knickers).  My sister once had a gigantic fluffy spider toy;  it had pipe-cleaner legs and red teddy-bear eyes on wire stalks, and you could bounce it up and down on the thin elastic attached to its furry black head.  As a child I used it covertly a couple of times by half-hiding it in my bedroom in a bid to scare off the little lady that came once a week to help my mum with the cleaning.   (I’m aware how terribly middle-class that is... Truth being that my mum did struggle to cope, and this was at a time when she was also reliant on another kind of mother’s little helper – the small round one commonly known as Valium).

I was a horrible, naughty child and poor Mrs Sibley in her flowery overall and thick tan tights was the intended victim of my cunning plan.  I was sure that if I carefully secreted the spider in a dusty corner, the unexpected discovery of it would be enough to make her shriek and leave my bedroom in a panic.  The Betta Bilda blocks, my Francie doll and assorted plastic farm animals could then stay strewn on a dirty floor for another week.  ( I tried the same tactic with a rubber snake, but that’s another story.)

Anyway, that’s how much I believed in the power of spiders…

And I still do.  I’m convinced that if real spiders were aware of the fear they are capable of inducing, even in otherwise rational adult humans, they could take over the world.

I also believe that most of the creatures surrounding us are far superior to us in so many ways, they just lack the arrogance and vindictiveness (two purely human traits) to use it against us.   From tiny worms, blind and limbless, being able to detect minute changes in air pressure which means that even underground they can tell when it’s going to rain, to the incredible navigational sense of birds migrating thousands of miles across mountains and oceans to the exact same place each year, these are innate skills we humans can only dream of having.  Then again, worms and birds don’t know how to add a cat face filter to a selfie so we shouldn’t be too hard on ourselves...

So here is where flying electric spiders come in.  ‘Spiders Can Fly Hundreds of Miles Using Electricity’ is the sort of headline that makes my ears prick up (without the need for a cat face filter) and to my mind, totally supports the theory of their superiority.  Marvellous, amazing, fantastic spiders - I love them. We know that they are able to travel beyond where their eight little legs can carry them; they've been found two and a half miles up in the sky and 1000 miles out to sea, and recently two researchers at the University of Bristol were able to demonstrate that it was far more than just random wind power that propelled them.  Spiders can actually sense the Earth’s electric field and use it to launch themselves into the air.

These researchers "... put the arachnids on vertical strips of cardboard in the centre of a plastic box, and then generated electric fields between the floor and ceiling of similar strengths to what the spiders would experience outdoors.  These ruffled tiny sensory hairs on the spiders' feet... In response the spiders performed a set of movements called tiptoeing - they stood on the ends of their legs and stuck their abdomens in the air...  Many of the spiders actually managed to take off, despite being in closed boxes with no airflow within them..."   

Now I don't know if this sort of stuff interests you as much as it does me, but you can read the full article here.

All this leads me to think that, one day when we've properly fucked up the planet and each other, leaving behind a world inhabited only by the last surviving creatures of the non-human variety, they will fare very well indeed.  Whereas me - well, Mrs Sibley did still clean my room, and moved my toys, unnerved by a fluffy spider with pipe cleaner legs - I'm merely human.

This gives me a good excuse to post some Australian '80s garage punk in the form of the Lime Spiders too, don't you think?!





Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Edge

This kind of edge


Not this

56 years ago today in an East End hospital my mum was having a very hard time.  She was trying to give birth to a baby which had somehow got itself stuck the wrong way round and was determined to come out feet first – a breech birth.  At least that’s what she always gave as the reason for any subsequent occasion when I behaved awkwardly and uncooperatively and, to be honest, there were many.    I too am happy to blame it on the fact that I couldn’t even enter the world the right way up - I think it sort of set a precedent.

So I find myself reflecting on this today, the anniversary of my upside down arrival on the planet, because I think I’m having a teensy weensy bit of an existential crisis.  Nothing serious, don't worry. Just one of those phases when you find yourself thinking and then having aBOOF!moment – like a sudden metaphorical punch in the gut – when you consider just  how much time you’ve actually been alive and what the future might hold.  Oh shit.  I don't mean the nursing homes or the tablets - let's not even go there - I mean the damping down of our personal fires.   It feels like one of those cinematic effects commonly used in horror films, when the camera draws back from its subject in a series of abrupt, increasingly distant moves, creating a sense of growing unease, of disconnection with the scenery.  Not that I’m going to descend into the depths of despair about it.  Oh no - instead I just feel my inner awkward, rebellious spirit getting particularly fidgety, wanting to kick against conformity and middle aged blandness more than ever.  I’m feeling a need to keep my edges sharpened; I fear they’ve been getting a little too blunt lately, like I've let things rust, or start to atrophy. (Mixed metaphors must also be a symptom.)  Anyway, I never did feel comfortable fitting neatly into the mainstream, so why start now?

Maybe I’ve just seen too many clich├ęd adverts (for 'seniors') featuring insipid people discussing their prize roses and pension plans as if that's all life has ever been about.  Overheard too many twee conversations in the supermarket about golf and jacuzzis.  Been surrounded by too many Middle Englanders with their misplaced pride and their nasty, petty prejudices, and read about too many opinionated arseholes with closed minds and tight lipped, mean-spirited ways.  I witnessed a trumped-up older man - a 'jobsworth' type - having a go at a younger man on the Tube as I made my way back from London on Friday (after a lovely day) and I felt ashamed to be closer to him in age than the subject of his ire.  Okay, so his 'fire' hadn't been damped down, but his attitude was so narrow, his sense of entitlement obnoxious. By contrast I then spent the longer part of my journey home sat with five great, bright young people...the difference pulled me up short.  After all, being a kind, decent person and keeping your edge are not mutually exclusive.

So, with the exception of good trousers, I'm just not ready for the straight and narrow, and the passing of another year has brought some things into sharp relief.  I reckon it's probably a good thing.  (Perhaps it'll help me blog more?)

Other than all that, though, I’m having a lovely birthday... :-)

Jarvis Cocker's new single has been my earworm of the week...it seems oddly apt.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

Through the past comically

I was given an unexpected early birthday present last week.  It had been tied up in a gold ribbon and tucked away in a corner in the local charity shop.  Honestly, when Mr SDS pulled it out of the tatty recycled Sainsbury’s bag and I laid eyes on its crumpled edges and yellow age spots (it happens to the best of us)… well, the neighbours would have been within their rights to complain about the noise.

Oohh! Ahh!

That was just at first sight.  Once I’d snipped off the ribbon and excitedly delved into the contents, things just got better and better.

See if you agree...

It was a bundle of familiar children's comics from the late '60s.

As if it wasn't about as good as it gets to include my favourite Pogles, there were The Herbs too...


...and things just carried on getting better with every turn of every page...  Oh Bizzy Lizzy, I wanted to be you.


Better and better!  I was in love with Joe.  I've only ever met one other person who remembers him, though.  Fab illustrations.  Ooh!


Ooh ahh...

Ahh!


And then there's this...  But, aged six, I liked him so much, he was an artist and an animal lover and he could have taught me to swim, I wanted him to be my Dad.  I know, I know.


Let's get back to real heroes!


Thursday, 20 June 2019

Free enterprise

I just found out it’s 'National Freelancers Day' today - ooh!

Does that mean I can take the day off to celebrate?  Oh if only!  I won’t be hanging out the bunting and baking a special cake because I’m far too busy freelancing.  But still, time for a quick shout-out to all my fellow freelancers and perhaps we can blow our own trumpets for a brief moment (especially if you're a freelance trumpeter.)

Because freelancing is about so much more than what you actually freelance at. 

Me, I’m a full-time freelance illustrator but in order to provide what clients pay me for I also have to be my own unsalaried Bookkeeper / Materials Buyer / Mail Clerk / Credit Controller / IT Manager / Packer / Secretary / Head of PR, Customer Service and Personal Development / Administrator / Building Maintenance Manager, and Office Cleaner.  And Boss.  (I might have to sack the Cleaner...)

There are of course far harder and much more important/responsible jobs but ultimately it's immensely satisfying to know that you've done it all on your own, in spite of the inevitable precariousness of a fluctuating income and those frequent 7-day working weeks.  Plus there's no commuting!  So to my fellow freelancers (6% of UK workers) and your devoted self-reliance, whatever your field:  toot toot!



Sunday, 16 June 2019

Spare art

Austin Osman Spare.  What a name!  Sounds like a classic car part.  Is/was he real?  What is/was he famous for?  Hey – STOP what you’re doing– step away from your phone!  Don’t go looking it up on Google or any other search engine.  Because ‘Google’ and ‘search engines’ don’t exist.  The internet does not exist.  Home computers are no more than futuristic fantasies.  You use typewriters and a big plastic phone with a curly lead, that plugs into the wall.  You have no way of finding out anything at all about a character you’ve never heard of before, other than asking around your more cultured friends.

 “Ever heard of this guy? He’s featured in this song - Austin Osman Spare.” 

“No, sorry.  Can’t help you there.”

Or you could try looking him up in the town library, home to thousands of hardback books with little ticket envelopes stuck to their title pages, but where would you even begin?    All you know is that Austin Osman Spare apparently “painted daydreams”.   He also “painted nightmares” if those lyrics you made a note of are to be believed.  Do you go to the section on Art? - Dewey Decimal classification somewhere round the 700 mark? – peruse the spines of dozens of oversize tomes on the subject in the hope that one might mention him, even if only briefly.   It might at least give you a starting point.  You’ll need your sandwiches with you and a flask of coffee… you’re in for the long haul... running your finger down the tiny index listings in the back pages until your vision blurs into kaleidoscopic patterns.    And even then your search could be utterly fruitless; Austin Osman Spare might not even be real.

We just had to suck it up once upon a time, safe in the knowledge of our lack of knowledge, accepting of the fact that there were some  facts we’d never find, at least not until the internet was invented one day in the future by which time we had probably forgotten what it was we wanted to know anyway.  And of course even that was a fact we couldn’t know.  It was back in the era of typewriters and curly leads when I first heard a song entitled 'Austin Osman Spare' and was intrigued by the person written about in the lyrics, yet unable to discover a single thing about him because of all the above.  We take so much for granted now.  

The song was by the Bulldog Breed, a British band who were sort of part psych / part pop / part prog I suppose, and who were around in the late sixties – a musical period I was delving into nearly twenty years after the event, having been too young first time round -  but only much much later was I able to find out that Austin Osman Spare was indeed a real person.  I do like this song with its phased vocals and psychedelic vibe.

As for Austin, he was an artist and occultist, best known for his dark and often sexual imagery and his figurative linework, not dissimilar to the work of Aubrey Beardsley (I really like it).  He was interested in Black Magic and a friend and associate of Aleister Crowley.  Born in the late 1800s, he lived until 1956. Type his name into your favourite search engine and pages and pages about him and his pictures appear.

The artist

The art

The song

Suddenly I find myself doubting all that I have written above about not knowing who he was for years. How can there ever have been a time when you couldn’t find something out immediately? You hear a name, you don’t know who it is, you look it up online, your question is answered along with dozens of other questions you didn't even ask and you move on, whilst those oversize art books in the town library quietly gather dust.

I guess someone somewhere, who wasn't even born in the '80s when I first came across Mr Spare, might be doing that right now after hearing a Bowie song for the first time.   

“Every heard of this guy? He’s featured in this song – Andy Warhol."

"No, sorry. Can't help you there. Have you Googled him?" 

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Nee Naw


Maybe it’s weird, but I’ve developed a bit of a thing for police sirens.  I know it’s not a sound you really want to hear most of the time but I can’t help finding it very exciting.  It must just be tapping into something deep, an  association with danger and illicit thrills. It conjures up flashing lights and cityscapes, neon signs, speed, edginess, exhilaration, a rush of blood and a racing heart.  That must be it….   

There are a good few songs with sirens in that I like too.  The Clash’s ‘White Riot’, of course, and the Equals ‘Police On My Back’ spring to mind, but both are from the time before we here in the UK replaced our rather reserved ‘nee naw’ sirens with the far more rousing American style wailing ones.  It’s those wailing sounds that really get me now though, especially when they speed up. Ohh!  This would explain why a song by Jungle has become a bit of a personal indulgence, because whenever I want that little sonic thrill, something to make my eyes flash and my skin tingle, I no longer need to go out and smash the window of the local jewellers.  I can just listen to The Heat and tune my ears into the siren in the background instead.  Ah, if only it was much higher in the mix and went on for longer! 



Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Lipstick lover

What’s this – I haven’t blogged for weeks and then when I do it’s about lipstick?  We’re living in shitty times and I was so tempted to just post a picture of Nigel Farage with the title Oh Fuck today but I feel a strange, possibly slightly deranged, need to write about the waxy stubs I occasionally smear across my lips  instead.   Is it symptomatic perhaps?  The Bet Lynch form of therapy:  “There’s nowt a bit of lippy couldn’t solve”.  (Oh, if only.)

Anyway, I do like to pop on a little bit of lippy when I go out.  I’ve a nice orangey-red one right now.  I choose lipstick purely by the colours I think will suit me, like a pink that goes with my ears or a blood red that matches the veins in my eyes, that kind of thing. 

There’s no need to give each shade its own personal name as far as I’m concerned, that’s not a selling point.  I might vaguely see the labels on the rack when I’m buying them but they don't really register; they’re generally names derived from flowers or French words or fruits (strawberry, cherry, not so much kumquat).  Yesterday I realised that this orangey-red one I’m currently into could be called anything from Toxic Rust to Prickly Rash for all I know - so for some reason I decided to find out for sure and actually read the label.  I appreciate this isn't the mind-blowing info anyone else will be gagging to hear but if you've read this far then you may as well hang about for the answer....  

It's called Man Hunt!  I know, it's so 1972!

I am of course strictly anti-hunting for a start.... the only things I've ever hunted have been words and, in the past, some rare records and a house.  And as for the supposition that my quarry would be a man rather than any other variety of human...well, exactly - how very retro! (It would be, but one should never assume, should one?) 

Seems to me someone’s having a joyous time in whatever department it is that comes up with these less flowery names.  I want to work there.  Ah, imagine the whiteboards in the meetings.  It’s like those names they call house paints, especially from brands known for going beyond the realms of  Antique Cream with titles such as Elephant’s Breath, Arsenic, Earthworm, Sulking Room Pink, Down Pipe.   (Only one of those five isn't a real Farrow & Ball shade.  Can you guess which one?)

Whatever, I do rather like my lipstick’s non-politically-correct kitschy vibe, and I can’t help imagining an equally non-politically-correct 1970s advert for it featuring Valerie Leon and an E-type Jag - but  I just don’t think the manufacturer's intended market for a lipstick they call Man Hunt is women like me who are old enough to remember both...





Monday, 6 May 2019

Abstract moment of the week #11

I was so tempted to call this post ‘Just Another Phallic Monday’… but that might have suggested it was going to be the start of a new series and I’m not sure if I could, erm, keep it up.  However I can’t resist mentioning this once because it's tickled me...

I had coffee with a friend the other day who is not long back from a fantastic trip to Bhutan.  I know very little about Bhutan, but it sounds like a fascinating, peaceful and unusual place. Talking to my friend is always an education when it comes to travel.  I enjoyed looking at his photos of the dramatic mountainous scenery, people in national costume, the beautiful wildlife, and then he explained how there was so much decorative art everywhere, intricate carvings and detailed embellishment in the architecture, etc.  – all the things you might perhaps expect from a remote kingdom deep in the Himalayas.

What I hadn't expected, though, was to hear about the proliferation of imagery of a particular fertility symbol which here in the West we tend only to see scrawled on public toilet walls and concrete underpasses by less accomplished artists before being hurriedly removed by the authorities….   In Bhutan, however, it is normal to have it painted with great skill and finesse on the outside of your house, without embarrassment or censure, to bring good luck and protection.

I have to say, I do rather like the way they embrace it!  But I don't think my local council would approve if I did the same.









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